Tags and Fun

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

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!

Author's Note

My August TBR

Since I’m not flying through my stacks of books so quickly any more, I thought it might be a good idea to get a little more targeted in my reading, so I’m actually setting myself a TBR for August! I picked five review copies I want to get to soon, and then did the tried-and-tested method of asking Twitter to pick the rest… So let’s see what there is!

IMG_3840 Continue reading “My August TBR”

Book Reviews

Review: Dragon Age – Tevinter Nights

I don’t talk a lot about video games on here, but there’s one thing you need to know before you go into this review: I am a huge fan of the Dragon Age games. Dragon Age: Origins was one of the first games I ever fell in love with and really connected to, and the whole franchise holds a very dear place in my heart. I’ve collected all the novels set in this world (and I’m working on the comics) – so I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to review the new short story anthology, Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights!


Continue reading “Review: Dragon Age – Tevinter Nights”