Book Review: Legacy of the Brightwash

Indie Book Spotlight: Book Review (image shows a man flipping through a book)

Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar

“My son is imprisoned in the Rift, Mr. Finn. I come here three or four times a week to see him and most of the time he has fresh bruises. No new ones this time, thank the North Star. As long as my son is in this place, I don’t have ‘good’ nights.”

I fell face first into this story. I bought it a while back and cheered it on during the SPFBO finals because it just looked SO GOOD, but I haven’t had the time to read it until recently. AND NOW I’M ANNOYED I PUT IT OFF FOR SO LONG. I devoured 150 pages in one day. That rarely happens to me anymore because my attention span is a joke, lmao.

The smoky, magical, grim world of Krystle Matar’s Brightwash is a fitting follow up to my last read, A Handful of Souls (another SPFBO semi-finalist). Like A Handful of Souls, the Dominion Matar’s characters inhabit is a dark, brutal city, filled with oppression, secrets and tragedy. Each character has something to hide, something to run from, someone to protect. These characters are so real and actualised from the onset, and just amazing to read about. I felt like I was tugged into their universe from the very beginning.

“Everyone’s tired, Captain. Everyone is just bones and exhaustion in this city.”

SPOILER WARNING FROM HERE

The story starts with Captain Tashué Blackwood finding the body of a girl on the city’s riverbank and the series of events that follow. As he tries to solve the horrific crime, Tashué begins questioning everything he thought he knew about the world of the Dominion and those they call ‘tainted’ (or, as his son prefers, Talented).

Gif of Orlando Bloom in Victorian clothing and a hat (from Carnival Row)

Tashué is exactly the kind of character that I love because he’s so intricately thought out, but I did definitely want to scream at him multiple times throughout. Case in point: after his son Jason failed to register his Talent, he was arrested and thrown in a horrible prison called the Rift where all Talents are suppressed (and all inmates treated abysmally). And, like, UGH. PROTECT JASON AT ALL COSTS.

“His father is a stubborn man who stands by his beliefs, no matter the cost. Jason inherited that. And he believes that the Authority is an evil entity that will strip his humanity from him, so he defied them and got himself sent into the Rift.”

We start the book three years after Tashué watched his son be arrested and did nothing, and the years of Jason in prison have begun eating away at Tashué. He begs Jason to register, Jason refuses. He doesn’t want to sign his name on a document labelling him as ‘bad meat’. (With you, Jason buddy. I’m with you.) I definitely found myself struggling with Tashué’s reasoning and loyalties. It’s so, so clear that he loves his son and yet he JUST KEEPS GASLIGHTING HIMSELF. Not that it’s not believable, just that it’s so heartbreaking. So not what a father should do. Which is, of course, the point.

Every word hit Tashué like a fist. Queen of the common man, maybe, Queen of the ‘regular’ people, but even she clearly believed that people with Talent were people apart. To be managed. Jason had it, all along, back when Tashué still thought the Registration was for safety, to help people. Tainted, bad meat. Jason, I’m so fucking sorry.

And it was this scene that really made me cheer for the character development of Tashué in *checks notes* the first 153 pages. Like, we get such a deep dive into his mental civil wars with himself and I really enjoyed seeing him go from being someone I wanted to scream at to someone I was like YAS GO MY FRIEND, I AM AT YOUR SIDE FOR THE ENSUING SHENANIGANS. But still also kind of wanted to scream at and throw spoons at.

Look, he imagined Rainer saying, the man is so loyal to our ideals that he allowed his own son to be processed for refusing to register. An exemplary Officer, truly.

I really and truly loved the scene where Stella called Tashué out on just how badly he let Jason down. She laid it all out there and I loved her for it. For not letting him try and apologise his way out of it. But what I really loved about the scene was where Tashué broke. I wish, for Jason’s sake, that it had come earlier, but his speech to Stella just SHREDDED ME. He’s the most frustrating and infuriating character at times, but Christ I just loved his development and his angst and his need to fix things. No one was proved more wrong than Tashué and reading how deeply it ripped him apart was harrowing, but just, ugh, amazingly well done. Hats fucking off to Matar because I LOVED EVERY FUCKING WORD OF HIS SPEECH.

“I’ll carve off every piece of my own humanity if I have to, to keep him safe. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same! If you had to sit in front of your child and see how they’d been beaten, to watch the bruises and the cuts come and go and wonder if the next time will kill them, you would do the same fucking thing. You don’t know what it’s like to go into that place and look at your child through that fucking grate and watch them die in front of your eyes, diminishing in front of you. Judge me all you want for all the mistakes I’ve made, fine. Judge me for everything that led me and Jason to this point, fine. But don’t judge me for what I do now to try and undo the damage I’ve done!”

Poor Tashué. Poor, poor Tashué. Lad really needs so many hugs.

Hugs for the lot of them, really. I wanted to hug and protect Jason in every scene (and when he was off page! I wanted more of his POV!). He’s twenty years old, his father’s turned him in, he’s being beaten and starved – just PROTECT JASON AT ALL COSTS OKAY?!

And Lorne. Oh my gosh, Lorne. His devotion to Jason and Tashué is just wonderful to read about and I WANT ONLY GOOD THINGS FOR HIM. I have a terrible feeling that something bad is going to happen to one of them and it’s making for STRESSFUL READING. I adored Lorne and I really hope we get more of his POV in the next book. Him and Jason both.

Gif of two men kissing

GIVE THEM THEIR HAPPY ENDING.

Every shred of him got so hot in a fight that he was convinced part of his soul burned away. And in the quiet moments after, when he was trying to sleep and his whole body ached, his mind flashed him through all the fights he could still remember.

Gif of redheaded woman (Demelza from Poldark) by the sea

Now, Stella I loved from page one. Stella is Tashué’s latest charge to monitor on the register, and she’s full of secrets, and I just loved reading her POV. Her and her daughter are just precious. Stella works helping people, healing them magically undercover where and when she can. It’s easy to see why Tashué falls so fast for her.

What world was it if she let [the boy] die only because she was afraid for her own life? Living longer was not a good enough gift, not when an innocent child was in front of her and she had to choose.

And I totally shipped her and Tashué from the start. (Matar does an excellent job of showing Tashué’s inner turmoil regarding their power dynamic.) Stella is just such a good person through and through. And her scenes with Tashué were so adorable and wholesome. I really hope they get more happiness in the next book!

Gif of Demelza kissing Ross

As for Illea … From the get go I’ve been like,

Robin Hood gif saying, 'You see, I don't trust you.'

Like, AT ALL. I am curious to see where the next book takes her, and what happens with her and Ishmael, but honestly I just want Ishmael to get on Team Leave the Fucking Dominion. Frustrating as he could be in places (WHERE WERE YOU AT THE END, DUDE?!!?) I adored Ishmael overall. He had a quiet presence despite being one of the most brazen and outspoken of the cast, and I loved his love for Tashué. (Which it doesn’t seem like Tashué appreciates? lmao. Cos his whole speech about Ishmael not loving anyone is a bit funny cos it’s obvious to EVERYONE that Ishmael loves him. Oi vey, someone hit Tashué with the awareness stick.

“Fuck them and their manners and their etiquette. I won’t diminish myself for their approval. I am who I am and I’m sitting at their fucking table anyway, aren’t I? And when the Queen wanted company last night, she sent for me.”

And the moments and exchanges between him and Tashué were filled with so much meaning and hinted-at history – I really hope we get more focus on their past in the next book. I HAVE QUESTIONS AND REQUIRE THESE TWO TO SORT THEIR STUFF OUT.

If you can’t tell by now, I adored the book. Characters that make me want to throw the book across the room because I want them to find joy are the best characters, honestly. \o/ And there are so many to love, root for and scream at in Brightwash.

Overall, the setting of this world is so unique and the take on fantasy and politics is both familiar and fresh. It’s a murder mystery set in a dark, gritty world that grows into something much bigger. The horrific opening act reveals something far, far worse lurking inside the Dominion and I’m really curious to see where it’ll go in the next book. Further, something I’m unflinchingly picky about is character development and relationships, and what I loved about Brightwash is how much time you get to spend getting to know the characters and the world. It’s a BIG CHONKY TOME of a novel and yet it reads quickly, never feeling heavy with info or taking too much time to get to the next point.

As magical and mysterious as Carnival Row, as upsetting and filled with warning as 1984, as harrowing and heartbreaking as The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, as powerful and painful as V For Vendetta, and as dark and twisty as The AlienistBrightwash honestly blew me away.

Book Review: A Handful of Souls by Stephen Rice

book review; photograph of hands holding open a book

A Handful of Souls (The Split Sea #1) by Stephen Rice

Mud, gold and lies. That’s all you get in Branera.

gif of Laketown from The Hobbit

OH HECK YES THIS BOOK. DARK, BRUTAL, FAMILY-FOCUSED FANTASY.

Okay, to properly ramble about this book, there might be spoilers from here on out. So, SPOILER WARNING.

This is my first read by Stephen Rice and I must say I’m in awe of the prose. So many well spun lines! Like, I just really adored the descriptions and details. So many were so visceral (which is a compliment for a dark fantasy book in my opinion, but my goodness the BLOODY TEETH and the YELLOW GLOWING GUNK and aught else. I won’t clarify further, lmao. This is a fantasy book that doesn’t shy away from the brutal and rough). Despite how grimy and grim the setting was, I could so clearly envision the world and sank into the story easily. The writing is never info-dumpy, nor did it ever get in the way of the plot, but it twists and dives, offering wonderful turns of phrase. Rice’s prose is very descriptive, almost lyrical, even when describing the horrors of the dark world he’s laying out for the reader to devour.

Branera was the proudest, richest city in the Northlands, even if half of it was buried in rivers of mud and shit. The buildings that rose high enough were blessed by the greatest of the northern aristocracy, with boarded paths threading between these affluent peaks and reserved for the exclusive use of the fantastically well-off.

The story follows multiple POVs, but all centred around the Kale-Tollworth family. You follow Husker, Lily, Lark, Rose, Josef, Dren and Crone through the dark and twisting roads of Branera, to the Split Sea, and beyond. The cities and lands have as much life and character as the cast.

Gif of the Crows in Ketterdam from Shadow and Bone.

That said, Lily stood out to me from the start and her chapters swept me up into the narrative. While she might not look like Max from Black Sails, I couldn’t help but imagine her thus in my head. Can’t explain it!

gif of Max from Black Sails

She was magnificent. Half-baroness, half-beggar. A bit of everything he had ever wanted.

I loved Lily’s character instantly. She was prickly and opiniated and hard-headed, but loyal and determined and I just really rooted for her throughout. Rose, her sister, I was a little bit hesitant about, but following her chapters was very interesting and she juxtaposed Lily nicely. And, I must say, she grew on me and I was rooting hard for the sisters to sort things out.

POOR LARK, though. (Their brother.) Like, poor all of them really, but POOR LARK. I just felt so bad for him. Like, all the time. PROTECT LARK AT ALL COSTS. I don’t think it’s a big spoiler to say Lark dies (it’s on the back cover), and bless his little heart, he just has a rough go of things from start to finish. I really appreciated the final scene cos bless his wee little heart.

Husker and Dren I also felt bad for. Honestly, I just spent pretty much the entire story feeling bad for all the characters and the hardships that they have to, somehow, surmount. I felt SO BAD for some of them at the end, so I really can’t wait to see how it shapes up in the next book and how all the trauma is resolved and the relationships mended.

Despite the grimdark nature of the book, the writing is never too heavy or the moments too bleak for it to be overwhelming. I felt a spark of hope throughout and this wasn’t diminished by the ending (HUZZAH!). I just kept wanting to know what was going to happen to everyone and if they could possibly be all reunited and healed after all the gunk. So much gunk.

Something I found really quite cool about this story was how unlike so many other fantasy reads it is. Like, it’s grimdark family drama in a world that brought to mind everything from Westeros to Ketterdam. Now that I think about it, I reckon this book would nicely suit fans of A Song of Ice and Fire and The Bone Season. I have also barely dipped my toes in The Wheel of Time and Shadow and Bone book series at this point, but I did enjoy the shows, and I think fans of those would enjoy this! There’s a motely cast of characters and you care for them all despite their edges, and the family relationships are so wonderfully threaded together.

Excited to see where book two takes the Kale-Tollworth family!

Thank you to the author for a review copy.

Book Review: Bound (2021)

two hands holding out a book and flipping through the pages, text says, 'Book review: indie book spotlight'

Bound by Kat Kinney

“What matters is intent. I feel you beneath my skin, know how you’ve tortured yourself all these years to make sure you wouldn’t hurt another person. Your magic can do terrible things, but you would never let it. You aren’t like the others. You saved me. Every day I live is a gift because the vampires nearly destroyed my mind, and in that terrible second, when I was convinced I couldn’t live with the pain any longer, you didn’t let go.”

Gif from Shadowhunters of Alec, large tattoo on his neck, kissing Magnus.

OH THESE TWO.

Stephen Colbert dramatically fake crying and waving his hands, text says: 'I just feel like my heart is going to burst because it's full of rainbows.'

Okay, so total confession – I skipped book two. Which, of course, I’m now going to circle back to because book three was FABU and I totally want to catch up on the other characters and couples and DRAMAS. Book three was put forward for #IndiePride, though, so I wanted to dive straight in as I’m trying to read as many books for #IndiePride as I can.

>> My review of book one, Dark, is here. I really enjoyed that one, but I think I loved Bound a small bit more! West and Topher were just so HEART EYES the whole way through and I want more of their story. My goodness, Kat Kinney really knows how to write tension and angst and longing.

“Don’t.” West inhaled sharply. “I can’t breathe when you look at me like that.”

As much as I loved every interaction between West and Topher, I also adored Topher’s determination to find his brother. Just, YES. Loved it. Chef’s kiss. Hats off. I really hope we get more of the brothers in later books because I feel like there is so much to develop on that front and I want to know more!

West’s turmoil was so well done, too. The focus on his inner conflict was wonderfully executed and I simply adored him. (I’m trying not to spoil here~). I’ve got to circle back to book two next, and then on to book four, because after Bound’s ending I have QUESTIONS and EXPECTATIONS. I also have a lot of ships I want actualised.

gif from New Girl, Schmidt is beside Winston saying 'Gimme it!'

Book Review: The Goddess of Nothing At All (2021)

hands holding open a book and flipping through the pages; text says, 'book review: indie book spotlight'

The Goddess of Nothing At All by Cat Rector

A couple of wolves were hardly going to stop me.

gif of a woman in furs smirking

This hardback is absolutely gorgeous, oh my goodness! It feels nice in your hands. Is that a strange thing to say about a book? I don’t care, it’s true! This hardback has a soft cover and it’s so pretty and I was in love with the book before I even opened it. And you just know a book is going to be good when it opens with a quote from Libba Bray (a writing queen, tbh).

SPOILER WARNING

A Jotun. Tall and lean, his open palm full of wildfire. It was him. It had to be […] The Trickster’s gaze travelled to the bloodstain on my trousers and back to my eyes. “Let’s end this, shall we?” His voice was low and coy, a small smirk on his lips.

gif of Loki throwing a blade and hitting an enemy target

The Goddess of Nothing At All tells Sigyn and Loki’s story. BRING. IT. ON. Their first meeting is just *chef’s kiss*. Loki is such a fun character, right from the start. Watching him run circles of thievery around Sigyn had me giggling.

Their ‘family’ in Asgard really frustrated me, though. Not that they weren’t well written, they absolutely were, they were just such jerks. I say ‘family’, cos everyone from Odin to Sif were so endlessly dismissive, antagonistic and cruel to both Sigyn and Loki. I really appreciated Loki’s resistance to everyone’s scorn, but Sigyn’s longing to be needed and approved of by the others made me growl internally a few times. I understand why, like, it makes sense for her characterisation – she’s always been pushed aside and forgotten about and dismissed – and I’m glad she slowly stopped caring so much as the book went on and her confidence grew, but there were a lot of moments early on where I wanted to be like GURL WHY DO YOU CARE WHAT ODIN THINKS?? HE’S BEING SUCH AN ARSEHOLE JUST DO YOUR OWN THING!! And then Thor just flipping on a dime and turning against Loki also really bothered me cos I was hoping Thor was going to have Loki’s back ;_;

gif of Loki saying, 'You had one job.'

I’m glad Loki couldn’t have given a toss about anyone’s derision, but I did feel so bad for him for basically all of it. JUSTICE FOR LOKI!!!

I was delighted when Sigyn finally lost her shit.

“I know that Sif said things to Loki that we’d have strung anyone else from the rafters for saying. If it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t have your hammer, or your spear, or your godsforsaken shiny boar. You talk about his morality, but the only person in this room with a clean conscience is Idunn. I know the lies of more than half of you, and each of you either smells like your secret lover or has blood under your nails.”

gif of a woman dressed in medieval clothing stabbing her knife into a table covered in goblets, grapes and a candle

YAS GIRL GO

And it was really frustrating for Thor and the others to flipflop so often where it concerned Loki and Sigyn. I really struggled to like any of them because they were just so cruel and unforgiving.

The scenes with Sigyn and Loki caring for each other were lovely, though, and I’m glad the romance didn’t take forever between them to blossom. I like slow burn, but I am also an impatient shipper and start drawing heart eyes around the characters from the get-go with some couples, so my shipper heart squealed at their romance.

SUCH PRECIOUS MUFFINS \o/

gif of a man and a woman kissing

It must also be said that the writing in this book is lush. Descriptive. Enthralling. It is certainly an exceptional debut novel.

Flowers blossom most thoroughly when given time, affection, and kindness. This is, I suspect, true for most things in life.

This book totally took me by surprise, I must say. I wasn’t anticipating the scope of the tale and so many of the twists, that’s for sure. I think I’m so used to first books in a series being just, like, the start of a romance, that I didn’t anticipate how much more of the story would come after Loki and Sigyn’s love story began, blossomed and became something so much more. The sheer breadth of the The Goddess of Nothing At All reminds me of earlier epic fantasy books (like, 1970s-1980s fantasy) – and I totally mean that as a compliment. This is a tale that span years, generations, parents, and their children and beyond.

Rector weaves a deeply intricate tale herein of family, love, loss, survival, endurance and so much else besides. There are *so many* unexpected wrenches thrown into the lovers’ paths to trip them up and tear that apart (I was *not* expecting Loki’s reveal to Sigyn after his long absence at one point ;_;). I amn’t as familiar with Norse mythology as I’d like, but seeing how intricately Rector incorporates all the legends, figures, descendants and locations just left me in awe. I honestly could not have guessed some of the reveals, so hats off to the author! It’s great when a novel can totally surprise you! I’m very curious to see how Epilogues for Lost Gods turns out!

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

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea (2022)

a girl in the forest wearing big headphones, black and white photo; text says 'audiobook review'

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

“Every being has a soul.”

What a romantic, dreamlike fairy tale!

Move over Little Mermaid, I have a new favourite under the sea fairy tale. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is based upon the Korean tale, The Tale of Shim Cheong. Now, I’m not familiar with the original tale, so I don’t know how much this aligns or diverts, but I must say this story is simply delightful. Listening to the audiobook (I recommend the audiobook completely!) is like watching a cosy animated film in your mind. A lot of reviews have mentioned Studio Ghibli vibes, and I totally get the vibes from that, too. Or perhaps like a Disney Princess tale. It’s a book that feels colourful, if you get me. It’s a little bit Little Mermaid and a little bit Howl’s Moving Castle and maybe a little bit of Ever After and The Chronicles of Narnia and Atlantis. It’s wholly it’s own, it’s wholly beautiful and enchanting, but it feels familiar. A tale that’s bright and romantic and kind. I definitely think I will be revisiting this one. Like all good fairy tales, it deserves multiple reads.

“I am like the other brides. I know what it is to love someone you would do anything to protect. Who are you to say what my fate is—if I am to fail, or if I am to succeed? My fate is not yours to decide. My fate belongs to me.”

Mina and Shin are adorable and precious, and I really liked Kirin and Namgi, too! Honestly, the whole cast of characters are great! But Mina cares so much and I just loved her \o/ What a good person. Truly. Her indignation at the treatment of those she encounters was so raw and I appreciated her characterisation so much. It’s hard to get all the great quotes down when you’re listening to the audiobook, but there were some just jaw-droppingly good lines about Mina’s morals and I just totally became her cheerleader.

Don’t chase fate, Mina. Let fate chase you.

THIS WHOLE BOOK IS JUST WHOLESOME AND LUSH AND LOVELY 🖤🖤🖤 If you haven’t added it to your reading list, absolutely do!

Book Review: Starlight (2021)

picture of a man flipping through a book; text says, 'book review: indie book spotlight'

Starlight by Lauren Jade Case

“I just don’t understand what’s happening and what’s not happening. But I want to be a Creature.”

a gif of a fairy with wings holding hands with a man

I must say it was the cover that first caught my eye. It’s just so stunning. It sort of evokes Arthurian feels, yanno? I am just absolutely enamoured with it. The inside is also beautiful! So, hats off!!

Starlight is a sparkling debut from Lauren Jade Case, and the first in The Starlight Trilogy. Readers who adore a heavy focus on family and friendship with their magical adventures should definitely check this one out!

There once was a Being, a Being of nothingness; no light or dark, no matter or time, no life or death. It was a lonely existence. And so they created.

Great opener, right?

Starlight follows young Natalia Whitehall on the eve of her eighteenth birthday. All is not well, for Natalia is starting to see things. Things that make no sense. Like a giant scorpion, a wolf, and a horrifying murder scene that vanish as if they were never there. Before she knows it, her entire world is turned upside down when she learns that she’s a fairy. But Natalia’s new life doesn’t come easy, and embracing her life as a fairy is more complicated than just realising magic is real.

Something I noted early on was the cool way Lauren Jade Case set up the universe. There’s the familiar vampires, fairies, etc, but she puts a cool spin on the idea of good versus evil, of souls and love.

Creatures had the same average life-span as Humans – Vampires and Fairies excluded. However, most of the time, the nature of their Purpose cut their lives short. That meant a lot of Creatures sped through life. They tended to fall in love quicker, deeper too […] It made their connections stronger, and though that didn’t mean they would only ever fall in love with one person, most seemed to.

a gif of a man cheering saying 'I love it! I love it so much!'

I love this kind of stuff. Soul mates? Destined to be? Fantastic. Love it. Thankyouyesmoreplease.

Book Review: Things We Never Got Over (2022)

A girl reading at a table, tucking her hair behind her ears; there's a moon over her; the text says 'book review: review by rebecca crunden'

Things We Never Got Over (Knockemout #1) by Lucy Score

“Stop,” he said on a broken whisper. “Please.” But I didn’t. I held on tighter, pressing my face to his chest. He swore under his breath, and then his arms were around me, crushing me to him. He buried his face in my hair and clung to me. He was so warm, so solid, so alive. I held on to him for dear life and willed him to release some of what he’d kept bottled up. “Why don’t you ever fucking listen?”

Oh my gosh this book is so full of shipping goodness while also being fucking funny. Yes, I found Knox frustrating. I cheered each and every time Naomi told him to fuck off. He totally deserved it (and more, like I liked him but sometimes I wanted to reach into the book and scream FUCK OFF KNOX!). And I’m glad every other person called out his arsehole-ish-ness. But despite my longing to push Knox into a lake, this book had me grinning from ear to ear the entire time. The writing is just so darn charming. Naomi is so endearing and cute. I did wish she’d stand her ground more and not let Knox be so fucking bossy (seriously dude, take it down like 85 notches), but goodness they did have chemistry.

More Quotes:

“Has anyone ever told you you have the personality of a pissed-off porcupine?”

I couldn’t tell if this was dirty talk or romantic prose. Whichever side of the line his words fell on, I loved it.

“Oooh. Grumpy next-door neighbor. That’s one of my favorite tropes.”
“The first time he met me, he called me trash.”
“That bitch.”
 
😂

Book Review: Safelight (2021)

A woman in a leather coat, white undershirt, holding a book open; text says 'book review: r. crunden'

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!