Blog Tour: The Winter Garden

Huge thanks to Del Rey Books for inviting me to join the blog tour and sending me a gifted copy of the book! I was so excited to read The Winter Garden by Alexandra Bell, and it did not disappoint!

Welcome to the Winter Garden. Open only at 13 o’clock.

You are invited to enter an unusual competition.

I am looking for the most magical, spectacular, remarkable pleasure garden this world has to offer.

On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.

Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.

Now all she has to do is win.

I really loved The Winter Garden. I’d read a couple of Alex Bell’s YA/Middle Grade books, so I knew I liked her writing, but this was on a whole other scale. It’s one of those books that slowly unfurls its plots and characters in such a way that you get sucked in immediately. The Winter Garden itself is truly magical, and I shared Beatrice’s wonder as she discovered it as an 8 year old whose mother had just died. It also made perfect sense to me that once she had the opportunity to go searching for it as an adult, she would do so. Who wouldn’t want to revisit such a magical place, especially if you’re constantly being judged for being different in your usual world?

Beatrice as an adult, Victorian woman is such a great character. She bucks so many Victorian trends – she won’t marry, she wants to live independently, she loves science and she wants to explore the world – but in other ways she’s still so bound by society’s rules. She can’t stop herself from treating James, who was her only friend as a child, as a servant because he’s of a lower class than she is, and she is abominably rude to him multiple times as a result. She judges her friend Rosa for being American, new money and searching for a marriage which will bring her a title, without realising how that will bring Rosa a security she’s never had before – and one Beatrice has never needed. It’s fair to say that Beatrice is not necessarily always a nice person. But it’s still a joy to watch her find herself, firstly on her wedding day, then in her travels and finally as she designs her garden.

All the way through those adventures though, many of which we learn about through letters, there was a part of me that desperately wanted Beatrice to come home and rescue Rosa, who is trapped in the most terrible of marriages. Even as Rosa chases the thing she wants more than almost anything else, I was silently screaming not him! Don’t pick him! (Trying to review this book without spoilers is HARD.) It’s really difficult to see the cheerful, vibrant Rosa we first meet on Beatrice’s wedding day start changing into someone else, someone who yearns for escape. She never completely loses herself, and she comes up with the perfect way to keep her husband away from her, but she’s never that carefree young woman we first saw. The character development throughout the book is spot on, and I also liked the way it looked at mental health and the way women were so often dismissed as hysterical.

There is a plot, but it’s almost secondary to the characters, which I have to be honest, I always love in a book. We follow both these women’s stories until the fateful invitations to design a garden arrive. I loved this part of the book, maybe more than the rest, because both Beatrice and Rosa have their own reasons for wanting to win that wish and it was really hard to know who to root for sometimes. And the gardens they design are magnificent. It’s never really mentioned how magic must be at the heart of so much of their gardens, even by the visitors to them, and yet it’s also made clear at the very beginning of the book that no-one believes Beatrice’s stories of the Winter Garden because they’re so fantastical. I absolutely want to actually visit all three gardens though, and ride the golden horse on the carousel and maybe even eat a plum of regret.

The Winter Garden is honestly a book that will stay with me for a long time. It’s truly magical, and while I’ve seen a lot of places say it’s like The Night Circus, I will go one step further and say it’s better. I really, properly, loved it, and Beatrice, and Rosa and James. It doesn’t scream and shout for attention, but manages to grab it anyway, and it’s perfect for reading in the dead of winter, wrapped up warm in front of a fire. I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy!

5/5

The Winter Garden is published by Del Rey and out 2nd September. I was gifted a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: The Hand of the Sun King

I’m very excited that today is my stop on the blog tour for The Hand of the Sun King by J T Greathouse. Huge thanks to Will at Gollancz for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

All my life, I have been torn between two legacies: that of my father, whose roots trace back to the right hand of the Emperor. That of my mother’s family, who reject the oppressive Empire and embrace the resistance.

I can choose between them – between protecting my family, or protecting my people – or I can search out a better path . . . a magical path, filled with secrets, unbound by Empire or resistance, which could shake my world to its very foundation.

But my search for freedom will entangle me in a war between the gods themselves 

I knew I wouldn’t have time to read the book for a full review, so this is my first impressions.

First of all, I absolutely love the cover, so kudos to Patrick Knowles who designed and illustrated it. The illustration on the hand is stunning.

But on to the actual book! I’m 123 pages into it, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s first person point of view, and we first meet our protagonist, Wen Alder, when he is 8 years old. Alder’s conflicting loyalties can be seen right from the start – does he choose the path of his Sienese father, or that of his Nayeni grandmother, who rebels against Sienese rule? Well actually, Alder chooses to follow magic and he’ll take whichever path will lead him to greater understanding and control.

The characters are really well fleshed out. We don’t spend a lot of time with anyone other than Alder, but I still loved his grandmother and his tutor. Alder himself can be a bit annoying – he’s quite arrogant and he puts himself in danger in his determination to master magic properly, not in the restrained ways practised by his grandmother and the empire.

The worldbuilding is pretty good too. It’s obviously based on Asian history, and I’m sure someone more versed in it would be able to spot all the links, but “based on Asian history” is all I’ve got. As I’m not very far into the book I’m not sure how this is going to play out, but I like the two different magic systems, clearly accessing the same power in different ways. I also like what we’ve had so far about the internal conflicts felt by someone brought up under an oppressive, conquering regime with loyalties to both the oppressors and the oppressed.

So far then, The Hand of the Sun King is living up to expectations. I’m very much looking forward to getting to know Alder and the people surrounding him better as the book goes on, and to finding out if he can ever resolve his torn loyalties. It’s definitely worth picking up if you’re in the mood for a coming of age story filled with magic and conflict!

The Hand of the Sun King is out now from Gollancz

Blog Tour: The Wood Bee Queen

I’m very excited that today is my stop on the blog tour for The Wood Bee Queen by Edward Cox. If you’ve been here for a while you might remember that I loved Ed’s debut series, The Relic Guild, so I was very much looking forward to reading his latest book. Many thanks to Gollancz for my gifted copy!

Somewhere in England, in a small town called Strange Ground by the Skea, Ebbie Wren is the last librarian and he’s about to lose his job. Estranged from his parents, unable to make connections with anyone except the old homeless lady who lives near the library, Ebbie isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do next. His only escape from reality is his deep interest in local folklore, but reality is far stranger than Ebbie can dream.

On the other side of the sky and the sea, the Queen of House Wood Bee has been murdered. Her sister has made the first move in a long game, one which will lead her to greatness, yet risk destruction for the entire Realm. She needs the two magical stones Foresight and Hindsight for her power to be complete, but no one knows where they are. Although the sword recently stolen by Bek Rana, small time thief and not very good at it, might hold a clue to their location . . . and to stopping the chaos. But all Bek wants is to sell the sword and buy herself a better life. She’s not interested in being a hero, and neither is Ebbie.

But someone is forcing their hand and playing for the heart of the Realm. Ebbie and Bek are destined to unite. They must find a way to stop the destruction of House Wood Bee, save the Realm, and just maybe save themselves in the process. All victories come at a price. The Oldungods are rising. And they are watching… 

The first thing I want to say is congratulations to Ed on that glorious pun of a title. I’m ashamed to say it took me a very long time to realise the double meaning, but once I did, it made me smile every time.

Anyway, you’ll be pleased to hear I really enjoyed The Wood Bee Queen. It’s the story of Ebbie Wren, a librarian in a tiny town near the sea, who, on the day he loses his job, finds out that the Realm is a real place and not just a story. Not only that, it turns out the future of both the Realm and Earth might actually rest on the shoulders of Ebbie and his very reluctant companion, Bek Rana. I loved both Ebbie and Bek as lead characters. They’re both very closed off in their own way – Ebbie has just lost his only friend, and Bek had a tragic childhood which means she doesn’t trust very easily – but we see them open up to each other over the course of the book, and there’s some good character development for them both. Is it a little bit tropey? Well, yes, but tropes are tropes for a reason, and the story carried me along anyway.

Speaking of story, the plot is mostly a portal fantasy quest/epic adventure, but it spends more time in (the slightly alternative version of) our world than you might expect, and I really liked that. I also liked the way Ed mixed in the old Greek gods, and used the idea of the gods using mortals as pawns in a game. There’s also a great cast of villains and side characters that I quickly cared about – Karin, Charlie and, of course, Mai were particular standouts. The worldbuilding was great – I could easily picture both versions of Strange Ground- and was made richer by the inclusion of some of the stories Ebbie had heard from Mai. I know some people hated the letter that Mai sent Ebbie, but I loved both the idea and content of it. I also enjoyed reading from Yandira (the villain)’s point of view, and she is a delicious villain indeed!

The Wood Bee Queen isn’t a complicated book, and I did feel the pace suffered in the middle a bit, mostly the parts featuring the army on the move. However, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and apart from that small gripe about the pacing, I thought it was great. There were times I didn’t want to put it down, and if that’s not a sign of a good book, I don’t know what is! I would definitely recommend it to other fantasy fans – it’s fun and filled with a cast of characters that will stay with you.

4/5

The Wood Bee Queen is out now from Gollancz

Blog Tour: The Blacktongue Thief

Today is my spot on the blog tour for The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman! As such, I received a copy of the book for free from Gollancz, in exchange for an honest review.

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford. 

I’ll be honest. I thought for a long time before I requested a spot on the tour, because I really wasn’t sure if The Blacktongue Thief was going to be my sort of book. It appeared to be traditional epic fantasy, and therefore, I assumed, full of the misogyny often found in those books. Fortunately that was not the case. Kinch, our main character, isn’t the most enlightened person, but he is a 23 year old, brought up in a thieves’ school and living in a world that has been ravaged by war, so I can forgive him some rough edges. It helps that Kinch is a great first person POV – he’s telling the story from some point in the future, and is happy to pass comment on the actions of himself and his companions, often in a very funny way. Because Kinch is telling his own story, we get to see his thought processes too, and I particularly liked that we got a lot of his backstory in a very organic way. There were two occasions when I thought this worked very well: his reaction to meeting Malk, and the guilt and shame it provoked; and when he meets a man who could possibly-maybe be his biological father. I also loved KInch’s relationship with his god, Fothannon, and the mischievous ways Fothannon would grant prayers.

KInch isn’t our only well-written character though. The rest of this band of adventurers have enough depth that I cared about what happened to them – even Galva, who barely speaks – and even the minor characters are memorable. The plot moves at pace, and it’s a credit to Buehlman’s writing that he builds the character development into the fast moving story. Also, the world building is phenomenal and again, is fed into the story in a really organic way. One of my favourite world building ideas was the Taker’s Guild and the way they’d spread around the world, as well as their policy of charging their members for the education they’d had no choice in receiving. Because Kinch is in debt to the guild, he has a tattoo on his cheek that allows anyone to slap him and claim a drink on the guild, and I loved this idea. It’s such a tiny thing on the face of it, but really illustrates what sort of world this is and where the power lies.

I will say that it took me a little while to get into the book. I’m not sure why that was, as the first scene is great, but it just didn’t immediately grip me, and I was worried that I was going to struggle to read it. However, it soon picked up for me, and I found myself cursing every time I had to put the book down! If you’re struggling too, just stick with it, because it’s worth it!

Overall then, I greatly enjoyed The Blacktongue Thief. It’s funny and fast moving, with a great set of characters and a well thought out, vivid setting. It’s definitely worth your time!

4/5

The Blacktongue Thief is out now

Blog Tour: The Time-Thief

My copy of the The Time-Thief was gifted to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

I thoughtThe Inifinite by Patience Agbabi last year was great, so I was thrilled to be invited to join the blog tour for its sequel, The Time-Thief! It was lovely to be back in the company of Elle and her friends and I loved that this time we got to go back to the past.

It’s midsummer’s day and thirteen-year-old Elle and her Leapling classmates are visiting the Museum of the Past, the Present and the Future. But on the day of the school trip, disaster strikes, and the most unique and valuable piece in the museum, the Infinity-Glass, is stolen! And worse still, Elle’s friend and fellow Infinite, MC², is arrested for the crime!

To prove his innocence Elle must leap back centuries in time, to a London very different from today. Along the way she will meet new friends, face dangers unlike any she has ever known, and face an old enemy who is determined to destroy her. Can Elle find the missing Infinity-Glass and return it to its rightful home before it’s too late?

It is such a pleasure to see a book with a Black, autistic main character. It feels like this is something really unusual in children’s books (although I acknowledge that it might just be I haven’t come across them), and I imagine there are a lot of kids out there who will be seeing themselves in a book for the first time. That’s such a big deal! I am in no way an own voices reviewer for this book, and so I have very little idea as to whether it’s an accurate depiction of autism, but it seems to be, and Agbabi also credits a sensitivity reader in the acknowledgements. I’d definitely be interesting in hearing what you think if you do have this knowledge!

I really enjoyed the story in The Time-Thief. Elle and her friends are Leaplings – all born on the 29th February in a leap year – which gives them the power to time travel. After the events of the first book, Elle and Ben are now Infinites, a secret group of Leaplings who fight crimes along the timeline. When the Infinity-Glass goes missing and their friend is arrested for stealing it, it’s up to Elle to prove his innocence. To do this, Elle must leap back to 1752, and I loved these parts of the story. Agbabi paints a vivid picture of 18th century London, and how it affects the Leaplings, both mentally and physically. Francis was also a great addition to the team we already know and love, and I liked the way Agbabi used his story to explore historical London and its prejudices.

One of the things I really like is the importance of wordplay to the characters and how this is threaded throughout the book. The fact that the bad guys are known as the Vicious Circle and all that implies about the difficulties of time travel really tickles me. The only thing that bugs me a little is that I’m not really clear on what’s motivating them. Is it just all about profit? An attack on the mysterious Infinity? The first book had a brilliant environmental message, where the future was green and the antagonists were trying to reverse that, but it wasn’t as clear in The Time-Thief, which focused on the theft of the Infinity-Glass. It’s a minor gripe, as although there is a through storyline, each book is complete in itself, but it is something I’d like to see more of in future books.

Overall, The Time-Thief is a great middle-grade book, with a diverse cast and interesting plot. The environmental message of The Infinite isn’t quite as clear here, but it’s still there, alongside themes of family and friendship, and how they can make it more difficult to do the right thing. However, it’s never preachy and I would definitely recommend it.

4/5

The Time-Thief is out now from Canongate Books. Thank you Canongate for my gifted copy!

Netgalley Catch-Up

I thought it was about time I did another Netgalley catch-up, as I am oh so far behind (I have to double my number of reviews on there to even approach a healthy ratio at the moment!), and I’ve been trying to clean up my netgalley shelf.

Afterlove

I absolutely loved Afterlove. It’s the first book I’ve read by Tanya Byrne, but it certainly won’t be the last! I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but I fell in love with Ash and Poppy, and really felt their struggles – and their love, I loved the concept of the book as well – some people become Reapers when they die, and guide others (usually people who have died unexpectedly) to their afterlife. Afterlove wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be from the blurb, but it was so cleverly constructed and well written, I was with it all the way nevertheless. The way that we got to explore Ash and Poppy’s developing relationship made it all the more tragic when it was ripped away. Grief is ever present in this book – Ash is grieving her own lost life and potential, but we also get to see how her death has affected others – particularly Poppy.

I adored the relationship between Ash and Poppy. YA books with a relationship between two women as the focus still seem so rare, so it’s good to see one at all, but when it’s this well written, it’s a real treat. I can’t wait untl Afterlove comes out and I can buy a finished copy! 5/5

Perfect on Paper

I really enjoyed Perfect on Paper. It’s the story of Darcy Phillips, who acts as an anonymous agony aunt to the other students in her school via locker 89 – if you have a problem, you can write a letter, leave it in locker 89 with a tip and Darcy will use her copious, self-taught interrelationship knowledge and email you advice. No-one knows it’s Darcy who runs locker 89, until new boy Alexander Brougham catches her one day and asks her to help him win his ex-girlfriend back. Before she knows it, her entire life is unravelling and she has to think seriously about what she wants, and what she’s prepared to do to get it. I loved the characters in this book. Darcy is so flawed, but also quite self-aware. There’s a running plot point about how she used locker 89 in one particular case, and she knows she did something terrible and is wracked with guilt about it (although not enough to have come clean). Locker 89 also means she’s constantly keeping something from her friends, and although she doesn’t really notice the strain it’s putting on her friendship with Brooke in particular until Brougham comes along, the strain is still there, underlying all her interactions.

Brougham is also great. He has a terrible homelife, despite his family’s money, and is quite repressed in some ways, but his friendship with Darcy helps them both open up and share things they wouldn’t tell anyone else. He’s very sweet, and thinks about others more than himself, and I maybe fell a little bit in love with him myself. I’m not going to lie, the plot is kind of predictable in many ways, but it was well-written and I was engaged in what was going on throughout the book. I liked that Darcy was bisexual, but still working out what that means for her, and worried that if she ends up in a relationship with a boy, people will question her sexuality, and I liked that she was part of a LGBT+ community in school. Her sister Ainsley was also amazing, and I absolutely loved that it was such a non-issue that she was trans, and that she was never dead-named or misgendered. There’s also an adorable scene near the end of the book as Darcy tries to make amends which I really liked.

I definitely recommend Perfect on Paper. It was exactly what I expected, but that’s very much a good thing! 4/5

Here the Whole Time

This book was adorable. A queer love story between Felipe and Caio, the relationship between them was built really realistically. I very much related to the way Felipe saw himself, and how he was convinced that Caio couldn’t have the same feelings for him, even though it was obvious to the reader (well, me at least) that he did. I loved the slow burn of their relationship too, moving from almost-strangers to friends first, and how Felipe is really atrociously rude at first, because his summer plans have been changed without notice. This book is really all about the characters and I loved every one of them, except Caio’s parents, who are homophobic. Felipe’s mum was amazing though, and she was probably my favourite, although Caio’s friends Rebeca and Melissa were also fantastic. I think it can be so easy to isolate YA protagonists from their friends or family, and it was nice that this didn’t happen here, for the most part anyway. In fact, most of the side characters were not just completely supportive of the building love story, but actively trying to force the two boys together, which I also loved.

The fat rep was excellent. There was fatphobia from bullies, as well as internalised fatphobia rom Felipe himself, but it made sense and was addressed within the story, and it was obvious that Felipe was making a real effort to change his mindset.

I really enjoyed Here the Whole Time, and would happily read other books by Vitor Martins. I hope we get to see more of his work here in the UK. 4/5

The Henna Wars

I’ve been really lucky recently, as I’ve been able to read a string of really good queer YA romances, and The Henna Wars was another one. It tackles some difficult concepts (racism, cultural appropriation, and homophobia among others), but it does so in a really satisfying way, and the romance is lovely. There are a lot of obstacles in the way, but it works very well as a story.

NIshat isn’t the nicest person – she doesn’t really think about others and what might be going on with them, and she makes some very dubious decisions – but it is kind of understandable, because what happens to her is truly awful, and it’s good to see her grow as a person over the course of the book. I also liked that she refused to let the bullying and abuse get to her as much as she could. Flavia is also flawed – it takes her a long time to realise Nishat is correct about something, although she does apologise once she does realise. I loved Priti, Nishat’s sister and confidante, who knows NIshat’s a lesbian before anyone else, and gives her the support she needs when their parents don’t. They have a lovely relationship for most of the book, even if Nishat isn’t always aware of what her sister is going through.

The setting of The Henna Wars was a really interesting one, with the business competition turning Nishat and Flavia into rivals. It meant that there were legitimate reasons for Nishat ending up isolated for part of the book, and provided some tension.

I really enjoyed The Henna Wars, but the last 20% or so was my favourite. I’m not going to lie, it did make me cry, but I loved the way Adiba Jaigirdar tied all the loose ends together. It felt very satisfying, and if I’d had a physical copy of the book, I think I would have been clutching it to myself. I definitely recommend The Henna Wars to anyone looking for a queer YA romance! 4/5

Siri, Who Am I?

The concept of Siri, Who Am I is fascinating – Mia has had a blow to her head, has lost her memory and needs to use her social media to retrace her steps and try and work out who she is – but unfortunately, for me it didn’t live up to expectations. I just didn’t think the story made sense, and Mia should definitely be sueing the hospital who let her leave with no idea of even her surname, never mind where she lived. I don’t think it ever recovered from that point to be honest. Even taking into account Mia’s amnesia, I found her very annoying, although I liked her better by the end of the book.

I actually ended up enjoying Siri, Who Am I?, but it did feel like a struggle to get there. It’s not a bad book, but it was a disappointment for me, as I was expecting such great things from it. 3/5

Hollowpox

I have loved the previous two Nevermoor books, so I guess it’s not a surprise that I loved Hollowpox too, although reading about a mysterious illness spreading among the Wunimals was certainly interesting in the middle of a global pandemic! Hollowpox does a great job at moving Morrigan’s story on, while exploring more of the world of Nevermoor, particularly the discrimination Wunimals face. All our favourites are back and are as wonderful as ever.


I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but it is a fantastic book, full of magic and wonder (and Wunder). Obviously you need to read the first two before Hollowpox, as it is a direct sequel, but I highly recommend the entire series. I can’t wait for the next book! 5/5

The Sad Ghost Club

I found The Sad Ghost Club a little disappointing if I’m being honest. I don’t know if it’s because of the way it was displaying in my kindle app, which made it difficult to read, but I never connected with the characters and it felt like I was reading for the sake of reading, if that makes sense, rather than because I was engaged in the story. I’d be quite interested in seeing a physical copy of the book so I can see what it shold look like though! 3/5

Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Oh Em Gee, am I actually writing a book review the day after I finish a book? What is happening to me?! Well, what’s happening to me is I got approved on netgalley for an e-arc of one of my most anticipated books of the year, and given I didn’t think I had any chance at all of such approval (my ratio is atrocious, and I’m not known to Hodder), I thought it was only fair to review it immediately!

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within was gifted to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

I am a huge fan of Becky Chambers and her books. One of my friends once described The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet as a hug in a book, and it’s still the most perfect description of all of Becky’s books. The universe of the Wayfarer series isn’t perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than anything we have at the moment, and the impression you get is that they’re still working to make it better. Although each book has its own plot, the characters are the most important aspect, and The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is no different to the previous books in the series.

Each book in this series is a standalone, but there’s usually something which links back to previous books, and in The Galaxy, and the Ground Within we’re re-introduced to Pei, who we first met in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Pei finds herself stuck on Gora, a planet whose only purpose is serving as a pit-stop for intergalatic travellers, along with two other travellers, Roveg and Speaker, and her ground host, Ouloo and her child Tupo. Over the course of the book, we get to know these five people, each of whom has their own reasons for worry.

The thing that always gets me about Becky Chambers’ books, is that we do really get to know all the characters over the course of the book. I don’t know how she does it so well, and without you noticing, but suddenly something happens and you’re absolutely, completely invested in what happens to these people. Watching these strangers become a sort of family, over a very short time-span, despite some very deep differences, was such a wonderful experience. Ouloo was my favourite, absolutely determined to make sure the Five-Hop One-Stop catered to everyone. Her distress when she realised that she didn’t know how to make anything for Speaker’s species was palpable and it fuller endeared her to me. I loved her relationship with Tupo too – Tupo frustrated her, as I’m sure every teenager frustrates their mother, but her love for xyr was always visible. Tupo xyrself was adorable, desperate to know more about everything. In fact, I loved all the characters, and how they interacted with each other, and I cried when I had to say goodbye.

Something I really loved about this book was the way Chambers used her fictional world to reflect our own. This, of course, is what every good sci-fi book should do, but I’m not sure it’s ever been quite as obvious as in Speaker’s impassioned speech about how her species suffered under colonialism/imperialism, and how she can see the same things happening again under a different name. It is also made clear that the Galactic Commons continue to ignore the Akarak because they are different, while making excuses about not having the money to help them. Sound familiar?

I don’t think I have the words to do this book justice. Like all the Wayfarer books, it hooked me in and I felt like I was also part of that universe. The event that strands everyone on Gora is scary, but I still wanted to be there in Ouloo’s garden, getting drunk on Laru alcohol. I’m so sad this is the last Wayfarer book, but I’m glad it’s finishing on a high. If you haven’t read any of the other books, you don’t have to, as they’re all standalones, but I think you’ll get more out of the later ones if you’ve at least read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. That said, I cannot recommend The Galaxy, and the Ground Within enough. Read it.

5/5

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is published by Hodder and Stoughton and out on 18th February 2021

The Geeky Stitching Co’s Little Book of Cross Stitch

Today I’m reviewing an unusual type of book for this blog – it’s non-fiction and practical! I used to love cross stitching when I was younger, but somehow I can never find the time anymore, although I’ll often grab a small kit if I see one I like. When I was offered the chance to review The Geeky Stitching Co’s Little Book of Cross Stitch as part of the blog tour, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to jump back in! This book was gifted to me by Authoright.

You will find over thirty of our bestselling designs in this book as well as seven new patterns to stitch up, we have everything from rainbows to fluffy animals and not a country cottage in sight!

A great book for beginners as well as experienced stitchers who are fans of stitching cute stuff and fun puns.

The Geeky Stitching Co’s Little Book of Cross Stitch is full of great designs. Living up to the company’s name, there’s more than a smidge of geek about them, and I’m looking forward to having a go. I had hoped that by the time I was finishing this blog post off, I would have made one of the designs, but alas, time was not on my side. However, I got far enough that I can say the designs are easy to follow, the key for each thread is clear, and it’s full of useful information if you’re a beginner, such as how to actually stitch, what fabric you need etc. I really liked that the front page of each design was very specific on the hoop and fabric size.

I maybe would have liked some information on the colour of aida they’d used – I ordered the threads and fabric I needed from an online store, and ended up picking a fabric wasn’t purple enough. I’m sure it won’t matter once I’ve finished, but it would have been a nice addition. I will also point out (because I’m a pedant – sorry, I can’t help myself) that there are a couple of spelling/grammatical mistakes, but they don’t really detract from the book.

The important thing is the designs are cute, easy to interpret/read and the instructions are clear enough that you could pick this book as a complete beginner and still produce a cute cross stitch design. What more could you want from a cross stitch book?

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4/5

The Geeky Stitching Co’s Little Book of Cross Stitch is out now from Clink Street Publishing. Many thanks to Blue and Authoright for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: London Made Us

A copy of this book was gifted to me by Canongate Books in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve never listened to Robert Elms’s radio show, but London Made Us sounded fascinating – a personal memoir, told through the history of London. Parts of it certainly were fascinating, but overall I found it a little bit disappointing.

‘London is a giant kaleidoscope, which is forever turning. Take your eye off it for more than a moment and you’re lost.’

Robert Elms has seen his beloved city change beyond all imagining. London in his lifetime has morphed from a piratical, bomb-scarred playground, to a swish cosmopolitan metropolis. Motorways driven through lost communities, accents changing, skyscrapers appearing. Yet still it remains to him the greatest place on earth.

Elms takes us back through time and place to myriad Londons. He is our guide through a place that has seen scientific experiments conducted in subterranean lairs and a small community declare itself an independent nation; a place his great-great-grandfather made the Elms’ home over a century ago and a city that has borne witness to world-changing events.

London Made Us is well-written, and Elms has a knack of carrying the reader with him through various, often bizarre or ridiculous, events. It’s full of local knowledge, and it’s clear that Elms loves this city with all his heart. As someone who loves her own city (and London) wholeheartedly, I could definitely relate to that. But all the way through the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Elms was almost looking down on those of us who aren’t from London. There’s a definite vibe of “London is best”, and I felt he sort of passed over some aspects of the darker side of the city.

I suppose, given it’s a memoir, I should have also expected the sheen of nostlagia that colours the whole book. Again, there’s a definite sense of the past being better than the present, and while I can agree in some ways (such as the destruction of London’s architectural heritage being a crime against the city – I have feelings about that), I do think it’s disingenuous to gloss over the many problems London has had in the last century.

I think that if I’d known of Elms, or listened to his radio show, before I read this book I would probably have enjoyed it more for what it was, rather than wishing for something different. I suspect that the tone wouldn’t have felt so snobbish if I knew how he sounded anyway. I know that a lot of people loved London Made Us, and I can see why, especially if you happened to be a Londoner yourself. But I hadn’t done any of that, and the book felt to me, as a northerner and more specifically, a scouser, less accessible because of it. And that’s why it was disappointing. You shouldn’t need to already know the author to enjoy reading their book.

3/5

London Made Us is out now from Canongate Books

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

I was gifted a free e-arc of this book from the publisher, Titan Books, via Netgalley.

I don’t think anyone who’s read this blog would be surprised if I said I was a massive fan of V E Schwab. I love all her work, and I’ve been dying to read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue since she first spoke about it. It therefore also won’t be a surprise when I tell you that I loved it with every fibre of my being.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever-and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore, and he remembers her name.

I don’t even really know where to start or what to say. Addie’s story spans 300 years, although we see the most detail from her first 100 years and the current time (which in the book is 2014), and I just loved it. I shared Addie’s hurts and frustrations, her loneliness and her shock at finally meeting someone who remembers her. I loved seeing the ways she adapted to her situation, finding clothes to wear and places to sleep, but never being able to leave a mark. I really, really loved the epigraphs that began each section, showing the impact Addie had had over the 300 years of her life.

I realise I’m not going into much detail here, but I do think you should experience this book as free from knowledge as you can possibly be. What you need to know is this: it is beautifully written. Seriously, so beautiful. One of my joys of the last 6 years has been watching V’s writing improve with every book – and she was brilliant to begin with. Addie LaRue is not like anything she’s ever written before though. It feels very different, but I’m not sure I can put into words why it feels so different so you’ll just have to trust me. If you’ve not picked up a V E Schwab book before, this is the one to start with.

The characters are fantastic. Not just Addie, Henry and Luc, but all the people we meet in the course of the book. Even the landlady who forgets Addie has paid a week’s rent in advance sticks in the memory, which is testament to V’s skills. I couldn’t put it down until I finished it because I needed to know what happened to these people. I’m not saying I didn’t guess some of the plot turns, because I did, but it didn’t matter.

I could carry on gushing about The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, but that seems a bit pointless, so I’ll end here. Just know that this is a wonderful, beautiful book that takes you on a journey with its protagonist that you will remember forever, and you will not regret picking it up.

5/5

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is out today, 6th October, from Titan Books