Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon

I was sent this book as an advance listening copy via libro.fm for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

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★★★.5

This was one of the best and most unique novellas I’ve ever read.

I went in without knowing a single thing except what the book cover might tell you, so I was launched into this world and immediately, ahem, drowned in it. It was not always easy to follow at the very beginning, but I soon became extremely invested in the world, and later about the main character too.

There’s a reason for this delay, why you first get intrigued and want to know more about why things in this society work the way they do, and only later truly start caring about Yetu. Yetu is the historian of her society, meaning that she carries all the burden of a tragic and violent history while the rest of her species live their lives free of it, but she often loses herself in this history.

Only later, after the yearly ceremony where Yetu gets to share the history with the rest of her group, for only a few days, can we see Yetu free of her burden, and it’s not a wonder that her character might read a little generic at first. She doesn’t really know herself, was too young to really know herself when the full weight of their history was reversed on her.

It was then so satisfying to watch her regain her own identity, take decisions for herself, and reflect on what history means for the individual and for the community, and find out more about her origin while developing a beautiful romance with a human woman.

This is a tale that’s more about a community than about the main character, but it was still so good to see Yetu’s development while raising questions that are relevant to so many people, especially those who have had their roots and history erased from the collective memory. This is a story for those people especially, and as for everyone else who, like me, is white and knows her country’s and her hometown’s history, we just need to absorb the true meaning of this and reflect upon it.

I haven’t seen many reviews mention this, but let me be absolutely clear: this is also as queer as it gets (main f/f romance; m/m side romance; every water dweller is intersex and decides their own gender(s) or no gender at all; there is a human side character who uses they/them pronouns), and everyone is Black (both the water dwellers, who descend from pregnant African slaves, and the humans).

I’m not sure how the book itself would read, but the audiobook was really good and the writing came across flowing well, so I would definitely recommend this format if you’re into listening to books.

TWs: slavery, violence, suicide attempt, suicidal thoughts

Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I was sent this book as an advance listening copy via libro.fm for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world–a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

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★★★✩

First and foremost: I enjoyed listening to this audiobook, I thought all narrators (full cast!! I love full casts!!!) were absolutely right for the parts they were narrating. They made this book flow well and fast and made me want to keep listening even during the parts that I found confusing, and I truly thought that my experience was enhanced by having listened to it as opposed to reading it.

Now, I do also think that this is a book that could’ve benefited from being read and taking one’s time to truly absorb the various stories more, but I am also aware that I wouldn’t picked it up at all if it wasn’t for the chance to listen to it.

The Starless Sea is a beautiful book with beautiful writing that will speak to a lot of readers, so why the three stars and not more? This is a case of it’s not you, it’s me: if I had to judge this book objectively alone I would probably give it 5 stars; my overall enjoyment of it was closer to 3 stars, and I wondered if I should do a mathematical average and end up giving it a solid 4, but that didn’t seem to convey the fact that this was, ultimately, a book that wasn’t for me.

Books about books and stories are, in theory, a great idea, and I see many readers do love them and I have in the past too. But there comes a point where if I feel like I’m being manipulated into this narrative then I get annoyed and stop enjoying this aspect of the book. If this aspect is what constitutes the core of the book, then it goes without saying that I lose interest in the book itself pretty easily.

In truth, I could tell you a bit about the first 20% of the book, where we get to know our protagonist, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, and not much else. It’s not that I lost focus or even that I didn’t enjoy it, because as I stated at the beginning, my listening experience was enjoyable and I even went out of my way to keep listening when I was done with my chores (that I do while listening to audiobooks). It’s just that the book shifts from Stories to our Main Story and yes, there is a point that the book makes, and I feel like I either missed it or it was truly just: “books and stories are nice.”

Well, no shit.

I don’t know, but I truly don’t get what’s so alluring as a person who reads a lot to feel like I’m being lectured about how good stories and books are. I’m not saying there is no place for this book in this world, because there obviously is, but I just don’t like feeling so manipulated into something I’m well aware of. This is obviously my opinion and I know people who read even more than I do and who absolutely adored this.

I did however really like, in the first part, the fact that stories were being talked about in a broader sense than just books. Zachary is a gaming student and he spends some time reflecting on the nature of videogame narratives vs books, and there is a scene where he and a group of students have a discussion about this topic and I thought that was the highlight of the whole book for me. As someone who doesn’t play a lot anymore (because….I don’t have a console or a proper gaming laptop. RIP) but is in love with story-heavy games, it was so refreshing to see videogames that are heavy on plot and narrative being treated as equals to other forms of fiction.

After this first part and after something happens to Zachary, it was all about hearing different stories and trying to piece together the threads of a common narrative, which admittedly would have been easier if one was reading in physical form or in ebook. And as the book progressed, we got to see how Zachary’s own story intertwined with the other ones, and, well, you get the gist of it.

As for the single stories, I found some of them truly beautiful and that’s where Morgenstern’s writing really shone through. However, it was kind of hard to keep track of everything. It’s the kind of thing that would require a reread to really understand fully and maybe you’d find something new every time you reread, but I’m just not going to do that.

One aspect I really did love was the diversity and the fact that this book was so normally and casually gay. The main character is gay, his love interest is nonspecified queer, and there’s two sapphic characters, and there are multiple POC characters including the protagonist. Despite this, I unfortunately didn’t love the romance, which I found too rushed despite being promised a slow burn (they get together late, but the attraction is more of the insta-love type). There also seems to be an age gap and I’m really not fond of that (the MC is 25 I believe but I couldn’t find any info on how old the LI is. nothing problematic, just not my cup of tea).

So, overall, would I recommend this? It really depends on you. If you’ve loved The Night Circus there’s a high chance you’ll love this too. If this doesn’t seem very appealing to you for the reasons I myself didn’t give it a higher rating, maybe read a few more reviews to make up your mind.

Review: Sovereign Sacrifice (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #4) by Elise Kova

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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Vi was supposed to be the perfect crown princess. Then, she abandoned her throne.
Vi was supposed to save the world as its Champion. Then, the world she loved vanished.

Now, all she knows is that she has deadly magic and brutal cunning and she’s ready to settle some scores.

Old loves and new allies tell her to play it safe. But Vi is done with caution. She has a chance to right ancient wrongs and this princess-turned-warrior isn’t turning back.

She’s ready to bring an end to the vortex of death the world is trapped in.

The magic, romance, and epic adventure continue in book four of Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles.

Out now!

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★★★.5✩

I went into this book having some contrasting feelings about Failed Future‘s ending but I have to say I actually really liked how things worked out here.

Because this is the fourth book in a series and basically the very premise of this installment hangs on a twist that happens in the last few chapters of the previous one, it’s really hard to talk about the plot without giving anything away, so please only keep reading if you’ve finished Failed Future!!!

I freaking love time travel. I don’t always reach for books that have it in them though, because it can be tricky and I feel like many books leave to many questions open and disregard a lot of time travelling rules. I had some of these problems here as well, but I also found it easy to disregard and focus more on the plot and characters.

I was also glad there was less Taavin because I’m still not feeling the romance (and let’s be honest, at this point in the series I’m never going to get into it), and I like how the focus was more on the female friendships that Vi was able to make.

Overall, I enjoyed this for the plot and the characters and I can’t wait to see where the next (final??) book is going to take us!

ARC Review: Work For It by Talia Hibbert // the author’s first M/M romance doesn’t disappoint, and nobody is surprised

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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“He’s burning me down to the bone. They’ll find the scar of him on my remains.”

In this village, I’m an outcast: Griffin Everett, the scowling giant who prefers plants to people. Then I meet Keynes, a stranger from the city who’s everything I’m not: sharp-tongued, sophisticated, beautiful. Free. For a few precious moments in a dark alleyway, he’s also mine, hot and sweet under the stars… until he crushes me like dirt beneath his designer boot.

When the prettiest man I’ve ever hated shows up at my job the next day, I’m not sure if I want to strangle him or drag him into bed. Actually—I think I want both. But Keynes isn’t here for the likes of me: he makes that painfully clear. With everyone else at work, he’s all gorgeous, glittering charm—but when I get too close, he turns vicious.

And yet, I can’t stay away. Because there’s something about this ice king that sets me on fire, a secret vulnerability that makes my chest ache. I’ll do whatever it takes to sneak past his walls and see the real man again.

The last thing I expect is for that man to ruin me.

Work for It is 80,000 words of hot, angst-filled, M/M romance featuring a cynical city boy, a gruff, soft-hearted farmer, and a guaranteed happy-ever-after. No cheating, no cliff-hangers, just love. (Eventually.)

Release date: September 3rd

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★★★★

Talia Hibbert quickly became one of my go-to romance authors for M/F romance last year, so I was very curious to see her write her first M/M romance. I had this feeling of calm about it that only comes with trusting an author without fear that your expectations will be disappointed, and in fact they weren’t.

The first thing that I noticed is how unique each main character is. Talia Hibbert doesn’t shy away from taking some risks in her choice of characters either, which here was especially evident in Griffin, a queer gentle giant that most people would at first glance describe as, frankly, a little ugly. Seeing how not only Olu’s first impression of him changes, but also how Griffin eventually finds himself good looking, was one of the highlights of the novel for me (among so, so many).

I’m so impressed by how many things were packed into this book. There’s class difference (handled, in my opinion, so well), small village culture, various aspects of mental health, friendship and family, and of course the romance itself, which I loved and I don’t really want to spoil for anyone. Despite some of these themes being a little on the heavy side, this is mostly a light-hearted and steamy romance that can be read very quickly.

As it happened with the other two novels I read from the author, the “drama moment” was a little overdramatic for my tastes, but even if there was miscommunication it was very understandable and not too frustrating, because you could see where the characters were coming from. It was by the end very satisfying and it reminded me that I need to read the first two books in this series (whose characters make cameos here — but the book stands perfectly on its own too).

TWs (taken from the author’s review): depression, anxiety, references to past sexual trauma and forced outing, references to a parent who died by suicide

ARC Mini-Review: The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin & Noah Hayes // F/F basketball comic? F/F basketball comic!

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

From Carly Usdin (Heavy Vinyl) and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer, Goldie Vance) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.

Release date: September 3rd

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★★★★✩

This was a nice comic about a newly formed and diverse basketball team with a cute developing f/f romance. I really like the art and it made the story easy and relaxing to follow. There’s also not a lot of basketball talk and the focus is more on the characters and friendships, at least so far, which I personally really liked (confession: I kind of…don’t like basketball lmao).

If I have the chance I’m going to read the next volume whenever it comes out and if you like light-hearted queer comics that display a variety of genders, races and sexualities (and if you like sport comics) this is definitely something you need to check out!

ARC Review: The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore // or: sometimes a family can be an assassin, her girlfriend, an annoying magical nerd and three dead camels

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Second in K. A. Doore’s high fantasy adventure series the Chronicles of Ghadid, a determined assassin travels to the heart of the Empire in pursuit of a powerful mark, for fans of Robin Hobb, Sarah J. Maas, and S. A. Chakraborty

Thana has a huge reputation to live up to as daughter of the Serpent, who rules over Ghadid’s secret clan of assassins. Opportunity to prove herself arrives when Thana accepts her first contract on Heru, a dangerous foreign diplomat with the ability to bind a person’s soul under his control.

She may be in over her head, especially when Heru is targeted by a rival sorcerer who sends hordes of the undead to attack them both. When Heru flees, Thana has no choice than to pursue him across the sands to the Empire that intends to capture Ghadid inside its iron grip.

A stranger in a strange city, Thana’s only ally is Mo, a healer who may be too noble for her own good. Meanwhile, otherworldly and political dangers lurk around every corner, and even more sinister plans are uncovered which could lead to worldwide devastation. Can Thana rise to the challenge—even if it means facing off against an ancient evil?

Release date: November 12th

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★★★.75✩

This book is the second in The Chronicles of Ghadid series and while it follows different main characters than The Perfect Assassin, you shouldn’t jump directly into this one if you haven’t read that first, because you will miss important information and context that makes this world so interesting.

And speaking of the world, after reading TPA I knew I loved it, but this second book solidified my appreciation for it (and it made me realize that it’s perfectly possible to get attached to a fictional city, and oh how I am attached to Ghadid).

While TPA was more focused on the city, giving a cozy introductions to the world and its rules, The Impossible Contract expands our horizon and shows us what’s beyond Ghadid, bringing us to the sands below and to the Empire’s capital. I loved seeing the different rules and customs, I loved the different stakes that this book’s characters faced, and the fact that magic played a much bigger role than in book one. It’s also simultaneously rather darker than TPA and funnier, and a little more hopeful. Also, camels. 🐪

TIC follows Thana, Amastan’s cousin, who has a contract to kill Heru, the Empress’s en-marabi (sort of a necromancer) and a man whose work many people consider blasphemous. When she doesn’t succeed on her first try, she finds that there’s so much more going on, and the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined. Also it doesn’t hurt that her healer is really cute. What follows is a rather action-packed adventure among zombies, guuls, sand, magic, sand, and more sand. And have I mentioned camels? 🐪

Thana, Mo and Heru are one of the best and most fun travelling trio I’ve ever met in fiction. Heru is exactly the type of character I can’t help falling in love with, with his deadpan, accidental humor. He’s a first class nerd, a Ravenclaw who does everything he does for the sake of expanding the horizons of knowledge. Someone please keep him away from camels.

Thana is a wonderful MC. She wants to prove herself not just as the daughter of a famous assassin, she wants to built her own name and to do so she ends up having to cross the desert with unlikely allies. My heart ached for and with her more than once, and I just wanted her to get her happy ending.

Mo is the other side of the nerd coin, she and Heru have very different principles but rely on similar strengths. Usually it’s the MC that has to see their beliefs challenged during their character arc, but here Mo takes on that role and it works so well. I love her (and so does Thana).

I’m sure I could say much more (and come up with more camel jokes), but I’ll finish by saying that this was such a joyful experience for me, and this series is so much fun to read and to talk about with my friends who’ve also read it. Even though I’ve already read the ARC I think I will listen to the audiobook when it comes out because that’s how I read TPA and it was so nice.

So, if you’re looking for a well-crafted world, a cute f/f romance set in a scary desert, well-rounded characters and an adventure that’s above all fun, definitely get your hands on this book. And don’t forget to read The Perfect Assassinfirst for soft gay ace assassins and murder mysteries.

TWs: blood, gore, blood magic, violence, slavery, vomiting, injury, magical healing, animal deaths, eye horror, minor character deaths, zombies, mind control

ARC Review: Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé // or: if you’re looking for hope, you’re in the wrong place

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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The Blair Witch Project meets Imaginary Girls in this story of codependent sisterhood, the struggle to claim one’s own space, and the power of secrets

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. Moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming she’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

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★★★✩✩

This was my first book by Amelinda Bérubé, so I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t read much horror anymore and I haven’t read a lot of YA horror at all, so I feel like I had contrasting expectations from the end of this book, and it’s hard to say whether they’ve been met or not. But let’s start with the rest of the book before I talk about the ending.

I would describe this as Sadie meets Never-Contented Things(and those are both novels I loved). The quest of the missing sister, the uncaring parents and the overall failure of adults to be there for teens paired well with the creepy forest atmosphere, and it was at times almost terrifying. If I were someone who rates different points of a book to do a mathematical avg, I would definitely be giving the atmosphere a solid five stars.

I have a harder time judging the characters. My first instinct is to mark them as stereotypes, but that’s not exactly right. They’re more archetypes of teens, and a lot of them are terrible (more on this later). If I were to say something about any of them, is how the love interest is a soft boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and since the stereotypical YA love interest is the asshole, brooding type, I more than appreciate this. Whether this book was kind to him, or to any of its character for that matter, is something I doubt, and I’ll let everyone draw their own conclusions.

While I enjoyed most of this book and it was definitely going to be at least a full 4 stars, the ending left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s not, per se, a bad ending. I feel like it’s not the plot itself that let me down, but the message that was sent, or at least the message I understood. And here comes what I mentioned before: horror doesn’t have to be hopeful, but YA does. What does, then, YA horror need to achieve? Is it okay to stick to the genre’s message without taking into account the target group? Is it okay to do the opposite? Is there a way to achieve both?

I feel like strictly speaking, the ending tried to be both hopeful and hopeless, which probably wasn’t easy to do. But inevitably when there’s both hope and not-hope, the negative will always override the positive, like mixing a lot of light paint and a little dark one will inevitably result in a dark color. And here there was so much more dark than light. When I say dark I don’t mean tragic. Perhaps that’s what throws me off, it’s so dark because it isn’t tragic. Tragic we can handle, we can get closure. Here, I’m not sure we get closure of any kind. In a way, this is where this book diverges from my Sadie comparison: Sadie is tragic and it has very good reasons to be that. This book had every chance to be hopeful or at the very least tragic, but it wasn’t either.

Terrible teens exist, and there are often reasons why they’re terrible, and all of us are or were terrible as teens in our own way. And we need to see that we’re not alone. But to see that and accept that in a narrative that’s so, ultimately, hopeless, without seeing a sliver of light other than “you’re not alone in being terrible, you’re surrounded by other terrible people too”, is frankly a little disappointing and defies at least part of this novel’s genre. That’s, at least, how I felt about it.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book. If you need hope in your life, if you can handle a dark story as long as there’s light at the end, I would say maybe avoid it. If you don’t care and want to read a creepy novel, give it a try.

TWs: animal deaths, violence, missing girl, blood, gore