SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.


Title : Such A Fun Age
Author : Kiley Reid
Format : Hardback
Page Count : 310
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Bloomsbury
Release Date : January 7, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Messy, intricate plot
Who’s the baddie?
Characters to make your skin crawl
Thought provoking

I thought this was such a clever read, the plot was beautifully messy and it left the reader guessing and guessing at which side was the one to vouch for. One thing I knew from early on was that was that Emira was down to earth, humble and I needed her to come out of this in good shape.

Such a Fun Age was a hugely thought-provoking read. Overt racism started this story but more subtle and insiduous racism was what continued the story. I started by thinking that Kelley was a good guy but I found myself constantly questioning that. I thought Alix was icky from the start and I couldn’t shake off that feeling of discomfort and disingenuous characterisitics. Briar was a bright light in this book and her relationship with Emira was gorgeous.

One of the things that drove me mad (but was well written) was the infantilising of characters, calling one character in particular ‘girl’ when this person had done nothing but demonstrate their maturity. The sense of superiority of another character insensed me. The fetishisation theme felt important representation.

This book will leave you with questions, thoughts and some conclusions too. I found the writing engaging but it did take a little while to get into it; once I did, it was unputdownable. I definitely recommend this read to get you thinking and engaged with subtle behaviours of superiority and other issues that are so relevant to contemporary life.

BIG BAD WOLF by Suleikha Snyder

In 2016, New York became a Sanctuary City for supernaturals…but things quickly spun out of control. Now, Third Shift is an elite team of operatives tasked with exposing the gritty underbelly of New York’s criminal-supernatural underworld, taking down the worst of the worst and protecting human- and shifter-kind alike.

Joe Peluso has blood on his hands. But lawyer and psychologist Neha Ahluwalia is determined to help him craft a solid defense…even if she can’t defend her own obsession. Because Joe took out those Russian mobsters for good reason–they were responsible for the death of his beloved foster brother. Those six bad guys were part of the ruthless clan of bear shifters who control Brooklyn’s Russian mafia, so his vigilante justice has earned him countless enemies in New York’s supernatural-controlled underworld, and no friends in a government that now bends to Russia at every turn.

Joe knows that creatures like him only deserve the worst. Darkness. Solitude. Punishment. But meeting Neha makes him feel human for the first time in forever. He’s never wanted anything in his life like he wants Neha, and he’ll break almost any rule to spend a minute alone with her. But when the Russian mob attacks the jail for payback, Joe and Neha are forced to escape. Before long they’re on the run–from monsters who want him dead and from their own traitorous hearts.


Title : Big Bad Wolf
Author : Suleikha Snyder
Series : Third Shift (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 368
Genre : urban fantasy/PNR
Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date : January 26, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ 


Hollis’ 1 star review

Here’s a series I can unequivocably say that I will not be continuing. See? Even I have limits.

Where to even start, gosh, well. If you thought post-2016 was A Lot, buckle in, folks! In Snyder’s world it gets worse. All those awful real-life things plus a big supernatural outing and rarely does the author miss an opportunity to remind you just how shitty things are. Sure, its fiction, but it doesn’t feel like fiction when you’re rehashing 80% of the crap you’ve just lived through in a gritty dystopian paranormal fantasy. No thanks.

If that wasn’t bad enough, one of the (many) POVs you get is from Mister Melodrama Man Pain himself. Like, I don’t want to shit too hard on this guy, not all his boo hoo’ing was without reason but.. well. Most was. Yeah. The constant spirals of “I’m the worst, you deserve better, I’m a killer” were exhausting. Watching the other half of the pairing put up with it, be reduced to hormones, and waiting until it all got rehashed post-bang? I was so over this very early on in the game. Particularly as I found little to no chemistry between them (or anyone) despite the whole relationship hinging on this big dose of epic lust.

Actually even before we discovered the man pain, I was twigging to this not likely being my thing — as early as the first chapter — but what had interested me about this in the first place was my previous experience reading one of the author’s novellas.. which I thoroughly enjoyed. This? No. Zero enjoyment. Only boredom or frustration or pure misery.

This is clearly being set up as a huge series because we had lots of POVs with lots of little offshooting set-ups for coupledom, or drama, or adventures, and while some of those minor dynamics sort’ve interested me at first, I just eventually lost the will to care. The writing isn’t terrible but it does not draw you in; I found it very hard to keep track of events in some of the scenes, particularly action sequences, and had to backtrack to determine what had happened, and yet we were forced to rehash so much dialogue (literally, pulled from previous chapters, as one character or another relived it) and all together it just felt so offbalance.

I somehow dragged my lifeless carcass through this book to the bitter end but hey that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Particularly if you want a gritty pseudo-real world PNR that somehow manages to lean into all the cheese and tropes that call this genre home. As mentioned, though, this is as far as I go.

BENEATH THE KEEP by Erika Johansen

The Tearling has reverted to feudalism, a far cry from the utopia it was founded to be. As the gap between rich and poor widens and famine threatens the land, sparking unrest, rumors of a prophecy begin to spread: a great hope, a True Queen who will rise up and save the kingdom.

But rumors will not help Lazarus, a man raised to kill in the brutal clandestine underworld of the Creche, nor Aislinn, a farm girl who must reckon with her own role in the growing rebellion. In the Keep, the crown princess, Elyssa, finds herself torn between duty to the throne and the lure of the Blue Horizon, a group of fierce idealists who promise radical change . . . but Elyssa must choose quickly, before a nefarious witch and her shadowy master use dark magic to decide for her. It is only a matter of time before all three will be called into the service of something bigger than they have ever imagined: a fight for a better world. 


Title : Beneath the Keep
Author : Erika Johansen
Series : The Queen of the Tearling (book zero/prequel)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 448
Genre : fantasy/dystopian
Publisher : Dutton
Release Date : February 2, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Anyone who has read The Queen of the Tearling series probably knew what to expect for this unexpected prequel release. After all, we had mostly learned of all the pre-Kelsea events along the way of the main trilogy. And yet somehow the author still managed to drop a few surprises along the way. And still make this incredibly compelling.

As usual, even though this isn’t a sequel, not a prequel, I can’t say much plot-wise. But if you are new to, or unfamiliar with, this world, you should know it has layers, depths, of darkness. It’s cruel and unjust but glimmers of hope streak through the mire. This was the turning point for these characters, for the world, but there is still much to happen, to endure, before the end.

And some of that might even be an unknown. I don’t know what more is to come, or what time it will fill (likely upto book one? we have quite a few years yet to live through..), but I am keen for it. Completing this series was one of my 2020 successes and I am still riding high on that experience; adding to that delight was, upon finishing, realizing more books were coming (serendipitity!), so I’ll take anything the author is willing to dole out.

JANE AUSTEN’S BEST FRIEND: THE LIFE & INFLUENCE OF MARTHA LLOYD by Zoe Wheddon

All fans of Jane Austen everywhere believe themselves to be best friends with the beloved author and this book shines a light on what it meant to be exactly that. Jane Austen’s Best Friend; The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd offers a unique insight into Jane’s private inner circle. Through this heart-warming examination of an important and often overlooked person in Jane’s world, we uncover the life changing force of their friendship.

Each chapter details the fascinating facts and friendship forming qualities that tied Jane and Martha together. Within these pages we will relive their shared interests, the hits and misses of their romantic love lives, their passion for shopping and fashion, their family histories, their lucky breaks and their girly chats. This book offers a behind the scenes tour of the shared lives of a fascinating pair and the chance to deepen our own bonds in ‘love and friendship’ with them both.

Title : Jane Austen’s Best Friend
Author : Zoe Wheddon
Format : Hardback
Page Count : 224
Genre : Biography
Publisher : Pen & Sword Books
Release Date : February 28, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Female friendships transcend time
Lows and highs
Sharing confidences

Any Austenite is going to appreciate stepping behind what was known of Jane Austen and getting a sneak peak into her bestie Martha Lloyd. Through this biographical read, the reader gets to see the impact this friendship had on Jane’s life but also the kind of friend Jane herself was.

This biography was well researched, full of historical details and it had some photos in the middle of the book to aid visualisation of places that were signficant to this friendship. It was interesting that Martha was actually ten years older than Jane but there wasn’t a superiority or power imbalance arising out of that fact.

I was definitely heartwarmed by the same facets of friendship I value, being seen in the relationship between Jane and Martha. When the going got tough with health, grief and life’s difficulties, they were there for one another. Martha was a practical friend as well as a confidante. The chapter that was written on Martha after Jane’s death was a bit of a heart punch, maybe because I’ve always admired Jane so very much.

This was a great insightful biography and writing from the friendship perspective felt fresh. The writing was detailed and so I chose to read this over a number of days and enjoyed that approach. This is definitely a book that will thrill Austen lovers.

Thank you to Pen & Sword Books for the review copy.

ODIN’S CHILD by Siri Petterson

An epic fantasy trilogy from Norway about thousand-year-old secrets, forbidden romance, and what happens to those who make a deal with the devil comes at last to the United States!

“Imagine lacking something that everyone else has. Something that proves you belong to this world. Something so vital, that without it, you are nothing. A plague. A myth. A human.”

Fifteen winters old, Hirka learns that she is an Odin’s child – a tailless rot from another world. Despised. Dreaded. And hunted. She no longer knows who she is, and someone wants to kill her to keep it a secret. But there are worse things than humans, and Hirka is not the only creature to have broken through the gates…

‘Odin’s Child’ is unique fantasy with Norse roots. An epic clash of xenophobia, blind faith and the right or will to lead.

The first in a trilogy, Odin’s Child is a thrilling modern fantasy epic.


Title : Odin’s Child
Author : Siri Petterson
Series : The Raven Ring #1
Format : eARC
Page Count : 519
Genre : Folklore/Retelling
Publisher : Arctis
Release Date : March 23, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 2.5 star review

Headlines:
Ravens
Tails
Beliefs smashed

Whilst the title might suggest a link with old Norsk gods, it actually doesn’t refer to that lore or known belief system at all. The phrasing ‘odin’s child’ isn’t necessarily explained (nor is much else) but it refers to Hirka, the girl poised on womanhood being not of the world she was born into but from another world.

Things I liked about the book were some of the characters like Hirka (MC), Rime and Errik but the story and the world never grabbed me. The plot was long and convoluted and when you lacked the foundations or explanations as a reader, it really was frustrating. I stuck around for the characters.

This was a long book and to be honest, I spent much of it confused. There is no show and no tell, you just have to stick around for 500+ pages to get some sense of the world building and these tenets – the might, the blind, binding, the rite. I remain confused about some elements of the world, even at the end.

I did have to have a conversation with friend who read it to help decide whether to dnf or stick with it. Am I glad I stuck with it? I’m not sure to be honest and sadly, I don’t see myself continuing with the series.

Thank you to the publisher for the early review copy.

THE SAD GHOST CLUB by Lize Meddings

Ever felt anxious or alone? Like you don’t belong anywhere? Like you’re almost… invisible? Find your kindred spirits at The Sad Ghost Club.

This is the story of one of those days – a day so bad you can barely get out of bed, when it’s a struggle to leave the house, and when you do, you wish you hadn’t. But even the worst of days can surprise you. When one sad ghost, lost and alone at a crowded party, spies another sad ghost across the room, they decide to leave together. What happens next changes everything. Because that night they start the The Sad Ghost Club – a secret society for the anxious and alone, a club for people who think they don’t belong.

For fans of Heartstopper and Jennifer Niven, and for anyone who’s ever felt invisible. You are not alone. Shhh. Pass it on.


Title : The Sad Ghost Club
Author : Lize Meddings
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 208
Genre : YA
Publisher : Hodder Children’s Books
Release Date : January 21, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s star review

Headlines:
Cute
Perfect for young people experiencing anxiety & depression
Stunning non-gendered illustration

I’m a buzzing after reading this book in an hour today. I felt tired after work and picked it up just to see what it was like and didn’t look up until ‘THE END’. I have a family member with anxiety & depression and so much of this book resonated with me, especially the thought processes in a young person. Less is more with this review, so here’s a few words.

The Sad Ghost Club is a beautiful story of uncertainty, self-doubt, sadness, anxiety, friendship and feeling valued. There’s a cat and frog to further reel you in, if my review alone doesn’t do it. It covers themes of study anxiety, low mood, peer support

This graphic novel will help readers feel seen and for me that’s such an important focus. I loved that the ghosts were ungendered in naming and appearance so that no presumptions could be made about mental illness and gender whilst also encompassing any gender.

I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, I totally felt the range of emotions SG was going through and I think this book has the potential to validate these experiences.

Thank you Hodder Books through the vine programe for this review copy.

THEFT OF SUNLIGHT by Intisar Khanani

I did not choose this fate. But I will not walk away from it.

Children have been disappearing from across Menaiya for longer than Amraeya ni Ansarim can remember. When her friend’s sister is snatched, Rae knows she can’t look away any longer – even if that means seeking answers from the royal court, where her country upbringing and clubfoot will only invite ridicule.

Yet the court holds its share of surprises. There she discovers an ally in the foreign princess, who recruits her as an attendant. Armed with the princess’s support, Rae seeks answers in the dark city streets, finding unexpected help in a rough-around-the-edges street thief with secrets of his own. But treachery runs deep, and the more Rae uncovers, the more she endangers the kingdom itself.


Title : Theft of Sunlight
Author : Intisar Khanani
Series : Dauntless Path#2
Format : eARC
Page Count : 528
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Hot Key Books
Release Date : March 23, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Slavery
Changing perspectives
Trust and betrayal
Oh you didn’t…

I slipped into the writing of The Theft of Sunlight with such ease and comfort. It was a joy to be back into the world and to enjoy Intisar Khanani’s writing. I didn’t need a Thorn recap because I found it to be such a memorable read.

It was utterly clever to be back with the characters of Thorn but from a different perspective. Alyrra was not the MC but she was a huge part of the story, viewed from Rae (Amraeya) the MC’s story. Rae was not from a noble family but found herself amongst the royal family. Rae was daring, brave and stupid all at once and she had a disability that was so well written. That disability didn’t define her.

I may be a bit roughed up around the edges, but I’m holding together.

This was a story about slavery, with some difficult themes and sometimes some difficult scenes. I appreciated the author’s willingness to take the story into this territory in YA and I was utterly gripped and cared about what was happening in these lands.

Magic remained on the agenda but it wasn’t conveyed in a positive light. The plot overarching this series involving magic, curses, wards and mages has a dark vibe and I’m eager to know more.

There was a little promise of affection and romance but not much beyond suggestion, that felt the right kind of pitch but I foresee Rae’s story going further. Right now I’m trying to forget where we’ve been left with probably a year before the next book but I will wait as patient as I can for anything Intisar writes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this second book in the Dauntless Path series and I cannot wait to read on.

Thank you to the author for the early review copy.

A TOUCH OF STONE AND SNOW by Milla Vane

Danger lurks in the western realms. The Destroyer’s imminent return has sent the realms into turmoil as desperate citizens seek refuge—but there’s no safety to be found when demons and wraiths crawl out from the shadows. Even Koth, a northern island kingdom left untouched by the Destroyer a generation past, is besieged by terrors spawned from corrupt magics.

When Lizzan leads the Kothan army against these terrors, only to see her soldiers massacred and to emerge as the only survivor, she is called a coward and a deserter. Shunned from her home, Lizzan now wanders in solitude as a mercenary for hire, until she encounters a group of warriors seeking new alliances with the northern kingdoms—a group that includes Aerax, the bastard prince of Koth, and the man who sent her into exile. 

Though they were childhood friends, Aerax cannot allow himself to be close to the only woman who might thwart his treacherous plan to save their island realm. But when a goddess’s demand binds them together, Lizzan and Aerax must find a way to overcome their painful pasts. Or there will be no future for the western realms…


Title : A Touch of Stone and Snow
Author : Milla Vane
Series : A Gathering of Dragons (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 398
Genre : fantasy romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : July 21, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I definitely liked this more than book one but not more than the prequel (which you should read after book one, by the way). But there are definitely still parts I had to slog through. Thankfully this installment is significantly shorter than book one (almost six hundred pages vs just shy of four) but.. it still felt very long, particularly in the beginning.

I’m not sure I really liked either of the main characters, which is sad as I really liked book one’s heroine, but unlike the hero in book one, at least no one annoyed me in this one. I think I struggled, mostly in the beginning, because there was just so much time bouncing between past events and current that it was hard to hold onto who they were now. And also likely not helped by just feeling a little lost and without any certain footing in said beginning. The middle to almost climax was definitely the highlight for me, both fast paced and interesting, but the actual big conflict seemed.. well, dumb. And over before I even realized. It resolved so quickly it actually took me a few pages to realize it was over and they hadn’t just paused for an interlude.

That said, what helped me feel better about this one was, while I acknowledged and appreciated the worldbuilding Vane put in, from day on, this was the first time I felt proper understanding of some of the mythology. I don’t know if it was poorly explained or we just weren’t meant to know the whole picture up until now (or I’m dumb) but.. I’m diggin’ it. I’m on board. And I like what has been set up for book three, too. Of course, now that I’m caught up I have to wait like everyone else but.. oh well.

Not quite sure this is going to be a series I would go out of my way to recommend but I definitely wouldn’t talk you out of it if you’re already interested in diving in.

POISONED by Jennifer Donnelly

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.


Title : Poisoned
Author : Jennifer Donnelly
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 331
Genre : YA fantasy retelling
Publisher : Scholastic Press
Release Date : October 20, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

I was keen for this retelling because of how much I had loved Stepsister, the author’s previous fantasy reimagining, and yet almost from the get-go I knew this wouldn’t have the same kind of magic as the Cinderella-inspired story did.

While there was a lot of creative elements at work within Donnelly’s version of Snow White, I was, sadly, bored and uninspired by much of it. I missed the hard feminist edge that we’ve had in the author’s aforementioned work. It wasn’t totally missed here, there were some interesting points about the stepmother and her role, and I loved how that was spun, but.. that was really the only highlight.

If you have yet to read this author, I would definitely start with this one if you want a dark fairytale reimagining, but I think starting with Stepsister will leave you as disappointed by this one as I was. That same spark just isn’t here.

If the author has more dark reworkings in her future I will still pick them up. But my expectations will be quite a bit lower.

THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI by Akwaeke Emezi

What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom. 

Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader


Title : The Death of Vivek Oji
Author : Akwaeke Emezi
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 248
Genre : contemporary/magical realism/LGBQTIAP+
Publisher : Riverhead Books
Release Date : August 4, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

This review is difficult because on the one hand I want everyone to read this but on the other I don’t want to put this in the hands of anyone who would be made uncomfortable by it. I also don’t want to give spoilers. But nor do I tend to list content warnings because a lot of people find them spoilery (as do I). So I’ll just do what I always do : if the summary sounds like something you would want to read, but you are now concerned about the content within the space around said plot, please seek out the warnings. There are lots of reviews that list them, even if mine won’t.

If, on the other hand, you’re impervious to much or all as long as it’s in a fictional setting, and you’re SOP is going in knowing nothing.. at least you’ll go in braced for anything. So I guess you’re welcome? No refunds.

Some people can’t see softness wihout wanting to hurt it.

Jokes aside, the one spoiler I’m okay going into is, well.. the title. It’s right there. Watching the story play out both after, and before, and during, the death of Vivek Oji was.. so many things. Haunting and heartbreaking, lonely and lovely, painful and proud, unthinkable and unflinching. See? So many.

Temporarily occupying this world, this town in Nigeria, this family, the little communities within the community, these issues, I was just completely swept away. Emezi’s writing is so incredible. It honestly lulled me into a safe place even as I read about things I would otherwise (and still did, don’t get me wrong) feel disconcerted by. There was such warmth and gentleness at the core of this story even as it broke your heart. Shocking everyone (!), though, I didn’t actually cry while reading this but one part in particular got me very close.

The are quite a few POVs and storylines that split off from the main story and I was fine being taken away, even though I didn’t want to be, because I just wanted to keep reading. I didn’t care what strange path we were diverted onto. And then by the end.. you see the pieces as one whole. Not just one angle, many, not just one complicated and complex life, but many. We’re all part of a bigger picture and I felt that so strongly here.

Again, I won’t be recommending this, but oh am I glad I read it. That I’ve discovered this author. And that I have more books from them to read.