Thursday 31 March 2022

Books Received in March 2022

 Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for the following advance reader copy.

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah - This is the kind of YA book that catches my eye. Great cover and interesting, Hunger Games style premise. Out September 6th.

Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Fable, this South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl's chance to change it all.


Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers—the ruling elite, have indentured Koral's family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others—if they're lucky—survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family's financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can't afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral's only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against competitors—including her ex-boyfriend—who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. As a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose—her life or her sister's—before the whole island burns.

Tuesday 29 March 2022

Book Review: A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson

Pros: realistic characters, excellent romance, interesting magic system


It’s been a year since Myra Whitlock’s parents vanished and with her sister sick, she’s desperate for money. The governor’s wife discovers Myra’s a Prodigy, a magician who can use paintings to change reality, and offers her a lot of money to resurrect her son. But the governor hates Prodigies and using magic comes with a cost. It’s quickly apparent that the son’s death might not have been accidental after all and Myra’s secret may not be the only thing at stake with this job.

There are three main threads in this book, the murder mystery, a romance, and the family love that causes Myra to risk everything to save her sister. The threads interweave beautifully. The writing occasionally veers into poetry with a lot of gothic overtones.

Myra is a complicated woman who has dreams of going to art school that are frustrated by her lack of money and her inability to control her magic. Her sister has a chronic illness they can’t identify and so don’t know how to properly treat. August has anxiety issues and has spent his life subsuming his desires and personality to save face for his family. None of the characters’ problems are easily solved and that makes them feel realistic. I loved how they variously helped each other deal with their mental and physical health issues, like Myra helping August breathe slowly to get through a panic attack.

I appreciated that magic couldn’t hand wave away illness or poverty and that there’s a physical cost to the user. It makes it feel like a precious commodity, hard earned and so used sparingly.

The ending wrapped things up in a satisfying manner.

Thursday 24 March 2022

Shout-Out: A Magical Inheritance by Krista D. Ball

Miss Elizabeth Knight received an unexpected legacy upon her uncle’s death: a collection of occult books. When one of the books begins talking to her, she discovers an entire world of female occultist history opened to her—a legacy the Royal Occult Society had purposely hidden from the world. However, the magic allowing the book to speak to Miss Knight is fading and she must gather a group of female acquaintances of various talents. Together, they’ll need to work to overcome social pressures, ambitious men, and tyrannical parents, all to bring Mrs. Egerton, the book ghost, back.

Tuesday 22 March 2022

Book Review: The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Pros: lots of intrigue, interesting fleshed out characters with realistic motivations, multiple forms of magic, good fight scenes


The city of Nexus sits at the crossroads of the realms of the four gods. Since the Sealing 500 years ago they’ve been cut off from the other realms and their world is slowly dying because of it. The four houses are descendants of liaisons between past royals and the gods, and use their magic to help the people as they vie for the throne. Two of the house heirs want to unseal the pathways to save their realm, while the other 2 want political power and the ability to master their gods’ magic. Meanwhile, conjurors, practitioners of forbidden demon magic, have started creating havoc in the city. Godsnight is approaching, when the planets align and with it the heirs’ best hope of breaking the sealing. But what can four humans achieve when the gods have other plans?

There’s a lot going on in this book and you’ll spend the first few chapters trying to get a handle on the heirs, their houses, their various forms of magic, the political intrigues everyone is involved in and the characters various personal goals and problems. There is a handy guide at the start of the book that gives the house name, their god, the family members, and form of magic. Refer to it often until you get to know who’s who.

The characters were all fully fleshed out with varied motivations. Things rarely went in directions I expected and it was a delight seeing what each one would do next. Two of the heirs had overbearing parents and trouble mastering their magic. The other two had easy mastery but other problems to deal with. It was fun watching the various sibling relationships as well, some loving and others confrontational. The different family units felt realistic, including the dysfunctional ones.

The magic was cool. My favourite power was House Vakara’s necromancy, but seeing the light and shadow magics was fun. You don’t see as much of the elemental magic, given Angelica’s difficulties, though you do see others wield the power. The conjuration circles and learning how demon magic worked in this world was also interesting.

The worldbuilding was well done. In addition to the realms and magic, the principle world has several cultures, all represented in Nexus.

The plot is very complex and when the revelations started happening at the end I’d figured out a few twists while others were a complete surprise. There are some great battles, including a massive, multi-chapter one at the end.

If you like dark fantasy with complex characters and multiple plot threads, interesting magic with great worldbuilding, then give this a go. Just be aware that it’s the first of a series and the ending will leave you wanting more.

Thursday 17 March 2022

Shout-Out: The Reinvented Heart edited by Jennifer Brozek and Cat Rambo

What happens when emotions like love and friendship span vast distances ― in space, in time, and in the heart?

Science fiction often focuses on future technology and science without considering the ways social structures will change as tech changes ― or not. What will relationships look like in a complicated future of clones, uploaded intelligences, artificial brains, or body augmentation? What stories emerge when we acknowledge possibilities of new genders and ways of thinking about them?

The Reinvented Heart presents stories that complicate sex and gender by showing how shifting technology may affect social attitudes and practices, stories that include relationships with communities and social groups, stories that reinvent traditional romance tropes and recast them for the 21st century, and above all, stories that experiment, astonish, and entertain.
Authors include:
Jane Yolen, Seanan McGuire, AnaMaria Curtis, Lisa Morton, Madeline Pine, Sam Fleming, Felicity Drake, Premee Mohamed, Beth Cato, Naomi Kritzer, Sophie Giroir, Maria Dong, Lyda Morehouse, Devin Miller, Aimee Ogden, Anita Ensal, Fran Wilde, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lauren RIng, Xander Odell, Rosemary Claire Smith, Justina Robson.

Ebook out now, print version out May 31.

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Publication dates

 The pandemic has affected everything in life, including supply chains and, as an aspect of that, publication dates. Several times I've sat down to post a review for a book I read several months ago, only to find out that the book's release date has been pushed back a few weeks or months.

Given what I've been reading on twitter recently about the number of editors and other publishing industry personnel leaving their jobs, we may face more delays in the future. I suspect that the publishing industry will need to change - in a lot of ways - if it wants to survive as a business. And having larger publishing houses swallow up all the smaller ones isn't going to fix what appear to be real systemic problems in the industry.

Thursday 10 March 2022

Shout-Out: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire's greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she's ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

Tuesday 1 March 2022

Books Received in January and February 2022

I've been busy with other projects and not taking as much care with my blog, hence being a month late with this post. My thanks, as always, to the publishers who sent me books to review. I don't have much time for pleasure reading at the moment so I've tried to be careful with what books I request. Lucky for me, there are a lot of brilliant books being published right now.

Amazing Gardens of the World by Vivienne Hambly - I requested this on NetGalley, needing something to take my mind off of *waves at the world*. It's a beautiful book with a lot of gorgeous pictures of magnificent gardens from around the world. A much needed palate cleanse. Out April 12th.

From the gardens of the Palace of Versailles to Beatrix Potter's garden in the Lake District, from Monet's garden in France to the Tivoli Gardens in Rome, from the Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon, to city gardens in Tokyo, this book is a wide-ranging celebration of all types of gardens around the globe.

Including formal French gardens and English landscape gardens; famous botanical gardens and little-known curiosities; Iranian and Persian gardens; grand, country-house gardens and inner-city gardens; Zen gardens, strolling Japanese gardens and Chinese gardens; medicinal gardens and one poison garden; knot gardens and Roman gardens, Amazing Gardens of the World explores a huge variety of the approaches and uses of gardening around the world over millennia. In telling the stories of these places, the book touches on the lives of the people who worked in them, designed them, and owned them—people such as Prince Charles, Capability Brown, Gertrude Jekyll, Edith Wharton, and Agatha Christie. Amazing Gardens of the World not only champions the splendor of the world's most magnificent gardens but also reveals many fascinating stories about the history of these places and the people who created them.

Saint Death's Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney - I recently finished The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger, so I was better able to appreciate the ways in which Cooney brings that literary journey to life. I loved the magic and the protagonist in this excellent story. Out April 12th.

Nothing complicates life like Death.

Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves.

When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home—and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat's ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation's future into doubt.

Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months—but when the goddess of Death is on your side, anything is possible.

The Middling Affliction
by Alex Shvartsman
- I just heard about this one, which has a very interesting premise. Out May 31st [ETA I previously mentioned the release date as April 12th but it has been pushed back due to the pandemic and stocking issues].

What would you do if you lost everything that mattered to you, as well as all means to protect yourself and others, but still had to save the day? Conrad Brent is about to find out.

Conrad Brent protects the people of Brooklyn from monsters and magical threats. The snarky, wisecracking guardian also has a dangerous secret: he’s one in a million – literally.

Magical ability comes to about one in every 30,000 and can manifest at any age. Conrad is rarer than this, however. He’s a middling, one of the half-gifted and totally despised. Most of the gifted community feels that middlings should be instantly killed. The few who don’t flat out hate them still aren’t excited to be around middlings. Meaning Conrad can’t tell anyone, not even his best friends, what he really is.

Conrad hides in plain sight by being a part of the volunteer Watch, those magically gifted who protect their cities from dangerous, arcane threats. And, to pay the bills, Conrad moonlights as a private detective and monster hunter for the gifted community. Which helps him keep up his personal fiction – that he’s a magical version of Batman. Conrad does both jobs thanks to charms, artifacts, and his wits, along with copious amounts of coffee. But little does he know that events are about to change his life…forever.

When Conrad discovers the Traveling Fair auction house has another middling who’s just manifested her so-called powers on the auction block, he’s determined to save her, regardless of risk. But what he finds out while doing so is even worse – the winning bidder works for a company that’s just created the most dangerous chemical weapon to ever hit the magical community.

Before Conrad can convince anyone at the Watch of the danger, he’s exposed for what he really is. Now, stripped of rank, magical objects, friends and allies, Conrad has to try to save the world with only his wits. Thankfully though, no one’s taken away his coffee.

Nettle and Bone
by T. Kingfisher
- I started reading this yesterday and it's already a stand out in a year of incredible books. The opening simply grabs you and drags you under. Out April 26.

This isn't the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince.

It's the one where she kills him.

Marra never wanted to be a hero.

As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince.

Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks:

—build a dog of bones

—sew a cloak of nettles

—capture moonlight in a jar

But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.

Hero or not—now joined by a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar—Marra might finally have the courage to save her sister, and topple a throne.