I can’t believe it took me so long to decide to read this. But I always say I think some books find you at the right time. I needed this escape. I love books where it starts in our modern day world, and the fantasy slowly envelopes you, rather than the high fantasy genre that takes you into a new place completely.
“How are you feeling? Zachary asks. “Like I’m losing my mind but in a slow, achingly beautiful sort of way.”
I absolutely LOVED The Starless Sea. The writing style seems to divide opinion, but I think in this case its done very well and fits the story. Being mostly done in the present tense and being very descriptive suits the book and I felt the story was a bit of nod towards the choose – your – own adventure style games and novels. The main character, Zachary is a bookworm and a gaming nerd so it goes with his personality and story. The book is packed full of symbols and so many metaphors. But I felt like it knew this and it plays with you and doesn’t take itself too seriously. What is it about? Well plenty of other reviews try to explain that but I think this quote helps – ““We’re here to wander through other people’s stories, searching for our own.”
The stories within the stories were magical. I just LOVE books about books, and stories about stories. I felt like The Starless Sea is meant to be about storytelling, so I got comfortable with the back and forth between the short stories that separate the main chapters. Maybe this is not supposed to be a linear book?
“This is a rabbit hole. Do you want to know the secret to surviving once you’ve gone down the rabbit hole?” Zachary nods and Mirabel leans forward. Her eyes are ringed with gold. “Be a rabbit,” she whispers.”
My only criticism would be that in the last third of the book, I found things to get a bit trippy, the book’s style is very abstract and full of symbolism, and by the end, you are being bombarded with imagery and symbols.
The book is an experience. It transports you out of the mundane, makes you almost believe in the magic (although we don’t call it that) It was so cosy and comfortable, descriptions of nice food and hot drinks and cold weather etc. Perfect. Like a big, cosy blanket or a rich, hot drink. Definitely enjoyed my time snuggled up in my chair reading this one.
When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in her hometown, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.
So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the centre. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.
What I liked..
Good, solid plot and pacing – Perfect for spooky season and Halloween. I didn’t find the story to be anything inventive or new, but it was like a classic mix of horror things. Small towns, females being murdered, a creepy kid, the woods, curses etc. It was well done and I could see it as a great movie as well.
Multiple Viewpoints – This keeps you guessing and stops the story from getting boring.
David’s character – He could have just been “the little brother” but he written to be much more and adds to the story. I’m glad he wasn’t a side character.
Writing style: Engaging and easy to follow. The Ghost Tree delivers a great spooky, eerie atmosphere when it needs it. I’ve never read anything by Christina Henry before but I would like to again.
Not so keen on..
The C word: Kind of goes with the above, for adult books, I don’t mind language, and although there isn’t really much bad language in the book, towards the end there is the C word (c*nt) which really threw me, and I didn’t think it was really necessary.
Jake – I can’t really explain too much without giving too much away to those that haven’t read the book, but I found his character creepy and I have a bit of an issue with it. In my opinion, 18 year old boys have no place trying to date 14 year old girls (but this is just my opinion) he is an adult and she is a child. I wasn’t sure if his character was meant to be displaying all these red flags, if he was supposed to be planted there as a “red herring” to confuse the reader, or if this is just my own take on it.
Who is this for? A little problem I have is I don’t know where to place this for audiences. The reader reads from the point of view of young teenagers who are nearly fifteen years old. They read about starting first periods, boy worries, arguments with family, losing virginity etc. Lauren in particular is a teenager that stays young, she likes to play in the woods and isn’t as interested in boys as her friend Miranda. But then there is the subject matter, mainly girls being murdered, but you also read from the point of view of adult characters who are trying to protect their family, raise their children, navigate racism in the 80s etc. For me, the mix of POVs was alright, but for some adults and horror/thriller fans, I think they may find this book to young for them.
Content warning; sexual abuse, profanity, gore, racism, body-shaming, loss of a child.
The Archive of The Forgotten is the second installment in AJ Hackwith’s Hell’s Library trilogy. If you haven’t read the first, The Library of The Unwritten, then you’ll want to read that one first! If you have a love of books, and enjoy fantasies, myths, the underworld, and thoughtful stories, then I highly recommend this imaginative new series.
The Archive of The Forgotten picks up where The Library of The Unwritten ended. It deals with the consequences of the battle to protect the library, whilst facing a new threat. Whilst the two books both contain their own main plot, The Archive of The Forgotten moves past the events of the previous book and it focuses on the new balance of relationships between the characters, and what the changes mean for them. I think I found the first part of the book slower than its predecessor because I spent some time picking up the pieces, but it soon ramped up. It was really good to spend more time with the characters that I’d come to know, and A.J Hackwith’s writing is just as beautiful as before. The Archive of The Forgotten still has the inventive worlds and wonderful prose that make it just as captivating as before.
“They burn them first, the stories. Humans always come for the stories first. It’s their warm-up, before they start burning other humans. It’s their first form of control, to burn the libraries, to burn the books, to burn the archives of a culture. Humans are the stories they tell.”
After the battle saw books destroyed and burnt, Claire is no longer the librarian in charge of the unwritten wing with all of its potential stories. Instead, she is moved to the arcane wing, and takes the title of the arcanist, in charge of objects that represent humanities darker side. This means the role of Librarian lies with former muse Brevity, and Hero is now her assistant. One of the remaining books starts to leak a mysterious ink, and Brevity and Claire have different ideas of how best to approach this. The book sees the two wings experimenting, researching, and trying to understand what this ink means, and the reader learns along with them. A muse from Brevity’s past named Probity arrives, and she has her own motive. She believes she has found a way for muses to create their own stories without a need for humans – a big no no!
“Humans were ridiculous creatures, in Hero’s expert opinion. They always saw what they wanted to see and ignored the rest. No creature edited its own reality so viciously as a human.”
The reader also gets to see more of Hell’s Library, such as the Dust Wing, where the books that humanity has forgotten end up, and the Unsaid Wing, full of letters and confessions that were never sent. I think the idea of these different wings are so imaginative, and it makes me excited to see where else we might get to explore in the next book. Through exploring the different wings of the Library, and seeing them through Hero’s eyes, we go on a journey with him. Remember, Hero is a character out of his own book, he is trying to find out where he fits in. There are a number of wonderful quotes about humanity in both of these books.
Like The Library of The Unwritten, this book has multiple points of view but it is written in the third person, and the chapters are from either Claire, Hero, Rami, or Brevity’s perspective. There is a distinction between them and I found Hero’s chapters more fun to read as they held his humour, whereas Claire’s chapters had a more serious feel to them. Rami might have to be my favourite character though. He’s lived for hundreds (thousands?) of years and blesses us with pearls of wisdom like this: “I think the weight of a man’s life lies in what he does with it. Reasons and heart are important, but it’s your actions that have long-reaching effects.”
The guy might be a fallen angel, but he has the patience of a saint to try and crack Claire’s tough exterior and put up with Hero’s flighty character. He is finding his family and I am HERE FOR IT.
“Ramiel kept Claire standing, and Hero kept her on her toes.”
Ah, relationships. Throughout The Archive of The Forgotten, I felt like one of the characters was maybe starting to feel a little more than feelings of friendship towards another. There were also a few hints of attraction between characters too. There is a kiss! However, I will not reveal who it was between. I do feel curious as to where Hackwith is going to take the romantic direction of this pairing. I feel the dynamic between Rami, Claire, and Hero has more to meet the eye, perhaps we may even see the start of a poly relationship? I might be wrong, but I would like to see where the three will go, as I think feelings are going to start getting complicated.
The Archive of The Forgotten is a strong sequel, whilst it addresses events of the previous book (the damage to the library), it also has its own storyline which does get more or less resolved, but also leaves points to be addressed in the next book. The characters get plenty of development too, for example, we can see this in Claire’s attitude towards those around her, caring for others and showing vulnerability and asking for help. Brevity starts to gain more confidence working within the library and speaking for herself too. By the end of The Archive of The Forgotten, I definitely felt much more connected with the characters and invested in their relationships with each other. I am very keen to see what journey A.J Hackwith decides to take us on next!
So, Spooky Season is upon us but I’ve already read one of my spooky books because I just couldn’t wait! It’s getting colder, darker, and the pubs are shutting at 10pm now (in the UK anyway, thanks Covid 19!) so plenty more time for reading, right?
In September I read three books and started a fourth, so not bad going for me. It’s not a rush after all!
So In September I read:
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
A really lovely, fast paced novella set in an alternative near future featuring queer librarian spies on horseback! See my review here. Read as part of a group read with The Queer Book Crew.
The Archive of The Forgotten (Hell’s Library #2) by A.J Hackwith
Sequel to The Library of The Unwritten, more character development and adventures in the underworld. I think this is a really beautiful fantasy , great for book lovers and writers. See my review here.
The Ghost Tree By Christina Henry (review soon..)
Couldn’t put this down, my first Christina Henry book, but I really liked her writing. Spooky!
Lastly, I also made a start on The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern after tracking down a gorgeous copy of the Waterstones Special Edition.
So for October I’m going to read Cemetery Boys with the Queer Book Crew, finish The Starless Sea (very ambitious, the book is LARGE) and make a start on an adult mystery / thriller ARC I have for The Nerd Daily.
Upright Women Wanted is a 2020 release from February, straight from publisher Tor’s website they describe it as;
“In Upright Women Wanted, award-winning author Sarah Gailey reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.“
I read Upright Women Wanted as part of a group read with the Queer Book Crew (headed by El at Inkandplasma) for their September book. I loved it, and I just wish it was longer! I am now a new fan of Sarah Gailey and plan to read more of their work soon. I loved the way they managed to create this new version of our world, tell a story, and create characters in under 200 pages.
The story follows Esther, as she escapes both her father and an arranged marriage by becoming a stowaway in the librarians’ wagon. She learns about the resistance to the strict and controlling government whilst trying to fit in with the librarians and figuring out their agenda.
I LOVED the concept, I like things where they are set in our world or the near future, but slightly different.
Short enough to be a quick(ish) read, but enjoyable enough to be read again.
Gives a positive message of hope to the LGBTQ community.
I liked the banter between the characters and them taking the piss out of eachother.
I felt like the love / pairing in the story seemed to border on “love at first sight” trope and seemed mainly based on Esther’s physical attraction, but its a good pairing none the less, and it isn’t a very large book.
Who would I recommend this to?
Librarians, horse-riders, anyone queer or questioning, yeah, just anyone! It’s great.
Content warning: death and gun violence, references to homophobia
August, you wonderful month. I’ve been able to see friends and family, go to the pub, and of course, read. We’ve had some summer weather, but lots of rain. My laundry is backing up now I can’t dry my washing outside! Problems!
So what did I read this month? 5 books!
Bear Town by Fredrik Backman
Cold, forestry, small town vibes. About multiple characters in a town who’s livelihood depends on their ice hockey team. A girl is raped and it explores how they all try to deal with it. The writing is beautiful but because of the subject matter I’d say approach with caution.Check out my review of Bear Town here.
The Space Between by Meg Grehan
Bought this book after seeing it in a Twitter post. It’s a novel written in verse about a girl with mental health issues and anxiety who meets another girl with a pet dog. A queer romance, exploring mental health, cosy vibes, AND a dog.. Well it ticks all the boxes. I’m going to write up a full, proper review at some point because it deserves it!
This was lent to me by a friend because he thought I might like it. It’s a mix of prose, fable, and I guess poetry? It is a short novella based on Ted Hughes’ Crow, and it explores the grief surrounding a family. It’s pretty sad, but it makes you feel things.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (reread)
I felt like spending money so bought myself a physical copy to go with my ebook. I ended up reading it all over again. This is one of my 5 star reads this year and this book has ended up meaning the world to me. I’d love it if you read my Evelyn Hugo review here.
Twists, turns, romance, friendships, complicated characters, and an incredibly sensational woman. It’s everything. Evelyn is so many things it’s hard to believe she’s a fictional character.
I’ve had a great reading month and for September I’m going to continue with my ARC and hopefully read the new books I’ve ordered. Yes, the new books have taken place over some others that are still waiting to be read!! Haha.
The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry (out September the 8th)
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey (for a group / buddy read)
And then I’ll make my way through whatever else is on my TBR list.
Thanks to The Nerd Daily and Doubleday Books / HarperCollins UK back in July I was able to read and review an ARC of Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier. Go check out my review on their site here
Jean Kyoung Frazier’s fantastic debut novel Pizza Girl is a moving and messy coming-of-age story full of dark humour. It centers on the narrator who is a pizza delivery girl (unnamed until the end of the book) and she is an eighteen-year-old Korean-American who is unhappy, grieving, and is both apprehensive and uncertain about her pregnancy and the direction her life is taking. She takes a shine to one of her new customers, a middle-aged mother named Jenny, and develops what can only be described as an unhealthy obsession with her.
Pizza Girl lives with her mother who she worries about, and a boyfriend who adores her. They are both excited and looking forward to the arrival of the child, but it seems Pizza Girl does not share this excitement. Instead, she is unhappy and engaging in destructive behaviour that starts to affect the relationships with those around her. I think it is a little unclear why the obsession and desire with Jenny take hold. It could be a means to escape, a crush, a product of anxiety, unresolved issues from her past, or it could be a mix of all of these.
Although it sounds like this book has its share of sadness, the enjoyment is in the writing. Jean Kyoung Frazier goes into detail without becoming boring. The narrator’s view of the world around her, the attention to the little things, the delicate observations she makes all help paint a picture of her world, and in turn her character. It’s not all sadness, but when it is, the reader feels it. The writing is cleverly done that even when Pizza Girl behaves in a way I would not agree with, I still felt sorry for her. As her behaviour and condition sink lower, I felt bad for her and frustrated with her, but I still wanted to protect her and give her a hug.
“I had been thinking constantly about han, a feeling that had been killing generation upon generation of Korean people. According to Mom, han was born in the gut and rose to the chest. … Han was a sickness of the soul, an acceptance of having a life that would be filled with sorrow and resentment and knowing that deep down, despite this acceptance, despite cold and hard facts that proved life was long and full of undeserved miseries, “hope” was still a word that carried warmth and meaning. ”
A big theme that is explored in the book is Pizza Girl’s relationship with her father. He had passed away years previously, but I believe she worries that she will follow in his footsteps. He was an alcoholic who let her mother down. Pizza Girl sneaks out to the same shed her father used to hide away in and she drinks. Sometimes it appears she feels guilty about this, but sometimes it doesn’t. I feel like there is some part of her that is still grieving, some part she can’t share with her mother, and this struggle plus the pregnancy and uncertainty of her future make her turn to alcohol. This type of struggle can’t be solved overnight or over the course of a 200 page book, and to suggest otherwise would be wrong. Perhaps one has to hit rock bottom before they can start to come up?
There is dark humour which stops the story from seeming too miserable. I found Pizza Girl to be crude at times, and she pokes fun at herself. The relationship between Jenny and Pizza Girl could be described as mildly disturbing, but in a comedic sort of way (throwing up in Jenny’s shoes), or to just plain unsettling (lurking outside the house at night) depending on how you look at it. Either way, I couldn’t look away. For me, it was an exploration of someone struggling with their mental health and experiencing a period of great sadness and anxiety, wrapped up in engaging and creative writing, all achieved in a short book. A really remarkable debut.
I HAD to read Felix Ever After after I saw everyone praising it on pretty much every social media app since Spring. I’m trying to read more adult books, but I wish something like this was available when I was younger, so I really wanted to read it. Plus I do like a bit of romance in books now and again. This was a definite 4/5 stars for sure.
Felix Ever After follows Felix, an art student in New York. In his own words, he feels like he might be too much for some people, as he is queer, transgender, and black. Someone at his school displays pictures of his past self in a gallery for all to see, and he also begins receiving bullying messages on Instagram. He creates a fake Instagram account with the intent of both catching the bully, and to get revenge. The book also explores Felix’s attempts to understand his gender identity more, relationships with his father and absent mother, along with attempting to get a scholarship to college. Mainly though, Felix just wants to fall in love, so the book explores Felix’s relationships with different characters. Some could be friends, some could be foe.
What I liked
The plot and story – Felix Ever After has a really strong plot. The book wasn’t too long and managed to mix a coming of age novel with a romance, revenge plot, and a couple of “guessing games”. I was constantly engaged, wanting to find out who was behind the messages on Instagram? Who was behind the pictures in the gallery? Who was Felix going to fall for? Would he get contact from his mother? Would the fake account be revealed?
Representation and diverse cast of characters – The book features characters of various sexualities and differing backgrounds.
What I wasn’t keen on
Harry Potter references – a few too many, not really needed in 2020 as not every reader will have read Harry Potter to get the joke / reference
Felix came across as a little whiny in places, which most of the time I totally get why he’d be on edge, but I seemed to feel like his default was to automatically dislike any other people from the get go because they were not like him.
Swearing. I get people swear, but there was a lot of swearing in this book which could put people off.
Who would I recommend this to?
Everyone! Teens of 16+, any young adult, anyone wanting to read more into a transgender character’s experience from an own voices author, fans of the rivals to lovers trope, and fans of the “cat-fishing” trope.
Content warning: Swearing, some drug use, sexuality and gender discussion, bullying.
“Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.
This is the story of how we got there.”
Bear Town is a Swedish forest town. It’s dying, the shops are closing and the factory work is drying up. The good thing it has going for it is its hockey team, and its become the lifeblood of the town, its survival depends on it. The book is written from multiple points of view of various characters in the town, and focuses on what they do after a local girl is raped by one of the hockey players. The town itself is a huge part of the novel. Think forest vibes, snow, and cold days and nights. The various characters mean the book covers themes such a family, love, grief, friendship, loyalty, and choices.
“People say she’s gone mad, because that’s what people who know nothing about loneliness call it.”
You will meet a whole host of characters in Bear Town, my favourites were a girl who loves music, a gentle giant, a girl who wants to hunt, a career focused mother, and a man who says little but hears a lot.
I have to say I really enjoyed Backman’s writing for a number of reasons. His descriptions of Bear Town, his characters and the journeys he picked for them, and mainly the way he took the sport of ice hockey, wrote a story and made it into a book I couldn’t put down. I’m not into sports, but Bear Town is crafted well enough that I was able to understand what’s going on in hockey enough to follow the plot and how it means different things to the different characters.
If I had one criticism it would be that I think some readers might find the book slow at the start. It wasn’t slow to me, but I think some readers will want more action and less scene setting in the begining. However this book is a very character based book so it is worth time investing in the introduction to different characters and where they all fit.
“You never have the sort of friends you have when you’re fifteen ever again. Even if you keep them for the rest of your life, it’s never the same as it was then”
The observations and the viewpoints of all the different characters is what I think makes Bear Town great. 15 year old girls, 17 year old boys, fathers, mothers, an old coach, and a grieving widow all appear in Bear Town, and I love it when a writer can understand so many different types of people. Seeing a story and the town portrayed through many different eyes is what I think puts Bear Town above the rest.
Content warning;rape, some violence, some homophobia, some drug use, mention of the death of an infant, swearing.
I preferred watching TV to reading in July, but I still managed to read everything I’d planned for the month, plus an extra book! I think in August I’m just going to read what I feel like and not stick to a plan.
In July I read 6 books!
How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake – 4 Stars
An LGBT romantic / contemporary / coming of age novel set in summer, really enjoyed this as it had plenty of depth and mix of bitter and sweet moments, check out my review of How To Make A Wish by Ashley Herring Blake
The Weight of The Stars – 3 Stars
I liked the writing and the characters in this book, but wasn’t a big fan of the actual plot. You can check out my review of The Weight Of The Stars here.
Pizza Girl – 4 Stars
I had the opportunity to review the ARC of Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier for The Nerd Daily, thanks to HQ at HarperCollins! I will be able to share my review when it is published late next month. It is a short book, but a great piece of writing, raw and honest, funny in places, but sad in others.
Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian – 3 Stars.
I finally finished reading the first 5 Percy Jackson books, but have to admit by the last one, I was just skipping through bits to see how it ended because I got bored! I can see how people loved this series when they were younger, and I love the mythology and Greek aspects, but the writing and the main characters lacked something for me.
I’m going to read the two new books I bought in July, The Space Between by Meg Grehan which is a novel written in verse, and Bear Town by Fredrik Backman. Two completely different books! Then I think I’m going to see where my mood takes me!