One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.
Content warnings: suicide (graphic description in prologue, mentioned throughout), animal death, graphic description of dead animals, killing animals (on page and mentioned), blood and gore (related to taxidermy work), cheating, brief scene of underage sexual assaultbetween Bryce’s mother and Jessa, teen pregnancy
Do you ever read a book that you just look at the Goodreads rating and go ‘what the actual fuck were all these other people reading?’ The award for the Everyone Else on Goodreads is Wrong award this year goes to Mostly Dead Things! Oh my god, I loved it so much?! Why does it have such a low rating?!
Mostly Dead Things is a very strange book, about a taxidermist whose father commits suicide, and mother starts making erotic art out of her taxidermy animals in response. It follows a family in the wake of this tragedy, but a family which is also still reeling from a tragedy years earlier: Bryce, wife to a brother and sleeping with his sister, who left the family and her children and never returned.
Our three main characters are:
Bryce: I’m starting with Bryce because although she is by no means the main character (in fact, she does even appear on page in the present time), she is the thread that holds these characters together. She is the girl who loved a sister and a brother, married and had kids with one, and then ran away one day, leaving her children behind. She is the one who still has such a tight grip around each member of this family, who have never healed from when she left them behind.
Milo: the brother of the family, the one who turned away from the family taxidermy business because he threw up at the sight of his father working on the animal carcasses. He is the one who, to Jessa, came into her friendship with Bryce and took her away, married her, and loved her in a way that Jessa couldn’t provide.
And finally we have Jessa: we follow the book from Jessa’s POV. She is the taxidermist of the family, and the one who has to hold the family together. She must do this, because her father designed his suicide so she would be the one to find him, because he knew she would be able to handle it, and so it is his last request to her, in a way. But Jessa is stuck in the past. In between the present story, we get short extracts from the past, when Jessa was a teen and fell in love with her best friend, Bryce. We see glimpses of this childhood and see the hold that Bryce still has over this family, even after she left years before. Jessa is so deeply scarred and broken from this love affair that she effectively destroys everyone around her, even as she tries to hold them all together. I thought Jessa was just perfectly written: the raw pain she feels on every single page binds this story together expertly and despite her many, many flaws, you can’t help but hope that she is able to heal and move on.
Mostly Dead Things is a book about pain and grief and love. It’s a hard book to feel happy as you read, because there is so much raw pain in this novel. Following a family that has been broken, this book doesn’t shy away from creating powerful, hugely gutrenching moments that felt like someone was clawing me open. It has been so long since I’ve had such an intense reading experience. This book is so sensual and visceral and it creates such an intensity that you feel as cut open as these characters are. It just sucks you into the hot muggy world of Florida and you feel as if you’ve been transplanted there, as if the writing actually transports you to the swamps of Florida.
The fact that these characters are such horrible people and that I loved them all the same is just? Amazing? The fact that I was rooting for the family to find each other again, rooting for them to tear each other open in agony so they could heal in the wake of such a tragedy. The way this family were broken and torn apart juxtaposed with the way the animals were broken and torn apart and then lovingly were healed again was just *chef’s kiss*
GOD THIS WAS JUST SO FUCKING GOOD, Goodreads reviewers whhhyyyyyy?! I loved this one so much. It is intense and visceral and I had one of the best reading experiences of the year. What a fucking fantastic debut novel.
In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.
The Once and Future Witches was my first foray into Harrow’s lyrical, poetic prose, as I haven’t read her debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I don’t always have the best time with this kind of prose, I tend to either love it or hate it. But in The Once and Future Witches, I loved it and I’m very excited to read Harrow’s debut now as well!
The Once and Futute Witches is set during 1893 suffragette America, where three sisters who have been seperated by time and betrayal, meet again when a spell that makes an old tower appear in the middle of New Salem pulls them together. The three sisters end up embroiled in a quest to bring back magic that will allow women to stand up to the world that has pushed them so far down.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this beautiful book. The prose was just wonderful: so haunting and so full of imagery, it just completely envelops you. Despite the heavy detail and poetic prose, which can sometimes really slow down a book, it didn’t feel slow at all. This prose just sucked me in and I wanted to stay reading this book for hours at a time. It’s very reminiscent of Erin Morgenstern’s work, who has the same ability to create this delicate, beautiful language that makes you never want to leave.
One of my favourite things about this world was the history regarding the magic. In order to stay hidden, magic is passed down through “women’s things”: children’s nursery rhymes, fairytale stories, sewn into fabric. Each chapter starts with a spell, many of which will be familiar, twists on different rhymes we may have heard. Alongside these spells, there are occasional breaks for short fairytales that really help add to the sense of beauty and magic in this book, alongside a sense of darkness that comes with the original fairytales.
Are the three main characters a little one dimensional? Yes. James, the youngest sister, is the wild, uncontrollable one; Beatrice, the old crone obsessed with books and knowledge; and Agnes the beautiful warrior mother. They are a little surface level, I felt like Agnes was the only one that really got to explore her personality a bit more. She has a bit more depth as the sister who isn’t fully on board with bringing back witches, as the one who is deep set in her bitterness at the betrayal years ago, and so I found her journey more interesting than the others.
What I loved most about the characters in this book is not therefore the three sisters. Instead, it’s the small, insightful moments we get with the host of secondary characters in this world. To me, this is where the emotion and heart of this book really sang. There was such a depth of emotion in such small moments that really touched me, and really emphasised this fight to defeat the darkness of men. There’s Jeannie, the trans woman too scared to tell her friends she’s trans until the end of the book when she reveals her shorn head inflicted on her by the prison system, who clenched her fists in meetings as the women talked about the uselessness of men’s magic, when it was the only kind she knew. There’s the moment when Mr Lee, his face radiant and fierce, stands as the only barrier between Agnes and men who seek to burn her. There’s Cleo Quinn, Beatrice’s love interest, a Black journalist who in a moment of absolute power stuns you with her sharp words that the Black people living in New Cairo, her people, are always the ones to suffer most for others’ fights. It is these small moments and glimpses into these other characters lives that felt the most powerful to me.
Incidentally, it is these secondary characters lives that felt the most inclusionary and diverse as well. Without them, this book is token white feminism trying to beat down the man, the three white women tearing down structures of society with no thought to who actually gets hurt most by their actions. Which is why I wish there had been more focus on these other characters. It’s like Harrow tried to make her feminism more open and inclusive but she didn’t quite go far enough: these characters did feel a little like side offerings to the main quest of these three sisters, used to help them reach their full power and take down the villain. I wish we’d seen more importance placed on those putting themselves at risk for the sisters because these characters really were the heart and soul of this book and gave this book its most powerful moments.
But overall, I did find this book very enchanting. There is no question that Alix E. Harrow writes absolutely beautifully, in a way that makes you completely entranced in a world. I appreciate her efforts to attempt a more inclusive fight for feminism but I do feel it could have gone a lot further. The best part of this book were the small moments with the characters around the sisters, the moments where other characters got to show their world and their hopes and their dreams and why they were fighting and I wish we’d had more importance and focus placed on these (at times infinitely more) interesting characters.
Synopsis:An outcast teenage lesbian witch finds her coven hidden amongst the popular girls in her school, and performs some seriously badass magic in the process.
Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.
Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent on stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?
Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.
The Scapegracers is a the gayest, witchiest book in the world and I loved every second of it. Whilst it is more of a slowburn plotwise, the focus on the characters and this deep connection that is formed between the four witches in the new coven was so brilliant. It completely subverts the mean girl trope and I found it one of the most refreshing and exciting portrayals of female friendship that I’ve read in a long time.
The Scapegracers follows Sideways, a lesbian witch who is invited to perform her magic at a party organised by three popular girls who want their party to be the spookiest in memory at the school. But instead of just getting a killer cool bit of magic out of it, the new coven finds friendship and support like never before. The four of them team up to help Sideways with her new crush, as well as fight off the modern day witchhunters who want to take their magic from them.
The Scapegracers is a slow book, I won’t deny it. There isn’t a clear enemy or plot across the book as you would expect from a YA fantasy novel. Instead, this book is more of an exploration of friendship with a side of fantasy as the girls investigate and try out their new powers. And whilst I wasn’t expecting that, I loved this surprise! The Scapegracers has one of the best portrayals of female friendship I’ve ever seen. Clarke has taken the trope of mean, popular school girls, and thrown everything you think about them into the bin. Here, these girls are so supportive, so badass and the way they take Sideways into their group is so incredibly beautiful and heartwarming. It’s done so well that I found myself tearing up when Sideways is just in awe that these beautiful, loving people want to be her friend because she’s so fucked up from being so alone. I also loved that these girls were allowed to embrace their femininity if they wanted and it was amazing because they can still be badass witches too? So often, YA fantasy has to feature “girls who aren’t like other girls”, ones who need to throw away their femininity in order to be cool and kick butts with magic. But The Scapegracers is just the opposite of that in every way: here are these girls who love make up, who wear tight dresses, who flirt, but can still kick butts with magic. More of this in fantasy please!
I also want to praise the casual queerness in the book which was so great to see. We have a lesbain main character, bisexual and queer side characters, and Sideways has two dads! And that leads me to my second favourite part of this book: Sideways is so. fucking. gay. She is such a clueless lesbian, it is amazing. I loved her pure awed joy when interacting with Madeline, which lead to lines like this: “Hell, if Madeline offered to beat me up, I’d probably weep with joy and give her a hearty tip when she was done” and “She wanted my number in a potentially gay way. Oh God, I wanted to die.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her, she’s such a great character who is a complete mess when she has a crush and it was so great to see.
I enjoyed the bringing of witchhunters into the modern world. Although it was only a small section, I loved finding out about the history of these witchhunters, it was so fascinating how they came to be and how they track witches. The reason I didn’t give this a full of five stars is because it did slow quite a lot, particularly in the middle of the book, when the witchhunters seemed to disappear. I think they could have been a bit more prominent to add a sense of tension and urgency to the book as they were a great, creepy villain!
All in all, I really loved this book! I’ve been having a bad run with YA fantasy this year, but because this was so different to what I expected from YA fantasy, it resulted in something so much better than I hoped for! The Scapegracers is a really lovely look at female friendships and had such a kickass group of queer witches, so much casual queerness, and a clueless lesbain crushing so bad it made for the funniest lines. Highly recommend this one!
Goodreads blurb:As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.
Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.
While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?
Romance is a genre I really haven’t read that much of. Entirely due to my usual state of mind loving books that stab me in the heart and never let me recover. But after reading and loving the joyful The House in the Cerulean Sea, I immediately knew I had to finally read The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics because I need books with happiness and joy right now. And what a delight this book was!! I’m so happy this was my first adult romance read, because not only was it a really sweet and tender romance, but it also was so interesting outside of the romance, with lovely discussions about science and art and the importance of female contribution to these areas.
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics follows Lucy, a budding young astronomer who wants to have a career and not be married off as her brother so desires, and Catherine, a rich and widowed Countess, who offers funding to Lucy to publish a translation of a well regarded French astronomy text.
First of all, what a sweet and tender, passionate and sensual romance! I must say, as a usual reader of slowburn, large fantasy novels, the fact these two were kissing within 100 pages was rather unexpected. I could have done with a bit more yearning but that’s probably because I’m used to a very different genre of romance! What I did love was Catherine’s hesitancy and shyness now that she’s found someone she truly loves, compared to the horror of her relationship with her husband. This is her first relationship with a woman, and I liked the way her slow discovery that Lucy could be a lover was handled. Celestial Mechanics also showed that whilst society might not allow two women to marry, there are ways of showing commitment and love to your significant other, thus addressing both the state of society at the time but without any unnecessary homophobia. (Thank God).
I really loved the astronomy focus of the book. It made for a very interesting read outside of the romance, because I wanted to know more about these female scientists that Lucy was finding and following. A big focus of the book is Lucy and her contribution to science, and the fact she’s often blocked and excluded because she’s a woman so can’t possibly have an understanding of science. But Lucy showed such determination and ferocity in the face of these challenges, she refuses to let them get the best of her and never even considers giving up when others try to bring her down.
I also really enjoyed the focus on art as well as science as being worthwhile lifetime pursuits. I don’t think I’ve ever read so much about embroidery before, and now, I really want to start doing it myself?! It was such a cool addition, to focus on not just truth and science but also art and what constitutes an artist. Like Catherine’s slow hesitancy over Lucy, I also loved her soft, unsure portrayal as an artist. She’s constantly had been told embroidery isn’t art and then she gets to slowly discover her greatness and artistry and embraces it. This book is just full of women realising their worth and I fucking love it.
I particularly loved the ending of this book. It rounded everything off so well, gives a brilliant fuck you to all the men who doubted, and there is a beautiful scene with Catherine and Lucy talking about their future. It was a really warm and happy ending, and I left feeling so overjoyed and thankful that this book was written.
All in all, I thought this was a wonderful romance and I’m so glad it was my first one. I really loved the focus on astronomy and art and can’t wait to read the next book in this series which is all about BEEKEEPING!!
Goodreads blurb:Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .
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!
Goodreads blurb: After a storm has killed off all the island’s men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.
Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves.
Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty evil.
As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials, The Mercies is a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.
The Mercies is an absolutely phenomenal book from the first page to the very last. It is both an incredibly detailed and well researched historical novel, and a stark and destructive picture of the brutality and devilry of human behaviour.
I’m new to Kiran Millwood Hargrave (though I do actually have another of their books on my shelf which I’ll certainly be picking up a lot sooner than anticipated!) But I’m so glad this is the novel I started with, as it is spectacular. The Mercies is inspired by the very real event of the 1617 Vardø storm, a sudden and catastrophic event which killed the majority of the men in a small fishing village in Norway. A village of newly independent women struggle between themselves for power and life in the wake of the tragedy, when to their surprise, a commissioner is brought in to lead them, a witch hunter from Scotland. He is a terrifying figure, one who works to control with his just and merciless Godly ways against “witchcraft” wielded by the indigenous peoples of Vardø.
What was most spectacular about this novel for me was the subtle and inevitable struggle between the women which results in their own downfall. The way the commissioner manipulates the women into turning on each other, destroying their friends, and becoming the despicable devils they fear, is so well done. It was so darkly written – the path to destruction was so brutally obvious and I just wanted to scream at these women to realise what was happening, despite knowing that of course there was no other way for this novel to go. It is both a story of the life of 1620 Vardø, and a depiction of the horrifying nature of humanity.
In contrast to this slow destruction is the blossoming friendship between Maren, one of the young women of the village, and Ursa, the commissioner’s innocent and unworldly wife. They are instantly besotted with one another, though of course neither realises at first, thinking their closeness and wonder of each other merely friendship. Their relationship was delicate and touching, and their love shines through even on the darkest of pages.
The Mercies is an excellently researched historical novel. The sense of setting and the life of those on Vardø is perfectly rendered, and makes for a both haunting yet enchanting setting. I was just completely enthralled.
Each and every character seemed extremely realised and considered. We have: – Maren: a young women of Vardø who is fascinated by Ursa and befriends her. She is a lonely and hurting character, destined to watch the destruction of those she loves and somehow keep living, from the brother and betrothed she lost in the storm, to her mother and Ursa. – Ursa: the young wife of the Commissioner, paid for and given away by her father to travel to the distant north and live as she has never been accustomed to before. Her delicate and nervous nature grows stronger and fiercer as her friendship and love for Maren grows. – Absalom: the terrifying Scottish Commissioner, filled with pride and undisguised glee that God’s will allows him to hunt down witches. – Dinna: destroyed and broken wife of Maren’s dead brother, trying to mother a child, and as one of the Indigenous people, forced to battle hatred and evil as those she lives with come to fear her. – Kirsten: strong and capable Kirsten who takes leadership in the village after the death of the men, who saves them from starvation, and who earns the wrath of those who wish to be in power.
The Mercies is a fabulous historical novel, showing the way fear corrupts even at the very edge of the world, a brutal and honest take at how humans can come to commit atrocities, and a beautiful and touching love story between Maren and Ursa.
Goodreads blurb: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I’ve read a lot of reviews for this book, and they all say it’s one of the most unique science fiction novels they’ve read. And I don’t want to repeat that – but, it’s difficult to find the words to describe this novel otherwise. It is one of the most unique science fiction novels I’ve ever read. It is both murder mystery, political thriller, a love letter to poetry and a science fiction novel.
A Memory Called Empire will not be to everyone’s tastes. It took me 150 pages until I really began to get stuck into the style. Intensely introspective, the book takes place mostly in the mind of the main character, Mahit. Mahit is the Ambassador from an independent outer world mining station, yet to be inhaled into the massive Texicalaan Empire where Mahit serves as Ambassador. Urgently rushed to Texicalaan, Mahit arrives to find her predecessor murdered and herself embroiled in a detailed and complex political battlefield. To save herself, as well as her country, Mahit finds herself in a battle of wits between the players of this political game.
The introspective nature of this novel is hard to get into. Mahit comes from a mining station with advanced neurological technology, where memories and personality can be condensed into technology and placed into others minds – meaning those dead, can survive in the minds of others. Mahit has the memories of her predecessor in her mind, and therefore much of the bulk of this novel takes place in her mind. Her thoughts are as much a battlefield as her interactions with others, as she must discuss and talk with the predecessor embedded inside her. It’s complicated. Like, so fucking complicated. It took me 150 pages to get used to the style, and understandably, many people just won’t want to put the work in to reach enjoyment of a book. But once I did pass the 150 page mark, the style did seem to click into place. I got used to the way the plot weaves unhurridely and unrushed to focus more on Mahit and the political shenanigans around her. I got used to the poetry, the language of Texicalaan and how intensely different it is to any other book I’ve read. And I got so involved in the plot. I sped through the latter half of the novel, desperate to know what the everloving fuck was going on. The political twists and games are just phenomenal, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. It is most definitely not a novel for everyone; but if you can get used to the style, it is a detailed political mystery set in the heart of an overwhelming science fiction empire.
Also, it is SO GAY. The relationship between Mahit and her cultural liaison, is both sweet and hilarious. The two bring a lightness that is needed in such a stylistically heavy book. Their flirting and sarcasm is a joy to behold, their ease with each other, the slow burn romance, their relationship is just a wonderful addition to the book, and one that does a great job at bringing some humour to the empire.
I really enjoyed this one. I’ll admit, at page 50, I almost gave up. I couldn’t get into the writing style, it felt overly complicated, and I considered just putting it down. But some of my favourite bloggers really loved this book, and so I persevered and I am so glad I did. It is definitely not the easiest book to read, it’s ridiculously complex, incredibly politically detailed, but I also thought it an absolutely masterful, completely unique combination of science fiction and art, a love letter to poetry, and a brilliant, creative new world.
This February I’ve been participating in FFFebruary, a readathon run by Charlotte (@darashirazi) on Twitter. As well as reading only sapphic books for all of February, I’ve also been posting every day on Instagram to celebrate my favourite f/f books. So continuing this trend, today I want to talk about the 2020 sapphic releases I can’t wait to read! This list is by no means exhaustive, it’s just some of the incredible books coming our way this year!
This book published in January, and my pre-order finally arrived in Australia this week! I’m already half way through and it is such an interesting read. Part social commentary, part alien invasion, The Seep follows trans woman Trina as tries to grieve and recover from when her wife wished to be a baby again, and the aliens give her that wish.
Another January release, Scavenge the Stars follows a chaotic bisexual in this genderbend retelling of The Counte of Monte Cristo. Not gonna lie, a woman with a dagger on the cover will always sell a book to me.
Cherry Beach is all about the power and love of friendship. Hetty and Ness have been best friends forever, and are now moving from Melbourne to Toronto. But Ness has a secret: she’s hopelessly in love with Hetty. In Toronto, in contrast to their life growing up, Hetty’s life seems to disintegrate, whilst Ness meets Hope. But as Hetty falls apart, Ness might lose the person she loves most. This dark, sapphic book just sounds so incredible! Publishing: February 4
This is the first of Gailey’s 2020 releases and it is a good one!!! Queer librarian spies on horseback trying to save the world from fascists with resistance propaganda in a Western style setting. Publishing: February 4
The Mercies is inspired by the true events of the Vardø storm, which wiped out all the men of Vardø, and the 1620 witch trials. A witchhunter Scotsman and his wife, Maren, travel to Vardø to find the women independent and free. As Maren grows close to one of the women, the witchhunter sees evil and seeks to rule. I can’t wait for this feminist, witchy novel about love and evil to arrive. Publishing: February 11
Csorwe knows when she’s going to die. She’s a sacrifice to her gods. But on the day she’s supposed to die, a powerful mage offers her freedom to follow him, and become his sworn shield, assassin and thief. Also including a very slow burn f/f romance! Publishing: February 11
This sequel to 2019’s excellent We Set the Dark on Fire is one I can’t wait for! After We Set the Dark on Fire was written from Dani’s POV, We Unleash the Merciless Storm looks to Carmen and her role in the rebellion. Publishing: February 25
This is set in the same universe as The Winner’s Trilogy (which I haven’t actually read so know nothing about). But sapphic fantasy is always high on my list to read so here this is! Nirrim is one of the low-class inhabitants of the Ward. There, she cannot wear colour or eat sweets. When she encounters Sid, a traveller who brings rumours of magic, she is persuaded to seek the magic for herself. Publishing: March 3
2020 is the year of queer witches, and this is just one of them! This one sounds particularly intriguing to me as it’s inspired by Celtic mythology, features a bi teen in a conservative small Irish town who suffers from somatic OCD, and an infamous serial killer called The Butcher King. Sign me up right now. Publishing: March 3
Bi! Romcom! Science! Geek! I adored Laura Steven’s The Exact Opposite of Okay, it holds the award for funniest book I’ve ever read. So of course when she announced a bisexual romcom about a teen who discovers a scientfic breakthrough that makes you irresistible to everyone around you, I have to read it! Publishing: March 5
OHHHH this one sounds so good! During WW2, Hetty is tasked with evacuating and looking after the mammals from the natural history museum. At Lockwood Manor, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty finds herself drawn to the mysterious and traumatised daughter of Lord Lockwood, Lucy. But animals start disappearing and Hetty is sure she’s being followed down dark corridors… Publishing: March 10
Angelina only just escaped from under her violent fathers’ thumb. But after a car accident, now she’s back. As her father aggressively pushes for an accident settlement, she grows close to Janet, an artist who inspires her to create unsettling art that shows her scars and forces her to face the abuse. Publishing: March 10
Cheerleading but make it really really gay: enter this book. Mack doesn’t expect to fit into at school. She’s well used to being different. But now she’s mysteriously become a cheerleader magnet, but is it a set up, or could she actually have a chance at romance? Publishing: March 15
Another one that sounds so incredibly interesting with an odd profession at its heart! Nell works in biological sciences exploring poisons and antidotes. She’s also obsessed with her mentor, Dr Joan, writing journals and research notes dedicated to her, as the lives of her and Joan along with several others become tangled in a web of desire and affairs. Also check out that cover!!! Publishing: March 31
Codi and her friends spend most of their time inside playing games, not out at parties. But when they decide to crash a party, Codi finds popular kid Ricky, kissing another boy, and the two form an unexpected friendship. As the summer progresses, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and introduces her to popularity, parties, and a cute girl called Lydia. Only problem is, her friends have no idea. Publishing: April 21
Another stunning cover!! On a pirate ship, Flora takes the identity Florian to earn respect amongst the crew. But on board, Florian is drawn to passenger Lady Evelyn, who is on her way to an arranged marriage. With witches and mermaids, gender fluidity and Asian folklore, I predict this book will be one of my favourites of the year! Publishing: May 5
Nothing beats the description from the author’s Twitter for this one: “pitched as stranger things in the french revolution, there’s an ensemble cast of queer disasters, two girls in love and a bi love triangle. plus strange science, swashbuckling action and a little magic 💀”. THE BI LOVE TRIANGLE IS HERE AND WE LOVE TO SEE IT. Also I lucked out with an ARC for this and I literally cannot get the song “I’ve got a golden ticket” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory out of my head when thinking about this. Publishing: May 5
Lesbian witch forms a coven with three popular girls after she casts a spell for them. This books aims to subvert the traditional ‘cliquey mean girls’ and instead focuses on the strength of female friendship as they fight the witchhunters who want to steal their magic. Publishing: May 12
Two teens set up rival businesses, Nishat is celebrating her culture, Flávia is appropriating. But as they get to know each other, Nishat can’t quite get over her crush. Discussions around the intersection of queerness and race by a QPOC! If you support any book this year, support this one! Publishing: May 12
A 1920’s New Orleans SUPER QUEER historical murder mystery oh my days this is perfect! I give you a tweet from the author:
“🏳️🌈MC Millie is bi (hello bi love triangle!) 🏳️🌈Her BFF Marion is gay & performs in drag 🏳️🌈Her aunt is a lesbian in a committed relationship w/ a woman 🏳️🌈They all work in a queer-friendly speakeasy 🏳️🌈A few people are straight I guess?”
Also it comps to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery and this makes me even more excited!!
By day: rivals at a competitive Arts Conservatory, fighting for the chance to win a scholarship. By night: unknowingly collaborating with each other on a fanfiction graphic novel. What happens when their online personalities begin to fall in love? Any romcom with fanfiction has me SOLD! Publishing: May 26
More of that good enemies to lovers shit but make it S A P P H I C. Each year, the Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. But when Lina tries to save her brother from the fate, the friend who helped her is chosen instead. So Lina offers up herself. Enter love stuff. City dying. All the tragic must choose who to save, the city, or each other. I LOVE IT. Publishing: June 2
This book explores the life of a woman caught between her culture, religion and sexual identity. From the age of 12, when she was yelled at by a group of men for baring her legs in the biblical city of Bethlehem, through her time in the US, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, we follow her as she is lead to The Ledge, a treatment facility for “love addiction”. Publishing: June 9
Modern day noir thriller, set in Hollywood, with a sapphic lead who spends her time blackmailing lecherous old men. But when one of her targets ends up dead, she takes on one last job to get out of the game for good. A twist on the feminist revenge story! Publishing: July 14
A lesbian love story set in the afterlife! When Ash dies, she becomes a girl-reaper, someone who collects the souls of the dead and takes them to await their fate. But she vows to see her first love again, dead or alive… Publishing: August
Crier’s War was one of my favourite sapphic reads last year and I have no doubt Iron Heart will be just as good! Filled with all the enemies to lovers to enemies trope we could ever need, I won’t say much as I don’t want to spoil the first one if you haven’t read it yet. But watch out for this one. Also THAT COVER!! So SHINY. Publishing: September 8
This book has another of my favourite covers, look how gorgeous that pink is!! When Corinne’s secret girlfriend dies, she struggles to mourn for a person no one else knew existed. The only person she can talk to is her dead girlfriend’s ex. A story about making sense of grief and how to be honest with yourself. Publishing: September 15
Two queer older ladies, combining Western and Chinese folklore (Red Riding Hood and Hou Yi the Archer). The two must join forces to fight deadly sunbirds, and embark on a quest for immortality. Publishing: September 29
I very recently read the absolutely amazing The Library of the Unwritten and it was one of the most fun fantasy novels I’ve read in years! The sequel is out this October, and we go back to Claire and Brevity, Hero and Ramiel to solve new mysteries in the library. Oh and did I mention Claire is a pansexual librarian which literally just fills me with so much delight because it’s the first time I’ve ever seen pansexual written down in a fantasy novel before?! Publishing: October 6
The Never Tilting World was my first Rin Chupeco book and I really enjoyed it! A kingdom split in two, half in unending heat and sun; the other in constant snow and ice; one of twin sisters at the helm in each realm. This is the sequel and will carry on the quest to put the world back together. Publishing: November 10
A sapphic phantom of the opera, hell to the yes. Cadence has been forced to torture the nobility with her magic voice, under the rule of her Queen. But when an old friend comes back into her life, she has to decide whether to rebel or become a monster. God this sounds so good. Publishing: November 24
This is an f/f retelling of the Portugese myth A Miracle of Roses, where a princess wants to reverse a gift that turns all the food she touches into flowers. This sounds so different to any other fairytale I’ve read so very excited for it! Publishing: December 4
There isn’t much about this one in the public yet, but it sounds INCREDIBLE. The author’s website describes it as “coven of queer witches at an elite women’s college who employ their powers to exact revenge on the frat boy warlocks using magic to cover up sexual assault on campus”. Publishing: fall
I give you one of the most amazing author descriptions for a book ever: “If you like: magic derived from bones, migratory islands, a distant DOOM, a failing empire, a palace of locked doors and secrets, an heir with a father she can’t help but disappoint, a jaunty smuggler with a tragic past, creepy magical constructs, DOOM getting a bit more real now, two women in an established relationship working through class differences, magical animal companions, and dumplingssss!” Publishing: 2020, I assume fall/winter
Wow what a list!! 40 super sapphic books! I’m so excited for all of these. I know there are some amazing ones I’ve missed or not heard of yet so I apologise if I missed your favourite! But I would love to know: what’s your most anticipated 2020 sapphic book release? Let me know in the comments!
February is a very exciting month! As well as participating in the incredible story-driven readathon the Pondathon, I will also be joining with the #FFFeb. This readathon is run by Charlotte (@darashirazi on Twitter) and involves trying to read all (or mostly!) sapphic books in February! Charlotte has created 9 challenges to read and so I’ve created my TBR around those. To see what I’m reading, or to get some wonderful sapphic recs, check out my #FFFeb TBR below! And if you want to join in with the fun, follow @darashirazi on Twitter to find out more.
Any series called ‘The Nightmare-Verse’ sounds exactly my cup of tea. Add to that it’s an Alice in Wonderland retelling? Where Alice fights monsters? Plus that killer cover?! I am so excited to read this one!!
I’ve heard really awesome things about this book from a fellow book blogger whom I highly trust to recommend great reads. This combines fabulism, Irish history, & mental health and promises to be one of my favourite books of the year (we’ll see if my prediction comes true…)
I feel like this was THE sapphic romance of 2019 and therefore I feel rather guilty I still haven’t read it. So FFFeb seems like the perfect time to jump into this enemies to lovers, high school cheerleader romance!
So I believe this kind of has a romance, but it’s really not the main focus. And I’ll be honest, pretty much all of the f/f books I’ve got or found at the library seem to have a romance, so I decided to just roll with a book where the romance is very much not the focus! Hence this science fiction, political intrigue novel with murder and aliens.
Challenge 8: Book by an author you’ve never tried before
Killer mermaids lure warriors to their deaths every year – so one town decides to send women instead of men to try and fight the lure of the mermaids and get rid of the threat once and for all. Battle trained girls + mermaids + f/f romance = amazing novel.
And if I manage to finish all of the above, I also have the following books on my shelf just waiting to be read!
As I’m on Team Varian for the Pondathon, it does bring a further challenge to reading a mix of genres – so I may end up not completing all of the FFFeb challenges, or swapping some of the additional books around with my current Challenge TBR. Either way, I plan to read all sapphic books in February and I cannot wait!
In addition to this readathon, I’ll also be doing a FFFeb Instagram challenge – basically whereby I challenge myself to post everyday to celebrate all my sapphic books. So do give me a follow if you’d like to see: sapphic books in wild gardens, cutesy wallpaper backgrounds, or bee lights.
Are you participating in FFFeb? Let me know what’s on your TBR in the comments!
Genre: Horror | Young Adult | Romance | Historical
Page extent: 320 pages
Goodreads blurb:A historical YA horror novel based on the infamous real-life inspiration for Countess Dracula,
In 17th century Hungary, Anna Darvulia has just begun working as a scullery maid for the young and glamorous Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Elizabeth takes a liking to Anna, she’s vaulted to the dream role of chambermaid, a far cry from the filthy servants’ quarters below. She receives wages generous enough to provide for her family, and the Countess begins to groom Anna as her friend and confidante. It’s not long before Anna falls completely under the Countess’s spell—and the Countess takes full advantage. Isolated from her former friends, family, and fiancé, Anna realizes she’s not a friend but a prisoner of the increasingly cruel Elizabeth. Then come the murders, and Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before the Blood Countess turns on her, too.
This book had one of the most intriguing premises of 2020 – sapphic romance with one of the most prolific female serial killers of all time?! Hell yes! I enjoyed this book, particularly the first half, but I do think it lacked a little horror. Don’t get me wrong, there is brutal torture and gorey murder in this book, but I felt like it needed more fear and tension. I wanted it to feel more terrifying and horrory.
The book is told from the POV of Anna, an impoverished healer who, when rescuing a kitten, runs into the new Lady of her land, Elizabeth Báthory. Elizabeth takes a shine to her, and employs her in her castle. What follows is a mix of witchcraft and lust and horror as Anna becomes bewitched by Elizabeth, and the slow realisation of all that Elizabeth is.
The first half of this book is excellent. The initial relationship between Anna and Elizabeth is incredible. The few hints of darkness behind Elizabeth’s facade, the way they stare at each other, how utterly bewitched it seems they are of each other, it is so beautifully done. The way Anna reacts to Fenrec, Elizabeth’s husband, and her fears he is causing the darkness in Elizabeth is both understandable and thrilling in how it causes her to react. I adored the start of their relationship and I really thought we might get an incredible villain romance.
But then the second half hit and it became a little predictable as Elizabeth begins her pursuit for youth and beauty. The ending felt very rushed compared to the first half, which languished unhurridely in the beauty of their developing relationship. I wanted more fear and terror and horror as Elizabeth deteriorated. I wanted to feel some of the passion from the first half of the book. Instead it just felt a little lucklustre in execution, just a little too descriptive to be impactful. All of the torture and murder scenes in particular lacked for me. It felt rather stilted. I understand this might be because this is a YA novel, and the need to keep it less gruesome and terrifying because of that. So perhaps this would have worked better as an adult when the true horror of Elizabeth could really be explored with more emotional impact.
Blood Countess was one I wanted to adore. And I think I would have if the passion and fire from the first half of the novel continued to the second half. But sadly, it didn’t and it got a little too rushed to be a satisfying ending. This is still definitely worth a read through, for the beautiful and incredible development of the sapphic romance.