BOOK REVIEW: Sin Eaters, by Megan Campisi

BOOK REVIEW: Sin Eaters, by Megan CampisiTitle: Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
Published by Atria Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland in this gripping and imaginative historical novel about a shunned orphan girl in 16th century England who is ensnared in a deadly royal plot and must turn her subjugation into her power.

The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard The Sin Eater Walks Among Us.

For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.

Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.

“A keenly researched feminist arc of unexpected abundance, reckoning, intellect, and ferocious survival” (Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife) Sin Eater is “a dark, rich story replete with humor, unforgettable characters, and arcane mysteries. It casts a spell on your heart and mind until the final page” (Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters).

The Unseen is now seen. The Unheard is now heard. The sins of your flesh become the sins of mine to be borne to my grave in silence. Speak.

Megan Campisi’s Sin Eater defies genre. It is historical fiction, but not completely; it’s fantasy/fabulist¹, but not completely. This indefinite quality adds to its appeal. Sin-eaters did exist, but sin-eaters still remain more in folkloric history in which not much is widely known about them and their practices. Campisi brings an alternate speculative look at Elizabethan England that is rich and detailed, and I wanted more from the world she created. The comp titles listed with this are wide and varied, and for the most part I don’t know if they particularly fit, aside from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in the sense that this is a character study of a young woman in a society that prefers she stay in her place and not question anything. If anything, my comp would be The Handmaid’s Tale meets Parasite in an alternate Tudor England as this is very much about class, violent deception, and the fear that rules institutionalized religion.

May Owens, the fourteen year old girl sentenced to become a Sin Eater after stealing food, is the perfect set of eyes through which to experience this world, because like her, we are unfamiliar with a lot of the customs outside of our immediate recognition. May’s isolation and loneliness are present on the page, along with her discomfort and estrangement at her own acceptance of her life’s chosen path. When she delves into the mystery surrounding her mentor’s death, May discovers that the court for which she is performing the sin eating is rife with manipulative and deceptive people, and nobody can be trusted but herself, and even then she’s not entirely sure she can trust herself.

This is an excellent intrigue of a novel, grim and gruesome with a lot of heart, and it’s a contender to be one of my favorite reads of the year.

Thank you to Atria Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

¹ I’ve begun using “fabulist” for something that isn’t quite “real” and not quite “fantasy” in terms of genre, as “magical realism” is a style specific to Latin American literature.

BOOK REVIEW: To Have and To Hoax, by Martha Waters

BOOK REVIEW: To Have and To Hoax, by Martha WatersTitle: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters
Published by Atria Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.

Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.

Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.

Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?

With charm, wit, and heart in spades, To Have and To Hoax is a fresh and eminently entertaining romantic comedy—perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Julia Quinn.

I have very much been in the mood for reading romances because they’re light and fun and take you away from the world for a bit, and To Have and To Hoax is a fun regency romance in which a husband and wife suffer from misaligned communication and miscommunication, and now resort to playing games with each other to try to win each other’s attention and affection. And of course none of it goes as planned.

The main characters are immature, stubborn, and insufferable, but it is a delight to read because the situations in which they found themselves resulted in witty dialogue and believable chemistry. For me, I thought that the games they played went on a little too long which made the middle of the book drag a bit, and I thought the chapters could be too long and possibly better broken into shorter ones, especially when the point of view changed. The core of the argument that drove Audley and Violet apart was not revealed until well into the book, leaving you guessing as to what could possibly drive two people apart for four years other than sheer stubbornness and an inability to talk about it. Otherwise the pacing was good and kept me interested to find out what shenanigans the characters got up to next.

Ultimately, I think my favorite parts of the entire book involved Violet’s friends and how each of them were involved in Violet’s schemes, and I hope Waters writes more about them, because I think their stories would be just as entertaining to read!

If you are in the mood for a more modern twist on regency romance, definitely check this one out.

Thank you to Atria for sending me an advance reader’s copy; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Bonds of Brass, by Emily Skrutskie

BOOK REVIEW: Bonds of Brass, by Emily SkrutskieTitle: Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
Series: The Bloodright Trilogy #1
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A young pilot risks everything to save his best friend--the man he trusts most and might even love--only to learn that he's secretly the heir to a brutal galactic empire.

Ettian Nassun's life was shattered when the merciless Umber Empire invaded. He's spent seven years putting himself back together under its rule, joining an Umber military academy and becoming the best pilot in his class. Even better, he's met Gal Veres--his exasperating and infuriatingly enticing roommate who's made the Academy feel like a new home.

But when dozens of classmates spring an assassination plot on Gal, a devastating secret comes to light: Gal is the heir to the Umber Empire. Ettian barely manages to save his best friend and flee the compromised Academy unscathed, rattled both that Gal stands to inherit the empire that broke him and that there are still people willing to fight back against Umber rule. As they piece together a way to deliver Gal safely to his throne, Ettian finds himself torn in half by an impossible choice. Does he save the man who's won his heart and trust that Gal's goodness could transform the empire? Or does he throw his lot in with the brewing rebellion and fight to take back what's rightfully theirs?

One of the things I love about Emily Skrutskie’s work (and I have only read two of hers, and now obviously need to fix this) is that she makes you immediately care about the characters and throws you right into the action without feeling as if you’re missing any information. Bonds of Brass plays with familiar sci-fi and romance tropes (big galactic empire heirs, omg they were roommates) while breathing new life into them all while taking you on a wild space chase through the galaxy. It also throws a handful of references to those of us who like a particular Star Wars ship, and it felt like Skrutskie said, if Star Wars won’t do it, I will. And she did.

The book opens with Ettian defending Gal, his roommate, from an attack from schoolmates; and after this, Ettian begins to struggle reconciling the truth about Gal’s identity, his feelings for his roommate, and the status of the galaxy at large. Gal’s the heir to the Umber Empire, the very same empire that shattered Ettian’s home, the capital city of the former Archon Empire. During their escape, Ettian and Gal meet Wen, a scrappy scavenger, who reveals that an Archon resistance exists, and she might be the only way for either of them to get home, wherever that home might be.

Without revealing any spoilers, the last third of this book is incredibly action-packed and a complete free fall of revelations that shift everything you as the reader knew about Ettian and Gal and the empires to which they belonged, and the final reveal occurs at the end of the book that will leave you desperate for the sequel. I can’t wait to see how each character continues to come to terms with the annihilation and violence the empires have wrought and to see how the relationships among all of the characters develop. Overall, this is a fun sci-fi title that makes you feel things.

When I first heard about this book, I was certain it was marketed as YA, but it’s published by an adult imprint. This first installment does read a little bit like YA, so it’s definitely a crossover, but I’m hoping with the rest of the trilogy, Skrutskie takes it as far as she’s able to really explore the depths this galaxy has to offer.

Thank you to Del Rey for the giveaway and the advance copy to read!

WAITING ON WEDNESDAY: January-March 2020 Review Copies On My Shelves

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme originally hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine (though it seems as though it’s been a while since she updated that particular blog, so if you know of the current host, if there is one, please let me know) that highlights upcoming releases that we’re impatiently waiting for. This week I’m featuring January-March 2020 review copies that I have either in physical form or digital form that I can’t wait to dive into! And now that it’s the middle of December, I need to get started on some of those January ones! The release dates are listed but are always subject to change.

  • A Beginning at the End – Mike Chen :: The tagline for this is “How Do You Start Over After the End of the World?” and I’m all for something that supposedly calls back to Station Eleven with post-apocalyptic pandemics and how society picks up the pieces and returns to normalcy after a catastrophe. Releases January 14, 2020
  • Followers – Megan Angelo :: A book about social media and what happens when good intentions go horribly wrong?? YES. Releases January 14, 2020.
  • A Queen in Hiding – Sarah Kozloff :: This is the start of a four-book fantasy series and we don’t have to wait long for the sequels! Each of the sequels will be released in subsequent months (January, February, March, and April), so I’m excited for that first off because I always hate the wait for a series I really like. This is a coming of age story with a twist, and so far the early reviews have been looking great! Releases January 21, 2020.
  • Show Them a Good Time – Nicole Flattery :: A collection of stories by a debut writer that I heard some good buzz about on Twitter, and when I saw it was available for download on Netgalley, I snapped it up! Releases January 28, 2020.
  • Things in Jars – Jess Kidd :: Victorian London, female sleuths, anatomists, fairy tales? Give me all of those things, please. Releases February 4, 2020.
  • Daughter from the Dark – Marina & Sergey Dyachenko :: I downloaded Vita Nostra last month as a Kindle deal because I keep seeing it in various places, so when I saw this on the ARC shelf at work, I grabbed it because this is also a stand-alone and seems really interesting. It’s about music and companionship with a magical twist. Releases February 11, 2020.
  • Foul is Fair – Hannah Capin :: This is described as a Macbeth retelling with hints of Kill Bill and Heathers and all of those things are right up my alley?? This came in my inbox as a one-day download from Netgalley, and I’m so excited to see what this will bring. Releases February 18, 2020.
  • The Hidden Girl and Other Stories – Ken Liu :: Anything Ken Liu writes is a gift, and this latest collection is sure to be another favorite of mine. Releases Feburary 25, 2020.
  • The Girl in White Gloves – Kerri Maher :: This is historical fiction about Grace Kelly and her life behind the scenes, and I love Hollywood stories. The cover for this is also GORGEOUS. Releases February 25, 2020.
  • Beheld – TaraShea Nesbit :: This is about the first murder in Plymouth, Massachusetts not long after the Mayflower landed in the 1600s. Some of the reviews and buzz I’ve seen have said it evokes that period very well. I love a good historical mystery, and I don’t think I’ve seen many set in this era.

Are any of these on your to-read list? What one would you read first?

BOOK REVIEW: The Guinevere Deception, by Kiersten White

BOOK REVIEW: The Guinevere Deception, by Kiersten WhiteTitle: The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
Series: Camelot Rising #1
Published by Delacorte Press
Published: November 5th 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

There is nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom's borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution -- send in Guinevere to be Arthur's wife... and his protector from those who want to see the young king's idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere's real name -- and her true identity -- is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old -- including Arthur's own family -- demand things continue as they have been, and the new -- those drawn by the dream of Camelot -- fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur's knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.

I’ve always loved King Arthur, it’s mythologies, and all of the various takes on the lore, but Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception blew me away. It had been so long since I’ve read anything King Arthur, and I was really excited when I got approved for this ARC from Netgalley.

The story opens with Guinevere arriving to Camelot before her marriage, unsure of herself and her future position in King Arthur’s court, and it’s soon revealed that Guinevere is not who she seems, not even to herself. She has been sent to protect King Arthur rather than merely be a bride sent from a royal family. Throughout the course of the story, Guinevere balances learning about her past and her realities while also getting to know the court in which she lives and the people with whom she is surrounded.

I absolutely love the duality of Guinevere’s character and thought that the struggles she faced while in the midst of all sorts of discovery were true to herself. The supporting case of characters were well-developed, had incredible range and depth, and delighted and surprised me at every turn. The first part of the book did feel a little slow, but since this is the set-up to what I hope is at least a trilogy, I did find it necessary. There’s a lot of ground to cover when reinventing a familiar story, and by the last half of the book, I was completely hooked and didn’t want this to end. I don’t want to spoil anything, but of all the supporting characters, I think Lancelot is my favorite and I’m so excited to see what White does with this character in the context of the familiar stories.

This is one of my favorite reads of the year, and not just YA reads, just because it was so much fun and so inventive on so many levels. I’ve never read White before, but I’ve had the physical ARC for her Frankenstein retelling and the first of another series on my kindle for a while, so I’m definitely bumping those up on my TBR because I enjoyed this so much.

Read this if you enjoy fantasy and/or King Arthur revisits, because this checked off so many boxes for me and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since I read it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Delacorte for the review copy! All opinions are my own.