My Brain Is Small – a review of An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

I kid you not. I read two books in a row with a character with the same name.

This was a pure coincidence, because throughout June, the internationally recognised Pride Month, I will be reading novels featuring LGBTQIA+ protagonists and authors. This author, who uses they/them pronouns, has an intersex protagonist and a trans-feminine love interest.

Aster works as a botanist on a starship called The Matilda. As the lower decks face power cuts on a regular basis, Aster’s bunkmate Giselle breaks a code found within Aster’s late mother’s diary entries. This leads Aster on a mission to find out what she was hiding, what is wrong with her home and the history of it. All the while, the medic she is apprenticed other has news that their leader is dying and about to be replaced by a far more corrupt leader.

The writing style was brought down this novel a lot for me. This is not a book for everyone and one I would not call accessible on the first read. The main POV characters, largely Aster, are very scientifically minded and analytical. This meant that the POV from a third person perspective almost felt non fiction and essay like for me. I stay away from non fiction in text form because I struggle to keep focus, and that’s how I felt about this book. Too much like a non fiction author giving a go at writing fiction.

One character was intriguing enough for me to continue reading. Giselle and her derangement was the only thing that kept me going, the only character in this novel with a personality and arc worth observing. Maybe it was just because she was so different from everyone being so monotone? And the things she does to get shit done too, now I write about this and think on it. We see one POV chapter from her perspective, and I think it may have been far more entertaining to read this story through her lens.

The plot had potential when paired with interesting worldbuilding. The politics of this novel was one of the few things I could understand and I enjoyed learning about that side of things and the poverty of the lower levels inside of this spacecraft. But more focus was put into sciences. I understand that it is a trope of sci fi, and maybe I’m realising how I don’t like this specific kind of sci fi. Ah well. I still liked the sci fi politics.

All that was ruined for me by a confusing ending. To my knowledge this book was a standalone. It ended on too many disappointing uncertainties. Too much depression. So much hard work to end in an eternal sadness for dear Aster. Literally. I would be okay with this kind of an ending if I knew why they decided to end this book in such a way, but as established there was a lot in this book I didn’t pick up.

So all in all, I was too stupid to enjoy this book.

An Unkindness of Ghosts gets a score of 2.5/5. Maybe I shouldn’t have dropped the science subjects the first chance I got.


Sisterhood – a review of The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Fantasy Western. Need I say more? This book was my introduction to this sub genre, and I was trying to find a book to make my introduction to this an absolute thrill.

This book did not disappoint.

When Clementine kills her first client at a brothel she was raised to work at, her sister Aster leads her and three other young women on an escape from the house that trapped them. But branded by a magical tattoo which tells the world where they came from, these girls can never truly be free. But rumour out there is that someone can remove these tattoos, but it comes with a hefty price. Aster must decide how to accumulate the money needed to cover everyone’s freedom while keeping their identities hidden, but when they’re already outlaws how much do they all want to embrace it?

It was a bold and rewarding choice to have Aster as the lead character. She was not the one to start all of this, so you think it would have been Clementine’s story. But sisterhood trumps all else. The care she has for her group is what drives this all forward and it is the reason she was made the main POV. Everyone looking up to her. The pressure, the decision making. It was so right and so amazing to go into Aster’s mind.

Every character was entertaining. When writing an ensemble cast, regardless of who’s POV the story is written in, this is what you always look for. All characters in the crew being iconic in their own ways, from the brutal Tansy to the sass of Violet. All of them brought something incredible to the group, and even the motives of the people hunting them were motivating. There was never a boring character.

This book also makes me want to find more fantasy western novels. If this is my first dive into the genre, then I want to go deep. Dark fantasy suits the brutality of the Western environments so well. This interpretation has the magic tattoos on the faces of Good Luck Girls paired with various vengeful undead like revenants. This opens up so many possibilities for more interpretations of the genre and I wish people noticed this more. Fantasy has revived the western genre tenfold.

The Good Luck Girls gets a score of 4.5/5. Revive westerns like this please.


A Thousand Lives – a review of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Needless to say, this book has its trigger warnings with the main theme of it being suicide. And I know that opinions on this book’s themes become very diverse. I won’t comment on the suicide themes as I have been lucky enough to not be in a position where I face these thoughts and I have not yet been diagnosed with any mental disabilities. I cannot comment on how well this novel depicts suicide, or not, and I don’t intend to.

I’m just here to talk about the story and its message.

Nora finds herself in a place between space and time after she commits suicide. She walks into a library filled with books that represent alternate versions of her life, lives where she makes changes big and small and her entire way of living changes. Any one of these lives could be a new life for Nora to choose. But to pick between them all becomes a challenge as she discovers lives where she is still depressed, where more of her loved ones die or where she realises her childhood dreams have equal nightmares. Nora wonders why she can’t find the life right for her, or if one even exists for her out there.

The language sold me like nothing else. That was the highlight of this novel for me – the writing style and the way everything was described throughout. There was a lot of artistry in each chapter that made so many paintings in my mind out of prose. I could imagine each of Nora’s stories vividly with the words put before me, making each of them so enthralling to read. And wow, there was so much.

Nora’s character felt very everyman and was easy to relate to. It is very universal to wonder what you are going to do with your life at any age, and Nora’s was taken to an extreme. It was easy to relate to aspects of her for me with her many interests and the struggle throughout this story to find one to truly put your heart and soul into in the hopes that it will be fulfilling. I loved to explore these different facets and passions of Nora.

Above all else, this novel made me change my thinking. Novels that do this instantly gain an high reputation in my eyes. Since reading this book I have put the novel’s message forth into my own day to day actions and it has offered a grand perspective on my own life henceforth. For the right people, this novel can leave you feeling hopeful and can give you your agency for your life back in spite of the struggles to try and work out what we want out of it.

The Midnight Library gets a score of 5/5. A book that changes the way I think with such prose deserves this.


This New Old World – a review of Expanding Cracks by Ben Pick

We’re continuing the Into the Void series! With a promising start from the first book I was intrigued to see where this would go. Those Stranger Things vibes do continue in this series, and I knew that from the start, I looked forward to see what more would come from this book – the second book so far in this series.

Derek, Rachel and Tracy have gained celebrity status in their hometown as defenders from magical monster attacks; it seems the monster Derek summoned when he first got his powers and defeated weeks ago is not the only thing threatening their town. Shadow monsters have broken through the void to attack anyone that stands in its away. And that’s not the only thing worrying the trio, with training pulling them away from their normal lives and impacting their friendships and grades.

Pick nailed interpersonal conflict in this novel and I was here for it. I’ve lately had a sweet tooth for this sour patch in narratives, and this book satisfied. Everyone at war with each other as they decide their present and their future… It was addictive to read. Especially with how well Pick understood the motives and angles of each character in play. You couldn’t tell whose side to be on, and those are among my favourite interpersonal conflicts. Because you no longer care who’s right and you just want to have everyone make up.

I liked the take on contemporary fantasy where the magic gets known by everyone. While the secret keeping sides are fun, it was intriguing to see the cultural impacts of a small town knowing magic for the first time and the magical knowledge expanding throughout. From the heroism facing Rachel, Derek and Tracy to the systems in place to protect against monstrosities. The building of this world as it changes was fascinating.

This plot felt very high and low stakes at the same time. The balance of these two plots was masterful as the characters navigated this new world together. I was constantly wondering where these worlds would collide, how interpersonal and external forces would clash and how everything affected each other. It was the perfect chance to explore this new world that was starting to get at risk. The fun and games in the hero’s journey if you will.

With all these forces now together, I’m excited to see how it goes coming forward.

Expanding Cracks gets a score of 4.5/5. *insert Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain here*


We Don’t Talk About Bruno – a review of The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

When people talk about WWII fiction, this book is often mentioned. Sometimes even studied. Can I just say, don’t? Your future is bleak if you read this book.

In the middle of World War II, Bruno is forced to move out of his city home due to a promotion and job opportunity his father got. His new home in the middle of the country takes him away from everything he ever knew and comes with many strange things that makes him uncomfortable. His twelve year old sister gets infatuated with one of his father’s pretentious co-workers, and many other men in uniform can’t seem to get away from him family home. Bruno learns that the servants in his house may be in trouble and he doesn’t understand why. But the thing that captures Bruno’s attention the most is a view from his window; children wearing what he thinks are striped pajamas all playing behind a fence.

Bruno was not an easy character to sympathise with. Boyne kept telling us we should, but up against the titular boy in striped pajamas and a whole lot more going on in the context of WWII it was crocodile tears. Especially when Bruno was so oblivious to what was going on! It would have been easier to resonate with Bruno if he was able to learn these things sooner and recognise what this meant. Kids are smart you know, but not in this story!

Repetition was a crutch for Boyne’s writing style, which did not help with making me like Bruno. It made some of the better uses of language look stale all too much. This is usually forgiven in a children’s book, but it was specifically stated in the blurb that it was not a children’s book. Adults don’t like this being talked down too and being constantly reminded of obvious details thing. I will not forgive Boyne for how dumb he treated me as a reader and Bruno as the lead.

I guess the plot was solid? You could see what the story could become, but for me it didn’t get there. The substance was there, the concept was there, but then the writing surrounding it and the style turned stew to vomit. Y’know, this kind of stuff enrages me. Missed potential angers me. Usually this means that I would end up wanting to find a better story. But I’ve already found that story. It is my favourites.

And I can confirm that this novel, in spite of what looked like a promising plot for most of this story, is my least favourite WWII historical fiction. It’ll be hard to beat.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas gets a score of 1.5/5. If I hear Bruno speak one more time… oh never mind he died. He can’t speak again.


Let’s Explore A Castle! – a review of The Mystery of the Golden Card by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

I will admit, after the disappointment of the previous book in the Troubletwisters series I was worried that maybe this series wasn’t all that I thought it was as a kid. when book one hooked me and book two had the thread fraying, I was worried my love for the series would drop the deeper into it I got.

But hey, we’ve risen up to the peak of the series now.

With Grandma X, the main defender of Portland from the Evil, gets hospitalised after a car accident, her grandchildren Jack and Jaide feel it is their responsibility to solve the latest catastrophe happening in their small town. Master Rourke died mysteriously in his old and lavish castle, and the twins suspect it has something to do with the Evil, especially when their father is involved too. But all is not as it seems in this castle, as the Evil seeks out a powerful magical artefact that the twins now must get their hands on without anyone else knowing.

This book made me regain my faith in the series. If you’ve read my thoughts on the previous book, then you’d know that its quality sagged in a book that felt like filler. Book three, however, was far more enthralling. It had everything the first book had and more. It felt fun, connected. It had a lot of purpose and connections to what I remember was in the fourth book in the series. All the flaws from the previous book were basically solved.

The vibes in this book were exquisite. The minor academia vibes from earlier on in the series were amplified as Jack and Jaide explored his castle and I was here for it! Who does find the prospect of exploring an abandoned castle exciting? And the magic really dove into those vibes in quirky ways. the aesthetic really tied together and amplified the old house vibes from the previous two books.

The twins are once again shining in this book with their personalities and teamwork. Each book we see the various ways in which Jack and Jaide’s ways of thinking diverge, Jaide’s energy and Jack’s caution especially. It’s also enjoyable to see how loyal thare to each other in this book. There’s just something about siblings bonding to me.

People often underestimate simpler plotlines and how enticing they can be, and the object quest in this book was severely fun. I forgot many of the clues that lead to finding the titular gold card, and the trail that we went down to find them was thoroughly entertaining. Pair that up with the social side of things and the lies the twins must tell to solve this mystery, and the whole plot ties together neatly with a little bow.

So now I’m waiting for the time to be right to read book four.

The Mystery of the Golden Card gets a score of 4.5/5. You had me at exploring a castle.


Speedrun – a review of Shattered by Teri Terry

Kyla, now on the run from the government, has now found her birth mother. She starts her life anew to live with her again and get to know her again and tell her of her stories of being forced into a rebellion then getting her memory back and regaining her thoughts again. But it seems there was more secrets in the past that were kept hidden from her even then, and more secrets surrounding Slating that she uncovers. Her heart gets torn from trusting her family as she learns of her past, but what will be of her future when the government finds her again?

The ending of this novel wasn’t the ending or direction I expected. I like how it started as something very personal, and that was still a key part of it throughout. But it still took those directions of overthrowing a corrupt government. I understand that’s a key part of the genre and I’m not mad about it being there. I just like how the two wound up weaving with each other. So often dystopia endings up being too focused on overthrowing by the second act, and I like that Shattered remained personal.

Kyla’s character remains a highlight. I will say again and again how we learn about her brain so much and I am always here for it. Each time we see her evolve in a new way as the extents of her brain expand, and it was wicked to see her change through an adult perspective in this world’s version of tertiary study. It was very interesting to see Kyla take on her own life and make more independent decisions – or to fight for them.

I felt the book rushed through too many important events. This was jarring when the previous books took their time over a few days for many of the events and stayed in the same environments, and this book went all over England and expanded the world too quick. I liked seeing the world expand at first, but then too much happened all at once. It screamed two books stuffed into one.

And surprise surprise, the final act brought this book’s rating down so much. Kyla lost a lot of her agency in that last act, and she felt like something valuable being protected more than she did someone making impactful changes to help the situation. I think this was because the external impacts she was making then failed too much. Other people solved her problems. And while in this act she learnt her overall lessons about identity, she didn’t have any external credits to her name or things she did in that final act that helped.

So that’s the way the cookie crumbles and the way the ending felt hollow.

Shattered gets a score of 3.5/5. The other books too

Now my guys, it’s time for a series review.

Slated5/5, a terrifyingly close to our own world dystopia with a deep look into the human mind

Fractured4/5, stakes rise and secrets remain closed, and Kyla’s stuck between three sides.

Shattered – 3.5/5, the other books took time where this one did not.

The Slated trilogy is an exemplary look into the human condition, the power of the brain and the many ways we see our own brains working. With a concept that hits close to home and our present day struggles gone too far, this makes this world seem realer than ever. However, the world takes its time to reveal itself to you before feeling a rush of everything at once. Some pacing issues with the publishers wanting a trilogy and nothing longer perhaps? The ending wasn’t as good, but the first two books are excellent.

The Slated Trilogy gets a score of 3.75/5. This is a keeper.


Witches be Snitches- a review of Sanctuary by V.V. James

Of course my first crime solving detective novel has an element of fantasy in it. And I knew this one would be tame in terms of the crime side. But nothing else was tame.

The town’s heartthrob quarterback becomes the victim of this small, uneventful town’s latest murder case. Detective Maggie Knight leads this investigation, in which the daughter of a witch is accused of murdering him via witchcraft – a state offence that could land her on death row if convicted guilty. This sets the girl’s mother against the victim’s mother, as the two fight first to keep each other together then for the rights of their own children. Maggie must solve this case before the town of Sanctuary goes to war over the death of a quarterback while a lot of secrets her kept to the grave.

The drama in this novel was to die for. Mothers at war over each others believed wrongdoings as they defend their children creates so much tension and conflict it is crazy. This is why you don’t mess with mothers and mother figures. They will do anything for their children, and this book showed that like nothing else. The emotions you feel from both Sarah and Abigail evoke inside of you as well, as their perspectives dominate the book like nothing else.

I don’t have much to say about the crime solving side with this being my first dive into the genre in a bookish sense. The laws that involved witchcraft in this almost magical realism kind of world were fascinating, but the interest was blocked by cliches. Chiefs trying to stop a case being solved, the way information got discovered and how the detective was the last person to find a key puzzle piece which we knew from other perspectives. Maybe Maggie was a poor choice of a POV character, because while i wanted to find out who did it her chapters held the least interest.

This is gonna be a theme for a lot of upcoming book reviews including this one; the third act disappointed. I looked at a lot of reviews saying that the third act was the only part of the book they liked, but I am the opposite. I am very much a person who goes into a book with expectations and expects the blurb to deliver the vibe. The blurb did, but the first two acts didn’t hint at the climax being so different to the rest of the book.

Pair that with an ending that goes against so much in the actual book. That ending made me so freaking confused. It is natural for there to be red herrings within a crime novel, but nearly every piece of evidence in this book wound up as a red herring based on the actual ending and what we actually find out happens by the end of the book. It almost defeats the point of what was fought for.

Sanctuary gets a score of 3/5.


Cozy Tragedy – a review of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden is my favourite classic literature book of all time. It was time I tried some of Hodgson Burnett’s other books, and this was the next most popular of her works.

Sarah Crewe is sent to live at Miss Minchin’s School for Girls while her father pursues further riches in India. She is quick to capture the hearts of her fellow students with her kind heart, charity and mantra of mantra of behaving like a princess. But when her father dies and her fortune in indebted to Miss Minchin’s frugal spending, Sarah if forced to put aside her studies and work to survive. But with all the misfortune that keeps getting thrown her way, does her kind heart remain untouched?

Sarah’s arc of impacting others was the most beautiful I have ever seen. These kinds of flat arcs are among my favourites, in which the most wholesome character in the book is the main character and teachers their mantra to everyone they know. Sarah must have been the character to start this trend, to teach her fellows to be charitable by example and show great kindness. What makes this better is how the events in this book make her struggle with her own beliefs and how she still has to fight back. In her mind and perspective we do not see this as being easy. It was incredibly written.

I don’t know how, but Hodgson Burnett was able to make such wholesome moments out of such tragedies. My emotions back AND front flipped from every event that happened within this book as sad moments got turned so happy, beautiful and wholesome. Cozy, I think, is the best way to describe this altogether. The sensation of being in an old home and wrapping yourself up in a blanket while sitting next to the fireplace.

For a book with the primary audience being children, I liked how mature elements of this tale were. For reference, I once watched a dumbed-down animated movie of this story and expect the plot to be identical. It was nothing like that movie. That movie was so dumbed down and edited that the two bare little resemblance to each other. The pitfalls in this book felt very real, from bankruptcy to bullying. The emotions felt so raw every time.

A little side note to finish off. This is the second book I have read by the same author following an English girl being raised in India and then returning to England and experiencing some levels of culture shock. Strange coincidence.

A Little Princess gets a score of 4.5/5. Misfortune never felt so cozy.


The Mask Indeed Fell – a review of The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon

We’re slamming the breaks on reviewing the Bone Season series as this is the last book available to date. And I need that. Because I have a lot to think about regarding this series since reading The Mask Falling.

Paige and Arcturus, criminals of Scion London, are now hiding in Scion-run Paris. As recoveries from battles won are had, they have to get their next moves ready to take Scion down. While they have their own plans and ambitions to forge alliances with the clairvoyant gangs beneath the city, other rebellion groups want them to take out Scion from the inside using Paige’s powers of possession. But when things gets personal in this battle, by how much do they cloud Paige’s vision?

The characters keeping getting narratively stronger after every novel. Paige continues to stand out as she grapples so much at once – her body, her beloved, her cause and her motive. It was also nice to see characters returning from other installments and the ways that they played their games.

Worldbuilding as always felt very intriguing, and this time culturally rich. But not in a touristy way. This was a realer Paris. Each act focussed on a different part of Scion Paris and the ways that Paige had to work her plans around them. The streets, the political sphere, and then the hidden catacombs and beyond. I loved the underground aesthetic of the clairvoyant societies for sure. The visuals of these world are a very strong suit for Shannon.

But then the mask fell at the third act. A lot of it felt like it didn’t need to be there or drama got concocted for the sake of making drama. There was an edge of disjointedness even though I knew why everything was happening. Maybe things were happening too fast? I don’t know for sure why it didn’t sit with me.

And that ending left me so confused. I was left with no breadcrumbs to follow and not even a gingerbread house. I severely hate endings like that, where it feels like a chapter is missing to explain what the hell is going on and at least have an idea of what to expect in the next installment. To make kind of a spoiler like comparison, this felt like Paige was ripped out of one world and is in the process of falling into the next.

So it makes me both excited and not excited for book five. I have so many emotions about this book now yet the inability to say them beyond one word; what?

The Mask Falling gets a score of 3.5/5. Never end a book like that.


Real and Revealed – a review of Loveless by Alice Oseman

Oh look. An Ace Author reviews yet another ace book. Hate to break it to you, but we’re gonna get a lot more of this in the future. And this is not just any ace book. This is the ace book. The first recommendation anyone would give to you when you say you want a book with ace representation at the forefront.

So let’s judge the popular.

Georgia starts to wonder why she hasn’t fallen in love with anyone despite how much she wants to. Not a single crush, not a single person she has found attraction towards, not a single desire to have sex. And when people notice this about her and an accident reveals that as her final year of high school comes to a close, she makes herself a vow to fall in love as she starts a new life at university. And as she realises how picky she is, asexuality and aromanticism come to her knowledge for the first time. And she doesn’t know what it means or anything about why she doesn’t want to love no matter how hard she tries.

This novel had stellar characters like no other contemporary novels characters I have read about. A tight cast makes for an in depth focus on each of them and their adversities. And each of them brought something different to the table. Their arcs and adversities, their personalities and the the way they present themselves. It is rare to find casts so diverse and yet likeable, with no villains and people just living their lives. This felt so much like just people living their lives.

More so on that point, this novel did feel like a life. It had just enough pop culture to make it feel current but not saturations that date it or make it feel like a walking advertisement. It had characters doing real things and having real worries. Oseman illustrated such reality that it felt warming to read this. Having spent a lot of my university life in lockdown, I was glad to have lived it through this book instead.

Once again, a novel about discovering asexuality has me feel so visible. But unlike other asexual characters and their stories, this one did even more. It challenged the way I thought of my asexuality and what to do with it. Now I’m not like Georgia, who is fully ace and aro. I just have asexuality. But even so, I read this in a time of my life where a lot of my relationships with people were forced to change. But the lessons with how to treat all relationships in my life with passion and care when I truly cared for someone really stuck with me. It’s something even a non-ace can take away from this book.

Read it so you know what I mean. I dare you.

Loveless gets a score of 5/5. Be there. Be loving. For everyone.


The Trunk of this Tree – a review of Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Traditional high fantasy is something I stayed away from like a bad smell. This book was gifted to me and for a few months it was the prettiest book I owned. I had the full intent of reading it and expecting something vanilla.

But vanilla is my favourite scent. So who am I to be hypocritical now over a classic view of the genre?

After saving an old prince, Lady Katsa is soon to meet someone else who was looking for him. Thereafter the two of them grow curious as to why he was captured in the first place. With her strengths in the art of killing and her new friend Po’s own royal connections and battle talents, the two of them team up to travel through kingdoms to find answers. And the ones they do find may unearth one of the seven kingdom’s greatest corruptions hidden behind the most powerful being unknown to anybody.

The first act was borderline boring. I will straight up say that. I get it, you have to build up and explain the world and establish motivations. But I feel like a bit too much was spent on such matters. So much drawled on about Katsa’s relationship to the king and her reputation in the court. So much was waiting to happen without actually happening. I was so close to putting this book down for good.

I am so glad I didn’t DNF Graceling. I kept going and found riches.

Because when we get to the second act that was where I truly got hooked. The plot takes a simpler turn and it gives so much a chance to shine. From the plot and what happens to the characters as they become fugitives of kingdoms, how they wind up bonding and developing, seeing the natural world and how beautifully Cashore made it. For such high stakes the second act felt so cozy, and then the high action parts where things turn sour felt all the more crucial to get through as a result.

This was because of how much our main characters, Katsa and Po, truly shined. These two carry the whole story with their arcs, their banter and their relationship as it develops. They are the trunk of this tree of a story. Everything great in this story builds up from them, every scene they share and every time their motivations cross. They create something very calming and cozy throughout this whole novel. They epitomise the vibes.

This being the start of an anthology in the same world, I look forward to diving in to the rest of this place. Let’s see what Cashore has to offer. I’ll let you know if more riches come.

Graceling gets a score of 4/5. When something ends so sweet, you forget how sour it was to start.


Why the Hell was this discontinued? – a REview of Paperchase by G Brassi

Guys. This a problem.

This book is so good but nobody can get it anymore. It is discontinued to the point where it’s existence as far as the internet is aware is a myth. It’s time to bust.

When Gemma returns home from school to see her sister packing her bags with a bruise on her face, she instantly knows she has to accompany Brianna. With stolen money from their mum’s boyfriend, the two of them fly across the Tasman to Australia in an attempt to find their father they haven’t seen in eight years. But he’s difficult to find. The two go across cities and the entire country in a bid to find him all whilst learning about the true dreams of each other, themselves and their families along the way.

I didn’t realise how mature this story would be. I literally forgot everything about this book and rereading it was a literal experience to fall in love with it again. For the record, I read this when I was 12. Before I knew what mental health was. Before I understood things like domestic violence and PTSD – which I should mention are triggers. I love it when authors understand the maturity that preteens hold and delve into like nothing. And in my unprofessional opinion it was well done.

The characters were absolutely beautiful. It wasn’t just our pre-teen protagonist Gemma that held the arcs and maturity that stole the show. No, this was a heist! A team of characters stealing my heart each with their roles and masteries. From the older sister with her heart in the wrong place but not quite her head to the hot goth she meets along the way and every big and little person in between. What a cast!

I loved how artistic the descriptions were. Very appropriate considering the art training of our main character Gemma, who turned everything into a landscape… even the landscapes (sorry, I just had to put it in there). Such interpretations wouldn’t make sense any other way, Brassi got the style of this book on lock. I wonder if they had artistic prowess themselves to be able to think and describe this way or if it just came out of a writer’s brain. Regardless, it charmed me.

The coming of age was amazing within the events of this book. I have yet to have read a book (that I can remember) that does this plotline with such finesse. It’s a typical trope for young adult fiction, but can you get tired of it when it turned so mature as Gemma both gained and let go of mature thinking? This can go up there with the classics.

But I’m upset. Because as much as I gush over this book, you’re gonna have to fight to find it. And I want you to. Just don’t steal my copy.

Paperchase gets a score of 5/5. Find this book somewhere. I dare you.

Every Heart a Doorway

Not Your Storybook Ending- a review of Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Has a premise ever hooked you so much that you just had to read that book? Something so abnormal and unheard of that provides the best insights never delved into before?

I found that book. Hear me out:

What happens when you return from Wonderland? Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children cares for children who have returned from other worlds, offering them education and therapy to help them return to their normal lives. Nancy is the newest student, having returned from an Underworld and having her entire being changed as a result. And she learns she isn’t the only one to experience this. But with her arrival death is close behind, and now the school must find the source of the untimely deaths before the school is shut down.

Instantly this premise charmed me, more so as a writer of a portal fantasy series and a fan of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland and the like. The whimsy of these worlds and the entrance and exit out of these portals overshadow what happens when these children return. How does one begin to explain the madness they saw and how they were changed by it? This all dealing with mental health surrounding getting evicted from a place you once belonged was a very interesting insight and the main dealings with the introduction of this world.

The characters were quite unrealistic, but that was the point. Abnormal worlds affected their personalities and turned them all mad, and each wound up mad in a different way. The worldbuilding even had systems for it. This felt like a mixed bag at times, because while these characters were unlike anything I’d ever seen their quirks overshadowed their depth at times. In fairness, it is very difficult to balance the two to the extent that is required for this book.

To combat the complexities of these characters, the simple plot of a murder mystery really helped to balance things out. It was a genuine shock to me in a very sensible way. The stakes were solid within this plot and left me constantly guessing who would die next or who was behind it – was it magic or mundane? This made for a very engaging story.

The ending was not something I was fond of however because of how disconnected things were. The ending was only partly solved by our main character Nancy, and the lesson she wound up learning to get her perfect ending was disjointed from the main plot. For things that were so promising to start with and something really compelling, this really brought it down for me.

Every Heart A Doorway gets a score of 4/5. Fairytales don’t end in the nicest ways once you look beyond the pages.

Iron Widow

Content Dictates Form – a review of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

This book is making me trust BookTok again. This is the debut of one of the first AuthorTokers I followed and I am severely late to the party while reading this. But this marked a milestone as the first book I read in 2023.


Zetian gets recruited as a co-pilot of a Chrysalis, Qi infused mecha that fight off the aliens threatening to demolish civilization. But Zetian is not looking to be a hero, she’s out for revenge. To kill the pilot who killed her sister in battle by draining all her Qi out of her. Just like many other pilots have done. But when is succeeds, an unbelievable power and source of Qi is found within her. And instead of being executed, she becomes a puppet to this scheme. Just like her even deadlier co-pilot she is paired up with.

Even from reading the blurb the atmosphere and vibes of this novel were incredibly strong. I mean, Qi infused mecha in a Chinese-inspired futuristic world? Sign me the hell up. It sounds like something where you’re unsure if it would work, but it absolutely does. I think where this particularly hits is with content dictating form, with the feminist and Chinese history retellings in a sci fi setting clearly dictated how the world and the story would behave. And it works so freaking well. I’m not sure if Zhao knew about Sondheim’s musical writing advice, but whatever they did such practices translated well in the creation of Iron Widow.

While at first seeming like a battle heavy plot, I appreciate to no end the variety of conflicts and plot points this novel had to mix things up. It was interpersonal, it was political, it got media practices and celebrity culture involved. Gender, colonization, patriarchy screwing the world over. What doesn’t this book have? Something to fall asleep to, that’s for sure. You really get your money’s worth in this book.

Zetian had a very interesting character development while reading about her for me personally. At first she read very much like any other girl who’s not like other girls, but her arc revolves around how she got put into that position and struggling to work out what to embrace and what to revolt against. It made my opinions on her reverse completely as she judged the systems and became very subversive from her initial starting points.

But need I talk about only her? Everyone in this book was incredible. It is rare for every person and their motivations to make sense within this book, but somehow Zhao manages to do it. I loved all of them and their unique perspectives, quirks and resolves. It was very easy to tell each of them apart and make sense of how they acted and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Needless to say, this was a stellar debut. And I’m so glad I read it just in time to hear promo of the sequel coming out later this year.

Iron Widow gets a score of 5/5. The story dictated the world like nothing else.

Yours in writing