August Wrap Up

In August I wanted to focus on books I was super excited to read, even though I probably should have focused more on ARCs. I was, however, lucky enough to receive ARCs of three of my most anticipated releases on the same day, though I only managed to finish two of those this month. Both were fantastic, by the way.

I had wanted to write a little bit about each book, but my health hasn’t been great, and my cat had to have an abscess drained via emergency surgery 48 hours ago (in the middle of the damn night.) My family (mom, sis and I) have been taking turns watching her, because she won’t sleep after she’s had opiates/anaesthesia, and we can’t let her lick her wounds. Needless to say, I didn’t have the opportunity to finish this post to the standard I would have liked. My apologies in advance.

💕ARC 🎵 Audiobook

What I Read

The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath 💕

Gothic poetry/ 90 pages/ ⭐️⭐️

The Red Palace by June Hur 💕

YA Historical Mystery/ 336 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review to come.

Chi’s Sweet Adventures vol. 3 by Kanata Konami

Manga/ 96 pages/⭐️⭐️⭐️

Spy X Family by Tetsya Endo vol 1

Action Humour Manga/ 219 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Spy X Family by Tetsya Endo vol 2

Action Humour Manga/ 194 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Spy X Family by Tetsya Endo vol 3

Action Humour Manga/ 194 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Spy X Family by Tetsya Endo vol 4

Action Humour Manga/ 186 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Spy X Family by Tetsya Endo vol 5

Action Humour Manga/ 202 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Apothecary Diaries by Natsu Hyuuga vol 1

Historical Manga/ 184 pages /⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Apothecary Diaries by Natsu Hyuuga vol 2

Historical Manga/ 184 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson 💕

YA Fantasy/ 400 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review will be posted October 1.

The Mysterious Case of Agatha Christie 🎵

Non-fiction Biography lectures/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (re-read) 🎵

Middle Grade/ YA Fantasy/ 302 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review to come.

Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn 📚🎵

NF History/ 386 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ancient Mesopotamia by Amanda H. Podany 🎵

History Lectures/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Murder at No. 4 Euston Square (aka The Lady in the Cellar) by Sinclair McKay 💕📚🎵

Historical True Crime/ 320 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Understanding ADHD in Girls and Women ed. by Joanne Steer 📚

Non-Fiction/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale 📚🎵

Historical True Crime/ 360 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost by Kaori Yuki 💕

Fantasy Horror Manga/ 192 pages/ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Currently Reading

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker 💕

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

What I Watched

Teen Wolf (rewatch)

Glow Up (season 2)

Blog Posts You May Have Missed

ARC Review: Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms by

ARC Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Top 10 Books of January – June 2021

ARC Review: In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

Review: The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

#1

YA Fantasy

416 pages

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: 13 April 2021

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.


My Thoughts

Lynette Noni has a special place in my heart, because her Akarnae series is what got my mom back into reading, and now it’s something we share. It will come as no surprise then, that I started buddy reading The Prison Healer the day it came out with my mom. One of the things we love doing when buddy reading is tossing around theories and trying to pick up on the foreshadowing and guess what the mysteries and plot twists might be. And Lynette’s books are perfect for this type of game we have.

So the first big tick for me is obviously the twisty plot and the foreshadowing. I love the way Lynette’s mind works. There are plenty of clues and misdirections, so mom and I had plenty of theories to discuss. Lynette’s books are ‘predictable’ in that, if you are on your game, and if you are looking hard enough for those little morsels of information, you can guess what direction the story, and the characters, may take. I find this aspect personally satisfying, because I love a mystery. Especially if I can solve it before the characters in the book.

I think in terms of craft and editing, The Prison Healer is probably her best book yet (though I can’t actually pick a favourite, and no one can make me choose!) The writing is very accessible and the pages just sort of fly by.

There are two main plot lines in The Prison Healer – the epidemic that is burning through the inmates of Zalindov, and the Trials that Kiva is taking part in. So a lot is happening for Kiva. Not only is she trying to survive certain death in a series of magic-based trials, she’s also Zalindov’s principal healer, and she’s trying to be an epidemiologist- working out what is causing the epidemic, where it started, and how to cure it. By the end of the book these storylines have wrapped up nicely. And yes, as you may have read elsewhere, there is a bit of a cliffhanger. It’s not the kind of cliffhanger that leaves everything up in the air, it’s more like a tantalising hint at the beginning of a new chapter in Kiva’s life. Also, The Gilded Cage is coming out in the next few weeks, so if you haven’t read The Prison Healer yet, there isn’t long to wait for the sequel!

The Prison Healer does delve into some dark places (literally and thematically), so definitely check out the content warnings below if you need to. There is one scene I found quite upsetting and confronting to read. I won’t say too much, but it involves Kiva having to visit the guard quarters. I watched a spoiler live show afterwards, and I understand why it was included. It was about showing the horrors of the prison, rather than just telling us how awful it is. And I have to admit, it certainly had the impact it was supposed to have.

In terms of worldbuilding, I’d say Noni has done a great job. I have very vivid images of what the prison is like, and I understand how it works. There are hints of a magic system, but it isn’t really explored in this book, though I suspect that it will play a much larger role in future instalments. So far, all we really know is that there are two kinds of magic – elemental and healing – and very few people have those abilities. I also really enjoyed the history and mythology of the world, and I’m looking forward to seeing how all of these elements are expanded on in the rest of the trilogy.

Finally, to the characters, which are the crowning achievement in this book. Lynette has peppered this book with a cast that feel fully realised and three dimensional. These characters are inhabiting the worst place in their world, so you really get to see the range of human responses to that environment. For the prisoners, there’s obviously a lot of trauma. They face gruelling labour, injuries, disease, abuse, and death on a daily basis. Some people, like Kiva, become very pragmatic and go into survival mode. Others, like Cresta, become angry and rebellious. Some choose to take drugs to numb their pain. Some become the worst versions of themselves, and revel in the horrors. And then there’s Tipp, Kiva’s young assistant, who is the only optimist left in the whole prison and a ray of sunlight.

Out of all Lynette Noni’s heroines (there are only three so far…) Kiva is the one I like the most. Kiva is a fascinating character. She’s smart, she’s pragmatic, and she works hard. She has an innate kindness, but she covers it in order to survive, so she seems quite reserved. Noni took her in a direction I really enjoyed, but unfortunately I can’t say more. Spoilers, and all that.

There is a budding romance between Kiva and another character which you could see coming from the moment he arrived, but I didn’t mind it. While their feelings did seem to become quite intense very quickly, I think it’s more a function of the compressed timeline within the book than insta-love. More time is passing in the book than we read about on page, so from that perspective it is actually quite a slow burn. It also didn’t overtake the rest of the story, which was a plus from my perspective.

Out of all the characters though, my favourites were Mot and Naari. Naari is the embodiment of the dark, brooding, silent guard trope (which I love!), but flipped on it’s head! She’s disabled and female and gay! Mot on the other hand is… well, he’s actually a bad dude… possibly a sociopath… but he’s on Kiva’s side, so it’s okay! I (I actually seem to have a thing for bad characters joining the good guys too… think Spike in Buffy, or Peter Hale in Teen Wolf, or Garnah from The Queen of Blood series.)

On the whole, this was a fantastic start to a new YA fantasy trilogy, and I can’t wait to read The Gilded Cage next week.

Content warnings. Blood, death, mutilation, drowning, burning, plague, illness, abuse, sexual assault, violence, drug use, addiction, murder

ARC Review: Under the Whispering Door

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Fantasy

384 pages

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 21 September 2021

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy with TJ Klune’s signature “quirk and charm” (PW) about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with TJ Klune’s signature warmth, humor, and extraordinary empathy.

My Thoughts

Under the Whispering Door was exactly what I hoped it would be. Aesthetically I’d say it’s a bit Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli, while plot-wise it’s A Christmas Carol mixed with the Korean drama Goblin: The Lonely and Great God. It really just hit all of my sweet spots.

Under the Whispering Door is about Wallace Price’s afterlife. Wallace is not really a nice man. He is, in fact, a complete stick-in-the-mud with the emotional range of a toothpick. He’s exacting, seemingly incapable of empathy, and extremely entitled. This story is, essentially, Wallace’s potential redemption arc, if he chooses to use his time wisely.

While I found it a bit slow at the start, and quite repetitive with all the acceptance of grief stuff, it eventually picked up. This is a quiet sort of book, so while there is some action, especially later on, it’s really all about the characters and their relationships. That’s not to say it was boring. There were moments of pathos, but also moments of riotous laughter. I ran the entire gamut of emotions in this one. I laughed uncontrollably, and I sobbed uncontrollably. Seriously, have your tissue box handy if you’re a crier.

The characters are really what made this book. While the focus is obviously on Wallace, this was an example of a truly great ensemble cast. You’ve got Hugo, the attractive and empathetic owner of the tea house who is also a ferryman of souls. There’s Mei, the kickass young reaper with strong emotions. Apollo is Hugo’s ghost dog, who livens up the place with his cute antics. And then there’s Nelson (my favourite), Hugo’s dead grandfather who occupies the dual role of comedic relief and wise elder.

I really enjoyed Wallace’s arc throughout the book. He starts out as a supremely unlikable character, and becomes someone you can’t help but like. His transformation is slow, and it is a delight to experience. The romance between Wallace and Hugo was something I didn’t see coming (it seemed to come out of nowhere), but by the end I was invested.

Under the Whispering Door is primarily about grief. All of the characters are in different stages of grief, for different reasons. Wallace’s is obviously related to the fact that he died, Mei’s has to do with her family, Hugo’s is to do with a past failure, and Nelson’s is for his grandson. Apollo is a dog. He’s too in the moment to feel grief.

This story is also about found family and being the best possible version of yourself. Mostly this applies to Wallace, who had no family or friends in life. Only an ex-wife, and his partners at the firm. None of whom liked him. Spending time at the tea shop with Hugo, Nelson, Mei, and Apollo, makes Wallace realise what was missing in his life: love, empathy, and connection with other people (and pets.) These relationships inspire him to become a kinder person.

Under the Whispering Door was a beautiful story, and an absolute delight to read. I cannot recommend it enough.

ARC Review: Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau

Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau

Non-Fiction

176 pages

Publisher: Ten Speed Press

Publication Date: 7 September 2021

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Synopsis

An approachable guide to being a thoughtful, informed ally to disabled people, with actionable steps for what to say and do (and what not to do) and how you can help make the world a moreinclusive place

“A candid, accessible cheat sheet for anyone who wants to thoughtfully join the conversation . . . Emily makes the intimidating approachable and the complicated clear.”—Rebekah Taussig, author of Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body

People with disabilities are the world’s largest minority, an estimated 15 percent of the global population. But many of us—disabled and nondisabled alike—don’t know how to act, what to say, or how to be an ally to the disability community. Demystifying Disability is a friendly handbook on the important disability issues you need to know about, including:

• How to appropriately think, talk, and ask about disability
• Recognizing and avoiding ableism (discrimination toward disabled people)
• Practicing good disability etiquette
• Ensuring accessibility becomes your standard practice, from everyday communication to planning special events
• Appreciating disability history and identity
• Identifying and speaking up about disability stereotypes in media

Authored by celebrated disability rights advocate, speaker, and writer Emily Ladau, this practical, intersectional guide offers all readers a welcoming place to understand disability as part of the human experience


My Thoughts

I received a free e-ARC from the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Demystifying Disability is to disability activism and awareness, what So You Want to Talk About Race? is to antiracism. I found the books to be similar in the sense that they were very straightforward and easy to read.

The book covers a variety of topics, including, but not limited to, positive disability etiquette, ableism, the history of disability in the US, identity, accessibility in daily life, communicating about disability, and confronting media stereotypes about disability. I liked how the author used quotes from a variety of disabled people and activists, and provided plenty of examples.

As someone who is disabled, a lot of the content was not new to me, or just struck me as common sense and basic courtesy. That being said, even I learned a thing or two that I didn’t know. I never really considered that a lot of the language we use in everyday life can be harmful, such as common phrases like ‘turning a blind eye,’ which negatively stereotypes people who are blind or visually impaired. A lot of this language is so ingrained in us, that we don’t even consider the ramifications or the history. There are also examples where, much like LGBTQ+ people reclaimed the word ‘queer’, some in the disabled community have reclaimed the word ‘crips’ to refer to themselves as a group.

On the whole, I highly recommend this book to pretty much everybody. If you are wanting to know more about disability and how you can be an ally, then this is a fantastic primer. It is written in clear, concise language, and would be suitable for audiences from teens onwards.

ARC Review: Snoozefest by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Snoozefest by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Children’s Non-Fiction Science

80 pages

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Publication Date: 7 September 2021

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

From award-winning author Tanya Lloyd Kyi, an eye-opening look at the science of sleep — covering everything adolescents could possibly want to know about a subject that’s suddenly keeping them up at night!For something that all humans do for hours every night, sleep is not that well understood. One thing we do know, though, is that sleep is crucial for our health and happiness. Here’s a highly readable and fascinating look at why sleep is so important, what’s happening in our bodies while we’re sleeping (it’s a lot more than you think!), and how the science of sleep research has evolved. It probes some of the mysteries about sleep, like why we need sleep, why we dream, and even how long we can go without sleep! It also explains why teens and tweens aren’t getting enough sleep — and what school principals can do about it! It’s a deep dive into an intriguing topic that’s anything but a snore!Bestselling author Tanya Lloyd Kyi’s engaging yet comprehensive text covers everything a middle schooler (or an adult!) could want to know about the science of sleep — and then some. Sleep is a topic that most adolescents are interested in, since their sleep patterns have recently begun to change, and getting enough sleep is now more important to them than ever before. Sidebars and boxes full of fun facts break the text into readable chunks. There are terrific curriculum links here to life science and the human body as well as to health. Fully illustrated with a light touch by Valéry Goulet, this unique and appealing book makes scientific content accessible and fun. 

My Thoughts

I received a free eARC from the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

As a young person with sleep disorders, I would have really appreciated this book as a child. I’ve always subscribed to the belief that knowledge is power, and by knowing about something, I felt more in control.

Snoozefest is a wonderful non-fiction title for kids. It talks about the science of sleep, as well as the history of scientific discoveries related to the field of sleep and respiratory medicine in easy to understand language. The narrative style is very direct, as if the author is talking directly to the reader. Some of the content may be a bit complex for a 5 year old, but will be easily understandable to, say, a 9 year old. Obviously it will depend on the child.


The layout was simple and easy to follow, and the illustrations were lovely. The colour palette is quite muted, but I think it fits well with the theme of sleep.


I would definitely buy this for my child (if I were a parent), and I think it would make a good addition to library shelves in primary schools.

ARC Review: In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

Sci-fi/Fantasy

192 Pages

Publisher: Tor.com

Publication Date: 31 August 2021

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

In the Watchful City explores borders, power, diaspora, and transformation in an Asian-inspired mosaic novella that melds the futurism of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station with the magical wonder of Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest.

The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over Ora’s citizens. Although ær world is restricted to what æ can see and experience through the Gleaming, Anima takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora safe from all harm.

All that changes when a mysterious visitor enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist, æ finds ærself asking a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people? 

My Thoughts

I received a free eARC from the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It has taken me weeks to write this review because every time I’ve tried, the words don’t seem to do it justice. I feel the publication deadline looming though, so I’ll do my best.

In the Watchful City is a novella that defies easy categorisation. Straddling the line between science fiction and fantasy, it has elements of mystery, adventure, competitive sport, and romance. It achieves this through its unique narrative structure, similar to that of 1001 Nights, and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

The base story revolves around Anima, an extrasensory human who connects to the bio-cyberpunk city of Ora through a complex network called the Gleaming, and protects its citizens. Ae takes pride in aer job, but doesn’t realise something is missing until a mysterious stranger, known as Vessel, appears in aer quarters with a qíjìtáng, a kind of cabinet of curiosities. The stranger encourages Anima to choose objects from the cabinet and listen to their stories in exchange for Anima’s own story. What follows is four gripping tales told to Anima over the course of a few days.

“A Death Made Manifold” starts with a marionette. It’s an Asian-inspired Western about a man on a quest to defy death itself. Despite the danger of his journey, he is compelled to continue by the weight of guilt and the buoyancy of hope.


“The Sky and Everything Under” is told in epistolary form, weaving a tale of love, monarchy and revolution.


“The Form I Hold Now” was a surprise for me. It’s about a transwoman competing in the competitive sport of skycups (which is like Diablo). As a child, she chose to bind her feet like her mother and grandmother before her as an expression of acceptable cultural womanhood.


In “As Dark as Hunger.” Anima hears the story behind a seemingly simple fish scale. What follows is the tale of a woman who finds a rare mermaid, and has to decide what action she will take. The re-appearance of her ex-lover, who is searching for mermaids to sell as a delicacy complicates her choice.


Finally, interspersed between these four stories is Anima’s own backstory, told in verse.

Each story is fascinating and unique, and it allows the author to explore a lot of seperate, yet intertwined themes, including diaspora, gender, imperialism, power, loss and, ultimately, transformation.

I was completely blown away by this novella. The writing is beautiful, and the pacing is perfect. It’s interesting and compelling, and makes you want to go back for more. I loved it, and I cannot recommend it enough. I think fans of Yoon Ha Lee’s Conservation of Shadows would enjoy this novella, as well as fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and Asian-inspired fiction.

You should definitely check out the interview CW did with S. Qiouyi Lu over at The Quiet Pond.

Semi- Hiatus Announcement

Hi all. Just letting you know that I’m taking a break from social media and my blog for a little while for health reasons. I’ll still post ARC reviews, as well as my August wrap-up and haul in early September, but otherwise I’ll be MIA for a while. At this point I don’t know how much time out I’ll need, but I hope to be back to posting more regularly again by mid-September.

Cheers,

Ana

ARC Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

#2

Science Fiction

496 pages

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 2 March 2021

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options. 

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. 

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever. 

My Thoughts

I received a free eARC from the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

*Potential spoilers for A Memory Called Empire*

I recently read and reviewed the first book in this series, A Memory Called Empire, and I lavished it with praise. I’m always a little bit hesitant to read sequels because I don’t want to be disappointed. But with A Desolation Called Peace, Martine has knocked it out of the park again.

From the outset it’s clear that Desolation is a vastly different book to Memory. Not only do we have multiple points of view, the setting is very different, and the stakes are higher still. Instead of a ‘barbarian’ being thrust into the cutthroat politics of empire, we have a first contact situation with a species who are so far from personhood that communication seems impossible.

A Desolation Called Peace is, like its predecessor, very much a character driven novel. All of the characters are nuanced and have great depth, including the side characters. Some of the old names and faces make an appearance, but there are plenty of new characters too. I think adding more narrators was a fantastic decision, because we get to see the unfolding war on multiple fronts, and from multiple perspectives. Our main characters are as follows:

Mahit Dzmare: Lsel Ambassador to Teixcalaan, who has come home to Lsel Station with not one, but two imagos of Yskandr Agarvn, which could potentially get her killed.

Three Seagrass: Former cultural liaison to the Lsel Ambassador, and now Third Undersecretary to the Minister of Information, who is bored of her new job, and appoints herself to the much more interesting post of interpreter to an alien species.

Nine Hibiscus: Yaotlek Commander of the Fleet, charged with winning the war against the alien threat, while also having to contend with threats from within the fleet itself. She relies heavily on her second-in-command, ikantlos-prime Twenty Cicada, to be her eyes and ears.

Eight Antidote: The eleven-year-old imperial heir, and 90% clone of the former emperor, Six Direction, who is navigating the politics of the City, and deciding what kind of ruler he wants to become.

For me, Eight Antidote is the breakout star of this book. He’s delightfully intelligent, endlessly curious, and he has an innocence about him that is quite refreshing considering the weight of history that all of the older characters carry with them. He is a child playing in a world of adult politics he doesn’t always understand.

It was also interesting to see both sides of Mahit and Three Seagrass’ relationship, and the difficulties involved in an interracial romance. Especially if one has been completely ‘Othered’ by the dominant culture. It presents a power imbalance in their relationship, and it colours every word that is said between them. I thought the close friendship between Nine Hibiscus and Twenty Cicada was an interesting counterpoint to Mahit and Three Seagrass. They have a close, unshakable bond, and mutual respect and understanding; whereas Three Seagrass and Mahit are still struggling to lay out the boundaries and parameters of their fraught relationship.

Twenty Cicada himself is a brilliant character. He is known as Swarm, because he seems to be everywhere at once, and he knows absolutely everything. He is able to anticipate Nine Hibiscus’ every thought before she even thinks it. What makes him unique among the fleet is that he from a planet that was conquered generations ago, but he still follows the religion of the homeostat-cult, despite being a fully integrated citizen. He is a near-perfect example of a citizen of Teixcalaan, yet he is able to hold on to part of his identity and heritage in a quiet act of rebellion, that is almost completely accepted by his peers.

There’s still plenty of political intrigue, and moves and countermoves playing out in A Desolation Called Peace. We get to see a bit more of Stationer politics, as well as politics within the military. Watching the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) push and pull between different players is absolutely fascinating.

I think the pacing was excellent. Since we were following four different threads, there was a lot more scope for action. The atmosphere was also a highlight for me, because the threat against the empire is so completely alien, it kept me feeling off-kilter most of the time. Especially when we got interludes from the alien’s perspective. They are so different, that it really felt like a hopeless situation. How can you even begin to understand something with such a different outlook and culture? And how can you communicate with creatures that make you physically sick when they speak?

A Desolation Called Peace was a fascinating and nuanced book about war, politics, identity, and personhood. It riffs on the same themes as A Memory Called Empire, but expands on them, and hones in on them at the same time.

I can’t recommend this series enough. Fans of science-fiction in general are sure to love this.

ARC Review: Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms by Crystal Frasier & Val Wise

Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms by Crystal Frasier & Val Wise (illustrator)

YA Contemporary Graphic Novel

Pages

Publisher

Publication Date

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Synopsis

A sweet, queer teen romance perfect for fans of Fence and Check, Please!

Annie is a smart, antisocial lesbian starting her senior year of high school who’s under pressure to join the cheerleader squad to make friends and round out her college applications. Her former friend BeeBee is a people-pleaser—a trans girl who must keep her parents happy with her grades and social life to keep their support of her transition. Through the rigors of squad training and amped up social pressures (not to mention micro aggressions and other queer youth problems), the two girls rekindle a friendship they thought they’d lost and discover there may be other, sweeter feelings springing up between them.


My Thoughts

I received a free e-ARC from the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cheer Up!: Love & Pom Poms was such a delightful graphic novel. I’d describe it as a YA contemporary queer romance.

We follow two main characters – Annie and Bebe. Annie is super smart, but kind of acerbic. She doesn’t really have friends, and she doesn’t get involved with groups. Her mom encourages her to join the cheer squad, because not only will it look good on her college applications, but it might be a good social outlet for her.

Bebe, however, is the real star of the story. She’s a trans-girl who loves cheer, but whose parents put pressure on her to keep her grades up in order to continue her transition.

The plot focuses on the relationship between the two girls, but also with their squad, and society at large. It’s all about identity, and being comfortable in your own skin. They have to deal with other people’s opinions and impressions of them. Bebe in particular has to cope with not only transphobia, but also her over-supportive teammates, who end up taking over her, instead of stepping back and being true allies.

I really liked that there was so much representation – there were characters of all different races and body types. I appreciated that it wasn’t just the stereotyped views of cheerleaders.

I also really liked the overall arc of the story, and how everyone, even the side characters (primarily the cheer squad and Bebe’s parents), have growth throughout the book.

I thought the art was great, and the colours were fantastic.

Overall, this was a heartwarming story, and I can’t recommend it enough.