Wednesday, 28 August 2019

On My Radar: September

There are some pretty big releases hitting the shelves in September, including the follow up to something called That Handmaid's Tale... But there are also plenty of other books coming out next month that look just as tempting. As always, inclusion isn't an endorsement and books may be available on different dates in different territories/formats (and sometimes they just change). Dates stated are generally for the UK print edition unless otherwise noted.


The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele (US)
Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian Heidicker McKay (US)


The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett (US)


Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff
The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell + Faith Erin Hicks
For Emily by Katherine Slee
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
Brightfall by Jamie Lee Moyer
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott


The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth (US)
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (e)
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz
The Institute by Stephen King


The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Frankly in Love by David Yoon
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price


The Babysitters Coven by Kate M. Williams (US)


Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
City of Beasts by Corrie Wang
Let's Call It a Doomsday by Katie Henry
Bone China by Laura Purcell
The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux


Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell (e)
No Judgments by Meg Cabot


Breaking and Mending by Joanna Cannon

(US) = no official UK release scheduled but US edition readily available
(e) = UK ebook release

Tuesday, 20 August 2019


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

State Detective Maggie Knight is called to the town of Sanctuary when a fire at a party ends in the tragic death of a teenage boy. It should be a pretty simple case, he fell, it was an accident... But then the police chief's son comes forward with video evidence and an accusation of witchcraft. There's only one registered witch in town, and its her giftless daughter who stands accused of murder by unnatural means.

Our moms were drinking champagne when Daniel died. Sipping on bubbles as Beatriz screamed outside the burning party house and I was loaded into an ambulance.

Sanctuary presents a modern day which hunt, it just happens that witchcraft might actually be involved. As prejudices and grief collide, accusations escalate and mass hysteria takes over any logic.

You don't have to look far to see the parallels with the current political climate. The witches could easily have been a Muslim family or immigrants, the townspeople finding someone "other" to blame. MeToo is represented too, sexual crimes hushed up to protect the wrong people and the victims being blamed for their promiscuity. Everyone knows witches are slutty... That's the narrative of those who wish to defend the star quarterback.

Sarah is a witch who helps people, that's her business. Some might seek out a doctor or therapist, others go to the local witch. Sarah knows the secrets of half the town. She was heartbroken when he daughter failed to manifest magical powers but at least that means she knows for certain that Harper is innocent. She can't murder with magic if she doesn't have any.

The ingredients and objects are your ink. The charts and symbols are your paper. And magic is the drawing you make.

Daniel's death drives a wedge through Sarah's circle of friends. At first, Abigail's actions are one of a grieving mother, lashing out, everyone can see that. The others do their best not to take sides, but can their friendships withstand the hate campaign to come?

Whilst witches are legally recognised, the law does not treat crimes involving witchcraft equally, and an arcane state law means Maggie must be absolutely certain before she makes an arrest.

It's not an easy read in terms of content, but I loved the mix of police procedural and fantasy against a contemporary backdrop. It reminded me a little of Megan Abbott, if her books had witches. At the core are mothers who will do anything for their children.

There's a moment in the story when everything seems like it'll turn out all right, I breathed a sigh of relief, only for one action to completely tip it over the edge. I felt pretty anxious for the rest of it, a mark of great characterisation.

Sanctuary is published by Gollancz and is available now in hardback and ebook editons. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Nightjar

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Alice Wyndham spent her childhood seeing birds that weren’t there. Well that’s what she thought until an old woman leaves her a feather as a dying gift. When a mysterious man turns up at her door, he tries to convince her she’s seeing nightjars, the keepers of souls. Alice thinks he’s having a laugh. When her best friend is injured in a car accident, she learns that embracing her gift might just bring her back. As she follows Crowley through the Marble Arch into an alternate London, she embarks on a mission to retrieve Jen’s nightjar from the brink of death.

There was a long pause as she wrestled with the absurdity of it. Rescue the mythical bird that was supposed to be guarding her friend's soul? The one that had taken early retirement and deserted as soon as she'd fallen into a coma?

The Nightjar is an entertaining portal fantasy, borrowing from Finnish mythology. The Sielulintu were birds who protected souls, and here they are portrayed as nightjars, connected by an invisible tether to their humans. Väki are the descendants of Finns and are the residents of The Rookery, a version of London created to keep them safe. Those with magical abilities are often persecuted and the Beaks would like to see them eradicated from the world, but in the Rookery, those with legacy powers are safe.

The legacy powers vary from Väki to Väki but are connected to their ancestry; Mielikki (gifts related to wood, forestry and wildlife), Pellervoinen (stone, rock and opening doorways), Ahti (water) and Ilmarinen (fire and metals). Only aviarists can see nightjars though, making them able to see a piece of people’s souls, and Alice is one of them, her abilities activated when she is given a nightjar feather.

I loved the mythology and how Deborah used this to create a unique portal world, however the way the main character is written let it down. I’m not sure if it’s just that it’s trying to be humorous and failing or if Alice is deliberately meant to be a bit stupid. Whilst the Rookery is stuck in the 1930's, it seems her office is stuck in the 70s. The fact that she's a victim of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace is treated as a bit of a joke and her best friend's attitude wasn’t great, meaning I felt like Jen wasn't really worth saving.

An anchor stops a ship from coming adrift, but it also weighs it down, rendering it sinkable. Crowley may not be the lifeline you need.

It throws in a bit of a romance that just sprang out of nowhere too. Maybe it was my distance from the main character, but there wasn’t much hint of emotions going on inside her head. Other than she had to save Jen, another character I didn’t feel she had a genuine connection to other than her words.

The rest of the book made up for Alice; it still managed to be engaging despite my dislike of her. And OK, I softened a bit towards the end. I would probably read another book in this world, because I liked the mythology so much. The characters just need a little bit more work.

The Nightjar is published by Pan Macmillan and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 5th September 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 12. A book inspired by myth/legend/folklore

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Monday, 12 August 2019

The Time Traveler's Wife

You might be wondering why I'm reading a massive bestseller from over a decade ago now, but one of the Popsugar prompts this year is to read a book with more than a million ratings on Goodreads. The Time Traveler's Wife had been on my TBR a long time, and my interest had waned a lot, but this was an opportunity to give it a go.

If you're not familiar with the story, Henry has a rare genetic disorder which causes him to spontaneously travel in time, usually backwards, always naked. On many of these trips he meets the woman who will become his wife. The narrative switches between Henry's non-linear lifetime and Clare's present, slowly bringing the multiple timelines toegther.

Time is priceless, but it’s free. You can't own it, you can use it. You can spend it. But you can't keep it. Once you've lost it you can never get it back.

I can't say I am impressed. Did no one else find it a bit icky that grown Henry was visiting his wife when she was a child and grooming her to be his wife? It was portrayed like they were dating already. He doesn't really give her the opportunity to find out for herself, telling her they'll be married in the future. Then when they do get together in the present, it's like they don't really like each other that much, Clare seems to be waiting for the Henry she knew as a child.

Henry goes through time beating people up, stealing clothing and money, without a single consequence. He even teaches his younger self how to pick pockets. Just because he disappears from that time, doesn't mean his actions don't affect others. So I didn't like Henry one bit, and the book is really about him despite the title.

Clare is a bit of a one-dimensional character, her world revolves around Henry, and then making a miniature version of Henry. I mean the genetics and the implications of trying to have a time-travelling baby were interesting but it was a novella's worth of material in an overly long book.

So I found it all a bit boring. Maybe if you like books about the every day happenings of life, you'd enjoy that with the extra time travel dimension. Henry doesn't time travel anywhere exciting, just to moments in his, or Clare's, past. Then there's moments of odd metaphors and language which felt like it was trying too hard.

When I am out there, in time, I am inverted, changed into a desperate version of myself. I become a thief, a vagrant, an animal who runs and hides. I startle old women and amaze children. I am a trick, an illusion of the highest order, so incredible that I am actually true.

Oh and there's some pretty convenient things thrown in which don't really fit with the whole determinism thing, was Henry destined to win the lottery? If he could manage that I don't see why he couldn't have changed other things.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 5. A book with at least one million ratings on Goodreads

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

The Kingdom

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

The Kingdom™ is a magical place where your dreams can come true, with species brought back from extinction and the most perfect princesses to see to your needs during your stay. Ana is one of seven Fantasists, androids designed to be beautiful and to obey. But when Ana is accused of murdering a park employee, she must go to court to prove she's incapable of moral judgement.

In my Kingdom, Happily Ever After is not just a promise: it's a rule.

I devoured The Kingdom, this Westworld/Disneyland mash-up was just what I needed. It could so easily be twee but Jess Rothenberg has shown the darker side of an entertainment industry, in a page-turning tale.

The narrative switches between the trial transcripts and Ana's life in the park. The trial's purpose is to decide if Owen's murder was the result of a malfunction or if Ana had evolved beyond her programming and committed murder with intent.

Ana is one of the later models, with more advanced AI compared to some of the other Fantasists, who regurgitate on-brand lines, and are less likely to think for themselves. Even under times of stress, Ana's programming returns her to this more simple state, removing her ability to act upon her feelings.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clearer that the Fantasists are controlled through more than just their programming. They are fed lies about the world outside, believing the visitors are there to escape a ravaged land. It's inferred that the investors are using the Fantasists for sex, then their minds are wiped, so they can never speak out.

Anomalies are dangerous. Magic is routine.

I felt a bit sad for the hybrid animals, as one might a sociable creature kept alone in a zoo. I'm not entirely sure why they were part android, part genetically engineered though. Were clones just too unpredictable and android not realistic enough? That doesn't seem right if the Fantasists were as real as humans...

Anyway, I really enjoyed it. It's not anything particularly new but I liked how it was done.

The Kingdom is published by Pan Macmillan and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publishers for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

In the end, it does not matter what a story is about. It only matters who gets to tell it.

ATY Rejects: Circus/carnival/amusement park setting

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Monday, 5 August 2019

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

When Mary Jekyll's mother dies, she discovers a secret bank account used to make payments in connection with Mr Hyde. Mary cannot fathom why and faced with an uncertain financial future, she seeks out Sherlock Holmes to find out if there's still a reward for the capture of Mr Hyde. Their investigation leads them to meet many other young ladies who have been wronged by a mysterious society of alchemists.

She had longed for adventure, and now that it was happening to her, she was not sure how she felt about it.

The Strange case of the Alchemist's Daughter is the first book in Theodora Goss's Athena Club series, which follows family members from classic genre fiction. Whilst Mary is obviously Mr Jekyll's daughter, when her father was Mr Hyde, he had another daughter. There are also characters from Frankenstein, The Island of Doctor Moreau and Dracula.

Beatrice Rappaccini is a character from a short story (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) that I had to look up, but like the others she is given life beyond that short fiction. Some of the characters have had to lead lives as sideshow freaks in order to make a living, until Mary takes them in. I liked how it explored what happens outside those stories, that there are innocent people left behind.

I listened to this on audio and the characters interrupting the narrative all the time was a bit pointless and distracting. I don't know if this works better in print at all. Catherine is the one supposedly writing the story and they other characters keep chiming in to correct her or agree.

This first story also borrows from the Whitehall Murders attributed to Jack the Ripper and, like many writers before have done, an alternate narrative is given with a supernatural angle.

What could women accomplish if they did not have to continually mind their skirts, keep them from dragging in the mud or getting trampled on the steps of an omnibus? If they had pockets! With pockets, women could conquer the world!

It was a little slow in places, spending a lot of time on each woman's backstory as well as the character comments. I think now that I'm familiar with all the characters I would consider reading more. It was simple, escapist fun set in a mock Victorian era, where attitudes to women and science are just starting to turn.

ATY: 25. 4 books inspired by the wedding rhyme: Book #3 Something Borrowed

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Book Source: Purchased