Biblioshelf Musings – These Violent Nights by Rebecca Crunden

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is These Violent Nights by Rebecca Crunden – a gritty, adult fantasy with a cast of characters that break apart but rejoin together in an epic, sweeping conclusion. I would really like to thank Rebecca for sending me a complimentary copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.


Book: These Violent Nights by Rebecca Crunden
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: 31st March 2021
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 484
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Once upon a time, inhabitants of another world tore a hole through the universe and came to Earth. They called themselves Suriias, and rivalled humans in knowledge and skill with one great exception: they had magic.

War followed. Humanity lost. And three hundred years later, humans are on the brink of extinction.

Orphans Thorn and Thistle live in hiding. They are the last of their families, the last of their friends. They scrape by, stealing to survive and living on the streets or hiding in sheds. But even under the brutal regime of the Suriias, there are places where humans can mingle in secret with magical sympathisers, and one night Thistle gets an unexpected offer of marriage from a Suriia with high standing and friends in all the right places. For Thistle, it’s a chance at safety and comfort; for Thorn, it’s a chance to find the ones who killed her parents.

And so the pair move into the capital city of Courtenz. An urban monstrosity of magic and might, false friends and flying cars, drones and death tolls, the new city promises a fresh start – and new love – for both.

But if there’s one thing Thorn knows for certain, it’s that dreams can swiftly turn into nightmares.

My Musings

I sometimes find that I read so many Fantasy novels that fit into the YA age bracket that I can often end up putting myself into a bit of a rut and end up crying out for something just a little more on the dark side…
Well readers, These Violent Nights was it.

Earth has been torn apart by a War involving humans and supernatural beings who came to Earth from Salfar via a Tear in the dimensions of the universe. At the start of the novel, we are introduced to the fascinating, magically-built world of Courtenz with its metropolitan vibes, modern skyscrapers and technologically advanced Coach travel. In this world there is no place for humans; they are outcasts, kept as slaves or treated as the dregs of society. We really begin to feel the segregation of humans through the eyes of Thorn and Thistle who struggle to keep themselves alive and hidden.

As Thorn and Thistle’s world collides with their Suriia enemies, the first part of the novel showcases Thorn’s animosity towards Kol and Nithin and her mistrust of their true intentions. It drives the plot forward as she sets out to try and track down those responsible for her parents’ death whilst also attempting to find a new group of humans to band together with and escape the magical hell she has found herself caught up in.

From the diverse range of Suriia backgrounds and abilities, to the harrowing levels of violence and segregation between the humans and magic-bearers, there was plenty of complex world-building and plot politics to get stuck into. I enjoyed that the differences of the Frai, Vrykos, Ghuls (amongst others) was explained alongside the backdrop of information about how the world came to be as it is now. There was lots to take in, but not too much that it overwhelmed the action within the story.

The structuring of the novel is quite different to other stories I’ve read before. At times, the narrative felt like it was three linked novellas forming as one complete story arc. As the end of Part One rolls into Part Two we get left on a cliffhanger then introduced to an entirely new cast of characters as the story veers away from Thorn’s viewpoint. The reader gets to experience a new group of Suriia and human characters who live in a different part of this strange, dystopian Earth Crunden has created. In Lucien’s part of the world, humans pose more of a resistance and threat to the magic-bearers and this new story dynamic keeps the whole novel fresh and action-packed – all the while wondering what and where we are going to be taken next.

By the time Part Three begins, characters from both preceding parts collide. We get to see the aftermath of that cliffhanger at the end of Part One whilst also benefitting from a greater understanding of the world and circumstances of the groups of characters that dwell within it from explanations within Part Two. The final part of the novel brings the world of Salfar to the fore and provides a more traditional fantasy element than the previous parts of the story. It seeks to tie up the loose ends which came before it and supplies a neatly wrapped up conclusion (with some pretty, sneaky twists along the way)!

This three part plot was a bold way to structure the novel and even though it initially felt a little strange to leave one set of characters behind completely, it really paid off in the final climax of the novel as plots and conspiracies merge back together with both Suriia and humans now fighting for a common cause.

Overall, These Violent Nights is a dark, gritty and edgy adult fantasy novel which, as its title suggests, is packed with a ferocious wildness and complex, multi-layered plot. It’s most compelling element for me is how poignant the divide between Suriias and humans could so very easily be transposed into today’s real world issues: race, gender, vaxxed and unvaxxed… As my mind probably read way too deeply into that element of the story (too much Twitter doomscrolling!), the unsettling feeling which the novel invoked in me was exactly the type of vibe I was looking for after reading many fluffily-wrapped up happy endings.

Ultimately, underlying all of that segregation, revolution and warfare, These Violent Nights brings about an immensely memorable and strong group of characters to champion. Characters who overcome their personal issues and fight to craft out a world they truly believe in. A cast who sacrifice and compromise, who break down their barriers, who overcome their differences, all with the aim of trying to bring about a more understanding, hopeful and harmonious future for all… and that’s got to be something worth fighting for, isn’t it?


Why Should I Read This?

For a dystopian future Earth which could easily be reminiscent of today’s segregated societies.
For the intriguing design structure of the three-part narrative.
For an originally crafted fantasy world and magical beings.

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Waterstones | Goodreads | Author’s Website |

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf | Email: thebiblioshelf@gmail.com

Biblioshelf Musings – All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue. I would like to thank NetGalley and the publishers, Walker Books, for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.

This book completely had me at the word ‘tarot’. I’ve always been intrigued by the art and origins of tarot reading so having a spooky deck of cards as the centrepiece for a novel really hooked me into the story and seemed quite different to other tropes/plot drivers that I’ve read about recently. Combined with a diverse band of main characters and set against a backdrop of Irish politics, this YA novel gave me plenty to enjoy.


Book: All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue
Genre: Teens / YA
Publication Date: 27th May 2021
Publisher: Walker Books
Pages: 304
Rating: 📚📚📚📖

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Maeve Chambers doesn’t have much going for her. Not only does she feel like the sole idiot in a family of geniuses, she managed to drive away her best friend Lily a year ago. But when she finds a pack of dusty old tarot cards at school, and begins to give scarily accurate readings to the girls in her class, she realizes she’s found her gift at last. Things are looking up – until she discovers a strange card in the deck that definitely shouldn’t be there. And two days after she convinces her ex-best friend to have a reading, Lily disappears.

Can Maeve, her new friend Fiona and Lily’s brother Roe find her? And will their special talents be enough to bring Lily back, before she’s gone for good?

My Musings

All Our Hidden Gifts centres around our main character Maeve who finds a mysterious deck of tarot cards (along with a working cassette walkman) whilst she’s on detention at her all-girls Catholic school St. Bernadettes. For someone who isn’t that academic, Maeve finds it surprising easily to grasp the rules of tarot reading and begins hosting sessions for the girls at her school. Upon the strange appearance of an eerie ‘Housekeeper’ card and the mysterious vanishing of her former best friend Lily, Maeve embarks on a journey with sidekicks Roe and Fiona to try and solve the mystery of Lily’s disappearance. On their way, they uncover peculiar happenings in their small Irish town and get drawn into the conflicting politics of religion, pride and magic.

I loved the presence of the tarot cards as a key driver in this novel – I’ve always had some kind of magical fascination with them and the way the peculiar Housekeeper card has such an impact on Maeve’s life was gripping, I’m just so pleased that I haven’t found a Housekeeper card in my own tarot deck because that would definitely freak me out!

Maeve is such a young and honest lead. Whilst some of her choices are a little naive or questionable, particularly friendship-wise, I like the honesty in which she confronts her actions. Caroline’s portrayal of Maeve seems so authentic to that young, teenage girl going-through-the-motions-of-high-school that I really bought into her as a character and as someone who also went to an all-girls school.

The supporting characters complement Maeve really well. Roe’s exploration of his sexuality and expression of identity was refreshing and poignant in the way it related to some of the more political conflicts going on around the main storyline. Fiona’s Asian influences also drew a unique parallel with both Maeve’s and Roe’s experiences. Their diversity added a great deal of depth to the storyline whilst also helping Maeve to see the true values and meanings of friendship.

The magical element of the plot goes beyond just the tarot deck. Amongst the talk of otherworldly dimensions and summonings of spirits, Maeve’s experiences with homemade spells and witchcraft keep this element of the story quite realistic and believable without straying too far into the realms of complete fantasy. As Maeve discovers why she has such an affinity with the tarot deck, we start to understand a little more about her powers and tie up some of the looser ends within the story.

What I really enjoyed about this story was the way the author addresses some of the more political and controversial attitudes of Irish society. In our modern world of freedom, self-expression and pride, we can sometimes forget the ongoing struggles people face while trying to be their authentic selves in communities which are still devoutly conservative or religious. Whilst this forms a central part of the narrative for Roe’s character, O’Donoghue communicates this sensitively – raising awareness without giving too much of a historical/political narrative. Her tone is in-keeping with the rest of the novel and subtly gives the reader something to think about without going beyond the Teens/YA audience barrier. The Irish representation is something I haven’t experienced before in stories within this genre so it added to my enjoyment of the novel.

I have a special mention of adoration for the part of the narrative centring around Sister Assumpta and her decrepit VW Beetle. I hate spoilers so I won’t really mention it here but the presence of this in the story and the discoveries Maeve makes in that little car kept me flipping page after page to get to the bottom of those curiosities!

Overall, All Our Hidden Gifts is ultimately the book which broke me out of my reading slump. I loved the tarot element and the friendship between Maeve, Roe and Fiona. It was magical without being overly fantastical and is fitting of its ‘Teen/YA’ age bracket, although I personally feel this fits into the younger side of the YA genre. Roe’s character gave me food-for-thought and the backdrop of Irish sensitivities brought a new representation to my reading diet. News has it that there’s a follow-up novel planned. Whilst I’m left feeling contented about the ending of All Our Hidden Gifts, it will be really fascinating to see where O’Donoghue takes this story next.


Why Should I Read This?

For the tarot element and the creepy Housekeeper card (think the creature from The Grudge with the Grim from Harry Potter).
For an original fantasy set in the backdrop of Irish politics and conservatism.
For a band of diverse characters who help each other to bring out the best in themselves.

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Waterstones | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | Author’s Website | Publisher Website

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf | Email: thebiblioshelf@gmail.com

Biblioshelf Musings – The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is for The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox. I would like to thank NetGalley and the publishers, Penguin Michael Joseph UK, for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.

After reading The Absolute Book, I found myself struggling to verbalise my reflections of reading it. Sometimes my head was brimming with thoughts, other times there was a void as if I had forgotten the last 600 pages of story which had just unfolded in front of me. This is more an indication of my headspace at the time I was reading the book as opposed to a true representation of the kind of novel The Absolute Book is. I’ve tried to work around this and make this apparent through my following review so apologies if what comes after this is a little stilted!


Book: The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
Genre: General Fiction / Fantasy / Mystery
Publication Date: 18th March 2021
Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph
Pages: 628
Rating: 📚📚📚📖

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Taryn Cornick barely remembers the family library. Since her sister was murdered, she’s forgotten so much.

Now it’s all coming back. The fire. The thief. The scroll box. People are asking questions about the library. Questions that might relate to her sister’s murder.

And something called The Absolute Book.

A book in which secrets are written – and which everyone believes only she can find. They insist Taryn be the hunter. But she knows the truth.

She is the hunted . . .

The Absolute Book is a tale of sisters, ancient blood, a forgotten library, murder, revenge and a book that might just have the answer to everything.

My Musings

I found The Absolute Book to be a pleasantly challenging read. The blend of magical realism mingling with portals to fantastical worlds, hitchhiking demons and a dazzlingly curious box named ‘The Firestarter’ gave me a lot to get my head around.

The main characters had enigmatic secrets leading my brain to try and stretch to reach for what was actually unfolding between the lines. Each part of the story was full of gradual reveals; things happened which I only fully understood afterwards when other characters discussed and explained the events to each other.

Taryn’s ongoing suffering surrounding the death of her sister and the repercussions which follow, prove to be a key driving force behind the actions and events within the novel. This provided a mysterious whodunnit feel adding suspense and intrigue to the plot. 

The shiftiness of Shift (puns aplenty!) created a conundrum of unreliability which was brilliantly perplexing for the characters as well as the readers who were trying to keep up with them.

An interweaving of fairytale and folklore from different mythologies generates a multidimensional world complementing the complexities of the storyline incredibly well. From the Celtic Sidhe faerieland, the presence of shapeshifters and Norse talking birds, to the alluded references to Merlin, portal gates on ley lines and influences from the most notable of the ‘stories-about-stories’ genre, this book is jampacked with an epic range of fantasy motifs and themes to command your attention.

Tolkein-esque expositions pepper the narrative appealing to those of us who enjoy our world-building on the lavishly rich side. The homage to libraries and guardianship of books and memories speaks out to our bookish afflictions.


From Heaven to Hell and all of the human or faerie purgatories in-between, The Absolute Book is entirely deserving of its high acclaim from professional reviewers and critics. 

When I read this book at the end of March, I was trying to fit to a NetGalley deadline. Global pandemic aside, there was a lot of background noise which stymied me from giving it the attention it deserved. It also made this review quite difficult to write. In that respect, I feel like I let The Absolute Book down.

Netting in at over 600 pages, this is not your light-hearted beach read or just something to provide a meaningless distraction amidst everyday life. The Absolute Book is a tale which deserves an almost essay-like dissection to reveal its multitude of wonders and the exquisite depth and breadth of its writing. It’s exactly the type of book that warrants a reread – it’s earned that. I feel I need to give this novel another chance to discover all of the hidden gems and fantasy Easter eggs which have been lovingly crafted into its pages.

I found Nina Hall’s review from The Guardian a wonderfully fitting analysis of just how much The Absolute Book has to offer readers. Her piece is the main incentive for me adding this book to my reread list. You can check out her review here.

Why Should I Read This?

For the loving ode to stories and libraries which forms a central part of the storyline.
For the amazing mix of fairytale, folklore and mythology all merged and mingled together.
For the challenge – it’s an adult fantasy offering a thrilling complexity unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

Further Reading:

Elizabeth Knox: Why I Wrote The Absolute Book – This post, by the author herself, reveals some helpful insights as to the motivations behind different plot elements, as well as a beneficial hint at some of the influences she used to craft her world and characters.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Knox is an award-winning New Zealand author who has published over a dozen books. Her novel The Vintner’s Luck won the Deutz Medal for fiction in the 1999 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the 2001 Tasmania Pacific Region Prize, while Daylight was shortlisted for Best Book in the South Pacific & South East Asian Region of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Elizabeth has an ONZM, is an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate and won the Prime Minister’s Award of Fiction in 2019. She teaches World Building at Victoria University and lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with her husband and her son.
(Taken from Penguin Michael Joseph January – June 2021 Publishing Catalogue)

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Waterstones | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | Author’s Website | Publisher Website

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf | Email: thebiblioshelf@gmail.com