May Day by Josie Jaffrey – A Review by Sam – BLOG TOUR

Rating: 4 stars

Release date: 09/07/2020

Publisher: Silver Sun Books

CW: Sexual assault, alcoholism

Author: Josie Jaffrey

Josie is the author of multiple novels and short stories. Most of those are set in the Silverse, a pre- and post-apocalyptic world filled with vampires and zombies.

She is currently working on a range of fantasy and historical fiction projects (both adult and YA). Ultimately, she hopes to be a hybrid author, both traditionally- and self-published.

After finishing her degree in Literae Humaniores (Classics) at the University of Oxford, Josie wasn’t sure what to do with her life.

She slogged through a brief stint working for an investment bank in London during the 2008 credit crunch, then converted to law and qualified as a solicitor specialising in intellectual property. She worked at a law firm for five years before moving to a UK-based international publisher in 2016. Whilst she loved law, in the end she didn’t love it quite as much as writing, which she now does almost full time.

Josie lives in Oxford with her husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for Josie to wear black, which is largely why she gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, she still misses her old wardrobe.

If the murderer you’re tracking is a vampire, then you want a vampire detective. Just maybe not this one.

It’s not that Jack Valentine is bad at her job. The youngest member of Oxford’s Seekers has an impressive track record, but she also has an impressive grudge against the local baron, Killian Drake.

When a human turns up dead on May Morning, she’s determined to pin the murder on Drake. The problem is that none of the evidence points to him. Instead, it leads Jack into a web of conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the country, people to whom Jack has no access. But she knows someone who does.

To get to the truth, Jack will have to partner up with her worst enemy. As long as she can keep her cool, Drake will point her to the ringleaders, she’ll find the murderer and no one else will have to die. Body bags on standby.

May Day is the first book in Josie Jaffrey’s Seekersseries, an urban fantasy series set in Oxford, England.

Reading new urban fantasy is one of my favourite things. It’s one of my absolute genres, and this is good urban fantasy. It’s got vampire police. Vampire drug dealers. Vampire aristocrats. Also, a trigger warning should be thrown up, because a non zero amount of vampire sexual violence. It kind of gave me the ick, and if the rest of the book didn’t have its hooks into me quite as much it might have got me to put the book down. Just thought I’d get that out the way. 

So, main character Jack Valentine is a newbie vampire and a member of the vampire police. She’s precisely the kind of flawed, messed up anti hero I like. She’s an alcoholic, because all hard boiled detectives are, she’s… you know what? Kind of a cliché, but it’s a cliché I happen to love, so she gets a pass on that. I like me a flawed, hard boiled detective. Especially when she’s a bi vampire!

The cast of side characters are interesting and entertaining and wonderfully queer. The plot moves at a good clip and is nice and twisty. In fact, I’m struggling to be objective about this book because it feels like it was written specifically to pander to me and my specific niche likes in a book. I don’t know if the four star rating I’m going to give it is fair or not, but I’m going to give it one anyway. 

Okay, review over. 

I’m going to mention the next book now, so if you don’t want a major spoiler for it, consider this post over:

Seriously. Go away. 

Also, TW sexual violence:

A character in this book sexually assaults Jack. Like I said, it gave me the ick, both in the way it should when you read something horrific, and in the “I didn’t think that kind of thing happens in a modern book” way. 

Then in the second book there’s some plot hand waving to justify it, and Jack ends up sleeping with her abuser. It was just a bit much for me and kind of tore me out of the book and away from the characters. It gave me the mega ick. Did not like. Probably won’t read any future books if there are any. 


I received this book to read and review as part of the 2021 BBNYA competition and the BBNYA tours organised by the TWR Tour team. All opinions are my own, unbiased and honest.

BBNYA is a yearly competition where Book Bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. If you are an author and wish to learn more about the BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website or twitter @bbnya_official.

The sign-ups are now open for BBNYA 2022 for authors and panelists. Click here to enter:

Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick – A Review by Sam – BLOG TOUR

Release date: 31st March 2022

Publisher: Farshore

Author: Jennifer Killick

Jennifer Killick is the author of Crater Lake, the Alex Sparrow series, and middle-grade sci-fi adventure Mo, Lottie and the Junkers. She regularly visits schools and festivals, and her books have three times been selected for The Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge. She lives in Uxbridge, in a house full of children, animals and Lego. When she isn’t busy mothering or step-mothering (which isn’t often) she loves to read, write and run, as fast as she can.

Turn the lights on. Lock the door. Things are about to get SERIOUSLY SCARY!

The brand new must-read middle-grade novel from the author of super-spooky Crater Lake. Perfect for 9+ fans of R.L.Stine’s Goosebumps.

It’s basically the worst school detention ever. When classmates (but not mate-mates) Hallie, Angelo, Gustav and Naira are forced to come to school on a SATURDAY, they think things can’t get much worse. But they’re wrong. Things are about to get seriously scary.

What has dragged their teacher underground? Why do the creepy caretakers keeping humming the tune to Itsy Bitsy Spider? And what horrors lurk in the shadows, getting stronger and meaner every minute…? Cut off from help and in danger each time they touch the ground, the gang’s only hope is to work together. But it’s no coincidence that they’re all there on detention. Someone has been watching and plotting and is out for revenge

I don’t know what I was expecting when I started Dread Wood. I’d just come off the back of reading a genuinely scary sci-fi horror book -which you may hear more about soon-, and that was off the back of reading a not so scary but very atmospheric folk-y horror-y book. This, apart from being middle grade, sits on the other side of the horror spectrum from those two. It’s an attempt to make a monster movie fit into a middle grade novel, and you know what? It works. It doesn’t do any one thing especially well and it has its flaws, but the package as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

For our cast we have Spunky Girl, Cautious Girl, Comedy Relief Guy and Narrator, whose primary character trait seems to be that he’s poor. Speaking as someone who is poor I don’t really mind that. I’ve banged this drum plenty already. More poor characters in our fiction please! Particularly kid’s fiction. And it does affect your personality and your decisions. It does become a part of who you are and filter how you see the world. Being that none of the other characters are particularly deep, I don’t mind that he isn’t. Then we’ve got our antagonists who aren’t not cliche, but who are effective none the less. The setting is nice and claustrophobic, as all good horror settings have to be, if the characters can just walk away it ruins the plot somewhat. A locked gate and a groundskeeper who doesn’t want to let you out are as good a narrative device as any other. 

There’s some light spoilers incoming at this point, so if you want to avoid them I’ll give you a takeaway now: I liked this book, it was good dumb fun, written well and compellingly. The plot moved along at a good clip and the tension started nice and early. Flat but serviceable characters. Probably won’t read again, but enjoyed it a lot all the same. Three and a half stars. Maybe four if I’m feeling generous. 

Okay, squad. Spoilers. 

Have you ever seen the film Eight Legged Freaks? I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t. It came out in 2002 and was only okay, but this book is like a small scale version of that. The monsters are dog sized spiders, and they’re pretty cool. The explanation for how they became dog sized is nonsense, but it doesn’t have to be scientifically coherent for it to be cool, and these badboys are cool. Also, apparently Scarlett Johannsson was in Eight Legged Freaks. I suppose not even she is immune to being in a bad film.

The book isn’t immune to plot holes. The groundskeepers apparently have their pet spiders well trained and when they’re whistling a jaunty tune the spiders don’t attack, and that works just fine for the two or three hours on a Saturday the book takes place in. But what about the five weekdays before that, and the five before that and so on. Are you telling me one of them is always stood on the school field whistling or humming so an errant dog sized spider doesn’t gobble up an unsuspecting student? But I only thought about that plot hole as I closed the book. It didn’t distract me at the time. The plot moves quickly enough, and the book kept me interested enough that I didn’t stop to think of it during the story, only once I’d finished it. And even now, thinking about said plot hole, it doesn’t detract from how much I enjoyed the book. Some plot holes do that, because the story they’re in isn’t good enough to make you not mind it, but for some stories, like this one, you’re willing to suspend your disbelief just that little bit further. 

Dread Wood is a good time. Definitely worth reading.

Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn – BLOG TOUR

“There are places in our world in which wondrous and whimsical things seem more capable of happening than anywhere else.”

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publisher: Penguin

CW: Death of parent (remembered, before events of the book), death threats

Rep: LGBTQ+ side romance/characters

Author: Connie Glynn

Connie Glynn has always loved writing and wrote her first story when she was six, with her mum at a typewriter acting as her scribe. She had a love for performing stories from a young age and attended Guildhall drama classes as a teenager. This passion for stories has never left her, and Connie recently finished a degree in film theory. It was at university that Connie started her hugely successful YouTube channel Noodlerella (named after her favourite food and favourite Disney princess). After five years of publicly documenting her life and hobbies to an audience of 900,000 subscribers on YouTube, Connie closed the book on the Noodlerella project in a bid for more privacy and to pursue her original passions in the performing arts. Connie now writes music and fiction full- time. Follow Connie on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr @ConnieGlynn

When fairy tale obsessed Lottie Pumpkin starts at the infamous Rosewood Hall, she is not expecting to share a room with the Crown Princess of Maradova, Ellie Wolf. Due to a series of lies and coincidences, 14-year-old Lottie finds herself pretending to be the princess so that Ellie can live a more normal teenage life.

Lottie is thrust into the real world of royalty – a world filled with secrets, intrigue and betrayal. She must do everything she can to help Ellie keep her secret, but with school, the looming Maradovian ball and the mysterious new boy Jamie, she’ll soon discover that reality doesn’t always have the happily ever after you’d expect…

A thrilling world of parties, politics and bad ass princesses, this is the first book in the brand new series: THE ROSEWOOD CHRONICLES.

Bryony: I had a great time reading Undercover Princess – it’s the kind of book I wanted to read when I was younger, so to enjoy it now was lovely. It was wholesome and whimsical, with royalty and a hint of magic.

More than any review can probably portray, I bought the rest of the series immediately after finishing this, I enjoyed it that much. (I’ve also managed to get Sam to pick up the series.)

The story of this was fun and scattered through clues to a plot that made you want to keep reading. There was action, mixed into a society of parties and social etiquette. We had hints of history and potentially a bit of everyday magic, both of which I’m sure we’ll see more of in future books. Rosewood Hall itself was a perfect example of everyday magic – it was perfect for Lottie, being a whimsical place to welcome her home.

I loved the friendships created in this. There was an intense bond between Lottie and Ellie and Jamie and I can’t wait to see how this develops. I was really invested in Ellie and Lottie, and think the arrangement they have is really interesting and could put them in some fun situations. I think it’ll be interesting to see Lottie train into her role in the next books.

There were high-stakes moments and twists I didn’t expect. It made the end of the book quite fast paced, and introduced some question and drama for the subsequent books.

I think the audience of this is more teen than middle grade or young adult. The writing isn’t perfect, but it was very easy to read (which was honestly perfect after slugging through The Atlas Six for a month).

I had a really good time and can’t wait to continue the series!

Sam: I read this book a day or two after B did. I’ve seen it on the shelves at work a few times and always liked the cover, so when I saw she was reading it I decided to pick it up myself.

I’m slightly less glowing in my praise for this book than B, but my opinion follows broadly the same strokes. I did enjoy this book, I have just started the second one. It was fun and sweet and engaging.

It’s also badly written. Like really badly. It’s like the opposite of a polished turd. It’s a good story shoddily told. It’s a tarnished tiara. Honestly I’m surprised it made it through the editing stage in the state it’s in, especially considering I’ve just asked B and she said it was published by Penguin. I’d have thought better of them, and it’s doing the story a disservice to not present it as well as possible. It’s like going for a professional portrait and the photographer says, “your left side is clearly your better side, soooo… look to your left. Let’s hide all that. Also, while we’re at it, let’s draw a dick on your cheek with lipstick.”

I will most likely read the entire series at some point, I want to see how Lottie and Ellie’s relationship develops, and I want to spend more time in this world. I just hope the writing improves.

Aurora’s End – A Review by Sam

Rating: 2 stars

Release date: 9th January 2021

Publisher: Rock the Boat

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

The squad you love is out of time. Prepare for the thrilling finale in the epic, bestselling Aurora Cycle series about a band of unlikely heroes who just might be the galaxy’s last hope for survival.

Is this the end?

What happens when you ask a bunch of losers, discipline cases and misfits to save the galaxy from an ancient evil? The ancient evil wins, of course.

Wait . . . Not. So. Fast.

When we last saw Squad 312, they were working together seamlessly (aka, freaking out) as an intergalactic battle raged and an ancient superweapon threatened to obliterate Earth. Everything went horribly wrong, naturally.

But as it turns out, not all endings are endings, and the team has one last chance to rewrite theirs. Maybe two. It’s complicated.

Cue Zila, Fin and Scarlett (and Magellan!) making friends, making enemies and making history? Sure, no problem.

Cue Tyler, Kal and Auri joining forces with two of the galaxy’s most hated villains? Um, okay, yeah. That too.

Actually saving the galaxy, though?

Now that will take a miracle.

To say I was unexcited about revisiting this series is like saying I’d be unexcited to try and castrate an angry panther with my bare hands. I, contrary to basically the entire twitter sphere, just don’t enjoy this series. Watching it and its cast of one dimensional caricatures go about pilfering the collective science fiction canon with kleptomaniacal glee like it’s the middle aisle of Aldi, all the while ceaselessly narrating about how banging their tits are, just doesn’t fill me with glee. It doesn’t really fill me with anything at all.

That said, at least this book isn’t insulting. At least it has a fucking ending, even if it is anticlimactic and trite. At least this one doesn’t end in the middle of a paragraph. 

Before we proceed further, squad, I’m going to throw up a spoiler warning here. If you want a quick and spoiler free review it’s this. Two stars, don’t bother if you aren’t invested in the series, but at least it isn’t the slap across the nipples that the second book was. 

So, the story starts with our characters scattered about space and time each fighting their way through their own well trod science fiction cliche. Zila, Fin and Scarlette are trapped in a time loop, and considering how smart Zila and Fin are supposed to be it takes them bloody ages to figure it out. Have you two never watched an episode of Stargate? Or Star Trek? Pretty much any of the Treks. They all had time loops in them. Did Andromeda? Probably. It’s a while since I watched Andromeda. 

Aurora and her space elf squeeze and his dad are in the future, riding the ship with the big glowing weapon made by Mass Effect’s Precursors. It’s a future where the moldy Borg Collective won and civilisation is hanging on by its fingernails. Running from last stand to last stand, putting off the inevitable total defeat and consumption into the compost friendly Borg. Did you ever watch that X Men film? Days Of Future Past I think it was. Well it’s that. 

What’s Tyler up to? Shagging another space elf, mostly, because this is an Aurora book, and someone is always being horny in an Aurora book, usually in a wildly inappropriate circumstance. While he’s not shagging he’s trying to stop Aurora Academy getting blown up. Uniting the free races of the galaxy to go and blow up a Borg planet. Watching the free races of the galaxy fail at blowing up a Borg planet. 

The problem with books with multiple threads like this is that more often than not one of them becomes your favourite and the others feel like a slog. Well none of these felt like my favourite, and they all felt like a slog. At the end of almost every chapter I put my phone back down and did something else for ten minutes before I could psyche myself up to read some more, because it was just a chore. I didn’t like being in the characters’ heads because their narration was annoying and vapid, and as a Sci Fi nerd I’d seen it all before and done more competently. 

That’s what this review boils down to. I didn’t like the characters, and what they were doing was a GCSE drama class’s reenactment of a Stargate SG1 episode. I finished the book to write this review, and it was a waste of time because I don’t feel enough about the book to write a good review. I mean, I’ve managed to spend almost six hundred words saying I feel nothing for this book, which I suppose is an achievement, but not one of note. A lot like Aurora Burning itself. 

Two stars. Don’t bother.

2 Year Bloggerversary

Hi everyone! We’re a week late with those post, but apparently our bloggerversary crept up without me noticing and I already had a review scheduled. So apologies for that and apologies for this being a lot less chatty than last year – I’m trying to squeeze this post in around a job now (yay!)

Maybe that’s something to note actually – although I originally started this blog to get into publishing, two years later I still haven’t. It’s really not the end of the world now I have another job. This (and the channel) will just be something I do for fun because I genuinely do love them both.

But anyway, on with some stats and some reflections.

Followers: 154 (a 54 gain from last year)

How many posts: 109 (I might break down what they were specifically for you later)

How many likes: 162 in 2020 + 210 in 2021 = 372 in total

How many views: 899 in 2020 + 1031 in 2021 = 1930 in total – our most popular month was January 2021, I think thanks to a series of 2020 favourites I did.

Top three posts: Demisexuality – 190 (including 1 already this month) | POPSUGAR Reading challenge 2021 – 51 | Path or Pantheon Recs – 38

Is there a better way of seeing your stats per post? Because we get a lot for the “page” and I assume that includes people going to specific posts but it doesn’t tell us…

Three favourite posts: Recommending Books to the Friends Characters | Let’s Talk About Sex in Books | A Note on Language

How many books: 63 last year + 59 this year = 122

Because Sam still doesn’t keep track on Goodreads, we’ll talk about more stand-out books, rather than just all their stats.

Favourite book (S): There’s loads I could choose from for this, but if we base it purely on how many times I’ve gone back to the book when I’m bored and want to reread a favourite passage or for a comfort read I think the clear choice is Love Is For Losers by Wibke Brueggemann. It didn’t even get a full review from me, just a couple of paragraphs in a round up, but I love it.

Favourite book (B): There are a few really strong contenders for this, but from the tail end of 2020, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (that book stayed with me for a long time and I kind of want to rearead it already) – from the start of 2021, almost certainly The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon (that one hurt).

Surprising book (S): Am I allowed to use the same answer as before? No? Okay. Well, maybe it’s recency bias, but I’m going to go with Raising Hell by Bryony Pierce, because I just wasn’t expecting that kind of urban fantasy to still exist and it rocked my world. I could have gone with B’s answer to this question as well, though, because I’m deeply in love with that book too, and it was about as surprising as a brick to the back of the head, but much more positively received.

Surprising book (B): Now, I could have put this for the above question, but Sweet and Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley really surprised me. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, but it was just such a soft, beautiful romance. I adore how it developed and was written about.

Disappointing book (S): I honestly can’t think of anything for this. I’m usually pretty good at picking out books I’ll like. Rarely do I ever DNF a book, or find I don’t like what I’m reading. I was however very disappointed by a particular scene of a book that I otherwise really enjoyed, so I’m going to go with that. The House Of A Hundred Whispers by Graham Masterson is a really good horror book. It’s tense and scary, and exceedingly well written. Horror isn’t always a genre you equate to beautiful or sharp writing, but this book has it in spades. You know what else it has? A rape scene. Well, I mean it doesn’t quite happen, but only because one of the male characters swoops in and saves the woman.

I get it, horror is supposed to shock and repulse, but the book was doing that plenty well without needing to go there. Immensely disappointed.

Disappointing book (B): Lore by Alexandra Bracken was meant to be The Hunger Games meets Percy Jackson, but it fell short for me. It didn’t do everything I expected it to, it made promises about feminism that it just didn’t do, and nothing really happened despite being such a long book.

However, I had the Fairyloot exclusive edition of it and it went for about £50 in the end, so not an entirely disappointing book.

Anticipated book (S): My most anticipated book was She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen, but I guess I managed to appease the gods of the UK book market, because I got hold of a copy of that a little while ago. (I’m planning to write a review for it tomorrow, but spoiler alert, it rocked) Outside of that I guess Husband Material by Alexis Hall. But that’s not out until next year, and I don’t know if that’s allowed or not. What do you think, B?

Anticipated book (B): I’m reading two of my most anticipated books of the year in July and I can’t wait for them – I’m buddy reading The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri with a few people, and I have an ARC of Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar to read too!

Goals for the blog (S): I don’t have any formal goals for the blog, really. I’m happy with the direction things are going, so more of the same please, I guess? I do want to be more active on it now that I’m out of my heinously stressful job, though. I’m coasting on B’s success an awful lot right now.

Goals For The Blog (B): Like with Sam, I don’t dislike where the blog is at the moment. We get likes, we get views, people talk to us about books. All I really want is to write posts in advance and interact with others’ accounts more.

Are we still indecisive?

Ummmm… Are we?

Raising Hell – A Review by Sam – Blog Tour

Rating: 4.5 stars

Release date: 3rd June 2021

Publisher: UCLan Publishing

Author: Bryony Pearce

Meet Ivy Elisabeth Mann:

‘I know what you are thinking, but I’m not half faery, or demon, or angel or anything like that. Mum’s a Body Shop consultant living in a bungalow in Birmingham and Dad enters crosswords.’

Once upon a time, Ivy and her friends did a very stupid thing and now there’s a rift letting dark matter into the world. Dark matter that manifests as black magic which actually works. Now every teenager with access to the Internet is raising hell. Literally.

Ivy’s doing her best to stem the tide, but her new job working school security barely pays the bills and there’s only so much one girl with a machete (and a cat possessed by her own dead grandmother) can do against the forces of evil. Now she’s facing a teenage goth with an attitude, her ruthless but frustratingly handsome brother, a dark cabal with a terrifying agenda and a potential zombie apocalypse. Ivy losing her job might be the best thing to happen to the world…

Raising Hell is the first in a dark and funny urban fantasy series from award-winning YA author Bryony Pearce, whose novels include Angel’s Fury, The Weight of Souls and Savage Island.

First things first, squad, a disclaimer. This book was given to me for free. B and myself were contacted by someone from UCLan publishing and were shipped a physical copy of this book free of charge. I did not buy it myself. That said, these thoughts are my own. The person we were contacted by does not know the content of this review and had no input into it. The first they know if it will be when it goes live on the blog. Journalistic integrity, etc etc.

Let’s get to it. 

Raising Hell by Bryony Pearce is the kind of urban fantasy that I didn’t think was being published any more. The traditional publishing industry inundated us with vampire romances, angel romances, ghost romances, and when we got bored of them threw its hands up, took its ball and went home. In this case the ball is good, kick ass urban fantasy. It was a casualty of paranormal romance. A few have slipped through the net since trad pub staked the heart of urban fantasy, for example Paul Crilley’s books. And now this one has. Someone in the publishing industry made a mistake, or else wasn’t paying attention while a heroic intern slipped the printers this manuscript instead of another generic YA fantasy. 

Buy that intern a pint. Several. Buy them a three course meal at the Ritz, because Raising Hell by Bryony Pearce isn’t only the kind of book I didn’t think was seeing print anymore, it’s also a banger. 

Ivy Elizabeth Mann is a security guard at a high school. The kind of security guard that packs a machete and holy water. She feels responsible for the dark magic zinging around the UK, you see. She feels responsible because she kind of is. Partially. A little. She’s not a John Constantine like hardcase. She’s someone doing her best to make amends, despite the fact she’s not really equipped for it. More early seasons Willow than Buffy, even if her attitude trends towards the latter of those two. She spends most of the book having the crap kicked out of her, but keeping on going anyway because she’s got no choice. I like that in a protagonist. A real underdog. Someone you can root for. 

There were some interesting seeds sown with Ivy, and I hope to see them grow in future books. She’s the kind of person for whom, to a point, the ends justify the means. Those characters are always interesting, especially when you see them redrawing their personal line as it gets crossed when things get grimmer and grimmer. 

The rest of the supporting cast is (outside of a star turn from Ivy’s grandmother who happens to be stuck in a cat) a little more two dimensional, though far from bad. It’s a problem with the format of the story, I think. It happens in a very quick time frame. It makes the situation feel urgent and keeps the pages turning, but I’d have liked to have more time to spend in the world and to let the story kick back and shake the dust off its boots. Still, wanting more of a story isn’t exactly much of a criticism. 

As mentioned, the plot moves along at a good clip, starting fast when a misguided teen summons a couple of hellhounds in the school Ivy is working in, and not slowing down from there. We’re treated to some political intrigue from a group that are UKIP but with a hardon for magic rather than Brexshit. There’s spells slung by the bucketful, a machete called Matilda (which I’m choosing to see as a Resident Evil 4 reference whether it is or not), and even some zombies. What more could you ask for from a book? 

If I were to have to find a real criticism, and I do, they won’t let me into the cool critics christmas party if I don’t, it’s that the book wants to be new adult. It’s not a YA story, but it’s not an adult story either. The gymnastics the book goes through to keep the plot focussed around teenagers are backbreaking. The book would be much more at home in the NA space, where the writing style and immediacy are very YA, but you’ve got more latitude with plot content and character age. But trad pub took their NA ball home and won’t let us play with that either, despite the fact it sells gangbusters in the self pub space. 

Trad pub, give your head a wobble. 

Even that criticism is more a criticism of the publishing environment that the book exists in than of the book itself. I guess I won’t be welcome at that party after all. 

At the end of the day, I loved this book. It feels like it was written just for me. Old school urban fantasy with new school sensibilities. We’ve got a protagonist in Ivy who can stand next to urban fantasy greats like Sandman Slim, and I hope to see much more of her. Not flawless, but its flaws are forgivable. Four and a half stars. Great. Fantastic. Give me more, please. And everyone else do me a solid and go buy it so trad pub properly revives urban fantasy.

Bryony Pearce fled from her ‘proper job’ in London in 2004 and now lives in the Forest of Dean where she writes novels and short stories for people who like strong women, black humour and a trip into the darkness of the soul! She has won a number of awards, including the Leeds Book Award, the Wirral Book Award and the Cheshire Schools Award. She also writes for adults and her (mainly science fiction) short stories appear in a number of anthologies. People are often surprised by how nice she is, because her books can be quite scary!

Recommending the Friends Characters Books

It’s the Friends reunion today, which will probably mean a massive nostalgia trip for most people. (Sorry Sam, I like but am kind of not worried about the show.) So I thought we’d recommend each of the main six a book we think they’d like!

Joey: The Twisted Ones, T Kingfisher

The only book I remember Joey reading was Little Women so I was ready to recommend him another classic, but Sam informed me that Joey also hides horror books in the freezer so they can’t get out. Sam really enjoyed this book!

Phoebe: The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

Phoebe strikes me as very much one with her inner occult ways. One of our favourite books featuring the occult has to be The Bone Season, so maybe she’d dig this supernatural dystopia.

Ross: Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

Sorry Ross, you don’t stand out to me any more than “the guy who likes dinosaurs”. It’s kind of this or a kids book – maybe authors are missing a trick by not writing adult books about dinosaurs.

Monica: More Orgasms Please, The Hotbed Collective

Sam recommends this to Monica based on the above scene. Maybe she’d love to learn how the world’s attitude towards women’s sexual pleasure has changed – or maybe she could even contribute to a sequel!

Chandler: Dummy, Matt Coyne

Sam loves the humour in this book – because of someone else’s pain? Who knows. As Monica and Chandler become parents at the end of the series, it might be a good advice/sympathy book for him to read.

Rachel: The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella

I mean, a whole series about a lady who loves to shop? How could that not be perfect for Rachel. I know she probably gets better as the series goes on, but she’s definitely a big shopper in my mind.

Let me know if you’d recommend any other books to the characters!

Not My Problem By Ciara Smyth – A Sam Review

“‘Aideen, tell me, what is hysteria?’ ‘Um, you know, when bitches be crazy?’”

When Aideen agrees to help ambitious class swot Maebh Kowalska deal with her crazy workload, she doesn’t expect to end up reluctantly pushing Maebh down the stairs. With this, Aideen becomes the school ‘fixer’: any problem a student has, Aideen will sort it out, from stealing confiscated mobiles to breaking into parties. All she asks for is a favour in return. But Aideen’s own life is a mess – her mam’s drinking again, her BFF Holly is avoiding her and she’s skipping school. Spending more time with the uptight (but annoyingly cute) Maebh and chatterbox Kavi, Aideen starts to wonder: can every problem be solved?

Release date: 3rd June 2021

Publisher: Andersen Press

Author: Ciara Smyth

I really liked The Falling In Love Montage, Smyth’s first book. I think I was a little harder on it at the time -in my head, because I didn’t review it on the blog- than I am in retrospect. When I read it originally I wanted a pure squishy romance, and it certainly was that, but it was a bunch of other stuff, too. At the time I felt the other stuff kind of got in the way of what I was looking for. My issue, not the book’s.

Well, I’m in a less frantically missing my partner headspace right now, and am ready for other stuff. This is all to the good, because Not My Problem is very much more of the same but better.

We’ve all been there, right? One person asks us for a favour, and out of the goodness of our hearts we break someone’s ankle for them. Then one thing leads to another and we find ourselves breaking into our school, and bustung a passing acquaintance out of his bedroom. No? Just me? Okay… Well either way, that’s where Aideen finds herself. All the while dealing with her alcoholic mother, less than stellar academic performance and a slight crush on the school tryhard.

Ciara Smyth has it. So many writers don’t. So often you read a book, and if it weren’t for the name on the front you wouldn’t be able to tell who wrote it. If you were reading a Samantha Shannon book or a Holly Bourne book, you stand a good chance of knowing it, even without looking at the name on the cover, and no just because in the former’s case you could bludgeon a lion into submission with the hardback. Ciara Smyth is the same. The characters and the place feel authentic, the voice and style are unique and sharp as a tack. The relationships are messy in the way that Ciara Smyth does best.

The parental relationship in Not My Problem was messy, but we already knew Smyth could do that well from her previous book. One of my favourite aspects of this book was the messy friendship. One of Aideen’s friendships is pretty toxic, and it’s done so well, and especially how Aideen comes to realise it and confront it. We’re shown the effect it’s had on her in the way her new friendships grow and develop. Slowly, and not painlessly it turns out.

The romance was satisfyingly built and felt real and is the best kind of enemies to lovers. Where it wasn’t so much that they were enemies at all, but they didn’t know each other, all they had were preconceived ideas of each other. It’s not my favourite trope, because often it’s done badly. Here, like everything else Smyth does, it’s done extremely well.

On a personal note, I loved, truly madly loved, how working class Aideen was. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick to the back teeth of car owning, stuff doing, money having privileged gits in YA. More working class protagonists in YA, please!

Ciara Smyth is an exceptionally talented writer. Her sentences are sharp, her characters feel real, voice oozes from her prose. And she likes Taylor Swift. She’s at the top of not just her game, but most other people’s as well. I can’t recommend Not My Problem enough.

Sam’s Romance Roundup

Hello, readers. I’ve been missing B like crazy. I’ve seen her four times in the last year, and it’s four and a half months since I was last in the same room as her. It sucks. Recently, overcome by the nonsense of it all, I decided to do the only sensible thing. I decided to read an absolute crap tonne of romance books. If I couldn’t be happy then maybe the happiness of fictional people would help. Well, like a drug, at first it was great, then I needed more and more to get my fix. Pretty soon I’d read everything that looked appealing to me and was back at square one.

Oh well. At least we got a blog post out of it.

I didn’t realise this until I came to write this post but literally all the books I’m going to talk about are F/F, so there’s that. I almost always prefer woman narrators, -probably because they’re usually written by women and I prefer the way women write, but that’s a whole blog post all by itself- and went out of my way to find queer romance. I didn’t clock that it was literally all F/F though until just now. I thought there was a token straight in there, but apparently not. God I’m soooo heterophobic. Don’t tell the Super Straights or they’ll come for me with the 4chan mob.

What I’ll do is mention all the books I finished during the binge -because hooooo boy did I DNF some utter shite- and give them a quick one or two sentence review. The longer I talk about a book the more I like it.

Let’s go right to it.

Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert: I read this one before the binge, but not too long before and it’s a romance so lets pad the hell out of this word count. It’s a fake dating plot, if you know the beats then you’ll know what happens here. Romance skeptic Dani and big softie Zafir Ansari fake a relationship to appease the Twitter hivemind. The book delves into the past traumas of Dani and Zaf with deftness and sympathy -very much like one of my all time favourite books The Flatshare- and is cute as hell. Well worth a read. #DrRugbae.

You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson: Cute F/F romance with plenty to say on big topics like race and sexuality. Very well written. Very American. Seriously. Promposals… They’re not a real thing, surely? Surely?? Promposals aside I liked it a lot and you will too. Chances are you already do, because I’m late on this one. Everyone knew it was amazing before I picked it up.

Written In The Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur: Oof. This book. I adore this book. It’s right up there in my personal pantheon of the greats alongside Boyfriend Material and The Flatshare. Another fake dating plot involving Elle -professional social media astrologer and hardcore romantic- and Darcy -Actuary and professional grump with a penchant for smutty jokes-, like Take A Hint it does absolutely nothing new with the formula, also like Take A Hint it’s flipping great all the same. I love Elle and Darcy, I love their romance, I love their flaws and backstories. I love their love story. Go read it. Be warned though, if you get the audio book there’s two particular scenes you’ll need headphones for if you’re not alone in the house. Awkward.

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins and I Think I love You by Auriane Desombre: I’ve lumped these two together because they can both be described using the self same sentences. Cute YA F/F rivals to lovers romances. Nothing amazing, but if you want a squishy and satisfying way to kill six hours then you can do a lot worse than these.

The Falling In Love Montage by Ciara Smyth: Another cute YA F/F romance but with far more going on than the previous two. It’s kind of a fake dating plot, but also not really. The two decide to do all the fun bits of a relationship, without any of the serious stuff, basing their list off of the falling in love montages from rom coms. Ohhhh. I see what the author did there. Saoirse -pronounced Seer-sha, don’t get her started on that- has a lot going on in her life and all of it is very interesting. The ending is bitter sweet, which I didn’t love but only because I was specifically reading for the sweet not the bitter. I enjoyed it. I would give it four stars, except ratings are naff, so I won’t.

We’re on the home stretch now, guys, and we finish very strong. Prepare yourselves.

Love Is For Losers by Wibke Brueggemann: Amazon has this as Phoebe Davis Thinks… Book 1. This pleases me greatly, because I’d absolutely be up for more time in Phoebe Davis’s head. I love this book. Is it my favourite from the binge? Maybe. There’s some real strong competition, but at the very least it’s tied for first place with Stars. A very interestingly written slow burn YA romance featuring a charity shop, a shop lifting old lady and designer cats. Also the best romance of its type I’ve ever read. The book does a fantastic job of having Phoebe tell us she’s falling for Emma before she realises it herself. That’s difficult to do and is often done clumsily with first person narration, but this book is too good for that. If you want to be laughing out loud at sarcasm sharp enough to shave with one second and cooing at the squishiness the next then this is the book for you. An absolute banger.

Also of note, it’s an extremely sex positive book. That was nice to see in a YA. OH SHIT! A second paragraph. I guess this one is the best!

The last book I read that’s worth talking about is Cow Girl by Kirsty Eyre. I liked this one a lot, too. It feels almost like a coming of age story, but it’s an adult book, featuring an adult doing adult things. There’s probably a name for that kind of plot, but I don’t know it. It’s also not really a romance, it just happens to feature a couple of them, but I’m including it because I liked the book a lot. The plot follows Billie as she goes back home to look after her dad’s dairy farm while his health takes a dip. The cows are great. If you’ve ever watched that video of a herd of cows being let out into a field for the first time in ages and they’re all dancing around and frolicking, it’s kind of like the book version of that. If that’s not reason to read the book then I don’t know what is. If you really want more, then the book also talks about homophobia and sexism when it’s not talking about cows.

We made it, gang! We descended into my loneliness induced insanity and came out the other side stronger and hopefully with some solid book recs. Seriously though, just read Love Is For Losers and Written In The Stars and thank me later.

Stay safe, everyone. There’s light at the end of the tunnel now!

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher – A Sam Review

Evening, readers. Grab a torch and lock the door to your pillow fort, because today I’m reviewing something that goes bump in the night. Or more accurately tok tok tok.

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher is a folkloric horror in which Mouse and her loyal but IQ challenged dog Bongo go to clean up her recently deceased grandmother’s house up out in the middle of nowhere. Fairly classic horror set up, right? Isolate your main character so you can really start messing with her head. But it’s a classic because it’s effective.

The house is a right state. The grandmother had become something of a hoarder in her old age, which makes the task before Mouse even more daunting, and the house itself even more creepy, like it’s set itself against her before she’s even started. There’s a room full of dolls, for example. These dolls are just set dressing. When Mouse walked into that room I rolled my eyes thinking something horrendously cliche was going to happen with them, but no, they’re just set dressing to get Mouse -and us- on edge. The book is too good to walk into cliche like that.

On the subject of set dressing, and putting us on edge, atmosphere is the book’s biggest friend. It’s a book that knows it’s a book. Too many horror books try to be like a horror film, but something like Insidious (freaking great film, yo. If you’re into horror and you’ve not seen it you ought to correct that right now.) wouldn’t translate well into a book.

And then the character looked to the right and a jump scare happened.

No. Wouldn’t work, and The Twisted Ones knows that. Instead being a third rate thriller with a demon as the antagonist, like a James Patterson book with halloween costumes, it crafts an atmosphere as thick and weighty as a damp sheet on a washing line, and uses that to pluck away at our nerves before it gets rolling with the actual scares.

And then shit starts going really sideways. Except it goes sideways slowly enough to string out its central mystery for most of the book’s length, which is a great move because horror is far less scary once you’ve seen the thing and know what it is. Going back to Insidious for a sec, once you’ve clearly seen the demon and know what it is and what it’s about the film loses its mystery and all suspense is thrown out the window. It’s part of what made the first Paranormal Activity so good. You never saw the thing, just evidence of it.

Unfortunately that is one issue The Twisted Ones doesn’t manage to sidestep. The book’s monsters are much more scary when they’re hanging inert in trees or peering through windows at a half asleep Mouse and when there’s only one of them, than when there’s a bunch in broad daylight. Once the mystery is solved and we know where the monsters come from, and what the weird rocks that seem malicious and get into Mouse’s head are all about the book becomes almost like a James Patterson book with hallow… Oh dear.

Thankfully though, it isn’t the kind of bad ending I’ve been known to crucify a book for, I just wish it had gone in a different direction. The first seven eighths of the book are still a masterclass in atmosphere so thick and opaque you could cut it into bricks and build a wall with it. The Twisted Ones is a great read, and if you’re into horror, folkloric or otherwise, you’ll love it. If you are curious about the genre and want to dip your toe in, this is a good place to start.

I made faces like the faces on the rocks,

and I twisted myself about like the

twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the

ground like the dead ones.

I hope everyone is keeping safe in these crazy times. Feel free to ‘like’ this post. VALIDATE ME, READERS!