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Author: Pythia

Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

‘In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.’

I adored The Ten Thousand Doors of January, particularly because Harrow has such a brilliant understanding of the cadence of language and the rhythm of words, and how to use them to devastating effect, and so I should have known that The Once and Future Witches was not going to be a book that I could ‘just read a couple of chapters’ of and put down. I read through at least two thirds of the novel in one go, and it’s one of those reads that surfacing from involves the return to reality being incredibly jarring.

When the reader meets the Eastwood sisters, they are not exactly on the best of terms and habour resentments towards each other and the connection between them that they cannot ignore. What becomes apparent very quickly is that much of this ill-feeling is born of guilt and, over the course of the novel, it becomes clearer and clearer that what they blame themselves for are not things that were truly within their power. That they have all fled their home for various reasons only emphasises the claustrophobic nature of an upbringing in a society that attempted to stifle them in almost every way, men intent on punishing any suggestion that a girl should be anything but an obedient and silent wife and mother. In finding themselves and each other, the sisters slowly return to their old understanding that it is only together that they are going to survive and bring back what has been all but lost.

The magic in The Once and Future Witches isn’t of your typical ‘fantasy’ variety, where there are no limits to a power that can do anything at all. It’s grounded in the reality of its setting and in literature; in the way words are crafted and handed down through generations. It doesn’t suggest that this power to heal and help and protect is exclusive to a specific bloodline or excludes anyone. It’s a magic that can belong to everyone and fights against the stereotypical images and ideas about witches that were born in ancient history, when sorceresses were no longer celebrated and started to be depicted as dangerous, unpredictable and ugly simply because men could not tolerate the idea of powerful (’emotional and reckless’) women. It laments what we lose to history by force, spells and ideas hidden in common rhymes and literature now assumed to be ‘just’ stories. As the story unfolds, the characters reclaim what has been lost to them; what they’ve been forced to hide and what has been taken and all but destroyed, and in taking back one kind of power also get to reclaim parts of themselves that they’ve felt they have to suppress and conceal.

I loved the suggestion that women’s clothing no longer has half the number of pockets as men’s because it would be dangerous to let women have pockets in which they could keep bits and pieces to cast spells, and thus keep any attempts at wielding power out in the open and easily preventable. It’s an idea that feels a little too real and not out of the realms of fantasy, because, at this point in history, what ideas and methods have not been used (or aren’t being used) to keep women from having power, even over their own bodies? It feels like so small a thing to have changed, yet so believable that it could have such a huge impact. What woman hasn’t lamented the absence of pockets? Is there a more believable reason not ostensibly related to fashion for why our clothes hardly ever have functional pockets? I honestly haven’t been able to not think about this every time I realise the dress I’ve worn to work inevitably doesn’t even have a pocket for my keys/lanyard/ID.

The Once and Future Witches is out October 13th, from Orbit Books, who very kindly sent me a proof for review (thank you!). This is one of my favourite books of the year so far: a fantasy story that isn’t entirely a fantasy; a historical novel that screams so much of what is still wrong with modern society; a reminder of the importance of our histories and what we may have unwittingly forgotten.

Review: Hide-and-Seek History – The Egyptians

Review: Hide-and-Seek History – The Egyptians

Having studied Egyptology before going into teaching, when I saw this book I knew that I had to get a look at it!

Hide-and-Seek History: The Egyptians is an absolutely beautiful book for young children that looks at the Ancient Egyptian civilisation and what archaeology is and what it involves. Every page contains a series of flaps blended seamlessly into the rich and vivid illustrations, which can be pulled to reveal more information about different aspects of culture and history. Something I think is particularly engaging about how the book has been constructed is that sometimes there are further flaps to reveal beneath the initial one, making the discovery of more details like the process of archaeological excavation and uncovering different layers of history.

The illustrations in the book are wonderfully bright and full of warm colour palettes that make the world within cheery and welcoming. My favourite is the section about the Gods, which is a lovely amber and purple twilight spread with flaps that children can pull to reveal information about many of the Gods, the range that has been selected one that includes the more common ones that students might learn about in early schooling, and some of the less so, offering up broader information and adding further opportunities for learning and discovering.

I particularly appreciated that the language chosen to convey some thoughts and ideas about Egypt makes it clear that there is not always one interpretation of what we have discovered, and so encourages children to enquire further. The written details are clear and do not use overly simple vocabulary, affording chances for readers to expand their understanding of subject specific terms and how words can be used in different contexts. The writing also makes sure to include women, men, and both historical and modern scholars in its references, and strikes a balance in its illustrations and areas of culture covered to make sure it doesn’t solely look at spheres of life for one particular gender.

The Egyptians will be on shelves on October 1st 2020 and would make a wonderful birthday or Christmas present for a child with an interest in history and ancient civilisations! Thank you, Little Tiger Books, for sending me a copy for review!

Blog Tour: Boy Queen by George Lester

Blog Tour: Boy Queen by George Lester

‘Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart.

While his friends prepare to head off to University, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet.

Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realizes there might be a different, more sequinned path for him…

With a mother who won’t stop talking, a boyfriend who won’t acknowledge him and a best friend who is dying to cover him in glitter make up, there’s only one thing for Robin to do: bring it to the runway.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the brilliant new YA release, Boy Queen, by George Lester, and I have a review to share! I read this book from cover to cover without putting it down and loved the story – I particularly think that it deserves a spot in and some attention from school libraries, especially with its look at first relationships, identity, and the anxiety and pressures surrounding the end of secondary schooling.

Boy Queen follows Robin, who is in his last year of sixth form and has applied to drama schools as his next step towards his chosen career, his days occupied by school and extra classes in dance and the theatre arts, the latter something he devotes his time to in an effort to ace the rigorous exams that drama schools require their applicants to pass to earn a place on their courses of study. Unfortunately for Robin, he doesn’t manage to secure a place at drama school, leaving him adrift and unsure of what his next steps are, certain that going to university like some of his friends isn’t for him, even the prospect of applying again next year something that the knock to his confidence initially finds him unable to truly contemplate. Robin is presented as a young man who works hard and wants to dedicate himself to his craft, his confidence a seemingly fragile thing that fluctuates with his sense of self-worth, which is impacted by his experiences with the outside world’s reaction to his sexuality and how he presents himself. When what he has worked so hard for becomes an impossibility in the short term (which should not be downplayed, especially given the pressure that young people face to know their paths and follow them immediately at the end of schooling), he finds himself adrift, his future daunting and uncertain, and his parting from his closest friends and support network inevitable. On his eighteenth birthday, he visits Entity, a club where he gets to see drag artists live for the first time, allowing drag to make the jump from something he has experienced on-screen and at a distance, to something he realises he has the opportunity to take a much more active interest in.

The relationships in Boy Queen are a huge part of the story and, though there are lots that I’d like to talk about, I’m going to focus on two of them. However, I do want to say that I loved the found family features with Robin and his circle of friends, and with the drag artists that he gets to know, such as Kaye, who take him in as one of their own, not just to protect him, but also to teach and to challenge what preconceptions he has about drag and sexuality. The most supportive influence in Robin’s life is his mother, who accepts her son for who he is, while seeking to protect her child from a world that she knows is largely not as accepting as the friends he has found, and wants to keep him safe from the negative influences who will judge him and attempt to make him feel bad for being who he is. Though Robin clearly loves his mum, in his frustration and growing worry over his future he often fails to see all that she does for him, at one point accusing her of never being around, while not understanding that she is rarely home because she is working to make sure that she can pay for everything he needs to embrace his dreams. There are some things that they take for granted about each other that are challenged by Robin’s shifting evermore from child to adult, a time that is proving stressful for the both of them, yet, ultimately, his mother is his biggest fan, certain in the good heart of the son she has raised, and that he has the talent to be whatever he wishes to be.

Robin’s relationship with Connor throws up all sorts of warning signs early on for the reader, from Connor’s reluctance to acknowledge Robin in public, to his insistence that nobody find out that they’re a supposed item (I hesitate to say that they are a couple). While these things are easy for the audience to pick up on, that their relationship is one in which Robin is manipulated and emotionally wounded on more than one occasion is far less clear to him, not only because he wants to be loved, but because he believes he understands the reasons that Connor cannot be as open as he is and has many of the same fears of the consequences of expressing his sexuality. It takes Robin time and support to realise that Connor’s attitude toward him is not acceptable for someone who claims to care for him, and to stop supplying excuses for him to reason away his behaviour, both because he wants to believe better of Connor and because he has convinced himself that he may not be deserving of love and affection; that losing Connor – in whatever way he is willing to be with him – might mean the end of any chance he has at love and he would be foolish to throw it away. Further layers to his experiences with Connor are uncovered as the novel unfolds, the nature of these revelations well-structured within the overall arc of the story and Robin’s realisations about their relationship as he begins to grow into a new confidence in himself.

Boy Queen was released on August 6th and is available on shelves now! Thank you, Pan Macmillan, for the ARC and the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Blog Tour: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Blog Tour: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

‘Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Morts they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In a fast and furious story full of the glamour and excesses, intrigue and deception of these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Kat Dunn’s new YA book, Dangerous Remedy, which is a wonderful read from start to finish and one I didn’t want to put down.

The story follows Camille and the group she has assembled to free people from prison and help them escape certain death, her view that they are doing what they must to help ordinary citizens who have no hope of influencing a corrupt system or of evading their deaths once they are in custody. As the book opens, they have been paid to free and rescue a girl their client claims is his daughter, yet it soon becomes all too obvious that they have not been told the whole story, not about the mission or the girl herself, and so their plans must change while they attempt to figure out the truth and muddle through the ethics of the situation that they find themselves in.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Dangerous Remedy was the group dynamic and the fact that it’s never entirely clear one hundred percent what anyone’s motives truly are or what they might be willing to do to protect themselves and each other. Al is perhaps the most openly scathing of their work together and quite often cuts straight to the point, but it’s quite evident that his darker humour and sarcasm are methods that he uses to protect himself from the reality of what he has experienced and the hand that the world has dealt him. Ada believes that she is doing what she must for Camille and her friends, though knows full well that the secrets she keeps would be abhorrent to the girl she loves, while Camille herself seems to struggle with her own motives and what drives her.

The more magical elements of the story are reminiscent of Frankenstein in their execution, which I found quite suitable for a time in which science was often believed to be magic, and to meddle with what was considered beyond the realm of man was to invite certain doom (this also ties in nicely with the arguments against fate and choice being what determines the future). Olympe is much like the monster, created and turned into something others view as inhuman, with a power not entirely under her control and understanding of who she could be in the right circumstances – when not considered a ‘thing’ and treated as such – just beyond her reach. She has been dehumanised for so long that it would be easy for her to lash out, admitting that she does not remember what it is for people to be kind, and still, she tries, as all of Camille’s group do in their own way, to find a way to a better way.

I loved Camille and Ada and found the murky mix of their family’s pasts and elements that catch up with each of them to be some of the most engaging parts of the novel. Though they clearly love each other, how they feel about each other appears to differ, to the extent that Ada’s devotion and guilt leads her to turn towards Camille and what she can do to help her (even risking her hatred), while Camille seems to retreat inwards and fixate, not as confident in expressing sometimes uncertain feelings, instead taking refuge in action that she has not always thought through or considered the consequences of.

Dangerous Remedy was released in hardback on August 6th and is available from both online and high street book sellers! Thank you, Zephyr Books, for sending me a signed ARC and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Review: Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud

Review: Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud

‘Two identical girls, one a princess, the other a rebel. Who will rule the empire?

Amani must make a devastating choice between revolution and family in this sequel to the instant Sunday Times bestseller Mirage.

After being swept up into the brutal Vathek court, Amani, the ordinary girl forced to serve as the half-Vathek princess’s body double, has been forced into complete isolation. The cruel but complex princess, Maram, with whom Amani had cultivated a tenuous friendship, discovered Amani’s connection to the rebellion and has forced her into silence, and if Amani crosses Maram once more, her identity – and her betrayal – will be revealed to everyone in the court.

Amani is desperate to continue helping the rebellion, to fight for her people’s freedom. But she must make a devastating decision: will she step aside, and watch her people suffer, or continue to aid them, and put herself and her family in mortal danger? And whatever she chooses, can she bear to remain separated, forever, from Maram’s fiancé, Idris?’

I absolutely loved Mirage (it’s remained one of my favourite reads since its release) and was a little worried when the date for Court of Lions kept being pushed back, but I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed this sequel perhaps even more than the first instalment. I love reading about politics and court intrigue, which is what Court of Lions primarily focuses on, and I very much enjoyed reading about the different families and their histories – and how their pasts and loyalties could impact the future that seems so out of reach at the start of the novel.

I’m glad that the relationship between Amani and Maram remains central to the story and that there isn’t a huge span of the book where they don’t see each other or have any interaction. There are stretches of the novel where they don’t have a great many encounters, but what encounters they do have are significant, with consequences for them both or indications of character history or progress. Their journey doesn’t centre heavily around the imbalance of power between them, as the end of Mirage might have suggested, but how far they trust each other with their hopes and fears. Amani swiftly emerges as seemingly the stronger of the two, largely out of a desire to protect and be faithful to Maram, for she is the only one who has seen the struggles that she is experiencing and appears to understand that she is finally growing into herself and becoming more than the Vath would have her be. Though Maram is often inconsiderate in what she orders Amani to do (most ‘orders’ start this way and soon become requests) and can seem manipulative, she doesn’t have all of the information available that Amani does, nor does she understand what it is to have friends or family that she can trust with anything of her true self, and Amani has already been less than truthful to her before. They are often at their best when working together, and Maram ultimately wants Amani’s friendship and to forge relationships, in this instance and others, no matter how she struggles.

The majority of Maram’s story in Court of Lions centres around her trying to make peace with the two halves of her heritage: primarily, what her father wants her to be (and whether she has any desire to even attempt to please him any more) and her mother’s legacy. I loved what we get to see of Maram taking steps to learn about her mother’s people and the culture that her father has deliberately kept her disconnected and distanced from in her role as his heir, determined that she is his child, and therefore only one of the Vath, and not Kushaila at all. In the raising of her, he and Nadine have attempted to rewrite her own history and excluded her from learning all that her mother would have taught her and what Kushaila women know how to do, including leaving her struggling with the language barrier that bars her from experiencing literature and poetry in its original form, distancing her from her cultural birthright and what plays an integral role for other Kushaila. While her marriage and pressure of being her father’s heir threatens to force her into roles she doesn’t want, it’s the realisation that there are actually things in life that she wants for herself that begins to encourage her to explore her roots and feel that it’s her mother’s line she ought to honour and not her vicious father’s. This slow acknowledgement of herself as a person and not simply a heir to be used means that she does step back from the true political machinations going on in her name, making it look somewhat like Amani is the one doing all the work, but without Maram’s making this progress in terms of having her own thoughts, feelings and desires, there would be no potential leader with an investment in her people to rally behind.

I find that I’m not usually a huge fan of romances in YA fiction, but I found that both of the love stories in Court of Lions were compelling (Idris and Amani’s relationship in Mirage perhaps having been a little bit too along the lines on insta-love), and I especially liked Maram’s and how the time shifts in the first half of the novel are used to shed light on her behaviour in the present day.

Court of Lions is out on August 6th, from Hodder & Stoughton. Thank you to the publisher for the digital ARC!

I received an E-ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.

Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

‘There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away from everyone, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming . . . human or demon. Princess or monster.’

I did enjoy Girl, Serpent, Thorn, but I felt that, much as with the author’s previous work, Girls Made of Snow and Glass, around the 50% mark is where the story starts to get a little muddled. In terms of pacing and structure, it almost feels as if acts one, two and the majority of three are in the first half of the novel, leaving the second half of the third act to take up the rest of the story. However, this is only my opinion and may well not be an observation that has impacted other people’s reading. The writing itself is beautiful and I very much like the author’s style, particularly during moments of stillness and when characters’ emotions are running high.

Soraya is an engaging character for much of the first half of the book, her story and her need to uncover the truth about why she is how she is and what led to her being so interesting in its own right, but when one of her romantic interests (Azad) is introduced is when she begins to read as much younger and less capable than she is initially presented as. Though she has been without company for much of her life and feels isolated and alone, that she would so easily be drawn in by someone who flatters her so obviously doesn’t quite feel in keeping with what the reader has learnt about her. However, that she has been starved of human contact may well mean that she is not particularly well-versed in encountering deception, as is suggested by her behaviour throughout the story when faced with those who have failed to tell her the complete truth, or have chosen an edited version of it, believed to be for her benefit. Though both of her entanglements with her romantic interests involve manipulation, I was pleased to see that the other feels more based around a connection, affection, growing loyalty and a desire to see Soraya become who she could be so as to embrace all that she is, not simply to become cruel and powerful because she has the potential to be so.

Whether Soraya will embrace being ‘evil’ or try to atone for what she has done (I hesitate to call her actions a mistake, given what information she has available at the time and how she has experienced the world so far) is perhaps what takes up a good deal of the plot, yet is not quite as compelling as what I hope is the main message of the narrative (I won’t go into detail here, as I don’t want to spoil the ending). Soraya is a strong character – in that sense that her journey is compelling, not the ‘strong female character’ trope – who I would have gladly read much more about. Maybe the story would have worked better in terms of pacing and time for additional detail as a series?

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is certainly a well-written book, with a world and characters that I hope we get to see again in some form, despite it being a stand-alone.

I received a digital ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.

Review: Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

Review: Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

‘On the other hand, Vance Reigns has been Hollywood royalty for as long as he can remember—with all the privilege and scrutiny that entails. When a tabloid scandal catches up to him, he’s forced to hide out somewhere the paparazzi would never expect to find him: Small Town USA. At least there’s a library in the house. Too bad he doesn’t read.

When Rosie and Vance’s paths collide and a rare book is accidentally destroyed, Rosie finds herself working to repay the debt. And while most Starfield superfans would jump at the chance to work in close proximity to the Vance Reigns, Rosie has discovered something about Vance: he’s a jerk, and she can’t stand him. The feeling is mutual.  

But as Vance and Rosie begrudgingly get to know each other, their careful masks come off—and they may just find that there’s more risk in shutting each other out than in opening their hearts.’

Bookish and the Beast is the third in the Once Upon a Con series, that takes fairytales and introduces them to a modern setting, focusing on the world of fandom, conventions and the media. It’s one of my all-time favourite series, primarily because Poston writes about fandom in a way that I’ve seen no other author authentically achieve when portraying characters who have a love of a particular TV show, game, movie, book, etc, showing a real affection and depth of understanding about what fandom brings to the lives of those involved in it. There is no subtle mockery or suggestion that the reader ought to think that what Rosie (or any of the other characters in the books) feels about Starfield is odd or not as fulfilling as anything else people choose to take part in for fun. Poston writes about friendship and fandom bringing people together and giving them creative outlets, which, in my experience, is what it’s all about. I know that one of the first things I said to one of my very best friends (Hi, Laura!) was a comment about the sci-fi show Farscape way back more years than I think either of would care to admit.

Bookish and the Beast is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, told from the point of view of Rosie, a fan of Starfield, and Vance, who turns out to be playing ‘the bad guy’ in the movie adaptations of the Starfield Universe. After having damaged a book from a collection that doesn’t belong to her, Rosie agrees to make amends by cataloguing and arranging the library from which it came, leaving her often in the company of a taciturn and irritable Vance, who is trying to avoid the public eye and adding another scandal to his unfortunate list of incidents and poor decisions. Over the course of sorting out the library, which Vance reluctantly begins to assist with (though far less reluctantly before long), the two begin to consider each other and their own behaviour and decisions in a different light, and begin to bond over the Starfield books that Rosie adores and are part of the universe that Vance is inhabiting in his role as Ambrose Sond.

As seen previously, particularly in The Princess and the Fangirl, the story contains commentary on clichés within literature and media, and the relationship between creators, their works and their fans. Bookish and the Beast looks at redemption arcs in particular, bad and ‘evil’, and how the portrayal of true love and destiny could use some more complexity and the subverting of expectations. It also contains an excellent range of representation, handles dealing with grief in a sensitive manner, and has relationships written with real warmth and an ease of affection that makes the characters a joy to read about. As with the other Once Upon a Con books, this was another that I didn’t want to end, and I hope this isn’t the last we see set in this universe.

Though each of the books in the series follows a different set of characters in the spotlight, what I love about each new instalment is that we get to hear about the characters from previous novels and encounter those the reader has heard about or has had perhaps a more minor role in a different way. For example, in Bookish and the Beast, the reader learns what is happening between Darien and Elle and what is impacting their relationship, and Imogen and others from The Princess and the Fangirl also get some screen time and have a hand in how events play out. Each of the universes (for is the series not a story about a story, about a story?) is connected nicely and there is an excellent sense of continuity, both in the ‘real’ world and the imagined series, the making and the fandom of which brings the characters together.

Bookish and the Beast is out on August 4th and is the perfect variety of warm-hearted escapism that we could all do with right now. I would recommend picking up the whole series, but each book can be read as a standalone story and doesn’t rely heavily on prior knowledge about particular characters. Thank you, Quirk Books, for sending me an ARC!

Review: Glorious Day by Skye Kilaen

Review: Glorious Day by Skye Kilaen

‘The bodyguard is a traitor. The princess is her one true love. And the revolution is almost here.

Elsenna Hazen left spaceport security and ended up a royal bodyguard. She should have known better than to fall in love with a princess.

It’s been two years since one ill-advised kiss in the garden pulled them apart. With uprisings in the streets, the nervous princess transfers Elsenna back into her service. Her Highness has no idea Elsenna is leaking data to the revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the princess’s oppressive father.

Now Elsenna wakes up each day wondering what will happen first: her own execution, or that of the woman she could never stop loving. When rebel attacks escalate and the king plans retaliation, Elsenna discovers that the fights for her love and her life are one and the same.’

I really enjoyed Glorious Day and would happily have read much more about the characters, though the structure and pacing of the novella are good and construct a clear universe, politics and relationships over the course of its pages. One of the things I found most interesting was how the princess has tried to learn how to navigate the politics in a world that only wants her to hear one version of events and to support her father’s regime without question, and while she demonstrates quick understanding of how she needs to respond to what she hears and has a plan of how to proceed, her naivety regarding what might follow after is an effective contrast, demonstrating the extent of what has been kept from her.

Elsenna’s response to what happens to her is portrayed sensitively and realistically, particularly in the sense that it isn’t brushed over on the way to everything simply going back to normal. She struggles with the choices she has made and the impact she has had on people’s lives, and while there are things she wants to survive for, she doesn’t shy away from acknowledging and believing that she doesn’t necessarily deserve it in the eyes of others, and doesn’t look for loopholes so that she might be judged differently. I’ve read many stories with situations of a similar nature, in which someone with a connection to a powerful figure is inevitably pardoned or forgiven (or rewarded), and it was good to see that Glorious Day didn’t follow this trope and instead lets us see Elsenna work through learning to live with her decisions and what her life has become on her own terms, without it being swept out of sight.

I especially loved the commentary about the name of the princess and where the diminutive that the reader eventually learns comes from. All in all, the novella is a beautiful glimpse of another world and an unflinching look at the mental and physical impact of trauma, through not only Elsenna, but the princess and others in the cast of characters. I’ve deliberately avoided using the name(s) of the princess in this review, both because finding out what Elsenna calls her was one of my favourite parts, and an avoidance of using her true name is a feature of the narrative.

Glorious Day is out on August 3rd from NineStar Press!

I received a digital ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.

Review: The Actuality by Paul Braddon

Review: The Actuality by Paul Braddon

‘Evie is a near-perfect bioengineered human. In a broken-down future England where her kind has been outlawed, her ‘husband’ Matthew keeps her safe but hidden. When her existence is revealed, she must take her chances on the dark and hostile streets where more than one predator is on the hunt.’

The Actuality follows Evie, who is a technological creation who has been created in the image of her owner’s (‘husband’s’) wife, and, not being of biological matter, is eternally in her early twenties, while those around her continue to age. For the duration of her life, she has been kept in her husband’s home and not permitted to experience the outside world, primarily because, as it turns out, her existence is no longer legal. The creation of beings with artificial intelligence has been outlawed, following violent uprisings, and Evie is one of the few remaining that haven’t been destroyed or kept in captivity as a supposed ‘warning’ about the past. Evie herself is oblivious to much beyond the fact that she is fully aware she is not human in the biological sense, and initially seems content and determined to fulfil her role as a wife, until the outside world enters their home and leaves her no with no choice but to flee to survive.

Throughout the novel, there is a lot of debate over whether Evie can be considered human or not, with there being no real middle ground as regards the opinions of biological human beings, most of whom insist that Evie and her kind cannot possibly be human insofar as having rights, thoughts and feelings of their own. Even Evie’s husband is heard to justify his having purchased Evie and kept her essentially as a prisoner for decades by claiming that she’s only a machine. That his interaction with Evie includes having sex with her only makes the situation she is in all the more uncomfortable, and is one among many things that Daniels, one of the few in the narrative who seems to believe Evie should be treated as any other human, objects to. In her home life, she is treated like an object and a servant, while being expected to be so flawlessly human as to perfectly imitate the person whose image she was created in. That her husband is so willing to use something he believes is his possession and without feeling says far too much about the manner in which he would have treated his wife and how women are all too often viewed in today’s society. Is Evie a replacement for another woman he would have commanded and possessed and used? In this, would his ‘real’ wife have been considered any more human than Evie?

On more than one occasion, Evie is forced to defend herself if she is to survive, these incidents often brushed over in a clinical manner, or painted in so vague a way as to only make it apparent that she has behaved as she has because she must. The narrative itself is written from her point of view, and, initially, any violence on her part is not accompanied by any real sense of anger or rage, creating a distance between Evie and the act, and subsequently Evie and the reader, allowing us to believe that she has acted as she should. Without going into too much specific detail and sharing spoilers, it is this that makes it easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. Being inside Evie’s head and hearing all of the arguments against her kind means that siding with her and wanting to believe that she is  ‘different’ and as human as it feels she ‘deserves’ to be is a natural reaction. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes far less simple than a matter of Evie’s humanity, especially when her actions cannot be attributed entirely to her being at risk. Is it wrong to expect anything that we create in our own image, yet expect to be controlled and subservient, to not display the darker features of human nature? Why should we be surprised that anything or anyone we treat poorly would want to fight back over the injustice of it all? Does her understanding that who she is is under threat not prove that she is human?

There’s a lot I’d like to talk about from the last third of the novel, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! The Actuality is brilliantly written and well-paced read that quickly grabs hold of you and won’t let go. Not only is it a fantastic look at what makes us human, but it’s a dark glimpse at what we stand to become and the dangers that exist in our society, particularly if you are a woman. It’s out in February, 2021! Thank you, Sandstone Press, for sending me an ARC!

Blog Tour: The Switch Up – LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Blog Tour: The Switch Up – LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Switch Up: LA Exchange, which is the sequel to The Switch Up by Katy Cannon! You can read my review of this fun and brilliant read for young adult and middle grade alike here! This morning, I have a post from Katy titled Summer 2020: A Guide for Introverts!

As an introvert, I have to admit that, on paper, that sounds pretty great.

But over the last few months of lockdown, even us introverts have learned there’s a limit to how much we actually want to stay home alone.

Last summer, I wrote a guide to surviving summer as an introvert. It was based around the idea that summertime is fun time – it’s parties and outings and holidays with the family and days with friends. Except this year it kind of isn’t.

So I figure we need a new summer guide for introverts, to help us navigate this new, weird summer we have ahead of us.

Here are my top 5 tips for summer 2020:

Accept that things are weird.

As the lockdown eases and the world starts opening up again over the next few months, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that things are getting back to normal. But they’re not, and it’s important to remember that – not just for our own physical health and safety (let’s not forget about social distancing now when we still desperately need it) but for our mental wellbeing too.

If we think that things are normal, we start telling ourselves that we should feel normal, too. But we’re actually still living through a hugely stressful time – one where our plans and expectations about the year have been tossed out of the window. Exams have been cancelled, schools closed, proms abandoned, birthdays celebrated without parties, holidays skipped and friends and family missed. Many of us have lost loved ones suddenly, and without a chance to say goodbye. And we’re all still living with a huge sense of uncertainty about what happens next. Will schools be open in September? Who knows. Can we go on holiday later in the year? Maybe. Will there be a vaccine? We hope so.

I don’t mention all this to stress you out, but because we’re all already stressed out. This stuff is stressful! Our bodies and minds are in a permanent state of uncertainty, and that takes its toll. So accept that things are weird, and be gentle on yourself. Do what you need to do to keep yourself balanced and well, and don’t feel bad about any of the stuff you need to say no to in order to get there.

Avoid Zoom Fatigue

One of the things you might need to say no to is your twentieth Zoom request of the week. While it’s important to stay in touch with friends and family on video calls, social media and so on, it’s just as important to take a break from it sometimes.

The rule is this: if you feel better and more energised after spending time talking to people, then that’s great! (Yes, I know that introverts usually recharge our energy by not talking to people, but even we like a bit of social interaction with the right people.) But if you feel drained and down after an online chat, then it’s not adding anything to your day.

Of course the problem is that you might not know how you’re going to feel about that virtual meet up or online pub quiz until after its happened. But you know yourself better than anyone, and now we’re all more used to this kind of interaction, we can better predict how we’re going to feel. So take a look at your virtual social calendar – and don’t forget to include any actual garden meet ups or socially distanced walks with friends – and triage it.

What are the things you really don’t want to miss? Your best friend’s virtual birthday party, for instance, or a walk with a friend you haven’t seen in months? What are the ‘nice to do’ items – a weekly quiz on Facebook or a cup of tea in the garden with your aunt who lives round the corner? And what are the ‘can miss’ items? Maybe the weekly zoom call for your drama group where everyone talks over each other anyway, or yet another video call with that friend who is so bored she insists on calling everyone daily?

Make sure you have energy for the most important items by keeping space around them in your calendar for recharging. Fit in all the nice to do items you can manage around that space. And if that looks like a full week, save the can miss items for a quieter week.

It’s okay to flake out on the virtual socialising that you don’t have energy for. It’s maybe harder now we can’t claim other plans, but honestly? You can just say ‘I can’t tonight, but maybe next week?’ That’s okay. (It’s also okay to just say no, if you never want to do it!)

Protect your energy. You need it more than people on the other end of a video call.

Keep a fun list

It’s easy to find ourselves scrolling through our Instagram feed for hours, or at the whim of someone else’s schedule, especially since our actual schedules are kind of empty right now. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to make a fun list.

It’s exactly what it sounds like – a list of fun things to do. It’s a present from your past self to your future self.

So sit down one afternoon and write a list of things future you might enjoy doing. The only catch is that it has to be specific to be useful. When you’re slumped on the sofa feeling like you should do something but not sure what, you need explicit instructions from your past self.

So instead of ‘read a book,’ put ‘read the next book in the series I’m enjoying’ or the title of a book from your TBR. Instead of ‘bake’ put ‘bake chocolate chip cookies.’ You get the idea. And make sure that you have that next book available, and the ingredients on hand. That way, when you’re looking for something else to do, it’s easy to pick something and get started.

Journal

Taking time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings, as well as events going on around you, is always time well spent. It helps you process your emotions, and deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them all up. At times like this, when the world is a worrying place, just writing down how that makes you feel can really help your mood.

Including a gratitude list is also a great idea. Each day, jot down three things that you’re grateful for. It can be anything – from the rain stopping, to eating your favourite dinner, to your loved ones being in your life. Focussing on the good things in our lives helps us remember that the world isn’t all bad.

Recharge

Even now things are starting up again, Britain is still a quieter place than it has been in decades. Our calendars are empty of actual social events, and the number of places we can go is severely limited. As introverts, this gives us a little breathing room. Use it. Recharge your batteries, enjoy your space, make the most of the quiet.

One day, hopefully soon, the world will be back to normal again, maybe even better than before. And if we recharge now, we can celebrate with our loved ones without feeling overwhelmed when the time comes.

Thank you very much, Katy! I know there’s some advice here that I definitely need to take, particularly when it comes to over-saturating zoom/media/messages and realising it’s okay to take a step back and not be available all the time because it’s assumed we’re all available in lockdown.

The Switch Up: LA Exchange is out on June 25th and is the perfect summer read! Check out the other stops on the blog tour by visiting the blogs of the lovely people on the schedule below! Thank you Little Tiger and Stripes Books for the chance to take part in the tour!