[Review] The Bitter Twins, by Jen Williams

❧ Title: The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame #2)
❧ Author: Jen Williams
❧ Publisher: Headline
❧ Publication date: 8th March 2018
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
The Ninth Rain has fallen, the Jure’lia have returned, and with Ebora a shadow of its former self, the old enemy are closer to conquering Sarn than ever.

Tormalin the Oathless and the Fell-Witch Noon have their hands full dealing with the first war-beasts to be born in Ebora for nearly three hundred years. But these are not the great mythological warriors of old; hatched too early and with no link to their past lives, the war-beasts have no memory of the many battles they have fought and won, and no concept of how they can possibly do it again. The key to uniting them, according to the scholar Vintage, may lie in a part of Sarn no one really believes exists, but finding it will mean a dangerous journey at a time of war…

Meanwhile, Hestillion is trapped on board the corpse moon, forced into a strange and uneasy alliance with the Jure’lia queen. Something terrifying is growing up there, in the heart of the Behemoth, and the people of Sarn will have no defence against these new monsters

34382847When it’s time for a new Jen Williams book, I know it’s also time that I start finding absolutely any excuse to read. Time slipped-in wherever it will fit, reading on my phone and my Kindle and over lunch, while working out–any time I find to open the app and read, read, read. And it happens systematically, because Williams’ books are systematically good. Except not good – but amazing. Between her talent for fantastical enemies and high-rising stakes, her real and multi-layered characters, and the sheer amount of fun her books are, Williams has long been one of my favourite authors. It began with The Copper Promise, and each time she writes a new book, she continues to deliver.

The brilliant thing is that Williams ticks all the  boxes without even trying. When I pick up a Jen Williams book, I already know what I’m going to find. Witty, enjoyable banter between “party members”? Check. Fantastic monsters and/or bad-tempered gods? Check. High-fantasy stakes with humour, adventure, and heart? Triple check. Diversity…? Check.

Between queer rep standing squarely on the stage next to the straight romances and a (queer) black female main character, it seems that Williams understands perfectly that fantasy’s days of being straight, white and overbearingly masculine (in a toxic fashion, at least) are numbered. This isn’t new: we had diversity throughout The Copper Cat trilogy and, knowing Williams’ view of so-called Golden Age male “power fantasy”, it was very unlikely we’d see a back-pedal from this in her latest trilogy. Straight off the bat (ha! Literally, if you’re Noon) in The Ninth Rain we had inclusion on the page, and this is only continued as we move into The Bitter Twins, the middle book of the trilogy.

After the heated, twist of a climax at the end of The Ninth Rain, we’re dropped straight back into the action, introduced to the legendary war beasts that fell from the dead-tree god’s boughs. With the Jure’lia waking, their queen revealing herself, and the threat of yet another war on the horizon, the stakes are set high within the first few pages of the book. Between a more centre-stage role for Hestillion, her fate now seemingly in the hands of the enemy, and the new dynamics between war-beast and rider, there is never a dull moment as the story continues to unfold; the pacing fits well with this, really giving the impression that we are now at war. Though the conflict may just be beginning and there is much to be addressed, The Bitter Twins delivers chunks of high-adrenalin, high-stakes action, intermingled with moments of calm (albeit sometimes fraught with tension and conflict), where our heroes are given change to grow and think and react to the developing war.

And the war will happen, whether Ebora and the war beasts and the rest of the world is ready or not. But how can they be ready, with only a few war-beasts given up by the tree-god’s boughs and the Jure’lia and no fighting force to really speak of? Ebora has been a stumbling, fading ghost for far too long and few enough of them remain at all, let alone in the state to fight. It was always the war beasts before, and without them, the future seems uncertain.

A seed of hope presents itself in the form of a lost artefact made by one of Ebora’s greatest minds, but the problem with lost artefacts is the time needed to find said relic. Time of is of the essence, but still they must try, setting off on a mad journey to what seems like the edge of the world. The path is fraught with danger and with their forces split, Tor and Noon must hurry as best they can. Will they find the answers they seek, or only more questions?

Meanwhile, as Hestillion figures out how to survive, laying in the bed she’s made herself, Aldasair and Bern embark on a journey of their own, leaving the heart of Ebora undefended. With chaos unfolding and the future uncertain, there may be more than just the danger of the Jure’lia for our heroes to face, since in times of war and hardship, is when people show their true colours.

As expected, The Bitter Twins doesn’t disappoint in the least, easily hitting that sweet-spot of a trilogy’s second book whilst delivering well-paced action, hilarious banter, and ever-growing stakes that make for an exhilarating ride. It seems with each book, Williams just keeps getting better. The bar is set very high for The Poison Song, the third and final book of the Winnowing Flame trilogy, but if every other book Williams has written is anything to go by, you know that she’s going to sail over that bar and fly off on dragonback, cackling into the sunset.

Just read everything Jen Williams has ever written.  She is honestly just bloody fantastic.
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Daughter of the Burning City, by Amanda Foody

❧ Title: Daughter of the Burning City
❧ Author: Amanda Foody
❧ Publisher: Harlequin Teen
❧ Publication date: 27th July 2017
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.
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daughter of the burning city❝In A Nutshell❞
✎ A circusy freak show with a twist, instead of the crappy and pretty offensive kind that is generally overused and crap.
✎ A girl with no eyes who can see and also has anxiety who also is really amazing and relatable.
✎ A demisexual or grey ace (definitely one of the two) love interest who doesn’t change himself to fit with the notion of a “normal” (heavily sarcastic use of the word intended) YA bookish romance but who is allowed to be himself throughout and who is also soft and not macho and yes thank gods!
✎ Magic and secrets and betrayal – basically all the usual good stuff backed up and fleshed out with characters that are diverse and a world that, for all we get only a small glimpse into it, is rich and vivid and exciting to be in.
✎ Diverse ☒ (bisexual MC, queer side characters, a demisexual or grey ace character; not a cast of just whiter than white folks)

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❝What I loved❞
✎ Honestly, the answer is: everything. From a positive and absolutely not judgmental approach to “promiscuity” to a boy who is actually less strong than our female protagonist, this whole book just sang for me. I adored every part of it, from Foody’s writing to the setting to the characters – Daughter of the Burning City is just magical and wonderful and utterly absorbing. It was difficult to stop reading. As a bonus, it was beautifully narrated, which only added to the experience!
✎ I’m a sucker for circuses (not the animal kind) and performing acts and the theatre and all of that jazz, do Daughter of the Burning City was just like catnip for me. I’d been hyped about this book for ages and was so excited to finally read it. It did not disappoint. The pacing was delicious and the story was exactly everything I’d hoped it would be. There is nothing that I love more than magic and circuses and all the people that call the circus home. It was wonderful to see queer characters so starkly and brightly on the page and especially pleasing to read about Luca, who is highly relatable. It’s not often that I find guys in books to relate to, so when I do and they’re written so well… well, it’s nice, okay.
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❝What I didn’t love❞
✎ Minor, minor spoiler (so don’t finish the sentence if you haven’t read or mind spoilers!), but I wish that it hadn’t been the character who is very open with sex and sleeping casually around that got killed. It made it better that, in no way, was she killed because of her openness or was she made to seem promiscuous at any point, buuuuut she still dies and it still sucks.

[Geeking With Spoons] Spoonie Convention Guide: Part 2

Once the lists are done, most of what remains in that area is to work through them. Easier said than done when there are ~8 different lists to work through and tick off each item. Sure, some things that can be ticked off are as simple as putting each thing in a bag and crossing it happily off. Others (such as the chores list and food prep list) are more complicated and likely won’t all be completed until the last minute (in that there will be some things to do on Wednesday night (e.g. food for the train), which is basically last minute – but which can be prepared for in advance all the same!). The same can be said for packing the actual suitcase and bags (especially the travel bag).

So that leaves a week(ish). The con is on Thursday, travelling at around midday, so even the last bits and pieces can be slipped into the travel bag on the morning. Most of what remains to do between now and say, Wednesday, is rest as much as possible. Okay, so that’s what I should do and that’s what I would advise any spoonie to do. But then not every spoonie is a bundle of ADHD and OCD energy who absolutely has no idea to stay still and will get very, very stressed by the notion of doing just that. Instead, I’ll do my best in the coming days to control my time and to balance my energy between doing the things that need doing, and making sure I don’t do too much. It’s … a very shaky balance, I’ll admit.

So. Here’s how the now-until-Wednesday-night will actually go.

I’ll work through the lists slowly (trying to get any chores out of the way first, so as to better be able to organise at least some of my energy) as well as planning the convention itself. It’s helpful that there’s a schedule online so I can at least try to figure out where I’ll be, doing what and when, but also so I can make sure to at least try and pace myself. This is another thing I’m pretty terrible at. I honestly don’t know how to pace myself, even though I see other spoonies doing it (or at least talking about it) all the time. Maybe a lot of that comes from the neurodiversity I have going on, but hey, maybe I’ll still figure it out one day.

So in the days running up to a con, what things do I absolutely need to make sure I do?

1) Keep the routine as normal as possible 
Not all spoonies need this, but I certainly do. Being neurodiverse the way I am, routine is oh-so very important to me. I tend to thrive with a routine and fall apart without one. My routine is quite strict, from the time I get up to when I go to bed. Meals and work time and even downtime is scheduled, however loosely. It’s hard doing things this way, being a spoonie and always essentially trying to do so much–but them’s the rules and I don’t make ’em. Starting today, however, Chez Cristea has officially flipped over to “Holiday Mode”, which essentially means doing different things to working during the same, and a looser schedule around what gets done, when. Since Nine Worlds begins on the Thursday and there’s only the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to deal with, which means there was no real point in not declaring “Holiday Mode” a few days early: it gives me the time to at least try and pace, or, in the very least, not go so hard at it when trying to prep.

2) Not think too much about being at the convention
Maybe this is just me, but for the most part, my anxiety absolutely can’t handle me thinking about being there. Last year I surpassed by own expectations by going to a few panels and actually leaving the room. This might sound like a pretty low bar for a convention, but hey, I’ve learned to go easy on myself and not to expect more from myself than I’m able to give. I am absurdly socially anxious, don’t know how to “people”, and have a lot of issues about being with and even around people. So, I don’t think about the being there, until I’m actually there. Planning the schedule notwithstanding, of course.

But this also stands in regards to not worrying about being at the con in a sense of activities and pain levels and additional fatigue brought on by travel and all the related things of actually being disabled/sick whilst trying to do something. There’s not a lot of point thinking about the stress and the additional fatigue and pain that is usually triggered by actually doing something, when that something isn’t yet being done. So, until the bags touch down in the hotel room on Thursday, I have no intention of thinking about being at the con, or what I will or won’t be able to do. It saves a lot of spoons, that way!

3) Prepare for amped up pain levels
Whether I do or don’t take it easy before travelling on Thursday, I absolutely run the risk of a mini-flare up of symptoms, brought on by the background anxiety of the upcoming stress and fuss and everything. Not thinking about being at the con doesn’t mean that my subconscious doesn’t worry about it. So I need to be aware that the pain might be worse between now and Thursday, and I need to try and plan for that, so that it doesn’t get in the way and make the planning and preparation even harder. I need to be ready for anxiety and insomnia on Wednesday night. It’s pretty difficult to be ready for anxiety, since all the prep in the world won’t really make a difference, but at least if I’m aware that it may be a thing, it won’t take me by surprise. The potential insomnia is easier to prepare for, though, so that’s at least a plus.

4) Don’t skip out on any single thing on the list and spread them all out in advance
The list is there for a reason: it’s a little gift from Past Leo to Future Leo. It will make everything easier, even if it seems arbitrary and dull and too detailed. It isn’t. It is all essential and it’s boring and I’ll be grateful for not having to think later, when I’m stressed and anxious and hurting (more than usual). If I leave everything until the last minute, I’ll be flaring before I even know it and already I’m at a disadvantage. Bad idea. The lists are your friend, Leo.

[Friday Flash Review] Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

❧ Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
❧ Author: Laini Taylor
❧ Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
❧ Publication date: 27th September 2011
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦.5
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Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
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daughter of smoke and bone❝In A Nutshell❞
✎ Angels and demons (chimera)–and ne’er the twain shall meet! (Except they do and they hate one another and they fight.) A big, very old war between angels and demons that is about to get far worse and drag old wounds and memories to the surface.
✎ A blue-haired girl who has hamsas on her hands and trades in wishes and works for a monster in a shop. She draws monsters in her sketchbooks and speaks more languages than she should. She has a sense that there’s a secret within her, only she’s not sure she ever wants to know.
✎ The supply of wishes that the monster peddles is running dangerously low–a valued and valuable currency–and its up to the blue-haired Karou to do something about the dwindling supply. But as she sets out on what appears to be a normal errand, she has no idea that she’d about to find out more than she ever expected about who she truly is. Or, perhaps, who she was.
✎ An angel who once loved a chimera and who still loves her even after she was executed by her own people for their love.
✎ Diverse 🚫 (unfortunately, nope)
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❝What I loved❞
✎ The chimera and their differences; so many different races/species of chimera, some more monstrous than others.
✎ Wishes as currency and with different “value” and potency: not all wishes are equal or cost the same amount. Some are tiny wishes that cost practically nothing, whilst others are as valuable as gold or silver and are far harder to spend.
✎ The setting, the world, the everything. Taylor’s writing is perfect and poetic and wonderful. The audiobooks were beautifully narrated, too, which was a bonus.
✎ Zuzana!!
✎ Prague, Poison Kitchen, and Zuzana!
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❝What I didn’t love❞
✎ No diversity. Boo.

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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: Strange The Dreamer, also by Laini Taylor, or The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Taylor’s latest duology, of which Strange The Dreamer is the first, is as magical as the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, telling the story of a librarian and the leftover children of the gods. The Raven Cycle combines the same sometimes-whimsical strangeness with a story that has been taking place for centuries, with the search for the tomb of a dead Welsh king.

[Geeking With Spoons] Spoonie Convention Guide: Part 1

geeking with spoons
For most people (those whose lives aren’t governed, one way or another, by spoons), the planning involved in convention prep is relatively minor (especially if you’re not traveling super far or cosplaying, etc – and even then, it’s not totally exhausting). Perhaps you’ll browse the con schedule and decide which events and/or panels you want to attend, make lists so as not to forget any essentials (toothpaste! pants! tickets!) and maybe even buy mini pots to reduce the bulk of shampoo and shower gel, etc. I need to do all those things, too, but they’re not what comes first. Not even close.
planning noteThe very first thing I, as a spoonie, need to do when preparing for a convention, is make a list of everything I need to plan. That’s right: before I can even start with the prep, I need to prep my prep. If I don’t, chances are that I’ll forget something. Whilst that amorphous something might be relatively minor–such as a phone charger, which can be easily purchased near to the con, or a forgotten toiletry that can also be casually sourced–it might also wind up being prescription painkillers which absolutely cannot be purchased from the nearest Boots, or even something as essential as a wrist support or crutches. (Trust me: rushing out the house to get into the taxi, in my wheelchair and laden with bags, does not lend itself to remembering to shrink down crutches and stuff them into a bag–and you never know when the additional walking aid might be needed to cross from bed to bathroom in a hotel.)
So there are three reasons that I need to plan my prep. One is that there is a lot of it. The second is that I have so much going on mentally/physically everyday, that I’m liable to forget something. My type of ADD makes me hyperfocused and my OCD can make me need to do some things right there and then or in a certain order, otherwise… Well, the only otherwise is that it feels very, very wrong and bad and not good. Not all spoonies have these issues to deal with,  but they more than likely have the brain fog and forgetfulness, or just lack of spoons with which to get everything done. This brings us to the third. Energy. When you’re a spoonie, everything takes energy and that means planning and preparing and thinking. Without pre planning, there’s the risk that I’ll start flaring or I’ll be low on spoons out of nowhere, and suddenly those tiny tasks become mountains.
I’m not generally very good at planning. I like to think I am, but I find sitting still and planning pretty difficult, compared with just doing the thing. planning note 2I’ll be the one saying “oh, we can pack in the morning! We’ll have time!”. This was true, once. Before I became disabled and before everything that used to make sense, no longer did. Before brain fog and constant fatigue and pain. Now, we absolutely do not have the time to pack last minute.
So it comes down to lists! Lists of things that need doing, lists of things that need packing, and lists of miscellaneous tasks that need attending to one way or another. Micro lists are the way to go. Anything else and my energy gets drained just thinking about everything that needs doing, and I will end up half-assing everything because I’m already so done. 
 
So the first list is going to look something like this:
  • Write chores list
  • Write packing list
  • Write convention food plan, and subsequent food prep list required
  • Write travel bag list
  • Write list of medication and therapy aids required (supports or ear plugs, etc)
  • Plan food for Wednesday night, Thursday morning and Monday afternoon/evening
  • Write spending budget for convention
  • Pencil in convention schedule, leaving space for meals and rest 
It’s basically a list of all the lists that need writing, or things that need planning. This way, I can work through doing one thing at a time, or, if I get tired of one line of thought, can easily skip to start on another. By not leaving anything left unplanned, I’m not going to be anxious about packing and forgetting something or being too tired to cook.
nine worlds with spoonsThis system is a result of always having forgotten something before, or having forgotten to take into account something that I’m then kicking myself for after. I don’t want to spend money on usually gross takeout food when I get home and need rest, just because I neglected to anticipate how tired and broken I would be after a convention and the stress and travel involved. It’s always something I know, on an unconscious level, but I tend to get swept up by things and forget that I’m incapable of doing all this stuff with no payback. Chronic illness sucks and it doesn’t go away, but you’d be surprised how easily the things you’ve known for years can still get the jump on you. The OCD and ADD don’t help with that, since I am always doing more than I probably should/safely can, but hey, that’s another topic altogether.
So stage one is done (or it will be, once I write these lists down on paper in a way that feels tangible and I can interact with), and close behind that, is actually working through the lists and writing down everything that’s required. It already feels like so much to do, and that sucks, but this is literally what any expedition feels like when you’re disabled and chronically ill.
Here’s hoping that the con will be worth the stress and spoons, exacerbated pain and, finally, the inevitable payback!

Shattered Minds, by Laura Lam [Pacifica #2]

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❧ Title: Shattered Minds (Pacifica #2)
❧ Author: Laura Lam
❧ Publisher: Pan MacMillan/Tor UK
❧ Publication date: 15th June 2017
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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She can uncover the truth, if she defeats her demons
Ex-neuroscientist Carina struggles with a drug problem, her conscience, and urges to kill. She satisfies her cravings in dreams, fuelled by the addictive drug ‘Zeal’. Now she’s heading for self-destruction – until she has a vision of a dead girl.
Sudice Inc. damaged Carina when she worked on their sinister brain-mapping project, causing her violent compulsions. And this girl was a similar experiment. When Carina realizes the vision was planted by her old colleague Mark, desperate for help to expose the company, she knows he’s probably dead. Her only hope is to unmask her nemesis – or she’s next.
To unlock the secrets Mark hid in her mind, she’ll need a group of specialist hackers. Dax is one of them, a doctor who can help Carina fight her addictions. If she holds on to her humanity, they might even have a future together. But first she must destroy her adversary – before it changes us and our society, forever.
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❝In A Nutshell❞
shattered minds✎ A female Dexter makes imaginary kills in a virtual world in order to quell the urges that tell her to spill blood outside of the Zealscapes and her dreams, whilst trying to both lose herself in a drug addiction and rewrite the code to take back control of her brain after she was programmed against her will and her life fell apart.
✎ A group of cyber hackers who are trying to bring down a corrupt corporation without getting caught or killed in the process.
✎ Brain-hacking scary funtimes and corrupt, evil scientists.

✎ Diverse ☒ (race, gender, queerness – not only there on the page with the main cast and surrounding, but literally normalised all over the page and everywhere)

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❝What I loved❞
✎ One of the things I love best about Lam’s Pacifica books is the technology. Sometimes sci-fi writers get stuck in our own century without thinking far enough or deep enough and the tech is completely wrong–it’s not been pushed far enough. Our tech is already pretty advanced; our sci-fi tech has to push that whilst still being something lived every day by the characters and cast and not tech that is solely relevant to the plot. Lam does this in her sleep and the effect is a world you can see and imagine existing in.
✎ Every character has a well-developed personality that shines through, even when Carina is involved. Someone like Carina could so easily have become the only character on the page, whilst those around her faded into the background. This absolutely does not happen. The Trust are richly-developed, diverse and readable. Carina’s changing relationship with them is expertly-rendered and not once does Lam bend Carina in one way or another to make her interactions with her companions less awkward and more “sociable”.
✎ Everything? Absolutely everything, from the diverse rep to the awkward-but-wonderful romance that builds throughout the book. If possible, I loved this book even more than False Hearts and that’s saying a lot. The writing is compelling, aided by the choice of narrative voice, and Shattered Minds is just impossible to put down. There are a thousand stories that could take place in Pacifica and I want to read them all. There’s so much potential in this setting and Lam has built a world in which she could spend her whole life exploring and still find a new story to tell, some new and terrifying technology or concept to twist and mess with. So far, each Pacifica book feels like a single episode to form part of an overarching saga, where some threads might weave and cross and tangle, but every story exists on its own page.
✎ I don’t read that much sci-fi–but it’s not for lack of trying/wanting to. I just find it very difficult to connect to a lot of sci-fi that I come across. If it’s YA it’s dystopia (which isn’t my thing) and if it’s regular SFF it usually feels like it’s trying to be Grimdark In Space (again, not my thing). Aside from that, sci-fi usually just seems to lack any of the things I look for in a book: relatable characters, diverse characters, character-driven plot. The Pacifica books are thrillers-dressed-as-scifi (or scifi-dressed-as-thrillers – whichever way you roll) and even in spite of how the plot is the driving force, they appear character driven.
✎ The prose of Shattered Minds was exciting and very fitting. It was my first outing with this tense of narrative–and it worked perfectly. It’s hard to imagine the book having been written any other way, fitting the book so easily and well that, even if I was a little surprised by it at first, since it read very differently to False Hearts, I’m excited to see if any further books in the Pacifica series will be similar. Shattered Minds is a clever and slick-as-hell novel that is every bit as thrilling as its predecessor.
✎ There was absolutely nothing to slow this book down; the pacing was on point, the characters were alive on the page and even the plot falls so close to something that could be in our own futures that we really feel the stakes.
✎ All in all, Shattered Minds is an absolutely stellar installment of the Pacific series, effortlessly blending sci-fi with thriller to deliver an unstoppable story that is every bit as gripping as it is awesome as hell (who doesn’t want to root for hackers against the cold-ass, evil scientists and the corporation they embody?). Absolutely one of my favourite books this year so far. Lam needs to write more of these books.

[Friday Flash Review] The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie

Untitled-1❧ Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
❧ Author: Emily Skrutskie
❧ Publisher: Flux
❧ Publication date: February 8th 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea

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the abyss surrounds us❝In A Nutshell❞

 

✎ Pirates! Sea monsters trained to defend against pirate attacks, bred for purpose and trained hands-on by a single person they bond with. Cas is taken captive by a pirate queen and told to raise the Reckoner pup she somehow managed to steal, or die. Cas is forced to choose between loyalty and her life.

✎ Broken social/political system across oceans and floating cities where the pirates so very obviously aren’t just The Bad Guys else why would this book have been written come on.

✎ Diverse ☒ (biracial MC, sexuality, f/f romance – not #ownvoices afaik)

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❝What I loved❞

✎ The Reckoners are amazing. Everyone says “Pacific Rim” when you mention sea monsters, but I didn’t like Pacific Rim but so this was much better. The relationship between Cas and the Reckoner pup is intriguing and also pretty fun to read. This book is fun in the best sense of the word. It is exciting and I’d have happily read another hundred or so pages, so it was a little disappointing that it was so short (under 300 pages for the ppb ed).

✎ The careful way the potential romance is handled, in the possibly-problematic situation of Swift and Cas definitely not being equals on the ship and Cas, in fact, being a prisoner. It makes it fairly difficult for the two to have a clear and easy romance, but they do manage and even though a lot is held back on both sides, there’s still enough romance on the page for it to not feel entirely frustrating. The romance is hate-to-love, which can be a little “oh my god get on with it; pick one!” but the initial attraction here really shows that the eventual romance doesn’t just spring out of nowhere: what holds them back more than anything else is the odd power dynamic (captor/captive) and their own views of one another.

✎ The Reckoners. They are everything. But so is a Chinese American MC who is also queer. The cover is also so good.

✎ The fact that it’s pretty clear there’s much more to the world than the black-and-white version we see through Cas’ narrative and the suggestion that we’ll get to see more of this develop in the second part The Edge Of The Abyss.
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❝What I didn’t love❞

✎ Cas’ absolute loyalty at first and her determination to take the pill and end her life instead of being taken by the pirates just… it doesn’t work for me. I’m never really a fan of the theme of people putting things like keeping what amounts to trade secrets higher than their own lives, and, whilst I get that it’s how Cas has been raised, I like people to call out BS like that internally and realise how brainwashing it is. Eh, maybe I just don’t like authority in situations like this, so the whole “if you’re captured, you must sacrifice yourself!” my first reaction is “why?” followed by “hell, no”. Maybe it comes from me being the kind of person to question absolutely everything ever, ever, ever who knows.

✎ Not really something I didn’t like, but I wish, wish, wish this book had been longer because I enjoyed it so much and wanted more.

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❝If you liked this…❞

…then you might also like: Zenn Scarlet, by Christian Schoon, which is kind of similar-ish with the theme of the “monsters” and a girl who’s really good at what she does. The sequel Under Nameless Stars is not recommended as highly, however, since it honestly bored me rigid and was so much worse than the first book I didn’t even buy it after reading and reviewing the ARC. But! Zenn Scarlett can definitely be enjoyed as a standalone, so go ahead!