Beneath the Rising Review

Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

I don’t usually read books that cross into “scary” land because I am not big on horror. But I like Premee and her twitter, and the fact that Johnny (one of the main characters) is a young female “genius” sold me to it.

One of the strengths of the book is setting the mood and the progression of the story. We start with a very “normal” (or as normal as having a genius world saving best friend can be) part of the story and Nick trying his best to figure out what comes next as Johnny goes further away and is less and less around due to all the amazing discoveries and inventions she is making, while he is the one working a bakery job to help his family.

Almost immediately I had a lot of things I wanted to quote as Johnny talks about how it is to be female, young and a scientist and have to compete against the established older male scientists. I don’t talk a lot about what I used to do for work and what I do now, but I used to be very similar to Johnny (sans the Ancient Ones). I was the one everyone expected great things. Had a big research career before I even graduated university. Doing big things, and everyone expecting great things… in Johnny’s words “everything”. So it was easy for me to engage with this book and to feel it to heart. Which made the scary a little less scary and more like “oh, that is scary but kinda interesting”.

Another strength is the relationship between Johnny and Nick. They are friends, but could they be more, and how can you keep a relationship (of whatever kind, friends or more) when the people in it are so different and understand each other’s challenges so little? Nick struggles to understand how despite Johnny being white and a genius, she still has barriers men wouldn’t have. And at the same time, Johnny fails to see what being brown and not being rich does to Nick. There are moments were they are as close as close can be and then you realise that at the same time ther eis this big chasm between them. It was masterfully done and it is proof of the craft that Premee can write an apocalypse/end of the world horror and at the same time have this intense view of a relationship as it moves and tries to define itself into adulthood.

Gosh, the Ancient Ones in themselves and the whole part of the plot that goes around it kept getting more and more interesting. The connections between cataclysms and ends of civilizations was also a bonus point for my history focused heart and just seeing all the little hints about geeky or nerdy stuff kept me smiling despite also being scared and worrying about the fate of the world and about Johnny and Nick.

And those last few chapters, well, that was magnificent and sad and intense and a big relief. A lot of emotions to be felt throughout it, and I couldn’t help but side a little with both of them and not be sure what exactly I wanted to happen because it was so hard to think what would be the best outcome for everyone involved.

Also, Ben and the genetically modified dung beetles that wouldn’t roll dung but might steal satsumas or other round objects made me giggle. The sarcams levels are great too, if you need a serving of that.

If you like history, science, geniuses and friendships put to the test with an end of the world, this is definitely your book. It gets my scarydorsement and my full endorsement as a read worth reading.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro Review

Ok, I give up. I’ve typed this review so many times, several different days and it just disappears. So I am going to skip the “this is the info you can find on Goodreads that tells you what the book is about” and just go straight into the review.

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px Grey

Queen Talyien (Tali) is the combination of “strong female character” with “chosen one” with “what if it all went wrong?” and this is done masterfully.

We start the story with her explaining that she’s basically ruling alone because she kinda screwed up and her husband left her (and their son) the night before they were meant to be crowned King and Queen of a country that is factioned and fractioned and is just a lot of fighting lords for land and ruling over the others.

Then she gets a letter from her husband to come and meet him at the neighbouring country where apparently he ha been having a comfortable life for hte last 5 years without bothering to make himself known to her or you know, his son (I didn’t have much respect for the husband, despite Tali trying hard to blame herself for him leaving). She is told not to go by her counsellors but decides to try to fix her marriage, for the sake of their son.

Know, one thing to know is that Tali was born to be Queen. She was educated for it, she had an arranged marriage and everything, all her life has been centered around becoming the Queen her father wants/wanted her to be. She has a purpose to fulfill and any time she has strayed from it, she pays the consequence. Her whole being is trying to meet the expectations, to hold everything together while the rest blame her or praise her or even thwart her. I identified with her so much on this. When you are defined by the expectations of others, when you have been brought up to live to those expectations, and to be them, it becomes slowly clear that you will never fulfill all of them. Because you just can’t. You can’t be what others want you to be and forgo who you are for the sake of everyone else.

So when she chooses to try to make the most of this opportunity to make everything right, and to not be the only one holding it all together because her husband is off doing whatever it is he is doing. She goes. She is doing the best she can.

Of course, this ends up with an assasination attempt (and by ends I don’t mean she dies and that’s it) and she’s left alone and in a difficult position in a foreign country, having to figure it out as she goes. This is where she fully shines and the story truly becomes the best. It is once she is out on her own, having to fend for herself and do and be just herself that she shines, that both you as a reader and Tali as her own, slowly chip away at the expectations and find the real Talyien.

The restof the cast is well fleshed and have their own unique characteristics but to explain them, would be to ruin the experience of meeitng them and then finding where they fit in the story. All I can say is that I have a soft spot for Khine.

The book is gritty and has a lot of violence in it. There is also some attempted sexual assault, a lot of gaslighting and abuse. However, this doesn’t retrack from it but rather gives it more depth. And it also has humour to contrast it, at times I was so angry and then suddenly wanting to laugh.

To me, the book was a delight to read but it was also a book that made me angry. It reminded me of how men manipulate capable women for so many reasons, and undermine them. They chip away at them and do their best to destroy them and somehow we still come out alive and victorious. So I was angry and laughing and sad and joyous and I couldn’t stop reading because I needed to know what would happen and if there was hope.

So, do I recommend this book? Yes. But this is NOT a Young Adult book, Tali is an adult, she has a child, she is a Queen, not a princess. Her problems aren’t the ones a YA heroine would encounter, and the whole book is definitely more about older characters and different stages of life.

If you liked The Poppy War, then this may be feel like a great book, as it reminded me a bit fo the feeling I had after reading Poppy War (but they are not the same, this has no Academia side and is more mature, more adult). And it has that same world building magic that Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash have.

And if you follow my reviews, it has the secret ingredient that makes me love a book… grief. (This is a lot less about death of someone and more about loss of identity, about loss in general).

Chilling Effect Review

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

A hilarious, offbeat debut space opera that skewers everything from pop culture to video games and features an irresistible foul-mouthed captain and her motley crew, strange life forms, exciting twists, and a galaxy full of fun and adventure.

Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.

But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.

To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down.

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

Full disclosure, I finished this book last year but because Orbit was publishing in the UK this month, I delayed my review to make it coincide with its birthday week! (Also, I bought my own copy, because seriously, psychic cats in space).

What I had kinda forgotten, was how much Latinx rep this book has which had me in sittches at all the nuance. If you read it not being Latinx, it will be a fun space opera, but knowing the meaning behidn the title chapters and the little phrases Eva keeps throwing when she’s angry or in a pickle, it was really fun.

Basically this book is bonkers and it is exactly the kind of crazy space opera that I haven’t seen or read in a long time and had been missing. It is the throw everything and the kitchen sink in just for good measure but instead of being a complaint about the fact there is so much going on, it is one of the strengths of the book.

Because the thing is that Eva is having so much happening and so many things going on that it is a bit hard to keep moving forward and she’s trying real hard to keep everything a bit sane rather than just unravelling into chaos (which does happen, because life and yeah, poor Eva). There is a lot of crazy, a lot of aliens, not a crazy amount of explaining the world to you (think how you go to Star Wars in a pub and there’s all the species and you have no clue about it but they’re there and you accept it at face value, that’s what it is like in this book). Things are and you just go along, and suddenly as you move through the book you go “oh wait, this thing, previously it was there and it was like part of it, but now it means something, I understand better”.

And there are the psychic cats, with the “boss” cat being called Mala which basically means Bad so it was real fun to have them in the mix (I want one).

All in all, if you like space opera with a lot of crazy, lot of drama and one thing after the other so you’re left with a “what now?” then definitely give this a go!

Chaotic Good Review

Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious.

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px Grey

Nikki recommended this book to me and somehow that turned out well for her because she joined out DnD gorup! (I am definitely chaotic good, I used to think I was lawful good but I struggle with the lawful part, woops).

Also kudos to only having dice that camouflage in the picture when you’re trying to use them as props.

The book was fun and made me want to go play another session with our group (best part is that it includes some “comic” pages about their campaigns), but it also shows some of the elitism and preconceptions from nerds to outsiders.

For starters, it tackles the whole “if you wear dresses and take care of your image and worry about makeup, you’re not a legit nerd” thought. But it also shows how trying to keep a persona can be costly and it is hard keeping up with what you said and didn’t say and to whom you said it.

There is, obviously, a lot of DnD fun, a lot of talk about cosplay and making of the items (dresses, props, etc), and about blogging and just general interactions online with communities that are fans of something.

I enjoyed reading it but it isn’t really the style of book for me and I just didn’t feel it deeply to say to everyone to go read it. But if you like Geekerella and/or like DnD, you should give this a go and enjoy the fun and shenanigans!

Realm of Ash Review

Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri

The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. A terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon. The only hope for peace lies in the mysterious realm of ash, where mortals can find what they seek in the echoes of their ancestors’ dreams. But to walk there requires a steep price.

Arwa is determined to make the journey. Widowed by a brutal massacre, she’s pledged service to the royal family and will see that pledge through to the end. She never expected to be joined by Zahir, the disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden magic in a desperate bid to save those he loves.

Together, they’ll walk the bloody path of their shared past. And it will call into question everything they’ve ever believed…including whether the Empire is worth saving at all.

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

How do you write a review for a book like this? Realm of Ash is the follow up (not exactly a sequel, but it does happen after) of Empire of Sand which I loved so much that it got me to draw again and do some fan art, into which I have spent countless hours because it needs to be as good as what I felt reading the book.

In Realm we follow Arwa as she joins a house for widows who do not want or can’t be a burden to their families. She is young and has survived a massacre. But she is also smart, conflicted and full of anger.

This book starts with strong women making the most in a society that doesn’t alway realise their value. And despite them having a limited way of doing things, the resourcefulness is amazing.

However, the main thing for me was how much Arwa fights against her Amithri blood and heritage, because she has been brought up to think it is tainted and foul. And the deeper she delves into this secret heritage and uses it as she attempts to help Zahir and the “heir” side they are meant to be helping, the more she realises that it was just convenient lies to trap her, and limit her, to rob her of who she is and could be.

That was a stunning thing to read as she moves through her anger and then fear and everything that comes as they desperately want to save the Empire (and how much she is conflicted internally as she finds that what the Imperial family wants isn’t the same as what is best for the Empire).

It is also a book full of court (empire in this case) politics, the complexity of families and relationships in general, and the power of hope. It is about identity, and about loss and grief (we already established books with grief in them are kinda my thing). And it is incredibly powerful.

As such, the book is hard to review without spoilers because it is so good but also to explain it in detail would be to rob those of the discovery and delight of it. All I can do is let you know that I loved it, and I will read anything Tasha writes because I need to, she has my readership through and through.

Day 115 on an Alien World Review

Day 115 on an Alien World by Jeannette Bedard

Someone needs to be alive to call for help.

A dishonourable discharge left Margo unable to find honest work on Earth. Signing onto a colonizing mission heading to a new world promised a fresh start. Or at least that’s what she’d thought.
Strapped into a crashing colony ship, she realized how wrong she’d been.
They hit the ground and the straight forward colonizing mission becomes a scramble for survival. Accidents keep happening—too many to blame on random bad luck. A trail of evidence leads Margo to a startling conclusion—one of her fellow colonists is a saboteur.
Tomorrow is the colony’s first communications window with Earth and their only chance to send a message home.

Will Margo stop the saboteur before it’s too late?

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

I was approached by Jeannette a while ago about this book because my twitter header made her think of her heroine. This immediately made me want to read the book, so she sent me a copy (very thankful for it).

I took my sweet time to read through this book and I am so sorry for this! (Sometimes I pause books and struggle to get back to them, not that I have a problem with the book but my mind kinda thinks I should start over and at the same time, not).

Anyway, to the actual review. Day 115 on an alien world introduces us to Margo who is definitely an interesting and nuanced character (I really liked her, the more she explores around and meets the rest of the “crew” the more I liked her). And I ended up having this image of her just as my drawing did, which made her feel even more real.

It is a nice space opera with a well paced who dunnit mystery that keeps you wondering who is behind all the things happening and why. But there is also the element of being somewhere that isn’t home.

To me it was a little bit of Prey (the Bethesda game), with some Elizabeth Moon space adventure (less political) and other interesting elements. I liked the interesting aspect of them needing to be a “married” couple to be able to populate the new world (but also, there seems to be this “wanting it to fail” undercurrent in it). And I liked how Gary understands that the arranged marriage with Margo is for both, their ticket into the program, but that it may suit both of them to do their own thing and just keep appearances.

There was a lot of science in this book too (some adapted, but also, some interesting approaches) which is part of why I kept pausing the book. I kept getting distracted by the ideas in it, and it reminded me a little of the mix of science int fiction that Anne McCaffrey does and I have loved so much.

The book relies on having good characters to move the plot along (because it is a small space and there defintiely seems to be a saboteur in the program), which it did well, as the characters have layers and depth.

All in all an interesting space opera mystery. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Smoke and Key Review

Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton

A sound awakens her. There’s darkness all around. And then she’s falling…

She has no idea who or where she is. Or why she’s dead. The only clue to her identity hangs around her neck: a single rusted key. This is how she and the others receive their names—from whatever belongings they had when they fell out of their graves. Under is a place of dirt and secrets, and Key is determined to discover the truth of her past in order to escape it.

She needs help, but who can she trust? Ribbon seems content in Under, uninterested in finding answers. Doll’s silence hints at deep sorrow, which could be why she doesn’t utter a word. There’s Smoke, the boy with a fierceness that rivals even the living. And Journal, who stays apart from everyone else. Key’s instincts tell her there is something remarkable about each of them, even if she can’t remember why.

Then the murders start; bodies that are burnt to a crisp. After being burned, the dead stay dead. Key is running out of time to discover who she was—and what secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden—before she becomes the next victim…

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px Grey

Smoke and Key was one of those “this book sounds interesting, could be a total flop, but it may also be good”. So I bought it at YALC. And for some odd reason I decided it’d be a good variety to the rest of the books I took with me for our honeymoon.

It was a quick read, easy to read, doesn’t require much thinking even though there’s a lot Key doesn’t know and a lot to try to puzzle out in this Under world. But the story takes you along, not in a condescending way but just with Key to learn as she does.

The world of Under got interesting and then it gets a little bit weird, specially as Key keeps remembering more and more and things start to connect between Under and Key’s life before she died.

I liked the concept that an item you were buried with was the thing that “defined” you and how “Under” had adapted to this odd fate, until Key arrives and can’t adapt or rather her memories won’t really her do so.

The rest of the characters are somewhat fleshed out and at first feel very bare bones but as memories come back and things get slowly revealed, they become better fleshed out (some never do, but oh well, the main ones kind of do).

Coming to the ending was interesting as I had no clue what to expect from this book. And it somehow left me feeling like it had ended well, despite being a bit of a “how did this all happen? Magic? Magic!” but it was exactly the type of book I kinda expected it to be in the good way. It passed the time, didn’t require a lot of thought and engagement to keep up with it, and it was interesting with an ending that left me pleased and not angry at the book.