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
4 Stars
Two Dark Reigns (Three Dark Crowns #3) by Kendare Blake
Two Dark Reigns - Kendare Blake

I’m enjoying this series more as it goes on, I think.

 

I feel as if every novel adds a twist or two, solves a riddle or two, and amps up the intensity.

 

I’d love to see Blake’s notes on the history of the queens. I know the losing queens are basically erased from history, but I get the feeling Blake has done extensive imagining and somewhere has a great bundle of information on this world and its history. Names, gifts, lineage, etc.

 

So this is the third book in what was originally supposed to be a duology, and there’s a fourth book after this that I’m also really looking forward to. In this book, the queens re-emerge, Katharine victorious, and try to solve the mystery of the killer mist that normally protects the island suddenly turning against them and leaving dead people in its wake.

So although I have worked really hard to suspend my disbelief in this series and its entire premise of murdering queens – my issue stems from the fact that until a queen is crowned, the government is basically run by the foster family of the queen’s mother, who leaves the island as soon as she gives birth – I am still a little confused with the concept of the Blue Queen, who takes a larger role in this novel in the form of flashback visions/dreams. A Blue Queen is a fourth born queen, immediately crowned because her older sisters are put to death, and any of them can still have any gift. I think it’s really unfair that whoever just happens to be born last in a set of quadruplets falls into ruling because her sisters are murdered. What if the fourth born queen was a seer? Seer queens are also murdered, to save them from going insane (as depicted in one of the novellas – really worth reading if you enjoy this series). That part doesn’t make sense to me. I know it’s the will of the Goddess, but still. There’s room for fatal error there.

 

Anyway! Apart from that very small issue, I also enjoyed watching Pietyr come to some kind of realisation. Pietyr always bothered me. I can never quite understand his motivations. I also have a newfound respect for Jules’ mother Madrigal, who is such a wealth of knowledge of low magic – which seems to be a bit of a cop out, in that low magic can kind of do anything if you have the right ingredients and know what you’re doing. And all the murder! There’s lots of stabby-stabby murder in this book and it’s glorious.

 

I really enjoy watching these girls come into their power and figure out how they’re going to survive in a world that expects them to murder each other. I love seeing them defy tradition and really fuck some things up. I love watching Mirabella go from nearly a White-Handed Queen (one who is so expected to become queen that the temple murders her sisters for her) to developing a deep bond and connection to Arsinoe. I love watching Arsinoe figure out who she is and the lie that has been told her whole life (and Braddock, I love Braddock – and Billy too, I guess, he’s pretty realistic). And sweet, sweet Katharine, our innocent, tortured damsel turned blood-thirsty Queen Crowned.

 

That ending. It got me. It really did.

 

I really want to see how these sisters end this story in the next book.

 

I received a copy of this book 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
2 Stars
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns - Julie C. Dao

I love an anti-heroine. I love characters who know what they want and steamroll over everyone else to get it. Xifeng’s manipulation of other characters, from her lover Wei to almost the entire royal family was a pleasure to read. She was smart and driven, and I liked that.

 

 

So I don’t have a problem with Xifeng as a character, but what I do have a problem with was the way the story was told.

 

It was BORING.

 

When you’d rather do anything BUT read a book, you know there’s a problem. Clean the house. Shop for new underwear. Scroll mindlessly through social media. And exactly how much I DIDN’T want to continue reading this one was compounded by having books I REALLY enjoyed reading bookending this one. For the first 30% I seriously considered DNFing. Why didn’t I? I should have. I read a review that said the last section was so good it made up for the first section, but that person LIED.

 

I think my issue was with the way ‘destiny’ was written. Everything was assured. Xifeng knew exactly where she was going, and even though she still had to make it happen and wasn’t just there for the ride, there was little question or conflict on a deeper level beyond the shallower stuff she had to do – manipulate people, hurt people, and install herself on the throne. There was no conflict of ‘is this really my destiny’ or ‘can I ignore this’. And that’s because of Xifeng’s immeasurable delusion of grandeur, hubris, and narcissism. I think it made her a brilliant character – but it made the story boring. It was GOING to happen, full stop. Absolutely no questioning it – and therefore, no conflict.

 

 

She just showed up at the palace and everyone just kind of went with the unspoken idea that one day she would be the Emperor’s wife, whether or not the other three women who are her competition are dealt with. And all of this is driven by the ‘darkness’ inside Xifeng that is the Serpent God, some evil kind of demon king that drives the entire plot, provoking Xifeng’s actions. So really, all of Xifeng’s agency is completely removed. Her choices and actions are not her own, and that, to me, didn’t make a good story. Even her initial choice of leaving Guma to run away to the Imperial Palace, well, that didn’t make sense to me because that’s exactly what Guma wanted for her, has prepared her for, and had instilled in her as her destiny, so why was she running away?

 

And yes, there was conflict. I mean, Xifeng kills and eats the hearts of her victims, people hated her and wished to cause her harm. But the conflict was never put in the right places. Things just happen to her because it’s her destiny: free ride to the Imperial Palace, the Empress immediately wants her as a lady-in-waiting despite her being ridonkulously beautiful and clearly a threat to the Emperor’s affections which no one acknowledges, her rivals are conveniently wiped out, and the Emperor makes her his wife. None of that had any conflict. That’s exactly what Guma said would happen and it did. It seemed almost convenient. Where was the conflict with destiny?

 

I had problems with the way the story was told. I found myself reading sentences I was struggling to comprehend. Actions literally didn’t make sense. At one point, Xifeng gasps in ecstasy as blood pours down her throat.

She tipped her head back, gasping as the blood gushed down her throat.

Why isn’t she choking?

 

In another scene, she is confronted by the Empress and starts hyperventilating just a foot away, with the Empress’s attention firmly focused on her, but she ‘forces herself to remain calm’ and the Empress doesn’t respond at all to the panic just displayed even though that’s exactly what she’s looking for. Even though she’s very clearly just seen it.

Xifeng’s breath came in short, painful bursts, remembering how she had longed for this woman to be her mother. This women who may have tried to end her before they’d ever met.

“You’re pale,” Empress Lihua said flatly.

“I’m fine, Your Majesty.” Xifeng forced herself to remain calm as the Empress studied her, as though searching for something objectionable in her manner or dress.

And I wasn’t even reading an ARC! I was reading a final copy, so this is what everyone else is reading, too.

 

She flipped and flopped over whether she actually loved Wei or was just using him, wait no she does love him but can’t have him (but does have him), but she doesn’t love him because she can’t love anyone, and when he leaves her suddenly she does love him, then he does something to someone she hates (or maybe loves, I can’t tell) and now she doesn’t love him. It was like, just write whatever sounds good and who cares if it actually makes sense or shows any kind of consistency. I have no fucking idea what Xifeng was thinking and feeling most of the time. She can be having a completely normal conversation then all of a sudden she’s crying and I’m like, Why are you crying? I had no idea you were feeling that emotion. It’s almost like the showing instead of telling is going overboard and going back to telling, and the whole thing feels unemotional and detached as a result.

 

 

Also, what was up with the magic? Is magic a thing everyone can do, or at least know about? Is everyone aware that demons and such exist, or are they conveniently ignoring everything? Xifeng hides the fact that she murders rabbits and rats for their hearts, but doesn’t even think about secrecy around magic. She uses magic to heal her wounds and no one notices/calls her out on it. It’s just sooooo convenient that no one gives a shit.

 

While I loved Xifeng as a ruthless character and I was super excited to read a diverse retelling with an anti-heroine, I’m afraid the execution of the novel failed to impress me.

Review
3 Stars
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascanenhas
The Psychology of Time Travel - Kate Mascarenhas

My friend Figgy was making status updates about this book, and despite it not being YA, I immediately felt like I had to read it. Luckily for me, it was available immediately to me on Netgalley (getting it onto a reading device was a whole other drama because I normally read mobi files and this was strictly only available in epub, and I had to reactivate my Adobe Digital Editions which had lay dormant, literally for years, and finally got to read it via Overdrive on my phone but my gosh, it was a drama and to be honest I almost cried, I was so excited to read this.)

 

It started off really well, initially. It had a really strong opening section introducing the concept and some key characters, certainly enough to grab the attention of a slush pile reader, an editor, or someone in a bookshop. So that was good.

 

But as the book went on, it also went downhill for me.

 

 

You know how Christopher Nolan used to make films that are studies into whatever he’s filming? Like how Memento is a study into the viewer’s memory, Batman Begins is a study of fear, The Prestige is a study in illusion, or Inception is a study in reality? This novel, about time travel, is a study about time travel with the reader as the subject. It’s a great concept, but not a good execution. Unable to tell this story linearly, we jump all around the place following characters and timelines seemingly at random.

 

The plot meanders between extra irrelevant points of view, and coupling this with the bland voice and lack of characterisation, makes many of the large cast of interchangeable characters seem like cardboard cut outs. I don’t know what anyone’s feeling or thinking. The prose is completely lacking in any kind of embellishment. It’s such a sterile way to tell a story. I just don’t give a shit. And I want to! I want to care about these characters, but in a novel that’s already time travelling itself, I can’t care. It’s chaotic and because of the blandness of character and voice, it’s also sometimes confusing – rather like this version of time travel itself (where older selves and younger selves frequently interact with little consequences).

 

After I finished the book I read the acknowledgements where the author referenced this book as being about ‘a time travelling grandmother’ and I went, “Oh, is THAT who the novel was meant to be about?” Too many characters that have little to no characterisation cause them all to blur. No one character is favoured and the two I thought were the ‘main’ characters often blurred in to one because of a lack of defining characteristics that went beyond ‘one is a lesbian and one is French.’

 

It feel like such a great concept but it lacks drama. I want to read books where characters actually feel emotion and you care about them. To me, this felt more like it would have been better as a textbook rather than a fictional narrative story with characters and plot. You know, like Quidditch Through the Ages pretends to be a textbook. Mostly because as far as I’m concerned, the author has a great concept, interesting glossary, and thoughtful, decent worldbuilding but was absolutely shite at writing characters with feelings, emotions, and anything that made them remotely human.

 

 

What it does have in its favour:

  • Worldbuilding. The jargon around time travelling: having sex with one’s past self is a ‘legacy fuck’, and you know it happens often enough that it has its own name. Children’s toys are created using the same technology. How they start doing something in the present because someone discovers it is done in the future. One character creates a painting in reverse. How time travel affects the people who do it and the people who don’t. So much lingo and regulations and tidbits that show the author thought about her world and not only the consequences but the little things that would happen as well.
  • So. Many. Female. Characters. It’s like Annihilation but about time travel.
  • Diversity! Sexual diversity, racial diversity, class diversity.
  • The psychology stuff was actually really good. How time travel messes with you.

 

What the novel lacked:

  • An ability to make me give even half a shit about anyone or the situation or anything, really. And look, I cry really easily. I’m a super emotional person. I own that. But I just didn’t care, I didn’t care who had died or how and who was responsible, and I really should have.

 

But look, if you’re interested in the psychology aspect of time travel and you’re prepared beforehand with knowledge that it’s shit at characters, you might find this more enjoyable than I did.

 

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
5 Stars
Access Restricted (Word$ #2)
Access Restricted - Gregory Scott Katsoulis

I’m really sad this is over.

 

I can’t believe how much I fell in love with this world and Speth and all the characters and just everything.

 

I mean, it’s horrific. It’s awful. But I was just wondering yesterday if it was weird that we pay for phone calls, we pay to send letters to each other, so is it really that different to paying for the right to speak? I know that what we are paying for is the service, but we’re still paying to communicate. Some of us spend outrageous amounts to communicate with each other. I would know, I probably spent around $1000 on long-distance calling cards from Australia to England over a 2/3 year period before Facebook invented its messaging service.

 

I think whether you enjoy this series will hinge on a combination of being able to suspend your disbelief and accepting that this could actually happen, as I believe it could. I don’t mean that it WILL happen, just that I already believe that we currently live in a world where it is extraordinarily difficult for the poor to get out of poverty, where you need money to make money, the gap between rich and poor is expanding, people try to make money in the most outrageous ways, and people accept the society in which they are raised. Not to mention bystander syndrome being an actual thing. Innocent people die every day. People are shitty and that is why dystopian fiction is so awesome. It’s not such a huge jump to believe that one day ads will chase people down a street and those who can’t pay won’t have the right to see something and that people will try to make an obscure word common in the hopes of making money from its usage. I mean come on, what was up with ‘on fleek’?

 

This book is vastly different to the previous one. There’s a road trip, a courtroom scene, and other things I don’t want to mention for fear of spoilers. I loved how Speth was trying to make the best of a very bad situation, and she didn’t even want to lead a revolution but she didn’t really have a choice. They stumbled over some good fortune, faced terrible ordeals that made me cringe in sympathy, and fought for what they believed in: that their world was fundamentally wrong, even the laws, and it needed to change. I also liked how the adults weren’t simply erased in this like they are with a lot of other YA: Speth wanted advice from an adult, she wanted to turn to someone, and they were there when she needed them. It made the world feel more real and less kid-adventure.

 

I thought once again how talented Katsoulis was to make me believe in this horrible future. The worldbuilding was sublime and although there were times when I reached the limit on my suspension of disbelief, I just went with the flow and accepted it as part of this bizarre over-capitalised nightmare. Speth’s limited knowledge, for example, helps the reader learn as she does, about geography and history that has been out of reach for her because of her poverty.

 

I loved seeing the relationships between the characters, too. Not only between Speth and the people who orbit her like her own sister who isn’t as smart as Speth and kind of wants everything to go back to the way it was, but also between Margot and her spunky and adorable little sister, and Speth’s other friends like Nancee and Norflo.

 

I also noticed, as I did in the first book, that Katsoulis loves words and names that begin with S. It’s as noticeable as JK Rowling’s love of the letter H, and I wonder why that is.

 

Overall, this is a brilliant duology, and I wish there was another book coming out after this, even though almost everything seemed pretty wrapped up to me. I’d love to see how the consequences of the final scene play out across this world. In the meantime, I’m going to track down some paper copies so I can get the full impact of reading this instead of listening to the wonderful audiobook.

Review
5 Stars
Damsel by Elena K Arnold
Damsel - Elana K. Arnold

My friend Emily May called this an ‘’ugly, awful little book” and she’s absolutely right, it is ugly, it is awful, and it is absolutely awesome.

 

I found Damsel to be highly readable once I figured out it was quirky and whimsical (it took me about two pages). I also found it to be serious and melancholy, a great discussion on consent, women’s rights, misogyny and dismantling the patriarchy.

 

I also don’t know why this is being marketed as a YA. It’s technically suitable for young adults, as in, people over the age of eighteen but under the age of 30, but in the book world, YA is the term used in marketing toward teens and sometimes even tweens, and it’s really not ‘suitable’ for younger readers because of the glib and blunt use of sexualisation, sexuality, innuendo, and sexual assault. I know sexual assault and sexual activity does appear in loads of YA, but there’s something about the way this is written – it’s blunt, it’s not romantic, and it’s on-page. So I’d be cautious about younger readers, in my opinion anyone under 15 reading this. But since everyone is different I’m not going to say it’s not for teens full stop. I mean, I studied Atonement in school and that had C*UNT in it (without the apostrophe), and sexual assault and on-page sex, so who knows? Maybe a sniggering class of teenagers could handle this story of Emory, his damsel, and all the weird euphemisms for penis.

 

 

So the basic plot is this: to be crowned king, Prince Emory must defeat a dragon and bring home the damsel as his bride, who will then provide him with a single male heir who will repeat the same quest ad nauseam. This is the way it is and the way it has been for as long as anyone can remember. Emory’s own mother was a damsel. Emory names his damsel Ama, and this is her story.

 

From the way it’s written, its brutal yet effective storytelling, I think that people are either going to love this or hate this and not have many in-between. To top off all the sex stuff, there’s also animal abuse, gaslighting, suicide and a really creepy friend of the king who thinks he can do anything he pleases. It’d be a great novel to dissect and look at all of the symbolism and imagery woven into the novel, and finding parallels with modern-day issues like the #MeToo movement and even mansplaining. It shows what happens to a woman in a man’s world when her future husband is the entitled king of that world. Not only does he gaslight and infantilise her (Twilight lovers should love this), he sexually assaults her and blames her for his actions (Hush, Hush lovers should love that), and constantly threatens her animal companion, a lynx kitten she saved from her own future husband’s murdering hands, to control her.

 

 

I think this may be one of the darkest books I’ve read, just in terms of the horrible threatening feeling and feeling of hopelessness staining each and every page of this book. It depicts an abusive relationship: Ama can’t escape her fate, because where would she go when Emory, the most powerful man in the world, believes her to be his own property? She has no family and no memory and is incapable of looking after herself. Even as she questions the world around her, she learns quickly that Emory wants her a very specific way and she is forced to shrink into that shape just to please him and be spared his wrath. Then of course, he is mollified, and almost seems to be a decent person again, until something triggers him and Ama is once again in danger. The cycle of abuse continues.

 

I know when I’m loving a book because I want to read it at every chance I get, and as such, I only took a couple of days to get through this. It’s well-written and a quick page-turner so long as you find it engaging and not off-putting (which some people will), and although I (in my slightly conservative way) think it’s not exactly appropriate reading material for young teenagers, I do really recommend this as an enjoyable, challenging read. Also, the ending made everything worth it.

 

Note: The publisher website says this is for ages 14+.

 

I received a copy of this book 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
All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis
All Rights Reserved - Gregory Scott Katsoulis

I don’t remember the last time I read a dystopian and thought from page one, “This is where we are heading, this is totally plausible.”

 

The basic premise in All Rights Reserved is that in the future, copyright is used as a weapon, everyone has to pay the rights holders to use words and gestures, and one girl inadvertently rebels against the system by refusing to speak.

I know a few people think it’s far-fetched and requires a big suspension of disbelief, but from where I stand, it’s plausible. Social credit already exists in China, where ‘top citizens’ get VIP treatment (including fast tracks to University and jobs) while lower scoring citizens find it hard to travel or find employment.  Americans already love to sue for the weirdest reasons. There are warning labels on everything, like not to operate electrical equipment while sleeping and that a carton of eggs has an allergy advice for, you guessed it: eggs! Capitalism runs rampant. They don’t even have socialised healthcare! People literally die because they cannot afford to go to hospital, or are driven into severe financial hardship because they do go. The richest 1% of the population own more wealth than the other 90% combined. Lack of financial access to legal assistance means the rich crap all over the poor. That already seems like a weird dystopian to me. We’re not going to jump from the ‘free’ world we live in today to this dystopian tomorrow, but we’re already attached to our mobile phones, and getting a permanent Cuff doesn’t seem too weird if it’s first there for the same reasons we use a phone and then gradually turns into a words monitor. This futuristic dystopian world has been stagnant for hundreds of years so we’re far in the future.

 

All Rights Reserved terrified me as a good dystopian should. It was an amazingly well-written book, although I suspect reading it is a different experience entirely that listening to it on audiobook, as I did. I missed out on the futuristic spelling (I think Speth’s friend Nancy might actually have been spelt ‘Nancee’ because I happened to glance at my phone when that was a chapter heading in the second book) and the use of capital letters and formatting to help tell the story. Despite this, the audiobook was hugely enjoyable and worked particularly well with the main character being a girl with no voice and a very talented narrator providing her with one.

 

Katsoulis put a lot of effort into the worldbuilding and the atmospheric setting, giving a plausible futuristic feel by having 3-D printing technology for everything from buildings to food, ads generally overwhelming everyone, InstaSuits so you can instantly sue anyone who slightly inconveniences you for whatever reason, pop up terms of service to ring a doorbell, and corneal implants to give a horrible electric shock anyone who spoke without their wrist cuff attached. In this world, lawyers charge you to speak ‘legalise’ at you, libraries are extinct places called ‘liberties’ (because books only belong to the rich ‘affluents’ and you need to pay for the rights to read them), people who run too far into debt are enslaved, and word costs fluctuate on a word market. Parents can’t even tell their kids ‘I love you’ because it’s too expensive. Trying to circumvent the system will result in a fine that may lead to legal enslavement to pay off the debt.

 

 

When Speth turns 15, she is expected to read a contract binding her to a sponsor before she is allowed to say anything else, but when she refuses, her society simply can’t accept her flouting her ‘civic duty’. Rich people try to force her to speak, lawyers come after her and her family for daring to ‘challenge’ the tightly controlled and regulated system, and her silence becomes a protest and a movement that other people join. Also, Speth is of Latinx heritage, in case anyone’s interested in that.

 

This book was just so overwhelmingly enjoyable that I loved it from page one and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I loved every part, from the insanely detailed and awesome worldbuilding to the gentleness and depth of the character building for both major to minor characters. Everyone felt three dimensional with real motivations. You’d think a novel where the main character cannot, will not, and does not speak might not be that interesting, but Speth encountered a lot of conflict in her journey, from her inability to communicate and offer support to her sister, to trying to communicate through ‘public domain’ movements such as micro-shrugs and zipped lips.

 

I went into this novel only having read the blurb, so I don’t want to spoil anything beyond the worldbuilding examples I’ve already mentioned, but I hope it entices you enough to give this book a go. I get the feeling this book would make a really awesome novel for an English class to study, with its commentary on how capitalism, greed, and affluence ruins the lives of everyone not fortunate enough to be in the one percent. It is also a great introduction to copyright (even if in this world it’s gone too far), which, with the rise of social media, should be something school age kids are learning about so someone doesn’t sue them for posting a photo they found on Google on a website.

 

It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a book this much from the very first page. 

Review
4 Stars
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
The Bone Witch - Rin Chupeco

I really knew nothing about this book before getting into it. I’d only read the blurb, which although it had interested me because HELLO NECROMANCY (I hate zombies though, I know right?) and I hadn’t read any reviews, so I didn’t know:

  • That it was framed from a bard’s point of view.
  • That it was sold as magical Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind.
  • That the author was from the Philippines.
  • That this was not the author’s debut novel.
  • Anything about the author’s previous work.

 

Some people claimed there was a cliffhanger, but I would argue it’s not a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are literally named after the device used in old TV serials where the episode would end with the hero hanging off the edge of a cliff, and ‘tune in next week!’ slapped across it. It was designed to ‘force’/’emotionally blackmail’/ ‘fear of missing out’ people into watching the next episode. Lots of soap operas also use cliffhangers. I absolutely hate when first books in a series end on cliffhangers, or chop off the end of their resolution to stick it into the next book. I think it’s a horrible, cheap way to try to force the sale of the next book when the first story could have easily been wrapped up all on its own. Although this story was unfinished in the greater thread of the narrative, this book did not have a cliffhanger. It did not have an ‘edge of the seat what happens next’ dangling enticement tacked on to the end. The Bone Witch was a complete story with all of its ends wrapped up, but with a promise and a threat that could be addressed in second novel. So I didn’t hate the ending, and it actually made me interested in reading the second book, rather than putting me off it.

 

I did have issues with the Bard’s part of the story. I didn’t think it actually worked and I think it would have been better if the whole narrative wasn’t framed as Tea retelling her story to the Bard. Mostly because he kept referring to her as ‘the girl’. But also because Tea kept dropping hints that her retelling would get bigger and better and more interesting if only we’d keep ‘listening’, but in the end the things she was promising us didn’t even happen in this book, and it kind of felt like a big set up for Book 2. (And in this way, I think listening to the audiobook was a really good method, because the whole story was framed as Tea verbally retelling her story to the Bard, and it just worked really well listening to it.)

 

Memoirs of a Geisha is one of my favourite books and I was pleased to see the influence of geisha custom had on the story (I know MOAG is fiction, but it is still largely historically accurate in the portrayal of geisha custom). I’m still a little confused as to why these women warriors were trained in the fine arts to please men when the male warriors of the same skill, called Deathseekers, were not. I mean, historically geisha were first men, then a mix of men and women, and then only women. The asha and the Deathseekers were both skilled the same magically, and women asha were required to train in combat, but it seemed like they mostly hung around the Willows entertaining people while the men went off to battle. I understand that it’s really sexist but it just seems a lot to heap on asha: they must learn music and dance, singing, the art of politics, just like geisha, but they must also train as warriors (just in case, maybe?). I’m not saying this should have been more faithful to geisha culture, I’m just saying it wasn’t really addressed. If the women were required to stay in the Willows and entertain people and only occasionally some of them ventured forth to battle, why were they also required to train in combat? And if the Deathseekers were warriors, why couldn’t they also stay in the Willows and entertain people?

 

I was also really confused about the concept of the heart’s glass. It just wasn’t very clear what it actually was: both an emotional mood stone and something precious you give to a romantic partner, and some of them can be remade and some of them can’t, and you need some kind of ceremony to receive one that everyone has to go through, and some people can make them and some people can’t. And does it sit on a chain around someone’s neck like a necklace? And how big is it? I was pretty confused. Nice concept, not very well executed.

 

I did like however that there didn’t seem, to me, to be much infodumping. I think this is because Tea was ‘retelling’ her tale to someone who already knew a lot about what she was talking about, but not everything. I liked how in the asha culture, dressmakers and magical hairdressers were really important and I loved the descriptions of all of the clothing and jewels, and it was nice seeing that these things were important in this culture and not at all frivolous. It was also nice seeing a young boy destined to become a Deathseeker choose a different path: which ties back in to my criticism on the sexism between the asha and the Deathseekers.

 

While I’m often reluctant to continue with book series, I’m actually enchanted enough by this world and characters that I’m happy to read book 2 and I can even imagine myself following this series long-term, which is rare for me.

Review
3 Stars
Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
Grace and Fury - Tracy Banghart

I love YA fantasies about young girls finding their power, but I’m a bit overwhelmed specifically by the ‘women are super oppressed because men find them dangerous’ trope that keeps popping up.

 

Grace and Fury was absolutely fine as a YA fantasy (no magic!) and OK kind of novel really. The best thing about it was that because it followed two sisters, it could intertwine two completely different stories: one the rags to riches tale of the oppressed girl thrown into a life of glittering privilege, and one about the privileged girl losing everything she’d worked for and forced to survive on an brutal island prison. This worked really well because, coupled with cliffhanger chapter endings, there was almost never a dull moment and it made it easy to flip the pages and consume.

 

However, there was something about the characterisation that seemed really… I don’t know… shallow? I couldn’t tell you anything about the characters except that one was sad and guilty about her circumstances and the other was angry and guilty. I have no idea how they really felt about anything. The romances for both of them were really sudden, and I hate to say it, instalove: but not in the usual way! The girls didn’t lay eyes on their beaus and instantly fall in love, no; it was more like ‘no mention of developing feelings whatsoever, then suddenly making out.’ Like… we didn’t really get to see into their heads beyond the first layer of their emotional state of being sad or angry (or scared). Nothing developed, it just happened, like flipping a switch.

 

My biggest problem though, was the actual inciting incident that split the sisters apart. 

If all women are deliberately forbidden to learn to read, why did ANYONE assume Serina was reading, even if she was holding the book? And even if they did suspect she could read, why was no one else punished? Why did they not try to find the person who ‘taught’ her? And finally, if they REALLY thought she could read, why didn’t anyone TEST HER?

(show spoiler)

Once I got over my major issue with the plot, I actually enjoyed it in places! The description of the food and clothes were nice. There were a couple of interesting twists that you’ll probably be able to guess but it’s nice to have them confirmed. It was really great to see Serina’s characterisation grow from this plus-size pretty pampered thing to a scrappy survivor forced to kill, although Nomi was much more annoying if only because she was so freaking mouthy all the time and no one really seemed to care. It’s not brave or spunky to be rude to royalty, it’s stupid, and it annoyed me.

 

Overall, if you skip this one I don’t think you’re missing much, because it’s nothing we’ve not seen before. However, if you’ve not read much YA fantasy, you might really enjoy this and the story it is setting up for Book #2.

 

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
4 Stars
Icefall audiobook - written by Matthew J Kirby, Narrated by Jenna Lamia
Icefall - Matthew J. Kirby

What a beautiful coming of age novel.

 

When a Viking king faces war, he packs his three children and a small household off to safety in a hidden hall in a glacier. There’s Asa, the beautiful eldest daughter whose father refuses the bride price offered for her by an older rival king; Harald, the only son and youngest of the three siblings, destined to be king after his father; and Solveig, the plain, spare middle child. But he also sends a horde of berserkers to keep the family safe, and Solveig believes there is a traitor in their midst.

 

Don’t expect grand fight scenes or lots of action in this book. Most of it revolves around Solveig slowly uncovering who the betrayer is, if there even is one. She is also led down a merry path of discovering her own identity in that of a skald, a kind of Viking poet and storyteller (and such, also a kind of historian, since Viking history was largely verbal), and the power and confidence she gains in that role.

 

There’s no ‘magic’ as such in this – it’s much more historical than fantasy, set in the real world hundreds of years ago, though Solveig is convinced her recurring dream is a terrible prophecy. The pace is kind of slow but consistent, quietly catching you off guard as months pass in the story, giving Solveig time to grow and develop among the icy realm. There are a lot of beautiful stories within this story, as she discovers the power of the skald to comfort, or intimidate, or educate. It’s written well enough that you can guess the twists before they occur, although I was a little disappointed that it turns out to be a male character on the cover of this book.

 

I think that is why I took so long to finally read it: the cover looks strikingly (lol) Middle Grade – an illustration with a man/boy on the cover instead of the female protagonist we actually get. It’s also a Young Adult novel, and although we do get to explore the concept of love in this novel, we don’t get to experience romantic love with Solveig. I found it conspicuously absent, especially since one of the other characters, a childhood friend around the same age, seemed to be the prime candidate for a love interest. Instead, Solveig guides us through the love she feels for her family and the platonic love she feels for the other members of her household, including her beloved pets.

 

I listened to the audiobook, and while this didn’t deliver extreme emotional punches, the narrator was fine, doing a variety of accents and tones to indicate different characters. At first I thought her voice was a bit ‘young’ to be Solveig, but this book turned out to be kind of a crossover to Middle Grade anyway so it worked just fine. Her delivery and pronunciation of foreign terms and names was impressive.

 

Icefall caught me off guard and I fell a little bit in love. It reminded me a lot of A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C Bunce. If you’re looking for something similar in tone, character, and quiet strength, you might enjoy this one. Solveig’s strength is not the kick-butt action heroine we’ve come to expect from YA in recent years. Maybe that’s a good thing, because this was published in 2011, and as such it has been a nice little palette cleanser for me.

Review
4 Stars
The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw: A Wicked Debut
The Wicked Deep - Shea Ernshaw

Hocus Pocus meets Practical Magic.

 

 

 

THIS COVERS LOOKS SUPER SHINY AND PRETTY but I didn’t even know because I borrowed an ebook from my library!

 

CONSENT IS AN ICKY ISSUE

 

So this is kind of a novel about consent without it ever really being addressed.

There are so many consent issues to think about: consent about whether the sisters really did ‘bewitch’ men against their will, on the consent of boys lured to their deaths, on the consent of the sisters inhabiting innocent teen girls to wreak their revenge and whether the sisters have been invited by sheer teenage stupidity or bravado or peer pressure (and even if they have, they can’t consent to individual acts the sisters choose to commit), and how the sisters use the innocent girls’ bodies while they’re possessing them. But this is all kind of glossed over because it’s revenge.

 

YA… BUT MAYBE IN DISGUISE?

 

I feel like this novel didn’t really have to be a Young Adult novel. It could have been an adult one, and may even make more sense as an adult novel.

 

  • Penny had no parental guidance and was basically emancipated, caring for herself because her mother was unable to and her dad wasn’t around.
  • It was set in the summer holidays so there was no school influence (although there was a lot of very cold ocean and rain and not much mention of hot weather – does it even get hot in Oregon? idk). Since it was a small town the relationships between the youth population could have easily been because of that and not that she’d gone to school with them.
  • She didn’t particularly want to party.
  • Everyone casually drank underage, which I guess isn’t as big a deal in the US as I thought it was.
  • Penny took it upon herself to hire help for the island.
  • She didn’t even have a cell phone, with the argument that it had no signal on her island.
  • She didn’t have any modern technology that teens are obsessed with. She didn’t have email or social media – no one did, it seemed. Some of the other characters had cell phones, but they might as well have never existed.
  • There wasn’t any teenage angst. I like to read YA because the protagonists haven’t found their feet in the world yet, don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to love and relationships and sex, but Penny was remarkably self-assured and mature without being overconfident or jaded.

 

Maybe it was an attempt to make this book seem more timeless, like it was set in the 80s or 90s when technology wasn’t so deeply engrained in everyday life, something that The Scorpio Races, a strikingly similar book, pulled off with its earlier time setting. But the result made Penny seem like she was a middle-aged adult in a young person’s body, much the same way Bella Swan seemed strikingly middle-aged for a teenager. Maybe it’s a Pacific North West thing, I don’t know. But this book could have been rewritten as a book for adults with very little effort, or maybe it originally was and was easily switched to YA to find a more lucrative market.

 

SIMILAR TO THE SCORPIO RACES?

 

I didn’t find this particularly atmospheric or spooky, maybe because I think it pales in comparison to both Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic, which is has been compared to. I also think it pales in comparison to The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater which, like I mentioned earlier, it bears striking similarities to: a small town set in a stormy place has a supernatural ‘season’ that involves the ocean and locals doing daring things that might get them killed, and which attracts tourists to the town. Like Puck, Penny is also a local who is an outsider. I also didn’t think it was particularly romantic, mostly because I really have no idea what either person in this supposed romance felt. It was really lukewarm and uninspiring. It also didn’t make any sense that at the end of the novel, Penny and her love interest continued their relationship as if nothing had happened.

Penny is not the one falling in love/being fallen in love with, and that’s why it’s icky consent and no feels romance and generally kind of a plot hole.

(show spoiler)

 

BUT I DID LIKE IT!

 

What I thought was really great was the use of first and third person point of view, and past and present tense. There was no hard and fast rule: it wasn’t that everything set 200 years ago was in third person and everything set in the modern world was first person. There was a fluidity there that I think could have been a risk in lesser hands, but Ernshaw had good instincts and it all flowed really well.

 

It was fun and easy to read and guess the twists before they happened. The narrative was woven together very nicely, utilising a variety of points of view and tenses, and using Chekov’s Gun surprisingly well. One thing that kept me going was that I couldn’t see how this could possibly be resolved.

 

SO…

 

While I wasn’t an enamoured of this book as I wanted to be, I think it was a better debut than most contemporary YA paranormal writers. If Ernshaw’s writing improves with time and experience I expect her next novel to be even better, and I look forward to reading it. I also think this would make a really good TV miniseries and I hope it’s fully developed.

Review
5 Stars
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Illustrated by Jim Kay
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling, Jim Kay

Yes, I am actually going to review Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

 

(While quietly lamenting that Bloomsbury thought Americans wouldn’t be smart enough to recognise what a philosopher is.)

 

I’ve only read the series once, and it was after each book had been released, so it’s been a long time since I read Philosopher’s Stone. As in 20 years.

I’ve seen the film numerous times, so that helps keep things pretty fresh.

 

 

But Rowling’s quote, about how “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome [us] home” has stayed with me for a long time.

 

Would a reread of Harry Potter at age *cough* thirtysomething *cough* still stand up? Could I still find a home at Hogwarts?

 

I borrowed all of the books the first times I read them. Including the time my best friend bought Order of the Phoenix and gave it to me to read first because I was a faster reader than her. Then I purchased the ‘adult’ cover box set, and because it’s paperback, I’ve never actually read them because I don’t want to spines on the bigger books to crack. Then my husband bought the Pottermore ebooks, so I knew I’d always have Harry Potter within reach if I needed it. Then Bloomsbury released the amazing Jim Kay illustrated editions (they have only released up to Prisoner of Azkaban at time of writing), and I purchased them for the purposes of reading them to my future children.

 

I was armed and ready with my three different versions of Harry Potter.

 

 

Then one day my husband was sick in bed, asleep, and I was lonely.

 

Despite being an introvert, I feel loneliness very keenly. I prefer to be around only one other person, or a small group, but being by myself? No thanks. I hate having to take a day off work and spend it by myself. I need human company, even if they’re awake and doing something themselves in their own space.

 

I tried turning on the TV to a reality-style documentary just for the comfort of human voices, but it only helped a little bit.

 

Then I picked up my Jim Kay illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone…

 

And suddenly I wasn’t lonely anymore.

 

There was something so gratifying and comforting about opening up book 20 years after I first read it, and finding it just as enjoyable as the first time.

 

I really appreciated rereading this because the film version of Hermione really coloured my recollection of her. Film Hermione has more emotional intelligence that Book Hermione, and is often an emotional crutch for Harry and Ron. Her hair isn’t that bushy (not in later films), she doesn’t have large front teeth (which I don’t remember at all being mentioned in Philosopher’s Stone), and she’s beautiful and elegant because she’s played by Emma Watson. Book Hermione really is insufferable, bossy, and annoying, until she becomes friends with Harry and Ron, at which point she is awfully helpful with her organisation and desire to be the best. Book Hermione also seems more keen to break the rules than Film Hermione, at least this early on. As much as Hermione is really touted as one of YA’s most amazingballs incredible book heroines, and I agree that she probably is, maybe I thought too much of her, at least this early on, because of the film interpretation.

 

 

Sure, it’s not perfect (perfection is subjective, anyway), but it’s engaging and easy to devour. The characters are all easily defined with motivations of their own, and they’re not perfect either. Not even Harry, who is clearly much better off in the magical world than in the Muggle world. Rowling is not an unskilled writer, and Harry himself is there to be a vehicle to kids’ own imagining of finding out they are secretly special and attending a magical boarding school. That’s why we are always encouraged to figure out which House we belong to (Hufflepuffs represent!) .Remember, the original target audience was young boys, which is why Rowling, who has no middle name, used her initial and her mother’s initial to create the JK part. They somehow thought that young boys wouldn’t want to read a book written by a woman, even if it did have a train or a boy on a flying broomstick on the cover.

Review
2.5 Stars
Zenith (The Androma Saga #1) doesn't live up to its name
Zenith - Sasha Alsberg, Lindsay Cummings

2.5 stars but leaning more towards 2.

 

I don’t know how to spell anyone’s name because I listened to the audiobook.

 

Zenith

noun
  1. the time at which something is most powerful or successful.
  2. in astronomy, the point in the sky or celestial sphere directly above an observer.
OK honestly??
 

I can understand why a lot of people would DNF this. The writing… not competent. I’ve certainly read worse, but if all the repetition were cut out this could have been reduced by about a third. We are constantly reminded that Andi has white and purple hair. We are constantly reminded how sad/ruthless/awesome she is. We are constantly reminded of Lira’s Otherness with her blue skin and flashing scales. We even had two almost identical scenes of Andi waking up in the cargo bay of a spaceship, and I actually had to go into a bookshop and check in a paperback copy to make sure that it actually happened, that the recording wasn’t a mistake or that I hadn’t accidentally skipped backwards on my audiobook. Nope, it was there. So weird.

 

By the way, what kind of competent captain would hire a pilot who passes out under pressure? Don’t you think a life of supposedly successful pirating, allegedly spreading terror through the galaxy, would make piloting this spacecraft just the TINIEST bit stressful? No? Lira only passes out when it’s convenient to plot? YOU DON’T SAY.

 

Speaking of Lira, her POV and the POV of the other characters just seemed so redundant. First of all the series is called the Androma Saga, so you’d think it was about Androma. But we get SIX POV in this book. SIX. From the supposedly ‘evil’ queen (who never actually did anything evil?) to her own mother, to Andi’s ex-lover Dex and the boy they’re sent to save, Vallen. But when the story would have been best told from someone else’s POV, we miss out. We get utterly pointless chapters told from Nor’s POV, basically only to show that she enjoys intimacy with her lover (which could be a form of slut shaming?), then she disappears for about half the novel, only reappearing again right near the end. Vallen’s POV is redundant, Lira’s is equally as useless, and Dex’s is only there to reinforce how awesome and desirable Andi is. The only other vaguely interesting one is from Nor’s mother Claren, and that takes place in the past. To top it all off, everyone’s POV is all in third person, so we don’t even get any kind of intimacy or real connection and understanding with the characters.

 

Basic concepts seem to be wilfully misunderstood, like murder and galaxies. The book’s inciting incident is a crash several years ago that Andi was allegedly responsible for (though that’s not confirmed) that killed the General’s heir Kaylee. Since it happened on a military planet and the General is the leader of the planet, the death of his heir is seen as treason, therefore making it murder, and sentencing Andi to death. Everyone keeps referring to Kaylee’s death as murder, even though by definition murder has to be premeditated, and Andi did not plan Kaylee’s death at all. At most it would be manslaughter. You can argue that Earth laws don’t apply in sci-fi and whatnot but the reality is that everyone calling a clear accident murder makes everyone look like a dumbass. Andi also keeps calling the incident ‘a mistake’ instead of ‘an accident’ which really annoyed me. Like she chose to crash the ship from bad judgement rather than whatever it was that caused the crash (which I’m still not clear on, despite getting several flashbacks from Andi’s POV about the incident). It’s all about choice: Did Andi choose the crash the ship? No. It was an accident, not a mistake. Did she choose to kill Kaylee? Not, it was an accident, not murder. I mean, we learn this basic concept in The Lion King:

 

SCAR: It’s your fault he’s dead. Do you deny it?

SIMBA: No.

SCAR: Then you’re guilty.

SIMBA: No, I am not a murderer!

And look, yes, obviously the General is in charge and he wanted Andi dead for Kaylee’s death and they’re going to do it because of who he is, but this obstruction of justice was never addressed. I can even easily imagine some non-Constitutional monarchies in this world pulling the same shit and not letting justice get in the way of revenge, but like I said, this is never addressed. Andi’s just a murderer and the crash was a mistake, not an accident.

 

Not only is this basic concept completely reinterpreted, but the characters in this book also get the basic concept of a galaxy wrong. Multiple times it is inferred that a planetary system is a galaxy, that that by making the planetary system safe they are making the galaxy safe. They refer to interstellar or interplanetary meetings as intergalactic.

 

 

Intergalactic means between galaxies. This basic misunderstanding really annoyed me I mean jeez, this is a sci-fi, at least get the scientific terminology correct.

 

This book also contradicts itself. The supposedly impenetrable ‘glass’ spaceship has metal shields to protect it from space fights and becomes junk once it crash lands on a planet, and people easily gain entrance. Not so impenetrable hey? If you want to show me a POV that actually matters, how about one that shows how anyone gets past a military planet’s supposedly impenetrable security? Like…. Nor’s? She was a useless POV earlier, could have utilised her now. No? Would it give too much away? Or would it explain it and make it easier to suspend my disbelief, and build dread and anticipation while the other main characters have no idea?

 

Another point where the book contradicted itself was Andi. She was supposed to be this ruthless badass killer, notching tallies on her swords and slicing off limbs with no regards or feelings… but in the privacy of her own space she threw herself massive pity parties, the guilt from killing people dragging me doooooown… and OH MY GOD IT NEVER FUCKING ENDED. It was like the authors wanted a badass ruthless mercenary with feelings because OH NO what if some people didn’t like Andi? And yes, I acknowledge that characters can be three dimensional, and a badass with feelings is not new territory, but it was her constant guilt and feeling so sorry for herself and being Kaylee’s MURDERER like she wrapped her hands around Kaylee’s neck and squeezed just didn’t work. It didn’t work. Because it was repetitive. It just didn’t work, because it was repetitive. (lol)

 

And on top of that, the whole thing stinks of Throne of Glass. Like the Zenith took a roll in the pages of Throne of Glass and shook. Now, I did not really enjoy Throne of Glass, because it was about an allegedly badass assassin who was actually a really crap non-assassin. I do think Zenith was better written than Throne of Glass, but the similarities between Andi and Celeana were striking. They both had white blonde hair. They were both tragically beautiful. They were both ridiculously tragic figures mentally (and in Andi’s case physically) scarred by their pasts. They were both forced into doing a thing they didn’t want to do to gain their freedom from the political leader of their respective novel. They were ‘allegedly’ badass warriors. But out of the two of them, only Andi carried this guilt around with her because she had feelings and didn’t let boys get in the way of her mission, and had actual friendships with other more than one other girl. I like Andi better than Celeana and I think she’s a better written and better developed character, but as I was reading I kept thinking of Throne of Glass.

 

But I kind of liked the ending.


THE BLURB

Oh, so one of the authors is a YouTuber? I could not care less. I’m barely on social media and I’ve never heard of either of these authors. I borrowed the audiobook based on the blurb. I also have some things to say about that:

Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness, a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Marauder, however, she’s just Andi, their friend and fearless leader.

Uh yeah, except she’s not a powerful mercenary, she’s running low on fuel and money and can’t afford a cook, and you can tell me she has a reign of terror but I really don’t see anything vaguely regarding that?

But when a routine mission goes awry, the Marauder’s all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situation and at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi’s past.

  1. It’s not a routine mission.
  2. The mission is successful.
  3. No one was really tested, as they easily overcame any obstacles.
  4. The situation is far from treacherous, they’re going to a freaking ball.
  5. The bounty hunter is not sadistic, he’s basically a lovesick puppy. Come on, who wrote this blurb?

One more thing:

 

This is only a two book duology, yet it’s called The Androma Saga.

 

Saga

noun
  1. long story of heroic achievement
  2. long, involved story, account, o series of incidents

This is only a two book series! And it has SIX points of view in the very first book, how can it be named after only one character?!

Review
4 Stars
Girls Made of Glass and Snow
Girls Made of Snow and Glass - Melissa Bashardoust

I’m so torn about how I feel about this audiobook.

 

It was just. So. LONG.

 

But then, every word was worth it?

 

So how can I say, maybe it would have been better if it was split in half and delivered in two novels when I freaking hate when authors do that.

 

But I had like 5 hours left and Lynet was due to confront her stepmother after fleeing the castle and I’m like… how is this going to stretch out to 5 hours?

 

And then there was 2 hours left and I was like… OMG STILL! WHEN WILL IT END?

 

But as I was actually listening to it, I really enjoyed it.

 

What is up with that, weirdly long novel?

 

13 hours! For a Snow White retelling with hints of Maleficent, Wicked, and The Snow Child.

 

It seemed like FOREVER.

 

And the hardcover on Goodreads says it’s only 384 pages?

 

But Frost Like Night was nearly 500 pages and its audiobook was only like 8.5 hours.

 

Howwwwwww

 

But it was really good.

 

I don’t know what The Bloody Chamber is (sounds like a horror movie) but I can see where the marketing angle for comparisons to Frozen come in. Frozen took the basis of The Snow Queen’s fairytale and twisted it to make sense for a story about sisters, and in the same way, you can recognise the elements of Snow White in GMOS&G that makes it really enjoyable when something familiar pops up, or what gets twisted into something more original. I was even thinking that Donkeyskin might have been a bit of an influence, because Lynet’s father King Nicholas was suuuuper creepy and way too into his daughter being exactly like his wife.

 

I found GMOS&G to be really original when it came to everything else except the bare bones of the plot. The setting, worldbuilding, and characters were complex and interesting. Mina wasn’t just an evil stepmother, and Lynet wasn’t just an innocent girl, the victim of beauty. Mina had many layers to her, a depth that you rarely find in fairytale retellings. And Lynet wasn’t just beautiful, she was a mirror image of her mother, which meant that her beauty wasn’t her own…

 

I really enjoyed GMOS&G and I’m really glad I decided to listen to it. If you like long fantasy novels, stories about strong, amazing women, or fairytale retellings, I recommend you give it a go.

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.

My name is Nemo.

By day I'm an office manager for the Government, 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