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Mid-Year Book Tag!

I’ve read a lot of books in the first half of the year – 233 to be precise – so I thought that this tag would be a great way to look back on some of the highlights of 2021 so far!

Best Book You’ve Read So Far in 2020

Half a Soul has got to be up there, despite being literally the first book I read this year. I’m always down for Regency fantasy romance and this is an exceptionally fun one with a very swoonworthy hero! I also adored Winter’s Orbit, which is a marvellous sci-fi romance with an arranged marriage, great character work, and a bunch of politics – like court fantasy in space. My review is here if you want more of my thoughts!

Best Sequel of 2020 so far

Master Artificer was a fabulous sequel that really expanded the world of the first book – my review has more detail, but be warned, it’s hard to avoid spoilers for book one! Dead Man in a Ditch was also a brilliant follow-up to a book I loved, and Voidbreaker was one of the best final books in a trilogy I’ve read in a long time!

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet, But Want to

Oh goodness, most of them! I’m so very behind on my 2021 releases. I’m looking forward to The Jasmine Throne very much, and The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels.

Most Anticipated Release of the Second Half of 2020

I am desperate to read The Last Graduate! I adored A Deadly Education and that cliffhanger left me on tenterhooks!

Biggest Disappointment

For the Wolf. I wanted dark and luxurious fairy tale romance, but what I got was a lot of overblown teen angst. My review has more details but I was so let down!

Biggest surprise

I didn’t expect to have as much fun with Serpent and Dove as I did! I’m a bit worn out on enemies-to-lovers YA, but this is quite a romp. Not perfect, but very enjoyable.

Favourite New Author

Sarah Pinsker. I love her brand of eerily believable speculative fiction – I’ve read and reviewed both A Song for a New Day and We Are Satellites in the first half of this year and they were both stunning.

Newest Fictional Crush

I loved Half a Soul‘s Elias Wilder, the Lord Sorcier, and Leander Fabian from Stephanie Burgis’s Good Neighbours series. Both go straight on my list of Hot Wizard Boyfriends.

Newest Favourite Character

My most recent favourite is Wendy from Wendy, Darling. The book is a fantastic take on what might happen after Neverland, and I loved adult Wendy’s resilience and heart.

Book That Made You Cry

The Midnight Bargain made me cry happy tears, but I can’t tell you why!

Book That Made You Happy?

So many, but it’s hard to top the sense of joy and comfort I had from discovering that the book of Kiki’s Delivery Service is even better than the film. It’s so cosy and wonderful.

Favourite Book to Movie Adaptation You’ve Seen This Year? 

I don’t think I’ve seen any! I actually really tend to dislike adaptations – no matter how good they are, they’ll never look exactly like I imagined things, and some things will inevitably be changed, and so they’re always disappointing to me!

Favourite Review You’ve Written This Year? 

I don’t really think I have a favourite of my reviews – once I’ve written them, I mostly forget about them…

Most Beautiful Book You Bought or Received So Far This Year? 

It would be hard to beat Botanical Curses and Poisons by Fez Inkwright!

What Books Do You Need to Read by the End of the Year?

Uh, all of them! The TBR is at 420 and counting, and I’d like to get it down even further, so I’ve got my work cut out for me!

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TBR Spotlight: The Forest of Stars by Heather Kassner

Whenever I make a set day for a weekly post, they always seem to come around so fast! It’s Monday again and the random number generator has picked book #377 from the TBR, The Forest of Stars by Heather Kassner.

Left all alone after her mother passes away, twelve-year-old Louisa watches the sky for her father. Long ago, a powerful gust of wind stole him away on the wings of his untamed magic – the same magic that stirs within Louisa. As if she is made of hollow bones and too much air, her feet never quite touch the ground.

But for all her sky gazing, Louisa finds her fortune on the ground when she spots a ticket to the Carnival Beneath the Stars. If her father fits in nowhere else, maybe she’ll find him dazzling crowds alongside the other strange feats. Yet after she arrives, a tightrope act ends disastrously – and suspiciously. As fate tugs Louisa closer to the stars, she must decide if she’s willing to slip into the injured performer’s role, despite the darkness plucking at the carnival’s magical threads.

I was a big fan of Heather Kassner’s previous book, The Bone Garden, which I reviewed here, so when this ARC popped up on NetGalley I snapped it up. I loved her command of atmosphere, and how the book sat between middle grade and YA, providing creepy-but-not-scary darkness that will really suit a young teen reader. So I’m excited to see if that balance is also present in The Forest of Stars – a slightly sinister circus setting certainly seems like it’s perfect for Kassner’s impressive atmosphere-building skills. I think this is going to be a very enjoyable read, but it’s one I might save for a gloomy day – it doesn’t feel quite right for sunshine!

Have you read this, or is it on your TBR? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Book Reviews

Kitten Corner: Diggers and Rockets

Things that go vroom are having a real moment in our house, so I thought I’d round up a few books about building sites and spaceships that are sure to entertain a little one who loves to see how things work! All of these books were sent to me free of charge for review, but they’ve been extensively road-tested (pun intended!) and all opinions are my own.

Curious Kids: Stars and Space by Christiane Engel, from Little Tiger

This book is gorgeous. It’s full of beautiful pop-ups that have everything from galaxies to astronauts springing to life in beautiful bright colours. It’s jam-packed with facts, too, and between the delicate pop-up mechanisms and the level of information, this is definitely one best suited to slightly older kids who can a) be trusted not to tear it and b) understand the vocab and longer sentence construction. It would make a great read-together book, too, and will definitely have budding astronauts spouting off space facts. The artwork is really vibrant and appealing – I particularly love the pop-up of a comet racing through the stars. And bonus points for featuring female astronauts as well as male. This is a delight of a book.

How it works: Rocket by Amelia Hepworth and David Semple, from Little Tiger.

Keeping with the space theme, here’s a book aimed slightly younger in both construction and writing style, but still full of cool facts and illustrations! This one is a little bit sturdier, more of a traditional board book, and each page has a shaped cut-out that reveals slightly more of the rocket – it’s a really cool way to show the rocket shedding parts as it travels. Again, we have a balance of male and female astronauts, which is great to see. There’s also a little mouse to spot in each picture, which adds some fun! I really enjoyed the bright, bold artwork, and would love to get hold of more in this series.

Make Tracks: Building Site by Johnny Dyrander, from Nosy Crow

Moving on to something a little more earthbound, this book has such a cool concept! Each spread shows you a vehicle you might find on a building site, and explains about its job and its machinery, and then has a page with an embedded track that you can move that vehicle around using a sliding disc. It’s very clever, and hugely fun for little fingers to “drive” – a couple of the tracks have central islands that can be pulled off quite easily, and I admit I’ve had to take the glue-stick to a couple of pages, so this is probably one to save for toddlers who are past the ‘pull everything as hard as you can’ stage. That’s not to say it’s not well-made or well-designed because it really is, it’s just always a possibility with moving paper parts. But for little ones who can play gently, this will provide an enormous amount of entertainment!

What Can You See on a Building Site? by Kate Ware and Maria Perera, from Little Tiger

This is another book that puts cutouts to great use, with sneak peeks at all different stages of a building site. Each spread is full of fun details to spot and simple explanations of the jobs, machines, and tools you might find on a building site – it shows much more than just diggers and bricklaying! There’s a few building sites near us, so it’s nice to be able to point out things we might have seen on our walks. There’s also a different cat to find in each scene, which is an addition which will always make me smile! The pages are nice and thick so even with the cut-outs, it feels like it will withstand a lot of poking and pulling – I think this one will keep holding interest as the building sites nearby keep changing!

Book Reviews

Review: Vampires Never Get Old, edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C Parker

I love a good vampire story, and this anthology of YA short stories has a pretty star-studded list of contributors and some interesting reworkings of classic vampire myth!

Book: Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C Parker

Publication date: 25th May 2021

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Titan Books. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: violence and death, including parental death; blood drinking; medical abuse and ableism; misgendering. Some of these are only in individual stories – I’m happy to provide more detail if you get in touch.

In this delicious new collection, you’ll find stories about lurking vampires of social media, rebellious vampires hungry for more than just blood, eager vampires coming out―and going out for their first kill―and other bold, breathtaking, dangerous, dreamy, eerie, iconic, powerful creatures of the night.

Welcome to the evolution of the vampire―and a revolution on the page.

I usually begin my reviews of short story anthologies with a disclaimer that they’re always a mixed bag, but while there were some stories here I liked more than others, on the whole it’s a very cohesive collection. Though the stories all explore different aspects of teen vampire life, the general tone is very solid, so if you like the first few stories, then the whole book is likely to be a hit.

Among my favourites of the eleven stories were Tessa Gratton’s ‘Seven Nights for Dying’, which opens the collection, and VE Schwab’s ‘First Kill’, which closes it. The former has all the melancholy angst and languid sex appeal you expect from a classic vampire story, while the latter was a fun and punchy story about a vampire with a sapphic crush. My very favourite, though, was Samira Ahmed’s ‘A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire’, which is written as if it’s part of a self-help website, and has a brilliant voice to it – it’s full of snark and humour and bitterness about colonialism, and it also really cleverly works in the worldbuilding with offhand remarks, with an online network of vampires I really wanted to know more about.

Less successful for me were Laura Ruby’s ‘Bestiary’, which I just didn’t get on with the style of; ‘The Boy and the Bell’ by Heidi Heilig, which I found a little boring, as it’s mostly a single conversation; and ‘Vampires Never Say Die’ by the editors, which I honestly did not understand. This last story reimagines vampires as Instagram influencers, which is a cool idea, but I thought the plot was very weird. There are two perspectives that seemed to me to fit poorly together; this might have been the point, since the story sets up a kind of odd-couple relationship, but flicking between the two characters didn’t work for me.

The rest of the stories in the book were solid four stars for me, if I was going to rate them individually. There’s a fantastic mix of queer, disabled, and non-white authors and stories here, and it’s a great way to pull vampires away from the very white, abled, and heteronormative vampire pattern of much of the YA of the post-Twilight era. While some of the stories edge towards creepy, I don’t think anything here went all the way to outright horror; Rebecca Roanhorse’s ‘The Boys of Blood River’ was the closest, I think, but I’m a verified horror wuss and found everything here okay (which might mean, if you’re specifically looking for horror, it’ll be a bit tame for you!).

One minor gripe: each story has notes from the editors after it, which I found rather off-putting – not in concept, but in style. They’re one part ‘fellow kids’ meme (complete with puntastic titles) and one part GCSE English Literature analysis, complete with a book club-style question at the end like “If you had the choice, would you want to live forever?” and “In what other ways are vampires a symbol of privilege?”. I found this quite patronising, and though I’m always aware that I’m now reading outside my age bracket when I read YA, I’m pretty sure I would have felt the same as a teen. Perhaps this is because I’m very familiar with vampire lore and history and most of what they were saying wasn’t new to me, so your mileage may vary, of course, but I just didn’t think it was necessary – a good story should stand on its own feet, not come with explanation from the editor.

Overall, this is a solid YA anthology! These stories have the teen experience at their hearts, so if you’re a fan of the early seasons of Buffy, this will be right up your street. I’m glad vampires are having a bit of a revival, and this is a great way to read some fun, fresh, diverse takes on their tropes. Four out of five cats, overall!

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TBR Spotlight: The Fairy’s Tale by FD Lee

Monday’s rolled round again, and the random number generator this week picked book #214, The Fairy’s Tale by FD Lee!

Whoever said fairy tales were easy has never been a wannabe fairy godmother. The truth is, making dreams come true can be a total nightmare.

Bea is a lowly cabbage fairy, but she dreams of being an official Fairy Godmother. So when Bea is finally given a chance to prove her worth she is determined to make a success of it. Besides, how hard can a Happy Ever After story be? Every girl wants to be rescued by a handsome man, don’t they?

Apparently not.

Bea’s heroine doesn’t want to be in her story, and her hero is much more interested in the ugly sister. The same ugly sister who is trying to overthrow the Kingdom.

Suddenly, Bea must confront the fact that her characters are as real as she is – and just like her, they are determined to go their own way. The problem is, if Bea fails to finish the story, she faces a fate much worse than being put to sleep for a hundred years. 

Now Bea must figure out what Happy Ever After really means – and whose Happy Every After she’s prepared to fight for…

I love a snarky take on fairy tale tropes, so this take on fairy godmothering as an industry seems like it will be right up my street! This is a self-published book I picked up at Worldcon 2019, where I met the author in person after following her on Twitter for ages – which means it’s sat on my shelf for nearly two years at this point, eek. It’s the beginning of a series, so I’m really hopeful that if I like it as much as I think I will, then there’s plenty more to dive into!

Have you read this one? I’d love to know your thoughts – or if you have any recommendations for other sideways looks at fairy tales!

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TBR Spotlight: Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Today’s random number pick is book #284, Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly!

Once upon a time, a girl named Sophie rode into the forest with the queen’s huntsman. Her lips were the color of ripe cherries, her skin as soft as new-fallen snow, her hair as dark as midnight. When they stopped to rest, the huntsman pulled out his knife . . . and took Sophie’s heart.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Sophie had heard the rumors, the whispers. They said she was too kind and foolish to rule — a waste of a princess. A disaster of a future queen. And Sophie believed them. She believed everything she’d heard about herself, the poisonous words people use to keep girls like Sophie from becoming too powerful, too strong . . . With the help of seven mysterious strangers, Sophie manages to survive. But when she realizes that the jealous queen might not be to blame, Sophie must find the courage to face an even more terrifying enemy, proving that even the darkest magic can’t extinguish the fire burning inside every girl, and that kindness is the ultimate form of strength.

I loved Donnelly’s take on the Cinderella story in Stepsister, which I reviewed here, so I when I spotted her Snow White retelling pop up on NetGalley I couldn’t resist requesting it. However, I then went into a big YA slump in the second half of last year, so this kind of got pushed to the sidelines a little bit. I’m definitely starting to enjoy YA again, so I’m really looking forward to diving into this soon. There are so many interesting things you can do with Snow White, and I’ve seen people say that this draws more from the bloody Grimm story than the sanitised Disney version, so I’m intrigued. Hopefully I can get to this before long!

Have you read this one, or is it on your TBR? I’d love to know your thoughts!