Book Review Roundup

text: book reviews, picture: someone reading surrounded by books

A roundup post of some of the book reviews I’ve left recently. The genres range from a poetry book to an audiobook to a few children’s books to a short story and to a historical fiction! Check ’em out!

Rainbow’s Red Poetry Book by Lily Lawson:

When the first sign of light breaking
takes the darkness from my sight,
the dawn of early promise
shines in the blackened night.

I quite enjoyed this little book of poetry! This is my second read of Lawson’s poetry and I really enjoy their style! Looking forward to the next collection of poems!

Demon in the Wood (Grishaverse, #0) by Leigh Bardugo:

Really enjoyed this audiobook! Ben Barnes and the cast do a great job of voicing the characters. Can’t wait for season two of the show!

Blue Badger and the Beautiful Berry by Huw Lewis-Jones:

Hahah, aww, this little tale is just super cute and wholesome and berry-filled. The art is absolutely stunning and I adored the badgers being all awkward and sweet and uncertain with each other. Definitely worth checking out!

Are You a Monster? by Guilherme Karsten:

Awww, this little book is very cute with fun, colourful drawings and an adorable little monster protagonist trying to find everyone’s inner monster. A charming, interactive tale that kids will surely adore!

A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge, #3) by Ken Follett:

As ever, Follett is a masterful storyteller when it comes to blending history, romance and political intrigue. I didn’t love Column as much as I did Pillars and World Without End, but still found it a solid addition to the Kingsbridge series. I really enjoyed Ned, Sylvie and Margery’s stories in particular! Looking forward to the prequel and to book four!

How to Cook and Eat the Rich by Sunyi Dean

“Did you hear about the cannibal who was late for dinner? He got the cold shoulder!”

A dark dark dark little tale about greed and scarce resources in a polluted, destroyed future that has been ruined by those who take from those who have none to begin with, and still want more. Very well written and the twist was WHOA.

Book Review: Safe & Sound (2022)

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Safe and Sound by Rachel Bowdler

She was beginning to suspect that Shea was just the sort of woman you had to keep trying with if you wanted to really know her. A matryoshka doll with infinite figures hiding within, all different sizes and faces.

Safe & Sound is a suspenseful romance novella that follows Ruby Bright, a singer-songwriter for Gen Y, a popular singing duo who are struck by profound tragedy. When her singing partner and best friend Ezra is killed in an explosion on their tour bus, she finds herself being targeted by an unknown suspect and forced to disappear for a while until they find out who’s after her. Ruby is sent to a farm for her own protection and it’s there she meets Shea, a brooding, grumpy, acerbic former officer healing from her own trauma.

Where Ruby is nervous and broken by everything that’s happened to her, Shea’s gone the other way and become downright caustic and biting. She’s anything but kind to Ruby at the start, projecting her own stereotypes of privilege onto Ruby that, while understandable in light of Ruby’s successes, are anything but true. Ruby’s life and history are dark and full of turmoil and she honestly doesn’t remotely fit a stereotype. (I felt very protective of Ruby at the start, poor thing!!) For her part, Ruby tries to get along with everyone as she struggles to deal with her grief and the awful treatment of her band’s management group.

I really liked the farm setting and the novella’s themes and focus on healing and growth. Ruby and Shea are both jagged edges who slowly soften each other up as time passes on the farm and they work together gardening and looking after the animals. I do wish Shea had been a bit kinder to Ruby at the onset, but she grew on me once she started to let go of her preconceptions and realised that she was projecting a lot of unfair untruths onto Ruby. Bless Ruby, my heart just went out to her throughout the whole book and I’m really glad she finally had someone on her side in Shea once they passed those initial hurdles! And they made a very dynamic, capable, wholesome couple by the end! (Fans of bodyguard romances will surely enjoy the climax of the novella!)

Overall this is an emotionally grounded and fast-paced romantic suspense novella that romance readers should definitely check out!

Book Review: Sordaneon (2021)

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Sordaneon by L.L. Stephens

GENERAL SPOILER WARNING

Nights in Sordan were never dark.

Ooooooh. This book. Epic fantasy and grimdark fans definitely need to check this one out! It’s dark and brutal and epic and intense and shocking and just WOW. Stephens doesn’t hold back at all and by the end of the book I was trying to get to the end as fast as possible to find out what happens to Dorilian, Lev, Marc and the rest. I WAS STRESS. Except Daimonaeris, truly one of the worst.

“How sad it would be if we shunned love rather than let it open us to the bitterness of loss. There, in the dark places of the soul, is where we find our humanity. You, my friend, have never been more completely alive than you are now as you struggle to make sense of what is left to you.”

Throughout the entire book, my feelings basically boiled down to: PROTECT DORILIAN AND LEV AT ALL COSTS! (Although about halfway through I added Marc to the list. I struggled a bit with him at first, but he really grew on me and I was Team Marc and Dorilian by the end.) Like, I don’t care that Dorilian’s a bit of an arrogant, prickly prince. The lads have both freaking earned it with all they’ve been through.

TRAUMA FROM SCENE ONE.

Light yet pulsed in the tiny body, but he knew so little about babies. His tutors had no prepared him for such things as this. He knew only that the baby’s mind was quiet. Not silent—not as his mother’s now was, unfindable—merely quiet. He could tell, though, that his brother knew him.

These poor boys. Like, I do not blame Dorilian one iota for hating everyone and everything around him other than his brother because that opening scene was traumatising to read. It also very much shapes the tone of this epic, political, immensely bloody grimdark fantasy. He and Lev were just wonderful and I loved how their love for each other formed the foundation of the book.

Now, Sordaneon is dense. It’s immense. It’s rich and detailed and it took me a little while to sink into the complexity of the world! This is definitely the kind of book where I require a pen for underlining passages, accrue several folded pages, and conduct frequent checks to the Appendix at the back.

Note: I found the Appendix incredibly helpful for wrapping my head around the world building, the various houses and connections between the characters, and the backstory of the world of Sordaneon. I definitely recommend checking it if you, like me, often find yourself overwhelmed the first time you dive into a new epic fantasy world. And this one isn’t just the land, but a massive backstory of the world’s creation and devastation and rebuilding and time and descendants and bloodlines. IMMENSE. I will admit I struggled in the first few chapters to remember who was related to whom, so the Appendix, which had all the names, all the bloodlines, all the houses and entities, was very beneficial for me! The worldbuilding is vast in a truly awe-inspiring way, and honestly reminds me a bit of Tolkien’s legendarium. I will say by about 1/3~ I felt like I had a much better grip on all the competing factions and didn’t have to check it quite as much. If DuneLord of the Rings and Game of Thrones all got together and made a book baby, it would be rather like Sordaneon, which is to say that it’s brilliantly done, but took me a hundred pages to really get the hang of it all, something that often happens to me and epic fantasies. And once I got the hang of all the names and power structures and alliances, it was easy to sink into the world along with Dorilian and the others. I’m absolutely in awe of how many layers Stephens brought to the strange world of the Rill and all those fighting for power.

“Before Hestya, the Sordaneons were one of Marc Frederick’s great conquests. But now look: Marc Frederick wonders if Sebbord has power he never guessed at or if it is in the hands of another. Essera’s masses clamor for Sebbord to open the Rill to Stauberg, and its nobles clamor just as loudly that he must not be allowed to do it. They both want the Rill and fear it. They fear Deben and Sebbord alike! And everyone wonders about you.”

I think this quote really sums up the theme of the book. Everyone wants control, everyone mistrusts everyone, everyone has a game to play, pieces to move, aims to achieve – and no one wants to move an inch in any direction. With Dorilian, who will never move past his mother’s murder and how it impacted his brother for life, this means that the heir is ANGRY. So very, very angry. And each time someone picks at his wounds or tries to direct him, he lashes out. What’s more is that he’s smart. Almost too smart for his own good. Something characters like Marc Frederick, who wants unity and will go to great lengths to enforce that unity, notices long before Dorilian cares to admit it.

Dorilian is a great character and honestly my favourite. While he’s rich and arrogant about his birth right, his opening chapter put me firmly on his side. I just wanted him and Lev to be protected. It’s very clear from the onset that the pair have enemies on all sides, so Dorilian’s attitude made sense to me. He has no reason to like or trust anyone outside of his very small circle because all he’s ever known is being treated as if he’s the enemy. My hope for the series is that he and Lev will end up some place peaceful by the end.

The answer bore a sincere spine. But there was muscle to it, an entire skeleton of other purposes sheathed in cunning ambitions. A viable thing.

The side/supporting characters had that great quality of being fascinating even when utterly frustrating (I am looking at YOU, evil siblings). I did find it really hard to like Stefan throughout pretty much all of it, although once he started to grow up a bit, he was more tolerable. And he was a very interesting, complicated foil for Dorilian and I am curious to see where they go in the next book. Will Stefan and Dorilian learn to get along, as Marc always hoped? I am curious to find out! On the other hand, I quite liked Jonthan, his uncle. (Also, JONTHAN!!!!! WHYYYYYY!!!!) Marc Frederick was in equal measure fascinating, impressive, loving, and someone I wanted to slap with my glove, lmao. (AND BY THE END I ADORED HIM. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. ;_;)

I can’t wait to see where Stephens takes the rest of this series and I’m gonna be here, cheering on Dorilian and Lev every step of the way.

Thank you so much to the author for a paperback review copy of the book!

Book Review: Werewolves Don’t Celebrate Hanukkah (2022)

Werewolves Don’t Celebrate Hanukkah by Michelle Franklin

Werewolves prefer their doughnuts jam-filled, because they cannot have chocolate. Some believe that werewolves can eat chocolate in their human forms, but many are afraid to test this, so no one has tried.

OH. MY. GOSH.

Hanukkah is the international day of sock-exchange. Socks make popular gifts because everyone needs them, except werewolves, who slice through the toe bits with their claws. Werewolves love Hanukkah, but not enough to do socks about it.

I AM NOT OVER HOW GREAT THIS IS!!!

They would be adept at playing dreidel. They would have to spin the dreidel in their human forms, but once the dreidel is spinning, the werewolves could chase it round in circles, which they’re used to doing, because they often chase their long fluffy tails.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

ISN’T IT THE CUTEST?!?!?

I literally have tears in my eyes from laughing the whole way through this. Every single year I ask for more Jewish-themed holiday books and this was just the most amazing find!! It’s cute! It’s wholesome! It’s hilarious! The art is utterly adorable and just – I’m so impressed and delighted. This is the perfect book to get for any little kid (and adult, clearly! I’m now this book’s number one fan lmao)!

It’s so sweet and lovely and I just want to recommend it to everyone. PLEASE GET YOURSELF A COPY NOW!!!

Thank you so much to the author for an ARC copy.

Book Review: Passenger (2016)

Book cover of Passenger; Manhattan in a bottle, a ship in a bottle reflected underneath.

Passenger (Passenger, #1) by Alexandra Bracken

GENERAL SPOILER WARNING

Softly, Nicholas asked, “Do you really believe I’d take my leave of you without so much as a good-bye? If nothing else, I gave you my word that I would take you away from here if you were in danger.”

“Promise?” Etta whispered.

“Always.”

I really appreciate this book. Is that a weird compliment? Well, I do. I appreciate it. I love time travel stories and I love romances and I love books with historical settings that pay homage to those settings while rightly calling out issues that impacted different people of the time. We get a modern lady and a historical lad and we get commentary on the past and the present and I just – I appreciate it. It’s a very nice book to have picked up.

And the locations!! You’re not just going to one place in history, no. You get MANY. This is a book for history nerds. We also get to travel with Etta and Nicholas from modern day New York City to 1700s Atlantic Ocean (pirates!) to 1940 London and then to France and Cambodia and Damascus (can’t remember the years) – SO MUCH TIME TRAVEL. The settings are so richly detailed, you get descriptions of the fashion, the technology, the lack of technology, the openness of later developed lands, the sounds and smells. Bracken is a really evocative writer.

We first meet Etta when she’s having an overwhelming case of imposter syndrome. We find out this is largely related to her relationship with her mother, whom she feels detached from. The opening really focuses on how much she seeks her mother’s love and affirmation, and I felt quite bad for Etta. Her entire sense of self worth was related to winning her mother’s affection. Her only friend is Alice, her violin teacher.

The night of Etta’s big rehearsal, she suffers a great betrayal, but before she finds her answers, she’s pulled out of the rehearsal and through a passage – a doorway through time. You go to different years, but the same day (1 December 2014 could only bring you to 1 December 1770, etc). The girl who’s brought her to the past, Sophia, tells her that she’s being brought to the wealthy and infamous Ironwood family. A historical time travelling family of whom Etta is apparently distantly related. Worse, most of the Ironwoods are caught up in a scheme to control the timeline (there are other time-travelling families), led by the cruel, racist and abusive Cyrus Ironwood. And it’s Ironwood’s exiled son, Nicholas, who’s been tasked with bringing the ladies to New York.

Nicholas is just wonderful. You get both his point of view and Etta’s. We actually start off with Nicholas, when his brother Julian dies in a time travelling accident. The entire family blame Nicholas for Julian’s death and think he did it out of jealousy. Nicholas put them behind him for a time, but he needs the money Cyrus is offering to be free of them once and for all, and so he’s agreed to a final job. That job being taking Etta to Cyrus.

But what Sophia and Cyrus never told Nicholas is that Etta had no knowledge of her ancestors, no idea what a passage is or how it works – and Nicholas is rightly furious on her behalf. He instantly appoints himself her protector and THEY ARE SO ENDEARING FROM THE START. They fall quickly into guarded friendship and then sparks of romance blossom. Both intend on going in different directions, but they can’t help falling for each other and IT’S SO GOOD. SO LOVELY. I LOVE THEM.

I’m so glad I gave the book a go. It was sitting on my shelf for years and I honestly did not expect it to be what it was and IT WAS SUCH A NICE SURPRISE. I loved the time travel explanation and set up. I loved that it wasn’t just Etta who could time travel, but all of them. You could change time, but you couldn’t erase yourself from the timeline, you got expelled from it instead. It was fascinating! I loved the romance and how they developed together. Pirate partners! And ooooh, the twists at the end. Nice. Definitely going to pick up book two when I can!

Book Review: The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3)

The Book of Life (All Souls #3) by Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life (All Souls #3) by Deborah Harkness

SPOILER WARNING

It took me way too long to finish this series, but seeing as I just reread book one for the autumnal vibes, I finally managed to get back into the groove of the series and wanted to see how it ended. And I really wanted to see how Matthew and Diana wrapped things up in the book (rather than the show, etc). I think overall it’s an incredibly interesting, vividly written tale, but I didn’t love it as much as book one, mostly due to the characters rather than the plot (which, again, I found quite interesting). That said, I am picking up book four promptly, so it certainly left me wanting more!

I will say, I missed the dark academia atmosphere of A Discovery of Witches. This one is more focused on the vampire family dynamics and Diana’s pregnancy – and Matthew’s overprotectiveness as a result of that pregnancy. I was particularly fascinated by how Harkness worked out mythology in the All Souls universe and props, because it was very scientifically done. It kinda reminded me of Underworld insofar as it’s fantasy with a focus on genetics and diseases and such. The dynamics of vampire families and the relationship that Harkness builds between fantasy and science fiction is also endlessly intriguing (I like the comparisons to wolf packs) and I found myself pondering the lore quite a lot (and still am whilst reading book four). It’s honestly super cool.

I did however find myself a bit frustrated at times by some of the characters’ decisions and relationships – especially their endless need to adhere to a hierarchy that is just constantly working against them and which none of them enjoy – but it is intriguing. (I did find the lack of werewolves an interesting exclusion, especially with how much focus there was upon wolves in general, and Matthew’s indignance at the idea of werewolves was quite funny.) There’s also quite a lot of talk of mitochondrial DNA, which went a bit over my head, I will admit.

Funnily enough, where Matthew and Diana’s love and relationship were my favourite aspects of book one, I found myself more invested in the wider de Clermont family in this one, but much less so in their relationship. Matthew’s overprotectiveness of Diana and the pregnancy became a bit much for me, personally. I don’t know how she tolerated it. Like, character wise I suppose it made sense, but him hissing and growling at Chris, Diana’s best friend, and Jack, the boy they raised together, seemed quite … territory marking, lmao. Around Baldwin, Benjamin and Peter, sure, go forth and lose thy shit, Matthew. But around family and friends it just got a bit irritating. That said, it was nice to see how their relationship’s progressed since book one and how Matthew is trying not to be so overbearing, and it’s good to see Diana putting her foot down a bit more. (Wish she’d do it even more, but I digress.) Towards the end Diana exerted more agency, but I just felt a little confused by her characterisation at times in the beginning/middle. Although maybe that was the point, what with her changing so much throughout.

Speaking of romance, Phoebe and Marcus were super cute and I really liked their relationship (and they’re why I picked up book four, which I’m quite enjoying!). I found them much less obsessed with each other as opposed to Diana and Matthew. They were quite practical about things, too, and always seemed like they were on the same page. Marcus wasn’t ordering her around the way Matthew often did with Diana (and everyone else). Garrowglass and Fernando were two of my favourites! Chris and Jack, too. I loved Chris just flat out refusing to put up with the vampires’ shenanigans. He was such a breath of fresh air. Baldwin, on the other hand, drove me up a wall, honestly. I did quite like when he and Matthew were exchanging barbs, although I wish Matthew had a bit more of a spine when it came to Baldwin. He was just so insufferable throughout. Ysabeau and Sarah remain fabulous, however. Marthe is great throughout! Benjamin made for an interesting villain, but I wish there was more focus on Matthew’s relationship with him. I feel like that was glossed over. Matthew’s so quick to claim other vampires – even abhorrent ones – and so much emphasis is on blood and the power and pull of blood, both in vampire romantic love and in platonic love and their ties to each other, and yet with Benjamin and his family line, it felt like they were almost one-sided in their villainy. It has been a while since I read book two, though, so I may have missed something. Benjamin just seems to come out of nowhere a bit and then he’s after Diana, but it all felt a bit convenient. Where was Benjamin her whole life? If Gallowglass and Philippe knew about her, then surely Benjamin knew, too. (And why did Gallowglass never try and save her parents? If he knew she was going to have such enormous power, why didn’t they go into hiding from Peter Knox when Diana was young? They could have introduced her to Matthew some other way if need be, no?)

I also feel like Matthew got away with a lot? If he spends like 5 (?) hours reciting the names of every vampire he killed in New Orleans during a spree to stop blood raged vampires, then he killed so. many. vampires. I don’t care for Baldwin, but Matthew I grew less fond of throughout this one, which wasn’t how I felt reading book one. His willingness to fold to Baldwin and sacrifice Jack until Diana told him not to was absolutely appalling. Matthew’s obsessive love seems to have some odd limits with his son where it doesn’t with Diana. Honestly towards the end I even mildly hoped Gallowglass would come back and Diana would pick him.

It is a fascinating read, and the characters are so layered, but the absolute devotion and adherence by everyone to Matthew didn’t feel earned for his character backstory. And it felt like Matthew earned it less and less with every chapter. Diana, maybe. She’s the first one to fight back against the Congregation in centuries. The first to say straight out that their laws are bullshit. But then Matthew comes in and I feel like he overshadows her story after she gets pregnant. She folds into vampire life, as Sarah rightly points out. And while she does eventually connect with the London witches, it still read to me like she was going to follow behind Matthew, rather than stand at his side. She was more forthright in book one, I found (ironically, I found it maddening every time she insisted on opening her door in that one [it happened like three or four times?]). They make a big thing of Matthew naming the scion after her family, too, but I dunno. He just frustrated me a bit at times. I do overall recommend this trilogy though, and I am excited to see where the next book goes.

Book Review: The Battle That Was Lost (Ringlander, #0.5)

The Battle that was Lost (The Ringlander #0.5) by Michael S. Jackson.

The Battle that was Lost (Ringlander, #0.5) by Michael S. Jackson

“Some tides are inevitable, Horse Master. They may never be stopped.”

This is my first foray into the Ringlander universe and it was straight into battle with this one! I really appreciated that there was action from page one and even though I wasn’t familiar with the novel’s setting to have context for the opening battle that unfolds, it was easy to fall into the story and let the characters lead the way. So for anyone not sure whether to start with this one or the novel, I think this is a fine starting point! It certainly left me wanting more!

It’s quite a short read, but the amount of action and violence and worldbuilding packed into the pages makes it feel much longer – I was totally shocked when I turned the next page and realised it was done! And I quite liked Staegrim as a character. (And also that is a really cool name!) The prose moves along at a brisk, crisp pace and there are a good number of flashbacks to provide more character development. I’m curious to see where the storyline goes in the next one and how this battle sets things up for the novel. I honestly did not expect so many twists in so short a tale, so I’ve a feeling that the book will be VERY VERY VERY intense! Excellent. Can’t wait!

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

 

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!'