Monday, 12 August 2019

Book Review: Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff!

I bought Maresi after booking to go to a panel that Maria Turtschaninoff was on about Feminist Fantasy at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (more on this in a later post). Since that talk was yesterday, it seemed like a good a time as any to post my review of this incredible story.



Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen, in the Hunger Winter. Before then, she had only heard rumours of its existence in secret folk tales. In a world where girls aren't allowed to learn or do as they please, an island inhabited solely by women sounded like a fantasy. But now Maresi is here, and she knows it is real. She is safe.

Then one day Jai tangled fair hair, clothes stiff with dirt, scars on her back arrives on a ship. She has fled to the island to escape terrible danger and unimaginable cruelty. And the men who hurt her will stop at nothing to find her.

Now the women and girls of the Red Abbey must use all their powers and ancient knowledge to combat the forces that wish to destroy them. And Maresi, haunted by her own nightmares, must confront her very deepest, darkest fears.


The main thing that I took away after finishing this was how rarely I see first-person past-tense written in the style of a diary/ memoir. We're introduced to Maresi by Maresi herself on the first page, she tells the reader who she is, that she isn't a storyteller but that she has been told that her first person account is important and she wants to record it while her memories are still fresh. She'll occasionally break the fourth wall by talking about the fact that she's in the 'now' and writing about the past but it isn't overused and actually helped me get into the story more.

Even now as I write, my hand trembles in memory of the terror, and I hope my words are still legible.

I loved the female-based mythology that was at the centre of the book. There's the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone and it's all really well thought out. I didn't know quite how to word this until Maria herself talked about it but it was really refreshing that these three aspects were all valued and honoured rather than just the youth. Even though it's a young adult novel with a teenage main character, a lot of the other characters in the Abbey are older and not stereotypical old women.

I also loved the value given to reading and knowledge. Y'all know I love a book where characters read! The girls at the Abbey can go out and take the knowledge they learned there to other communities, a little like missionaries, so they're taught a whole host of things like medicine, farming, animal care and architecture. There's a really great balance of traditionally masculine and feminine work being done on the exclusively female island.

I originally gave this four stars because it did take me a little bit to get into. The pacing for the first half was very slow, maybe because it's a translation, maybe because the background information needed to be laid out much like a non-fiction book by our narrator before the action. However, while writing this review, I feel like I appreciate this book so much more now I can see the wood through the trees. It's worth pushing through if slow-pacing is something that makes you put a book down, because Maresi is the young adult book that you want young adults reading, but that they'll actually enjoy as well!

Coming to the Abbey and learning to read was like opening up a big window and being flooded with light and warmth.

You can buy Maresi from The Book DepositoryWaterstonesAmazon or The Book People!

Have you read Maresi? What's your favourite feminist fantasy book?

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Book Review: Sanctuary by V.V. James!

I finished Sanctuary* at a little past midnight and my first thought was that I'm very glad I order my shelves alphabetically because I have no idea where genre-organisers are going to put this one. It's not the urban fantasy I thought it would be, it's beyond thriller and the witches will keep it off the topical contemporary shelf. Sanctuary is hard to define beyond the word Brilliant. This is a long one today!



Sanctuary. It's the perfect town... to hide a secret.

To Detective Maggie Knight, the death of Sanctuary's star quarterback seems to be a tragic accident. Only, everyone knows his ex-girlfriend is the daughter of a witch - and she was there when he died.

Then the rumours start.

Bereaved mother Abigail will stop at nothing until she has justice for her dead son. Her best friend Sarah will do everything in her power to protect her accused daughter. And both women share a secret that could shatter their lives.

It falls to Maggie to prevent her investigation - and Sanctuary itself - from spiralling out of control.


My initial interest for this book was based in the research that V.V. James did into witchcraft because it's a topic I'm personally interested in and find fascinating. The note at the end says that while the magical system draws on various sources, it shouldn't be equated to modern day practices, and I'd love a long article from V.V. James going into this. Her talk at the Gollancz preview night was incredibly detailed, and this research shows in the book.

I know I'm not alone in my avoidance of topical books. I like a lot of books that deal with tough subjects but I feel like when they get too close to the realities of everyday, I find them very stressful to read. There were definitely moments like that in Sanctuary; the President tweets using a lot of words in all caps while disparaging Democrats, there's religious cultural appropriation, there's a case of rape with a lot of comments ranging from believing victims to slut shaming, even from police which- yeah. The use of police transcripts, emails, tweets and news articles interspersed between the multiple POVs make it feel very real. But there's no direct allegory for the witches in Sanctuary and I think that's kind of the point, there's a bit of everything from religious persecution, sexism, unethical policing and racism. So by adding magic and witchcraft, for me, it actually stopped it being as anxiety-inducing while still addressing important contemporary problems.

The theme of consent is also explored in a really interesting way. You've got the rape storyline which we see all the time in real life; popular sports star doesn't understand the word no. But you've also got the idea that the 'foundational principle of magic is consent' so magic without consent goes wrong and causes adverse reactions. I liked the way this was dealt with, and the parallels are really interesting.

A lot happens in this book, and every time you think that that things about to get better for the characters, they probably won't. It's a busy novel. By having so many POVs (three main and others popping in), it did feel like some characters fell a little flat and didn't get much page time. I would've loved more from some of the other coven members and their children as it developed but there was so much going on that the book didn't feel lacking without it.

And the writing, oh, the writing. The power of grief was tangible and even if the actions of the grieving were reprehensible, V.V. James made it believable. It seemed easy for the grief to lead to intolerance, even if it isn't something we imagine in ourselves, it is something we see a lot in reality that I've never really thought about before reading this.

With Sanctuary, V.V. James has created a fantasy version of contemporary America that's incredibly real and brutal. I know I won't be alone in hoping that Sanctuary doesn't stay a stand-alone and becomes a companion-style series dealing with similar issues in a world of fictional witchcraft.

"The giveaway of what happened here is the blown out windows. Each one is blackened with soot round the edges, like evil itself crawled out of every hole it could find."


Sanctuary is out tomorrow! Will you be picking it up?

Saturday, 27 July 2019

My Spring Book Haul!

I've been buying a lot of books this year, you can see the books I got over Winter here, and I'm not reading as much as usual. I'm just bringing more and more in! I need to do some more unhauling or I'll end up living in a house made only out of books and I live in England, it rains a lot! Books are not good sheltering material. They are fun though, so here's what I've been buying.

A pile of books in front of two succulents


I picked up Planetfall by Emma Newman* at the Gollancz blogger event and read it in May. I liked it so much, I had to get After Atlas by Emma Newman. There are four books that are all stand-alone books set in the same universe and the synopsis of this actually appeals more than Planetfall; detectives and cults and sci-fi, oh my!
Waterstones | Amazon | The Book People | The Book Depository

Of course, I had to get The Poison Song by Jen Williams as soon as it came out. I loved the first book in this series (my review/rave is here) and decided soon after that I'd put off reading the second book until the third came out so I could binge it. Now I have this in my grasp, I can finally start.
WaterstonesAmazon | The Book People | The Book Depository

Over the next couple months, I'm trying to make a conscious effort to read more non-fiction (I have a whole post about that here) so when I saw Queen Bees by Siân Evans for £2.99 (now £2.49) on The Book People, it joined my cart immediately. I'm really looking forward to learning more about these society hostesses and their impact on the world.
WaterstonesAmazon | The Book People | The Book Depository

Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen and Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir were books that I got proof copies of and, of course, needed the hardcovers to complete my set. I really love this series and they look so so good on my shelf. I'm thinking of doing a re-read of the whole series when the final book comes out, but there are still two queens to go!
Jane: WaterstonesAmazon | The Book People | The Book Depository
Anna: WaterstonesAmazon | The Book People | The Book Depository

A pile of books in front of two succulents


Once & Future by Amy Rose Capette & Cori McCarthyYou Asked For Perfect by Laura Silverman and A Good Girls' Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson were all pre-orders I made back in February so they've slowly been trickling in, and I've been reading them! I missed having fresh and exciting YA on my shelves. Expect to see them in upcoming wrap-ups!
Once & Future: WaterstonesAmazon | The Book People | The Book Depository
You Asked For Perfect: WaterstonesAmazon | The Book Depository
A Good Girls' Guide to Murder: WaterstonesAmazon | The Book People | The Book Depository

Have you read any of these? What do you think of my buys?

Monday, 15 July 2019

Books I took to Copenhagen!

Copenhagen wasn't really my kind of city. There wasn't a lot of places to eat if you don't eat meat and fish, and I didn't end up finding much to do while I was there. On the other hand, the city was really beautiful and I actually managed to take a reasonable amount of books for once! So what did I pack...



Fighting Proud by Stephen Bourne
In this astonishing new history of wartime Britain, historian Stephen Bourne unearths the fascinating stories of the gay men who served in the armed forces and at home, and brings to light the great unheralded contribution they made to the war effort. Fighting Proud weaves together the remarkable lives of these men, from RAF hero Ian Gleed - a Flying Ace twice honoured for bravery by King George VI - to the infantry officers serving in the trenches on the Western Front in WWI - many of whom led the charges into machine-gun fire only to find themselves court-martialled after the war for indecent behaviour. 

I've talked about Fighting Proud a couple of times on my blog; when I bought it, its part in researching my Camp NaNo project and how I need to actually finish it after starting it on the plane. This is a really interesting read but I have to be in the right headspace for it because injustice can be exhausting. Probably not the best holiday read thinking about it!

Planetfall by Emma Newman*
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi's vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony's 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart...

I was lucky enough to get my hands on Planetfall at the Gollancz event for book bloggers and boy, I was sold on these books almost immediately when Stevie talked a little about them. I started Planetfall while I was away and really enjoyed the diversity, the f/f relationships, and the world! I've since finished it and bought the next book in the series.

Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs
Bagged and discarded, the dismembered body of a woman is discovered in the grounds of an abandoned monastery.
Dr Temperance Brennan, Director of Forensic Anthropology for the province of Quebec, has been researching recent disappearances in the city.
Soon she is convinced that a serial killer is at work. But when no one else seems to care, her anger forces her to take matters into her own hands. Her determined probing has placed those closest to her in mortal danger, however.
Can Tempe make her crucial breakthrough before the killer strikes again?

I bought this in Winter and haven't picked it up yet. I just haven't been in the mood for crime lately, it's been a lot of YA being pulled off my shelves which is quite unusual for me. Although I so always take a crime book with me when I travel out of habit. They're my version of a 'beach read'!

Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy
A new King Arthur has risen and she's got a universe to save.Coming to terms with your identity is always difficult. But for Ari, the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur, it just got a whole lot more complicated. Gender-bending royalty, caustic wit and a galaxy-wide fight for peace and equality all collide in this epic adventure.
With an awkward adolescent Merlin and a rusty spaceship, this is the Arthurian legend as you have never before seen it.

Once & Future got a lot of hype when it first came out and now the dust has settled, I'm looking forward to seeing what I think of it. There have been some conflicting reviews! I was never big on the King Arthur legend but I love sci-fi and queer representation so hopefully I side with the hype-wagon.

You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman
Senior Ariel Stone has spent his life cultivating the perfect college résumé first chair violinist, dedicated volunteer, active synagogue congregant, and expected valedictorian. He barely has time to think about a social life, let alone a relationship... until a failed calculus quiz puts his future on the line, forcing Ariel to enlist his classmate, Amir, as a tutor.
As the two spend more time together, Ariel discovers he may not like calculus, but he does like Amir. When he's with Amir, the crushing academic pressure fades away, and a fuller and brighter world comes into focus. But college deadlines are still looming. And adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push Ariel past his limit.

This was the only book I started and finished while I was away and I really liked it. I'll go into it more in my review but this is less of a m/m romance and more about the academic pressures teens put themselves under. It was relatable and heart-warming while also being quite an easy read.

Her Kind by Niamh Boyce*
A woman seeks refuge for herself and her daughter in the household of a childhood friend.
The friend, Alice Kytler, gives her former companion a new name, Petronelle, a job as a servant, and warns her to hide their old connection.
Before long Petronelle comes to understand that in the city pride, greed and envy are as dangerous as the wolves that prowl the savage countryside. And she realises that Alice's household is no place of safety.
Once again, Petronelle decides to flee. But this time she confronts forces greater than she could ever have imagined and she finds herself fighting for more than her freedom...
Tense, moving and atmospheric, Her Kind is a vivid re-imagining of the events leading up to the Kilkenny Witch Trial.

There are so many amazing books about witches coming out this year and Her Kind is one of them, although, not about witches as much as history's "witches". Either way, I didn't get around to this but I'm still so excited to read it. I can't think of the last book I read set in Ireland!

Have you been to Copenhagen? Have you read any of these?

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