Biblioshelf Musings – The Violent Season by Sara Walters

Hey Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings are about The Violent Season by Sara Walters. I first heard about this book through the SourceBooks Fire newsletter. They included a brief sampler and after reading the blurb and the first chapter or so I requested an eARC through Netgalley which was thankfully approved!
Huge thanks to NetGalley, Sara Walters and the publishers SourceBooks Fire for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.


Book: The Violent Season by Sara Walters
Genre: YA / Thriller
Publication Date: October 5th 2021
Publisher: SourceBooks Fire
Pages: 320
Rating: 📚📚📚📖

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

An unputdownable debut about a town marred by violence, a girl ruined by grief, and the harsh reality about what makes people decide to hurt each other. The Violent Season is a searing, unforgettable, and thrilling novel that belongs on shelf with Sadie and Girl in Pieces.

Every November, the people in Wolf Ridge are overwhelmed with a hunger for violence–at least that’s the town rumor. Last fall Wyatt Green’s mother was brutally murdered, convincing Wyatt that this yearning isn’t morbid urban legend, but rather a palpable force infecting her neighbors.

This year, Wyatt fears the call of violence has spread to her best friend Cash–who also happens to be the guy she can’t stop wanting no matter how much he hurts her. At the same time, she’s drawn to Cash’s nemesis Porter, now that they’re partners on an ambitious project for lit class. When Wyatt pulls away from Cash, and spends more time with Porter, she learns secrets about both of them she can’t forget.

And as the truth about her mother’s death begins to emerge from the shadows, Wyatt is faced with a series of hard realities about the people she trusts the most, rethinking everything she believes about what makes people decide to hurt each other.

My Musings

When I first heard about this book, it sounded like an eclectic mix of The Purge mixed with a science-fiction worthy violence-virus which infected a town each November leaving a lot of devastation in it’s wake. In truth, the main focus of this book is really about the emotions and trauma we feel when we experience pain, hurt and suffering at the hands of the people we love, or even ourselves.

This novel definitely earns it’s place amongst the thriller section of the YA genre. We are led on a spiral of events and revelations which keep twisting and turning as the novel progresses. I kept coming up with little theories about who did what or which characters I could trust but then as the plot got deeper I found myself constantly changing my mind! The pace kept me on my toes right up until the very final pages and the ending left me with with a haunting sense of foreboding which is perfectly in-keeping with the upcoming spooky season.

As the leading character, the story is told through Wyatt’s perspective and everything that happens in the story we witness simultaneously through her eyes, emotions and actions. This made her narrative particularly powerful to me as the pain and suffering she experiences comes across so raw, brutal and honest. Some of the things that her character went through made me feel for her and at times I just had to stop and think about how some of these things are the harsh reality of life for people all over the world.

In places, you experience the flip-flopping of Wyatt’s personas – from that tough-girl stance of self-belief and personal empowerment, to the crippling feelings of anxiety and doubt that you put on yourself when you’re facing inner turmoil. Walters’ writing really communicated those feelings of suffering strongly enough to make me consciously feel them.

In some ways, Wyatt almost takes on the role of unreliable narrator too, which may seem odd given that I’ve just described her perspective as brutally honest – however… Wyatt’s recollection of her Mother’s death is hazy and some parts of it have been blocked out of her mind completely. As she gradually begins to remember more and and reconnect those lost memories, we also start to find out how she genuinely believes that there is some strange and mysterious sickness causing the season of violence each November. On the one hand you want to believe her, but then on the other hand – some part of you starts to doubt whether she’s not just creating a false narrative because she can’t bear the actual reality of the truth. The depth of Wyatt’s character is so wide that I think it’s the part of this book that I liked the most.

The relationship between Wyatt and Cash takes many turns during the course of the plot. I feel it’s safe to say that this is an extremely harmful relationship which comes with several trigger warnings. This is countered slightly through Wyatt’s reconnection with Porter who, although has secrets of his own, forms as the counter to Cash.

The Violent Season is a powerful standalone thriller which transforms an urban legend into the harrowing reality of just how deeply grief, trauma and violence can affect a person, especially when it is dealt out by the ones we love the most.

Why Should I Read This?

For a slightly unreliable yet brutally honest main character who transports you from her deepest pit of pain to a place of self-love and empowerment.
For the nod to Great Gatsby in the middle of the book.
For an interesting concept of how violence can be construed as a sickness.

Read a sampler:

You can read an excerpt of this book here: https://read.sourcebooks.com/fire-a-violent-season-excerpt

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 – The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
The Hawthorne Legacy is the second book in the thrillingly exciting The Inheritance Games trilogy where we followed the twists and turns of Avery’s story as she embarked upon a treasure-hunt style mission to claim a billion dollar inheritance left to her by a mysterious stranger. Secret passageways, puzzles and riddles had me binging this book in just one day so when the sequel came up for grabs on NetGalley nothing would stop me from hitting that request button!

Advance warning, there may be spoilers for book one ahead! If you wanted to go back to the beginning, you can check out my spoiler-free review of The Inheritance Games (Book One) here.

Thank you to the publishers Penguin Random House Children’s UK, the author and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Book: The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Inheritance Games (Book #2)
Genre: Mystery / YA
Publication Date: 9th September 2021
Publisher: Penguin Random House Children’s
Pages: 368
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Intrigue, riches, and romance abound in this thrilling sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Inheritance Games perfect for fans of Karen McManus and Holly Jackson.

The Inheritance Games ended with a bombshell, and now heiress Avery Grambs has to pick up the pieces and find the man who might hold the answers to all of her questions – including why Tobias Hawthorne left his entire fortune to Avery, a virtual stranger, rather than to his own daughters or grandsons.

As the mystery grows and the plot thickens, Grayson and Jameson, the enigmatic and magnetic Hawthorne grandsons, continue to pull Avery in different directions. And there are threats lurking around every corner, as adversaries emerge who will stop at nothing to see Avery out of the picture – by any means necessary.

With nonstop action, aspirational jet-setting, family intrigue, swoonworthy romance, and billions of dollars hanging in the balance, The Hawthorne Legacy will thrill Jennifer Lynn Barnes fans and new readers alike.

My Musings

The Inheritance Games is quickly becoming my most binge-worthy reading series of all time! I was initially drawn to it through my love of treasure hunts, puzzles and riddles and devoured the first book in just one sitting. Unravelling all of the clues and passageways was a major part of the reading thrill for me and whilst there were still trap doors and hidden messages in abundance, The Hawthorne Legacy allows the family saga and character development to take center stage.

After having so many secrets spilled, you could definitely be forgiven for pondering where on earth this series could go next – well panic not as Jennifer Lynn Barnes has found the fictional supply of cornflour for this one as the plot just gets thicker and thicker!

Billion-dollar inheritance aside, Avery’s character is still on one hell of a journey – there’s the ongoing media training and confidence aspect of being thrust into the limelight, her increasingly complicated relationship with sister Libby, the resurfacing of her long-gone father, the quest to find the mysterious homeless guy she played chess with and of course, who could forget her Mum’s ‘I have a secret’? (which ends up blowing up a major plot line) – that’s without even getting started on mentioning those four particular Hawthorne grandsons…!

Enter: Max! Her character was light relief and added buckets of humour with her non-sweary mannerisms and attempts to help Avery filter through her variety of thoughts and problems. I loved her presence in this novel.

As for the romance element – I’m torn! I’m mainly here for the secrets and intrigue, so I was grateful that Avery’s romantic relationships didn’t dominate the plot. There is still enough here to keep it interesting and mystifying but it seems like the strangest of love triangles which keeps flip-flopping round and my verdict is still out on who I’m really rooting for. I genuinely can’t make up my mind whether I’m Team Jameson or Team Grayson and I’m convinced it could still all change yet again in the final book!

Now that a large proportion of Hawthorne HQ has been explored, I was curious to wonder where all of the sleuthing would come from this time round. I was so happy to see the treasure-hunting taking off in previously unseen wings and even jet-setting locations. Those elements were by far my favourite parts of the novel! Invisible ink, curious objects, numerical codes… all of the same features I adored in the first instalment were so cleverly intertwined into the plot. Some of which were brilliantly guessworthy and many more twists which kept me revising my theories left, right and center.

If you enjoyed The Inheritance Games then you’re absolutely going to need and love continuing this incredible series!
But reader, a little word of warning…
…Arm yourself with your reading tennis racket for this one because the secrets, action, drama and reveals keep pinging at you so thick and fast, you won’t dare to put this book down!

Now, when can I get hands on The Final Gambit…?


Find out more about this book here:

NetGalley | Publisher Website | Amazon | Waterstones | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | Author’s Twitter: @jenlynnbarnes | Author’s Website

Connect with me here:

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

Biblioshelf Musings – Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim. Sometimes you start a novel and know immediately that you are going to absolutely love and devour it – Six Crimson Cranes was one of those books! It completely transported me into a world of utter magic and fairytale.

Thank you to the publishers Hodder and Stoughton and the author Elizabeth Lim for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I didn’t manage to finish reading the whole e-ARC before it was archived but I was so thrilled when an exclusive edition of Six Crimson Cranes arrived in my July Fairyloot box – it has the most beautifully detailed cover and the sprayed edges feature the six cranes and Kiki the origami crane! It’s a work of art and I love it so much!


Book: Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Publication Date: 8th July 2021
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Pages: 454
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Peniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

My Musings

Elizabeth Lim’s voice and storytelling style conjured up a whole world in my head which I found fascinating. From the mountains, forests, rivers and seas, from Iro to Gindara and the dragon realms and islands in between there was always a new landscape to get completely immersed and lost in. It’s definitely one I’m adding to my bucket list of fictional worlds that I need to travel to.

I enjoyed that this was more than just your average retelling of The Wild Swans. I’m more familiar with the Grimm version (The Twelve Brothers) but I enjoyed the way that the author stayed true to the Anderson fairytale by weaving it into a stunning narrative then filling it up with extra characters and additional plot points. There was plenty of action, drama and complicated obstacles for the characters to overcome. The whole narrative exuded a magical quality, almost like lots of little moments from my favourite Disney movies all weaved together like golden threads intermittently throughout.

Shiori’s character initially came across to me as quite childish and naïve, everything she was supposed to be as a Princess living a fairly sheltered life – but then following the curse and the hardships she faced, her character was given the space to grow and mature. By the end of the novel I was championing her due to how much she had evolved through all of her trials and tribulations. Kiki, the sentient origami crane was so adorable that I had to have a go at creating some of my own!

Seryu the dragon shapeshifter was so fascinating and I’m excited to hopefully explore a bit more of the Ai’Long Realm in the next book. Takkan’s role in the story brought a little bit of romance which I was completely here for, but I’m being a little sceptical of a potential love triangle appearing in the sequel… I could be barking up the complete wrong tree though so I guess I’ll have to wait for book 2 to find out!

Several years ago, I remember reading a Chinese proverb about how an invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. As a big believer of fate and divine intervention etc. I was so taken by this idea and here, in Six Crimson Cranes, Elizabeth Lim incorporated it so beautifully into her storyline that it made me love this book even more. All of the magical elements and events relating to the threads of fate and Shiori’s weaving of the starstroke were so vivid that it definitely appealed to all of my reading tastebuds!

Just on a personal note, I found the ending to be slightly drawn with regards to one particular character. I appreciate that it was setting up for a sequel but I was way more interested in the outcome of the narrative between Raikama’s and Zairena’s characters because I found them so intriguing and hope we get to see them later in the series.

Overall, Six Crimson Cranes is one of my new favourite fairytale retellings. Elizabeth Lim’s story manages to exude mysticism, drama and folklore from every page. Stunning!


Find out more about this book here:

NetGalley | Publisher Website | Amazon | Waterstones | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | Author’s Twitter: @LizLim | Author’s Website

Connect with me here:

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

Biblioshelf Musings – Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien – a beguiling, unique collection of poetry which merges together a hybrid mix of contemporary hip-hop and folklorian Lovecraft monsters in a fun fusion of science-fiction and poetry. On the surface, it offers an entertaining, comedic chronicle; however, between the lines it offers something much more meaningful and profound.

Thank you to the publishers Interstellar Flight Press and the author Brandon O’Brien for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Book: Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien
Genre: Science Fiction / Horror / Poetry
Publication Date: 20th August 2021
Publisher: Interstellar Flight Press
Pages: 75
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Cthulhu meets hip-hop in this book of horror poems that flips the eldritch genre upside down. Lovecraftian-inspired nightmares are reversed as O’Brien asks readers to see Blackness as radically significant. Can You Sign My Tentacle? explores the monsters we know and the ones that hide behind racism, sexism, and violence, resulting in poems that are both comic and cosmic.

My Musings

What initially drew me to read Can You Sign My Tentacle?
Well first off, the title alone piqued my curiosity; then to discover that this was the work of a Caribbean author who has composed a strange blend of SFF, horror and poetry, I just had to open that cover and dive straight in.

Despite being a self-proclaimed SFF fan, I’ve never read any Lovecraft so I had no idea of the meaning behind the Cthulhu references until much later on. That being said, I feel this enabled me to approach O’Brien’s collection with a wholly open-mind.

O’Brien does not shy away from tackling some of the big themes of racism, sexism and violence, but through this unusual mix of varying genres, his messages tend to pop out and command your attention in a way that may be much less fun or remarkable in traditional prose.

There are some wonderful phrases and language. As a bit of a logophile, I was struck by the beautiful and bizarre range of vocabulary that Brandon utilised across his writing.

Notably in The Metaphysics of a Wine, In Theory and Practice, the concoction of academia-style concepts mixed with the celestial, paranormal-esque commentary of being lost in the throes of dancing captivated me. Other poems such as The One, Lovecraft Thesis #3 and Time, and Time Again were particular favourites.

The Author’s Note at the end (along with a little help from Google) helped me to understand how O’Brien’s use of the eldritch genre brought Can You Sign My Tentacle? to life. It tied together some of the loose connections that I hadn’t grasped from my initial reading and clarified the Lovecraft references along with the author’s influences and inspiration for writing this collection of poems.

I really, really like this book. It’s different, it’s highly entertaining yet meaningful at the same time. The poems are curious and provocative. The whole theme of the collection and ideas behind the Cthulhu/Lovecraft mix are totally original and have taught me something new; not just about the medley of Science-Fiction and Poetry as genres, but about the over-inflated concept of self-importance and that nobody or nothing is infallible.

In a world where cancel culture seems to be increasingly (somewhat shockingly) normalised, O’Brien’s narrative seems to challenge this notion and turn it on its head. Just as Lovecraft was undoubtedly a talented writer who has done much to shape the SFF genre, O’Brien shows that rather than ‘cancelling’ or criticising his creative legacy, we can turn his prejudices into a weapon and opportunity for education and awareness. He shows that we can learn from past denigrations and champions how today’s society can shift away from the attitudes, mistakes and short-sightedness of those who came before us.

I went into Can You Sign My Tentacle? looking for something a bit on the offbeat, peculiar side – I came out of it with something undoubtedly more meaningful. O’Brien is truly a voice to be celebrated. He has written such a thought-provoking, original masterpiece with a trailblazing message which will stay in my mind for a long time to come.


About the Author

Brandon O’Brien is a writer, performance poet, teaching artist and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago. His work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Alice Yard Prize for Art Writing, the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions, and the inaugural Ignyte Award for Best Speculative Poetry. His work is published in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Reckoning, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is the former Poetry editor of FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.

Virtual Book Launch

Interstellar Flight Press are holding their first ever Virtual Book Launch for Can You Sign My Tentacle? It’s a free event on Zoom so check out the details below if you’re interested!

Here’s the details! Sign up via Eventbrite to join us.

Date: August 20th at 6:00pm EST / 5:00 PM CDT

Online via Zoom/Eventbrite

You will receive info from Eventbrite on how to access the event after you register. This event is FREE to attend.

Find out more about this book here:

NetGalley | Publisher Website | Amazon | Waterstones | Goodreads | Author’s Twitter

Connect with me here:

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

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:

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Biblioshelf Musings – The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is for The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart. There was such a buzz about this book across the blogosphere on it’s initial release in Hardback format, that I was so excited to get my hands on an e-arc of it from NetGalley in preparation for the paperback release date on 8th April 2021. Huge thanks to Little, Brown Book Group / Orbit, Andrea Stewart and NetGalley for my complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.


Book: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
Genre: Fantasy / Science-Fiction
Publication Date: 8th April 2021 (Paperback version)
Publisher: Orbit / Little, Brown Book Group
Pages: 496
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

My Musings

Shifting islands, an empire on the brink of revolution and a sinister magic involving shards of human bone… It’s no surprise that this was right up my bookish street!

Told through the perspectives of five different characters, the main story follows Lin, the Emperor’s Daughter as she tries to regain her lost memories and learn the complexities of bone shard magic in order for her father to declare her as his heir. Elsewhere around the empire, we follow Jorvis, a smuggler, as he attempts to escape both the Ioph Carn and the Empire whilst smuggling children away from trepanning ceremonies and trying to track down a mysterious boat which kidnapped his wife several years previously.

With the addition of sapphic couple Phalue and Ramani (a Governor’s Daughter and her partner) who are trying to put their different upbringings aside to compromise on their ambitions to create a better world, and a mysterious island-dweller Sand who can’t remember anything about her past, there is plenty of character development to keep your mind buzzing as their storylines gradually become intertwined in the course of the novel.

For me, Stewart hit the right balance between the length of each character’s perspective and the pacing of them throughout the story. Each character break left me on a cliffhanger, just wanting to find out more. Lin’s determination and braveness made her likeable and Jovis’ vulnerabilities and honesty made me champion him as his storyline took various twists and turns. I also admired the way that Stewart was not afraid to be bold and daring when it came to the fates of her characters. My heart was in my mouth at more than one point whilst reading this book (with one particular moment involving a family of side-characters leaving me reeling)!

Mephi was by far my favourite character though – I’m such a sucker for animals and the mysterious nature of his origins and power is something I am hugely intrigued about. His relationship with Jovis was wonderfully written so I hope we get to see and learn more about them both in the sequel.

I need to say how much I loved the STEM representation within this book! For those who may not be aware, STEM is an acronym used in education to describe subjects relating to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. As a primary school teacher (and the Maths/Computing lead), there has been a big shift in the promotion of these subjects, particularly with providing opportunities for girls and young women to try and inspire them in pursuing these industries in their future careers and highlighting just how widespread and multi-faceted these subjects are.

It was so refreshing to see the main character, Lin representing this through her pursuit of learning bone shard magic. The idea that bone shard magic is some sort of magical computer programming for the strange, Frankenstien-esque, living constructs was a really intriguing and unique type of magic which is so different to the most common forms that you usually encounter in fantasy stories.

I loved the way Stewart mixed these ideas together and the way performing the magic was explained. It gave just enough detail so that I could fully understand what was happening, whilst at the same time being subtle enough to keep it mystical rather than overwhelmingly scientific.

The constructs themselves left me freakishly curious; part-human / part-animal, they brought a quirky element to whole narrative. At times, I struggled to visualise them in my head but I enjoyed how unique and strange they were. As the plot unravels, we get to understand a little more about how the constructs are made and it was interesting to see how they are integral to some of the bigger plot twists and developments within the story.

I loved the Asian-inspired world and the shifting islands that Stewart created. It was supernatural yet realistic. Through the descriptions of each place, I could clearly build a picture of the islands in my mind and I liked how they had their own stories and vibes, as well as the way they interacted with each other and provided a stage for the different characters and events. The incident with Deerhead Island towards the start of the novel put the scope and scale of what could happen in this world right at the forefront of my mind. I still feel like there is so much more to explore of this empire and I’m hoping we get to see that in The Bone Shard Emperor.

Overall, this fantasy with a STEM-based twist did a superb job at setting the scene and whetting my appetite for the rest of the series. We are now familiar with the world, the magic and the characters. Breadcrumb trails have been left for even more secrets to be uncovered about Lin and Jovis, the constructs, the mysterious Alanga artefacts and the future of the empire. The chess pieces are on the board and I can’t wait to see how they move in the second instalment of this Drowning Empire series! 

Why Should I Read This?

For the quirky, computer-science element to the bone shard magic.
For an intertwining cast of characters all converging on an Empire on the brink of political revolution.
For a unique, Asian-inspired fantasy which seeks to redefine the parameters of blending science with magic.

About the Author:

Andrea Stewart is the Chinese American daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of places across the United States. Her parents always emphasized science and education, so she spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek and odd-smelling library books. When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon slayer didn’t pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California, and in addition to writing, can be found herding cats, looking at birds, and falling down research rabbit holes.

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

#Friday56 – The Windsor Knot

Happy FriYAY Bibliofriends!

This week’s Friday 56 comes from The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett. This novel is the first in a brand new series where HM The Queen dons her deerstalker hat and magnifying glass and turns detective to investigate the latest crime-capers rocking Windsor Castle.

Hosted by Freda’s Voice, the Friday 56 is a weekly bookish prompt. It’s quite easy to do and could cover no end of different books and genres so seems great if you’re looking for a quick snippet to discover something new!

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader (If you have to improvise, that’s ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It’s that simple.


As a little girl, when asked who she would like to be when she grew up, Princess Elizabeth had said, “A lady in the country, with animals.” For the past few weeks she had been just that, but for the next few days it was time to be Queen.

The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett

This book is a must-read if you’re a fan of the old-style, British crime-fictions stories or you just love to read a fun mystery with Queen Elizabeth II as one of the main protagonists. A big thank you to Netgalley, Zaffre and S.J. Bennett for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can check out my full, spoiler-free review here.


Drop me a comment below or connect with me here:

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

Biblioshelf Musings – The Windsor Knot

Hello Bibliofriends!

When I think of some of the greatest detectives of all time – Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and even Agatha Raisin spring to mind… but HM The Queen?! Well, new novel The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett tries to prove that Elizabeth II deserves her place amongst these crime solving greats. Thank you to Netgalley, Bonnier Books UK/Zaffre and S.J. Bennett for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Book: The Windsor Knot: A Novel by S.J. Bennett
Genre: Mystery / Fiction
Publication Date: October 29th 2020
Publisher: Bonnier Books UK / Zaffre
Pages:
Rating: 📚📚📚.5

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

The first book in a highly original and delightfully clever crime series in which Queen Elizabeth II secretly solves crimes while carrying out her royal duties.

The morning after a dinner party at Windsor Castle, eighty-nine-year-old Queen Elizabeth is shocked to discover that one of her guests has been found murdered in his room, with a rope around his neck.

When the police begin to suspect her loyal servants, Her Majesty knows they are looking in the wrong place. For the Queen has been living an extraordinary double life ever since her coronation. Away from the public eye, she has a brilliant knack for solving crimes.

With her household’s happiness on the line, her secret must not get out. Can the Queen and her trusted secretary Rozie catch the killer, without getting caught themselves?

The Windsor Knot is the first book in the ‘Her Majesty The Queen Investigates’ mystery series by SJ Bennett – for fans of The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, Agatha Christie and M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin.

My Musings

Born and raised in England, I’m slightly addicted to the Royals – the pomp and pageantry of Trooping the Colour, the tradition of counting the 3-second pauses between the Queen’s Speech at Christmas, the Cambridges…! It’s no wonder that a book featuring the Queen as a crime-solving detective would find its way into my book pile.

S.J. Bennett has got, what I imagine to be, the Queen’s personality right down to a T. Her character came across so whimsically that I was definitely picturing and hearing our real Queen’s image and voice whilst reading. I could totally visualise her rattling around Windsor with her corgis and riding her horse through the castle grounds, magnifying glass in hand trying to solve the latest crime to grace her historically decorated threshold. S.J. Bennett has done such a brilliant job of capturing and creating this realistic, yet fun portrayal of Elizabeth that I was immediately gripped into the whole world of the novel.

Rozie, HM’s Watson sidekick for this novel really intrigued me and brought a vibrancy to the story. For anything that Queenie couldn’t investigate or carry out, Rozie was there to fill in the gaps. I liked the references to her heritage and that she was a young, confidant woman against a backdrop of patriarchal figures and other characters. She also gave us an additional insight into what it may be like to work behind the scenes alongside The Firm. I have always been fascinated by this and here it brought an interesting kind of narrative to complement the overall storyline.

The plot in itself was quite cleverly done. Amidst all of the little clues and hints, I still hadn’t fully put together exactly ‘whodunnit’ until right near the end. The breadcrumb trail and character motives are descriptively and gently teased out to keep you guessing throughout the whole multi-layered plot.

Overall, this series starter was such a moreishly addictive read – it’s like the book version of The Crown mixed with a little of The Windsors and topped off with a bit of Poirot. I read it from cover to cover in just one weekend. I’m really keen to see this original series develop and my mind is already boggling at what adventures and crime-capers Rozie and HM The Queen are going to solve next!

Why Should I Read This?

For the fun-factor of imagining our reigning monarch solving a fairly risqué crime… by Windsor Castle standards!
For the exciting new crime-solving duo of The Queen and Rozie!
For a glimpse behind the scenes at what might really go on behind palace doors!

If you’re a Royals fan, or you just love those good old-fashioned ‘whodunnits’ from the golden age of crime fiction, then you’re bound to find something to enjoy in The Windsor Knot!

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Waterstones | Goodreads |

Connect with me here:

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