Browsed by
Month: April 2020

Bookstagram Tour: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

Bookstagram Tour: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

‘An epic tale of love and revenge set in a world inspired by Inquisition-era Spain pits the magical Moria against a terrifying royal authority bent on their destruction.

When the royal family of Selvina sets out to destroy magic through a grand and terrible inquisition, magic warrior-thief Renata – trained in the art of stealing memories-seeks to kill the prince, leader of the King’s Justice, only to learn through powerful memories that he may be the greatest illusion of them all … and that the fate of all magic now lies in her hands.’

Today is day three of the Bookstagram Tour for the brilliant new YA book, Incendiary, by Zoraida Córdova, and I have a review to share that focuses on my favourite features of the novel: memory, manipulation and the mind.

Incendiary follows Renata, who works as a rebel spy against the crown that used to use her for its own means, and has the ability to steal memories from others, both in a way that can be used to aide those suffering from painful recollections, and in a manner that can be absolutely devastating to the person whose mind she touches. Her people, the Moria, have been all but wiped out, something that she has had a hand in and means that many in the rebel network are unwilling to trust or forgive her, but Renata is determined to prove herself as a member of the Whispers, to protect those she has grown to care for and to whom she believes she owes a debt. Unfortunately for her, this leads her on a path back to the life she thought she had been freed from, and a need to play a game that, in her youth, she was unaware she was a part of.

What I found most interesting about Incendiary was the way in which it deals with the concepts of conditioning and guilt. Mendez plays at being a father to Renata when she is young, attempting to ease his own hurts by treating her in a way that he sees as kind and carries the additional merit of conditioning her to trust him and believe that what she is doing serves a good and true purpose. He uses the innocence of her youth against her own people, claiming that the use of her powers for his own intent is only ‘lessons’ and giving her rewards when she is unwittingly successful in finding new information and eliminating threats to the crown, making her believe that she is being good and useful by way of bribes of sweets and affection. Renata has locked much of the worst of this, and her own childhood, away, and of all that she has ever done is something that she cannot make peace with, even knowing how she was manipulated and that a child in her situation could not possibly hope to understand the broader picture of what was happening or resist as she wishes she had done. Mendez’s treatment and exploitation of the child she was is disturbing, only his own potential gains considered and not Renata as an actual human being. He may supposedly treat her ‘kindly’, praise her and make sure that she has a comfortable life, but he is ultimately using her as a weapon – an object – without any consideration of how she may grow to feel about what she is doing. Had he managed to keep her, I imagine his intention would have been to keep her in a state of perpetual ignorance by ensuring she has nothing to concern her or anything to want for.

Renata’s issues with her own memories and those of her dealing with the recollections of others may be rooted in the fantasy elements of the story and in the use of her powers, but I enjoyed the broader look at the concept of memory itself and what it means to us. It was when studying Classical literature and philosophies that I remember first being asked to consider memory in a less trustworthy way than I had before, in that it cannot be denied that what we think we remember is ultimately not, in-fact, exactly what happened, for what we recall is coloured by the experiences we have had since that moment. Not only that, but what we believe to have happened or think we know is influenced by the world around us and what we are encouraged to think. I liked that there is something of this in Renata’s struggles, her understanding of what she sees never quite trustworthy because of a more magical manipulation, but also because she has been treated a particular way and told certain things. Not only this, but there is the all too human element of inadvertently trying to shield herself from her own painful memories.

I loved the idea of the Moria and their gifts, and that we get to see how they use the different powers of their minds to protect each other and to go on the offensive when necessary, including how they might work together and complement each other to achieve a goal. For me, this feature of the story was particularly interesting because it is imperative that the Whispers work together, yet the gifts that they have open up a whole realm of potential for mistrust, as when you have people who can steal your memories, fool your eyes and manipulate your feelings among you, how can you ever trust that what you’re experiencing is real? Each of their gifts has the potential to be used for healing and for hindering, and it’s entirely down to the whims of the gifted person as to what it becomes. Having magical powers of some variety is not uncommon in YA literature, but I felt that how they should or should not be used was particularly well explored in Incendiary, perhaps because our minds are something that we most fear someone manipulating.

Incendiary was released yesterday! Thank you, Hodderscape, for the ARC, finished copy, and the opportunity to be part of today’s event!

Review: Sword in the Stars by Cori McCarthy & Amy Rose Capetta

Review: Sword in the Stars by Cori McCarthy & Amy Rose Capetta

Ari Helix may have won her battle against the tyrannical Mercer corporation, but the larger war has just begun. Ari and her cursed wizard Merlin must travel back in time to the unenlightened Middle Ages and steal the King Arthur’s Grail — the very definition of impossible. It’s imperative that the time travellers not skew the timeline and alter the course of history. Coming face to face with the original Arthurian legend could produce a ripple effect that changes everything. Somehow Merlin forgot that the past can be even more dangerous than the future.’

I adored Once & Future and have been looking forward to Sword in the Stars for a good many months, so I was very grateful to be given an E-ARC by the publisher. I’m glad to say that Sword in the Stars does not disappoint and, in my opinion, doesn’t suffer from the lack of momentum that second books in duologies and trilogies tend to. One of the things that saves it from doing so is that it picks up almost immediately after the events of the first book and doesn’t spend the first few chapters recapping what happened in Once & Future, instead dedicating this time to moving the story forward. The pacing is good, balancing enough time with the characters in ways that develop them and their motives with action and learning about the outside influences that are affecting them. There is very little time when there is nothing significant happening, which prevents the narrative from stagnating.

Gwen and Ari remain one of my favourite couples and I love that there are so many plot pieces in Sword in the Stars that are often used in fiction as reasons for couples for have misunderstandings and for relationships to break down that are actually used as things that bring them closer together and keep them together. Both of them are unpredictable and delightfully headstrong, and while this sometimes leads them being surprised by each other and not anticipating exactly what they’re going to do, they don’t chastise each other for it or seek to have the other change to make things any easier on them. They see and applaud each other’s strengths, and while Ari’s role is that of the ‘hero’, Gwen is by no means any less significant, clever or strong, and it’s fantastic to see a couple who are unapologetically themselves and not expected to be ‘less’ for the convenience of their partner or the story. I would love to write a lot more about the both of them, but I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone!

Another of the things that I liked about the narrative is what the characters discover about themselves and their roles in history by trying to adhere to the narrative they know, while trying to figure out how to manipulate it just enough that what they do remains what everyone knows of the tale – if there was ever even any other chain of events. I love stories that play with time travel and time loops (and what if/cause and effect, etc), and I got a huge kick out of all the contemplation of paradoxes and the looks at how myths (and history) are manipulated as they’re transformed through literature and the social consciousness of different eras.

Sword in the Stars is a brilliant blend of fairytale retelling, science fiction and social commentary and I enjoyed every minute of it (I would be very, very happy to read more about Ari and co at some point in the future!). The cast as whole is hugely likeable, though characters are not without their flaws, and it’s very easy to want good things for all of them and hope that they will succeed both in their relationships and in what the overarching narrative needs them to accomplish to protect the wider universe from the corrupt Mercer. Highly recommended!

I received a digital ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.

Review: Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran

Review: Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran

‘When Lia, an idealistic queen, falls for Xania, her new spymaster–who took the job to avenge her murdered father–they realise all isn’t fair in love and treason.

Lia won’t mourn her uncle: he’s left her a bankrupt kingdom considered easy pickings by its neighbours. She’s sworn to be a better ruler, but if she wants to push through her reforms, she needs to beat the Court at its own games. For years, Xania’s been determined to uncover her father’s murderer. She finally gets a chance when Lia gives her a choice: become her new spymaster, or take a one way trip to the executioner’s axe. It’s an easy decision.

When they fall for each other, their love complicates Lia’s responsibilities and Xania’s plans for vengeance. As they’re drawn together amid royal suitors and new diplomats, they uncover treason that could not only end Lia’s reign, but ruin their weakened country. They must decide not only what to sacrifice for duty, but also for each other.’

Queen of Coin and Whispers is one of my favourite reads of this year and I absolutely loved it. The story alternates (for the most part) between the point of view of Lia, a young queen new to her role and learning to navigate her court while trying to undo the harm her uncle has caused, and Xania, who works for the treasury and is set on avenging the murder of her father by whatever means possible. Xania is appointed as Lia’s new spymater, the Master of Whispers, after her intention to kill the man she suspects is responsible for her father’s death is uncovered and she’s given the chance to uncover enough information to condemn him – though the arrangement is not entirely without the threat of her intentions being revealed in a manner that would cost her her life.

Court politics are one of my favourite things to read about, and Queen of Coin and Whispers is primarily based around Lia’s attempts to introduce reforms to help her people, while attempting to work out who in her court – or, more accurately, her late uncle’s court – can be trusted to support her. Her uncle has left Edar bankrupt and with hardly the funds to support itself, standing her in a political landscape that makes her neighbours both her adversaries and people that she must rely on to try and get Edar back on its feet. One way in which she must do this is by marriage, specifically a marriage that will produce a blood heir, which leaves Lia trapped in a situation that means she knows she must marry and is set on doing so for her kingdom, yet she has no interest in men and the relationship that would produce a child of her bloodline. In the world of Queen of Coin and whispers, same sex marriages and relationships are commonplace, and a number of the main characters are involved with those of their own gender, none of which is commented on in a negative manner or set to be out of the ordinary, which was lovely to see and I wish we had more books that treat same sex marriage in the same way. It’s Lia’s case, with her responsibility to her kingdom and laws that demand she produce an heir that is a son or daughter of her own body, that sets her apart and has led to her concealing her preference for women from almost everyone.

As they begin to work together, Lia and Xania grow closer, but neither of them is secure enough in their affection being returned to make any clear overtures for a good while. Their situation is further impacted by their respective ranks – with Xania’s ‘fifth step by mother’s marriage’ something that impacts her belief that she might ever be suitable for a queen – their working relationship of royal and spymaster, and the looming threat of Lia’s marriage all things that keep them dancing around each other, trying to protect themselves and each other. It’s Lia who eventually manages clearer attempts to make her feelings known, in a move that I loved, and gives Xania her favourite romance novel to read – a novel that turns out to be about a relationship between two women. That their relationship, assumed by most to be a friendship that much of the court cannot understand, with Xania being ‘only’ fifth step, is one that the politicians and key players within the court judge and look down on makes it difficult for Xania in particular to believe that she might be safe in a relationship with Lia and get to keep her, her confidence in her work and ability contrasted with her worries and hesitation about what loving Lia means. Despite their feelings and attraction, Lia still goes through with her formal search for a husband, accepting suitors from neighbouring kingdoms, simultaneously daring her court to notice as she highlights her relationship with Xania, while also trying to work out which of her suitors is less likely to ruin her and her kingdom.

As the story progresses, politics and duty further interfere with Lia and Xania’s relationship, and further highlight all that they risk in their honesty with each other and in opening their hearts. While they very clearly adore each as Lia and Xania, the Queen and the Master of Whispers do not always agree on the same course of action, nor have the ability to put their own wishes and morals first when looking at the bigger picture. Lia is increasingly forced into corners that leave her with few options, the more idealistic facets of her nature stepped on by levels of society that want her kingdom to remain how it is, with them in control and profiting, as Xania uncovers the increasingly ugly goings on at court and beyond, witnessing the impact that her intent on revenge has, along with what transformation she sees in Lia.

One of the things I loved most about this book was Xania’s family. Her sister, Zola, is a strong presence in the story, as is her mother, both of whom support her in her work. Her step-father, a role all too often one that is a negative force in YA fiction, very clearly cares for her and wishes for her to be happy, his treatment of her protective, kind, and respectful of the memory of her late father. Though her family do voice concerns about her relationship with Lia, it isn’t because she’s a woman, but because they are worried about their differences in power and status – their main concern being that Lia could cast her aside and therefore prevent her from making any meaningful connection or marriage. In all other respects, they are supportive of her choice and relationship, and actively encourage her love of Lia, and Lia’s intent to prove her own love.

Queen of Coin and Whispers is an excellent and nuanced read that that I couldn’t put down. It’s out on April 23rd! Thank you The O’Brien Press for sending me an ARC for review!

Blog Tour: Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

Blog Tour: Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

‘Marin has always been good at navigating these unspoken guidelines. A star student and editor of the school paper, she dreams of getting into Brown University. Marin’s future seems bright―and her young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. Beckett, is always quick to admire her writing and talk books with her.

But when “Bex” takes things too far and comes on to Marin, she’s shocked and horrified. Had she somehow led him on? Was it her fault?

When Marin works up the courage to tell the administration what happened, no one believes her. She’s forced to face Bex in class every day. Except now, he has an axe to grind.

But Marin isn’t about to back down. She uses the school newspaper to fight back and she starts a feminist book club at school. She finds allies in the most unexpected people, like “slutty” Gray Kendall, who she’d always dismissed as just another lacrosse bro. As things heat up at school and in her personal life, Marin must figure out how to take back the power and write her own rules.’

The Rules for Being a Girl blog tour starts today and I have a review of this brilliant book to share! I’m also running a giveaway for a copy on my Instagram (@pythiareads), which you can access using the Instagram feed on the right!

I read Rules for Being a Girl cover to cover in one go and was both glad to see in print something that so accurately depicts and addresses the different rules that women have to live by, compared to the male experience of the world, and saddened by just how much of how Marin feels is identifiable as how women are made to feel every day, and how we are made to adapt our behaviour and change to make ourselves more acceptable. When looking at literature and media in general, there is simply so much produced that only perpetuates the idea that women are only important insofar as how they respond and are useful to men (see the ‘female, dispensable sidekick’). Much of the problem here lies with how, historically, men have had command of society and thus able to decide what, in terms of art and literature, is acceptable; an issue that continues to run rampant in the production of a popular media that is largely under male control. In short: young women need more books such as Rules for Being a Girl: books written by women, that tell them that they are not alone and that the ‘rules’ need rewriting.

As a teacher, I found Beckett’s behaviour particularly disturbing and spent much of the novel feeling rather nauseated by his behaviour and wishing for Marin (and every other student, really) to get as much distance from him as possible. His behaviour is utterly despicable, especially given his position of power and what should be a responsibility for Marin’s wellbeing, and while I wanted to believe his school would permanently remove him from his role (as they should), it also felt that his being believed innocent – as an adult male in a position of responsibility, compared to Marin being young, female and therefore assumed to be creative with the truth – was inevitable. If I were to ask, I’m not sure that I could find a single woman that I know who hasn’t, at one time or another, had a man’s word or understanding believed to be better than hers simply because he’s a man. Marin’s initial reluctance to report his behaviour only serves to highlight the fear that women live with every day, that to speak out is to be branded a liar and to have their own reliability and reputation tarnished for calling someone out for something unacceptable; to ultimately be made a target. And this is exactly what happens to her, horrifyingly (but not surprisingly) with the full encouragement of a man who bears responsibility for her safety in the school environment.

In starting her feminist book club, Marin begins to see that to make assumptions about others, based on thing such as rumour and appearance, is as wrong as the assumptions that are being made about her. It also begins to challenge her about her own views and encourages her to examine the nuances of her beliefs and those of those around her to find a way to not only engage in measured debate with others (without jumping to conclusions), but create common ground and take a genuine interest in the lives of those she has previously not taken into much consideration. Together, the group starts to examine what feminism is and challenge the preconceptions that go hand in hand with the term, while learning not to assume who can and cannot be a feminist. As she gets to know Gray better, Marin is met with the struggle of deciding when she feels it’s appropriate to let him stand up for her without it feeling as if she is being undermined, or whether she can show affection and support him while still remaining a feminist.

Rules for Being a Girl is an excellent and thought-provoking read about the imbalances that continue to exist in a society that likes to tell itself that equality of the sexes exists. In a world that says women’s rights have improved a great deal, is it not time to consider that that subjective elements of equality in particular spheres are not, in-fact, the progress that we need most? Claiming that equality is here does not make it so. Nor does getting defensive when challenged about it.

Thank you, My Kinda Book, for the proof copy of Rules for Being a Girl and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Check out the tour schedule below for when to visit the lovely bloggers involved!