Review | Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

Title: Serpent and Dove

Author: Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a refreshing read for sure! I haven’t read about this type of ballsy female main character in a while.

Sure, you get the general badass female character who can beat up anyone and is broody and antagonistic, but that’s nothing compared to Lou!

She’s snarky and rude and constantly makes lewd comments to unnerve the pious men around her – I definitely laughed out loud at a few of the things she said/sung at them. It makes her feel a hell of a lot more human and real than the standard badass woman. She’s not just a stereotypical man in a woman’s body, she’s a real and flawed, genuine woman in her own right.

The worldbuilding in Serpent and Dove also helped make it feel real: it felt like a world where the Salem Witch trials never ended, but the witches were real! Very cool, and to see it from the perspective of both a devout witch hunter – or ‘Chasseur’ – and a witch – or ‘Dame Blanche’ – felt really unique.

The writing is also really mysterious under all the fun quips and escapades. The writing is peppered with references to a ‘her’ right from the start and figuring out who they were and what they meant to Lou felt really organic as the story moved along. I loved it, as opposed to a story where I can guess the plot twist coming a mile off, it was refreshing. (Yes, that word again!)

In this world there are Dames Blanche and Dames Rouge (and possibly more types I would assume, though these are never mentioned – maybe in later books?) which are two different kinds of witch. The magic system also has a good balance – the Dame Blanche can’t do anything without balance and the Dame Rouge can do anything as long as they pay in blood or use blood in some way. It’s clever and feels very grounded.

I also enjoyed the French phrases littered around the dialogue. It came with enough context so no matter how much French you know you can understand it, while also reminding you that this is a France-like world without hitting you over the head with it. It felt like a nice touch.

And the romance! This I loved. (WARNING and SPOILER: There is a very R-rated, PG-18, however you want to rate it, scene later on in the book, but if you’re not into those you can just skip it and it won’t harm the book much. It was very well-written however so I would recommend.)

The slow burn between Lou and Reid is perfect: not too slow that you’re antsy for them to do something about it, and not too fast in the vein of insta-love. It feels very natural and built out of what they do and how they act with each other as opposed to just looks and shallower things.

The drama and action of the book just made me keep picking it up again and again, and the ending is the perfect amount of resolved that I’m satisfied, while keeping it open to flow into the second book really well. I can’t wait to pick it up and hang out with Lou again!

Review | To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

Title: To Be Taught, if Fortunate

Author: Becky Chambers

Genre: Sci-Fi

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You always know what you’re getting with a Becky Chambers book: amazing new worlds and technologies and beautifully written people and emotions. It’s the best parts of hard Sci-fi and contemporary all rolled into one. She is forever on my list of auto-buy authors.

I was the tiniest bit apprehensive when starting this novella because I’d only ever read full novels from Becky Chambers before so couldn’t be sure if she was just as good writing in a shorter format. A lot of people assume short story writing and novel writing are basically the same, but that is definitely not the case, and I worried that the loss of time to develop the characters as amazingly as she usually does would really hinder the book.

Well I shouldn’t have been worried one bit!

To Be Taught, If Fortunate has slight ‘The Martian’ vibes, in that it describes all the complicated science in a way that I think makes it accessible to a lot of the general public, even if you aren’t that into science (though if you aren’t into science at all, then why are you reading Sci-Fi…?). It has just enough detail to be accurate, but enough general description and comparisons to be easily visualisable while reading. I especially loved the description of the spiral “grass” on the second planet.

It’s written in an interesting way: the book is supposed to be a report or message sent from the ship back to Earth, and you aren’t sure until the end of the book whether the message is an S.O.S, or research notes, or what. Even with the limitations this style can bring, she still manages to bring the emotion and effects of space travel and isolation to the foreground so we really care about the crew.

It’s very sad that this book is as short as it is, I think I could read 1000 pages of Becky Chambers’ writing and never get bored. The new concepts, the colourful worlds, the three-dimensional characters, there’s nothing that she does poorly in my opinion.

The ending is one of my favourite kinds in Sci-Fi: one that makes you think and decide what you think would happen next. This book asks the big questions and I love it for that. This is for sure a book I’ll recommend to any of my friends, especially my fellow sci-fi readers.

Review | These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch

Adeluna is a soldier. Five years ago, she helped the magic-rich island of Grace Loray overthrow its oppressor, Argrid, a country ruled by religion. But adjusting to postwar life has not been easy. When an Argridian delegate vanishes during peace talks with Grace Loray’s new Council, Argrid demands brutal justice—but Lu suspects something more dangerous is at work.

Devereux is a pirate. As one of the outlaws called stream raiders who run rampant on Grace Loray, he pirates the island’s magic plants and sells them on the black market. But after Argrid accuses raiders of the diplomat’s abduction, Vex becomes a target. An expert navigator, he agrees to help Lu find the Argridian—but the truth they uncover could be deadlier than any war.

Benat is a heretic. The crown prince of Argrid, he harbors a secret obsession with Grace Loray’s forbidden magic. When Ben’s father, the king, gives him the shocking task of reversing Argrid’s fear of magic, Ben has to decide if one prince can change a devout country—or if he’s building his own pyre.

As conspiracies arise, Lu, Vex, and Ben will have to decide who they really are . . . and what they are willing to become for peace.

Title: These Rebel Waves

Author: Sara Raasch

Genre: Fastasy/YA

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My initial thoughts when picking this book up were ‘River pirates? How would that work??’ and ‘Oh the plants are magic? That’s cool!’ and honestly, not much past that.

Well this book exceeded all my expectations!

Firstly, botanical-based magic IS very cool. It toes the line between medicine and magic very closely, so you could absolutely see these plants being real. One that heals, one that explodes in a smoke screen, and one that paralyses, sure we’ve seen similar things in the real world. One that allows you to hover for the length of time of one breath, one that allows you to hear across vast distances via linked pods, and one that dissolves internal organs, now here’s where this gets exciting!

The premise is based around Stream Raiders (effectively river pirates) who dig for the magic plants in riverbeds and the book is split via three different perspectives:

Lu (Adeluna): A politician who grew up as a spy and child-warrior of the resistance of Grace Loray, fighting the oppressive Argridians trying to conquer the island with their extreme religious beliefs.

Vex (Devereaux Bell): The dashing pirate of the bunch. A rogue Stream Raider not affiliated with any particular Syndicate of the Island, clearly has some big secrets he’s desperate to keep hidden. (One thing: How do you get ‘Vex’ as a nickname for Devereaux??)

Ben (Benat): The Prince of a country that thinks of magic as evil brought about by demons. He is conflicted by their potential healing uses, and the thoughts about if these should also be banned.

I personally enjoyed Benat’s chapters the least out of them all. He was nice, and he had some drama, but I didn’t believe Benat’s and Jacks’ relationship that much. They seemed far more like friends who kiss occasionally than two people in love. There wasn’t much depth of emotion. I’m also kind of annoyed that the only LGBT+ relationships mentioned are either broken up or toxic with a power imbalance…

Lu and Vex however were badass and awesome, with witty one-liners and a fantastic chemistry. I could have done with just more of them. Maybe one or two flashes to over the sea and the Prince, and then back to Lu and Vex!

The world Sara Raasch has built and the stream raiders working with the new government of Grace Loray is so interesting and I could see it happening. The problems during the book are complex and difficult to solve so it really lends a depth to the story and you get invested in how everything will work itself out.

Also, the change in perception of the island as the characters begin to understand more is really subtle and I believed in Lu’s journey of discovery and acceptance that her beliefs might not be as rock solid as she thought. It really endeared me to her that she changed her mind on some issues that she’d been so certain about before because new evidence was presented to her.

I would always love to see more Nayali in future: an LGBT+ pirate in any form is always a good thing in my books. She’s impulsive, but ACTUALLY impulsive, because she messes up plans with her impulsivity so it actually works as a flaw rather than a quirk.

The twists in this book were also very shocking, I genuinely didn’t see them coming and I love that! The ending itself was also very dramatic and exciting and left me wishing for more. Bring on the next book!

Review | Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson

In the tropical kingdom of Rhodaire, magical, elemental Crows are part of every aspect of life…until the Illucian empire invades, destroying everything.

That terrible night has thrown Princess Anthia into a deep depression. Her sister Caliza is busy running the kingdom after their mother’s death, but all Thia can do is think of all she has lost.

But when Caliza is forced to agree to a marriage between Thia and the crown prince of Illucia, Thia is finally spurred into action. And after stumbling upon a hidden Crow egg in the rubble of a rookery, she and her sister devise a dangerous plan to hatch the egg in secret and get back what was taken from them.

Title: The Storm Crow

Author: Kalyn Josephson

Genre: Fantasy YA

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

[DISCLAIMER] I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in a Fairyloot subscription box so please note that changes may have been made in the finished copy.

I was so happy to get this book in my December 2018 Fairyloot box. An advanced copy of anything is exciting, but a book about elemental crows big enough to ride and warring kingdoms just makes it so much better!

And this book was a pretty enjoyable read, I thought about it when I wasn’t reading it, and it was fun. But it wasn’t quite amazing.

Let’s start with the bad things first so I can finish on a high:

Cliche YA:

The writing style felt a little cliche, like a lot of YA books I used to read. I could guess the type of personality a character would have before even knowing their name, and the plot twists were more things I was waiting around for until they happened.

It starts to chill out a bit towards the middle of the book, and the main guy main character has started to act less like a walking cliche which I appreciate. Though I think maybe a little more show rather than tell about how the other countries were also oppressed would have been good.

Metaphors and similes were like water in a thunderstorm… everywhere:

This title kind of says it all. Imagine that same sentence but copied over and over. Everything was like something else! I think this may have been less obvious if more of the similes had been metaphors? Like for example, ‘The torrential downpour of my thoughts’ as opposed to ‘my thoughts were like a torrential downpour, flooding my mind’ might break up the rhythm a bit.

The similes can work well, but used a bit more sparingly I could have the chance to see how the character changes from worrying inside her head to when she’s more straight-to-the-point, the contrast would be good.

Also, “the lanterns reflected off the fog like moonlight on water” took me a while to really imagine… I think those two things didn’t mix well in my head.

Unique voices for characters:

Sometimes it was a little hard to tell which character was saying what. Not because the writing made it confusing, more because the voices weren’t that unique. This was especially the case with Thia and her best friend; they were so similar that it made me stumble on some scenes while reading their dialogue.

Suspenseful scenes a little rushed:

This title doesn’t really need much description: the fight scenes or chase scenes all kind of ended quickly and with little fanfare. A little description or internal monologue thrown in the scene, or just a bit more of the scene itself, would have helped to drag the suspense out and make the climax a little more dramatic.

But there were some really good things about the book also!

Representation of depression:

I really appreciated depression being represented pretty well, how it can come in waves and just knock you out when you thought you were doing fine. Lots of people think you can be ‘fixed’ when you have depression, but it’s more years of learning how to counterbalance the negative voices in your head and remembering that the bad parts won’t be bad forever. Mental health is usually a lifelong battle.

World:

The world of The Storm Crow was really imaginative and new. Giant crows you can ride and that have elemental powers just sounds so unique, I’ve never heard of anything like it before! I’m really looking forward to how this world gets developed in later books, and to some more details about the other lands mentioned in this book.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. There were some niggles that I think can easily be ironed out in sequels and I’ll be keeping an eye on this author for future books down the line. Also, you always have to remember that a fair amount can change between an ARC and a finished copy, so I’d check that out before making any solid calls on this book.

I liked it, and that’s all you really have to get out of a book in the end.

Review | Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night takes Diana and Matthew on a trip through time to Elizabethan London, where they are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana seeks out a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.

Title: Shadow of Night

Author: Deborah Harkness

Genre: Paranormal

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

SPOILER ALERT: Second in a series so there will be spoilers for the first book.

TW: Miscarriage, abusive relationships, violence, etc. Check out the book online before you read it if you’re worried about anything similar to these.

So… *breathes* OH. MY. GOD.

How much sexism can one book hold?!

It took at least 100 pages of this book for Diana to do… pretty much anything. Before this the book is just a barrage of sexist comments and snide remarks towards her and Matthew slowly morphing further into the brooding thoughtless man he apparently was in the past (and also the future if we’re being honest). It was kind of dull and I genuinely thought about just putting this book down.

They’re in the past trying to help with Diana’s magic while safely away from the council members who would happily kill Diana in the future. Given that this was their reason for going, they certainly don’t prioritise it. They never mentioned how long they were planning on going back for, how they were going to fit back in to Matthew’s life in the past, or if they even should have tried to!

Messing with the past is always a dangerous business in any book or tv show or film, so I don’t really see why two intelligent characters would completely forget any semblance of a plan. They thought Matthew appearing in the past with a wife and parading her around his old friends would have no effect?

And Matthew. Just… Matthew. *sigh*

If you ever meet a Matthew in your own life, please do yourself the biggest of favours and run in the opposite direction.

Here’s a summary of Matthew:

He bit Diana to prove a point that she shouldn’t have ‘allowed’ someone to talk to her in the streets. He blames her for things that aren’t her fault, physically hurts her, and abandons her for many hours a day and then returns just to blame her for moving an inch away from where he left her.

He can’t handle Diana not telling him EVERYTHING she does or who she talks to, so much so that he was scarily angry until she allowed him to effectively read her mind. (Seems very much the same as when an abusive guy berates his partner until she shows him all her texts and emails. Then he’s kind for a short period of time so that the woman is tricked into thinking everything is fine and the cycle starts again. Seriously, scary.)

This is very much a manipulative if not abusive relationship.

Oh, and if you thought Matthew was justified for killing Gillian Chamberlain in the previous book for sending photos to Diana, then you’ll want to obliterate Kit Marlowe in this book.

He purposely puts Diana in life threatening situations again and again out of spite. This makes Matthews motivations even less understandable – what threat to your wife is worth killing for? How far does someone have to go before they’re on your hit list? The grading scale is very arbitrary.

So I could go on for ages about the sexism and abusive relationship in this book, but I think you get the picture.

I’ll end this with a few things I actually really liked!

Phillipe and Gallowglass were some of my favourite characters. They were more thoughtful, more respectful, and generally better people than a lot of the others. I’m very much on the dump-Matthew-and-marry-Gallowglass team, though I know it has about as much chance of happening as Matthew actually apologising so I won’t hold out hope.

The manuscript hunt, though kind of ignored for a lot of the book, was also fun. Lots of twists and turns and finding out some pretty big bombshells about the manuscript pages. Very entertaining.

Also, I really hope Diana, now she’s learned more about her magic and has more of a backbone, actually starts to stand up for herself more in future books and FINALLY puts Matthew in his place. It’s only taken me two books to get this far… but I haven’t given up hope yet!

Bring on the next book: more Matthew bashing, rolling of the eyes, and hopefully more of Diana being awesome to come!

Review | Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen

If you could look at one life in two different ways, what would you see?

Louis and Louise are separated by a single moment in time, a strike of chance that decided their future. The day they were born is when their story began.

In one, Louis David Alder is born a male.

In the other, Louise Dawn Alder is born a female.

Louis and Louise are the same in many ways – they have the same best friends, the same parents, the same dream of being a writer and leaving their hometown in Maine as soon as they can. But because of their gender, everything looks different. Certain things will happen in their lives to shape them, hurt them, build them back up again. But what will bring them back home?

Title: Louis & Louise

Author: Julie Cohen

Genre: Contemporary

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

[DISCLAIMER] I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own and have not been influenced by this.

So this was the contemporary adult book I’ve been waiting to read!

I don’t often like too many sex scenes in my books, or a lot of gritty plots that I feel get crammed into any contemporary book marketed to anyone older than YA. I like reading about real life dramas and loves and conversations, and this book is exactly that.

It doesn’t shy away from some heavy topics, but it does them in a way that I thought was quite sensitive and still managed to give all characters such a sense of personality that you care for all of them.

The main thing I loved, and what really made me give this book my five star rating, was how it handled the issue of gender and how this affects your life. From the huge ways to the tiniest of things, it’s managed really really well. Julie Cohen, you have impressed me.

The writing style in a book meant to show the same life in male and female perspectives was something I wasn’t sure about before I started. How was it going to be handled? Would I get bored of reading effectively the same scene again with only the smallest of changes?

It turns out, no. The flips between Louis and Louise are really gentle, with some overlap in scenes but only when the differences really need to be highlighted. The joint chapters with both Louis and Louise where the same scene or period of time is shown through both lenses at once was especially good.

It’s so cool to see even tiny things be different in the worlds due only to the fact that this one person was a boy or a girl. Also how people treat them differently right from the beginning: from how the grandparents get different toys and they’re dressed in pink and blue to which parent they’re closer to when they’re older, and even their careers.

Even the small bits like how Louise’s mother encourages her to change from glasses to contacts because ‘her eyes are so pretty’ when Louis is not and happily wears glasses till college. It shows how even the smallest of comments can add up to change someone’s self confidence or change their view on the world and how they should be in it.

They both do well in school, but Louise’s report card mentions that she ‘chatters’ all the time and Louis is just ‘doing well in spite of distractions’. Girls are always seen as more talkative than they actually are, where some studies have shown that if the girls talk around 30% of the time in a mixed class, the boys in the class will perceive them as talking for over 50% of the time. When or where this stems from I’m not sure, but it’s interesting to see it mentioned in this book. Even throwaway comments matter in the big scheme of things.

For example, how often do you remember a relatively small comment that impacted you a lot growing up?

I personally remember quite a few that I’m sure the speakers wouldn’t even consider worth remembering minutes after they said them. But to me, they changed me in enough of a way that it stuck around.

I didn’t expect this book to have LGBT+ rep in it and I am very much not disappointed. It’s handled gently and made to be almost background information that just is. I appreciate that, since coming out stories are lovely, but eventually having media just have LGBT+ people exist and have it not be a big controversy or be questioned is the end goal. That’s what real life is striving for too: tolerance was the first step, now it’s acceptance. I also really appreciate how they show this affecting Louis differently to Louise, as public perception of sexuality still varies a bit depending on gender (though it shouldn’t).

Julie covers so much in her writing, every little thing that is the tiniest bit different if you’re a boy or a girl is brought to light, but in subtle ways. This isn’t a book that yells at you, it’s a book that slowly gets under your skin and makes you realise what privileges and disadvantages you have by being the gender that you are, but you hardly realise it’s happening. I’d love to see more of her writing, and maybe something covering the topic of non-binary gender: because male and female aren’t the only two options, and I think I’d trust Julie to take that on in a meaningful and delicate way.

Her writing is so natural and unique, reading this book was one of the easiest things ever.

Review | The Adults by Caroline Hulse

Meet The Adults

Claire and Matt are divorced but decide what’s best for their daughter Scarlett is to have a ‘normal’ family Christmas. They can’t agree on whose idea it was, or who said they should bring their new partners. But someone did – and it’s too late to pull the plug.

Claire brings her new boyfriend Patrick, a seemingly eligible Iron-Man-in-Waiting. Matt brings the new love of his life Alex, funny, smart, and extremely patient. Scarlett, their daughter, brings her imaginary friend Posey. He’s a rabbit. Together the five (or six?) of them grit their teeth over Organized Fun activities, drinking a little too much after bed-time, oversharing classified secrets about their pasts and, before you know it, their holiday is a powder keg that ends – where this story starts – with a tearful, frightened, call to the police…

But what happened? They said they’d all be adults about this…

Title: The Adults

Author: Caroline Hulse

Genre: Contemporary

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 (3.5)/5

Disclaimer: I was sent this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.

I went into this book kind of excited to see what a “hilarious” book that started with someone being shot by an arrow would be like. I ended it a little disappointed, but satisfied all the same.

It was an interesting book, from five main points of view:

Claire: a solicitor, mum of Scarlett, and dating Patrick.

Patrick: a sporty man, dating Claire. Extremely competitive and very hard on himself. Insecure especially around Claire’s ex.

Matt: Claire’s Ed husband and Scarlett’s dad. A bit lazy and childish, dating Alex.

Alex: a scientist, fairly new to adulthood, and an alcoholic. Struggles to deal well when everyone is put together on holiday.

Scarlett: Matt And Claire’s Daughter. She’s a bit judgmental of the new members of her family and has an imaginary friend Posey: a purple rabbit.

When all of these people are stuck together on a holiday in the Happy Forest, (a place that felt extremely similar to Centerparcs) obviously drama ensues!

For a book that describes itself as “the most hilarious debut you’ll read this year”, I didn’t find it particularly funny exactly. I only really smiled by page 200 at a sarcastic comment by a friend of Alex, and not much after then.

I wonder if the book hadn’t tried to sell itself as funny, but rather thoughtful, then it wouldn’t have set itself up for disappointment. I would describe it as a really in depth look at the lives within a blended family, and how Christmas time can bring out the best or the worst in us. This book is absolutely that!

Although, I don’t think it helps that I happened to read this around the same time I was already starting to feel a little overwhelmed by so much concentrated family time at Christmas. It kind of exaggerated that feeling with the book’s main obstacle being the forced time spent together with so many disjointed people. So that might mean I judged it a little unfairly in that regard.

One person I really could have done with reading more of was Alex’s friend, the one who called her a couple of times during this book. She was the funniest person! Would have really upped the comedic quality of this book, and the sarcastic quality too.

Also it was nice seeing an imaginary friend from a little girl’s perspective. I don’t know if the author ever had an imaginary friend herself, but I could see it being like this. Posey was quite a serious rabbit, very adult in comparison to Scarlett. He was almost like her subconscious thoughts brought to life.

I liked his perspectives on things, and his reactions to the things happening around him. It was a really unique perspective to read about and I’ve never read anything like this before in anything else, so very refreshing!

I also found the flash forwards to the police reports about someone getting shot by an arrow that you read about in the beginning quite interesting. I was a bit annoyed if they gave me spoilers about what was going to happen, but I liked the interesting format.

I’d say, if you want a nice easy-to-read book with some drama and a really well represented blended family, pick this book up! Don’t expect too much from the hilarity side of things and you’ll be able to just enjoy the well written dialogue, and the very human characters (flaws and all).

I don’t often read contemporary adult books, but this was a very nice one to pick up outside of my usual genres. I’ll happily check out this author again!