Nemo @ The Moonlight Library

Nemo @ The Moonlight Library

I primarily read contemporary YA and spec fic with a love for those fantasy stories involving girls discovering their power.

Review
5 Stars
The Hysterical City (Gold and Gaslight Chronicles #3) by Andrea Berthot
The Hysterical City - Andrea Berthot

Disclaimer: Andrea Berthot and I are 'friends' on Goodreads but do not know each other offline.

I thought The Heartless City was amazing. When Andrea Berthot reached out and asked me if I would be interested in reviewing it, it sounded interesting – but I had no idea how awesome it really was. When she offered the sequel, The Hypnotic City, I immediately said YES PLEASE and that shot straight to my six stars shelf. 

When Andrea reached out and offered The Hysterical City to me, since I’d enjoyed the other two so much, it took all I had not to go GIVE IT TO ME NOW.

I regret nothing, 

If I thought The Heartless City was amazing, and The Hypnotic City was even better, I just have no words to describe how immensely I enjoyed The Hysterical City. 

Which is tough, because I'm a book reviewer. Words are kinda my thing.

In The Hysterical City, Bonnie, a supporting character from The Hypnotic City, stars as the ingénue who moves to Paris to kickstart a film career. Quickly finding herself more at home behind the camera than in front of it, she also gets embroiled with her boss’ family – including a terrifying misogynist called Malcolm who treats women for the female only ‘disease’, hysteria, and who has a morbid fascination with Tom Casey, the man who almost ruined Bonnie’s life, seeking to treat his victims.

I was almost overwhelmed with how well written The Hysterical City was. In it, Bonnie meets and falls for the incredibly pretty Leslie, a young British actor at the studio – who also happens to be deaf. His twin sister the makeup artist Laura quickly befriends Bonnie, and Bonnie figures out Laura is attracted to women, and of course, because she’s enlightened, she doesn’t have an issue with this. Laura teaches Bonnie sign language so she can talk to Leslie, and Laura’s French girlfriend Marie is initially hostile towards Bonnie, but then realises Bonnie’s not into Laura. 

As someone who is neither hearing impaired nor gay I think the whole thing was written very sensitively. While Leslie is initially hostile and kind of a jackass to Bonnie, she doesn't give up learning sign language, which shows her strength of character. Her relationship with her own Scooby Gang is lovely to watch develop. I'm a fan of strong female friendships.

Berthot also must have done a ton of research because there was a lot of different niche interests crammed into this book. I think Berthot wrote with authority not only on sign language and different verbal languages, but also on French history, historical literature (Bonnie liked to read), and the general business of making films in that time period. 

The main villain in this book was just despicable, a completely awful person who took advantage of vulnerable people to do simply awful things. Every time he was on the page, I literally cringed, and I was so desperate for someone to just jump on him and stab him to death. Berthot showed great restraint handling him like she did! 

I was also kept guessing with the several mysteries in the plot... I don't want to say more, because I felt genuine horror at discovering it all myself, so I'd rather other readers discovered it for themselves as well!

The pacing was perfect. I felt like the pages flipped by and I finished it quicker than every other book I have read recently. The atmosphere was incredible - a carefully cultivated mix of turn of the century glitzy glam and the seductiveness of the emerging film era, with French flair, and the same heavy atmosphere mixed with both hope and dread I found in the previous two books, while not being as gloomy as the first.

I distinctly remember how much I loved the previous books, and if I had to choose my favourite out of the Chronicles so far... I couldn't? Don't make me? I love them all!

All I can do is turn my pleading puppy dog eyes on Berthot and beg... more please?

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review
4 Stars
Hunted by Meagan Spooner audiobook
Hunted - Meagan Spooner

I originally received a copy of this book for review from Edelweiss, but I have listened to the audiobook for the purposes of this review.

 

Marketed as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is only my favourite fairytale, no big deal, starring a girl in a cloak on the cover and with a title like that? I am SO in.

And as fairytale retellings go, it was really decent. We had a really long set up detailing our Beauty’s backstory and she didn’t even meet the Beast til at least 20% through, possibly longer. The third arm of this quasi-love triangle (Yeva is so NOT in love with him) is Solmir, a really nice, rich guy who genuinely wants a wife he can hunt with, and Yeva’s two sisters adore her, even if they are pretty useless at surviving on their own.

 

I felt like the book took a couple of things from the Disney adaptations, like Yeva’s father going crazy (everyone thinks Maurice is crazy in the Disney versions), and the castle being stuck in permanent winter, but it also introduced a couple of twists: Yeva’s goal is to kill the Beast, the Beast doesn’t know he needs to fall in love to break the curse, Yeva’s family lost everything and had to move away from their town (I kinda sorta think this might be part of the original story?) and there were a couple of other Russian-inspired things twisted into this like a story of Ivan and the Wolf (NOT Peter and the Wolf, that’s completely different).

 

I liked this retelling because of its twist on the original tale, and because of the general Slavik inspiration and mish-mash of cultures and traditions that made it something a little bit different to the more European-styled medieval fantasies I’m generally more used to. (similar to Moana, this retelling is not taking just one culture or people as its base, but rather selecting bits and pieces to suit.)

 

I did have some issues with it though, so here we go:

 

Look, I don’t know much about snow. It snows in my city maybe every 10 years or so, and we mostly get it every year on the top of a local mountain you can pretty easily access if you really want to, but I did live in England for 2 years, one of which had 4 months straight of snowfall, so I know it gets bloody cold when it’s snowing, and especially at night time… and yet Yeva camps outside, in nothing but regular wintertime wool and leather Medieval-style peasant-clothes, and is totally fine! I don’t even know if she had a blanket or a tent. I needed a bit more information than telling me in one sentence she made camp then moved on the next day. How did she not get frostbite or freeze to death?

 

It was set in real-world Russia, or at least somewhere Slavik, because some of the characters mention Kiev, the Mongols, and Constantinople. Yet about halfway through this novel Yeva can suddenly see all of these magical things with no real explanation. It’s not explained (I don’t think, I was listening to the audiobook but I did drift a few times) if it’s ONLY the Beast’s forest which is magic, but even if it is, it doesn’t explain all of the other fairy tales that it faintly suggests are based in the real world. Yeva’s village, for example, has no magic in it whatsoever, even when Yeva returns suddenly able to see magic. So I don’t know if it’s meant to be this almost Narnia portal-like fantasy where she steps into a magical world no one else can access, or more Harry Potter like where there is magic everywhere but muggles aren’t magic so they can’t see it (or it’s hidden from them).

 

Yeva is very clearly a special snowflake who is so perfect because she’s so beautiful AND self-sufficient, she hunts food for her sisters who are more traditionally domesticated than her, AND she’s really good at it, AND she doesn’t care about her looks (literally, I don’t think it’s ever mentioned how she feels about being beautiful or nicknamed Beauty), and she refuses a perfectly good marriage proposal from a handsome, kind suitor who will literally let her do anything she wants, for no real good reason except that she wants ‘more’. It’s not even a real sense of entitlement, it’s just a general longing, confirmed at the end of the book when it is revealed she’s just a restless soul. But my point is, her modern-day feminism is kind of thrown in your face. She doesn’t cook very well, but that doesn’t matter because that’s women’s work and she can do the important hunting part while her sisters can’t.

 

Overall it was a decent retelling, with enough original content to make it interesting, and just a couple of things I found a little frustrating.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
Say Goodnight to Snow Like Ashes with the Frost Like Night Audiobook
Frost Like Night - Sara Raasch
This post will contain spoilers for Frost Like Night, the third book in the Snow Like Ashes trilogy by Sara Raasch.

 

 

Frost Like Night is the third and final book in the Snow Like Ashes trilogy which I absolutely adored because it centred around lands that only have one season, and our heroine is a refugee royal of the Winter kingdom. Also, there is magic, and our young heroine becomes the fucking queen of Winter. I mean, what more could I possibly want in a fantasy trilogy?

 

Nothing, I tell you.

 

The whole thing is wonderful and directly appeals specifically to me.

 

Frost Like Night picks up where Ice Like Fire left off, with Meira travelling to Paisley to learn how to control her magic. There is heaps of introspection in the first half of the book, which I found really frustrating because it just seemed like there was a whole bunch of talking and thinking and hardly any DOING SOMETHING, but it actually needed to be there because of what Meira decides to do later on in the book to stop Angra and the spread of Decay. Without that slow part, with all of Meira’s introspection, the emotional hit at the end of the book wouldn’t have been so powerful. Anyway I think the trick to get past this part for me was to listen to the audiobook, because that way the pages turn anyway.

 

Mather was a genuinely good guy, a brave, loyal Winterian, who wasn’t afraid to step down from his role as future king and serve instead a queen, as her soldier, but my favourite part about him was his narrator, Nick Podehl. Nick is such a great narrator that I actually Googled him, found out he did a Communications degree with a minor in Theatre and thought, “Oh, THAT’S why he’s so good!” I felt kind of lukewarm about Mather until I heard Nick’s portrayal. I might kinda have a crush on Nick?

 

Sorry, Nick.

 

Meira’s narrator is also really awesome, both of them put heaps of emotion into their voices, do decent jobs of character dialogue including gender switches, and don’t hold back anything at all, committing 100% to telling a great story.

 

Ceridwen’s narrator was fine too, but to be honest I was not really sure why we got Ceridwen’s point of view until I discovered the short story Flame Like Vines was about her. The story could have been told without her, even parts that are shown right near the climax. It would have been nice if we could have stuck to only Winter narrators. Maybe Nessa or Dendera? I don’t have a problem with Ceridwen, except for the whole Jesse thing…

 

And OK Theron. Let me talk about Theron.

 

But first let me point out that this book is heavily biased towards the Winterians. It’s about the Queen of Winter, and she’s got to be perfectly imperfect and all of her Winterians are super loyal and inherently good (bar one, who for no reason betrays everyone, so he’s probably not even WInterians). It’s almost genetic, how everyone else can’t possibly be as good and pure and honourable as Winterians, except if you’re Princess Ceridwen who is almost an honorary Winterian anyway courtesy of her Point of View chapters.

 

So anyway Theron gets possessed, but because he’s not Winterian and therefore one of the inherently (and tragically) good guys, Meira goes on and on about how he CHOSE to be possessed and do evil things he had no control over, like it’s his own fault he got mind fucked and fucked over and jeez, poor Theron. I actually liked him until he became this possessive possessed shithead whose motivation consisted of very possessive attitudes towards Meira.

 

Also one thing I found a bit weird was that Cerdiwen and Mather told their stories in third person past tense, whereas Meira told her story in first person present tense, but really over audiobook I hardly noticed this and only really discovered it when I wanted to look something up in my paperback version.

 

Probably the only things I actually had issues with involved the worldbuilding:

  • It’s a huge world with eight distinct cultures and then magic with strict rules on top of that.
  • There’s SO MANY rules for this magic, for example you can only use it on specific peoples or you can’t attack or be selfish with it but you can defend or protect someone else without it turning into Decay but even then there are very specific loopholes…
  • It’s been a while since I read the other books, but
  • Raasch is really great at dropping hints and reminding you what happened previously, so I wasn’t as lost as I feared I might be, but still,
  • The magic and worldbuilding is so intricate, detailed, entwined and sometimes heavy that sometimes I did feel a little lost, and
  • even though Meira can heal her fellow Winterians, one dies from blood loss in her arms and I’m like OH RIGHT MEIRA WHERE IS YOUR MAGIC NOW YOU’RE ALL TRAINED?
  • There was no reason why Meira couldn’t have healed this character and she didn’t even think about it, it was just all sad and stuff, except that I wasn’t sad because I remembered that Meira could heal people the rest of us thought were dead like what happened in the first book, so I kept waiting for it, and it never happened…
  • and then later on she heals someone else, and I’m like, OH, SO YOU JUST LET THAT OTHER PERSON DIE BECAUSE REASONS.

I love a big climax, and Frost Like Night has a great big climax that involves everyone you want to be involved, really difficulty hurdles to overcome,including physical, mental, and emotional, and a really satisfying conclusion that happens as a result of all of the struggles everyone goes through over the series.

 

I really enjoyed seeing Meira rise from an orphan refugee into such a position of power, challenge the destiny she is forced into, and her decisions revolving around that and her coming to terms with it. She really is a great character to hang out with and I enjoyed almost every moment with her.

 

PS it’s not Game of Thrones meets Graceling, come on marketing department, you can do better than that.

Review
3 Stars
Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf
Bring Me Their Hearts - Sara Wolf

 

WHAT I LIKED:

Zera was full of sass and really mouthy, but also funny and strangely charming.

 

Zera is plus-sized, though it didn’t make as much of an impact as I would have liked.

 

While Zera was thoughtless and reckless, she wasn’t actually stupid. She took action without thinking about the consequences, but her choices weren’t actually all that dumb. Or maybe it’s that the consequences never really arose?

 

Zera has a really cool relationship with Malachite, a complicated relationship with Fione and Y’Shennria, and her relationship with Prince Lucien grew organically.

 

Prince Lucien, again. Zera has to get close to him to take his heart, but the more time they spent together, the more they discovered how prejudiced against each other they had been, and uncovered the layers of each other’s personalities until they actually started to care for each other. It wasn’t fair on Lucien: he had to pick a girl to marry and Zera was the best of the bunch, also she was trying to make him fall in love.

 

Nightsinger, the witch Zera is bound to as a Heartless, is really kind and not at all mean.

 

Possible lesbians?

WHAT I DISLIKED:

Zera focused more on the fact that she murdered five men, largely ignoring the fact that it was an act of revenge against the bandits that murdered her parents and herself. She was consumed with guilt that I didn’t quite understand. She used it to confirm her monster status, instead of other things that might have been more relevant to her other-ness. So, she’s a murderer… but she also vomits when someone else is stabbed.

 

Zera didn’t seem to care that the stakes were really high: Zera had to seduce Prince Lucien and get his heart to stop a war that would kill her for real, and if anyone found out about her mission she would be killed for real, but she didn’t seem very focused on the consequences of not succeeding. She made a lot of rash decisions that could have exposed her but miraculously didn’t.

 

Despite liking it, I actually found it really unengaging, and I think it was because although the stakes were really high, Zera really flip-flopped between taking this mission seriously and doing really stupid things that should have exposed her, like offering to help servants or chasing after a thief. Every time I read this on my phone I found myself clicking off to do something else. And it’s not like the writing was poor, or that I didn’t like Zera and the supporting characters… nor is it that Zera didn’t get how important this was, because she did… it was just… unengaging. And I don’t really understand why.

 

I mean… OF COURSE it ended the way it ended. I was hoping for something just a little bit different and right near the end I thought I was going to get it, but no, this is the first of a trilogy so of course it ended the way it did. Bah.

 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review
3 Stars
Shiny Broken Pieces Audiobook
Shiny Broken Pieces - Sona Charaipotra, Dhonielle Clayton

See my review for Tiny Pretty Things here.

 

It wasn’t great.

 

It wasn’t terrible.

 

It was kind of ‘meh.’

 

What I did enjoy was the depictions of actual dancing, of the ballet classes themselves, of the class getting ready to perform Swan Lake. I’ve read another ballet book where the dancing is described in terms of the physical actions taken, not a lyrical description, and I think the authors pulled off the feelings of what it is like to dance from the point of view of three characters whose lives revolve around ballet.

 

One of the reasons… ok the ONLY reason… I decided to read this book was to find out WHO had pushed Gigi into an oncoming car in the previous book. Tiny Pretty Things left this as a cliffhanger, which I despise, and I was pretty much OK with that for a long time. In Shiny Broken Pieces we find out pretty early on who it was definitely NOT… but then find out who it definitely WAS about halfway through. It seemed kinda early-ish for me, but then the rest of the novel focused on this massive Swan Lake performance.

 

One of Gigi’s defining characteristics is that she’s black, and in ballet, that’s really rare. However the authors couldn’t decide if everyone always stared at her or if she managed to blend in with the other ballerinas. I guess she could do both, but I found it wavered from one extreme to the other depending on what looked better to the plot without any consistency. Gigi was stared at A LOT, almost as if the students of a New York school had never seen a black girl before… I thought it was strange, but I do not study ballet nor do I live in New York City, so perhaps I’m not the best authority on that. In contrast, people did not stare at June, or Bette, the other two protagonists, however Bette is the epitome of the beautiful blonde white girl and June was half Korean and one of her primary characteristics was that she blended into the background.

 

I mean, whatever! I thought it was inconsistent but maybe that’s how people actually act. I don’t even know anymore. What is literary criticism anyway? *existential crisis*

Although I really liked the presentation of June’s anorexia and bulimia, I was a little confused how one teacher could indicate that June is too fat and everyone else was concerned she was too thin. Consistency was also an issue in Tiny Pretty Things, so maybe it’s just these authors.

 

Another thing I found grating was Gigi’s narrator. She had this really annoying delivery in a kind of monotone where she sounded really depressed, but then when she did dialogue she inflected much better. Her general narration annoyed the funk out of me. I don’t think Gigi was actually depressed, just bent on revenge, so was not pleasant to listen to. In contrast the other two narrators of Bette and June didn’t sound like they were uninspired and just reading from a script they hated in a job they hated, they actually delivered some entertainment.

 

I also want to say that I didn’t particularly like any of the characters in this novel, but I don’t think it’s a requirement in enjoying a book to like characters who are awful to each other as the main plot point (see Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite books BECAUSE I hate the characters).

 

I will mention that I’m not comfortable with how it ended. There was one of many characters seeking revenge for acts committed against them and they ended up losing everything while other characters who instigated the bullying kind of got rewarded? Like, I get that ballet is a cut-throat biz but I felt really sorry for the character, who was only twisted up because someone had bullied them and they was seeking revenge. The other thing that irked me was that the people who did the really bad things in Tiny Pretty Things (pushing Gigi in front of the car, glass in the shoes, killing the butterflies) were all LGBTQ characters. Like, the victims got screwed over and the biggest bullies got everything they wanted.  So yeah, not cool. I like Mean Girl books because they get their comeuppance, and I didn’t feel satisfied with how everything ended.

Review
5 Stars
Goldenhand by Garth Nix Audiobook
Goldenhand - Garth Nix

This is the second review I'm writing for Goldenhand. I was supplied with a review copy from Edelweiss in 2016, but only found out it was half the book when I checked Nix's website for a quiet announcement. I purchased a physical copy because I have and love the rest of the series, but I ended up borrowing the audiobook from my local library to finish this book.

Nix's writing is beautiful and en pointe as usual. He has an uncanny knack for reader engagement: the way he chooses to tell the story makes what should seem like a not so interesting scene still riveting. This is the same skill that my all-time favourite author, Louise Cooper, also had. At the same time with providing that information, he skips over enough so that our imaginations can take over when needed. I read once that if someone made a TV show of his works, he'd have to figure out what all the individual Charter marks looked liked, because their exact shape isn't relevant to the storytelling in a novel. He has a perfect balance of delivering what information we as readers need, such as the names and natures of the individual bells, and omitting what we don't need, like the actual shape of individual Charter marks.

The narrator was also engaging and did very fine impressions of different voices for dialogue. Nix is Australian, but the Old Kingdom stories use a kind of more formal language, and Ancelstierre seems more British, so the narrator's fine Oxford accent worked beautifully.

I can't gush enough about the way Nix writes women. As a woman and a YA reader, I'm drawn to books written by women about women, and I don't read many books starring male main characters or written by men. I don't feel that male authors in general can write women very well or that male characters have stories I'm interested in. But Nix wields strong women characters much the way George RR Martin or the creators of The Last Airbender, Daniel Di Martino do: with great skill and numbers. With Nix, the default is not necessarily male. Even though the Old Kingdom is clearly behind the real world in terms of technology, their gender politics are far more advanced. I still can't get over the fact that this book centred around so many kick-ass women, and the boys were happy to take their lead from their women. Touchstone may be King, but Sabriel is Abhorsen and Queen. Nick defers to Lirael's wisdom and training, even though she's only an apprentice Abhorsen and still very young. Even Sam seems taken aback by Ferin's warrior confidence. I just want to wrap up this cast of characters and take them home with me. Touchstone even wears a kilt!

While my initial reading of this book ended somewhat abruptly halfway through, I can guarantee it's worth reading the rest of the book. I love seeing Sabriel working as an experienced fearless Abhorsen and I love seeing the strange relationship she has with her half-sister Lirael, who is both much younger than her and following in her professional footsteps. Neither of them chose to be Abhorsen, and they are still a little awkward around each other, with Sabriel more senior in terms of royalty, age, and experience, but wanting to be close to Lirael emotionally. I'm completely in awe of Lirael, who started her own book, Lirael, as a shy introverted librarian and has blossomed into a competent warrior, binding the dead to her will and generally being so completely awesome I'm surprised my head doesn't just explode at her character growth.

Basically if you have read the other books in the series (and I strongly recommend you do) you do not want to miss out on reading this one. I always want another Old Kingdom book.
 

Review
5 Stars
All The Crooked Saints audiobook
All the Crooked Saints - Maggie Stiefvater

I received a copy of this book from Scholastic Australia in exchange for an honest review, but ended up listening to the audiobook, which I borrowed from my local library.

 

All The Crooked Saints tells the story of a world where miracles are real, and so are the saints that compel them. It takes place in small community on the edge of the Colorado desert, and it switches between the experiences of three Latinx cousins and the people they interact with.

 

The thing about All The Crooked Saints is that it gets better the more you read it. I can distinctly remember the opening pages, where I was honestly a little bit bored by three cousins in a pirate radio truck, but as it developed, and I got to know the Soria family and the pilgrims of Bicho Raro, I enjoyed it more and more. I kind of got an idea that the entire book was built up to the punch line in the very final line, which is kind of awesome. I had a great time listening to this audiobook read by Thom Rivera, who does a decent job of reading in each character’s distinct voice.

 

This book is less about any one, or even three, main characters, and more about the community as a whole. It actually reminded me of The Night Circus in that at first it seemed like a series of vignettes put together describing each character and life in Bicho Raro. Maybe because it’s written in third person omniscient. But the more I read/listened, the more the stories joined together. This really is a masterfully crafted book.

 

Stiefvater holds a place as probably the most lyrical writer I read in YA. Each sentence is a masterpiece and the end effect had a great impact on me. Although I didn’t feel particularly connected to any one character, I did really feel for all of them, especially when Joaquin played Can’t Help Falling In love With You on his pirate radio station. I felt invested in the characters and if it hadn’t turned out the way it did, I probably would have been extraordinarily disappointed. As it is, I feel that this stand alone book was a wonderful investment of my time to read/listen to, and I feel emotionally fulfilled at the end.

Review
4 Stars
I Want to Join the Undead Girl Gang
Undead Girl Gang - Lily Anderson

Mila Flores is just about as outcast as a teenage girl can get: the opposite of popular, she’s Latina, fat, a Goth, a practicing witch, and her only friend lives above a funeral parlour. So when that BFF shows up dead in a suspected suicide pact with her high school’s resident Mean Girls, Mila takes action: by summoning Riley back from the dead… and the other girls, too. By accident.

 

 

Undead Girl Gang is Heathers meets The Craft by way of a fabulous and morbid teen voice. Mila is totally awesome: not always likeable, she felt very real to me, with insecurity issues every teen girl can identify with. I felt like Anderson addressed her body issues and the microaggressions that affect her daily as deftly as she did with Mila’s Latinx heritage, including being an unconfident speaker of Spanish. Mila is fat but it’s not a source of shame for her. She owns her fatness and I love her for it. It’s everyone else who is uncomfortable with her size.

 

 

I have to admit that the mystery kept me guessing: I couldn’t quite pinpoint who the murderer was, and I even at one point thought maybe Mila had it all wrong and it really was suicide. This is due to the skill of the author who very cleverly wrote beautiful red herrings that honestly at first led me to underestimate the skill involved. I am happy to say that I was wrong! Lily Anderson is a skilful writer and I’m deadly sorry I underestimated her #punintended. It wasn’t predictable at all, although it seemed to be heading in that direction. Anderson really made reading the whole book really pay off.

 

 

I really loved how as Mila spent more time with accidental-zombies June and Dayton she actually kinda became friends with them, even though they had been incredibly self-centred in their lives. Dayton was so chirpy and positive, I adored her, and June was feisty and stood up for herself, and most importantly, didn’t hate Mila for liking Xander, whom she dated at one point. I am so sick of girls’ knee-jerk reaction to competition, even for someone they’re not interested in, and I liked seeing June actively encourage Mila to tell Xander how she felt.

 

 

It was actually Riley, Mila’s BFF, whom I had the most issues with. While June owned her awfulness, Riley was supposed to be Mila’s best friend, but she was pretty mean and ungrateful to Mila for bringing her back. She didn’t seem to really love Mila the way Mila loved her, and I even had a hard time buying that they were BFF until the very last section of the book. She seemed so angry and snappy all the time. I get it, she died and then was resurrected through powerful and frightening magic, and Mila was confirmed as a powerful witch which was more Riley’s thing, but still. I didn’t really like her and I felt like Mila was kind of blinded to her meanness. Dayton was far sweeter and nicer to Mila than Riley was, and I was supposed to buy that Dayton was a bully? It didn’t quite fit for me.

 

 

Overall this book was interesting as hell, with a thoughtful narrative that dwelled on the morbid nature of death, a feisty Latinx goth witch who wouldn’t let herself be shamed for being fat, well-developed relationships between most of the other characters, and a mystery that kept me guessing until the last possible moment. I really recommend you listen to the audiobook read by Rebecca Soler since she inflected her words beautifully when reading as other characters and nailed Mila’s voice.

Review
4 Stars
Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian
Ash Princess - Laura Sebastian-Coleman

Ash Princess is a story that I think was partly inspired by Sansa Stark in season 2-4 of Game of Thrones: our heroine, Theodosia, is the daughter of a murdered queen being raised in the court of her enemy. Like Sansa, she has red hair, the queen calls her ‘little (animal)’, she is beaten mercilessly and punished for the actions of her people, and her best friend wants to marry the prince. Like Sansa, Theodosia, renamed Thora by her cruel captor, knows that she has to placate the tyrant to survive, and that sometimes means doing nothing but smiling prettily and accepting the abuse.

 

 

I have been wanting to read, very specifically, a book about a princess being raised in her enemy’s court for some time now, and even though I built this book up in my head, I was not disappointed.

 

My favourite parts were when Theo was facing off against the Kaiser (king), and he was being creepy or cruel and she knew it, and she knew that she had to placate him by smiling and acting simple and grateful for every little thing, even though she was vastly more intelligent than she acted. She was manipulative with every character she met, and I loved that about her. I loved seeing her thought process and insight with her manipulation of the prinz (prince). She knew what he wanted, she knew what the Kaiser wanted, she even knew what her allies wanted, and she was able to provide that and play the part of a damsel, a plaything, or a queen, without losing herself or sight of her own goals. I loved the twist in the relationship with Theo’s best friend, and I don’t want to spoil what happens because it was really cool experiencing that myself.

 

 

Another thing I really loved was the depiction of the Kalovaxian’s cultural appropriation of Astrean culture. They use Astrean spirit gems not as revered magical devices, but as gaudy jewellery. They dress in Astrean fashion and eat Astrean food while the rest of Theo’s people are enslaved and murdered. Theo reflects on how they ‘enjoy’ Astrean things while Theo herself is not allowed to be any part Astrean, with her language, religion, and (the appearance of) her loyalty forcibly replaced by others.

 

Within YA fantasy, there is a lot of books now, in the last few years, and due to release in the next few years that are about young females, sometimes royalty, accessing their power and magic. It’ something that I really love reading about. In that way, Ash Princess is ‘just another’ one of these many books, where the young girl comes of age and discovers her own power along the way. Ash Princess differs from these other fantasy novels by giving us a heroine who is probably more insightful than a lot of others I’ve read. She doesn’t make a lot of stupid or rash decisions, and she’s adept at manipulating. There’s also vivid descriptions of what life is like for those enslaved by Theo’s captors, and a lot of violence.

 

However, there were a couple of things I wasn’t a big fan of. I felt that her relationship with the Prinz was organic, but I felt that the other corner of the supposed love triangle, with the character Blaise, was forced. I didn’t like Theo reflecting on her feelings for Blaise when he clearly didn’t have any for her but still acted like a jealous boyfriend when it suited the plot. I mean, just because you kiss someone doesn’t mean you’re in love, right? So it’s a love triangle without being a love triangle. Not that there’s anything wrong with love triangles!

 

I also felt like there was always a promise of Theo having fire magic, especially since she responded so vividly to the fire gems, but she never explored or even thought about exploring this, even when she was clearly the fourth piece in the little elemental-theme resistance. There was the tantalising promise and then nothing.

 

The other thing I didn’t like was the ending. I felt like there was a big showdown that I was excited for, but then after that the narrative fizzled like a balloon with a hole in it. While I didn’t necessarily need something as big as a battle, I did want more than what was provided. It was the definition of anti-climactic, and it felt like a letdown after all of the drama and violence. I felt like the revelation at the very end didn’t really make up for the lack of drama and conflict during what should have been the climax. I felt like the anti-climax was too busy setting up for the sequel than wrapping up its own ends and providing a complete and satisfying story. This left me unengaged enough to want to read more about Theo in her next novel.

 

I received this book for free from Pan MacMillan in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review
4 Stars
Quidditch Through The Ages by JK Rowling - Audiobook read by Andrew Lincoln
Quidditch Through the Ages - J.K. Rowling

Quidditch Through the Ages is isn’t exactly fiction in the sense of telling a story: it’s the fictional history of the very old, very traditional, and very popular magical sport on flying broomsticks conjured up for JK Rowling’s famous Harry Potter series. The sport itself consists of 7 wizards and witches per team, with your typical goalie/keeper, three chasers, two defenders/beaters, and one very special position called the Seeker which is basically Rowling’s way of making Harrry Potter the most interesting and special and remarkable of all wizards in his year, because although he’s basically a skinny runt orphan in glasses he is now also a jock.

 

Seriously the position of Seeker is purely to make Harry the most important member on the team, because they don’t do anything except catch the elusive Golden Snitch and win 150 points, ending the game, but can you even imagine having a basketball team or a football team where one player doesn’t actually play as part of the team, is responsible for ending the match, and gets all the glory? Not very sportsmanlike, but then again, the wizarding community is very strange.

 

It was interesting to hear about the very beginnings of the game and how it evolved, how the beaters and bludgers were introduced and then the utterly ridiculous position of Seeker. I was intrigued by the thorough history by the pseudo-author Kennilworthy Wisp and his great skill at research and ability to access rare information… in this imaginary world of Harry Potter, that is…

 

The audiobook itself was very good, with sound effects used to great effect to enhance the narrative. Andrew Lincoln did a fine job narrating, and even taking on different accents and voices for the different characters quoted.

 

Also added in was some bonus content for the 2014 Quidditch World Cup which I found very amusing, ‘written’ by Ginny Potter, with a commentary on the Final including Rita Skeeter. The whole thing ended up being very exciting and sounding like a real sporting match.

 

I really wish Rowling would write one for 2018, and if she has, can someone link it to me? All I can find when I google for it is the stupid sport muggles play running on the ground with broomsticks between their legs which Albus Dumbledore himself said was incredibly imbecilic and should not, under any circumstances, be played.

 

Stupid muggles.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
5 Stars
The Scorpio Races galloped all over me and left me for dead
The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater, Fiona Hardingham, Steve West, Scholastic Audio

It’s not often I can say there isn’t a single thing I dislike about a book. Please note that I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham.

 

THINGS I LIKED:

 

The setting
Is it Scottish, is it Irish? Is it a little of both? I’m not sure.

 

The atmosphere
Very gloomy and oppressive. Reminded me of the north of England, where I lived for a couple of years. I also get the whole ‘living on an island lots of people want to leave’ thing.

 

The time period
Definitely set before contemporary times, due to the lack of modern technology like cell phones. I originally thought maybe it’s set in the 60s or 70s but it might have been as early as the 40s or 50s, when men still hated women doing anything they did.

 

The writing
Normally I’m not a big fan of present tense point of view, but for some reason, it worked really well in The Scorpio Races. Shorter chapters meant less exhaustion from reading (in my case, listening). Switching between Puck and Sean might have been harder while reading, because their narrative voices and actions (both preparing from this race) were basically the same, but in the audiobook form it worked.

 

Puck
Not the easiest character to like, but you have to admire her. She’s brash, snappy, and constantly irritated, all vinegar and no sugar, though she tries, and is determined and full of love and loyalty to her family and her island. Not someone I could be friends with, but someone I would admire from a distance.

 

Sean
Wonderful in the way only a book boyfriend can be without being a book boyfriend. His stillness, confidence, and sheer love for his flesh-eating water horse floored me.

 

The friendship
I wouldn’t call it a romance, though Maggie does, albeit a romance without much kissing. But I loved the slow burn, all the way through from the awkward fumblings of the early friendship to the heightened awareness of each other, to the fact that everyone else could see it but them. I think I may have liked it even better if nothing had happened and it had remained platonic, or left with a promise of something after the book ended, but this is YA and that would have caused a riot, so I understand why it had to be the way it was.

 

The bad guys
Everyone was out for themselves on this tiny island. It was believable.

 

The capaill uisce
They weren’t good or bad, they just were. They were a force of nature. A storm that brings down your house isn’t evil, it just is.

 

Dove
Just Dove.

 

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE

 

The female narrator
Seemed to have taken lessons from William Shatner and paused in places where pausing was not necessary.

 

The male narrator
Sounded way too old to be nineteen year old Sean, but Maggie liked him, so what do I know?

 


Basically I think this book could have been perfect and man, I would love so much to see a TV miniseries adaptation. I’d love to see the horses leapt out of the water still as water and then kind of shimmer and shift into regular horse colours, or maybe non-regular horse colours, yeah that would be cool and whimsical.

Review
5 Stars
Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman
Ice Wolves - Amie Kaufman

Ice Wolves is the story of 12-year-old orphaned homeless boy Anders who, upon finding he can transform into an ice wolf, is separated from his twin sister Rayna, who transforms into the ice wolves’ bitter enemy the scorch dragon.

 

I didn’t know what to expect going in to this. I’ve never read an Amie Kaufman book before, and this is middle-grade as well when I normally read YA, but I was immediately drawn to the use of elemental magic combined with shapeshifting. I thought we would see the story from both the twins’ points of view, as you probably would in a YA novel, but this stuck with Anders as the single protagonist and it worked really well.

 

Anders starts off as a shy beta twin, used to rambunctious, confident Rayna taking charge, but once she’s gone, kidnapped by dragons, he quickly plots to save her, and that involves enrolling at Ulfer Academy, the home/barracks of the ice wolves, and becoming part of their pack. This means that the plot, apart from Anders trying to figure out how to save Rayna, also consisted of boarding school-type tropes such as shared dorm rooms, combat and history classes, revered professors, and communal eating. I really enjoyed this aspect, and I loved seeing Anders growing as an individual as opposed to one half of a set of twins. He really came into his own, made his own choices and his own friends.

 

One thing I would like to mention is the casual approach to gender and sexuality. Kaufman mentions that one highly regarded female professor was married to a woman, and one of Anders’ fellow first years is gender neutral, using the term ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’, which I’ve never come across in a novel not trying to make a point about gender identity. It was cool to see that dropped casually into not only a fantasy novel but one aimed at a middle-grade audience. Anders also makes a strong friendship with a female student, with no hinting of romance, and the first years share mixed-gender dorm rooms.

 

I liked how Kaufman revealed the world lore, with the ice wolves and scorch dragons, and kids at the Academy travelling from all over the country to attend. There was even a character from the territory of the thunder lions who was a wolf instead, so I’m hoping to see more of the other elemental shapeshifters in future novels.

 

I’m not sure what the future holds for this series but I am definitely invested and I hope to see lots more books in this world.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
This Little Mermaid Prequel is Delightfully Wicked-esque
Sea Witch - Sarah Henning

Sea Witch was marketed as a prequel to The Little Mermaid meets Wicked, and since I love both, I immediately requested to read and review this. It’s the story of Evie, a young Danish girl secretly a witch, and what she’ll do to save the people she loves. If you know either The Little Mermaid (both the Disney version, the original Hans Christian Anderson tale) or Wicked, you’ll recognise the tributes to both within the narrative, although it’s all weaved together by elements of originality. It’s also got a wicked twist that’s worth reading even if leading up to the twist is a little frustrating.

 

What I found frustrating is 

that Evie’s never really sure if her magic works or not. Her spells almost feel like ritual superstition. That is until all of a sudden yes, her magic works in spectacular ways, but only with an audience that will threaten her life. It was frustrating to read that Evie may or may not have been any good at magic except when she needed to be exceptional. She constantly regretted not training more but managed to cast powerful spells when needed. I found the lack of consistency frustrating. Where did her sudden confidence come from? Is she supremely gifted or just lucky?

(show spoiler)

 

 

I really liked the other characters in the novel, specifically Nik and the mysterious girl Evie vows to help. I appreciated how much effort the author put into developing Evie’s friendships with these two characters. It was nice to see a boy-girl friendship untainted by romance but with the interesting twist of them also increasingly aware of becoming grown up, and the added awkwardness between them as Nik was pressured into finding a bride that could in no way be Evie.

 

The worldbuilding was fine, if a big vague. I loved how everything revolved around the ocean and the Danes revered it as almost sentient. The setting, on the other hand, was extraordinarily vivid. I could almost smell the fish, feel the ocean, the storms, the rocking of the ships.

 

The best thing I can say about this book is that the payoff is worth it. It opens with a prologue that doesn’t really seem significant until quite far into the novel. I was constantly thinking to myself, How is this prologue relevant? In the end, it was very relevant, and also kind of awesome, but I had to read almost the whole novel to get to the pay off.

 

Which is, I know, often the point of most novels, but the point here that I want to reinforce is this: do not give up on this novel if you are feeling frustrated by the slow pace or a plot where you feel not much is happening. The focus to me felt much more on the friendship between the main characters, so sometimes it felt like there wasn’t a lot going on, especially in the middle part. But it’s worth it in the end.

Review
5 Stars
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Dread Nation - Justina Ireland

Dread Nation is an alternate history where in the immediate aftermath of Gettysburg, the dead rose and started eating the living. This threw the young United States into disarray, and in a panic the white folk forced Native Americans and African Americans to attend government-funded combat schools so that they would fight the shambling undead to protect the white folk. Jane is one such girl, a young lady on the verge of womanhood, daughter of the richest woman in Kentucky, but also half black.

 

The book is split into two parts: the first takes place at Miss Preston’s, a school of combat for ‘Negroes’. Jane McKeane is one of the best, a competent, intelligent fighter who wants to prove herself and return to her mother’s tobacco plantation. The world is overrun with shamblers and every residential habitat is behind some kind of protection: bobbed wire fences, walls that need guarding. But the shamblers are getting worse, and people are disappearing. This leads to the second half of the book where Jane and Katherine are taken against their will to a town called Summerland, a family-run town where the preacher and sheriff rule as religious zealots and dictators.

 

This isn’t the kind of book where Jane sucks at everything and needs to be trained: she’s just about to graduate and is a competent, experienced warrior. A ferocious fighter, with instinctive reactions and a sassy mouth, Jane McKeane is a wonderful heroine to spend time with. She’s caring, a natural leader, and self-aware enough to know that she’s incredibly jealous of the prettiest girl in school, a girl pale enough to pass for white named Katherine whose relationship with Jane, over the course of the books, evolves from rivals who can’t stand each other to something akin to friendship. It’s one of the best aspects of the book. Katherine is more concerned with fashion and finds her appearance a curse, whereas Jane recognises it as just another weapon.

 

Quite a lot of the book is dedicated to world building: reinforcing the status between white folk and people of colour, and learning about the shambler plague. What seems confronting to me, an atheist who believes in racial equality, is seeing the way Jane and her peers are regarded by the wider world. Jane often plays the role of a ‘dumb Negro servant’ to get what she wants: giving people what they think they want is a weapon of hers. She faces religious persecution and racial persecution and the whole thing is, to me, very confronting, Author Justina Ireland said she was inspired by the murder of an African American teen by white police officers, and even though I find a lot of the language and beliefs in the book confronting, I had to keep reminding myself that this is actually how people were treated and in some cases are still treated today, one hundred and fifty years after the alternate history begins.

 

Even after reading an entire book where most of the white people are racist, some of the people of colour prefer the subjugation, and almost everyone is called Negro and other confronting racial slurs, I’m still uncomfortable writing it myself, even in the context of this review.

 

Although this book is an alternate history, it has major crossover appeal for dystopian fans. I enjoyed Dread Nation a ridiculous amount, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed similar stories like Vampire Academy, where the dhampirs are second class citizens guarding the more valued Moroi, and any stories where women just plain kick butt, like The Hunger Games and Divergent.

 

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review
2.5 Stars
'In Her Skin' got under my skin - and not in a good way
In Her Skin - Kim Savage

In Her Skin is the third novel from YA author Kim Savage, and centres on the story of a young homeless girl who takes on the identity of a missing schoolgirl in order to live with ‘family friends’ and get off the street. But her new home life may be more complicated than she imagined.

 

At first I thought In Her Skin was going to be a magical realism book, because it opened with the suggestion that Jo, our homeless con, could ‘take on’ the persona and characteristics of those she was imitating. For example, when she played a blind girl it actually affected her vision. This suggestion seemed to have been abandoned pretty early on in the book as Jo wasn’t any better at pretending to be missing girl Vivi than anyone else would have been. Pretty early on there were hints dropped that maybe Vivi’s disappearance wasn’t the way it was sold to the authorities, comparing her with the real-life case of Madeleine McCann, who allegedly also disappeared from an unsupervised room while her parents dined at a nearby restaurant. This meant that not only was the major conflict the fact that Jo was conning everyone into believing she was Vivi, but the second major conflict was ‘what actually happened to Vivi?’

 

I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters in this book. Jo seemed really bland, almost lacking in personality. For someone who was living on the streets and stealing identities, she was the good girl foil to reckless, heartless, manipulative Temple, Jo’s now adopted sister. It was almost like it might have been hard enough to get the audience to like a homeless con pretending to be a missing girl with dead parents, so Savage made her a ‘good girl’ who was afraid to break the rules. Of course, Jo’s biggest fear was that she would be found out and made homeless again, so she left behind her prostitute boyfriend Wolf without even a goodbye. My biggest issue was the fact that Jo was still living in the same city where she had already established herself as Jo, so not only could Wolf identify her, but so could people like the cops or welfare workers, but that was never a real concern.

 

I sound like I didn’t enjoy this book, but that’s not true. In truth, the book was just kind of blah. I certainly didn’t hate it or find it frustrating like Beautiful Broken Girls, and Temple was a fun, unhinged character to read about, but I really couldn’t say that I liked the book, even though I did enjoy Jo’s realisation that maybe her life was in danger. I also really liked reading about Temple’s parents but I think it might even be more enjoyable to re-read once the plot twist is discovered.

 

I think part of my frustration largely stems from reading an ARC that was nowhere near ready to be released to a reviewing audience, because there were so many words that should have been deleted to help a basic understanding. I won’t take any direct quotes because I did read an ARC but they were, for example, along the lines of ‘I walked rain down the street’ or ‘The small room right was painted purple’ or weird stuff like that, just random words in the middle of sentences that left me struggling to find the meaning. The editing clearly still had a long way to go, including proper nouns in some cases. It wasn’t on every page, or even every chapter, but enough to notice and get frustrated at.

I really loved Savage’s After the Woods, I was disenchanted with Beautiful Broken Girls, and I haven’t been convinced by In Her Skin, although I do think there is an audience for this book that maybe I’m just not a part of.

 

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review
5 Stars
The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross
The Queen's Rising - Rebecca Ross

The Queen's Rising is a beautiful and imaginative story about Brienna, a young woman torn between identities, and the journey she takes to help reclaim her heritage.

The tale starts in a kind of quasi-French or other Western European Rennaissance-era kind of place where a very describable goal for children and young people is to 'passion' in a particular school: art, wit, dramatics, music, or knowledge. To do so, children must become 'ardens', attend Houses and train at an average of seven years with a Master or 'ariels'. Then they may graduate by receiving a cloak, find a patron, and continue to pursue their passion. I loved this worldbuilding, I just felt so at home with everything Brienna was learning. Brienna joins Magnolia House, but as she is unable to find a passion she can truly excel at she settles on knowledge, and when she is seventeen she finds it difficult to secure a patron until along comes someone who can help with the mysterious visions she has been experiencing. This patron leads her into a war for the throne of the neighbouring land, from which Brienna's absent father hails, and I think it's more based on the medieval Celts, with women warriors and woad and Irish-Gaelic inspired names.

I think the best thing about this book is the beautiful word choices Ross uses. Whenever there is a chance to use a bland description or a truly beautiful one, Ross manages to grab the beautiful description and wrangle it into her book. Brienna herself was a brave, resourceful character who worked hard to uncover the mysteries surrounding herself and help the plot move along. I loved the time spent in Magnolia House with her arden-sisters and the slow introduction made to the incredible worldbuilding in that respect. Magnolia House was almost like a boarding house crossed with a University and a distinct European feel to it. Think Girl with a Pearl Earring or The Merchant of Venice.  I really hope the next books in the series follow Brienna's arden-sisters and we get to see more of this kingdom.

The second half of the book takes place primarily in Maevana, a queen's realm currently being ruled by a cruel king, and Brienna is the answer the rebels have been looking for. Using a disguise, she infiltrates the king's court in an attempt to recover some lost property that will set the real queen back on the throne. This half of the book almost forgets about Brienna's time at Magnolia and turns into a very typical, predictable YA fantasy adventure. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I've simply read enough of these types of stories to know where it's going to go. I still enjoyed it, but I think since the Magnolia House half to me seemed more original and inventive, I liked the worldbuilding better in the first half. The second half, like I said, was more of an adventure that the first half was leading up to, even though they take place in two very different settings.

I do have two issues with the book. Brienna trains for a year with each ariel before she settles on knowledge as her passion, and she only has three years to master it. This means that she’s had some training in music, art, wit and dramatics, and I was really hoping that that training might come in handy during her subterfuge. Yet instead of any of her time at Magnolia being of use, the book is basically split into two parts: Magnolia and post-Magnolia, and it almost seems as if they have nothing in common. Brienna learns to swordfight post-Magnolia, and that comes in handy, but she doesn’t have to use her passion training at all. I think part of the reason why is because she kind of sucked at them, but she doesn’t even really use her expanded knowledge to help her succeed in her mission, so it feels a little disjointed.

The other issue I have with the book is that while there is conflict in that Brienna has a goal and she keeps getting hurdles put in the way, she clears these hurdles rather easily. She’s smart and can come up with solutions to her problems but I never really felt like Ross took the worst thing that could happen to her. It wasn’t exactly helicopter authoring in that Ross put Brienna in bad situations then lifted her out again, just that, for example, when Brienna was risking her life and doing things she shouldn’t be doing, she never got caught by the bad guys, even though I really hoped that was where it was leading.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed The Queen's Rising, with its gorgeous writing and creative and innovative worldbuilding. While I do think the entire story is self-contained and makes an excellent stand-alone, I would also like the next books in the series to focus on Brienna's arden-sisters and their adventures, rather than staying with Brienna and whatever she does next. I guess I'll have to wait and see!

 

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My name is Nemo.

By day I manage a Commonwealth office, by night I turn into a vigilante kitten snuggler.

 

"A good book resting unopened in its slot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper."

- David Quammen