Book Review: Safelight (2021)

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Safelight by Casey Lown

He pressed his forehead against her collarbone. “It’s like it’s there waiting for me, Em. Even when I was done with it for years. It was there all along.” His shoulders jumped with suppressed sobs. “Like it’s my shadow.”

I’m actually really glad I didn’t read the whole summary before starting this book – it made everything twist and turn, taking me along for the ride. It’s a beautifully well written novel about grief, addiction and love. A wholly unexpected tale and one I’m glad I picked up!

Male/female couple gazing at each other, text says 'I'm scared I'm falling in love with you.'

SPOILER WARNING

I haven’t read a book with this subject matter in a while, but I was immediately pulled into the story Lown has created.

After Emily’s father dies, she’s left with a house, photographs that don’t make sense, and a whole host of bad memories, guilt, anger and confusion. At her father’s funeral she meets Joe, who she knew briefly for a summer during her childhood. But she hasn’t seen or heard from him since. Joe, she discovers, remained close with her father, a fact made even more bewildering for Emily when everyone in her father’s circle tells her to steer clear of Joe. The reason, she soon learns, is Joe’s long time struggle with addiction to cocaine.

Despite the warnings, and her own growing apprehension, Emily falls for Joe hard and fast.

“Just trust me.”
“I want to,” Emily whispered against his shirt, eyeing the baggie on the ground as if it were an exposed landmine ready to destroy them both.

A man brushing a woman's hair back from her face.

Joe is such a complex character. Like Emily, he’s rough around the edges and not always likeable (when he uses he’s an awful jerk, but each time this occurs, Emily or another character tells him off and he apologises once he’s sober), but you still find yourself rooting for him to turn things around, get clean and be the man Emily (unlike her father’s friends) believe him to be. His use of drugs, of course, becomes the wedge between him and Emily. Luke, his best friend, tolerates his use, long having given up on trying to get Joe clean; her father, we learn, helped Joe get clean for three years, but he fell into bad habits again with an ex-girlfriend.

I really liked the part where Emily put her foot down and walked out on Joe after one too many bad moves on his part. My heart broke for Joe, too, but he was lying to her at every turn and I’m glad she stopped tolerating it. (Not to mention best friend Luke’s epic I will not be your go between moment. Good on ya, lad.) I know this all sounds bleak, but these characters are so easy to root for even when the subject matter gets as dark as it does. Like, it’s not Girl, Interrupted levels of dark; it’s more like Skins or Euphoria. I also really loved their relationship, which balanced out the dark moments (especially when his brother later shows up, ooooof). They were easy OTP material from the get go.

A couple passionately kissing on a boat, water, grasses and trees in the background.

I really liked Luke as a side character; Mary, too. The characters all feel real; actualised and dynamic. Emily is a character I found myself deeply empathising with. Yes, sometimes she was downright frustrating, especially when she jumped wildly to conclusions. But also? I so get why.

Lown made Emily so completely relatable that even when I wanted to scream at her, I also wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay. Her struggles with her parents left her so guarded and jaded; follow that up with her ex-boyfriend’s figurative knife to the heart and all she had to go through alone, and you get a lady who doesn’t trust anyone and often snaps, snarks and snipes at those trying to help her protect herself. She was such a colourful and believable character. Vibrant in a way that leapt off the page. And I think that is a feat solely down to Lown’s skills as an author. Tough, rough, gruff characters are incredibly tricky to write well, and I really liked how well Emily, and Joe, were woven together.

To that end, the writing in this novel is straight up fantastic. It flows so eloquently, and Lown spins beautiful prose. There are some seriously wonderful lines in this book and the story as a whole is utterly immersive. Hats off to the author, this is an impressive debut.

Thank you so much to the author for a review copy.

Book Review: The Hidden King (2019)

girl reading at a table, tucking hair behind her ear; text says 'book review: review by rebecca crunden'

The Hidden King by E.G. Radcliff

To chase a pretty story felt like foolishness when scraping by was hard enough, and the towering cliffs jutting up from the lowland presented another deadly discouragement. People told themselves that their lives were as good as they could ever be.

The Hidden King is the first in The Coming of Áed series, a fast-paced fantasy adventure that throws twists and turns with magical acumen. Not only does THK set up a fantastical world that the reader only gets a glimpse of in book one, but the characters and their relationships are sure to pull readers in and give them FEELINGS (see me, here with my FEELINGS, lmao). It’s the first book I’ve read by EG Radcliff, and I’m definitely going to be reading more of her books!

SPOILER WARNING

“I’ve never danced with a woman.”
“But you have danced.”
“I danced with Ninian.”

The Hidden King begins with a bang, diving straight into the world of Áed and Ninian. FYI I am already Áed and Ninian trash and I want to draw hearts around them. Fantasy and romance waheyyyyy. WELL NEVER MIND. WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY ;___; MY HEARTTTTTTTTT. OUCH OUCH OUCH WHYYYYY.

I picked up this book totally thinking it was going to be a romantic fantasy, so I genuinely did not expect Ninian to DIE right at the beginning. OUCH, MY FEELINGS. (I have since learned that The Last Prince is all about Áed and Ninian and is a prequel, which I did not realise at all. I for sure thought it was the sequel and that Ninian would make it.) I was wrong, booooooo. But seriously, this heartbreaking twist shouldn’t detract anyone, because it’s a direction that sets up the lead character’s journey and Radcliff keeps Ninian’s memory alive throughout the story. Áed doesn’t just move on and meet someone new straight away, which I appreciated. There is also a strong bond that remains the core of the story, which is the bond between Áed and Ronan. THEY ARE PRECIOUS.

“You can’t sleep for two nights after the burial, or burning, I guess, of a love.”

This quote, ooooh. It hit me.

The relationship between Áed and young Ronan that builds in the wake of Ninian’s death is wonderful and rich, with the pair grieving together and protecting each other. Despite this, they’re quickly swept up into an adventure neither bargained for ~

I shan’t spoil more, but there’s lots of twists and turns, and cool magical mysteries! I really loved the author’s world-building and I’m curious to see where everything goes in the sequel! For fans of fast-paced fantasy, The Hidden King is definitely worth checking out! Just have a box of tissues ready. ;_;

Review Roundup

The Fast Little Fox by Jill Horton: [review] Oh my gosh this is such a cute little book! The artwork is so colourful and lovely, and the storyline is fun and sweet. A great book for young kids!

A Taste of What’s to Come by Lily Lawson: [review]
When the waters of the morning
are still silent and so calm,
and the newness of day dawning
seems to shelter me from harm.


Some very cool poetry in this collection! Lawson has a clear, rhythmic, eloquent style and I enjoyed these poems greatly! Can’t wait to read more of their work!

It is your truth so you must tell it
It is your choice which words to use
The world is seen through your eyes
Just as it is through mine
Don’t confuse the two
they are different
no less true


🖤 

What Did You Bring Me? by Joseph D Coughlin: [review] Oh my gosh, I absolutely loved the art style of this children’s book! Very funky and retro. Definitely a great book for little kids!

Your Own Little World by Chris Ruter: [review] This was a fun, whimsical little children’s book!

There’s a Dragon in My Garden by Benjamin Scribner: [review] A very cute little book about all the things that can be dreamed up in a garden!

Book Review: The Starlight Watchmaker (2019)

The Starlight Watchmaker by Lauren James

Hugo suddenly felt strange all over. He realised with a shock that he was happy. For the first time in ages, Hugo felt happy. It wasn’t terrible at all, talking to Dorian and getting to know him. It was actually nice.

Oh my goodness, what a gem of a find! I stumbled across the sequel story, The Deep-Sea Duke, on Scribd (what an entrancing cover, oh my gosh) and read a couple of pages before realising it was the second in the series, so I quickly zipped back and picked up this one. It’s so, so good! Charming, sweet, wholesome, feel-good. And it really just confirms for me how much I adore novellas. Smaller stories that pack a punch are just such wonderful creations! This book moves at a cracking pace, but the world-building is exceptional and slick. I’m really impressed.

The different types of aliens and planets are so creative and diverse! One of the characters that you meet is an island well on her way to becoming a planet. One of the main characters is an android. The other survives off algae grown in a tank in their enormous penthouse room. The author’s descriptions are just phenomenal.

The library was full of different bushes and shrubs lined up in rows. To choose a book, you walked down the stacks until you found the right plant and picked one of its flowers. Each petal unfurled to become a page, and black veins on it formed writing. The longer the book, the larger and fluffier the flower, with hundreds of petals covered in writing.

I also really loved how much agency each character gets, and the androids’ storyline was especially poignant. The Starlight Watchmaker reminded me a bit of Blade Runner 2049 and To Be Taught, If Fortunate, at least in terms of themes. Obviously vastly different fictional universes, but the emphasis on the humanity of androids and aliens is emphasised in The Starlight Watchmaker in a similar way to Blade Runner 2049’s depiction of android falling in love; and the importance of alien life in To Be Taught, If Fortunate. And let’s not forget the CUTE FACTOR.

Hugo and Dorian are the sweetest characters. Huge is a shy, uncertain android who was abandoned by his previous owner with no warning or explanation. He described watching the Earl’s ship fly away and it’s so, so heartbreaking. In contrast, Dorian is the son of a duke with wealth enough to afford a watch that will take him back in time. And it’s one such broken watch that brings the duke and the watchmaker together. THEY ARE SO ADORBS.

This is a must-read for sci-fi fans!

Book Review: Fear and Fury (2021)

Fear and Fury by Jamie Jackson

I can tell a hero from a non-hero. It’s in the strut.

I read a lot of superhero comics, but I haven’t read too many books with superheroes. I think the last one I read was Into The Dark: Book One of the Infinite Crossover Crisis, but I don’t know if I’ve actually read any others? But I definitely should! Especially after the fun of Jamie Jackson’s debut.

Fear and Fury is bursting with humour, wise-cracks, spunk, superheroes and villains (some more villainy than others; after all [b]eing a villain takes too much effort anyway). To be more precise, our wise-cracking MC Meg is a superhero who doesn’t want to be a superhero, thank you very much. She really just wants to be left alone. That is, until Greg shows up. Greg is a superhero who quite likes being a superhero and finds himself thoroughly charmed by Meg. AND I STAN GREG A BIT, LET ME JUST GET THAT OUT THERE.

The banter between Meg and Greg is super cute. But also their relationship as a whole is straight of the OTP handbook and I am HERE. FOR. IT.

“Are you flirting with me again?”
“Absolutely.”

I will say that Greg became my absolute favourite character. Meg was great, but Greg just absolutely stole my heart. He was so sweet, protective, gentlemanly, dedicated and loyal. Sometimes I wanted to shake Meg for giving him so much grief, haha. But despite her armoured tendencies, she lets him protect her from time to time and it was ^____^

Look, sometimes a little fear is a healthy thing. Putting the ridiculously strong man between me and the murdering demon creature was a better idea than staying exposed. Especially when said murdering demon creature wanted to specifically murder me.

He’s just such a little hero. Which, hilariously, is precisely why Meg doesn’t like him straight away and exactly why I do, haha. But he’s just so charming and patient with Meg.

You know those grumpy x sunshine tropes? This is that to perfection! I just wanted to draw little hearts around their smooshy faces.

Seriously, the number of times I wanted to yell JUST KISS at Meg and Greg is … a lot. (◕‿◕✿)

The writing style of the book reminded me both of the film Kick Ass and almost kind of Gossip Girl? Meg is relaying the story to you, so it’s both first person and addressing the reader. Meg’s humour sparkles throughout the novel and I really liked how Jackson wove banter and emotion into her prose.

Can’t wait to see what Torment and Tarnish brings! Especially after that ending!

pre-review: So happy I won a paperback copy of this one! I’ve heard such good things about it and I’m so excited to dive in! Huge thank you for the review copy!!

Book Review: Dim Stars (2020)

hands holding a book open; text says 'book review by r. crunden'

Dim Stars: A Novel of Outer-Space Shenanigans by Brian P. Rubin

Plenty of his classmates were drafted into the Fleet when the Forger War broke out, just like he was. But none of them became galaxy-famous war heroes when they were still teenagers. Dash hadn’t aspired to much before the war started, so he wasn’t sure how to aspire to anything at all once it ended.

Oh, this book! You simply must give this book a go! It’s charming and wonderful!

Firstly, it must be pointed out that this book has a jaw-droppingly cool cover. Better still, from the start, Dim Stars pulls you right in and is great fun! The humour is seriously great! Like,

“We’re one ship on an asteroid filled with who-knows-how-many people who want to shoot at us, which will be jumping into—if I’m not mistaken—another dimension in four minutes.”

Due to the fact there’s a first mate aboard who is a talking Octopus, coupled with the gorgeous cover, my brain instantly imagined an animated version of Dim Stars that was basically Below Decks meets Final Space for the first chapter 😉

Not unlike my beloved Mooncake, Squix, the Octopus in Dim Stars, is the first mate aboard the once-famous Captain Dashiell Drake’s ship and travels the galaxy with him. All comparisons instantly faded, however, as I was quickly immersed in the universe and the world-building is great! You can tell Rubin spent a lot of time fleshing everything out.

Escaping homicidal armored alien invaders was bad enough. Having to exercise while doing it was even worse.

The main characters are Kenzie and Dash: fourteen year old Kenzie’s just bought a place in Dash’s crew so that she can stick it on her CV. Dash is once-famous, ‘hero of Gantoid IV and intergalactic adventurer’ and now using his old fame to pay the bills with Squix by offering places to cadets for a fee. When Kenzie gets a chance to fly with Dash, she ends up on an adventure neither were prepared for.

What I like most about this book was how easy it was to slip into the universe Rubin created. I often have trouble imagining sci-fi books in my head, but not this one! This one just felt like the world enveloped you.

Rest assured this is a super fun debut and fans of sci-fi, adventure and action should check out Dim Stars! I can’t wait to see what Brian P. Rubin publishes next!

Thank you so much to the author for sending me a copy of this book!

Book Review: The 13th Zodiac (2021)

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The 13th Zodiac: Book One (The 13th Zodiac #1) by L. Krauch

“White hair, and Eternity on her shoulder.”

This is the first book I’ve read by L. Krauch and it’s a strong start to what looks to be an awesome, fantastical series! I saw the recently released covers for the next books and they look fabulous, I must say. If this book is anything to go by, the next two will be just as steeped in mythology, world-building and heart.

GENERAL SPOILER WARNING

I’m not sure how much of this review is *actually* spoilery, but since I wanna go into some of the worldbuilding and backstory that you don’t get at the start, heads-up. 🙂

Single-shot rifles were no match for a madwoman and her axe.

For those looking for a fantasy romance, The 13th Zodiac is it. With a truly unique twist on the notions of Fate, Time and Eternity, this builds a tale that feels both familiar and fresh. I was really struck by the backstory and basis for the world, and I love the mythos employed by Krauch in the shaping of it.

Time was freed. Now, she seeks her other half so she can repair the Eternal Clock and return things to the way they were, before Urth and Sky made man.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about worldbuilding and how different authors approach it, and I really like Krauch’s take. Especially the shattering of the Keeper of the Stars and the whole backstory of Time ripping her soul in half and creating Eternity (the 13th Zodiac).

Someone with one black and one white wing wielded the Spear of Stars. But it was not the same Fate I knew. They stood over the bloody body of Time.

The story begins with our lovely prince, one Jase Raion, reaching the island kingdom of Aria and meeting Liya, the lost princess of the kingdom. He literally runs into her, ha, and their lives quickly become entangled. And very quickly we get our OTP.

“All right, princess. It’s time to go.” He gently gathered Liya into his arms.

I MEAN— (/◕ヮ◕)/

The prince and the princess are indeed adorable, shippable characters to be sure, although many of the side characters don’t quite agree! There’s a scene towards the end that perfectly encapsulates this, although I shan’t spoil ya!

From fantasy to mythology to action/adventure to found family to romance, Krauch manages to pack an impressive amount into her debut novel and I can’t wait to see what fantastical tales this author comes up with next!

Book Review: The Ghost Beside Me (2019)

The Ghost Beside Me by Lee Hall

If I could just break away from the shackles of that internal torment I have created that imprisons my confidence. Just the idea and thought of tackling this enigma of feelings spirals my own self into a deep sadness, hence my lack of entries in the past days.

I’ve been meaning to try one of Lee Hall’s books for a while now, and I don’t have the attention span for a long book right now, so this novella was just the right size! And I do love a good ghost story. Further, I kind of love the kismet of picking this one up now, because the writing style actually really reminds me of the start of Frankenstein, and I’ve been discussing Mary Shelley all week. ’Twas meant to be! Not that I would liken the story lines, that is, just the stylistic choice and tone.

We follow the musings of the main character and there was so much about his confessions that I could relate to. The loneliness, the insecurity, the introvertedness.

The hypothesis I am swaying towards consists of a man with an empty lonely heart creating an illusion of such to simply fill a void.

You know, now that I’m thinking about it, this book is like my favourite Tennessee Williams’ quote with a paranormal twist: (When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone).

This is a great introduction to Hall’s works for sure, and I’m definitely going to be picking up another by him when I get a chance. I do love intensely quotable books with evocative prose and wonderful atmosphere building, after all!

Book Review: A Walrus & A Gentleman (2021)

Book review poster with picture of roses in background.

A Walrus & A Gentleman by Emmaline Strange

Some part of me had always believed in fairy tales, and that part of me had fluctuated in strength and size over the years. Recently, it seemed only to shrink and fade further away, but I knew it was still there, whether or not I would ever admit it.

*HAPPY SHIPPING NOISES*

Everything about this was just ROMANCE and CUTE and GRUMPY LIGHTHOUSE GRUMPS and COSY JUMPERS and BE STILL MY HEART. ☆_☆

Gosh, this is a truly fun and romantic read! Perfect for those who like soft, sweet fairy tales set on windy islands with gruff, bearded lighthouse keepers who are undone by their perky, overly caffeinated cinnamon roll bfs.

Book Review: Wonder Rush (2021)

book review picture of girl reading book; she's wearing a leather jacket, face obscured.

Wonder Rush by Dan McKeon

No one ever gave her a choice. What do you do when you have spent your entire life, since birth, being trained for a single purpose? What happens once you’re old enough to question things? Is it too late? Has the die been cast?

There are some really great quotes in this book. Like, really awesome and thought-provoking. So I shall pepper them throughout as I cannot choose! Some of them are also just straight up great descriptions. Like, the Wonder Rush bubblegum description is so evocative.

The sticker bore the image of a yellow smiley face. Something like an emoji on steroids. The eyes were wide and blue, and it pursed its lips into a perfect O with a bright pink bubble protruding from them. It raised its eyebrows in a way that suggested that this little smiley face was exuberantly excited about the bubble it was blowing.

Intrigued yet?

Dan McKeon’s debut novel is perfect for spy and thriller fans, or really anyone who likes a badass MCs! It fits right up there with Nikita and Alias. Maybe a bit of Dark Angel? Wendy is a fascinating MC, ruthless and driven, but complex and multi-layered.

The imminent risk of capture would probably make most people apprehensive, but Wendy saw it as a challenge. She was also rather cocky, so thinking she was smarter than a trained detective, while imprudent, was also mentally stimulating.

But Wendy is, like so much of the MC’s life, simply a manufactured creation of the agency she works for who have their own agenda. The agency turned her into what she is, but as Wendy, her life has come to include people she cares about, namely her brother Corey. Being Wendy has given her a new perspective. One she isn’t prepared to simply abandon. Soon, her fake life is upended by her real life and leaves her riddled with questions.

Did they strip her identity from her, or did she never have one to begin with? What exactly has her life been? When it’s all you know, you don’t stop to question it. Becoming a different person, adopting a new identity, a unique hairstyle, a fresh look, a new name, all just felt normal to her.

Overall Dan McKeon’s debut will undoubtedly appeal to fans of thrillers and espionage!