Review: The Dragon with a Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Series: Tales from the Chocolate Heart #2
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 1681196972
ISBN 13: 9781681196978
Published: August 2018
Pages: 240
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Related Review: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Tales from the Chocolate Heart #1)

We return to the Chocolate Heart, the best chocolate shop in the kingdom of Drachenburg, however where the first book followed our favourite young dragon, Aventurine, this time we follow her friend, Silke. Silke, who also works for the chocolate shop (when she’s not helping her older brother at the small stall they have) who has a silver tongue and could either be an excellent media mogul or perhaps a conwoman… however, she is soon hired by the royal family instead.

When Silke first came to Drachenburg it was as an orphan. She and her brother had been travelling with their parents and a caravan of others when they had to cross a forest that was known for mysterious and terrible things… but they were desperately fleeing their home, so they enter anyway. And Silke never saw her parents again, and now lives on the riverbank in a tent that gets burned down every so often (the people of Drachenburg really do seem awful). So when Silke finds a better paying job in the Chocolate Heart (as we saw in the first book) she’s overjoyed (especially as hot chocolate is amazing generally, but even moreso when made by Marina and Aventurine) but even she can’t say no when the royal family offer her a challenge that, if she were to succeed, would result in her having a home within the castle walls forever.

The only problem is… it’s to do something quite terrifying. And means Silke will have to confront her past and her parents disappearance… something she hasn’t spoken about with anyone. Not even Aventurine.

In this book we get to see more of the royal family – the highly intelligent and ruthless older princess Katrin, as well as her younger sister who wants to be valued far more than she currently is, Sofia. We get to see other races in this world other than dragons, and we basically get nothing but excellent female characters getting things done, no matter what their age is.

This is a fun, middle-grade romp of an adventure. It’s sweet and sassy, and it reaaaally makes you want a super thick hot chocolate while you read.

Review: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

Published by: Macmillan – Tor/Forge
ISBN: 1250294711
ISBN 13: 9781250294715
Published: August 2018
Pages: 110
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

The Black God’s Drums is a novella by P. Djèlí Clark, and features an alternative history America where the events of the American Civil War have been slightly changed and the States are not as United as they once were. Slavery is still present, but there are key differences, and each state operates to its own rules. Separate to that, there is now steampunk technology and it’s on an airship that our main character, Creeper, wants to escape on and leave New Orleans far, far behind.

Born during a violent storm, Creeper has divine powers curtesy of Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who lives inside her and pulls her this way and that to her own purposes. Such as sending her warning signs or shoving attackers away by force, and in return Creeper is able to be stealthy and move silently, which enables her pickpocket lifestyle as well as being able to hear dangerous things, and eventually, come into close contact with a very dangerous weapon.

Way back when, I tried to be a writer. And I was obsessed with sky pirates (and by extension, their vehicles) – so this was a special kind of high for me. The airship captain is especially a favourite, and I would love a series of her life and loves (please and thank you), as well as a heck of a lot more of this world and the rest of its characters – Creeper goes without saying, and I second my friend Alex’s review mention of the nuns.

This is a powerful and elegantly written novella at only just 100 pages. You have a full world and history in your head, beautifully orchestrated characters, and while this is a satisfying read plot-wise it’s simply too good to leave it there – you’ll need and want more.

Let’s hope we get it.

Review: After the Wedding by Courtney Milan

Series: The Worth Saga #2
Published by: self published
ISBN: 1717220576
ISBN 13: 9781717220578
Published: April 2018
Pages: 364
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

After the Wedding by Courtney Milan is the second in the Worth Saga, following Once Upon a Marquess.

In the first book we met Judith and Christian, and while we meet two of Judith’s four siblings, we only hear about Camilla, who took a spur of the moment opportunity when it presented itself and has then regretted it ever since.

When their father was found guilty for treason Judith became head of the household, and struggled to keep food on the table for her younger brother and sisters. An uncle offered to take Judith and Camilla in, however refused their younger sister, Theresa. Judith then refused, not wanting to leave anyone behind. Camilla, however, scared of the unknown, took the offer thinking it would mean a roof over her head in the very least.

The uncle however passes her on to someone who passes her on, and so forth, until she is basically a servant. And then she gets a little too close to a man who promises her everything yet leaves her ruined… and she is forced to move on again, however now at half pay. She finds herself servant to a rector who is at best a cad and at worst a bounder (sorry, I saw the chance to reference Austentatious and I had to take it) who is sneaking money meant for honourable things into his own pocket.

It is here that Camilla runs into Adrian, a man posing as a valet who is actually there on a mission from his uncle, to try to prove the rector as a disreputable man. However instead, the rector forces Camilla and Adrian into a compromised situation, which then gives him grounds to force them into an actual shotgun wedding, and toss them both out onto the street.

From there we have two people who are growing more and more attracted to each other, who are married so could legally act on these urges, however also want an annulment for the simple fact that it was a shotgun wedding and therefore they had no choice in the matter.

There are some other plot things here and there, but parts weren’t as clear as they could have been and the second quarter of the book dragged so much that it took me months to get through. Then it all picked up again and I finished the last half within an hour, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata & Ginny Tapley Takemori (Translator)

Published by: Grove Press
ISBN: 0802128254
ISBN 13: 9780802128256
Published: June 2018
Pages: 176
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is set in Japan, and follows the life of Keiko Furukura who is 36 years old and has worked at the same convenience store for eighteen years so far, and feels no impulse to change. She’s comfortable there and it’s a safe space – she knows how it operates, what is expected of her, and she’s been there so long that she has a store of responses that sit various situations so she can avoid awkward interactions.

If you’ve been to Japan you’ll know their convenience stores are quite integral. We have 7-11s and similar in other parts of the world but in a konbini (コンビニ) we have a different level of quality all together. Aside from the seasonal items and limited edition specials, you also get very cheap yet high quality fresh-ground coffee, snacks such as sandwiches, gyoza, onigiri and then evena black label premium range, and then there’s also free wifi, free and clean restrooms, and a clean seating area for you to rest or work. It may be menial work but their level of quality and convenience vastly outweighs any other I’ve come across.

This book explores the general view of society in Japan, and how there are only the few main ways one is expected to act and seek to accomplish in life. And how it feels to be on the outside of these norms, feeling that pressure to conform but remaining outside of the scope of normal. As someone who has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s, I was really able to identify with Furukura. Others may see the relentless analysing as exhausting however it’s simply how some environments or situations read. And safe is good. In Japan there may be the expectation to live for your job and while, yes, take pride in your work, somehow this doesn’t stretch to convenience store work.

Really, we should be congratulating those who do any job well. If Furukura feels safe in that job, is happy getting up each day, and earns enough to live the life she wants… that should be enough for her parents and those around her.

Review: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Series: Poison Wars #1
Published by: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765396890
ISBN 13: 9780765396891
Published: July 2018
Pages: 560
Format reviewed: eVersion from Publisher
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

I’m having trouble reading, lately. I love a book and yet I’m constantly distracted from it. This has been quite a month, too, with my dog being attacked by two others and almost losing a leg – a project at work finally finishing but making me such a zombie all I can do is play Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine on repeat. And I had a holiday to Tasmania and then Canberra, and though I always think I’ll read on the plane trips (six, this time), it never happens.

Regardless, City of Lies was a source of great comfort to me throughout the above. It’s not exactly a nice tale – it doesn’t comfort you through fluffy scenes and cozy scenes – it comforts you through being so damn well written and engaging that it warms your soul and revitalises you. If you’re a fan of V. E. Schwab or Robin Hobb’s work go get this book right this second.

I’m always a sucker for character-driven books, and that’s what we have right here. The characters are all varied and interesting, but the plot, too, drives you from scene to scene, and it’s pretty much a murder mystery set in a fantasy world, with the characters trying desperately to find out why their uncles died, and why everyone is trying to kill them. Specially who and why.

The world building is exquisite. There is a sense of history and the turning of religion to science and the heartache this can bring to people. A city is literally torn apart and you get such a sense of the life the city once had. And really, what drives this narrative is the women. The ones who were brave enough to risk their lives to come to the Chancellor and explain. The ignored sister who leaves the safety to take a dangerous trek that has already claimed many lives. And my favourite – the scornful, intelligent, spiritual young woman who loves her mother and brother, and really isn’t afraid to talk bluntly to the chancellor and his advisors.

The other main characters are Tain (the chancellor) and his proofer, Jovan, who has been raised to know all poisons by taste, touch, smell. It’s the job his uncle had before him, and it’s what has taken both the previous chancellor and Jovan’s uncle right at the start of the book, and their murders that they’re hurrying to solve. Jovan’s job should have actually been that of his older sister – Kalina – however thanks to her chronic condition she simply wasn’t strong enough for the job. She makes herself useful in other ways, but the fact Jovan spends every waking moment trying to keep Tain alive, and having it distracted for thinking he also has to be the carer of his sister – who is stronger than he realises – is another driving factor of the book. And as someone with chronic illnesses I couldn’t adore Kalina more, and what she achieves.

I’m writing this review at 75% because I hear that the ending is going to ruin me and want to grab Hawke’s leg, and refuse to let go, allowing myself to be dragged around as I wail and beg to know what happens next. I figured I should write this now while I can still feign coherently.

This book is excellent in its representation of other cultures, same sex relationships, living with chronic disease, living with compulsions, and throughout we see the characters learning from their mistakes and prejudices, accepting same sex couples as literally nothing to remark upon, and supporting and working with people with chronic illnesses or compulsions as if they’re something to work alongside of. One has the compulsion to do everything evenly, and when they’re in a state their closest friends simply ensure they rub both shoulders evenly, as to help calm them rather than set them off even more. It’s really, really lovely to see.

City of Lies is the debut start to what promises to be an excellent series, by Australian Sam Hawke. I also met her briefly at Worldcon Helsinki and she seems incredibly lovely. Go buy this book! I’m going to go and read the final 25% and cry.