Book review: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Title: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Publisher: Zephyr

Publication date: eBook – 7 May 2020 (Print: Summer 2020)

Genre: Historical | Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 432 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Do you hear the people sing?! Singing the song of angry men! It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again!

I always knew “disaster queers in the French Revolution era” was exactly my type of shit and this book just proved it times like a million. This was such a fun riot of chaos: a rag tag group of teens get in way over their head when they rescue a prisoner who happens to control electricity. With both the Revolutionaries currently in control of France, and the Royalists desperate to return to power, both searching for the girl, the Battalion des Mortes must use all their wit, charm and sheer dumb luck to escape the clutches of all who chase them.

In Dangerous Remedy, the Revolution hasn’t really improved things all that much. Instead of a free France for all, the Revolutionaries have taken over with the same terror and fear as the Royalists before them, sending all to stand against them (and even some who don’t) to the guillotine, the symbol of the revolution. At the heart of this story are the Battalion des Mortes, a group of outcast teens trying to save the innocent from the guillotine. Our crew:

  • Camille, leader of the Battalion: headstrong, combatant and, despite her appearance of planning for her heists, sooooooo impulsive. She is at times a difficult character to like (her unwillingness to communicate causes oh so many problems and got me so mad) but this all comes from her complete devotion and passion to the Battalion which sometimes clouds her ability to think clearly.
  • Ada, our clever science researcher, desperately in love with Camille and terrified that Camille will never choose her over the Battalion. And also hiding a big secret about her father that she knows Camille will kill her for if she ever finds out.
  • Al, who I think is my personal favourite: destructive, sarcastic and just as combative as Camille, terrified to let anyone close in case they don’t care for him as he does for them, broken beyond belief thanks to his parents, and drinking himself to a slow death.
  • Guil, ex military softie, the biggest brain of them all, calm and clear headed in a crisis and the man we all need around to get us the fuck out of situations.
  • Olympe, the girl with magic, otherwise known as able to control electricity, scared and fearful of the world who hurt her but who will do whatever it takes to bring them down.
  • James, the man from Camille’s past, the healer who seemingly will do all he can to protect Cam.

These six will race against time to fool the Revolutionaries and Royalists in the most fun adventure ever. When Kat Dunn described this team as “queer disasters”, we all really underestimated how much disasters they would be, I love all of them so much. I just adore the way Dangerous Remedy opens and we’re immediately thrown into a prison break that keeps going wrong and then wrong again and then wrong again. I adore Ada’s complete “for the love of God/sounds about right” attitude throughout as disaster after disaster follows the team. They are simply the most fun to be around. I love the way Dunn both plays into and laughs at common tropes. The humour and snark really added to this book and made it into even more of the delightfully fun romp it is.

The setting is of course also fabulous. We are embedded in the artsy underworld that made Paris such a centre of the art scene, from the decadent, absinthe clubs, to the theatre scenes, I thought it perfectly captured the essence of Revolution France.

All in all this was a fabulously fun read and I can’t wait to see what happens to the Battalion des Mortes next. More disasters probably. Vive la révolution.

April wrap-up and May TBR

Hi everyone,

Happy May! Are you all well?! I’ve written so many work emails starting with ‘I hope you’re well’ this month, I really need to think of other ways of asking if people are safe and doing okay. It really feels like 6 years since the books I read at the start of April. And yet somehow it feels like April has flown by?! All concept of time is clearly just melting away. I also started my new job at the start of April! And similarly, it feels like I’ve been there for years, I can’t quite believe the start of April was only a few weeks ago. TIME, WHAT ARE YOU ANYMORE.

April reading wrap-up

In April, I was participating in the OWLs readathon, hoping to make the grades to become a Curse Breaker! And I’m glad to say I was pretty damn successful. I managed all the OWLs to be a Curse Breaker, and finished all but one of the other exams, which was 11 books in total. This was the most I’ve read so far this year, but I swear I’m never going to reach my record which is 15 from June last year. Here is what I read this month:

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – full review here

Cleanness by Garth Greenwall

Finna by Nino Cipri

Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Red Hood by E.K Arnold

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore – full review here

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood – full review to come

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey – full review here

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood – full review to come

May TBR

It’s ARC time! I recently got approved for a whole bunch of ARCs, I assume this happened when all the publishers had to move to online digital proofs only thanks to the virus. And maybe they were feeling generous because there are some titles on this list I NEVER thought I’d be approved for as I don’t have the largest following. But now my percentage looks terrible so I am on a mission to read all (or most) of my ARCs this month. So far, I’m already two down so going well! I’m not sure if I’ll manage the whole list of these, but I definitely want to get a good chunk of them read.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Eden by Tim Lebbon

The Extraordinaries by T.J Klune

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

Fragile Remedy by Maria Ingrande Mora

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

And if I manage to get those done, I have a few hard copy books I’m dying to get into.

The City We Became by N.K Jemisin

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

Cherry Beach by Laura McPhee-Browne

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J Klune

That’s it for another month. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought of them in the comments! My May TBR is much less strict than last month, so there might be quite a bit more change in my next wrap-up post than there was here! I hope everyone is staying safe and I wish you all the best May.

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,

I hope everyone is well. May the force be with you today! Sorry it has been a few weeks since joining this weekly meme, I have no excuse except that I could not stop playing Animal Crossing and so had no time to write blog posts. But I’m back this week! And excited to talk to you about five contemporary books on my TBR. Contemporary is a genre I really hadn’t read much of until last year, where I discovered YA contemporary and read so many favourites and thus fell in love with the genre. So here’s some of the books I’m desperately looking forward to read.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callendar

Starting off this list with one of my most anticipated books of the year that is releasing in just ONE DAY. And the stunning cover is not the only reason I’m excited. Felix Ever After is about a trans teen who tries to get revenge on his bully by catfishing them, and somehow lands in a quasi-love triangle. This a book about the exploration of identity and self-discovery and I’m pretty sure this will end up being one of the best books I read this year.

Cherry Beach by Laura McPhee-Browne

The first adult contemporary on this list, Cherry Beach is published by a small, independent Aussie publisher who I’m lucky enough to now work for! So I managed to snag a copy of this gorgeous novel! This is a book about friendship and desire, and tells the story of Hetty, confident and life of any party, and Ness, social wallflower, best friends who move away to live in Canada. But Ness has a secret: she’s completely in love with Hetty. But in Canada, Ness finds love in an art gallery while Hetty’s life deteriorates, and Ness might finally lose the person she loves most.

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

This book has been on my TBR since the middle of last year and I really really really need to read it because I know it’s going to be brilliant. It has just been shortlisted for several awards over here in Australia as well, so now seems like the perfect time to get around to reading it! This is a book about the intersections of mental illness, family and culture and promises to be an emotional but hopeful read.

Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

The other adult title on this list, Hex is about a biological scientist, Nell, who researchs poisons and antidotes (HOW FUCKING COOL, RIGHT?!) and her mentor, Dr Joan. Told through a series of notebooks/journals that Nell keeps, Hex explores the relationship between Joan, Nell, and several of their friends, the illicit relationships, grudges and obsessions between them.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

And now finishing with another of my most anticipated books of the year, The Henna Wars finally releases this month! It may take quite a while for it to get to me with the current situation but that means I’ll just be even more excited to read it by the time it arrives. If you haven’t heard about this killer book yet, it’s about two girls who set up rival henna businesses for a school assessment, though one of them is appropriating the other’s culture. But amidst “sabotage and school stress” their lives get tangled and a crush might develop into something more…

That’s it for this week. Are you excited to read any of these? Or have you read any of these already? Let me know what you think of them!

Book review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 14 January 2020

Genre: Historical | Contemporary | Magical realism | Young adult

Page extent: 309 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.

I’m a reader whose favourite books tend to be massively detailed fantasy tomes, with lots of rich worldbuilding. I’ve always found this results in me not clicking with magical realism/fabulism/contemporary fantasy quite as much, because there is often some aspects of ambiguity or suspension of disbelief required for the world to make sense. So whenever I read a novel of this type, I find I either really love it or just feel a bit meh. And unfortunately this was the later for me, which I am devastated about because I was so excited to read my first Anna-Marie McLemore book. But saying that, I was every bit in love with McLemore’s writing as I expected to be, and I fully plan to continue my dive into their work!

Dark and Deepest Red is a dual timeline story: 1518, where a dancing plague rolls through the town of Strasbourg, and modern day, where a pair of red shoes force a girl to dance. Inspired by the real historical accounts of a dancing plague as well as Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Red Shoes. I’m not familiar with that fairytale so I came to this book very new to the story. This is also my very first Anna Marie McLemore book, and I was hugely excited because so many people in the book community absolutely rave over their books.

I’d like to start with the really positive which is that I 100% want to read more of McLemore’s work. I found the language and writing absolutely beautiful, and that really lived up to what I’ve heard from others about their work. The language was what drew me through the story and made me want to keep reading. As expected also, let’s shout out to the awesome rep in this story: there is a lead trans man and he is absolutely my favourite character! I adored Alifair. He’s actually the only character who doesn’t get his own POV, and I wonder if I therefore liked him so much because he felt so mysterious compared to the others.

Unfortunately, I think it was the story itself that I didn’t click with. The ambiguity and lack of explanation got to me and I think I would prefer the story a bit more resolved. I also felt the structure of three different POVs, each section only a few pages long, made it difficult to ever root for a character or get a chance to understand them a bit more. A story like this, which is so heavily dependant on its characters to make up for the ambiguity in its world/magic, really needs strong characters and I just didn’t get a chance to feel close to the characters because we were whisked away from constantly.

So whilst I wasn’t in love with this particular story and world, I really was awed by Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing and I will definitely be picking up one of their earlier books which might work better for me.

Books as: Downton Abbey characters

Hi everyone,

This might be the start of a new, regular post featuring books as…well pretty much anything! Maybe food, perhaps animals, even TV characters! We’ll see if I manage to keep it up. My first post in this (possible) series is going to look at one of my favourite TV shows of all time: Downton Abbey!

During our current time trapped inside, I have discovered that every season of Downton is on Amazon Prime, so of course I immediately signed up to the 30 day free trial and have spent the past few days binge-watching it all. Now obviously the first thing I thought when I started watching was who would these characters be as books (duh). And that’s how we got here, where I will tour around my favourite Downton characters and match them to books! So check out your favourite character and see what book I think they would be and see if you agree with my reasoning (and hopefully pick up a new book recommendation or two to read!)

Please note this post will contain spoilers for all seasons of Downton Abbey. Don’t read on unless you’re okay finding out who dies!!

Mary Crawley

Gosh how I love Lady Mary. My love for her is nearly as strong as Carson’s. With vicious wit and cunning charm, she cuts down any who stand against her. But underneath that cutting exterior is an innocence and passion that makes her throw away all her charms and graces when she’s in love. Mary has always been my favourite character. I just love that she seems like such a stoic, unbreakable character and then small scenes will show her breaking down silently with no one around and it just breaks my heart as well.

I chose The City of Brass for Mary because much like Lady Mary, Nahri is also a QUEEN who at first glance is a tough and confident individual, able to withstand all who come at her. But we see her exterior crack as she grows close to Dara and Ali. She stands so strong in the face of her enemies but that doesn’t stop her from loving fiercely and freely.

Matthew Crawley

When I think of Matthew, I think of That Episode, the one I watched and never forget that feeling of utter and gutrenching pain, I will never get over the shock of that moment – and on Christmas Day no less! For that reason, Matthew Crawley is The Fever King, a book which to this day shocks me and destroys me in all the best ways a book can.

Anna Smith

Anna is another of my favourite characters! She’s one of the lovliest, nicest characters in Downton, always ready to help out her friends (even if it means carrying a dead body through the house…) But she’s also so determined when she wants something and refuses to have someone (cough Mr Bates cough) try to exclude her to “protect her”. Her sweetness and her fire reminded me of both Rachel and Sana from Tell Me How You Really Feel. They are both so determined and fierce and yet, when they finally admit their feelings, are so soft and gentle. Just like Anna.

John Bates

Steadfast, protective Mr Bates, he’s another one of my favourite characters (wow, it’s like they’re all my favourites…) I fully admit, I’m pretty sure he’s one of those characters like marmite: you either love him, or you hate him. But forgive the terrible, shitty writing on his storyline which makes him so dispensable! It isn’t his fault! I adore his strength in the wake of the others’ hatred of him, the sweetness of his relationship with Anna, the fact we see such a strong man crying in the very first episode, I love it!!

Mr Bates is such a strong character to me, yes he acts a bit like a martyr sometimes, determined to take the fall and protect everyone around him. But, that takes so much strength and he reminds me of the strength seen in Jade City. This book follows one family who are pretty much the strongest people in fantasy ever. And not just because they can wield jade. They go through so much, everyone is constantly trying to take them down, but they survive.

The Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley

For Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, the pinnacle of class and poise, so in control of everything and everyone around her, who else could I see her as than Erin Morgenstern, the author of some of the most perfect works of art. The Starless Sea always felt so in control, each word and line so perfectly arranged and thought about. Morgenstern is a cut above the rest, just like Violet.

Edith Crawley

I’ll admit, Edith was never my favourite Crawley. It’s difficult to like her when you’re rooting for Mary. But that doesn’t mean I won’t give her one of the best YA fantasies around. Because though Edith might not be my favourite, she’s the one I understand the most. She has always felt second best to her sister Mary, who can be cruel and unkind to her. But Edith can be just as cruel back. There is a spark of viciousness in her, she gives Mary everything she’s got, even if she doesn’t always plan things well (like constantly forgetting the fact that Mary will always, always react back.) She reminds me of Dani and Carmen from We Set the Dark on Fire. Society tells them they are second best, and they will do everything in their power to fight to be seen beyond their beginnings. In later seasons, Edith begins to fight against the expectations of society, as she finds a job and works, in addition to raising a child by herself. Whilst it’s nowhere the revolution Dani and Carmen lead, Edith leads the revolution from Downton’s traditional and conservative standards.

Thomas Barrow

How could I not choose If We Were Villains for Thomas? Thomas is made for this book!! From his disheveled collars, the gutrenching pain of hiding his sexuality, his control over everything until that moment when suddenly he has none… I could so imagine Thomas fitting it with the cast of If We Were Villains, those beautiful messes so in control of their every move as they act their way through life, until the moment when suddenly they aren’t and everything changes.

Charles Carson

Is it weird that Carson kinda (totally, 100%) reminds me of Claire in The Library of the Unwritten? Claire has the same no nonsense approach to life as Carson, she is so put together and dignified even when chasing down demons and lost characters, always seeming in complete control even when very much not – just like Carson! Plus, I can totally imagine Claire hurruphing the same way Carson does if anyone dares to mess with her library.

Tom Branson

This one might be a tenuous connection, but it was the first thing I thought of and I could not get it out of my head. Tom Branson is the unwilling social climber, the chauffeur who accidentally fell in love with a Crawley sister and finds himself marrying into the family. But he’s Irish. Political. And, as he says many times across the seasons, he wishes he could do away with the lot of them. This reminded me of We are the Ants, a story very much about, well, doing away with the whole human race. But We Are the Ants is also about hope, about seeing the good in humanity, just like Branson comes to see there is some good in the Crawleys.

Sybil Crawley

Sybil Crawley is the only person on this list getting two books to her name. And that’s because I could see no way of joining both her hopeful, kindhearted nature with the psychological awfulness of her death!! One of the most horrific and shocking scenes on TV, I felt she needed two books to convey both her innocent nature and the horror of her parting. Sybil Crawley is known as the sweetest Crawley, liked by everyone. She is firm and strong in her political opinions, and in her love, when she runs off to Ireland with Tom. Her hopefulness and kindness reminds me of I Hope You Get This Message, a quiet sci-fi about the end of the world filled with hope. And of course since Sybil is such a kind, lighthearted person, they gave her one of the most traumatic death scenes ever. I remember first watching that episode, mouth wide open, unable to comprehend what I was seeing. And that pretty much explains my reaction to The Luminous Dead, a terror filled novel that I found astounding. Downton always managed to pair such quiet day to day life with huge moments of suffering in a way I don’t think many other shows manage to do. Which is why I love it so much.

I hope you enjoyed my tour around Downton Abbey characters as books. If you’ve watched Downton Abbey, do let me know in the comments who you favourite character is, and if you agree with my choices!

Book review: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Title: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Publisher: Mantle

Publication date: 10 March 2020

Genre: Historical | Adult | Gothic romance

Page extent: 352 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .

August 1939.

Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.

Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.

As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?

Part love story, part mystery, The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is a gripping and atmospheric tale of family madness, long-buried secrets and hidden desires.

If gothic mystery and soft sapphic love surrounded by a creepy setting of taxidermy animals sounds amazing, then this is the book for you! I thought this was absolutely gorgeous, so much so, I have now added several of my favourite gothic classics to my immediate TBR and looked out all my old gothic romance films I watched as an impressionable young adult so I can show my partner and he can see how I became who I am. And why I really have A Type when it comes to my film and literature crushes.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor has one of the most interesting premises of all books releasing this year. Yes I said it! What kind of premise makes me give this statement? Well, it’s the start of WW2 and the Natural History Museum is evacuating its animals from London. Hetty, a young assistant at the museum, is tasked with looking after the mammal collection as it travels and stays at Lockwood Manor, a mysterious and haunting old manor house in the country, ruled by the irascible Lord Lockwood, a man who scorns and belittles Hetty for her passion, and his daughter, Lucy, a woman as equally mysterious as the house, who Hetty is immediately drawn to despite her oddity. (Well that was a long sentence). But when the animals start going missing, Hetty’s future at the museum is at stake as she fears any damage to the collection will be held as sorely her responsibility. And with Lord Lockwood refusing to aid in her efforts to find the thief/ghost/mysterious person behind the damage, she must discover the culprit herself.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor is a beautiful return to the setting of all of my favourite classics. This gothic romance and mystery is so reminiscent of my favourites, from Wuthering Heights to Dracula (though Lucy isn’t quite as brooding a love interest). I found the use of the museum’s creatures as a setting absolutely perfect for this style of book. It created such a disturbing atmosphere, always surrounded by thousands of the dark beady eyes of the animals, no matter where Hetty returned something following her and looking at her. It was so creepily delightful!! The story did perhaps start a little slowly, the more mystery part of the book not picking up until further through, but I found I really didn’t mind that much because the language and setting were so captivating I was happy to luxuriate and laze my way through the story.

When the mystery does kick in, the story heats up as Hetty struggles more and more viciously to live with Lord Lockwood as he exerts his control all through the house. You never really know who the real threat is, which is one the things I most adore about these gothic style novels. I was both overwhelmed with hatred for Lord Lockwood and the way he treated Hetty and the museum as if he owned them, whilst simultaneously being completely engrossed in the more supernatural elements: the woman in white who haunted Lucy’s mother and seems to haunt Lucy herself. And the longer Hetty stays at the Manor, the more she seems to be under the spell of this haunting as well…

Of course no book such as this is complete without the seemingly effortless romance of Hetty and Lucy. I love reading romances set in this time period, because the way everyone seems to laze about and lounge and languish is just so perfectly romantic to me. The start of this novel had me squealing in delight as Hetty and Lucy danced around each other, it was such a gentle and unhurried rush to the romance, full of soft brushes of fingers, a glance across a room and of course the drunken brush of lips against a cheek.

Healey has created an absolutely marvellous addition to the gothic romance genre, one I am pleased to say was as beautiful and mesmerising as I expected!

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,

I hope everyone’s Easter wasn’t too lonely. It was my partner’s birthday and I felt very bad for his isolated, inside birthday celebration with just me and a cat who totally failed by not bothering to give any cuddles or snuggles to him.

This week on #5OnMyTBR the theme is ‘heartwarming’ and I, as I’m sure many other people are, seriously need to read something heartwarming that might, for a few seconds, cheer me up. So here’s five heartwarming books on my TBR that I’m excited to read!

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

One of my most anticipated books of the year is Olivia Waite’s The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, a historial sapphic romance with beekeeping (I LOVE beekeeping and dream about one day owning my own hive). Despite this, I still haven’t read Celestial Mechanics!! And I don’t know why! Everyone I know who’s read it, loves it, and I really need some happy warm romance in my books right now. So as soon as I’ve finished the OWLs readathon I plan to start this.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

The Gravity of Us is another of my most anticipated books of the year. This is a fun NASA, spacey, nerdy, YA romance with the most gorgeous cover. I think it fits the theme perfectly because even the cover looks heartwarming and beautiful and makes my face just squee.

The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

I bought this book at Allen and Unwin’s YA Day last year and somehow I never got around to reading it. It might lie a little down the more heaartbreaking end of heartwarming due to the discussions around depression, but it also sounds like it will be a really hopeful YA and that’s something I think we all really need right now.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J Klune

I am devastated that my preorder of this book hasn’t arrived yet. We’ve had some issues with overseas book deliveries getting to Australian suppliers with coronavirus which sadly means this joy of a book is yet to reach me. But when it finally does arrive, I am sure this book will fulfil all my hopes and dreams for it. So many people have told me it’s really hopeful and heartwarming, with romance, found family and the Antichrist….

The Extraordinaries by T.J Klune

Yes I have two T.J Klune books on this week’s list because all his work sounds really heartwarming. And, somehow, somewhere, the NetGalley gods blessed me and I was accepted for an ARC the day before the Easter public holiday weekend, about 15 minutes after I requested and I am SO THANKFUL. I cannot wait to read this, I know it will be amazing. It’s Klune’s debut YA, a queer coming of age story about superheros and fandom.

And that’s my five heartwarming books on my TBR! Pretty sure my TBR is going to expand so much this week after I read everyone’s lists because I still have far too many upsetting and/or stressful reads on my shelf, and no matter how amazing all those books are, I really need more heartwarming books!

Book review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday Books

Publication date: 5 November 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Adult | Literary fiction | Fabulism

Page extent: 498 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.

A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.

It’s hard to review a book that makes you completely speechless, one that immerses you so completely it is difficult to emerge from. Whenever I put this book down, I found myself wandering in a daze as I struggled to get back to reality. I found myself grumpy and snappish when I had to stop reading to do daily chores, because this book felt so perfectly escapist that it was a joy to journey into in the current climate. Behold and watch me try to write a review that is even one percent as beautiful as this book was!

“Having a physical reaction to a lack of book is not unusual.”

It is, at its heart, a love letter for readers and storytelling, mythology and fantasy. The Starless Sea is a journey for the reader who longs to escape, for those of us who wish to disappear into the books we read every day rather than face the reality around us. And it brought that escape so thoroughly and wonderfully, I felt close to tears when I finished, as well as sheer wonder and astonishment, as I longed to return to the world.

The Starless Sea is a maze of several different stories, crossed paths, and twisting journeys. We follow Zachary Ezra Rawlins after he reads a library boo, and finds himself appearing in the pages, an event from when he was a young boy, but definitely him. But the book has missing pages, and so he can’t read the rest of his story and so begins a quest he doesn’t yet know the end of. As he tries to track down the origins of the book, he crosses paths with Dorian, a storyteller Zachary is immediately drawn to, and Mirabel, a door maker. And if you believe enough, if you long enough for something, then those doors might just lead somewhere. (Yes, to a magical library BOOM).

“It is a sanctuary for storytellers and storykeepers and storylovers. They eat and sleep and dream surrounded by chronicles and histories and myths.”

Interspersed with Zachary’s journey are several different stories from other travellers to the library. Whilst each story appears unconnected the first time we meet it, each subsequent appearance reveals more of these crossed paths and more hints at where Zachary’s story must lead. One of my biggest thrills in reading is that moment of realisation, when all the hints and foreshadowing and different stories all come together in a lightbulb moment as you realise what’s actually going on. And The Starless Sea is a book filled with that moment again and again and again – because this magical library is just that: magical. It sits outside of time, and so time passes oddly and inconsistently, bringing all these characters paths together and apart, with Zachary, Dorian and Mirabel at the centre.

“It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. One person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric.”

The Starless Sea is about love. Zachary and Dorian’s connection, desire and yes, love, is reflected in the stories interspersing their journey, as they travel a path others have journeyed before. Their love is that seen in Romeo and Juliet, they are the star-crossed lovers, they are the couple Time and Fate have longed to bring together, and this love burns through the story. It feels so substantial, as if they’ve lived this story so many times before, their love given power and life through the stories around them. I feel like it needs no stating, but this story is no realistic contemporary. It isn’t a story about a love that makes sense or a love that grows in a sensible, timely manner. This is a story about the magic and joy and escapism in storytelling, thus their love reflects this: it is the passion and urgency, desire and all consumingness that comes with Juliet’s poison and Romeo’s dagger. Much like the library represents that mystery and magic, escape and lifeline that readers long for, Dorian and Zachary’s love represents the desire and connection we long for and see time and time again in the stories we read. Like I said at the start of my review, The Starless Sea is a love letter to storytelling and the longing stories bring out in us: the longing for escape, the longing for love, and the longing for that special feeling that fills us when we are overwhelmed by a good book.

Like Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, the writing and prose is of course beautiful and mesmerising. It’s like getting lost in all of your favourite books at once. The world she has created is the one we all long to go to, the place where we belong and wish we could stay forever.

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“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”

The Starless Sea is not a book for everyone. I’m sure the slow, winding journey through several different stories is not for everyone, it doesn’t have a familiar structure and I can completely see why it may be confusing or meandering to a different reader. If you’ve never known the desire to disappear inside a book, this isn’t for you. But to those of us who read to escape, who live and breathe the books they read, who long to disappear inside the stories, then this story is a love letter to you, and everything you imagine when you read.

In other words: I fucking loved this.

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Book review: The Stone of Sorrow by Brooke Carter

Title: The Stone of Sorrow by Brooke Carter

Publisher: Orca Book Publishers

Publication date: 7 April 2020

Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 304 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In a land of myth and ice, seventeen-year-old Runa Unnursdóttir is not the runecaster her clan has been hoping for. She spends her days daydreaming of sailing away and exploring the world instead of studying the runes and learning her spells. The villagers consider her odd, in looks and in manner. She’s nothing like her talented sister, Sýr, keeper of the sacred moonstone that ensures the village’s continued survival. But when a rival clan led by an evil witch raids the village and kidnaps her sister, Runa is forced to act. With a fallen Valkyrie by her side, and the help of a gorgeous half-elf Runa is not quite sure she can trust, the apprentice must travel to the site of an ancient runecasting competition to try to win back the magical gem. But the journey will not be easy; the three unlikely companions encounter malevolent and supernatural creatures at every turn. Somehow, Runa must summon the courage and strength to face her destiny, a destiny she never wanted. Or die trying.

Thank you to Orca Book Publishers for providing me a digital eARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Stone of Sorrow is a beautiful glimpse into Icelandic mythology, the magic of runecasting and the love between sisters. I really enjoyed these elements, but thought some areas of the book lacked tension.

Runa is a runecasting apprentice, and not a very good one she believes, training under her sister. Her sister is a powerful runecaster who currently holds the moonstone, a powerful rune which clans compete for every red moon. When Runa’s clan is attacked just days before the competition and her sister kidnapped by a witch, Runa must find her courage and travel across the land to save her sister and win back the moonstone.

My favourite thing about this novel was the look into Icelandic mythology. I loved the encounters with different creatures of myth, from the skoffin, a secretive fox who can kill if you look it in the eyes, to the marbendills, half fish half human, to Oski, the Valkyrie that assists Runa with her quest, to the elves, the magical, persuasive, dangerous creatures who try to trick humans into staying with them forever. These creatures were a delight to discover and explore, and some of my favourite characters were these creatures. One such creature I really liked was Pila, an elf. We only meet Pila for a short time, but I already adore that elf and really want to see more of them in the next books!

I also really liked Runa’s character growth across the book. She starts off as this very unsure and nervous character, one who hates herself. She’s had odd dreams and fits since she was born and thinks she’s completely broken, but over the journey to save her sister, her friends help her and she begins to see she’s stronger than she thought, finding her confidence and her power as the book progresses. I really loved the focus on her relationship with her sister. YA so often focuses on romance (and that’s actually one of the areas I think the book should have not focused on), but it did also have a really strong focus on this wonderful sister relationship. They are both so protective of each other, and I just really appreciated that the whole reason for Runa going on this quest was her sister. Sure, the moonstone and her clan also plays a part, but the main reason Runa finds the strength to leave is to rescue her sister, and I loved that!

As mentioned above, I don’t think the romance was needed. For Runa, half the novel was spent talking about how she doesn’t want marriage, doesn’t feel any love or crushes, and then suddenly she wants to be with someone? I think it would have been stronger if the two had been kept as friends, to put even greater importance and emphasis on the strong sister relationship.

I also think, despite how much I enjoyed the creatures encountered on the journey, it was quite slow at points and lacked tension. I think this is probably due to a lot of focus on more mundane activities like cooking and foraging for food, sleeping, bathroom activities etc. I know we do sometimes remark on how silly it is that fantasy characters never seem to do normal activities like this – but there’s a reason for that. It lowered the tension and made a lot of the journey feel a bit more mundane and boring.

All in all, this was an interesting exploration of Icelandic mythology and I’m interested to see where the series takes Runa now that she’s thirsting for blood and feeling more confident with her runecasting.

Book review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Title: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Publisher: Lerner/Carolrhoda

Publication date: 7 April 2020

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.

But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I first found this book thanks to Dahlia at LGBTQReads shouting about it as the first YA novel with bigender rep. The way this rep was handled was definitely my favourite part of the book and I loved seeing YA expand to include less talked about representation, but ultimately the plot of the novel felt confusing and I didn’t click with the writing style.

Aleks/Alexis has moved in with their strict Catholic Aunt and Uncle, to escape their old life after an assault. Choosing to present only as Alexis, they find solace in a new identity, Raziel. After discovering they can overhear confessionals from their room, as Raziel, they try to help others. But when they overhear a Priest confessing to assaulting an alterboy, they end up confronting their own assault as well as that of the Priest’s.

I want to first talk about the bigender rep in this book, because I found it absolutely wonderful and you could really feel how honest and true the author was being to their identity. I think this book will really help a lot of teens by providing such great representation of a marginalisation not commonly talked about. I really appreciated the honesty of this portrayal and in addition, I really loved the portrayal of Aleks/Alexis parents as well. None of the YA I read ever seems to show supportive parenting?! But this book did! Thank you for writing supportive parents who check in with their teen and support who they are without any issues.

However, as much as I wish I loved this book, I just don’t think it was my cup of tea. I initially really liked the stream of consciousness style of writing as I felt it gave a really great, detailed look at who our main character is, and I connected with them much quicker than usual thanks to this style. However it did get extremely repetitive and by the end of the book, I really wasn’t clicking with it at all. I also think the pacing was a little off. Until about 70% through, it’s filled with the repetitive stream of consciousness thoughts, very focused on who Aleks/Alexis is and how they feel, and then suddenly it turns into a thriller novel. It was quite confusing and I just don’t think it flowed well.

However, me not clicking with the writing style doesn’t mean you won’t! I think this is very much a ‘it’s not the book, it’s me’ case, because I know plenty of people who enjoy the very personal first person POV style of writing. I want to raise my support for this novel because the bigender rep is fantastic and I am happy to finally see the less spoken about queer identities getting their chance to shine in YA!!