Book Review: The Deepest Breath

Can you tell I’m trying to play catch up with my reviews? The Deepest Breath is an utterly gorgeous novel in verse by Meg Grehan, which came out in…May. I mean, at least it was this year, right?

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Stevie is eleven and loves reading and sea-creatures. She lives with her mum, and she’s been best friends with Andrew since forever. Stevie’s mum teases her that someday they’ll get married, but Stevie knows that won’t ever happen. There’s a girl at school that she likes more. A lot more. Actually, she’s a bit confused about how much she likes her. It’s nothing like the way she likes Andrew. It makes her fizz inside. That’s a new feeling, one she doesn’t understand. Stevie needs to find out if girls can like girls – love them, even – but it’s hard to get any information, and she’s too shy to ask out loud about it. But maybe she can find an answer in a book. With the help of a librarian, Stevie finds stories of girls loving girls, and builds up her courage to share the truth with her mum. 

I adored The Deepest Breath. I read it so long ago now, but it’s stayed with me since. I definitely remember that it made me cry a lot, in the best possible way of course. It’s written from Stevie’s point of view as she tries to understand her feelings for Chloe, a girl in school. She doesn’t know if it’s ok for girls to like other girls like that, but she doesn’t feel like there’s anyone to ask. And Stevie likes to understand things. She asks questions. She reads huge non-fiction books, full of facts, because understanding things makes life that little less scary. So not knowing what the way she’s feeling means is terrifying for Stevie. And no matter how hard she tries, she doesn’t seem to be able to ask her mum, or make her understand.

The relationship between Stevie and her mum was one of my favourite things. There’s a bit towards the end of the book when the loveliest librarian ever written thinks Stevie’s mum has rejected her because she has feelings for a girl, and I wanted to shout no! She just hasn’t understood what Stevie’s trying to tell her! Because Stevie’s mum is not the sort of person who would reject her daughter for anything. Their closeness is evident in every line, and you can see that they mean the world to each other. They get each other through the tough times and it was just lovely to see that sort of relationship on the page.

The writing in The Deepest Breath is just gorgeous too. It’s a stream of consciousness from Stevie, full of feelings and sadness and questions and, maybe above all else, love – for her mum, for her friends, for Chloe. It is really quite breathtaking how much of Stevie we get to see in a relatively short book, and I love all of her.

I really can’t recommend The Deepest Breath enough. I am so thankful for the gifted copy because I know it wouldn’t have crossed my radar otherwise, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s also one of the most important – I don’t think there’s enough LGBT+ fiction aimed at this age group (the younger end of YA), especially this well written. Please do yourselves a favour and pick it up. I promise you won’t regret it!

5/5

Many thanks to Nina Douglas and Little Island Press for the gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Girl Squads

Girl Squads was sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

I’m going to be honest with you: when Girl Squads by Sam Maggs (illustrated by Jenn Woodall) arrived on my doorstep *cough*last year*cough*, I had absolutely no memory of requesting it. I still don’t know if I requested it or was sent it unsolicited, but I don’t really care, because this is a fab little book, full of real-life women making a difference in a range of fields. I like to think I’d have picked it up at some point if it hadn’t been sent to me – it’s exactly the sort of thing I like, and goes very well with my copies of Rejected Princesses and Bygone Badass Broads – but it probably wouldn’t have been top of my wishlist and I might not have noticed it.

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A modern girl is nothing without her squad of besties. But don’t let all the hashtags fool you: the #girlsquad goes back a long, long time. In this hilarious and heartfelt book, geek girl Sam Maggs takes you on a tour of some of history’s most famous female BFFs, including:

• Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the infamous lady pirates who sailed the seven seas and plundered with the best of the men
• Jeanne Manon Roland and Sophie Grandchamp, Parisian socialites who landed front-row seats (from prison) to the French Revolution
• Sharon and Shirley Firth, the First Nations twin sisters who would go on to become Olympic skiers and break barriers in the sport
• The Edinburgh Seven, the band of pals who fought to become the first women admitted to medical school in the United Kingdom
• The Zohra Orchestra, the ensemble from Afghanistan who defied laws, danger, and threats to become the nation’s first all-female musical group

And many more! Spanning art, science, politics, activism, and even sports, these girl squads show just how essential female friendship has been throughout history and throughout the world. 

My favourite thing about Girl Squads was the way we didn’t just get stories about “important” women. We had athletes, artists and scientists, as well as activists and warriors, and there was a wide range of countries and cultures represented as well. I also liked that it wasn’t all historical, there were some very modern entries that readers might not have heard of, such as the Zohra Orchestra. There were a few people that had come up in other books of this type, but a lot of them were new to me, and I love learning new things.

The one thing that really, really bugged me though was the insistence of using terms like squad and BFF and the like everywhere. I know I sound like a grumpy old woman, but it really pulled me out of the text. I get that that’s probably just me though, and I’m sure the younger audience at which Girl Squads is aimed don’t get annoyed at it.

I did also find some of the entries a bit too long, and they felt like a chore to get through. However, most of the entries held my interest and I certainly finished the book with a better knowledge of the people featured, even those I’d previously heard of.

I defnitely recommend Girl Squads if you’re looking for a light, non-fiction book. It’s easy to just read one entry if you have limited time, or pick and choose according to what interests you.

It’s not my favourite of these types of books, but Girl Squads is definitely an interesting read and well worth picking up!

3.5/5

Many thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone and Quirk Books for my gifted copy of Girl Squads

Blog Tour: Angel Mage

ANGEL MAGE BLOG TOUR PART 2

Today is my turn on the massive blog tour for Angel Mage by Garth Nix. I’ve never read a Garth Nix book previously, but I know so many people love them, so I was excited to head into this one. I wasn’t disappointed!

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More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of her country, Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

Liliath’s quest centres round four young Sarancians, all seemingly different but who share something very important. There is Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic.

The four feel a strange, immediate kinship for each other from the moment they meet, but they do not know why, or suspect their importance. Only Liliath knows their secret, and she aims to draw them in to her complex plot, just as she manipulates the Queen and her musketeers and everyone else around here.

The four friends must learn to rely on each other and each of their unique skills if they’re going to stand a chance to outwit Liliath and the angels she commands.

I really enjoyed Angel Mage. Standalone fantasy books are such a rarity these days that it was just nice to read something that ended. That’s not to say there isn’t room for more, because there definitely is, and I would like to read it should Garth Nix ever decide to write it, but the story is nicely self-contained. I would love to learn more about Liliath’s life prior to the start of the book, but we’re given enough information that we can piece it together ourselves, and sometimes that’s good too.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Angel Mage is a retelling of The Three Musketeers, but my entire knowledge of the musketeers comes from watching Dogtanian 30 years ago, so don’t be expecting any clever comparisons!

We have four protagonists in Angel Mage, each of whom has their own flaws and good points, and I thought the differences between them were well written and very clear. My favourites were Simeon and Dorotea, I think because they genuinely just wanted to get on with their vocations and really didn’t appreciate being caught up in the adventure. Agnez and Henri were after glory and fortune – there’s nothing wrong with that, and they each have perfectly respectable reasons for it, but it does make them slightly less sympathetic.

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about how good the magic system is Angel Mage, and I have to agree with this. Magic is provided by angels, each of whom has their own scope and strength, depending on where they sit in the hierarchy. However, there is a cost – the summoning of an angel is powered by your life force so the more powerful the angel you summon, the more years of your life you lose, which results in mages dying young, looking three times their actual age. I loved this aspect of the magic! The cardinal, for example, has to really need the angels, because she knows the next time she summons one, it will probably kill her. This in turn leads to her authority dwindling, because her enemies know she can’t act against them unless she’s willing to die for it. I found this fascinating, because it had such an impact on the politics of the city, especially considering the queen, king and church were all vying for control.

I liked that we got point of view chapters from all four protagonists, and the antagonist. I always enjoy reading the antagonist’s point of view – why is Liliath doing this? What does she ultimately want? – and I particularly enjoyed being able to anticipate the outcome of events based on reading all the points of view.

Pretty much my only gripe with Angel Mage was the pacing. I found some of it very slow indeed, (I won’t lie – there were moments when I’d put it down and couldn’t bring myself to pick it back up) and then the ending seemed incredibly rushed, and I think the pacing could have been improved. I really enjoyed everything else though!

If you’re already a Garth Nix fan, you’ve probably already picked Angel Mage up. If you’re not, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in it as an adult fantasy book!

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

4/5

Angel Mage is out now. May thanks to Gollancz for the gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

YALC 2019

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The UKYA Discord Bloggers group

So, YALC (the Young Adult Literature Convention) is over for another year. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll know that I was finding it difficult to summon up any enthusiasm in the weeks leading up to the event. I’d found last year’s very frustrating and as the forecast temperature kept rising and rising, I was getting more and more anxious that the entire weekend was going to be a disaster. Fortunately, once I finished work for a two week break, I felt much more positive and in the end I really enjoyed myself.

Partly this was because I actually took my own advice this year. I stayed hydrated and fed, I only took eight books for signing, which were spread over the weekend, and I had a much better idea of what I wanted to do and see. It helped that I didn’t want to see most of the really high profile authors and that I purposely did most of my book buying/acquiring on Friday. I’m pretty certain that by the time I left Olympia on Saturday, I’d seen more panels this year than I did in the last two years combined, and I still had another day to go!

The other things that helped were the VQ (virtual queue) system and the publishers’ move to raffles for proofs. Neither of these things were across the board, and the VQ system in particular was flawed because it was announced so close to opening, but it was better. There are a couple of publishers who need to rethink their strategies however. I was lucky enough to be there early enough on the Friday to get the proofs I wanted of Girls of Storm and Shadow, The Beautiful *and* Infinity Son, but neither of the systems used for those proofs was fair and I’ve got to admit that I do feel a bit guilty for benefiting from them.

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My bookmark!

So what did I actually do at YALC? Well, I bought a lot of books, obviously, but on Friday I went to Literary Galaxy‘s bookmark making workshop, which I loved, followed by the UKYA Blogger Award workshop on b/vlogging tips and the It’s a #life panel. I then got my books signed by Tom Pollock, Yasmin Rahman and Karen Gregory. I’ve met Tom and Karen a few times now and they are two of the loveliest people you could ever meet, and Yasmin was also delightful. I loved chatting to all of them about their books! I wish I’d gone to Akemi Dawn Bowman’s workshop, Self-care is a superpower, but alas I did not. I did make it to the UKYA Blogger Awards on Friday evening though, and was delighted to see friends win. Congratulations to everyone nominated, because you’re all brilliant!

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Friday’s book haul

Saturday was not the best day for me, as I ended up having to leave early, and I missed one of my most anticipated signings, and a panel I really wanted to attend as a result. But these things happen, and I still got to see two amazing panels – Mystical YA and Celebrate every body (if you ever get the chance to see Dhonielle Clayton speaking, do grab the opportunity with both hands, because she’s brilliant). I also got my copy of The Paper & Hearts Society signed by Lucy Powrie, but I was about to pass out at the time, so it wasn’t the best of circumstances, and definitely not the way I wanted to meet someone I’ve been chatting to online for a while now!

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The Celebrate every body panel (L-R, Juno Dawson, Laura Bates, Dhonielle Clayton, Moira Fowley-Doyle and Bethany Rutter)

I also ventured down into LFCC on Saturday, which was something I utterly failed to do last year, and it was a nice break, even though the heat was much worse down there. I did find my favourite geeky jewellery makers, but I was good and I only bought one necklace. LFCC is too busy for me though, and I admire the people who spend their entire convention there, because I quickly got very frustrated and wanted to return to YALC!

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The view into the LFCC merch hall

My original plan for Sunday was to have a nice, leisurely start to the day – until I remembered I needed a VQ ticket for Natasha Ngan and realised I needed to be as early as possible. Fortunately I was successful, and managed to get a really early number, which made my afternoon a lot easier. I also got to three panels – New voices in YA fantasyMaster your own journey and Monsters and their makers, which was one of my favourite panels. I also did something I’ve never done before at YALC, and went out for my lunch and it was great! Fresh air and a bit of a break did me the world of good, and I need to remember to try it next year too.

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The Monsters and their makers panel

Sunday, of course, is the day that the publishers realise they don’t want to take all their stock away again, so sell it off. I took advantage of this and spent much more than I planned to. But it doesn’t count if it’s books, right?

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The complete haul. There’s no such thing as too many books, right?

The best thing about YALC though, is getting to see all my friends and people I’ve only chatted to online. I met new people in the entrance queue, and others in the signing queues. It’s always so lovely to see everyone, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes here and there and it’s definitely the best part of the weekend! I had such a good time this year, even though I absolutely wasn’t expecting to. I only planned to meet eight authors and I was worried I wouldn’t be interested in the panels because I didn’t know the people on them. But it was actually nice to not feel pressured to see something because of the authors involved, and actually, even though I didn’t plan to meet them, there were still a lot of my faves there and it’s always lovely to see people like Melinda Salisbury and David Owen on panels.

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to go next year. I’m leaning towards yes, but we’ll see how I feel nearer the time. YALC still needs to make improvements, and some of the attendees need to learn how to behave decently, but I’m always hopeful these things will change. We’ll see how it goes.

If you want to read about other experiences at this year’s YALC, check out the links below. All the posts are great, but I absolutely recommend Jenn’s post about the accessibility problems.

YALC 2019 – Let’s talk about accessibility (jenniely.com)

The ups and downs of YALC 2019 (Finding The Plot of My Life)

My YALC 2019 experience (The Little Contemporary Corner)

My YALC experience – part 1 (The Tsundoku Chronicles) and part 2

YALC and LFCC 2019 Part One (Writing With Wolves)

YALC 2019, the event from the perspective of a book blogger (booksnest.co.uk)

Let me know if you’ve written your own post on YALC, and I’ll add it to the list!

And, because it has to be done, the obligatory (blurry) Jason Momoa photo:

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Book Review: Dark Forge

So I was sent Dark Forge rather a long time ago (I think at least six months), but it’s a tall book and as so often happens with tall books, it ended up at the bottom of a book pile. The only reason I got around to reading it was because I joined the blog tour for the third book in the series, Bright Steel (keep an eye out for my post on the 20th August!), and thought I should probably get myself up to date! I’m actually quite glad I left it, because being able to go from Dark Forge straight into Bright Steel was definitely better than having to wait six months, but I apologise to Gollancz, who gifted me the copy, for the long delay!

dark forge

Only fools think war is simple.
Or glorious.

Some are warriors, some captains; others tend to the fallen or feed the living.

But on the magic-drenched battlefield, information is the lifeblood of victory, and Aranthur is about to discover that carrying messages, scouting the enemy, keeping his nerve, and passing on orders is more dangerous, and more essential, then an inexperienced soldier could imagine . . . especially when everything starts to go wrong.

Battle has been joined – on the field, in the magical sphere, and in the ever-shifting political arena . . .

Dark Forge is the sequel to Cold Iron (which I reviewed here), but for me it represents a  leap in quality from its predecessor. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Cold Iron, but I did have some problems with it, and although some of those issues are still present, I found that I was much more involved with the story, and it just pulled me along. If you’re not a fan of written battles (and I’m not), Dark Forge is a little slow to start – there’s a lot of military speak that meant very little to me – but I got used to it, and it wasn’t long before Aranthur, our main character, and his friends were getting themselves into trouble trying to fix magical booby-traps. Once we moved past the battle scenes, I found it a much quicker read, and I raced through it in the equivalent of a few hours.

We meet some new characters in Dark Forge, and I loved them all, but especially Inoques, the captain of the ship Aranthur is granted as part of a mission. She’s hiding some big secrets, but I found myself very definitely of the same opinion as Aranthur – the secrets didn’t really matter. And although this isn’t a review of Bright Steel, I did love seeing her develop over the two books, as her relationship with Aranthur changes her.

I’m still not a huge fan of the jumpy writing style, but the more I read, the more I decided it was representative of Aranthur himself and I was therefore more inclined to let it go. It’s still a little bit confusing, but again, it was something I got used to, and in the end it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

I also have to say that Dark Forge jumps right into the plot from the start, and if it’s been a while since you read Cold Iron, you’re probably not going to remember who everyone is. Miles Cameron doesn’t really make any allowance for this in his writing, and although it slowly came back to me, it did take a while! There’s still good character development of all the secondary principles, so it wasn’t a huge problem and I just enjoyed getting to know everyone again.

I liked Dark Forge a lot, and I would definitely recommend picking it up, even if you weren’t a huge fan of Cold Iron. It takes the threads laid in the first book and runs with them, weaving them into a great story with very high stakes. You do need to read Cold Iron first though, because Dark Forge won’t make sense without it.

4/5

Dark Forge is out now in paperback. Thanks to Stevie at Gollancz for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

Blog Tour: Sanctuary

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Today is my stop on the Sanctuary blog tour. Sanctuary is the first adult novel by V V James (who has written YA as Vic James), and I jumped at the chance to be sent a gifted copy so I could read it early. Described as Big Little Lies meets The CraftSanctuary is a story of prejudice and secrets in an America where witchcraft is known and (mostly) openly practised.

Content warning for the book: rape, sexual assault of minors

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The small Connecticut town of Sanctuary is rocked by the death of its star quarterback.

Daniel’s death looked like an accident, but everyone knows his ex-girlfriend Harper is the daughter of a witch – and she was there when he died.

Then the rumours start. When Harper insists Dan was guilty of a terrible act, the town turns on her. So was his death an accident, revenge – or something even darker?

As accusations fly and secrets are revealed, paranoia grips the town, culminating in a trial that the whole world is watching.

I really, really enjoyed Sanctuary. I wasn’t sure if I would or not, given that its focus isn’t really on the fantasy elements, but I raced through all 450 pages in a few hours and found myself unable to put it down. It’s a very timely book, inspired to some extent by the Me Too movement, but also using the town’s prejudice against witchcraft to examine other forms of prejudice, the consequences of blind faith and scapegoating.

Sanctuary starts with four women toasting their children’s graduation from high school. Sarah is the town’s witch and she’s tolerated more than loved, but that doesn’t stop everyone from coming to her when they need help with, say, a pesky gambling addiction, or when they’ve drunk too much the night before and need a hangover cure. Everyone has their secrets in Sanctuary, and Sarah knows most of them. The other three women are her coven and her closest friends, bound together by something that happened six years earlier. They’re not witches themselves, but they can lend their energies to Sarah to make her magic more effective. Their children are all around the same age, and have grown up together, but they no longer get on, although three of them are at the graduation party in a house across town. James manages to get a lot of information across in a very short time at the beginning of Sanctuary, without it ever feeling like an info dump. The gaps are filled in throughout the book, but the first two chapters set the scene very effectively, and made me want to know more about this small American town.

It must be said that none of the town characters are particularly likeable, even Sarah, who’s probably the best of them, and who we’re clearly meant to empathise with, but I like that in a book. Nobody’s perfect, and it’s good to see the flaws alongside the good because it makes the characters more relatable. Having three main point of view characters worked well for this too – Sarah, Abigail (the mother of the dead boy) and Maggie, the detective sent to Sanctuary to investigate the case. Hearing and seeing Abigail’s grief directly from her makes her actions understandable, at least at first. She’s utterly broken by what’s happened, and it’s natural that she’s looking for someone to blame. Would I go as far as she does in her quest for answers and revenge? I’d like to think not, but who knows how I might react when placed in that situation and handed the perfect scapegoat. I’d also like to mention how despicable her husband is, in oh so many ways. I won’t go into details so as not to spoil you all, but my god, he might be the second most loathsome character in the book.

My favourite character, though, was Maggie. The outsider brought in because Daniel’s death has to be investigated at a state level, Maggie is our way into the town. Seeing it from an outsider’s point of view is so different to the way its residents see it, and she quickly realises there’s more going on here than an accidental death, whatever everyone else might think. She’s also very much treated like an outsider, despite having previously been posted in Sanctuary. The police chief doesn’t like her much right from the get-go, but he likes her even less when she refuses to tie up the case quickly, and his officers actively hinder her investigation. No-one else in the town wants to talk to her either. It’s clear that Sanctuary is a town that looks after their own – if they fit in of course.

Possibly the thing I loved most about Sanctuary was the way James tied in witchcraft and its acceptance (or not) in a plausible way. The persecutions of the 17th century still happened, the Salem witch trials still took place, but in this reality, witches used their magic to help America gain independence and began a (very heavily legislated) journey to rehabilitation and acceptance. The fear’s still there though, underlying most people’s surface tolerance of witches, and this becomes really obvious, really quickly in Sanctuary. Daniel Whitman was not a good person. He was a rapist and sexual abuser. But nobody in the town of Sanctuary wants to believe that of their star football player, even if there’s video evidence. So they blame the witch’s daughter, because everyone knows witches are slutty. And because his death doesn’t make sense, well, that’s probably her fault too. And if it’s not her fault, it must be her mother, because everyone knows what witches can do. And if she can do that, well, maybe she’s responsible for those kids getting ill and on it goes, fueled by the media and people in power who should know better. It was all so familiar too, highlighting the fact that while it might not be witches who suffer in our reality, this happens all day every day. The speed with which the town turns on Sarah and Harper, two women who have lived all their lives in Sanctuary, who are friends with the other townsfolk, whose parents and grandparents also lived all their lives there, is, frankly, terrifying.

Sanctuary is a really interesting read. The town and its residents are vividly evoked, and nothing that happened felt out of place or unrealistic within the story. It really felt like I was there, watching events unfold and not sat in my living room merely reading about them!. The use of transcripts and newspaper reports really added to this and I felt a real sense of trepidation about what was to come. As I said at the top, I found myself unable to put the book down, and if that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is!

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

4/5

Sanctuary is out now. Many thanks to Gollancz for gifting me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

Blog Tour: Somewhere Close To Happy

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Today I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Somewhere Close To Happy, the debut novel by Lia Louis. I’ve followed Lia on Twitter since before her book deal was announced, so I jumped at the chance to receive a gifted copy from Trapeze Books and review her novel!

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Lizzie James is happy. She has a steady office job (with a steady stream of tray bakes), has had the same best friend since secondary school, and she sees her family every Thursday night for take-away and TV. Granted, some members of her family she’d rather not see, and they definitely don’t want to see her after what happened back then… but on the whole she’s happy. Or somewhere close to it, anyway.

Until a letter arrives one day from her best friend, Roman. A letter dated 12 years ago, the exact day he went missing.

It brings all her painful memories flooding back: the new school she had to go to when she was ill, losing her beloved granddad, Hubble, and then losing her first love. As Lizzie uncovers the secrets of the letter, she starts to discover what really happened the year her life fell apart – and all avenues lead back to Roman.

Who sent her the letter, and what happened to Roman?

I won’t lie, Somewhere Close To Happy isn’t my usual choice of book. If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know I tend to read either middle grade, young adult or fantasy books. But sometimes I just fancy a really good piece of adult contemporary fiction, and that’s what I got with Somewhere Close To Happy.

The story is told through a mix of present day and flashbacks, and I really liked this style as it gently led us to the only ending there could be. It worked really well, and allowed us to get to know all the characters. Obviously this was particularly important in Roman’s case, because otherwise we would only get to know him through Lizzie talking about him, and I don’t think we would be as invested in her trying to find him in that case. The flashbacks allow us to see why he means so much to her, rather than just being told, and we come to care about him as much as Lizzie does. It also gives us insight into Lizzie herself, as we see that she essentially put her life on hold when she was 16, because that seemed to be the easiest way to deal with it.

There were a few moments when I wished the story was told was told in a more linear way – it was frustrating to try and work out what exactly The Grove was, for example, or what had happened to make Lizzie’s aunt hate her so much – but on the whole the style worked for me, and I enjoyed the background being filled in slowly.

Character wise, I loved Lizzie and her immediate family, and couldn’t stand her Aunt Shall, although I’m pretty certain you’re supposed to feel that way about her! She’s so vile to Lizzie and constantly make everything about her, so when Lizzie finally stands up to her, I almost cheered! Fortunately, Lizzie is mostly surrounded by good people – her best friend Priscilla is an absolute darling, as is her sister-in-law, Katie – and they are there to support her as she revisits one of the most painful times in her life.

I also wanted to mention the mental health rep in Somewhere Close To Happy. It’s a really excellent portrayal of how mental illness can be an ongoing battle – maybe not constant, but often there in the background – how there are good and bad days, how easy it can be sometimes to hide the bad days, and how much a lack of understanding from your loved ones can affect you. It also covers grief, addiction, unwanted pregnancy and family drama, dealing with them all sensitively and realistically, without ever taking your focus away from the main story.

I really enjoyed Somewhere Close To Happy. It’s a quiet, gentle book about life and journeys, and the people we meet on the way who shape it in ways we could never imagine. It’s an incredibly well crafted book, and well worth your time.

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

4/5

Somewhere Close To Happy is released in the UK on 13 June by Trapeze Books

Blog Tour: Smoke In The Glass

Smoke in the Glass blog tour

Today I am thrilled to sharing my review of Smoke In The Glass, by Chris Humphreys, as part of the blog tour. Huge thanks go to Stevie at Gollancz, for the opportunity and my gifted copy of the book!

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Three lands, peopled by humans and immortals.

In Corinthium a decadent  endlessly-lived elite run the world for profit and power. But when a  poor, honest solider dies, and is reborn, everything changes.

In wintry  Midgarth, where immortals are revered as deities, one of them has realized that something – or someone – is killing the gods.

And in Ometepe there is only one immortal, for he has murdered every other. Until one woman gives birth to a very special baby.

Yet there is a fourth, hidden land, where savage tribes have united  under the prophecy of ‘the One’: a child who is neither boy nor girl.  Now they plan to conquer the world. Unless a broken soldier, a desperate  mother and a crippled god can stop them…

So I’m not going to lie to you, I was wary when I saw the blurb for Smoke In The Glass. “Savage” tribes and an intersex baby? So much potential for fail. But actually, I was pleasantly surprised. There are some derogatory terms used, so you might want to be careful when reading, but they’re generally from characters who are supposed to be “bad”, and they’re challenged by other characters. It is something to be aware of though.

The point of view is split between the three lands (none of which know of the existence of the others), with the occasional interlude from the fourth. Our main characters are Ferros from Corinthium, the land where immortals represent the elite and the rich, Luck from Midgarth, a land which bears a strong resemblance to Scandinavia and where immortals are seen as gods, and Atisha from Ometepe, where there is only one immortal who is worhsipped as a god. Ferros and Luck are immortals themselves, and Atisha is the former consort of immortal Intitepe, abandoned and sent to the City of Women after becoming pregnant. Each point of view offers something different for the story – Ferros is finding his feet as an immortal, whereas Luck is already hundreds of years old, and Atisha provides the non-immortal point of view. We also hear from Lara, Ferros’s lover, who is disappointed with the change she sees in Ferros.

Luck was by far my favourite character. I enjoyed the Norse-like setting of Midgarth, and the constant battling of Luck’s village with their neighbours. It’s also the land where we find out much of the detail of the plot, which I think helps you to like it. Luck is also the brains of the story – he’s the one who notices something weird going on and investigates it, he’s the one who takes the initiative to travel across the land, he’s the one who persuades his fellow gods to unite Midgarth so they are better able to face whatever’s coming.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Ferros’s and Atisha’s parts of the story, because I did. I particularly enjoyed Atisha’s time in the City of Women, among other women who had been in her situation, and the support some of them gave her. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there are some great humorous scenes here, as well as a rollicking action sequence. Ferros is a little bit harder to talk about. The book begins with him, and I thought I was really going to love him, but his story actually got a little bit boring to be honest. He seems to spend a lot of time not learning anything, and while it’s true he’s being manipulated by other immortals, he started off seeming much cleverer than he ended up being. I felt very sorry for Lara, who’d given up everything to be with him. However, despite that, there were moments in this strand of story that I found very interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Smoke In The Glass has to do a lot of work in setting up the world, and Humphreys does a great job here. I love the information we get about where immortality comes from – it’s different in each land – and how each land is completely separate from the others. Ferros and Lara give us the perfect opportunity to see Corinthium from an outsider’s point of view, and because Luck is essentially the history keeper of Midgarth, he can provide lots of interesting tidbits through explaining them to the other gods. I also really liked the idea that there’s no way to tell if you’re immortal unless you die. Each main character is surrounded by a bevy of interesting supporting characters – again, Luck’s fellow gods are my favourites, mostly because they actually listen to him and work hard to make sure his plans succeed, although I did love Atisha’s older companions in the City of Women.

Humphreys has a fairly traditional style of writing which might not be for everyone. As someone who grew up on traditional fantasy, this didn’t bother me at all, but Smoke In The Glass is quite slow-paced and doesn’t reveal its secrets easily. It’s also very much the first book in a series, designed to bring all our protagonists together, and it ends on something of a cliffhanger. I’m intrigued to see what happens next – it’s clear we’re going to get more information from the fourth land and I think that will be fascinating – so I’m really looking forward to book 2. If you’re looking for a new dark fantasy series, I don’t think you’re going to go wrong with Smoke In The Glass.

4/5

Smoke In The Glass is out now from GollanczDon’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

Blog Tour: As Far As The Stars

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I am delighted that today is my stop on the blog tour for As Far As The Stars by Virginia MacGregor. Many thanks to Nina Douglas and HQ for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review!

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How do you change what’s already written in the stars?

Christopher is the sort of guy that no one notices, yet when Air catches sight of him making intricate paper birds in the airport, she can’t look away.

But their worlds are about to collide in ways they never expected. Someone they love is on Flight 0217 from London Heathrow. And it’s missing.

Convinced that her brother was on a different flight, Air drives them hundreds of miles across the country, on a trip that will change their lives forever.

But how do you tell the person you’re falling for that you might just be the reason their life has fallen apart?

So I’ll be honest. It took me a while to get into As Far As The Stars because I just couldn’t understand why Air and Christopher were acting the way they were. I mean, sure, Air convinced herself her brother was on a different flight, but Christopher knew his dad was on the missing one, and yet he still left the airport to go on a cross-country trip with a stranger. But then something suddenly clicked with me, and I found myself really enjoying the story, and the romance that was developing.

Air is clearly someone who can be frustrating. She is very much the organiser of her family, especially when it comes to her brother, Blake, and everyone relies on her to be the sensible one, but this also means that she’s very introspective and doesn’t tell anyone what’s going on. There were moments when I wanted to shake her, and certainly part of the book is about her learning to trust other people.

That obviously comes from the other main character in the book, Christopher. He has his own issues, but their road-trip allows both characters to learn from each other and really start living their own lives and not the ones laid out for them by other people. The romance does develop quickly, but given the situation they’re in, I think it’s entirely realistic that it would do, and it’s written well. I also found that the way the relationship developed gave me insights into the characters. It can sometimes be hard to understand the other characters when a book is written in the first person, but As Far As The Stars is written in such a way that you learn as much about Christopher’s feelings as Air’s.

I also really liked the flashbacks, which meant we got to see just why Air adores her brother so much. Blake is mostly thoughtless, careless and focussed on himself, but it’s clear from the flashbacks that Air is the exception and the adoration goes both ways. Even though they’re opposites in many ways, they absolutely get each other, and I thought Virginia MacGregor did a wonderful job in showing that. I did feel sorry for Jude, Air’s sister, though – it can’t be easy to see your younger siblings form a clique without you!

As Far As The Stars is beautifully written and deals with grief and how different people handle it really well. I was sobbing by the end of the book, and the final third in particular is fantastic. Although it did take me a while to get into, I would definitely recommend it. Just remember your tissues!

4/5

Book Review: Thanos: Death Sentence

I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’ve delved into the comics a few times, so when Julia at Titan Books asked if I’d like to review a prose novel based on the comics, I jumped at the chance. Obviously, Thanos: Death Sentence has been re-released to take advantage of the hype for Avengers: Endgame (which I have seen and loved, but no spoilers here!), but it was interesting to see a different take on Thanos, and particularly to see his actions from his point of view.

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A new life for the Mad Titan! Thanos’s pursuit of the Infinity Gems has always defined him. But when the Marvel heroes defeat him once again, Thanos’s beloved Mistress Death grants him one fi nal chance. Stripped of his powers and his old skin, Thanos embarks on a cosmic walkabout to reassert his power over himself and the Multiverse. This all-new, original tale explores the inner life of one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. Haunted by family – or the semblances of it – the Mad Titan may become something else entirely. Will he maintain his illusions of grandeur, or is this a new path for a lost god?

Thanos: Death Sentence is structured in four main parts. There’s the surrounding story, which starts and ends the book, with the Avengers and Fantastic Four and X-Men, among others, fighting Thanos, and then there are the sections where Thanos lives as three different people, and tries to get his bearings on the journey Mistress Death has sent him on. Along the way, we get to see Thanos remembering his original life and what set him on his path of destruction.

We also get a insight into some of Thanos’s crew, Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive and Ebony Maw. My only previous reference for these three is Avengers: Infinity War, so this was really interesting for me. I loved how lost they were once the original Thanos disappeared, desperately searching the universe for someone to follow, and Proxima Midnight’s conviction that the person she’d found was Thanos, only to lose him again. Her relationship with Glaive was also fascinating, and I really liked getting the chance to get to know these characters a bit better.

I found it interesting that two of Thanos’s lives in this book had a romantic element to them. Romance is really not something I associate with Thanos, and it did make me wonder how much a lack of love has affected his decisions in the past. This is a theme that does run through the book, as Thanos reflects on family and the events that made him, and it was fascinating to see this side to him. I think all villains should be multi-faceted, and Thanos: Death Sentence certainly increased my understanding of his history. There is a chance that this might smack of rehabilitating someone who shouldn’t be rehabilitated, but I think it’s clear from the book that Thanos will never change.

In fact, this is one of the biggest problems in the book. Thanos goes on this journey, but he’s not changed by it. He still causes chaos everywhere he goes. He still wants to please Mistress Death above all else. The only self-realisation he has is that he doesn’t want to change and that he shouldn’t have to. Which is a great message in a YA contemporary romance, for example, but not so good when it’s a book about one of the Marvel Universe’s greatest villains. It’s also overlong, and drags, and I found parts of the last life very confusing in terms of timescale (and that’s before the great rug-pull at the end of it!). There’s also the problem that all the Marvel prose novels seem to have, which is that they’re trying to bridge the gap between the comics and the films, but it doesn’t work because there are too many differences. They want you to bring the affection you have for the film characters, and apply it to the comic characters, but, certainly for my brain, that just ends up confusing because they’re not the same characters.

It’s a valiant effort though, and I definitely applaud Marvel and, in this case, Stuart Moore, for trying, and for giving the purple Titan a bit more attention. It didn’t quite work for me as a story, but I still enjoyed it, and it’s probably worth reading if you want a bit more depth than the comics give you.

3/5

Thanos: Death Sentence is out now from Titan Books