18 Oct 2021

#Review: SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin

18 October 0 Comments


Author: Shelby Mahurin
Series: Serpent & Dove #1
Source: Gifted from Indigo Teen
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou's, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou's most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.
Amazon | Chapters | TBD
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from Indigo Teen. This in no way impacts my opinion.

As a way of disclaimer for things that happen in here: It's not graphic in the sense of smut or porn, but there is on screen sex. Which, to me, is pretty surprising in a book labelled in the YA age group. But the main characters are ~18 with a few that are 16.

Honestly, this was a really strong start to a series. I can totally understand why people fawn over it and the book. It had fake relationship (that turned real, obviously). A lot of great magical aspects. And some really interesting twists and turns. The world was fleshed out nicely and the characters sorta developed throughout.

But for me, I wasn't a huge fan of it. It fell directly into the "meh" category for me. I thought that too often, everything that was revealed or done was way too convenient. There were barely any consequences or guessing about who or what was going to come next because everything was too contained.

The book has a really interesting magic system and I liked learning more about it as we saw the characters start to use that magic. But it definitely focused way too much on the main romantic relationship rather than building out the world, the magic, or the other relationships present. I wanted way more about Jean Luc and Reid's "frenemy" relationship. Or more about how the Chassuer world trained and what they did.

There was also a lot of "I'm totally a badass" main character vibes going on and we rarely saw that play out. We got a few glimpses but this book needed more show and less tell for some of these aspects. And because of that, everything started to feel a bit underdeveloped.

Like did I cry over Reid and Lou??? Yeah. But that doesn't make up for the rest of the storyline or how it played out. Because everything was too much of a coincidence. In fact, after the Lou "reveal" I thought sarcastically that there would be another reveal that happened. And it was just a bit disappointing.

TLDR: I really enjoyed this one and thought it was a great start to this series. A lot of cool magical aspects, a good mix of French history, and enough twists to keep me interested. But there was a lot of times things felt too convenient or connected just for the sake of having everything connected. I'll definitely continue since I have the other books but we'll see how this goes!

Have you read this book? Are you going to pick up this series?

15 Oct 2021

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays: PLANET SCUMM Issue #11: Snake Eyes + Interview with Managing Editor Tyler Berd

15 October 0 Comments


Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays introduces readers who are unfamiliar with the Adult SF/F genre to books, authors, and discussions all about the vast expanse of the world of Adult SF/F!
Today is a special post for Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays as I am interviewing Tyler Berd, the managing editor of PLANET SCUMM!

PLANET SCUMM is a tri-annual Science Fiction magazine published by Spark & Fizz Books.

Born out of reverence for the bizarre science fiction magazines of the pulp era, our short story anthologies showcase collections of original fiction by international authors. We cherish the genre as an open forum for philosophy, anxieties, and thought experiments. We are proud to emphasize the central role of artwork in sci-fi and are committed to working with and supporting independent illustrators.

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Guest Editor: Hailey Piper
Series: Planet Scumm Issue #11
Source: Copy from Publisher
Publisher: Spark & Fizz Books
Publication Date: Summer 2021

Snake Eyes (Planet Scumm #11) features eight SFF stories by both exciting up-and-comers and established authors like Lindsay King-Miller (author of Ask a Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life for Girls who Dig Girls) and environmental journalist, Sim Kern. Stories of star ghosts, love in the time of climate catastrophe, childbirth in space, and more fascinating flights of imagination await the lucky reader. 

Submissions for this issue of Planet Scumm were limited to authors who are femme, nonbinary, and/or trans. A guest editorial team helmed by horror novelist Hailey Piper curated this stellar collection of SFF.  All stories were lovingly illustrated by Maura McGonagle, who also did the sunshiney cover art. While staying true to the pulpy roots of the magazine, this issue lives in its own aesthetic space that merges humor and heartbreak, prophecy and dreamscapes, plant zombies in outer space and a cephalopodic sorority sister. The book spans eight fully formed narrative voices as they take us through the past, the future, and the eternal. 
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this issue and chose to review it. This in no way impacts my opinion.

Truthfully, I receive a lot of requests for reviews, especially for Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays. But none of them have positively impacted me the way that Planet Scumm's Issue #11 have. This was such a unique collection of stories, curated by a guest editor Hailey Piper. I already know that I want to read the rest of the issues and subscribe to this magazine.

A unique look at speculative fiction, each story brought something different and interesting to the genre. Too often I find myself thinking "okay but I've read this already" when I read short stories, but these all felt so different from one another - and from anything I had ever read before.

I so thoroughly enjoyed A DEFIANCE OF VIOLINS by Ana Gardner that looked at what happens if we have brain implants - and how we can resist what is given to us rather than what we can create. I wanted so much more from this (and so many other) stories, but I also felt satisfied while reading them all.

If you are looking for a new and fresh take on this genre, but want to dip your toes in, I highly recommend picking up a copy of PLANET SCUMM! (Or you can enter the giveaway below!)

Describe Planet Scumm in 10 words or less.

Tyler Berd: Stellar source for mind-stretching, lovingly-illustrated, pulp science fiction.

What has been the most inspiring piece submitted to Planet Scumm for the most recent issue? Overall?

Tyler Berd: We publish a fair amount of doom and gloom, but there are two bittersweet pieces of clifi that I find inspiring. From the current issue (#11), there’s Sim Kern’s “Real Sugar is Hard to Find.” Way back in Issue #4, we all took a special shine to a story called “Rewilder” by Ty Loomis.

In both stories, humanity is split into a more-comfortable citizenry who live within domed cities, and those who make life work out in the elements. Both have dystopian governments taking aggressive, dictatorial action against climate change in different visions of ecofascism. In “Rewilder,” the conflict revolves around bringing some healing to the land and some meaning to the protagonist’s life. “Real Sugar” has a more intimate scope, imagining characters and relationships we can recognize as they struggle to do something special for someone they love. Sim Kern works with plot elements of poverty and crime in a way that is nuanced, dignified, and centers the human universal of familial love. Both stories balance the very scary and real threat of climate change with the assurance that there will be lives worth living as long as there are humans around to live them. 

How do you ensure content is relevant to your audience?

Tyler Berd: Our ultra-czar (amorphous alien blob mascot) Scummy Scum is our primary audience, and mercifully we are finding a growing collective of humans that share his taste. A good issue of Planet Scumm has something creepy, something funny, and lots of thought-provoking science fiction. I consider a strong, stylish voice and a satisfying ending hallmarks of a ‘Scumm story. Schlocky sci-fi tropes are fine if used creatively, but any reliance on crusty, prejudicial stereotypes is a dealbreaker. Lastly, when it comes to story selection, it is about the collection as much as the individual stories. When we do our jobs right, an issue of Planet Scumm is greater than the sum of its parts.

How do you curate content so that it amplifies voices in the speculative fiction space?

Tyler Berd: We noticed a lack of representation in our slush pile--most of the authors sending in stories were men and we felt that sameness of perspective made the magazine less compelling and was out of step with our ideals. For our most recent issue, Snake Eyes (#11), we limited submissions to authors who are femme, n/b, or trans and, stewarded by guest editor Hailey Piper, it came out amazing! I think doing a specific call helped us introduce ourselves as interested readers to some authors who may not have heard about us otherwise. The takeaway is, if you want your magazine to be more diverse, then do something about it. 

What should authors who wish to submit to Planet Scumm know about the process or what you are looking for?

Tyler Berd: Planet Scumm exists in this retrofuturist space where we love the schlock and strangeness of early pulp sci fi, but we also are very much interested in work that belongs to the 21st century. Also, our EIC Sean is a bit of a hardliner about cop-out endings, so if your story ends with someone waking up or about to open the door to an unwritten climax, maybe don’t send that one. 

What suggestions do you offer to writers who are starting to hone their craft?

Tyler Berd: Apply the same passion and discipline that drive your writing to your reading. Also, don’t self-reject! Over 95% of the responses we send are rejection letters, and the heavy hitters, like Clarkesworld, reject over 99% of submitted stories. Embrace rejection as a nonnegotiable part of the process. All of your favorite authors have been rejected. 

What can we expect in the next issue?

Tyler Berd: Our next issue has a loose "body" theme. It's always nice when a theme develops organically as we winnow down to our final story selection, and this time we found ourselves drawn to pieces that interrogate bodies in one way or another. We're especially happy that the collection we've put together includes many different takes on that theme. There's body horror, of course, and several stories that address the role technology has in shaping, and controlling, our understanding of the body. But the issue is also really funny! And, just as important, it’s hopeful about how we can continue to explore and redefine what our bodies mean to us. 


Have you read this one? What was your favourite part?

13 Oct 2021

#Review: THE MIRROR SEASON by Anna-Marie McLemore

13 October 0 Comments


Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Source: Purchased from Audible
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: March 16, 2021
Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:

When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family's possibly magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore's The Mirror Season...

Graciela Cristales's whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela's school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened.
Amazon | Chapters | TBD
Content Warnings: Sexual assault

I think a lot of people don't know how to review books that they can relate to on a very personal level or have never experienced for themselves. This is probably one of those books where people know it's important but can't quite explain why except that it deals with a lot of heavy subjects (sexual assault, rape culture, etc.) in a easily digestible way.

But there is so much more to this book than just those aspects, even though it was what is focused on. There's the nuance of the subtle shift between victim and survivor - and how sometimes you can be both in the same instance. And McLemore excels at these subtle aspects in all their work, but especially this one.

Ciela was such an interesting character because she exuberated confidence in some ways because of the "show" she is putting on for her family and friends. But she's also keeping so much of herself hidden by doing so. I really liked the exploration of what it means to be marginalized by others and by yourself when you don't identify with the "norm" in your area or circle.

I also really appreciated Lock and his story line. I think it's so rare for these types of stories around rape culture to feature men. Lock describes it perfectly by saying that people don't generally believe it because of the stigma in society about how men should behave, act, and enjoy sex, so they shouldn't be "able" to be raped. But that's not the case. The two of them balanced the story so well and I loved every minute of it.

I wasn't a huge fan of the way that each of them was assaulted but that (while not really a minor detail) felt like a minor element to me. They both experienced a shared trauma and had to deal with it together.

I am glad that the ending was open to reader interpretation of where it goes next. I think sometimes "justice" is just speaking up and telling people your story.

TLDR: Everything Anna-Marie McLemore writes sinks deep into your soul and doesn't let go. This is no exception and honestly is probably their best work. I have never felt so seen and heard in a book the way I have with this. I highly recommend reading this if you have the head and heart space to do so.

Have you read this book? Are you going to pick up this or anything else by Tara Sim?

11 Oct 2021

Audio #Review: FIRESTARTER by Tara Sim

11 October 0 Comments


Author: Tara Sim
Series: Timekeeper #3
Source: Downloaded from Audible Plus
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication Date: January 15, 2019
Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:

The crew of the Prometheus is intent on taking down the world’s clock towers so that time can run freely. Now captives, Colton, Daphne, and the others have a stark choice: join the Prometheus’s cause, or fight back in any small way they can and face the consequences. But Zavier, leader of the terrorists, has a bigger plan—to bring back the lost god of time.

As new threats emerge, loyalties must shift. No matter where the Prometheus goes—Prague, Austria, India—nowhere is safe, and every second ticks closer toward the eleventh hour. Walking the line between villainy and heroism, each will have to choose what's most important: saving those you love at the expense of the many, or making impossible sacrifices for the sake of a better world.
Amazon | Chapters | TBD
Read my review of TIMEKEEPER, the first book in this series!
And my review of CHAINBREAKER, the second book in this series!

Disclaimer: There are probably spoilers below since this is the end of the series! Sorry!

Honestly, this was better than the second book, but still didn't live up to the greatness that was TIMEKEEPER. I thought that this series started off with a really unique twist on alternative history and steampunk. But then CHAINBREAKER and FIRESTARTER took that away from the story and made it into something you've read before.

That's not necessarily a bad thing - there was a few differences being a gay main character, a lot of dimensions of diversity represented, and it being in the YA age group. But overall it just stopped feeling unique and fun about a quarter into CHAINBREAKER and that never came back through FIRESTARTER.

One of the biggest drawbacks is the huge cast that gets introduced pretty much all at once. I don’t know nor care about Zavier’s crew though the book tries to force empathy for them several times, and I don’t remember what any of them look like. I didn’t care when certain members died. And honestly, that might be part of the issue with the audiobook because when it switches POV, it doesn't always change genders. That made it pretty difficult for me to care or know who we were following around.

Spending so much time with them seemed like such a waste when all I wanted to do was go back to Danny and friends. Except even worse is that Colton felt like an entirely different character, so much so that I struggled to relate to his perils anymore. Granted, everything that’s happened would change a man, but to become almost an entirely different character meant I could no longer connect with him.

The ending really dragged on, to the point where the drama from the climax wore off and it seemed only like it was being unnecessary stretched to fill the void. Danny suddenly contracting fever and then losing his arm did not have the same impact because it was rushed, forced, and came right after the high point. It doesn’t even feel like a spoiler because it wasn't treated as important!

TLDR: Better than the second book, but still not nearly as strong as the first. I feel like this was a standalone story that got extended into a series. But there wasn't a real reason to do that and the way it was done wasn't super well executed. I would recommend reading the first book and pretending that is all there is to it.

Have you read this book? Are you going to pick up this or anything else by Tara Sim?

10 Oct 2021


10 October 0 Comments


I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the TRISTAN STRONG KEEPS PUNCHING by Kwame Mbalia Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


Series: Tristan Strong #3

Author: Kwame Mbalia

Pub. Date: October 5, 2021

Publisher:  Rick Riordan Presents

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 320


Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the finale of Kwame Mbalia's trilogy, in which Tristan Strong faces off with his archenemy King Cotton once and for all.

"Imagine if you combined Anansi the Spider, John Henry, and Marvel into, like, one book."--New York Times best-selling author and Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander

After reuniting with Ayanna, who is now in his world, Tristan travels up the Mississippi in pursuit of his archenemy, King Cotton. Along the way they encounter new haints who are dead set on preventing their progress north to Tristan's hometown of Chicago. It's going to take many Alkean friends, including the gods themselves, the black flames of the afokena gloves, and all of Tristan's inner strength to deliver justice once and for all. 

Shocking twists, glorious triumphs, and a cast of unforgettable characters make this series conclusion as satisfying as it is entertaining.

Grab the first 2 books in the series now!

Amazon | Kindle | Audible | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | TBD | Bookshop.org


Kwame Mbalia is the New York Times  best-selling author of  Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky,  for which he received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor award.   The book was also named to best-of-the-year lists  compiled by  Publishers Weekly , the Chicago Public Library, and the  New York Times .   The second book in the trilogy is  Tristan Strong Destroys the World , and Tristan Strong Keeps Punching is the third . Kwame lives with his wife and children in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he is currently working several projects, including a new middle grade series. Follow him on Twitter @KSekouM.

Connect with the Author:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of TRISTAN STRONG KEEPS PUNCHING, US Only.

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Locks, Hooks and Books



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Two Chicks on Books