The Demon of Darkling Reach by P.J. Fox

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Demon of Darkling Reach by P.J. Fox
Length: 426 Pages
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

“Normal is an illusion. Moral is an illusion. Whatever else happens, never lose sight of those two facts. What’s normal to the spider, is after all, chaos to the fly.”

Trigger Warnings in this book for Cannibalism, Homophobia, and Graphic Descriptions of Violence

I picked up "The Demon of Darkling Reach" by P.J. Fox on something of a whim. It had been on my to-reads for quite a while and ever so often I would glimpse the gorgeous covers of the series and been drawn to them. I've recently decided to read more romances and I thought this one, with a dark, mysterious hero who may or may not be human, and a richly drawn fantasy world, would do just the trick.

We follow Isla Cavendish, eldest daughter of the Earl of Enzie, Peregrine Cavendish, a bookish and shy girl of only nineteen who runs their estate, Enzie Moor, all on her own. She doesn't trust her father to do it, and her older half-brother, Hart, is more lothario than intellect, and her younger sister Rowena is keen on romance and beauty and the man she's been in love with since a child, Rudolph. We are thrown right into this story with the opening scene: a dinner in honor of their guest, the Duke of Darkling Reach, Tristan Mountbatten, the man who has come for Rowena's hand. Rumors abound about Tristan - he lives in the barbarous North and has had a plethora of young wives who all inevitably die or vanish. On the outside he is handsome, but pale with black eyes and strangest of all...claws. Isla is dumbfounded that everyone acts as if he is nothing but normal, though being the King's brother does come with its advantages. Rowena is sick, heartbroken, over the engagement, and Isla does what she thinks is only right. She offers her hand to Tristan instead.

At this we are thrust into a whirlwind of dark romance, necromancy, and yes, demons. Tristan is exactly what they claim him to be - The Demon of Darkling Reach.

There were so many things I loved about this book. I really like romances that are more than just romance, and this book is just that, with smatterings of information about how cheese was made, clothing dyed, and even how the poorer Aristocracy would water down their wine as much as they could stomach. This book is extremely slow burn, and at times it was too much. It could have definitely benefitted from some more editing, and I caught quite a few typos, as well.

My biggest issues were with Isla's character and the way, in particular, the villainous men were portrayed. Isla claimed early in the book that Rowena was her best friend, yet constantly put Rowena down as stupid and vain, and later when Rowena is proven to not only be smarter than she thought but downright Machiavellian, her barbed words earning her a smack to the face by Tristan, Isla does nothing to defend her. She goes as far as to tell Tristan he should have broken her jaw, and I couldn't make sense of it, having a sister myself. Isla falls too readily into Tristan's arms, and nothing seems to faze her, not even his cannibalism of one of her maids!

The main male villain of this book, Father Justin, is a priest who is seen as a hypocrite for having relations with his young "catamite", while simultaneously condemning it. Along with him there is Isla's stepmother's "pet" eunuch. They are both called effeminate as an insult multiple times, leaving me with a very bad taste in my mouth.

I would suggest checking out this book if you like dark romances, especially fantasy ones, and heroes with little redeeming qualities. I admit I was entranced by Tristan and will probably check out the other books just to learn more about his backstory!

My Most Anticipated Books of 2021

Monday, November 2, 2020

2021 looks to be packed with amazing stories and exciting debuts from new authors. Do you have a list going for your most anticipated reads? Mine is full to bursting but I've taken up the very hard task of narrowing it down to my top 5. Please let me know your choices, and what you think of mine!

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Expected Publication: June 2021

Ava Reid's debut novel, in her own words, enemies-to-lovers plus a dash of rich mythology! I'm so excited to see where this one goes and I love how it's exploring a culture and a place that is rarely utilized in fantasy!

"In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all."

The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
Genres: Fantasy
Expected Publication: February 2021

This book tells the tale of two of my favorite mythological characters, the trickster God Loki and his wife, the "mother of monsters", Angrboda.

"Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age."

The Widow Queen by Elżbieta Cherezińska
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Expected Publication: April 6, 2021

A translation from a popular Polish author about a little known Queen from history.

"The Widow Queen tells the epic story of Świętosława, who is the daughter of a great duke of Poland. To him, Świętosława and her two sisters represent three chances of an alliance; three marriages on which to build his empire. But the powerful and headstrong Świętosława seeks a throne of her own, with no husband by her side, and she refuses to be simply a pawn in her father’s plans."

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Expected Publication: May 6th, 2021

I've yet to read Casey McQuiston's breakout debut "Red, White & Royal Blue", but I'm so excited for her to take on a F/F romance! When I very first read the summary, pitched as a Sapphic "Kate and Leopold", I just knew I had to read it.

"A 23-year-old realises her subway crush is displaced from 1970's Brooklyn, and she must do everything in her power to help her - and try not to fall in love with the girl lost in time - before it's too late . . ."

Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long
Genres: Fantasy
Expected Publication: January 19th, 2021

I feel like its been a long time coming for some Viking inspired fantasy (in fact I'm writing one...)! I can't wait to pick this one up.

"Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy's bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess's command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa - the last Eangi - must find the traveller, atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess' favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa's trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.

Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they're about to wake up."

Honorable Mentions:

The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis (Historical Fiction, Fantasy)
The Lost Village by Camilla Stein (Mystery, Horror)
A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein (Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+)
The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell (Historical Fiction, Gothic)
Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley (YA Fantasy, LGBTQ+)
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala (Cozy Mystery)
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (YA Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+)
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (Historical Fiction)
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (Contemporary Romance)
The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur (YA Historical Mystery)

Book Review: The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Long time, no see! Sorry guys, but I finished The Wicked King, the second book in the phenomenal Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, and sort of took a break afterwards. I would have reviewed it here, however I had already read the first book last year and way before I started this blog and I just didn't want reviews for two out of three books in a series! But I am back with a bright new shiny review.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn
Length: 560 Pages
Genres: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

"They called her die Jagerin-the Huntress. She was the young mistress of an SS officer in German-occupied Poland, the hostess of grand parties on the lake, a keen shot. Perhaps she was the rusalka the lake was named for-a lethal, malevolent water spirit."

Trigger Warnings in this book for murder, Antisemitism, and Graphic Descriptions of Violence

I'm conflicted over this book! It took me at least two months to read it - I was at turns bored and riveted, one minute absorbed in the history and characters, the next wishing they would all just hurry up! I'm very glad I read it because in this book resides one of the best female characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and when I finished my heart ached that I wouldn't be able to spend any more time in her head.

The Huntress is told from three different POVs, that of Ian Graham, a British war correspondent turned Nazi hunter, Nina Markova, a woman raised on the shores of Lake Baikal who became a Night Witch for the Red Army, and Jordan McBride, a young girl from Boston with dreams of becoming a photographer. All are united by the same thing, or should I say, person: die Jagerin, the Huntress.

Ian has hunted her for years but she has vanished without a trace. She has been accused of feeding, clothing, and then killing Polish children on the run. Amongst her many victims was also Sebastian Graham, Ian's little brother, an escapee from a POW camp, and a close call where she almost killed Nina Markova. Not long after, Nina emerges from the woods nearly starved and sick with pneumonia after surviving in the wild for months, and is taken in at a Polish hospital. Ian is there and they make a hasty bargain that ends with them married and Nina on her way to England while Ian stays behind. When the book picks up they haven't seen each other in years but they still share one common goal: take down die Jagerin.

Through flashbacks we learn of Nina's backstory and all of these chapters were the most interesting for me. I loved learning about the Night Witches, a group of all female bombers, and I really enjoyed the sense of camaraderie amongst the women, the "sestry". I loved the romance between Nina and Yelena, and was incredibly heartbroken at the way it turned out, almost as heartbroken as Nina herself! Their connection was so real and wonderful that it left her later romance with Ian feeling a bit shallow, though I know Ian and Nina may have shared more similarities. Nina is superb, a foul-mouthed, razor-wielding woman with a love of Georgette Heyer romances. I could have read about her forever.

Jordan McBride is an all American girl with a boyfriend who loves baseball, a dad who works in an antique shop, and aspirations to become a photographer. Her father, who has been widowed for many years, meets a woman, a widow herself and a refugee from Germany who is, you guessed it, die Jagerin, now going under the name Anneliese Weber. With her is a little girl named Ruth who she claims is her daughter. Jordan is suspicious of her, and things only get worse when Anneliese hides a Iron Cross in her wedding bouquet.

This book suffers from what a lot of dual POV books do, one amazing POV bogged down by two less interesting ones. Ian's was the least interesting, but it was easy to get through because he had Nina in them, and his friend, Tony, who later becomes important to Jordan's story. I liked Jordan but the best parts of her chapters was getting a glimpse into the mind of the woman that Nina and the others were hunting. I would have loved to learn more about die Jagerin - I wanted to know her backstory, how she became the monster she was, how she could kill so easily and with so little remorse. In the end we know very little of her motives, and I found that a bit disappointing. The historical detail was amazing, Quinn has a way of weaving it into the narrative that makes it exciting and moving. I loved the author's note at the back explaining just how real many of these events were and the people they were based on. I wish that I could have loved this just a bit more and that's the reason I'm giving it 3 stars instead of 4.

If you're obsessed with WWII like I am I highly suggest you check it out, and please, let me know your opinion!

Book Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Length: 409 Pages
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Horror
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

"Every house has a story.
Ours is a ghost story.
It's also a lie.
And now that yet another person has died within these walls, it's finally time to tell the truth."

This is my first book by Riley Sager and I will definitely be checking out more (I've got my eye on "Lock Every Door"...)! From the beginning it was everything I wanted in a ghost story - I only wish the ending would have been as spectacular.

Home Before Dark is told in a book-within-a-book fashion and we are treated to the point of view of Maggie Holt and also chapters of the infamous "Book", a supposedly true account of her parents' stay at Baneberry Hall. Maggie doesn't remember hardly anything from the time they lived there, she was only five after all, but it has haunted her whole life. After twenty days in Baneberry Hall her parents up and left, leaving behind their clothing, her toys, everything. They claim it was ghosts, Maggie thinks otherwise.

When Maggie's father dies she finds out something shocking. They never sold Baneberry Hall, and now she's the owner. She returns claiming she wants to fix it up and sell it, but really she wants the truth. And not even the promise she made to her father, where he tells her never to return to Baneberry Hall, that is isn't safe for her, will stop her.

This book reminded me so much of Netflix's "The Haunting of Hill House" and "The Amityville Horror", making it a sure winner, and I thought all the encounters with the ghosts, Mrs. Pennyface and Mr. Shadow, were spine-tingling! It even took me quite some time to come up with theories as to what exactly happened at Baneberry Hall. I adored the history of the house and I ate up every detail we got about the "unfortunate accidents" that plagued the house. Unfortunately, for me, the ending was unsatisfactory, even cliche, and knocked this book down from a solid five stars to four. I think this would have even been better as a regular old ghost story.

Book Review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Friday, August 21, 2020

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Length: 310 Pages
Genres: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

"'It completely fetishizes black people in a terrible way,' Tamra went on. 'It makes it seem like we're all the same, as if we can't contain multitudes of personalities and traits and differences. And people like that think that it says something good about them, that they're so brave and unique that they would even dare to date black women. Like they're some kind of martyr.'"

My interest was first piqued by this book when it was the center of the controversy involving this years Reading Rush, and it when it became this month's pick for the Hotties Book Club I knew I had to read it. I really struggled with my rating, simply because I didn't fly through this book, I didn't love it as much as some of my other four or five star reads, but I came to the conclusion that this book is definitely (at the least!) a four star read.

Told in in two different POVs, we follow Emira, called "Mira", Tucker, a 25 year old woman who is a babysitter to the talkative, and sometimes difficult, Briar Chamberlain, and Briar's mother, Alix. Alix is an influencer who talks at graduations, panels, and even has a coveted role in the Clinton campaign and who is the definition of a privileged white woman. She rarely talks to Emira, or Briar in fact, until one fateful night when Emira is forced to take Briar to a grocery store and is accused of kidnapping her. After that is a succession of cringe-inducing attempts to make some sort of amends with Emira, who would just rather forget the whole thing occurred. To complicate things further, a man took a video of the whole incident. This man just happens to be Kelley Copeland, Alix's Highschool-Ex who she credits with ruining her senior year.

Kiley Reid has an effervescent and easy writing style that hides within it a deeply meaningful and moving story. I related to Emira very much in her struggles to find her place as an adult while watching her friends succeed at both jobs and relationships. She's 25 and it seems like the clock is ever looming the background, something I feel keenly at 24. I loved Emira and her relationship with Briar, and I admit while Reid did make it easy to, at times, sympathize with both Alix and Kelley, I ultimately felt they were both in the wrong. I wish that Emira could have had a better ending, but it was realistic and fitting.

This novel has experiences in it that I will never know - the threat of being arrested or simply seen as a liar just because of the color of my skin, the fear that a boyfriend might be fetishizing you for being a certain ethnicity - and I think it is something that everyone like me, white, cis, privileged in that regard, needs to read.

What I'm Writing II

Friday, August 14, 2020

Great Windmill Street, Soho, London, 1930

It's been awhile since I posted a bit of my writing, so here's a little snippet from the scene I'm currently working on.

Books I Read for ReadEHthon!

Monday, August 10, 2020

I've always wanted to visit Canada. The natural beauty, the promise of snow, was everything a Texas girl could dream of. So of course I wanted to participate in the ReadEHthon, hosted by some great Canadians and one of my favorite booktubers, Kayla at BooksandLala. To go along with my reading I decided I would make a classic Canadian treat - the matrimonial cake! Sandwiched between two layers of slightly salty and sweet crumble is chewy date paste. I followed this recipe from Lois at Polish Housewife, but made it Gluten-Free by using Red Mill's 1-to-1 Baking Flour and Gluten-Free Quick Oats instead! It turned out wonderfully. Without further ado, here are my reviews.

I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl's Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom
Length: 150 Pages
Genres: Essays, Nonfiction and Poetry
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book with Nature on the Cover

"I want to live in love and believe in love. If I have to die, I want to die in love. This whole world might be coming to its end, or it might be in the midst of an enormous and terrifying change that leads to something better. Either way, I want to through it in love with the people I love."

Trigger Warnings in this book for Suicide, Depression, Mental and Physical Abuse, Death, and Rape

This book by Kai Cheng Thom put so many of my own thoughts into words in a much more eloquent and moving way than I ever could. This slim volume tackles everything from Cancel Culture to the #MeToo movement to Rape and Childhood Abuse all interspersed with her fiery poetry and shocking wit. Kai Cheng Thom's intelligence jumps off the pages along with her wry sense of humor, which made this hard to put down, despite the hefty topics it covered. My favorite parts were "Chronicle of a Rape Foretold" in which she discusses the supposed safety within the LGBTQ community and the abuse she endured at the hands of a member of that community and how people, friends and mentors, blindly stood by. Another one was "Melting the Ice Around #MeToo" in which she discusses how a white, cis gay man was accused of rape and how little was done about it versus when a Trans woman of color was called out for emotional manipulation and how she was hounded until she was forced to exile herself from all social media. And yet another one was "A School for Storytellers", which examines what do stories really mean, the impact they have on us, and the responsibilities we have as storytellers.

I think this books of essays is required reading for anyone - Trans, Straight, White, Republican, Democrat or neither - and you certainly don't have to agree with it all. I didn't. But there is still so much to be learned and this is just a small stepping stone, one full of compassion and love, along the way.

Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
Length: 294 Pages
Genres: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book With a Loving Relationship

"Laure blows out the candle and rests her head on her arms. Her dreams are strange in Canada. They are filled with the screams of the forest."

I was really excited to dive into this novel by Suzanne Desrochers simply because I find the subject, and the time period, so fascinating. And I think if you're interested in those things too, then this novel holds merit for you. However, if you're looking for an exhilarating piece of Historical Fiction then I suggest you look elsewhere.

Bride of New France takes up the mantel of telling a fictional account of one of the filles du roi, or "The King's Daughters", French women chosen to sent to Canada in order to be wives to the settlers there. 800 women would be sent to Canada, or "New France" as they called it then, from 1663 to 1673. They had dowries paid for by the King, and chief among their duties was to produce as many children as they were able. We experience all of this through the eyes of the protagonist, Laure, who has lived in the Salpêtrière, a place that housed everything from the mad to infants who lost their mothers in birth, ever since she was taken from her parents as a child. She is one of the Bijoux, girls who make lace and have hopes of one day leaving for a better life. After a letter intended for the King slips into the wrong hands, Laure is chosen as one of the girls to be sent to Canada. While there she learns about true hardship, endures the worst winter of her life, and finds companionship with an Iroquois man named Daskeheh. 

The sights, sounds, food, clothes, and living conditions of the time period were fascinating and obviously lovingly researched, nevertheless, I was let down by this book. When I finished the book and read the acknowledgements in the back I learned that this book started off life as the author's thesis, and it shows. We are told everything - Laure's thoughts, what she does, conversations she has, etc. The entirety of the novel is exposition, and because of that I didn't really connect with any of the characters. Laure's most meaningful relationship was with her friend, Madeleine, and when something tragic happens to her I had already forgotten by the next chapter, it had so little impact on me. I also was put-off by the descriptions and characters of the Indigenous people in the book, even though Daskehah was far and away the most intriguing person in the story. They were painted as noble savages, and the women were decried as seductresses who took the French men from their good French wives. It certainly left a sour note. I wish this could have been better, because it such an interesting subject and one that has very little written about it!

The Body of the Beasts by Audrée Wilhelmy
Length: 192 Pages
Genres: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book by a Canadian Publisher (Arachnide Editions, an Imprint of Anansi Press)

"Let's summon the butcher to skin the creature.
Who said when he saw her, 'There are no words...
This doe's hair is blond, her breast but a girls.'
Then he pulled out his knife and he quartered her."

Trigger Warnings in this book for Incest, Pedophilia and Dubious Consent

I've struggled to rate this, waffling between 2 and 3 stars. The writing was beautiful, lyrical, and it coupled with the story reminded me of one my favorite authors of all time, Angela Carter. This book is a dark little fairytale, a story of a family with branches so criss-crossed they confuse even the members. They live in a lighthouse, Osip and Benedikt-Sevastian, the only remaining children of the Old Woman. Benedikt-Sevastian has a woman, the wild Noé with strange scars and sea-tangled hair. Osip is satisfied at first with just watching them - he's been a voyeur since he was child, starting out with his mother - but then he too wants to have some of  Noé. She births Mie, who can enter the minds of animals, and three others, all boys. Mie tries to understand her mother who sews together animals that only exist in her mind, a bat-winged fawn that represents her daughter, and others. She doesn't speak to anyone, not directly, and her children yearn for her.

Even though I thought the writing was beautiful I didn't enjoy the aspects of incest and pedophilia. Osip with his mother, and Mie who longs for him at age 12. Every part of this book is permeated with sex, some consented to and some not, and it left me feeling disturbed. I don't know if I would recommend this, I can't really even put my feelings on it into words. It was a strange one for me.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
Length: 231 Pages
Genres: Young Adult, SciFi, Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book by an Indigenous Author

"We go to the schools and they leach the dreams from where our ancestors hid them, in the honeycombs of slushy marrow buried in our bones. And us? Well, we join our ancestors, hoping we left enough dreams behind for the next generation to stumble across."

Trigger Warnings for Death, Racism, Mention of Torture and Rape

I originally ordered "Moon of the Crusted Snow" by Waubgeshig Rice for this prompt, on the recommendation of Kayla, but it (much to my chagrin) didn't arrive in time. So I picked up another one of her recommendations - The Marrow Thieves - and I'm so happy I did. It turned out to be my favorite book I read.

In a future North America destroyed by global warming, white people have lost the ability to dream. Madness follows, until they find a shocking solution in Indigenous people. They have held onto that ability to dream and now they're being hunted for it. Just like Residential Schools of the past, where they wanted to "kill the Indian in the child", they have set up new "Schools" for one express purpose - to extract marrow.

Francis, "Frenchie" has lost his parents and his older brother but won't give up. Eventually, he finds a place among the found family of Miigwans, a man full of stories and heartbreak. With him is Wab, who has a scar down one side of her face, Chi-Boy who loves Wab, twins Tree and Zheegwon, children Slopper and Riri, Elder Minerva, and later on, the beautiful Rose who Frenchie grows to love. All of these characters were important to me and I cared for them all so much. Along the way we learn of some of their "Coming To" stories, how they got where they are, the horrors they went through to become the people they are now.

This story questions what it takes to become a monster. Are we born that way, with some sort of evil always lurking just under the surface? Or are we forced to become one? I loved this story so much and was so pleased with the ending. It gave me so much hope and made me feel there was hope for the world I'm living in right this very minute.

Reading Rush 2020: Hoopoes, Romance, and Racism

Sunday, August 2, 2020

I decided to participate in my first ever Reading Rush this year and had a lot of fun doing it. I only finished five books unfortunately, but I really hit a moment where I was burnt out on reading! I'm still including my sixth book in this post even though I didn't finish it in the set amount of time.

Another thing I wish to address is the controversies surrounding this year's Reading Rush. The hosts, Ariel and Raeleen first ran across some mixed feelings from the participants when one of the challenges included reading outside which for so many is not a viable option during the Pandemic. They quickly amended it to reading a book outside or a book that has a title relating to outside, or to become creative with it, which I felt was a good compromise. They also had a book club pick that everyone was supposed to read together. Their pick was "Such a Fun Age" by Kiley Reid. They later did a live Q&A where they were going to discuss the book but revealed they hadn't even read it and made fun of the fact that they hadn't. "Such a Fun Age" is the debut novel of Kiley Reid, a black woman, and the novel deals a lot with performative allyship, which was just the icing on top of this unfortunate cake. It all comes across as careless and extremely insensitive, and people are rightly upset with them. For more information I recommend this video from Joel at FictionalFates (he addresses it towards the end of the video) and this video from Myonna at Myonna Reads. They put it much better than I ever could!

For some fun and inclusive book clubs I highly recommend Hotties Book Club, The Crusty Club, and Bibliophiles Book Club!

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Length: 112 Pages
Genres: Fantasy
Rating 5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book on a Different Continent

"One drunken evening, many years on, In-yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her."

So this may be cheating because this book not only takes place on a different continent but actually in a whole other world! This gorgeous novella by Nghi Vo takes place in an Asian inspired fantasy world with fox girls, talking birds, and codes sent through star charts. We follow the cleric Chih and their neixin, a hoopoe named Almost Brilliant, as they travel to Lake Scarlet where the now dead Empress was once exiled by her husband. With her she took many different girls, some of the Emperor's other wives, and one, a servant girl called Rabbit because of her jutting front teeth. Chih is there to learn the truth behind the legend from Rabbit, now elderly and the only person left at Lake Scarlet. This story was told with such poetry that I was entranced by the very first words on the page. 
I loved learning the history of the barbarous Empress from the North, In-yo, and her rise to power using her wits and, sometimes, acts of violence. 

This story was one of the most original fantasy ideas I've read in a long while and can't wait to pick up the next novella in the series. My review really doesn't do it justice. It's a must-read for any fantasy lover! If you would like to learn more about how this novella came to be read this wonderful interview with Nghi Vo!

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian
Length: 200 Pages
Genres: Historical Romance and Historical Mystery
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: A Book with a Cover the Color of My Birthstone

"Secrets were the invisible skeleton of society. Everything depended on the strength of secrets, and on not being to see them; like a skeleton, once the secret was visible to the naked eye, something had gone drastically and irretrievably wrong. That was when people started to die."

Trigger Warnings in this book for scenes featuring PSTD and murderous goings-on

I absolutely adored this novella by Cat Sebastian, who've I've heard of but never read anything by. Hither, Page, follows James Sommers, who was a surgeon during WWII who has now settled into the boring domesticity of country life in Wychcomb St. Mary, and the mysterious Leo Page, a spy charged with finding out the truth behind the death of the local charwoman, Mildred Hoggett. Mildred had the dangerous habit of going through peoples things, and now Leo suspects its cost her her life. This was so comforting and fun, while also doing its best to fully flesh out more serious topics - like James' PTSD. 

The mystery was one that actually kept me guessing to the end, and while I felt things were wrapped up a little too neatly, I understand that this was the type of story where it fit to do so. James and Leo's relationship is a lovely, romantic thing, and I loved the Christmas setting in an English village. I also liked almost all of the supporting characters, and was impressed by how fully-realized they felt despite the short length of the story. I can't wait to pick up the next book in this series!

The Patient by Jasper DeWitt
Length: 224 Pages
Genres: Horror and Thriller
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: A Book That Starts with "The"

"Inside Joe's room, someone was laughing. But it wasn't Joe; it couldn't have been. It didn't sound human at all. Instead, what emerged from that room was a sepulchral, moist, hacking chuckle that sounded like it came from a rotting throat."

Triggers Warnings in this book for child abuse, rape, sexual assault, antisemitism, mental illness, and animal death

I was quite looking forward to this book by debut author Jasper Dewitt, and while it was certainly entertaining (I blazed through it), I found myself a bit disappointed, too. My interest was piqued when I found this book had originally been a story posted to the Reddit Nosleep, a place where people post their scary stories, and this book smacked of it. At about 21% into it I had encountered antisemitic slurs (not very helpfully crossed through like most of the curse words in the book) and child sexual abuse. It felt shocking for simply the sake of being shocking. Similarly, a supposedly intelligent doctor makes an interpretation that is laughably Freudian when this story is supposed to take place sometime in the early 2000s. The depiction of mental illnesses, specifically schizophrenia, was done in such ham-fisted way I was left reeling.

The main character, a young doctor who we only ever learn the first name of - Parker - has experienced mental illness first hand. His mother was schizophrenic and he says that she is the reason he became a doctor in the first place, while also portraying her as some snarling, urine soaked monster. We follow him as he comes to work at CSA, or the Connecticut State Asylum, where he learns of a patient that has made his home there for more than twenty years, one who drives every doctor who tries, and fails, to treat him, to suicide. The monster of the book was so interesting and it reminded me a bit of Pennywise in the way it operated. I was really glued to the page during the interactions between Parker and the patient, Joe, who is in my opinion the most intriguing character of the story. DeWitt is really quite good at giving us descriptions that sink us right into the scene. I loved how he made use of not only sight, but sound and smell, which I think too often authors neglect. It's obvious that he can write an excellent story, I just wish he hadn't relied on tired and harmful tropes to do so.

Budding Romance by Lara Kinsey
Length: 36 Pages
Genres: Historical Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book Outside

"Something about the spindly Miss Smythe-Barney reminded Nicolette of a delicate plant. Something that resisted cultivation, like wild violet or back raspberries. They needed just the right soil, just the right mix of light and shade, just the right amount of attention to make them thrive."

I purposely chose something quite short for my pick to read outside because I live in Texas and on the day I chose it was 93 out (not too bad, really) and while the tree I read under provided my ghostly skin the coverage it needed, it also provided lots of ants. Budding Romance by Lara Kinsey is a sweet little story featuring Dorothea Smythe-Barney, a former governess who has recently bought a chateau to make into a girls' school in France. Along with the chateau comes the unruly, overgrown gardens that need a strong hand to shape them into something beautiful. So she hires Nicolette Laurent, an in-demand gardener with a rakish personality. I deeply enjoyed their flirtations (especially when Nicolette buys Dorothea four chicks!) and thought it was really beautiful. Another thing I enjoyed was the delicious descriptions of food and all the talk of flowers. I'm giving this a 3.5 only because I wished they had been a little more fleshed out, and that the writing, while lovely, consisted mostly of telling vs. showing. In such a short book I understand it's hard to really convey the love between two people, and I think it would have benefited from being a bit longer. 

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Length: 333 Pages
Genres: Mystery
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book that Inspired a Movie You've Already Seen

"Mrs. Allerton shivered. 'Love can be a very frightening thing.'
'That is why most great love stories are tragedies.'"

Trigger Warnings in this book for racism and murderous goings-on

I'm a big fan of both of the Poirot and Miss Marple TV shows so I've been long needing to actually read one of Christie's novels! I chose Death on the Nile and enjoyed it very much and even though I had seen the 2004 adaption of it I still found myself shocked by the ending. I think that this book is a fine example of not only the original mystery novel, which is such a popular genre today, but also of the style of that time - the often dry descriptions and straight to the point dialogue, which I understand is not everyone's cup of tea. I personally found it refreshing and intriguing to see how much styles have changed. 

Death on the Nile's mystery is a clever one - that of the murder of heiress Linnet Ridgeway on a steamboat in Egypt. She is recently married to Simon Doyle, a man who was once the fiance of her good friend Jacqueline de Bellefort who has now taken to stalking the couple. Written in her blood is a damning piece of evidence, a J. As with any Christie there are a plethora of characters each with a mystery of their own - from the Italian Archaeologist Richetti to Linnet's American trustee Andrew Pennington to the lovely, but cowed, Cornelia Robson. My favorite character from the outset was Jacqueline de Bellefort - she is complex, sympathetic, and dangerous. My other favorite was the serious Rosalie Otterbourne, who secretly hid a tender heart. The only thing keeping this novel from easily being a four or five star read was the racism.

I know the common excuses - "it was published in 1937, after all" - but Christie has a history of racism against about anyone who wasn't white and English. The black characters are treated as inhuman, something to laughed or marveled at. One character even ascertains that Asian people are uneducated so they take death better than the Englishman. I could not, in good conscious, give this book a four or a five star rating because of this.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Length: 388 Pages
Genres: Mystery and Thriller
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book in a Genre You Want to Read More Of

"Hal straightened, trying to make out the letters. They were tucked behind one of the bars and hard to see, but as she tilted her head to one side, suddenly the morning sunlight caught the marks at just the right ankle, illuminating them so that they glowed as if written in white fire.
HELP ME, it said, in tiny crabbed letters."

Trigger Warnings in this book for mental and physical abuse, violence and murderous goings-on

My sister has been trying to get me to read this book forever and so I decided to make it one of my reads for the Reading Rush and how happy I am that I did! The main character, Hal, is a new favorite of mine. I loved her strength and determination, her unwillingness to give up even when it was what she wanted most. 

Harriet "Hal" Westaway is down-on-her-luck. Reading tarot cards on the Brighton Pier hasn't made her much money and now a man who lent her some money is looking to collect - in blood or money. She's desperate to keep her little attic flat, the one she shared with her mother who tragically died in a hit and run. So it seems like fate when she receives a letter claiming that she may be the recipient of the fortune of a woman named Hester Westaway. But it can't be right, this Margarida Westaway cannot be her mother because her grandmother was not Hester, but Joan. A plan forms in her mind, and a solution to her problem. She'll pretend to be the right Harriet Westaway. There she meets three sons, each tormented by the memory of their childhood at the mysterious Cornish estate, Trepassen House, and at the hands of their cruel mother. And even more concerning is the fact that the woman who is supposed to be her mother has been missing for more than twenty years.

This mystery was perfect for me. I adored the Cornish setting, and the Gothic old Trepassen House complete with bitter old housekeeper Mrs. Warren, who follows the same vein of the classic Mrs. Danvers. I didn't put the pieces together until they were spelled out for me on the page and I loved that. I actually sat up in the bed and gasped! The only thing that made me a little wary was the depiction of the gay relationship in the book, but it was so insignificant that I was able to ignore it. Please pick this up if you need a dark book perfect for a stormy night-in.

A Bit of Agatha Christie...

Book Review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Monday, July 20, 2020

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Length: 369 Pages
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

"He loved Chloe. He loved Chloe like a blank canvas and a finished piece and all the exhilarating, painful, stop-and-start moments in between. He loved Chloe like tearing through the on his Triumph, feeling in motion when he couldn't feel alive inside. He loved Chloe like every she shot was a kiss and every kiss she gave him was a breadcrumb-sized piece of her heart in his hands."

Trigger Warnings in this book for mentions of mental and physical abuse

I'm on a real roll with my book choices lately! This is the second book I've rated five stars this year (I've had a rough year and I've only read four books) and also one of the most enjoyable romances I've ever read. 

Chloe Brown is determined to get a life after a near death experience brings her life into stark relief. Chloe has Fibromyalgia and along with that comes chronic pain and ritualistic remedies and lots of avoidance of things that could exacerbate her illness.Since she's been diagnosed she has lost not only many friends, but her ex-fiance, who didn't believe in her pain. She's created a safe cocoon of a life, but a boring one, too. So she does what any meticulous, detail orientated mind would - she makes a list of things that will give her a "life" - from riding on the back of a motorcycle to a drunken night out. 
Her first objective that she completes is to move out of her parents lush home, which she shares with youngest sister Eve and her glamorous "Gigi", Garnet. Chloe's new apartment and freedom is the first step in the right direction, but there's one annoying hitch in her plan. 

The superintendent of the building, Redford "Red" Morgan. Tall, red-headed, and tattooed, Red is everything that Chloe isn't. But once they get past their differences, all with the help of a fat gray cat named Smudge who helpfully gets stuck in a tree, Chloe and Red click. Little does Red know, he has already helped Chloe cross one item off her list: do something bad. She spies on him as he paints in his apartment, shirtless, and with a vigor that sets her on fire.

I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun reading a romance! Chloe is a perfect heroine, prickly and sarcastic, strong-willed and smart, and Red loves her for it. Red was absolutely swoon-worthy with his love of art and his dream to visit MoMA, his love for his mother and his gentleness. It was a breath of fresh air to see how much he respected her boundaries, always asking before making the next move and always seeking her consent and comfort. Red has problems of his own, all results of an abusive previous relationship, and when he's triggered by something that Chloe does they both react in the way of people that have been hurt before. But it doesn't take them long to talk things out like adults, and the way he left her little gifts of things she loved - sea salt chocolates, hair-scrunchies that won't snag her hair, and a plush toy that looks like Smudge, brought a smile to my face. The sex scenes were sensual and hot and full of the love between these two people, which made it all the better.

I cannot wait to pick up the next book that Talia has written which is about one of Chloe's sister, the bisexual uber-smart Dani! I loved the way she handled Chloe's illness (my mother has chronic pain as well) and Red toxic relationships and the steps he took to better himself. She's gone on my must-read authors list, for when I need something full of joy and as warm as a pair of fuzzy socks!

Book Review: The Animals at Lockwood Manor

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Length: 352 Pages
Genres: Historical Mystery, Historical Fiction, Gothic, LGBTQ
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

"In my dreams, there was a beast hunting me through the corridors on padded feet as I fled, dressing gown flapping behind me like the useless wings of a flightless bird. The beast was larger than a hound, too large for any mammal without hooves native to this island, and sometimes it was not a beast at all, but a woman with the claws of an animal and crazed eyes smeared with soot, who crawled out of a mirror dressed in white and trailed pale petals in her wake."

Trigger Warnings in this book for child abuse, sexual assault, and rape

I have been waiting to read this novel since I very first saw it, and let me tell you it did not let me down. This book is my favorite I've read of 2020 so far, and I think you should read it, too. It is everything I've dreamed of in a book for so long - ghosts, old mysterious estates with even more mysterious rooms, and most importantly, a slow and rewarding romance between the heroine and the troubled daughter of the house!

Hetty Cartwright is a loner, her dearest friends the taxidermied animals that she looks after at the Natural History Museum of London. But with the coming of WWII and the threat of bombs, they are no longer safe, so she follows them to their new home in the countryside at Lockwood Manor. The house is foreboding, the owner, Lord Lockwood, even more so, but beneath the dark shadows and secrets there is a glimmer of light - Lucy Lockwood, troubled as much as she is beautiful and kind. She is plagued by terrible nightmares, of a dead leveret from her childhood, a monster that chases her through the many rooms of the house, and most importantly, a blue room that doesn't exist. 
We get an insight into Lucy through chapters told by her and of her fear that she is just as mad as her mother was. This is not the first time Lucy has been unwell, but all of it dragged back up by the shocking death of her mother, who was plagued by ghosts both figurative and imagined, and her grandmother. 

Hetty is plagued by her own problems, both internal and external. I related to the character of Hetty more than I've ever related to another, and I felt every pain, joy, and shock as if it were my own.

I'm going through one of my hardest points in my life right now, and I struggle every day with my OCD, anxiety, and depression. Many of her fears were the same as mine: her fear of being alone but also seeking the familiar comfort of it, her feeling of being unworthy of Lucy or of love in general. I understood her loneliness as a woman who loved another woman in wartime Britain as much as I understand my own as a bisexual woman from a small Texas city. But unlike Hetty, who has no one in her life, her mother a cruel and distant memory, I do have family, who I love deeply and who support me. I was so sorry for her.

To add to her anxieties, some of the animals start going missing, the first victim the jaguar. And then a display of old hummingbirds, and some ivory. Hetty keeps feeling as if the animals have been rearranged in the room but can't be sure - is she imagining it, or is something more nefarious going on? As Hetty and Lucy grow closer, Lucy's problems come to the forefront. She is scared to leave Lockwood, but scared to stay, and Hetty is lost on how to help.

The end of this book was sweeter than I could have hoped for and made my heart ache, and did something else very important - it made me realize that we're all strange and sad in our own ways, but we all can find someone to be strange and sad with.

Jane Healey can write, and write well. I loved reading this book and was jealous as many times as I was delighted by her prose. She has secured herself a firm spot on my must-read list. The hardcover is so gorgeous I'm thinking about buying it, though I rarely buy physical copies any more!

What I'm Writing

Sunday, June 28, 2020

I thought I would take time to make a post about what I'm working on in my writing life. Currently I am writing a novel that I've nicknamed "Scarab". It's set in Britain in 1930 and follows Imogen Claypoole, a socialite turned mystery author under her pen name "I.E. Abercorn", as she is asked to solve a mystery by a friend-of-a-friend, the Hon. Eglantine Fox. Eglantine's family home, an old estate in Devon called Blackbryer, has been broken into and one of her father's treasures has been stolen, a priceless scarab from his adventures in Egypt. Soon, things take a darker turn when a stranger is killed after asking about the Fox family.

I've tried my hand at many things, from YA to Fantasy to plain Historical Fiction, but never Historical Mystery. I like to think of this novel as Miss Marple but with some lesbian romance thrown in! It's a challenge, but one I'm deeply enjoying. I've been thinking of making a few little posts with some excerpts of my writing every week, just for fun. Here is today's snippet: