Book review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Title: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication date: 2 April 2019

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 432 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

I let this book languish on my Kindle for months WHY RACHEL WHY?!? What idiocy was I thinking?!? This book, in all its terrifying, claustrophobic madness, was incredible.

Gyre is a caver. Taking a high paying job so she can escape the planet to find her mother, Gyre sets out to explore an uncharted cave system. But her handler, Em, is enigmatic and keeping secrets. Like why does she not have a team of handlers keeping her alive in these dangerous caves? Why is she really down here? And why are there bodies down in the caves….?

This is a tense and atmospheric delight of a book. Well delight makes it seem happy and joyful. It isn’t. It’s terrifying and dark and so fucking scary, but brilliant in every word. The fact that such a marvellous book could be written, when really there’s just one setting and two characters is incredible. I expected it to be very repetitive – I mean how many ways can you describe a cave tunnel? But it really wasn’t! The book manages to exceptionally stay tense and exciting throughout the story. As Gyre spends more time underground, and more time discovering the secrets Em is hiding, the more unhinged and unreliant she becomes. As we travel further into the book, and into the cave system, both the reader and Gyre begin to have no idea what’s real and what’s not. There are so many twists and turns, I would finally be convinced ‘yes this is real this is definitely the way the story is going’ only to have it veer off into more unexpected twists.

Both Gyre and Em are flawed and exceptional characters. Em, the monster, controlling Gyre from afar, drugging her and controlling her limbs if she desires. When beneath her facade is a tired woman, someone searching for something she’s never going to find. And then there’s Gyre, headstrong, stubborn Gyre, who refuses help even when she could use it, unwilling to admit defeat in her body. These two are both so strong to fight to the end. Until the very last pages, I honestly had no idea how the book would end. Would Gyre get out? Would she die? Would Em come for her? Was Em even real? My mind was as uncertain in reality as Gyre’s and I loved it.

This book is a horror masterpiece! A queer horror masterpiece to be even more precise, which makes this book even better for me. For such a simple narrative (explore the cave) there is such a depth to the writing and the emotions of the characters, the fear and horror at what lies in the system, and ultimately at what is happening to Gyre as she journeys further. Cannot recommend this one enough.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Title: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 24 September 2019

Genre: Horror | Young Adult

Page extent: 416 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.

Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side.

Continuing my exploration into horror, Dahlia at LGBTQReads recommended Rules for Vanishing for my November subscription. It’s probably the first novel I’ve read that really goes into traditional horrory things – terrifying paranormal ghosts and spirits and the like. And I loved it!! It was scary, the format was spectacular, the only thing that let it down was a less than clear ending.

One year ago, Sara’s sister Becca went missing. Everyone thinks she ran off with her boyfriend, but Sara disagrees. She thinks she went to find Lucy Gallows, a girl who vanished 50 years ago. It’s said that in the woods, there is a road, and if you follow the road, you will find Lucy. When a text message floods the town, urging everyone to play ‘the game’ to find Lucy Gallows, Sara knows it’s the only chance she has to find her sister. So she, and a group of friends, go into the woods to find the road and hunt down Lucy and Becca….

My absolute favourite part of Rules for Vanishing was the structure and format. Very similar to another of my recent favourite reads, Into the Drowning Deep, Rules for Vanishing is told through first person POV, alongside interview transcripts, video exercepts, text messages and emails. There’s something about the reader feeling more knowing than the characters that just makes a story infinitely more terrifying to me. The format of Rules for Vanishing really makes this happen. By interspersing the story of the journey with emails, texts and interviews from the future, we learn and see more about the current situation. We’re given the info in these short extracts to make the first person POV more terrifying and it works so well!! There were so many moments I was terrified, particularly in the first half of the novel. The set up of the initial Lucy Gallows myth is really well done, and it really does sound like a traditional small-town legend. I grew up in a small town, and we had a poet who wandered on our local moor and walked through a gateway to the fae.

I enjoyed the death and gore of the first part of the journey as well. To get to Lucy, the group has to travel through seven ‘gates’ on the road to reach her. There are rules to follow, and challenges to pass, and if you don’t….well bad stuff happens. Up until about gate 4, I was loving it. It was very much the Blair Witch, paranormally vibe. After gate 4, it begins to get a bit more fantastical and I found I didn’t quite enjoy that as much. Previously, it had felt very real and I almost thought this could genuinely happen. But, after it left to more fantasy monsters, it lost a bit of the terror.

In addition, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Not only did it go full fantasy with the Dahut storyline, but the ending is very open and I’m still not sure what actually happened?! If anyone has read this book, and has any insights or thoughts, I would love to hear them!

All in all, I really enjoyed Rules for Vanishing. The first half of the book is a terrifyingly creepy paranormal story, with whispers and voices and spirits trying to kill you. The structure and format of the book is so awesome and really helps add to the tension and fear. Whilst I wasn’t happy with the ending, this is still definitely worth a read!

Book review: Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Title: Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 29 October 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romance

Page extent: 290 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In a community that isn’t always understanding, an HIV-positive teen must navigate fear, disclosure, and radical self-acceptance when she falls in love–and lust–for the first time. Powerful and uplifting, Full Disclosure will speak to fans of Angie Thomas and Nicola Yoon.

Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.

Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…

Full Disclosure is a book which looks at the impact of HIV in a modern setting. It is both a fun and hilarious YA contemporary as well as a timely reminder about the fear of HIV still prevalent in our society.

Simone is our protagonist. She has had HIV since she was born, passed on from her birth mother. She has recently moved to a new school after her HIV status was revealed and everyone turned on her at her last one. Now, someone at her new school is blackmailing her, threatening to reveal her secret if she doesn’t stay away from Miles, the boy she’s crushing on.

Simone really is the star of this book. She exudes energy on every page. Her interactions with both her best friends, Claudia and Lydia, as well as Miles, were hilarious. Full Disclosure really captures what’s it’s like to be a teen and discovering your sexuality. From the sex shop scene to the constant jokes about sex in her friend group, it feels so real. I love how Camryn wasn’t afraid to shy away from talking openly about sex and masturbation as a teen. It’s abundantly obvious this was written by a teen, by someone with a clear understanding of how teens actually act – because Simone’s voice, the characters, their interactions, they all sound like teens. It was very refreshing to read!

Miles is also an absolutely adorable and lovely character. His sincere support and love for Simone, and the way he tries to watch musicals so he can know more about what Simone enjoys is just wonderful! He is like the opposite to your traditional moody white boy YA love interest and I LOVE HIM.

The casual diversity in this book is incredible. From Claudia’s asexuality to Lydia’s bisexuality, Simone’s two dads, Simone’s own exploration of her queerness, to the conversation at the GSA about whether you can be a non-binary lesbian, it really shows the range of diversity within the queer community. I wasn’t expecting the internalised (and external) biphobia in the book, it hasn’t been mentioned in any of the other reviews I’ve read. It is challenged at the end of the book, but just note there are some discussions about the validity of bisexuality and what makes you “queer”. Claudia makes some nasty comments in the heat of an argument, as well as Simone’s ex, Sarah. I appreciate and understand the need for discussions such as this in YA, however it did make me feel a little sad about this book. I feel like every book I’ve read this year that deals with bisexuality has the same thing, and I’ve just gotten a little tired of reading biophobic lines this year. But as I say, I understand the importance, I’m just personally not really in the place to read books that deal with this issue right now.

There was also quite a few heavy info-dumping sections. These generally were when there was medical info to give, and whilst it was interesting to hear about U=U etc, I feel there could’ve been a more natural way to do so rather than the very large info dump at the start of the book.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed Full Disclosure! It brought the experience of HIV into a modern setting, which I don’t think I’ve read in a YA before. Simone is a fantastic character, and the heavy issue driven nature of this book was lightened by the hilarious discussions about sex. Great debut and I will definitely keep an eye on what Camryn Garrett writes next!

Book review: I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi

Title: I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication date: 22 October 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Science fiction

Page extent: 400 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Seven days. Seven days. The Earth might end in seven days.

When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.

For high school truant Jesse Hewitt, though, nothing has ever felt permanent. Not the guys he hooks up with. Not the jobs his underpaid mom works so hard to hold down. Life has dealt him one bad blow after another — so what does it matter if it all ends now? Cate Collins, on the other hand, is desperate to use this time to find the father she’s never met, the man she grew up hearing wild stories about, most of which she didn’t believe. And then there’s Adeem Khan. While coding and computer programming have always come easily to him, forgiveness doesn’t. He can’t seem to forgive his sister for leaving, even though it’s his last chance.

With only seven days to face their truths and right their wrongs, Jesse, Cate, and Adeem’s paths collide even as their worlds are pulled apart. 

Quiet SFF won 2019, yes I said it. This is another genre-blending book combining the mystery and magic of science fiction with the heavy character driven narratives of contemporary YA. In I Hope You Get This Message this results in an emotional portrayal of three teens at the end of the world, trying to keep their families together.

The book follows three POVs: Jesse, a kid who struggles with depression and has had a hard life after his dad died with high debt; Cate, living with her schizophrenic mum as her hallucinations worsen, trying to track down her father at her mother’s request; Adeem, desperately hurt and angry at the sister who abandoned him two years ago but desperate to find her before the end of the world. These three stories take all three to Roswell, where their journey to find their families and discover what matters to them at the end of the world will merge, and end.

I Hope You Get This Message is a wonderful debut. Each of the three POVs have their own voice and unique character which makes it a really easy and unconfusing read, which is a fault I often find with multiple POV books. Of the characters, I do think Jesse’s voice shone above the rest. I can’t say I liked him as a person (he seems to have a bit of the ‘I’ll destroy everything good in my world then blame the world for it’ trait), but his voice was so incredibly strong. I also think his flaws are incredibly realistic for the life he has held – so whilst I don’t necessarily like him because of them, I understood him and his actions so well. But sometimes I did just want to scream through the pages at him ‘JESSE NOOOOO’. I also thought the portrayal of his depression was well written; particularly the handling of his self-harm/wrist cuff: to clarify, there are no scenes of self harm, just mentions of the past event, but when it is discussed it really grabs you with the intensity of emotion.

Cate and Adeem are both still strong, but I think perhaps lacked a bit of the intensity of Jesse. Cate’s journey to find her father is interesting, living as she is for her mother’s desires and not her own. It was interesting to see her come to terms and accept that this is how she lives across the book, with an exceptional line ending her last POV. Adeem has another very interesting journey with his sister: from the strong desire to find her to reconnect his family, to the anger that courses through him that she left, his feelings are complicated and in-depth.

I really loved the crossovers between the POVs. Side characters we know cross between these three lives but without the three at the centre knowing this. I love that sense of all knowing as a reader, and I loved seeing the three characters come together and intersect as the book progressed.

The sci-fi element, whilst forming the basis of the premise for this novel, is not at the forefront. Instead, it’s an ever constant but quiet guiding force throughout the book for the characters. I enjoyed the short interludes interspersed throughout the book about the aliens discussing the fate of Earth, which kept the sci-fi more central, though I felt these short sections lacked a sense of urgency. There was no progression of tension amongst them, as I would have expected as the aliens get closer and closer to their deadline of Earth destruction.

All in all, I think I Hope You Get This Message is a brilliant debut. With easy, everyday diversity (take note SFF authors, this is how to do it!!!), well developed characters and the different discussions of family, this is definitely one to pick up!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

Title: The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication date: 29 October 2019

Genre: Science fiction | Young Adult

Page extent: 320 pages

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Goodreads blurb: Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters.

At the end of the twenty-first century, the world has changed dramatically, but life continues one thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. In Great Britain, sea creatures swim among the ruins of Big Ben and the Tower of London, and citizens waver between fear and hope; fear of what lurks in the abyss, and hope that humanity will soon discover a way to reclaim the Earth.

Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen has her own problems to deal with. Her father’s been arrested, accused of taking advantage of victims of the Seasickness-a debilitating malaise that consumes people,often claiming their lives. But Leyla knows he’s innocent, and all she’s interested in is getting him back so that their lives can return to normal.

When she’s picked to race in the action-packed London Submersible Marathon, Leyla gets the chance to secure his freedom; the Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. The race takes an unexpected turn, though, and presents her with an opportunity she never wanted: Leyla must venture outside of London for the first time in her life, to find and rescue her father herself.

Now, she’ll have to brave the unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a secretive, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If she fails, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–and her father might be lost forever.

***

The Light at the Bottom of the World was one of my most anticipated 2019 releases. It didn’t quite live up to my hopes but was still an interesting and exciting premise.

I’m not sure if I somehow misread all marketing material for this book, but what I read was entirely unlike what I anticipated. Going in, I expected to see more mystery and investigation in London, leading up to the big race (this is what I gathered from the blurb). However, the race happens in the very first few pages, so what followed was a book completely unanticipated for me! Which was quite exciting as I has absolutely no idea what was going to happen.

Leyla lives in a world where Earth flooded, so the humans took to the seas. Above the water line, fierce storms rage making any possibility of living on the surface unlikely. Below, a new Britain has emerged. In London, Leyla lives under the water, using submersibles to get around the city. When she is randomly selected to take part in the annual City marathon, she is delighted. If she wins, she gets to ask the Prime Minister for anything she desires and he will grant it. Leyla plans to ask for her father’s release. Months ago, Leylas father was arrested for something he didn’t do, and she is determined to find him. However, things don’t quite go to plan (ofc not), and Leyla finds herself on a frantic hunt to find her father and run from a corrupt government.

The first incredibly exciting and unexpected element for me were the sea creatures! I don’t want to give too much away, but they are SO COOL. Several different creatures have been genetically engineered by humans for various different purposes and I really want to find out more about the creation of these. It looks like we might find out in the sequel so I am waiting with baited breath!!

Second was the corrupt government. Yes somehow I missed that on the blurb. I really just saw ‘underwater London’ and wanted it. The discovery of the government’s corruption is slow, but it creates a very mysterious and tense atmosphere. As with the sea creatures, I just wish there had been a little bit more to sate my curiosity.

Of the main characters, Armen is definitely the strongest and my favourite. He had such a fabulous air of intensity and mystery about him. His backstory is so compelling and I loved hearing about his life and where he came from. Sadly, Leyla, our protagonist just wasn’t as strong for me. She felt very naive and young for the story. Her constant ‘oh my god, what on earth, I am surprised’ six reveals in really got on my nerves. Given her backstory, I really don’t think she would be that trusting and naive. She felt very very young for the story. I realise this is a YA, but Armen felt so much older and level headed than she did. The difference between how these two behave and act is really quite striking. Either he is a lot older (in which case the romance is really weird) or Leyla’s behaviour didn’t match her age. I did appreciate her strong love for her family though, her driving force throughout the novel.

As a debut novel, I really was impressed with the scope and idea behind this world. But there were a few flaws with execution: dialogue felt stilted at times to me, and I didn’t flow through the story. It really jumped from action to action with no flow.

However! Please don’t let that put you off. Leyla really comes into her own by the end of the novel, and I’m really keen to read the next in the series to find out more about the mystery behind Leyla’s father and the sea creatures!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Opposite of Always by Justin A Reynolds

Title: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Publication date: 5 March 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romance

Page extent: 464 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodreads blurb: Jack Ellison King. King of Almost.

He almost made valedictorian.

He almost made varsity.

He almost got the girl…

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. Jack’s curse of almost is finally over.

But this love story is . . . complicated. It is an almost happily ever after. Because Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Beautiful, radiant Kate. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do—and let go—to save the people he loves. 

***

Wow…this was so good?! I’ve been on a fantasy kick recently and was really beginning to feel like I wasn’t enjoying books as much as I would normally. This book was a welcome relief from high fantasy overload. Whilst there is a tiny portion of magic related to time travel, the story is a contemporary romance and that is very much the plot focus. 

Opposite of Always follows Jack King, a boy who always comes second. Second to his best friend (Franny) who got with his other best friend (Jillian) after Jack was too scared to ask her out; second to almost getting on the varsity team whilst his best friend did), second, second, second. At a party when Jack contemplates giving in and kissing Jillian, he meets Kate and is immediately blown away by her. What follows is months of falling in love and hopes of a happy ever after for everyone. But then Kate dies. Suddenly, Jack is stuck in a time loop, forced to re-live the same four months over and over, as he attempts to save Kate’s life. But as he tries, his other relationships begin to fall apart and Jack has to contemplate that maybe it’s not possible to save everyone he loves. 

This was such a fun romance. I adored Jack and Kate together. There was so much banter, so many laugh out loud moments that made me snort with laughter. I did find the speed with which Jack seemed to forget his past feelings for Jillian a little unbelievable. Or, perhaps believable, but insincere. It marred the start of his relationship with Kate as I couldn’t really believe he was so suddenly in love with someone else. However, as we got to see them together across so many different timelines, it really helped the believability of their love, especially as Jack ended up living months and months of time together with Kate. 

I loved the time loop element. Yes it is SUCH a trope. But I am a sucker for a good trope. It was so interesting to see Jack try so many different ways to get his happy ending. At first, he is so sure in what would make him happy. But as the different loops play out, we see the impact of Jack’s actions on those around him, and what makes Jack happy, can at times destroy others. And suddenly, what Jack thought would make him happiest is no longer true.

I really enjoyed that even though this book felt very uplifting and happy and I felt so joyful whenever I read it, it didn’t shy away from confrontational topics. From Franny’s non-existent dad who is newly released from jail, his re-arrest after a shop owner took offence to a black man in his shop, to the shootings of innocent black men, this book doesn’t shy away from contemporary world problems and it really shows the normalcy of these actions for so many people, which I think make it incredibly impactful.

Linking to my issues with Jack’s feelings are my issues with Jillain. I won’t give anything away, but suffice to say, there are reasons which make her seem like a very insincere character and I really wasn’t convinced of her relationship with Franny.

But despite the few small flaws, I really adored reading this. It was EXACTLY the break I needed in my reading, and it was so much fun. I felt so happy reading it, so many moments made me laugh, it’s a fantastic, trope filled, summery read!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Reverie by Ryan La Sala

Title: Reverie by Ryan La Sala

Publisher: SourcebooksFire

Publication date: 3 December 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 416 pages

Rating: 3/5 stars

Goodreads blurb: Inception meets The Magicians in the most imaginative YA debut of the year!

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.

***

What’s scarier to the world of men than a woman limited only by her imagination?

I feel like I’m letting everybody down with my thoughts on this book. I wanted to love this one so much, I’ve heard so many people excitedly rave about this book: the plot, the characters, about how amazingly queer it is. And whilst Reverie is one of the most exciting and unique plots I’ve seen all year, as much as I was in love with the unashamedly queer nature of this book, I felt the execution let it down.

The story begins when Kane is pulled from a lake, with no recollection of how he got there, or how his car had driven into an old, heritage mill and set it on fire. He has no answers to give the questioning police. But, when a mysterious individual, Posey, interrogates him under the guise of a psychologist, Kane vows to discover what happened and how – because if he does, Posey promises they will keep the police away from Kane. But as Kane begins to investigate, it appears he has forgotten even more than he originally believed. 

This starts with an excellent premise: Kane has no idea about anything that has happened and so is discovering all of the magic of the world as the reader does. His first reverie, a dream world pulled from the subconscious of someone and made real, is as frightening and confusing for Kane as it is for us. What follows is a blend of action and wonder and utter fear as Kane explores the reverie, accidentally causing twists in the set story line with disasterous consequences. This premise is so unique and original, I absolutely love it. The very idea of reveries are so magical and amazing: I absolutely adore the thought of dreams becoming reality, or them having to follow a set storyline or cause utter mayhem and disaster when going off script. But even more than that, having been pulled from a person’s subconscious is the idea that they represent the true, unhindered and unashamed soul of a person in the reverie. I really like the way La Sala played with the idea of what is reality and what is fiction, bringing aspects of conflict from reality into the fictional reveries. 

Sometimes the things we believe in are the most dangerous things about us.

However. I have to say I wasn’t sold on the writing style. It almost seemed to be a mash of two different styles and they couldn’t decide which to go with? Half of it is quick, simple, unadorned. But then there will be random sentences of hugely detailed imagery plonked in the middle of nowhere. And whilst this imagery is beautifully written, it feels so out of place I was always just jolted out of the story and so I felt rather detached for most of the book. This book would’ve worked so much better if it had chosen either style and just stuck with it. In addition, this random change seemed replicated with the emotional hits. Kane would be walking along the street, then suddenly this mammoth line about emotion would come from nowhere and it just felt a little out of place. 

When it comes to the characters, I again have very mixed feelings. I love Olivia. She seems so cool and I really got who she was, even though she isn’t one of the main characters. However everyone else is just….not very nice? I didn’t root for them to win at all. It was very difficult to see how they were friends at all, as they all seem to hate each other?

With our villain, Posey I adored how over the top and dramatic they were. A DRAG QUEEN SORCERESS ANYONE?! It was incredible. The description of her outfits whenever she enters is FABULOUS and I got such a good picture of her. You could really feel how powerful and in control she was of every situation. I just wanted some more backstory to her. There needed to be more information about why she doing what she was. I wanted her to feel more villainous I think? But despite that, I loved how unexpected Posey was as a character. I honestly had no idea what would happen whenever Posey appeared, and that made for lots of twists and turns!

The romance was also really great – I am SO HERE for the memory loss trope! I don’t want to give anything away, but I loved the morally gray aspect of the love interest, and his story was particularly interesting to me.

He was holding Kane’s hand. For “safety” reasons.

All in all this was a story that had an exciting plot and premise, but I felt lacked a little in the execution. In saying that, I definitely still enjoyed this book and read it so quickly! It’s fun and sassy and full of drama. Also drag queens and rainbow magic! 

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Title: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Publication date: 26 February 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Dystopian | Young Adult

Page extent: 384 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodreads blurb: At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

***

We have been truly blessed in 2019 with sapphic enemies-to-lovers YA and We Set the Dark on Fire is no different!! This was a thrilling and touching tale about borders and immigration, fighting for justice and falling in love when you least expect it. 

Dani is top of her class at the Medio School for Girls. There she and other girls train to be Primera and Segunda wives to the top men in Medio. Primeras look after the household, Segundas take care of the children. Dani is the top Primera in her class. She is awaiting graduation day where she will be married to one of the most powerful sons on the island, Mateo Garcia. But Dani has a secret. Years ago, her parents took her on a perilous journey, forging identification papers and climbing over the wall that separates the outer islanders with Medio’s citizens. Those on the outside starve and beg, and Dani’s parents risked everything to escape that life. She has kept this secret for years, but now on the eve of her graduation, it threatens to come to light. To keep it secret, she accepts help from the resistance group La Voz, and finds herself blackmailed into helping them spy on her new husband. But with the Segunda wife, Carmen, watching her every move, Dani needs to use all her intelligence to stay safe.

The characters really shine is this fast paced, tense novel. Dani, our MC, is so brilliant. She is incredibly smart and driven, so observant and really uses her skills throughout the book. Her internal thoughts felt so real and I loved seeing her slowly embrace her emotions, going against all of her training to do so, as she fell further into both love and the resistance. Carmen was equally enthralling. She seemed to shine on every page, a reflection of Dani’s wonder at her, and I just love the mystery about her. Every moment these two are on page together is magical, and I think the writing of the book really felt amplified when they were together. There are some really beautiful passages. The entire romance was drawn out exceptionally well, and the progression itself from their hatred to love felt real and not rushed at all. These two are possibly one of my favourite f/f couples I’ve ever read. They each complement the other so well, and their feelings are so obvious and beautiful, I love them!! 

“On the outside, she was frozen, but inside her, whole cities were being razed to the ground. Explosions were shaking the walls of her stomach. People were screaming in her throat.”

I equally loved some of the side characters. Senora Garcia struck me as particularly strong and well written. She really intrigued me and I loved how she used her role to be as powerful as her husband. I did feel the women were all more well rounded and well written than the men. The Garcia men were understandably power hungry, angry and controlling. You could feel their power through the page and it felt very familiar of our current world, but they did feel a little one dimensional. I wasn’t hugely keen on Sota either, who again felt a little one dimensional and less well developed.

Equally familiar was the world building, which made this novel very successful. It is immediately reminiscent of current political ideologies regarding immigration and the privilege being on one side of a boundary (or in a certain country) brings. The lead up from peaceful protest to violence, the way the powerful military faked events to retain control, were all extremely realistic and brought a very current atmosphere to the book.

“Think about all the crimes your precious government condones, not just the ones they punish. Then you can talk to me about who the real criminals are. If we’re not all free, none of us are free. You remember that.”

We Set the Dark on Fire was tense and thrilling with lots of action and mystery, and on top of all that it had a fantastic and very realistic enemies-to-lovers f/f romance play out. I am so excited for February when the sequel is released, which will be written from CARMEN’s POV and I can’t wait!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Spooktober Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Title: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 14 November 2017

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 440 pages

Rating: FIVE / FIVE GLORIOUSLY SPOOKY STARS 👻👻👻👻👻

Goodreads blurb: Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

***

“Do I think they found mermaids? Yes. Of course I do. And I think the mermaids ate them all.”

IT GIVES ME CHILLS

Well I’m never getting on a boat again. Continuing my dive (hahaha) into horror, which started with Wilder Girls, I picked up Into the Drowning Deep after seeing it recommended on Twitter. And holy smokes, this book is goddamn incredible and I am now officially a fan of horror. Cue immediate reserving of several titles at the library. Into the Drowning Deep is a psychological horror set in a world where mermaids exist. Except, instead of the ‘lovely ladies of the sea’ we expect to find based on all our myths, we find creatures who want to eat our faces. 

7 years before the start of the novel, the Atargatis set off to film a mockumentary about the existence of mermaids. Instead, they were devoured alive. Now, Imagine, the entertainment company who had arranged the mockumentary 7 years ago, are launching a new mission to fix their reputation. They will prove that the mermaids are not a hoax, by capturing one and bringing it back to land. Accompanied by an army of scientists driven to either find the mermaids and make the discovery of a lifetime, or just to study parts of the uncharted ocean, the Melusine sets off on its mission. 

The trouble with discovery is that it goes two ways. For you to find something, that thing must also find you.

From the very first page of the novel, there is SO MUCH tension. I was immediately enthralled from the very first page. Short extracts of interviews, talks, videos appear at the start of each ‘section’, and these really add to the sense of tension and fear. They add brilliant insights into the mermaids, as well as hint at some of the terrible things about to happen. Another tension enducing technique I adored was the way Grant would compare the mermaids to very specific animals, the second before something awful happens. There is a split second of realisation for both the characters, and the reader, as you realise oh shit yes that’s what the mermaids are doing, and then immediately the shit happens. It was so terrifying and so amazing, my stomach was like a rollercoaster. It was just SO INTENSE. I cannot express how incredible it was to be swept on this ride.

Cats chitter when they see a bird. They make this little squeaky noise…Cats chitter, because they’re excited, because they’re about to start hunting. But when the hunt begins, they’re silent. They don’t make a sound. They come at their prey as quietly as they can, because a hunt only counts if there’s a kill at the end.

I loved the hugely scientific focus of the book. It was so detailed and made everything so much more ‘real’ by adding the science element – and by real I mean, I could imagine this all happening in real life. One of the things I love most about scarier stories is making it as realistic and believable as possible. It’s why I really love stories about viruses/pandemics, because they are so believable. And that believability really does add to the sense of fear! I feel like Into the Drowning Deep really had that believability, in part because there was such a scientific focus. I loved all the descriptions of the different scientists and their work, and loved that many of these different characters got focus. There are lots of POVs, but it works! There is such a diverse range of characters and I love that they all got to feature so heavily. Whilst there are main characters, the side characters POV still add a unique and interesting take to the story, sometimes having some of the scariest POVs in the book.

Our ‘main’ crew can be narrowed down to:

Victoria (Tory) Stewart: bisexual icon, sister of Anne, one of the people who died on the previous mission, and who has got NO TIME for her foolish asshole scientist ex who also happens to be on the boat (Jason, he’s a total ass, I shall mention him no further).

Dr Jillian Toth, half-Hawaiian world-leading expert on mermaids, who has dedicated her entire life to studying mermaids and who feels deeply guilty that her research led to the massacre on the previous Atargatis expedition (Jillian is probably my favourite character because she just has her shit together so much, and I just absolutely hung off every word she uttered).

Olivia: autistic, lesbian TV personality from Imagine who is documenting the events on board the ship.

Theo Blackwell: physically disabled, representing the Imagine management on board, and Jillain’s ex-husband – and probably the one character I’ll say I wish we’d had more character development from. He’s definitely not a good character (as in “morally good”), and I wanted to find out more about his motives.

These four are joined by a host of others, including three sisters, Holly (chemical data analysist, deaf twin) and Heather (also deaf, twin to Holly, and underwater explorer, HOW COOL IS THAT?!), and Hallie (sign langauge extraordinaire); Luis, crytozoologist and Victoria’s lab partner and funder; Michi and Jacques, gun loving monster hunters. Honestly, this cast list is just amazing. Every single one is so damn unique and different, and every POV felt really different. Whilst the four main characters get more page time, I loved that we still got to read from the smaller characters POV. Their short POV sections were excellent and added so much to the book and the tension. 

On top of all this awesomeness, it all features a f/f relationship (though this is definitely not the focus of the book). We get to watch the romance bloom – and there was a part of the book, right near the end, where something happens, and I’m just like NO NO NO this can’t happen, because SHE will be causing it AND JUST I need someone to talk to about this book.

Finally, Into the Drowning Deep goes into some really deep discussions on the commercialisation of science, our treatment of species we consider “other”, and the impact humanity has on the world around us, which I thought were all handed brilliantly and really shows how terrible the human race can be.

“Humanity was cruel, and if you were prepared to try to find a bottom to that cruelty, you had best be prepared for a long, long fall.”

All in all, I loved this book! My first adult horror, I really wasn’t sure what to expect and I certainly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did (because I’m a visual media horror wimp). But everything about this book was fantastic, the plot, the science, the characters, the prose. It all added up to a superbly terrifying and intense novel, and I can’t recommend it enough! 

***

After this book, I am now so exicted to expand my reading into the horror genre! So, since I’m such a newby, do you have any horror recs? Let me know!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Title: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Publisher: Tor.com

Publication date: 10 Sept 2019

Genre: Science fantasy | Adult

Page extent: 448 pages

Goodreads blurb: Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

***

Well that was an utterly bizarre, but captivating, challenging and cinematic read. I don’t quite know where to start with this review! As my most anticipated read this year, I expected a lot from the book marketed as ‘lesbian necromancers in space’. I’m not quite sure I got what I expected – it was so unique I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. It does make for a confusing first half, but very much improves in the second half with an absolutely phenomenal ending. 

Gideon the Ninth starts convolutedly. It throws you in the deep end, and doesn’t wait for you to catch up. The sheer amount of vocabulary used in this book is incredible, the prose is intensely descriptive which I admit took me a while to get on board with. The large cast is difficult to recall and I do wish I’d made much more use of the character guide at the start of the novel. 

But in saying that, what I did like at the start were Gideon and Harrow. I enjoyed Gideon’s sarcastic, snarky, ridiculous humour throughout. I liked that it lessened what was otherwise quite a heavy and dense first half. I also thought Harrow was brilliantly characterised from the moment she stepped on page. I LOVE her. She has such a presence whenever we see her, and whilst Gideon was so unique in her own ways, I thought it was Harrow who really shone. 

The second half of the book is where things get really exciting. With the launch of the murder mystery, the book becomes intensely gripping and I flew through the second half. With the murders, it did also lessen the character load so made for a much less confusing read as well. The emotional hits also begin to pick up, crescendoing to that ending which really truly hurts. Muir’s writing really sings in some of the big fight scenes towards the end of the novel, and I wish so much I could learn to write battles as she does. 

The relationship between Gideon and Harrow was fantastic, and I loved their growth and development across the novel. Harrow particularly has a fantastic character arc and I am so excited to see from her POV in the second book.

Although Gideon the Ninth definitely takes some time to get used to, it improves greatly in the second half, ending exceptionally and with some fantastic twists and hard hitting scenes which make this a bizarrely unique book.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco