Monday, 20 January 2020

Book Review: A Throne of Swans by Katharine Corr and Elizabeth Corr

In a world where the flightless are servants and the flighted rule, when 17-year-old Aderyn inherits the role of Protector of Atratys, it's vital that nobody knows her biggest secret - she hasn't transformed into a swan since watching her mother be torn apart by hawks years ago. But a trip to the royal court brings intrigue, threats, and the need to do whatever it takes to save the land she is sworn to protect.

Oh, WOW. This is a stunning high fantasy with a brilliant narrator, which had me glued to it while reading. (It's now 4:45am, I woke up at around 3:30 and was too desperate to find out how it ended to go back to sleep!) I love fantasy with political intrigue at its heart and this is a superb example of that - early on Aderyn is warned to trust nobody, and it's clear as the novel progresses through many twists and turns that this is sensible advice. I found the characters to be really compelling and layered, with their motivations eventually making sense but a lot of them being VERY well-hidden. There's also a superb world built here, in which the flightless are treated differently by different rulers but are in general far below the flighted, to the point where even the touch of a noble causes them pain. Aderyn is a wonderful heroine who's clearly trying to do what's right for the kingdom, and in particular for the people of Atratys, although she's distracted both by the hunt for her mother's killers and the need to stay alive in what quickly becomes a really dangerous situation.

It's hard to say too much about the characters without giving anything away, but there's a huge amount of well-developed ones here, from Aderyn's cousin Aron - also flightless due to injury, and therefore without a claim to the throne which should have been his to inherit - and his sister Odette, trying to stay out of court intrigue, to Siegfried, Odette's betrothed, Lucien, son of one of Aderyn's family's closest advisers but loyal to the land of Atratys above his Protector, and Letya, Aderyn's lady's maid and closest friend. And then there's the cruel king, who seems to have purposes of his own in mind for Ateryn...

Despite its length, I raced through this one thanks to captivating writing and a well-paced plot which includes some great scenes as the book builds to a stunning climax. I also appreciated that it's a satisfying ending for a novel in its own right, while doing a good job of setting up the sequel which I'm hugely anticipating now.

Massive recommendation to fans of awesome fantasy novels.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Things I've Read This Week

Best thing I’ve read all week HAS to be this Jolene-inspired f/f short story by Suleikha Snyder, Jesse's Girl! Huge thanks Olivia Waite for tweeting about it.

Great post from Reading The End on her 13 favourite reads of 2019.

Kali Wallace’s Your Heart Is A Moving Target is a superb piece on the pressures of the publishing industry for writers.

Anyone unsure about the double standards applied to Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton can see a ton of proof in this great Buzzfeed piece.

I may have shared this before, but definitely worth signal-boosting because it’s an INCREDIBLE list – Jan-Jun 2020 LGBTQIAP YA Preview on LGBTQ Reads.

Another great list – Reads Rainbow has 2020 books with non-cis protagonists and/or love interests. And another! Pop Goes The Reader’s 50 Most-Anticipated MG Novels from Jan – June 2020

Going back to LGBTQ Reads, they have an extract from Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis; Stephanie is one of my absolute favourite authors and I love what I’ve read of the Harwood Spellbook series, which this is part of!

Clarisha Kent’s 45 Black Actresses To Watch Who Fail The Paper Bag Test is another excellent list – I’ll definitely be checking out films starring the people here.

Jennifer Prokop wrote about the RWA fiasco for Kirkus, as did Kelly Faircloth for Jezebel while there’s also a SorryWatch post on it. I love this fabulous PitchWars interview with Kate Dylan, whose Mindwalker sounds AWESOME, and her mentor Kat Dunn, my super-talented friend who wrote the upcoming Dangerous Remedy (which is INCREDIBLE.)

Another fabulous interview – Word Wonders talks to Anna-Marie McLemore about their new release, Dark And Deepest Red.

Also on Word Wonders, excellent Mike Chen piece on the importance of found family for children of immigrants.

Buzzfeed’s 28 YA books they’re looking forward to in 2020 has tons of fab titles on, as does Perpetual Page Turner’s list on the same topic, and also Double A Reads’s.

Tropics of Meta’s review of American Dirt is phenomenal.

Alisha Rai, author of The Right Swipe, has a fab piece on dating apps.

Samantha Puc and Jey Barnes have created a pay-what-you-can digital zine with tips for speaking up against fatphobia.

Firefly announced the acquisition of Asking For A Friend, by Kate Mallinder, which sounds fabulous (and is being published in May this year, so not THAT long to wait!)

Over at Library Lady, Anne Thompson has her second weekly round-up of news from the world of children’s books.

Zoƫ Hu has a really thought-provoking piece on the new Little Women adaptation here.

Finally, Transworld announced the launch of a volunteer award to honour the memory of their former senior publicity manager, and co-founder of the Flip, Sophie Christopher. I know Sophie is massively missed by all of her many friends in publishing.

The Sophie Christopher Volunteer Award will see Penguin Random House partner with volunteering organisation People & Places to sponsor a two-week programme–open to anyone working in publishing and bookselling–in support of the work of the Treak Community Centre, close to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Further details can be found on

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Book Review: Max Kowalski Didn't Mean It by Susie Day

Max Kowalski Didn't Mean It sees a good-hearted but clumsy title character, used to messing things up, have to 'step up' to look after his sisters after his dad disappears. Desperate to hold his family together, and thinking that money will be the only thing which can do so, Max takes the girls to Wales after hearing a legend about a dragon guarding a hoard of gold. Can he find the treasure and take care of the rest of his family?

I grabbed this when I saw it in the library; I'm a huge Susie Day fan - her Pea's Book series is one of my all-time favourites and I love the YA she's written. (Apart from The Twice-Lived Summer Of Bluebell Jones, which is superbly written but which I haven't forgiven for making me cry just before a full day of teaching thanks to a REALLY unexpected ending.)

With any Susie Day book, you're guaranteed a warm, funny, and deeply moving story, and this is definitely no exception. Max is a great central character - struggling ever since the tragic death of his mother in a car accident, which has clearly knocked the entire family for six. "A good, kind, bright young man," as he's described by his teacher early on, but one who's impulsive and can find things overwhelming. There's a really rich supporting cast - Max's sisters are great, while I smiled every time Max's sweet friend Elis Evans appeared on the page. Once they get to Wales, we also get to meet a lovely foster family with two very different dads. The relationships Susie writes are always beautifully portrayed, and the family ones shine through here, both Max's grieving family and Tal and his two foster fathers clearly really love each other, but that definitely doesn't mean they always know the right thing to do where the rest of the family is concerned.

This is a book with very strong themes (another thing you can say about all of Susie's work); it looks at mental health, gender stereotyping, grief, relying on other people, but also accepting that adults aren't always right. It does it all with a touch that I was about to describe as 'surprisingly light', but that's only true for people who've never read Susie's books before - for any who have, there's no surprise at all in the way she weaves all of these into a wonderful story.

What I was quite surprised by, actually, is just how tense it was - it's clear fairly early on that Nice Jackie, Max's dad's boss, is perhaps not exactly what her name suggests, while there's a heartbreaking scene when a pet dies later in the book.

Eventually, though, things build to a realistic climax which deals with some of the problems and gets Max's life on track to improve - while never pretending that it will be easy or that there aren't issues ahead. It's a warm and hopeful read which I'd absolutely recommend to anyone who loves reading wonderful children's novels with bags of heart.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Book Review - The Lady's Guide To Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

The Lady's Guide To Celestial Mechanics is a beautiful historical romance which sees Lucy Muchelney - mourning both the death of the father she worked with on astronomy, and the marriage of her long-time best friend and lover to a man - take a job translating a groundbreaking French scientific text for the Countess of Moth. The Countess, recently widowed and really NOT mourning her domineering husband, has never thought of being with a woman before but quickly falls for the vivacious and charming Lucy.

This is one which I've seen lots of love for on my Twitter timeline, and it's easy to see why! The central pairing here are an absolutely gorgeous couple with really strong, clear character arcs and sizzling chemistry between them. In addition to the wonderful romance, though, there's also lots here about the importance of art, and ignoring narrow definitions of what 'qualifies' as art, with the Countess creating breathtaking embroidery but initially being reluctant to even claim the word 'artist' to describe herself. Add in some brilliant parts about the overlooking of women in STEM, and the thefts of their discoveries by male relatives or spouses; this is a strongly feminist book which has a great message of empowering women.

I loved the way that the speed of the initial romance left lots of time to look at other aspects of the relationship - what happens when former lovers or love interests reappear? How do you know how far you're willing to go in bed when the idea of being with someone of the same gender is new to you? When your love affair has to be a well-kept secret from society, are you relieved that you aren't trapped in it, or scared that your lover can leave you so easily? And how CAN you commit to a relationship with someone who society can't acknowledge your love for?

The love scenes between the pair are simultaneously super steamy and really tender, and do a great job of showing us both of their personalities. While the characters, particularly the main pairing, were definitely my favourite thing about the book I also really appreciated the strong historical setting, especially in regards to the erasure of both same-sex relationships and of women in STEM. The book builds to a clever climax which took me by surprise and really works beautifully well.

Definitely a new favourite of mine, and Olivia Waite is firmly on my 'must buy' list after this one!

Thursday, 16 January 2020

January Preview - My Most Anticipated Books Of The Month

Yes, I know it's super-late, but I decided I was going to try and do monthly previews so I figured I'd start now rather than waiting for February. Mix of UK and US releases (I'll try to make sure I group them correctly!) from various genres and age ranges, just whatever I think sounds most interesting.

Also I found out about most of these from one or more of the following AMAZING lists.

BookRiot's Queer Girls in YA 2020 and 2020 SFF books.
Bustle's 35 most anticipated books of January.
The Perpetual Page Turner's 2020 most anticipated adult fiction books.
LGBTQ Reads's January - June 2020 YA preview, January - June adult preview, and January preview.

UK releases

A Throne of Swans by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr (Hot Key Books) - Out Now

I somehow managed to fall super behind with the Witch's Kiss series by the Corr sisters after really enjoying the first book in the trilogy. I definitely want to finish it soon, but I've been distracted by this, my current read - it's a really intriguing fantasy about a girl who inherits the role of Protector of Atratys in a kingdom where nobles can transform into birds. But Aderyn hasn't transformed since her mother's brutal death at the hands of supposedly-extinct hawks, and she's now left at the mercy of her brutal uncle. Great world-building here and intriguing characters have definitely drawn me into this, I can't wait to see what happens.

Foul Is Fair by Hannah Capon (Penguin Books) - Out Now

This Macbeth-inspired revenge fantasy is getting tons of comparisons to lots of my favourite things, amongst them Cruel Intentions, Riverdale and Heathers. It's about four girls who gatecrash a prep school party, only for the main character to be raped. She chooses to transfer to the school her attackers attend, and enact a violent and bloody revenge, manipulating a boy called Mack to help her do so. Everything I've seen about this so far makes it sounds staggeringly over the top, in an awesome way. Many thanks to Penguin for approving me on NetGalley for this; it's going to be one of my next reads.

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (Simon & Schuster) - Out Now

In a rare moment of actually being ahead of the game, I already reviewed this one! (Many thanks to publishers Simon and Schuster for the proof for review consideration.) It follows aspiring dancer Ever Wong as she's sent to Taipei by her strict family to learn Mandarin, rather than dance in the parade she's been looking forward to taking part in. But once Ever gets to the summer program she's enrolled in, she finds that it's an infamous free-for-all nicknamed Loveboat where for many participants, language learning and calligraphy take a backseat to hook ups and clubbing. Ever sets out to break the Wong Rules, assisted by some new friends including potential love interests.

Click the earlier link for my full review, but in general I found this a really enjoyable read with some great characters and a deeply satisfying climax and resolution.

The Sword of Red by Jackie Marchant (BLKDOG) - Out Now

I was a big fan of Jackie Marchant's Dougal Trump series for younger readers (later repackaged as Dougal Daley, after another D Trump achieved rather more notoriety!), a hilarious series about a boy routinely blamed for a ton of things - none of which are his fault, obviously! The switch to YA fantasy surprised me when I heard about it but Marchant is a talented author and I'm really intrigued to see what she does with this novel, about a rebel girl trying to help the bastard son of the Supreme Lawmaker lose his violent past and accept the peaceful ways of the forest-dwellers she lives amongst.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury Circus) - Out Now

Tons of great reviews for this debut novel about a young Black babysitter accused by a security guard of kidnapping her employer's two-year-old white child. Her employer is horrified by the way Emira's humiliated as somebody films the encounter, and tries to make things right, but it sounds like unexpected consequences ensue. Goodreads summary says "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." Themes here sound incredibly interesting and as I mentioned there's a LOT of praise coming from good sources for it.

US releases

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore (Macmillan USA) - Out Now

Anna-Marie McLemore is one of the most popular authors amongst my Twitter followers and having recently read their short story Roja in the anthology All Out: The No Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout The Ages, edited by Saundra Mitchell, it's easy to see why. They are an incredibly lyrical writer and I can't believe I haven't got around to reading any of their novels yet. I'm definitely going to change that as soon as I get my hands on this queer retelling of The Red Shoes, about a strange sickness in 1518 Strasbourg making women dance in the streets, and a girl suffering from the same fever 500 years later.

We Used To Be Friends by Amy Spalding (Harry N. Abrams) - Out Now 

I've followed Amy Spalding on Twitter for ages and it seems like I've been waiting FOREVER for this one as I loved the sound of it from the first moment I read about it; I'm so glad it's here. It's a story about a friedship breakup between two girls, Kat and James, and it's told in dual timelines - one moving forward in time and the other moving backwards. I love stories told in interesting structures and this sounds like a great example of that, while I definitely feel there should be more books about the painfulness of friendship breakups, which for me can potentially be far worse than the end of a romance. 

Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden (Bloomsbury YA) - Out Now

Savannah Riddle, daughter of an upper class African American family in early 1900s DC, is a well-educated young woman who has her pick of the young men in her set. But she feels suffocated by fancy parties and the shallow people she mixes with, and after meeting someone from the working class, is drawn into suffragist lectures and socialist meetings. She's determined to educate herself, but as she starts to change her views, DC erupts in riots, bombings and lynchings. This sounds like a tough read, but also a really fascinating era and setting to read about.

Throw Like A Girl by Sarah Hennings (Poppy) - Out Now

This is being compared to Morgan Matson, which on its own is generally enough to get me interested, but add a sports setting and I'm SOLD. It's about a softball star who loses everything - including her scholarship - after throwing an ill-advised punch during a game. Transferring to the nearby public school, she has to face the teammates of the girl she punched, and can't even get onto the softball team there - until an injured star quarterback promises her he'll get her into the softball team in spring if she replaces him on the gridiron until he's recovered. Love interest here sounds intriguing and main character Liv seems like an awesome character.

Nottingham: The True Story of Robyn Hood by Anna Burke (Bywater Books) - Out Jan 21st

Robin Hood retellings are totally my jam; books about found family are even more so. So this one about Robyn Hood, on the run from the law after a fateful hunting accident and taking on the Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of her band of merry women and the Sheriff's intriguing daughter Robyn sounds AMAZING.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Six Discoveries of 2019 - Adult Romance Special

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl - huge thanks to her for hosting.

As I think I mentioned previously on here (or maybe just tweeted about?) last year’s reading slump wasn’t quite year-long, with a few books here and there dragging me out of it. Virtually every book that DID manage to do that was an adult romance, so I figured I’d spend today’s Top Ten Tuesday talking about six awesome romance authors I discovered last year/early this year. (I couldn’t get up to ten because it was a BAD reading slump, but wanted to celebrate these six awesome authors!)

Emily Larkin – Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series, about a family where women are granted a gift by a strange (and less than trustworthy) godmother on a particular birthday, was one which I devoured quickly. The first book, Unmasking Miss Appleby, was one I picked up just because it was free on Kindle, but I hadn’t expected to be drawn in so completely to the series by it. In this series starter, Charlotte Appleby – an orphan ill-treated by her aunt and uncle – takes the gift to change shape so that she can earn a living as a male secretary to an MP working to abolish the slave trade, only to fall in love with him. Really strong main pairing here and I loved seeing them pop up again in the later books in the series, all of which were fantastic reads as well.

Suleikha Snyder Tikka Chance On Me was a definite favourite of mine, an awesome romance between a bad boy biker and the good girl whose family’s Indian restaurant he frequents. This is a short but super-fun novella showing two people who’ve known each other for years finding out each other’s secrets. Incredibly hot and awesome characterisation.

Tessa Bailey Getaway Girl was another massively fun read, featuring a woman returning to Charleston after a six-year absence to gatecrash her cousin’s wedding – only for her cousin to disappear, leaving Addison playing getaway driver to the jilted groom. The two fall for each other in a relationship filled with tons of sparks, despite the disapproval of some people around them. Companion novel Runaway Girl, about the cousin who left, is high on my TBR.

Alisha RaiCabin Fever, about a reclusive modern-day witch who heals the stranger she finds bleeding out on her porch, then has to care for him as a snowstorm rages outside, is one of the steamiest books I’ve read and definitely has one of my favourite couples. The relationship here feels utterly realistic while the magic part is well-handled. This builds to an incredibly exciting climax, as well. I'm excited to read more of Alisha Rai's extensive back catalogue!

Olivia Wilde - I fell super hard for both characters in The Lady's Guide To Celestial Mechanics, a beautiful historical romance which sees Lucy Muchelney - mourning both the death of the father she worked with on astronomy, and the marriage of her long-time best friend and lover to a man - take a job translating a groundbreaking French scientific text for the Countess of Moth, only to find that her and the countess both want more than a professional relationship. Sizzling chemistry and wonderful character arcs for both MCs make this an outstanding read.

Farrah Rochon - Huddle With Me Tonight, my first Farrah Rochon - and the first in her New York Sabers series of sports romances - was a brilliant read with a fabulous central pairing of a snarky review blogger and a family man football player who grows frustrated when she slams his cookbook, as he's worried it'll affect the success of the restaurant he's launching with his beloved sister. The misunderstanding here is cleared up fairly quickly, but with New York intrigued by the argument, they keep up a friendly rivalry as they compete in a charity cook-off, while privately getting to be significantly more friends than rivals! Super-excited for the rest of this series, and for Farrah Rochon's other books, which I've heard tons of great things about.

(Tragically, Farrah's sister Tamara Roybiskie passed away just a few weeks ago. She was trying to raise money for a new organ for her church at the time of her death; Farrah has set up a GoFundMe to continue Tamara's fundraising. There's a wonderful $26,000+ donated so far, but the cost of the organ is $32,000, so if anyone has any money to spare for a good cause, please consider donating.)

Monday, 13 January 2020

Book Review: Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph

Are You Watching? is about Jess, whose mother was tragically murdered 10 years before the start of the book, leaving her family devastated and her dad a broken shell of himself. In a desperate attempt to find the killer, who's struck repeatedly since that awful day, Jess applies for a new YouTube series which will follow 5 teens around one day a week for a month, with the winner being featured for an extra 2 months. Can she use her newfound viral fame to draw out the monster who stole her mother?

I picked this up partly because of the intriguing premise and partly because it was only 99p on Kindle, but mainly because debut author Vincent Ralph is represented by Claire Wilson and I don't think you can go wrong with reading anything written by any of Claire's clients. This book totally justified my faith in her - it's an incredibly pacey and well-plotted debut which has me really excited to read future books from Vincent Ralph! 

For me, the strongest part of the book was definitely that amazing pacing - Ralph writes in really short chapters, mostly just a few pages, which are perfectly suited for the thriller genre. He builds tension excellently and the book raises some interesting questions about the nature of social media, whether it can be used for good in the way Jess wants to, and how far Jess is responsible for unforeseen events which happen once she starts taunting The Magpie Man to try and get him to slip up. In addition, it builds to a heart-in-mouth climax, with a couple of especially superbly written scenes, which had me glued to the screen of my Kindle trying to work out what would happen, while the identity of the killer is an intriguing mystery with plenty of potential suspects. 

Jess herself is an outstanding central character; I enjoyed the others but the majority of them have relatively little time on the page. That said, her father is an excellent study of grief and I thought their relationship, with her needing him to let her do the show but also being frustrated by how badly he'd fallen apart after the tragedy, was a very strong portrayal. The other relationships - between Jess and a mysterious neighbour boy who claims to be trying to protect her, and with her current best friends and the friends who drifted away after her mother's death - are also interesting ones. Director Danny, who appears on her day of the week to follow her around for the day, and is quickly torn between wanting the viewing figures they both need and fearing for her safety, is an intriguing character who veers well away from the stereotype of someone who'll do anything for ratings.

In addition to the quest for the killer, there's also a strong theme about moving on with your life and what comes next - Jess has felt her life overshadowed by her appalling loss, and the way her dad has struggled to cope with it for so long; even if she gets justice, will she be able to put it behind her? It's a sensitively-handled theme which is really well dealt with.

In conclusion, thriller fans definitely shouldn't miss this one, and it's announcing Vincent Ralph as a major talent who I'm sure we'll see more great books from in the future.