FAR FROM THE LIGHT OF HEAVEN by Tade Thompson

A tense and thrilling vision of humanity’s future in the chilling emptiness of space from rising giant in science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke Award winner Tade Thompson

The colony ship Ragtime docks in the Lagos system, having traveled light-years to bring one thousand sleeping souls to a new home among the stars. But when first mate Michelle Campion rouses, she discovers some of the sleepers will never wake.

Answering Campion’s distress call, investigator Rasheed Fin is tasked with finding out who is responsible for these deaths. Soon a sinister mystery unfolds aboard the gigantic vessel, one that will have repercussions for the entire system—from the scheming politicians of Lagos station, to the colony planet Bloodroot, to other far-flung systems, and indeed to Earth itself.


Title : Far From The Light Of Heaven
Author : Tade Thompson
Format : Paperback ARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : Sci-Fi
Publisher : Orbit Books
Release Date : October 26, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Murder on board
AI…
Clever, intricate plot

Far From The Light of Heaven was a superb sci-fi thriller. It had early sinister feels and that sense pervaded the whole book. I was on tenterhooks throughout and I was so glad this was encapsuated in a standalone.

The story revolves around a locked room murder and takes some inspiration from Poe (read the very informative afterword when you’re done). Shell Campion, the captain in name only, had to really step up to the plate in this story. She was a formidable character, one I respected and admired. This becomes a small cast of characters over time and I particularly loved Francis, Salvo and Larry. Dare I say, I spent a lot of time pinning hopes on Ragtime.

The plot was complex but not too complex, with clever intricacies that I really appreciated. My friend and I buddy read this and we agreed that if there were moments of confusion, it did get ironed out. This perspective of a further earth and future human race alongside other species and synthetic beings was engaging, belieavable and entertaining. I appreciated Thompson’s ability to represent an Afro-culture space-side; it was tangible.

How the plot culminated, the person behind the events was mind-blowing, unexpected and excellent. Again, I’m going to say that I loved Francis, the cover and that element however side plot it was. Here, I also want to mention a little TW for bugs, if like me you are particularly grossed out by bugs (it was one section and not prolonged).

I need to now retreat and try Tade Thompson’s other series as I’m fascinated by his writing and any world he can create.

Do not come to heaven, mortals, says God, and trieds without success to kick them back to the surface of the plant.

Thank you to Orbit Books for the early review copy.

ACT COOL by Tobly Smith – double review!

A trans teen walks the fine line between doing whatever it takes for his acting dream and staying true to himself in this moving, thought-provoking YA novel from the acclaimed author of Stay Gold.

Aspiring actor August Greene just landed a coveted spot at the prestigious School of Performing Arts in New York. There’s only one problem: His conservative parents won’t accept that he’s transgender. And to stay with his aunt in the city, August must promise them he won’t transition.

August is convinced he can play the part his parents want while acting cool and confident in the company of his talented new friends.

But who is August when the lights go down? And where will he turn when the roles start hitting a little too close to home?


Title : Act Cool
Author : Tobly Smith
Format : ARC/Hardback
Page Count : 352
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ contemporary YA romance
Publisher : Quill Tree Books/Harper 360YA
Release Date : September 7, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★.5  / ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I said this in another queer YA contemporary review recently that it’s important for queer and trans characters to have messy love lives, or messy stories, or just be messy, because so many of those stories already exist for straight and cis-gendered content.

However, queer or not, messy doesn’t always make it easy to love.

August is a trans boy who has recently run away from tinytown, Pennsylvania to not only avoid conversion therapy as a result of his religious parents rejecting his identity but also to attend a prestigious acting school in New York courtesy of his aunt’s connections. Suffice it to say August is going through it. He has baggage. He’s recently transitioned, come out, and he’s dealing with a new city, new school, and finally being his authentic self. Sorta. But because of all that, because he’s new to almost every aspect of his life, he’s also changing personas the way most people change shirts. This makes August a difficult character to get a read on. 

Now, listen, I get it, I’m old now but I was hip and young once. I understand the concept of having a different angle with different groups; hell, most of us still have elements of that to our personality : it’s called work and home life. However.. this isn’t just August at Home vs August at School. This is too many Augusts; funny guy, serious guy, acting guy, flirting guy, humble guy.. again, how am I supposed to know who I’m reading about if he’s just a mask?

Eventually this does phase out when he addresses it, or rather when he gets called out of it multiple times and then addresses it, and again, so much of it is understandable. But it’s also hard.

August gets caught up in the buzz and high of being well liked and successful, focusing on followers and curating his social media presence, lying about not reading the articles and posts about him, because he happens to land a starring role in his school’s play and then another opportunity shortly thereafter. Naturally.. things go to his head and he becomes outright unlikeable. 

Which phases into the next thing I disliked. All the lies. Again, tied into his shifting in and out of being who he thought he had to be in the moment.
Probably it’s just that, as much as I could empathize for August’s struggle and what he had endured, and what he was going through in general, I never liked him. Infact, the only characters I loved (yes, I did love some!) were August’s aunt and his trans fairy-godmother, Juliet. A+, five stars, for both of them. Everyone else.. meh? They were just too much drama for me, not going to lie, and that probably tied into why I wasn’t down for any of the various romances. Besides the fact that none of them were particularly well developed.

I have also found with previous stories that focus this much on theatre or acting just don’t interest me. And there was a lot of that in this one. Not helped, too, by August assuming his way was the right way to do things despite the advice of his teachers or discussion with peers — you know, at the prestigious school he probably didn’t deserve to be at and clearly didn’t respect enough — which also does get addressed, in a rather heartbreaking way, but it was one more thing that added to the arrogance and frustration around his character.

Much of the narrative in Act Cool is about getting transpeople other narratives that aren’t necessarily defined by their being transgender, telling different and happier stories, in addition to representation in general. And then there’s also the emphasis on found family and finding those who will accept you no matter what.There’s a lot of great in here. I just had to sift through a lot of less great to appreciate it.

That said, if you’re looking for a diverse YA contemporary, with drama and romance that does get a wee bit messy and soap opera-y, but with some heavier themes to keep it from being too frothy, you could definitely do worse than picking this one up. But if you hate theatre or Broadway.. maybe avoid.

** I received an unsolicited ARC from the publisher (thank you!) and this in no way influenced my review. **


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Drama on and off the stage
Tough but still uplifting
Shitty parents

Call me enchanted by Tobly McSmith’s writing and stories, because this is the second book of his that has drawn me in, made me love all the things and left me thinking. Act Cool was the kind of story that had tough themes (and I expected it this time) but it is also a hugely uplifting and empowering read. It transports you into the world of August and for me, I became his cheer team.

August was a character that jumped off the page with his raw feeling, his ability to trust, his naivety as a trans character and his desire to be accepted. August was the unfortunate owner of some top-form shitty parents. I hated them, as I should, but these kind of ignorant folks exist, they’re not an illusion and they are harmful. Hooray for Aunt Lil to offset some of that.

August’s journey through a performing arts school, fresh opportunities and finding his feet with being a man was just 100% absorbing. The crew around August were a dramatic bunch and he spent time sussing out who was friend, foe or both. I really warmed to the side characters and even Mr Daniels. The performing arts backdrop, Broadway and how those themes intersected with August facing his gender dysphoria was emotional; I was gripped.

There were a number of quotes I tabbed, probably all a bit spoilery to share but amongst the witty banter, the fun of school life were deep thoughts, the odd profound inner monologue and interaction with others.

I simply loved this book, it made my Saturday and I avidly await Tobly McSmith’s next book.

Please do check out some trans reviewers for this book.

Thank you to Pride Book Tours and Harper 360YA for the review copy.

ALL THE FEELS by Olivia Dade

Following Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade returns with another utterly charming romantic comedy about a devil-may-care actor—who actually cares more than anyone knows—and the no-nonsense woman hired to keep him in line.

Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Sex appeal. Wealth. Fame. A starring role as Cupid on TV’s biggest show, God of the Gates. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s dogged by old demons, and his post-show future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.

Enter Lauren Clegg, the former ER therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over handsome but impulsive Alex shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time they spend together, the harder it gets to keep her professional remove and her heart intact, especially when she discovers the reasons behind his recklessness…not to mention his Cupid fanfiction habit.

When another scandal lands Alex in major hot water and costs Lauren her job, she’ll have to choose between protecting him and offering him what he really wants—her. But he’s determined to keep his improbably short, impossibly stubborn, and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. And on a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves: anything at all.


Title : All The Feels
Author : Olivia Dade
Series : Spoiler Alert #2
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Piatkus
Release Date : October 26, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Body-positivity
Judgement
Friends to witty more

The start and ongoing premise to All The Feels starts with a judging a person by their appearance, judging Lauren the plus-sized heroine. This story is the journey back from that initial judgement and this man really was good guy, not one to go solely by supposed ideal appearances at all. I appreciated so much how this story navigated these issues while packing a great plot around it.

All The Feels picked up the batton where Spoiler Alert left off, with Alex an actor from the same series as the previous book and there was a fan fic element too. Alex for me, was such an adorable character, he had ADHD and he was a walking, self-depricating, guilt-ball. Lauren with her therapist background and babysitter role was able to inject some positivity to his sense of self over time.

This story was something of a slow burn. I appreciated the time passing, the friendship evolving and the chemistry building. Then everything was pretty much unleashed and much fun to read.

I didn’t always find the fan fic excerpts (which were few and far between) easy to read, they jarred me a bit with the flow. In this story, I didn’t feel like it added much but then when I remember the soulmate one, that was pretty special.

This series is shaping up so well and I’m excited to own some special editions of these two books when book two releases.

Thank you to Piatkus Books for the early review copy.

BEFORE THE DEVIL BREAKS YOU by Libba Bray

New York City.
1927.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.
And the dead are coming…


After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves. 


Title : Before the Devil Breaks You
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 561
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : October 3, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

You know those books that have very clear peaks and valleys in enjoyment where you can point out “see that? that’s where I started to hate this” or “this, this was where I felt the story redeemed itself”. Well.. yeah, this is one of those.

What started off slow, quickly (well.. not quickly, this is almost six hundred pages after all) started to prove itself better than its predecessor; and I don’t just mean plot-wise. Because for some of this I was having fun with the characters, too. But of course we can’t have nice things so that took a serious dive (or two!), and we ended things back where we started with me being checked out on character and only here for over arcing plot.

I don’t know if it’s really just me (likely, based on ratings) that can’t connect to these characters or what but like.. it’s not even that they just aren’t likeable. They just have do some questionable, sometimes outright stupid, things. Some can be blamed on the author who has thrown at least one under the bus for the sake of resolving a romance (which.. I’ll get to this in a mo) but the rest just seem to be their personality and, welp, I’m not here for it.

Much like how I wasn’t getting on with the characters, I also wasn’t getting on with the majority of the romances. In fact.. the only ones I liked where the queer pairings? And they didn’t even get much page time. Maybe that’s what saved them. As for what wasn’t saved, aforementioned character and the bus, like.. wow. Harsh. I guess that’s one way to solve a love triangle? Just kidding, no it is not. Curious to see that fall to shit in book four.

And having that said, I don’t understand how in a book with so much happening, much action, much filler, many characters, there were so many scenes that were just.. rushed over? Seemed to have been skimmed? It made the pacing so strange and it made the whole experience frustrating as, again, I was actually liking this more than I wasn’t. Until the last 20%.

Very glad there’s only one more book to go because even though this series hasn’t been a total fail (though it obviously hasn’t been a total win, either) it’s rather exhausting to be trapped in this dreary racist past (as opposed to our dreary racist present) and I find my skin crawls more from the terrible non-magical human characters than it does from the spooky ghosts or horror elements. Imma need something fluffy after this for sure.

THE KEEPER OF NIGHT by Kylie Lee Baker

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side. 


Title : The Keeper of Night
Author : Kylie Lee Baker
Series : The Keeper of Night (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 401
Genre : YA historical fiction fantasy
Publisher : Inkyard Press
Release Date : October 12, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I don’t know about you but I hadn’t heard much about The Keeper of Night. So if, like me, you were oblivious to its existence.. you may want to pay attention.

Ren’s entire existence is defined by being on the outside. The daughter of an English Reaper and a Japanese Shinigami, she resides in London and is bullied, disrespected, and ignored for her heritage — something that, I’ll admit, was really getting my back up because I thought her father, the obvious culprit for her dual heritage, had been let off the hook and all the hate and distrust was focused solely on his daughter. And well.. he is demoted for his transgressions but Ren still bears the brunt of it as he gets to, mostly, wash his hands of it all. I got to say, I’m hella tired of that particular narrative. Next time I want the kid to be welcomed and the parents to be ostracized please and thank you. Also, I hope more of this backstory is explained in book two as, currently, I’m not quite satisfied by how things stand.

But anyway, stuff happens and Ren is forced on the run and her brother, who has always loved her despite having been also tarred with some of the same brush as his sister, even though he is not biracial, flees to Japan with her. And basically this whole relationship, this whole bond? The best. They didn’t always get on, they could never full understand each other, but they were still there for each other.. though this bond definitely does get tested along the way. Especially when Neven admits to feeling like a fish out of water in Japan and expresses those feelings to Ren, even though it was only a glimpse of what Ren had endured in London for centuries — and I really loved that Baker explored this.

While so much of this story ends up being about Japanese mythology and legends, the author leans close to, if not outright, grimdarkness with some of the violence and demons they encounter. Maybe it’s not quite grim but it is dark. Being that the whole premise is set around death and soul collecting, I like that this wasn’t glossed over considering the target audience.

Also not glossed over is Ren’s anger, which we see explode out of her a few times once she’s away from London and is able to both articulate and let herself rage, about all the years of being told who she is, what she isn’t, and how she’s not accepted. Because unlike what she thought.. she is not immediately welcomed in Japan. She’s seen, once again, as a foreigner. This disappointment felt so raw and real and I honestly have no words to describe it.

Where things sorta fell apart for me was near the end. I knew this wasn’t a standalone (yay it’s only a duology!) so maybe that explains why the big climax came upon us in a bit of a quick and dramatic fashion — well, there’s two, really. I loved the first, which I sorta saw coming (but one reveal was still a surprise) but it was what followed that.. I don’t know. I really enjoyed where things ended, though, and I’m so keen to see how it all resolves — or if it even does — in book two.

If you’re looking for a dark YA fantasy, set in the past, with a compelling setting, rich in atmosphere and setting, with a main character who isn’t remotely the hero, though not quite a villain, but definitely grey in hue.. you should give this a go.

** I received an unsolicited ARC from the publisher (thank you!) and this in no way influenced my review. **

THE ATLAS SIX by Olivie Blake

The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity, are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Those who earn a place among the Alexandrians will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams, and each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation. 

Enter the latest round of six: Libby Rhodes and Nico de Varona, unwilling halves of an unfathomable whole, who exert uncanny control over every element of physicality. Reina Mori, a naturalist, who can intuit the language of life itself. Parisa Kamali, a telepath who can traverse the depths of the subconscious, navigating worlds inside the human mind. Callum Nova, an empath easily mistaken for a manipulative illusionist, who can influence the intimate workings of a person’s inner self. Finally, there is Tristan Caine, who can see through illusions to a new structure of reality—an ability so rare that neither he nor his peers can fully grasp its implications. 

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have one year to qualify for initiation, during which time they will be permitted preliminary access to the Society’s archives and judged based on their contributions to various subjects of impossibility: time and space, luck and thought, life and death. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. The six potential initiates will fight to survive the next year of their lives, and if they can prove themselves to be the best among their rivals, most of them will. 

Most of them.


Title : The Atlas Six
Author : Olivie Blake
Series : The Atlas (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 336
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : TorBooks
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I don’t think it’s hype that shot me in the foot for this one, necessarily, but I definitely think my expectations, or preconceived notions, about what this was were.. not on the mark. Even if I had some of the elements right.

If you’re anticipating this to be a little bit dark, a lot magical, academic for sure, and featuring an ensemble of personas that run the gamut of archetypes, well. You’ll find all of it. This book is also very smart? Or at least too smart for me. Blake did a good job of presenting theories and discussion with words I could follow, and mostly with concepts I could parse, but occasionally I would just find myself going along with it.

I think for all the hugeness of the scope there is also a very small window into said world. Both in setting and in some of the potential for the characters that sometimes we glimpsed — whereas other times they just spun their wheels or went through the usual motions — but there’s lots of room here for more, I think. And with some very key, and some unexpected, reveals and directions this has shifted into near the end.. maybe we’ll get that in book two. There may also be more value in these beginnings in hindsight, who knows.

So while I was far from blown away, I’m definitely interested in more. If you’re looking for a helpful review, this will not be it! Sorry.

THAT DARK INFINITY by Kate Pentecost

By night, the Ankou is a legendary, permanently young mercenary. By day, a witch’s curse leaves him no more than bones. Caught in an unending cycle of death and resurrection, the Ankou wants only to find the death that has been prophesied for him, especially once he begins to rot while he’s still alive….

After the kingdom of Kaer-Ise is sacked, Flora, loyal handmaiden to the princess, is assaulted and left for dead. As the sole survivor of the massacre, Flora wants desperately to find the princess she served. When the Ankou agrees to help her find the princess, and to train her in exchange for her help in breaking his curse, she accepts. But how can she kill an immortal? Especially one whom she is slowly growing to understand—and maybe even to love?

Together, they will solve mysteries, battle monsters, break curses, and race not only against time, but against fate itself.


Title : That Dark Infinity
Author : Kate Pentecost
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : October 19, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ 


Hollis’ 1.5 (rounded up) star review

Unfortunately That Dark Infinity is a great example of a very exciting premise that is let down by execution. 

This dark romantic premise is hamstrung by very young-leaning YA dialogue, which is frustrating considering the darker content, and an immortal being that, after living three centuries as a nineteen year old instead reads like he’s sixteen. For someone who carried all these tales and mystique around him, I enjoyed that almost none of them were remotely true, which was a funny twist, but at the same time.. some mystique would’ve been good. How this was set up, how it played out, and how he actually should’ve been treated based on how he interacted with others.. I don’t know, it didn’t quite line up.

Another thing that didn’t quite work was this starts off with an off-page assault on our other main character, Flora, which is not only traumatic but carries extra shame due to her peoples’ value on virtue, but what was perplexing is that she was mistaken for the princess when she was grabbed and her attackers made a comment she was meant for the invading prince but “what he wouldn’t know wouldn’t hurt him” and yet.. they subsequently leave her for dead? Because the prince also said to “leave no one alive”. So.. she wasn’t going to the prince after all? We never end up seeing this prince, this whole plotline kind of becomes background noise to a certain extent, so it doesn’t have any real relevance I’m just irritated because I don’t understand the point of the comment or why things end up the way they do.

Over the course of the book, the aforementioned weird dialogue persisted, which was frustrating as some of the description was decent. But overall there was just no tension. These big action or suspenseful moments were, theoretically, taking place but you could feel none of it. Especially as the characters reacted as if, really, nothing had happened. At one point, during a scene I can’t describe due to spoilers, Flora is calling out constantly for Lazarus to help her, save her, and then he does, and when he asks after her, she says “oh don’t worry about me”.. insert side eye here. At another point, Flora gets her period (yay! and cramps! love to see it, hate to live it) and it’s a big issue because it attracts spirit thingies and this whole scene is set up where we see her surrounded and barely protected by their super special fence thing, except.. she’s found sleeping outdoors infront of said fence. Why? There’s no explanation for it. It’s just for this tension-less tense scene. It just.. doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, I’ll end the complaining, mostly because I don’t even want to get started on the “romance”, but this just wasn’t it. And I’m sad. It’s got a good looking cover (which, granted, looks better from a distance than it does close up) and has what sounded like a great, intriguing, romantic premise but.. alas.

Wouldn’t recommend and, unfortunately, I wouldn’t pick up this author again.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

WITHIN THESE WICKED WALLS by Lauren Blackwood

What the heart desires, the house destroys… 

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, Andromeda quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, but leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option. Evil may roam the castle’s halls, but so does a burning desire.


Title : Within These Wicked Walls
Author : Lauren Blackwood
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA fantasy retelling
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : October 19, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Almost any Jane Eyre retelling gets me excited but an Ethiopian-inspired one made me look not once, not twice, but thrice. Having said that, other than some very basic bones of said original, this deviates a lot from the majority of the story — and honestly I think it succeeded because of that.

Andromeda is this version’s Jane who comes to Thornfield, to Rochester — Magnus, in this case — not to be a governess but to exorcise the Manifestations that are haunting the castle, and it’s master, from an inherited curse. I don’t know that I ever fully understood how she was capable of doing this, it involved goggles and a welding pen (steampunky, almost, I guess) to make amulets that were suited to each element of the curse, and then.. voila. She takes this job, what she learns is an impossible job, to guarantee her patronage and recognition as a debtera aka exorcist. But, much like the original, Magnus is often distracting Andi from her job, longing for attention, lonely and entitled, and fascinated by this person who resists him, speaks truths to his face, and is also fiercely capable.

From then on I won’t say which parts are new or true or how it all plays out but honestly other than a few scenes that I think tried too hard to force themselves into the original story.. this was totally captivating. I maybe would’ve liked to see more build up to their relationship, maybe because I enjoyed their earlier prickly interactions so much and didn’t feel as much chemistry after a certain point, but the rest of the story, the world, kept it strong. There was a secondary relationship that I thought was both adorable and also maybe took some focus away from other dynamics I would’ve liked to be stronger but.. it helped humanize, and soften, a character that definitely needed it. And made some later moments perhaps a little more believable.

Vague vagueries, oooh, spooky.

If you want a somewhat dark, atmospheric, yet also occasionally playful, diverse fantasy, that happens to harken back to a well known classic tale, you should absolutely have this not only on your radar but on your TBR. Considering this is Blackwood’s debut, I can’t wait to see what she cooks up next.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE DEATHLESS GIRLS by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…


Title : The Deathless Girls
Author : Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Format : Hardcover
Page Count : 304
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Orion Children’s Books
Release Date : October 28, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★.5


Micky’s 2.5 star review

Headlines:
Sombre retelling
Marginalised voices
Didn’t work for me

I’m gutted that The Deathless Girls didn’t work for me. It’s such an exciting concept but I found the execution somewhat boring. There are some real positives to this story and characters but I found they weren’t enough to lift the story into ‘like’ territory. All the beautiful formatting in the world can’t make a book you don’t like into more.

The story revolved around twin sisters Kizzy and Lili, both quite different characters. Their story started with tragedy and I can’t say that the plot really lifted from that theme at all. I was excited about the idea of a retelling giving perspective of the ‘brides of dracula’ but honestly all that comes so late in the story, that I’d lost my interest and commitment completely.

The positives of this story lie in the portrayal of a travelling community and the prejudices and abuse they experienced; I guess things haven’t changed that much. This is a historical setting, so it was a travelling community of the past. There was LGBTQIAP+ representation too. I also appreciated zero romanticising of vampire characteristics and behaviour.

Sadly, this didn’t float my boat and it was a real push to keep reading through the slow.

LAIR OF DREAMS by Libba Bray

The longing of dreams draws the dead, and this city holds many dreams.

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. With her uncanny ability to read people’s secrets, she’s become a media darling, earning the title “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” Everyone’s in love with the city’s newest It Girl…everyone except the other Diviners.

Piano-playing Henry DuBois and Chinatown resident Ling Chan are two Diviners struggling to keep their powers a secret—for they can walk in dreams. And while Evie is living the high life, victims of a mysterious sleeping sickness are turning up across New York City.

As Henry searches for a lost love and Ling strives to succeed in a world that shuns her, a malevolent force infects their dreams. And at the edges of it all lurks a man in a stovepipe hat who has plans that extend farther than anyone can guess…As the sickness spreads, can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld to save the city?


Title : Lair of Dreams
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 613
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : August 25, 2015

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

Yeesh, we’ve taken a bit of a dip in this series — and by we I mean me — but a brief scan of ratings shows I’m definitely the outlier on this one. So, well. You know the saying.

But let me just take this brief moment to get the snarky out of the way : the main premise/conflict of this second book is that people are falling prey to a sleeping sickness, unable to wake up. And hoo boy was that some powerful mojo because I, too, was wanting to fall asleep while reading this.

Okay, snark over. I hope.

Listen, I’m a big fan of Bray’s obvious dedication to research and setting and, in some cases, the atmosphere. But in addition to this just being so long, and everything taking so much time to sort out, along with all the little side quests that are building the main meat of the series.. well. It just felt a bit much.

And it was all made worse by the fact that this sleeping sickness originated in Chinatown and so, leaning into the racism of the time (hahah we laugh because it isn’t gone.. and also, just wait), it becomes the Chinese Sleeping Virus. With sounds a lot like something else. And oh, they do quarantines, post signs barring certain people from entering establishments, spread propaganda about the hygiene of certain people, there are assaults in the street.. yeah. It was really real. So it wasn’t fun to read about something we’re more or less enduring now despite the century of time difference. So, again, while I appreciated the very real historical relevance of the racism, the segregation, the talk of eugenics.. it was just hard. And butted up against the length of this, the sleepiness of the sleepy sickness, the fact that I still don’t like many characters — and am starting to actively dislike a few — well. We did not have a great time.

About the characters, though. Ling saved this one. And Henry had his moments. I couldn’t give much of a fig about anyone else, though, and if Old Bill doesn’t drop dead soon.. I swear.

Anyway, certainly less thrilled to be reading on in this chonky four-book series but now that we have a solid gang of teens amassed to like.. potentially battle evil, with some still in the closet about it all, things might get more interesting. Maybe. Cautious optimism, it’s to what I cling.