Book Review – The Baker Thief by Claudie Arseneault

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker. 

Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls. 

When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship. 

Review:

So because I can never stick to my “to read” plans, I deviated from the list I made at the start of the month and chose this book as it meant I was still sticking with my “Queer books for Pride” theme. I picked this up a while ago because I will almost auto-buy any SFF with Asexual characters (Adèle is Biromantic Demisexual) and was super excited to read it. Also, the cover is just absolutely beautiful – I probably would have bought it for that alone if I didn’t know about the awesome representation in the book.

The main character of the book is Claire, also known as Claude, is a genderfluid aromantic baker. Adèle is a police officer who has just moved to the city after having to leave her last team for investigating things people wanted to stay secret. The book starts with Claire breaking into Adèle’s new home to steal her exocore and from there the plot focuses on Claire’s attempts at discovering who is behind the exocores while Adèle focuses on hunting down the mysterious thief.

The best part of this book is definitely the characters, both Adèle and Claire are very well written and you could put them in any situation and I’d enjoy reading about it – the fact that they tend to end up in pretty interesting ones is just a bonus. The side characters are also all very well written and I loved them all (at least, the good ones).

This is set in a very obviously French setting, and the characters themselves speak French (written in English for us readers, but there’s little snippets of French in there such as the cute phrase Adèle and Claire say to each other). The author is from Québec and as I’ve never been, I’m unsure how much is based on there but I personally got a very strong Parisian vibe from it, especially the bridge which reminded me a lot of the many beautiful bridges across the Seine.

I was originally going to describe this as a perfect short read, but turns out it’s actually 400 pages! I was reading it on my Kindle and was so engrossed I didn’t notice the length of it.

This is a book I would highly recommend, especially if you’re looking to read more Queer books for Pride month. Be warned though, it will give you huge cravings for delicious French pastries!

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Book Review – Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.

You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.

They don’t. They make a podcast.

In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence? 

Review:

I picked this up from a list of books with Aro/Ace characters as it happened to be one of the few on the list that I could get from the library. I knew nothing about it until I collected it and despite not usually being a fan of YA Contemporary, I was immediately intrigued by the fact that it’s made clear straight away that Francis and Aled are not going to fall in love.

Now, I would disagree with that. They’re definitely in love with each other but a platonic friendship love rather than romantic. Indeed their growing friendship was the highlight for me as it was so nice to see such a nice, comfy friendship grow as I loved both of them and was just so happy seeing them happy. At it’s core, this is a book about friendship and growth and dealing with that awkward “What am I going to do now?” phase at the end of High School.

Reading this, with all the references to things like social media, reminded me so much of when I was a teenager on Tumblr and made me think of how much I would have loved friends like Francis and Aled at that age. I found them both very relatable, particularly Francis with her self-doubt and fear of not being good enough. I loved the idea of the Podcast and really enjoyed the snippets of it we saw throughout the novel.

The characters in this are also all very diverse – not only are the majority of the main and side characters Queer, but several of them are also varying ethnicities (Francis is half Ethiopian, Raine is Indian and Daniel is South Korean). It’s always great to see more intersectionality in representations of Queer characters.

If you are looking for a great book to read for Pride month then I highly recommend this. It’s an absolutely fantastic book and I just want to hug every single character in it.

Book Review – The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A bestseller in the author’s native country of Estonia, where the book is so well known that a popular board game has been created based on it, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is the imaginative and moving story of a boy who is tasked with preserving ancient traditions in the face of modernity.

Set in a fantastical version of medieval Estonia, The Man Who Spoke Snakish follows a young boy, Leemet, who lives with his hunter-gatherer family in the forest and is the last speaker of the ancient tongue of snakish, a language that allows its speakers to command all animals. But the forest is gradually emptying as more and more people leave to settle in villages, where they break their backs tilling the land to grow wheat for their “bread” (which Leemet has been told tastes horrible) and where they pray to a god very different from the spirits worshipped in the forest’s sacred grove. With lothario bears who wordlessly seduce women, a giant louse with a penchant for swimming, a legendary flying frog, and a young charismatic viper named Ints, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is a totally inventive novel for readers of David Mitchell, Sjón, and Terry Pratchett.

Review:

I’m determined to make a decent dent in my “Read Around the World” challenge this year, especially now that I have access to the library again so can request lots of books. I decided to go for this one as the synopsis sounded very interesting. I’d also be very interested in trying out the board game based on it, but unfortunately I don’t think that’s been translated. I also decided I wanted to read novels from places I’d already visited and Estonia was one of the first trips I took as an adult.

The book is a historical fiction novel set during the time that Estonia converted to Christianity. The main character, Leemet, grows up during a period of change and we slowly see the world adapting to the new society that has been brought to the land. This transition period makes a very interesting setting as it allows us to see the changes brought to the country and both the new and traditional beliefs.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that much about Estonia so I don’t know how much of the fantastical nature is based on mythology and how much was from the author himself. I’ve visited the Estonian Open Air Museum which definitely influenced how I imagined the village while reading. Aside from that though, I don’t know much about Estonian History (I visited several other museums while I was there, but I’ve forgotten a lot of it).

Despite lacking a lot of background knowledge that Estonian readers will have, I was still able to enjoy and appreciate this novel and it has certainly inspired me to learn more about Estonia. I would definitely recommend this to those doing “Read Around the World” challenges and would also recommend visiting Estonia to those that enjoy travelling.

Book Review – Rebellion of the Black Militia by Richard Nell

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Goodreads Synopsis:

“On the twenty-first of May, in the three-hundred forty-second year of God-King Marsun’s rule—I, Johann Planck, Apprentice-Scribe of the fifth mark, have been sent to stop a demon.”

Things only get worse from there…

Johann, bastard and scribe of the tower, is yanked from his quiet, peaceful life of academia, and told to capture a creature of legend.

Beside him and hopefully guiding him rides Lam the squire—incessantly rude, incessantly smoking, and possibly insane. Or maybe fearless.

Together they must track and capture the demon Sazeal, an ancient, unkillable creature of darkness, and somehow in the meantime, discover how it was released in the first place. If it was released at all…

From the author of Kings of Paradise comes a world of muskets and cannon, knights and demons. This is the story of one man’s crucible, one man’s war against evil, and himself, brought about by rebellion…

Review:

I picked this up after seeing a recommendation for it in a list of Kindle Unlimited books. As it was a novella, I figured it would be a perfect quick read although that didn’t exactly happen. This was an okay enough read (at first) but whenever I stopped I felt no particular desire to return to it and so it sat on my Kindle, half finished, for quite a while as I read other, more compelling reads.

The main character, Johann, is an apprentice scribe in an academic setting and as much as I love academia and academic characters, I never grew to like him. I didn’t dislike him, I was just indifferent towards his character, although I did dislike how judgemental he was. Because of this indifference, I think that is what caused me to have no real desire to pick the book up whenever I took a break as I wasn’t invested enough to want to see what happens to him and if his story continues, I won’t be reading it.

The worldbuilding was interesting enough, I was really interested in how they capture demons and how this affected the hosts. I probably wouldn’t have finished the novella if not for the setting as that I really enjoyed, that and Lam who was a great character.

Unfortunately, just as I was starting to enjoy the novella and growing to like Johann, there was a horrible scene at the end of the book that completely soured me on the whole thing and has put me off reading anything by the author again. In the scene, Johann has returned to the scribes tower and saw a character who “bullies the squires”. He realises that this character is cruel and enjoys exerting his power over those lower than him, and then he proceeds to kiss him and grab his ass to make the character uncomfortable. What this did instead was make me very uncomfortable as there was literally no need for this scene, unless the author really wanted to develop Johann’s character as somebody who thinks it’s fun to commit sexual assault.

Due to that uncomfortable scene at the end, I do not feel comfortable in recommending this, nor will I be reading anything further by this author.

Book Review – Jade City by Fonda Lee

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Jade City is a gripping Godfather-esque saga of intergenerational blood feuds, vicious politics, magic, and kungfu.

The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.

The Green Bone clans of honourable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.

When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

Review:

Everybody was raving about how fantastic this book is for ages and so I decided to finally give it a chance. I now wish I’d waited a bit longer as now I have to wait patiently for the next two books. Of course, that alone will show that I too really enjoyed this book.

The worldbuilding for this is absolutely incredible and is what made me fall in love with the book. It’s so well done – the setting is very clearly Asian-inspired but it’s still vague enough that you can’t point to a place and say “It’s this place”. For example, I got very strong vibes of Hong Kong from it, but then I also could totally see it taking place in Taiwan and I imagine it invokes similar feelings for other locations that I’ve not visited. I’m very glad I waited though as I definitely feel having visited places like Hong Kong and Taiwan that it really helped me picture a lot of the settings and get a stronger feel of the book. I’ve also visited a lot of museums that have a lot of jade pieces which helped me further appreciate the importance of jade (including one that had an excellent video all about jade carving).

The characters are all very well developed and have strong, distinct personalities. I won’t say too much about them as getting to know them and their motivations throughout the book is one of the highlights – even if you don’t like a particular character, you still admire what a well-written character they are and understand why they take the actions that they do.

The synopsis gives a good summary of the plot and honestly I feel the less I say about it, the better. Because it’s heavily focused on intrigue between the clans, anything I say might potentially spoil it for readers.

Like many who have read this before me, I highly recommend this book – especially to those looking to read Fantasy in non-Western settings.

Book Review – Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Alice had her whole summer planned. Nonstop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting—working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating—no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library-employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

Review:

This has been on my to-read list for a while and after seeing a post on twitter about #AroAceApril I got it out from the library as knew that would motivate me to read it. I’m not normally a YA Romance person but I absolutely adored the last Romance I read featuring an asexual character so thought I’d give this a go.

As expected, the majority of the story follows the romance between Alice and Takumi and dealing with her struggles of identity and figuring out her future. The romance parts were very sweet but I feel like I would have enjoyed it to be a bit slower with more build up. Takumi is adorable but at the same time, doesn’t seem to have that much depth – you don’t really learn that much about him as a person beyond a few interesting traits.

What I really loved about this though was that it was fantastic for representation – I loved that Alice was a Biromantic Asexual and, as you can tell from the cover, she’s also Black and Takumi (as you can guess from the name) is Japanese so both leads in this as POC which is rather rare.

The thing that spoilt this book for me was Feenie, Alice’s best friend, who just comes across as a horrible person and I don’t understand why Alice stays friends with her once she gets more confidence. She and Alice have a big falling out which is entirely due to Feenie’s selfishness and well, I could rant about her for ages but that would give away spoilers. Suffice to say, I do not like Feenie and I don’t feel she added much value to the story as a character.

If you enjoy YA Romance novels then I highly recommend this as it’s very sweet and it’s also nicer to see the focus on older characters who are at University instead of High School but I feel that if that’s not a genre you like, you probably won’t enjoy it.

Book Review – Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujilla

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In a war-torn African city-state tourists of all languages and nationalities converge with students, ex-pats and locals. They have only one desire: to make a fortune by exploiting the mineral wealth of the country, both mineral and human. As soon as night falls, they go out to get drunk, dance, eat and abandon themselves in Tram 83, the only night-club of the city, the den of all iniquities.
Lucien, a professional writer, fleeing the exactions and the censorship, of the Back-Country, finds refuge in the city thanks to Requiem, a friend. Requiem lives mainly on theft and on swindle while Lucien only thinks of writing and living honestly. Around them gravitate gangsters and young girls, retired or runaway men, profit- seeking tourists and federal agents of a non-existent State.
Tram 83 plunges the reader into the atmosphere of a gold rush as cynical as it is comic and colourfully exotic. It’s an observation of human relationships in a world that has become a global village, an African-rhapsody novel hammered by rhythms of jazz.
 

Review:

So I picked this up to get back to my long-neglected “Read Around the World” challenge. The author of this is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and this is translated from French. Unfortunately, despite the rave reviews, this was just not a book I enjoyed.

The writing style is very stream of consciousness and rambles on, and on, and on. At one point it was listing a whole stream of names which took up over a page and I had to just skip to the end because I got bored of reading them all. One thing I did enjoy though was that the conversations that took place in the titular Tram 83 were often interrupted by others and that’s thrown right in there too. I’ve lost track of how many times you’d be reading a conversation between Requiem and Lucien, the two main characters, and suddenly there’d be a “Do you have the time?” thrown in the middle without explanation. That aspect, along with all the other background noise that’s added in, really helps create the atmosphere of the Tram and the constant noise and people that are there.

It’s hard to talk about the plot as there isn’t really much of one and it jumps around a lot. We follow Lucien and his journey as a writer and also get glimpses of his friend Requiem and his publisher as they live their lives. Requiem makes a living blackmailing people with naked photos of them and his goal is to get one of the dissident General, while the publisher is one of the poor people being blackmailed by Requiem. There are a couple female characters but we see almost nothing of them.

This book is very male with a heavy male gaze on women which is definitely something that people should be aware of going in. There is a lot of description of women’s bodies and many of the interjections by female characters are sexual in nature as they try and get clients for the night. By the end of the book, you start just ignoring them, just as the characters themselves do.

Overall, this is a book unlike any I’ve read before and I’m glad I read it but it’s very hard to describe and hard to know who to recommend it to because it’s so difficult to categorise. If you’re doing a “Read Around the World” Challenge then it’s definitely a good choice for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If you can read French, I imagine the original is even better for use of language as part of that is always lost in translation.

Book Review – Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire. 

Review:

So a while back on Twitter there was #ReviewPit where authors and reviewers could connect and I jumped at the chance to read this because it is absolutely full of Queer characters, also there’s a cat. Unfortunately I was just not a big fan of the book itself which meant I put off writing the review as it’s always difficult when you didn’t enjoy it. Now, I didn’t enjoy it due to my own personal preferences which does make this much easier as it is still a good book, just not one that I’d particularly enjoy.

Let’s start off with the writing. The writing is the reason I kept reading and finished this book because it’s just delightful. Some of the descriptions used are brilliant and I love the authors use of language. Sure, I may not have cared much about what I was reading, but I still enjoyed reading it.

For the plot itself, I won’t say too much as the synopsis covers it pretty well, however it is very fast paced. At times I wished it would slow down a bit – particularly the scenes with the side characters as I’d really have liked more screen time for them as I didn’t feel I really got to know any of them that well. I did enjoy the plot and certainly didn’t expect everything that happened so it’s always nice to be surprised.

One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy this book that much is that honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of Damian or Aris. I liked Raeyn which did help a bit but it’s hard to enjoy a book when you don’t like the main character. There was also a lot of explicit scenes with Damian which although they were very well written (and there are trigger warnings at the start too), I did not enjoy. Of course, I imagine most people have no issue with sex scenes and indeed some people would probably love it for those scenes so if that’s what you’re looking for then this is definitely an excellent choice. There’s also a love triangle in the book and no matter how well written, I just do not enjoy love triangles.

The setting was very interesting but sadly we don’t get to see nearly as much of the worldbuilding as I’d like – which is another reason why I personally didn’t enjoy the book as much as that’s my favourite part of SFF books. The glimpses we got were super interesting though, and I was very interested in learning more about the Voyance and how it worked.

Overall though, despite not appealing to my personal tastes this was a very good book and I would highly recommend it to anybody looking for some steamy Queer Sci-Fi.

Book Review – Quests and Quandaries by Alda Yuan

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The Floating Isles were created millions of years ago when a beetle the size of a continent churned up mud from the seabed for a perch. And things have only gotten weirder since. This is a tongue in cheek account of a princess forced to go on a quest, very much against her will. With the proverbial band of sidekicks at her side, Rahni leaves the familiar comforts of home for the mysterious Eigen States, a place where, of course, nothing is as it seems. Or else it wouldn’t be much of a quest. Rahni is determined not to let the laws of the land dictate anything, least of all how seriously she has to take the whole matter. Her dearest wish is to get through the quest with as few near scrapes and mortal enemies as possible. If she has to go on a quest, she wants it to be bland, with no nonsense about holding the fate of the world in her hands. Naturally, nothing goes quite as she plans. But what else is new?

Review:

After finally logging into my e-mail it turned out that despite my hiatus from blogging, I’d still been receiving plenty of review requests. This one caught my eye because I loved the title and it sounded like a lot of fun. Also, after expressing interest not only did the author send me the review copy, but she also sent me a photo of her cat so naturally, I moved it right to the top of my to-read list.

So, this is a book that you definitely don’t want to judge by its cover. As it’s self-published it doesn’t have a super fancy cover but it’s a nice clean minimalist design and I love the addition of the seal in the bottom right representing the author’s surname. This is the first in a serious of books set in the Floating Isles and is a great start.

The worldbuilding in this is very interesting, although we don’t see much of the floating isles themselves as the majority of the story takes place in the Eigen States which conform to the stereotypical fairytale lands. All the familiar tropes appear, but don’t conform to the stereotypes. The quest itself for the magic elixir is even shown to be just for “the sake of the story” as Rahni’s parents even mention having a room full of them back home. I’d have enjoyed learning more about the Floating Isles themselves but I imagine that’s something we’ll see more of in future books.

One of the things that I loved best about this book was the relationship between Rahni and her best friend, Jak. There is absolutely no romantic subplot between them, just a strong healthy friendship which is something I really enjoyed. Rahni herself reminds me a lot of myself as a young teen and for that reason, I both loved her and found her annoying. I definitely feel that if I’d read this book back when I was around 13, I would absolutely adore her.

One final thing that I liked was that there are footnotes, I’m a huge fan of footnotes. Now, since I was reading on my Kindle I actually skipped most of them as mine isn’t touchscreen and the buttons are kinda broken so it’s a hassle to do anything other than turn the pages, however, I did enjoy the few that I read.

The plot itself is your standard “journey to recover magical item” story with adventures along the way. If you’re looking for a book with a great story then this isn’t for you, but if you want to enjoy fun characters in an interesting world then I’d definitely recommend this.

 

Book Review – Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

Review:

Took me a while to get around to this, but I absolutely adored it. The story was absolutely delightful and the setting was so charming. I was so hooked I had to force myself to put it down as I knew if I didn’t, I’d stay up all night until I finished.

The setting, like Uprooted, is absolutely charming and I love the Slavic influences. It still retained the fairytale like feel throughout the novel despite the length of it and I was completely carried away into the story.

The highlight of this novel though is definitely the fantastic female characters. The three main ones are all brilliant in their own ways and I also really enjoyed the fact that Miryem actually has both her parents and a happy family. Miryem is also Jewish which is an integral part of her character and is shown observing Shabbat.

There are a couple different plot threads that weave together and interlink and I really enjoyed watching them come together at the end. As mentioned, I really struggled to put this down as it was one of those “just one more chapter” books – especially as it jumped between the characters so I’d tell myself “Oh I’ll just read this next bit”.

As this is a standalone, it’s a fantastic book to start with if you’ve not read anything by Naomi Novik yet. It’s difficult to decide which I liked best – this or Uprooted but I highly recommend them both.