Book Review, Books

All Fall Down Review

All Fall Down by Sally Nicholls

A deadly contagion races through England…

Isabel and her family have nowhere to run from a disease that has killed half of Europe. When the world she knows and loves ends for ever, her only weapon is courage.

The Black Death of 1349 was the deadliest plague in human history. All Fall Down is a powerful and inspiring story of survival in the face of real-life horror.

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

I haven’t read much historical fiction around the Black Death, so I decided to give this a go. And I’ve read another of Sally’s books before, so at least I kinda knew what to expect.

It was a very interesting book as you’re introduced to Isabel, and her world. And how it is so “natural” to just be part of it, you can see which parts they question and which ones they don’t. As a way to plunge into the world and setitng, this book does a good job at that but without feeling like you’re just reading a history book with just facts. Isabel and her family make the history become alive.

There’s not much that can’t be spoiled since we know Black Death killed a lot of people. And as the small village Isabel lives in slowly gets affected by it, and then it hits her family, tough choices have to be made, but also some questions arise about roles, responsibiltiies and status quo.

When everyone is dying around you, do the rules that kept you in that place still stand?

I didn’t love the book but it was a quick read, easy to consume without bogging down in facts, the plot was a bit broken into odd parts which is why it isn’t getting more stars, but it still got to somewhere and gave a good “ending” (or as good as you can have given the topic and circumstances).

Book Review, Books

to make monsters out of girls Review

to make monsters out of girls by amanda lovelace

“What happens when the man of your dreams turns out to be a nightmare with sharp teeth and claws?”

Winner of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Poetry, amanda lovelace presents her new illustrated duology, “things that h(a)unt.” In this first installment, to make monsters out of girls, lovelace explores the memory of being in an abusive relationship. She poses the eternal question: Can you heal once you’ve been marked by a monster, or will the sun always sting?

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

I bought this one to complete the duology since I had enjoyed to drink coffee with a ghost more than I expected. And I have to say, compared to it, this isn’t as good. Or maybe it feels less powerful because it is not my first encounter with her poetry. Unsure.

It still is a powerful read. And as someone who had a terrible relationship that I am still healing from, this definitely resonated. One of the things that was interesting to see was how you adapt and sometimes become a monster yourself in self defense. I had become someone defensive and jumpy, someone who would tell you horrible things and be quite critical so you wouldn’t dish those things to me first. But before him I wasn’t as bitter or monstrous.

Still, some poems passed me by, but a lot of them where relevant, including the sun heart ones, as I found my own “sun” heart. The parts that didn’t click, at least I could feel or attempt to understand a little. Not all experiences are the same, but there are some similarities and it is that thread that ties this book together. The pain, the self loathing, the wanting to prove your love and that you are worth loving.

It is a tough book, so read with care, and it has a long list of content warnings at the beginning (something I am grateful for). If you can brave this book, it may be cathartic and helpful to read, like releasing some of the poison in your wounds. Still, do so with care and love and patience.

Book Review, Books

The Power of the Masses, and of the Internet …

Heartstream

Heartstream by Tom Pollock

Amy is trapped in the house in which her mother died, and from which she’s been streaming the progress of her illness for all the world to see and feel. Now she’s all alone, even with millions of followers, and she’s on the brink of an emotional breakdown when, on the day of her mother’s funeral, things take an unexpected turn; Amy suddenly finds herself sitting in the kitchen, and drinking tea with a stranger, who’s literally about to blow her whole existence into pieces.

Cat is a superfan of the boyband Everlasting, and she lives for the fandom, a community largely run by her older friend Evie, and built around the assumption that the front figures Nick and Ryan are secretly in love with each other. But when a large group of fans starts to believe differently, and Cat finds herself in a potentially life changing situation, things rapidly starts spinning out of hers, and Evie’s, control.

When Amy’s and Cat’s stories eventually intertwine, one thing becomes unpleasantly clear: the power of the masses, and the internet, should never be underestimated.

Rating: 🐖🐖🐖🐖🐖

Heartstream has been said to be a “psychological thriller about obsession, fame and betrayal, for fans of Black Mirror”, and to my utmost pleasure I found that depiction to be utterly true. I’ve always been a big fan of Black Mirror, and of other sci-fi stories focusing on how near-future technical solutions could be used to do both harm and good; often at the same time. This novel by Tom Pollock plays around the very same themes as many of the Black Mirror episodes, and it is as interesting as it is frightening.

Without spoiling anything, I can reveal that this is a fast paced and thrilling read that was very hard to put down (you all know that “just one more chapter”-feeling), and that I was shockingly surprised with the twists and turns it took at the end of every. single. chapter. If you’re in for a gripping story that keeps throwing surprises in your face, go read Heartstream at once. But if you’re looking for clear and easy distinctions between bad and good, this may not be for you. The moral is more grey than black and white, just as it is with life (and the power of the internet) in general.

Dr. Bea approves

If you liked this book but are yet to watch Black Mirror, than what are you waiting for? Go do it already! As for books, I think Warcross, though it’s a totally different kind of story, can be said to revolve around similar dilemmas. Or, if you’re here for the puzzling parallel stories, Before We Were Yours might be the next read for you.

Book Review

Nightlights Review + YALC Ramble

I got this gorgeous colourful book from my birthday elf box (we do a birthday box like a secret santa) Tracey, and I was really happy.

This is the paperback version as there is a hardback one, but I am a paperback human through and through. The book is big and colourful and full of imagination.

It is like the perfect imagination box inside, and with a story about a little girl who prefers to doodle than do her homework or pay attention in class (I was the kind of person who needed to doodle to pay attention or she just couldn’t concentrate). And then she meets a new girl at school and she seems to like her drawings. But maybe it isn’t all good…

It has a creepy/scary element in it but it reminded me a little of the Book of Kells style of artwork (it isn’t the same I know) and type of story. Highly recommended as a story book and just to enjoy the artwork.


I am at YALC this weekend so hopefully if you are around you can find me (bright blue hair, cosplaying each day).

My short tip list is to:

  • Be kind. Your attittude will help you get the help you need.
  • Hydrate. It is hot and you are excited and you forget. A few of us “veterans” are well prepared, so reach out to us.
  • Eat. Snacks are the very least but there’s places to eat or bring your own food (again, find veterans who can help if in a pinch).
  • Do a recon of the area. I sometimes go a bit crazy and do everything the first day. Depending on which days you’re going, try to make it last as long as you’re there.
  • Don’t rush. Yes, there’s a lot to see and do, but you’ll enjoy it more if you take it easy rather than rushing around.
  • Sunday near closing time is when crazy offers happen (stock is too small to take home, etc). If the risk is not too big for you, it may be worth waiting. I snagged some wonderful deals on Sunday that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
  • Authors sometimes walk the area and will happily chat to you and sign books (not all of them, be polite when you approach them and don’t expect them to be at your beck and call, they’re humans too). So don’t over fret.
  • Divide and conquer. If you’ve got friends (or made queue friends) who can help you queue or get a ticket or something, ask. Most of us are a friendly bunch and diviing bits and asking for your highest priority and helping others get theirs is win win.

I could go on and on but there are other helpful guides around, so I’ll leave it there. I will be posting a selfie or some kind of picture of my costume each day so you can find me (I am very bad at names, so I forget, even if I recognise your face don’t take this badly). Be aware that at social gatherings I go on overdrive and I am talkative and overly extroverted (my Mexican side shows up). I am not trying to be annoying.

Hope you have lots of fun! 🙂

Book Review, Books

Grandma’s Flowering Tea

Grandma’s Flowering Tea by Emila Yusof

I couldn’t find a Goodreads summary or anything, but I bought this book at Eastercon as I like flowering tea and tea in general.

The artowrk is simple but it is a cute story about the children loving visiting their grandmother and her garden. They talk about the fact that she makes them flowering tea and that they want to learn about it.

So granma teaches them to choose and pick herbs for the tea, how to dry them and then how to sew them together to make a flowering tea ball.

Made me want to make my own. And of course, this one is a very short book but good for children and maybe as a preactivity book, to have alongside some nice tea.

Book Review, Books

Lost Princesses and Weird Magic

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Romanov by Nadine Brandes

1918, Tobolsk, Russia. The revolution is rapidly moving towards its peak. The Bolsheviks have taken over from Lenin, and the Romanov Czar family are living their last months as prisoners in exile. While the hope that the White Army finally will set them free is fading, Anastasia, the youngest princess, a shadow of her former self, is secretly trying to keep her critically ill brother alive by using forbidden spell magic, the kind that got Rasputin killed. At the same time, she’s starting to connect with Zash, one of the family’s guards. But is he to be trusted? And what will happen to the family members that suddenly gets moved? As the slow days move by, Anastasia realises that she’s gotta move quick in order to save the last drops of both the magic ink and the Romanov blood. The question is just how.

Rating:🐖🐖🐖

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I received this book in May’s Seize the Crown-themed BBC box, so I didn’t have any special expectations on it prior to getting it, except that I knew it would be a re-telling, and I do LOVE re-tellings. As soon as I opened the (oh so gorgeous) package with the book, I realised it was gonna be a retelling of the Anastasia legend. I remember liking the movie, but even more so the mysteries surrounding this presumed lost princess, as a child, but it wasn’t my favourite ever and I don’t, as opposed to my buddy read comrades, recall all the songs. So, all in all, I was excited to read it because mysteries, but also not overly thrilled by the historical fiction and fantasy parts.

Romanov is a slow book. It’s sometimes thrilling, but in a VERY low key way. The whole story pretty much felt like a long prologue up until the last hundred pages, and even then, when it finally kicked off, it isn’t a book I’d stay up all night reading. I found the magic to be a bit … unbelievable? It didn’t really make sense. My biggest issue with this book though, is how it totally lacks all nuances and perspectives regarding the Russian revolution and the Bolsheviks. The Czar family are the good guys who have nothing but the people’s best interest in mind, and the Bolsheviks, or just the politically aware and engaged public, are wrong and don’t understand what’s best for them. The end. Kind of.

During the read, Anastasia did however grow on me (or maybe she just finally got to my brain). Romanov is a story about living in exile, and if you like historical portraits of royal families with a tint of magic, you should really read this book. After all, it’s beautifully epic, and it surely makes you think.

Dr. Bea approves

If you’re in for more fairytale re-tellings, check out The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Less complicated fantasy, more fast paced sci-fi, and definietly more interesting and badass princesses!

Book Review, Books

Viper Review

Viper by Bex Hogan

He will make me a killer. Or he will have me killed. That is my destiny.

Seventeen-year-old Marianne is fated to one day become the Viper, defender of the Twelve Isles.

But the reigning Viper stands in her way. Corrupt and merciless, he prowls the seas in his warship, killing with impunity, leaving only pain and suffering in his wake.

He’s the most dangerous man on the ocean . . . and he is Marianne’s father.

She was born to protect the islands. But can she fight for them if it means losing her family, her home, the boy she loves – and perhaps even her life?

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20pxMoonKestrel Logo2 20pxMoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

I got this book in a Fairyloot box a while back and I had been excited to read it but one or another I just didn’t get to reading it. However it is on my YALC list (yes I know, I did say that there’s an influx of this reviews) and I felt like reading it.

I had heard really good things form friends who I usually use to navigate which books I will love and which I won’t. So I was like “yeah should love it straight away”. Aha! Sneaky book made me work for it!

The first chapter or so I struggled to see where exactly this was going. A lot of it was a bit like “but why, this doesn’t make sense with the synopsis, what book am I reading?” but I kept reading because I trust my friends, and because something kept poking inside my mind saying “just you wait, just wait and see”.

For the record, the writing was nice anyway so it was more what was happening rather than writing style putting me off (which has happened in other books that kill amazing plots not the case for this).

Anyway, once I got past that bit and Marianne revealed more and more (and the world around her also started showing more of the islands in it rather than just The Maiden) I was smithen. This book had me by the heart and wouldn’t let go!

Marianne is a wonderful main character, absolutely flawed and with a fear of water (considering she’s at sea this is a wonderful plot point) that makes life a little harder for her, but as she starts finding that her small world isn’t that small acutally, and a mad chase happens, wow did I really like this book.

The reveals as we approach the end were awesome and it had a “good ending” in that lots of things happened there were some victories but it wasn’t a perfect ending and there were some losses (which I didn’t expect).

Same as some plot twists I absolutely did not think would be there and took me by surprise and wow! They did make sense and didn’t feel like the author was pulling my leg but rather cleverly done.

Highly recommend and I can’t wait for Venom. I want it now!

Book Review, Books

Girls of Paper and Fire Review

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px Grey

You can totally see I am going through my YALC pile of books witht eh reviews that I ahve been posting, right? Sorry! But I do want to cull what I want signed or not.

I’ve had this ARC for a bit and having heard good and bad things about it I wasn’t sure what to expect. There is animal abuse/death done to show how violent and ruthless they are, but otherwise there isn’t another scene of it. There is sexual assault/violence also. Just in case you need a few pointers.

The story is intriguing. I still want to know why Lei has golden eyes (one thing that is talked about in the book a lot but doesn’t have an explanation yet). But basically, she’s made a concubine for the king for a year and then she will serve the court. It’s meant to be an honour.

One of the things that confused me (a little spoiler here) is that we get told she is the ninth paper girl as if this is a huge feat, etc, but in truth for most of the book there’s only eight of them because one gets the boot immediately after they go through a “test” to see if they are exactly what they said they were. (Also, why do you do this test to see if their beauty is legitimate and not enchanted after you’ve chosen and “finalised”? Why not test just before you finalise so that you don’t have the embarassment of ditching one because she was cheating or whatever. Bugged me through the whole book).

And as per usual, you put a bunch of girls in the same space and there’s rivalry, gossip and some love happening. The story is interesting but Lei just seems to keep moving with the plot rather than actively being part of it (or rather she is part of the plot in as much as she is useful to it and she has to be the plot butotherwise she is just there at the right time for most things).

However I liked the worldbuilding and the stories that made the world for them. The idea of being more “animal” like giving you a higher status was interesting. I did wonder where the line between Steel and Moon castes would fit. As sometimes someone was Moon but they didn’t show as much animal parts but then others Steel had a lot of animal bits and it was a little confusing. Sounded like a fursona’s dream wrold thought.

In summary, it was entertaining and I want to read the next.

Book Review, Books

Magic warriors and transgender thoughts

Mulan

The Hand, the Eye and the Heart by Zoë Marriott

[TW: deadnaming and misgendering]

When the Chinese empire is under the threat of the cunning Leopard and his merciless men, every man and boy able to contribute to the protection of the realm are called into duty. Zhilan’s father Hua Zhou, also known as the Wild Tiger, is a retired man with a bad leg, who was severely injured during his time serving as an high ranked officer. Still, the army calls him once more. Zhilan’s mum and younger siblings are devastated, and Zhilan is fearing for both of her parents lives. In a bold move, she uses her very special gifts to transform herself into Hua Zhi, the Wild Tiger’s oldest boy, now ready to fight in his fathers place. From that on, the story is rapidly spinning into a carousel of lies and deception, but also that of a new understanding of oneself and others. And when the war is over, it’s not that sure that Zhilan will ever return.

Rating: 🐖🐖🐖

I’m a cis-woman, and I can only take on this book from my own, sometimes very narrow, experiences and understandings of gender. With that disclaimer put out there, I do feel like this is a very sensitive depiction about the fluidity of gender identity, rolls and norms; a story that tries to explore different perspective on sex and the perception of belonging, rather than trying to explain or “own” a certain point of view. It’s also a very emotional journey, that makes me relate to and feel for Hua Zhi in a way that I normally wouldn’t with a typical soldier and hero figure in this kind of tale.

The Hand, the Eye and the Heart is a retelling of the legend behind Mulan but, as described above, with a hundred more layers, dimensions and complications. The war, that has to be said to be at least one of the novel’s main conflicts, isn’t action-packed or filled with the kind of one-liners that usually makes me page forward until the word “sword” isn’t appearing twenty times in every sentence. It’s still a thrilling and exciting story, but the focus on identity and relationships makes it deeper and more low-key than other fantasy retellings of the like. However, it took me a long time to get through the book. It’s still a bit too epic for my taste, and even though it’s interesting and thought provoking, it’s not brilliant or especially outstanding.

Dr. Bea approves

If you’re in for more mythical retellings, have a look at A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. Totally different story, but similar in style and feels.

Book Review, Books

Empire of Sand Review

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.

Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

One thing I learned while taking this picture is a I need a more ornate knife/dagger.

Empire of Sand was one of those preorder I did that I am not sure what sold me initially on it, but I think it was the Mughal India and the magic system. And I am ever so glad that I preordered and bought.

I enjoyed this book SO much. Mehr isn’t the perfect strong female character. She has lived a sheltered life and despite having ordeals, those are minor compared to what is to come.

Because she is half Amrithi, she has been kept mostly in the dark about a lot of her heritage, to “blank” it out and to make sure she fits nicely in her father’s world. Sadly no one really bothered to explain much as to why this was a good thing and how this was a way to protect her (but I mean, adults do, do this and then there is politics and sometimes the less we know the safer we are in a way).

The world, or rather the Empire, is very well built and I could easily picture it in my head. And Mehr is a very real character. She has flaws, she has a temper (but not the “plot only” type of temper, but rather the kind that sometimes is triggered when you are tired or hangry, or just someone rubs you the wrong way, you know that kind, the one you regret soon enough), and she has a love for dancing. Oh and she has magic, but she’s just one of many that have magic.

Then she catches the eye of the Mara and well, she’s suddenly in a more sticky situation than what she thought wasn’t ideal life. I loved the concept of what an oath/promise means to the Amrithi, and I absolutely adored the relationship between Mehr and Amun was one of my favourite things. I kept cooing at them and just thinking that I wish there were romances as nice as this and wow was he a soft man inside and just aww. It is my favourite type of romance, what I call “love comes softly”.

I am a mess doing this review because I enjoyed this book so much. It is a delightful one in the style of Trudi Canavan, Robin Hobb, Robin McKinley and the rest of the wonderful female writers, and I just wanted to be part of that world (even if it is a harsh one).

The Daiva are also a wonderful element of the story as is all the lore that makes it so rich. I highly recommend this book.

(One caveat, do not come at it thinking it is a Western book and do not expect a YA book, despite the character’s age. This book explores topics in a way that isn’t exactly YA centric and is more an adult SFF book than a younger audince, this however doesn’t mean a teenager won’t enjoy it, more on how to approach it to avoid feeling out of sorts with it).