A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Imagine just a paperwork error and then you end up cursed, having visions, and then you’re helplessly (but enjoying) going along for the ride! What follows are magical families and houses, fancy wallpaper, family drama, more magic, and romance!

Things I liked:
The alternative Edwardian setting
The magic system and its potential
Robin Blyth the lovely himbo and not quite cinnamon roll
Edwin Courcey and his love of books
The prose

Characters are an important thing in a book for me, and though it took me longer than I’d have liked, I’ve ended up a huge fan of Robin! He’s adorable and actually a really refreshing character for me to read about. He kind of seems a bit dumb but then on the other hand he’s not. I miss reading about him already and he deserves the best! Such a lovely nice chap but could also punch you in the face.

Things I had small issues with:
The pacing. Whilst it didn’t end up being a problem for me, I can see why some readers may find this book rather slow at first. But it was worth sticking with.
The point of view/narration. Sometimes it was hard to differentiate whose POV I was reading from which stopped my reading flow.
Some of the secondary characters. Some but not all were a bit unremarkable and did not stand out even if they were present through most of the book.

Everything I mentioned above is something that I think ended up improving as I progressed through the book, but it’s worth a mention to those readers who don’t give much time to a book before judging it. I enjoyed this more and more as it went on, now I am looking forward to the next one!

Lastly, please I’m begging, despite the pretty cover and magical fantasy, please do not shelve this with the YA / Teen fantasy as the characters are adults and there are a few spicy 18+ scenes if you catch my drift! Fade to black it is not. 

February Wrap Up

A bit late doing a wrap up, but I stuck to a TBR this month! Go me! I read 4 books, bought 3, and possibly might have to DNF one. A good reading month, and a good personal one as well. Treated myself to a new bookish tattoo and a new hair colour, and got to spend some time with friends 🙂

red hair

So I will start with the possible DNF – Gideon The Ninth, I don’t dislike it, I’m just a bit confused and it’s not really getting any clearer. I’m not really understanding any of the world building or the stakes, or the humour, or anything really.

The first book I read this month was The Box In The Woods by Maureen Johnson.  One of my new favourite fictional characters has to be Stevie Bell ! She can be sweaty, sleep-deprived, awkward, make up free, living in the same hoodie for days, and I find that so relatable. BUT.. she’s smart, witty, determined, and committed and I LOVE THAT for her.❤️
Stevie is such a fun character to read about, and I loved the Truly Devious series and wasn’t ready to let it go, so I had to read The Box In The Woods. The Box in The Woods isn’t a continuation or a spin off, I’d describe it as a separate mystery standalone with some of the same characters.

truly devious stevie bell

The Monster of Elendhaven was a group read for February for The Queer Book Crew. It was a very dark novella but there managed to be a bit of sick humour in it. Very creepy, slightly disturbing, full of delicious revenge.

Next up was This Poison Heart. I liked this a lot. The plant parents will love Briseis, who has a power where she can control and grow and work with plants.. Including the poisonous ones! 🌷🌱 I enjoyed all of the references to the ancient Greek myths and legends, I liked the story, the mythology, and the main character Briseis and her family. However, if I’m honest, the plot was sort of predictable, and I’m not really feeling the love / romance side of it as I’m not really feeling much chemistry, also (minor spoiler) it has a trope I’m a bit tired of now..😩
I think it was clearly a set up for a second novel and I felt not enough really happened on it’s own, on the plus side, I think the second book should be really interesting! 

And lastly, I read The God Of Lost Words which finished the Hell’s Library series. I was sad to see this series end because I’ve come to love the writing and the characters, even if I felt this story fell short in terms on plot. The Library of The Unwritten and The Archive of The Forgotten are such lovely, imaginative books and I may even read them again.

March TBR

No TBR hahaha. I’ve started reading A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee and I have also bought The Wicker King by K. Ancrum so I will read those this month.

January Wrap up and February TBR

Yes, January’s done, and reviews to follow..I know I say this but they will, they will. January has just been me working, reading, getting my house decorated, and planning some nice things for February.

book stack of January books

In January I read a wonderful 6 books and purchased 4 which I hope to get to in Feb.

First up was my re read of The Hunger Games which I always do after Christmas. Every time I read it I am amazed at how much gets covered in the first quarter of the book. BAM! Hooked straight in. Lastly, Mockingjay always has room to surprise me because I forget how much more brutal it is compared to the film adaptation.

The Hunger Games Anniversary covers

After The Hunger Games was on to the very cheerfully violent American Hippo by Sarah Gailey which is a collection of two novellas; River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow. These are wild west fictions set in an alternate history timeline and yes, it’s all about the hippos and the swamps. What I loved is the standout cast of characters and their large personalities and witty dialogue.

American Hippo book cover

After that, I read A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske which is a sort of historical fantasy / queer romance set in Edwardian Britain. Besides just being a story about breaking a curse, it was also about magical power and power in family dynamics. It’s the first in a trilogy and worked well at being an enjoyable story whilst also setting up nicely for a second novel. Review to follow on this as I need a page to express my love for Robin Blythe, one of the book’s characters.

Lastly, I finished off the month by finishing Get Your Shit Together by Sarah Knight, which I read as a follow up to her Magical Art of Not Giving a Fuck. I found them both helpful, particularly about allocating just how many fucks to give to certain situations. Always useful.

February TBR

I’m going to start February though with The Box In The Woods by Maureen Johnson as I loved the Truly Devious series. For February I’m being pretty ambitious as I have a few books on my kindle now. I’d like to read and review The God of Lost Words by AJ Hackwith which is the last in the Hell’s Library Trilogy – you can check out my reviews for the other two, The Library of the Unwritten and The Archive of the Forgotten.

I’m also going to read The Monster of Eldenhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht which is a group read for February. As well as that, I’ve picked up Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir as I’ve heard so many good things about it and thought ah why not.

2021 Wrap Up

book stack of top books

It’s that time of year where everyone is posting a reading wrap up so I thought I would join in by listing some stats and adding a list of favourites that I’ve read throughout the year. I have read 50 books this year, a mix of new reads and re-reads. Some were great, some good, and a couple were just a little bit meh. But without overthinking it, here were the really good ones (reviews in links);

Cinderella is Dead – Fast-paced YA standalone with a twist on Cinderella.
The Library at Mount Char –  Horror with some contemporary fantasy elements. Dark and Weird AF. Proceed with caution.
The Lost Coast – Wonderfully written and wonderfully queer.
The Luminous Dead – Entirely set in a cave. Claustrophobic. Couldn’t put it down.
Cruel Prince Trilogy – Faerie Fantasy full of scheming.
Truly Devious Trilogy – YA mystery set on a historical boarding school campus. Cosy.
Summer Sons – Ghosts and hauntings. Nice cars. Very queer. Many emotions.
They Never Learn – Psychological fiction. Bitter and seething with revenge.

Also, a shout out also to These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever, Afterlove by Tanya Byrne, and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell which were all ebooks so aren’t in the picture!

Fun Stats

  • Books read: 50. 12 ebook, 38 physical
  • Books DNF’d: 4
  • ARCs Reviewed: 4

Newly Discovered Authors

Here are some authors I discovered in 2021 with books that I really enjoyed! I definitely want to see new things from them and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work.

Alix E Harrow, for some magical world building and great female characters in both The Ten Thousand Doors of January and in The Once and Future Witches.

A R Cappetta and Cory McCarthy with Once & Future for writing fun, fast paced stories and a range of queer characters that I could see part of myself in. And with The Lost Coast, for the beautiful prose and sense of longing and wonder that sticks with me.

Lee Mandelo with Summer Sons. The details, the observations, the atmosphere, the emotions. Just excellent.

Caitlin Starling with The Luminous Dead which showed me that sometimes it’s worth taking a chance on a genre that I wouldn’t normally read – when the whole book is so incredibly well done in this case. Also really liked The Death of Jane Lawrence!

book covers of new favourites

Thank you for reading this far, I wish you a happy new year! Did you read any of my favourites?

They Never Learn by Layne Fargo

Just popping on for another December post before I post my yearly wrap up next week! I’m going to talk about the deliciously wicked and excellently written They Never Learn by Layne Fargo.

they never learn

I would describe this as a psychological fiction, revenge thriller, with a touch of the dark academia vibe I’ve come to love. If this interests you, read the synopsis below;

Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.

Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself—but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to her master plan… until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay… and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality

Sounds good right? This book has so much going for it, I finished it in a couple of days which is rare for me. I found the story and writing compelling so I just had to read more. However it was helped by the fact I found the writing style comfortable, and the pacing so easy to follow. There was never a dull moment or lull in the story, that’s not to say its all action as it isn’t, more that I was never bored and the atmosphere was on point at all times. There are a few clever twists, including one I did not see coming!

Scarlett was a great character to read from as depending on how you look at it, she could be the villain, the bad guy, but I didn’t want to see her that way. Being in Scarlett’s head is being in a very bitter space yet you don’t want to look away. The structure of the chapters alternating between Scarlett and Carly break this up a little so it isn’t too much to cope with at once. That being said though, obviously due to the theme/storyline of the book, there is mentions of and discussions around abuse and sexual assault, but I didn’t find anything gratuitous and it’s relevant to the story.

So yeah, not the most cheerful novel to read at Christmas time, but I read this last month on holiday by the beach so make of that what you will. It’s a dark, provocative, and wickedly feminist book and I enjoyed every minute of it.

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

Look at me, still posting! I’ve been inspired by Blogmas and wanted to post more regularly. I didn’t have anything to post this week so thought I’d share my short review of These Violent Delights, as I’m still not over it!

Raw, dark, and gradually building on the unsettling and disturbing scale, These Violent Delights follows an increasingly toxic and codependant relationship between two students, Julian and Paul. But isn’t toxic to the two boys though (I’ll call them boys as they are seventeen, but there were many times where they didn’t feel seventeen to me) and they are in love. And its told in such a way that I believed it. These two were just SO into eachother that I felt it as well. It was such a compelling book and I couldn’t put it down. The writing really was just… Lovely? If that’s the right word? It’s not but the writing is very good and just and kept my attention the whole time.
Theres a lot to unpack here and I think I need to read this a second time. On the surface it seems like there wouldn’t be a lot I could relate to, and I wouldn’t say that either of the guys were “good guys”, but, I’ve been seventeen, I’ve been infatuated, I’ve had first love, everything is all consuming and messy just like here.
Definitely got dark academia vibes from this, plus it gets bonus points for chess references if you’re into that, and it also makes many references to the Milgram experiment, which took me back to my A – Level Psychology days.
I don’t really know what genre I’d call it, but I’d like to see more of it..

Queer Book Crew

book stack of lgbtq queer reads

I joined the Queer Book Crew Discord Server last September (although they’ve been doing a monthly read since Feb 2020) and since then we’ve picked many good books including;

Ones in bold are the ones I have read..

  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
  • OCTOBER 2020: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  • NOVEMBER 2020: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
  • DECEMBER 2020: Cute Mutants Volume 1: Mutant Pride by SJ Whitby
  • JANUARY 2021: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
  • FEBRUARY 2021: The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta
  • MARCH 2021: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
  • APRIL 2021: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
  • MAY 2021: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
  • JUNE 2021: The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski
  • JULY 2021: Into the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland
  • AUGUST 2021: Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
  • SEPTEMBER 2021: They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
  • OCTOBER 2021: Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald
  • NOVEMBER 2021: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
  • DECEMBER 2021: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Some of my favourites include Upright Women Wanted, Cute Mutants, The Lost Coast, The Luminous Dead, and They Never Learn. I am so grateful that the group introduced me to the work of Caitlin Starling, and Sarah Gailey who I want to read more from.

Some are books / genres I wouldn’t normally have picked but have enjoyed anyway, and it’s been a great way to find new authors and read more. I guess what I am saying is just take a chance and let someone else pick your next read.

Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson

So it’s about time I wrote another post and as the winter weather is here, it’s a good time to talk about Truly Devious! This is such a cosy series. It’s mostly set at an exclusive boarding school (Ellingham Academy) up in the Vermont mountains and it always seems to be cold so this is a perfect book to snuggle up with. I’m very happy with my big cosy Ellingham Academy hoodie. Any excuse for me to buy some bookish merch.

Truly Devious was such a fun YA mystery series. I was glad I had all three books in a set as it meant I could jump straight into the next one, I don’t know how I could have dealt with waiting for the rest of them to come out.

Plot from the publisher;

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists.

It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Stevie is a wonderful character to read from, she can be a bit awkward at times which I found quite cute and I could relate to it as well. She gets herself into some situations which you just have to laugh at. I also found it nice to read a book where the female protagonist isn’t always looking her best. Stevie can be found a fair few times in leggings and an old hoodie and in need of a shower! The supporting characters are interesting and varied too and I like the different friendships she forms, particularly with Nate.

The book’s structure kept it interesting as well as it alternates between the past at Elignham in the 1930s and the present day with Stevie. Both points of view are written well and compliment each other, and I found myself equally invested in both parts of the story which in turn keeps you reading.

I also liked how anxiety was presented throughout the series. Anxiety can be personal and present in different ways but I definitely resonated with some of Stevie’s thoughts and behaviour and it felt good to see my feeling shared and feel understood on the page.

I really did enjoy this series, it was such fun to read and really did get me out of my reading slump. Great pacing, a cosy atmosphere, a good mystery, an interesting setting, and a fun, relatable protagonist. Just what I needed.

November Wrap Up and December TBR

Time to start blogging again I guess, got a few little reviews and posts for December! But first.. November. I was lucky to have a break and sometime away in the sun before returning and getting ready to face winter.

So in November, I read 4 books and only bought one! I don’t think I’ll be buying any more this year, maybe… I bought Afterlove by Tanya Byrne as a kindle 99p deal, so I might read that next month.

First up was Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. I’ve read three of his books now and watched a film adaptation of another and it just hits me right in the feels. Makes me cry each time, but also makes me laugh and feel hopeful too. I believe this man has such a talent, and I enjoy the way he looks at life and writes these stories. He writes about all types of people FOR all types of people. He gets people so well. I’ve found someone and something I can relate to in every piece of his work. Beartown will always be my favourite of his books, but I think Anxious People tries to be funnier and isn’t as bleak.
I just really hope that his books find their way to the people that need them.

Next up was Starling by Isabel Strychacz. I had been looking forward to this for a while after following Isabel’s author journey on Instagram. It’s a solid, whmisical, YA romance with a dash of Sci-Fi thrown in – think Aliens, if you’re a fan of the show Roswell! The characters are good and not predictable, and they don’t really fall in with the sterotypical YA character roles. Overall a perfect standalone novel with a nice, cosy atmosphere.

So on holiday I raced through They Never Learn by Layne Fargo as I couldn’t put it down, it was so good! I really enjoyed the writing style, the plot, and the pacing. It all worked together well. Thank you to Art at InkandPlasma for constantly recommending this in The Queer Book Crew! It’s an excellent revenge thriller with a dash of dark academia thrown by in, I thought the main character Scarlett was a great POV to read from as she was the protagonist but you could also say she was the villain so this kept things interesting!

I liked One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston but I do think it could have been about 150 pages shorter. I liked August and her story and development as a main character, although I thought the other characters did not seem to add much and seemed a bit like exagerated sterotypes. I wasn’t overly impressed with Red, White, and Royal Blue either so I think the author’s writing style is just not for me.

December TBR.

For December I am going to be doing some re reads as I find that comforting. I plan to re read Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo even though I only read it in August. I might also re read The Starless Sea as I read it a year ago and it’s such a cosy, magical experience. I usually re read The Hunger Games over the Christmas break so I might try and fit that in. I know it’s a bleak series but it’s one of my favourites and it’s tradition!

the starless sea

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Thanks to The Nerd Daily and the publisher for an arc to review..

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling is a gothic horror novel about a marriage between a logical accountant and a charming young doctor, set in his crumbling and creaky manor with its’ ghosts in the walls. Jane Shoringfield picked out Dr Augustine Lawrence for a marriage of convenience that was more like a business arrangement that suited the both of them. He agreed on the condition that she would never spend the night at his home, Lindridge Hall. Well, a change in the weather puts an end to that, and it’s not long until Jane starts to wonder what kind of marriage she has gotten herself into.

Caitlin Starling has said she was inspired by the 2015 film Crimson Peak (directed by Guillermo Del Toro and starring Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska) and having seen the film, I can definitely appreciate the spooky and creepy gothic goodness of both works. They both feature the tropes of the mysterious husband and the eerie isolation of a decrepit old house. If you liked Crimson Peak, I’d absolutely recommend that you pick up The Death of Jane Lawrence and take a trip to Lindridge Hall.

I don’t usually read too much of the gothic horror genre as in the past I have found it a bit slow, but I enjoyed Caitlin Starling’s previous book The Luminous Dead so much, and that wasn’t my usual genre either, so I wanted to give this a go. Plus it was just in time for the spooky season.

I think my favourite thing about The Death of Jane Lawrence lay in the writing. I liked the way the house was made to feel like a character and constant presence brought to life throughout the book. The writing takes you there without overloading on the description. It really built up a picture of the house in my mind, I could feel the weather, and hear the bumps and creaks in the night. The gore was also very vivid and there were times when I felt like I was seeing what Jane was seeing.
The pacing was near enough perfect. There were some lulls but I felt this was necessary to allow the reader to catch their breath. The writing was easy to follow even when talking about things such as surgery and medical things that I don’t have any real knowledge of. There were parts of the book where the writing felt hectic and rushed but I felt that may have been because that was because there were times were Jane was rushing and becoming almost delirious. If anything this added to the tension.

Another strength was the characters. Both Jane and Mr Lawrence particularly. Mr Lawrence was always keeping me guessing and I loved Jane, she was no-nonsense and took no shit. I liked her methodical approach to things. Her motivation to get married wasn’t setting out to find a love match, she had criteria she wanted to meet for a partnership and convenience and she went out and got it. She observes, sees more than people think she does and isn’t afraid to ask questions. She isn’t the girl from that time period that faints at the sight of blood. When it got to the part in the story where you are reading about her character having to question things and then seeing her become more frazzled and verging on deranged really had me rooting for her, like come on Jane you can do it!
I also enjoyed many scenes with Jane and Mr Lawrence together and I wish there had been more. I liked how she was falling for him despite herself. I enjoyed the romantic part of the story where you could see them being drawn towards each other despite their initial arrangement.

When it comes to themes, I may be wrong, but I feel like the book was trying to blend the lines behind scientific medicine and ritual. I like magic in books to feel realistic and like it could be possible, and whilst I didn’t quite get that from this book, it did get me thinking a number of times about how different belief systems and rituals have things in common with science in maths, like how it can be so methodical. I felt like Jane was the perfect character for this, as she has to take her logical and practical side and apply it to the fact that things around her are happening that really should be a fantasy.

After finishing the book I felt a bit confused, a bit unsettled. Although I knew I didn’t completely “get” the ending, I still felt satisfyingly spooked. Whilst I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Luminous Dead, I am still a fan of Caitlin’s writing and ideas and I will definitely continue to read whatever she brings out.
I would recommend this book to fans of the gothic horror genre, but also to readers that like a bit of dark romance, to readers who like their female protagonists tough as nails, and also to anyone that’s just looking for a spooky read.