Nyxia by Scott Reintgen 

Nyxia is the ninth ARC I’ve read for ARC August and another one that I’ve seen a lot of hype about. It’s a action-packed sci-fi about kids battling for a place on a life changing mission on a new world and the start of a planned series. It’s fun, the characters are great but there were a few flaws to the storytelling that I hope get ironed out over the course of the series.

The narrator of the story is Emmett; a young black kid from Detroit who hopes that the wealthy payout he will receive from Babel if he succeeds in gaining a place on the team will mean that his Moms finally beats the kidney disease that is slowly killing her. The other ten kids (Babel tells them there are eight places in the team) all come from equally deprived backgrounds making them easy to manipulate in to a fighting crew. Over the course of the novel it’s revealed that not all is what it seems, with Babel slowly becoming less and less trustworthy as a corporation. There’s not much backstory about what’s going on back on earth; I assume that it’s just a more technologically advanced version of our own society given the contextual clues but Babel has risen up as a technology giant.

I liked the use of translating technology to bring together characters from all over the world. It meant that the group have a more diverse background without defaulting to a Westernised Everyone On Earth Mysteriously Speaks English. I thought the characters were well rounded but flawed, which made for a much more interesting read.

I do think the entire concept of Nyxia (a mysterious substance that the group needs to mine on the planet Eden) feels like a narrative cop out. It seems to be able to do absolutely anything that the story needed it to do and I hope that it’s limits are explored in book two.

I’ll definitely carry on with the series because I want to see where this all goes. Nyxia is out on 12th September!

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi was the first book I finished this summer and I’m still not quite over how cute it was. I’d seen hype about this book for months and fell in love with the cover as soon as I saw it but it took me a while to have the time to get round to reading it!

The story revolves around two Indian-American teens whose parents have decided that they’d be a great married couple. She’s unaware of this, he doesn’t realise that she’s unaware and unwilling to get married until he introduces himself at the computer programming summer school they’re both taking part in. It begins as an unlikely romance, but it’s written so thoughtfully that you can’t help but root for these characters.

I loved the development of both characters throughout the story. They make mistakes, they learn from them and they remain true to themselves while learning to make compromises in relationships. I particularly enjoyed the way that Dimple’s relationship with her parents matures from thinking that they’re old fashioned and only thinking of themselves to realising that they value her happiness above all else. It was a very realistic depiction of how teens relationships with caring parents changes dynamic as they approach adulthood.

The story is a fun, modern approach to Indian traditions of arranged marriages and how a delicate balance between youthful goals and family expectations can be reached.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

I dug around in my ARC backlist for my eighth book for ARC August and remembered how excited I was to read See What I Have Done. I love a bit of American true crime and this book revolves around the 1892 Lizzie Borden murders and gives a fictionalised account from various perspectives. I thought it was particularly fascinating being based on an unsolved crime and the whole book had an air of the creepy unknown.

The story is written from four perspectives; Lizzie, youngest daughter of the Bordens and eventual prime suspect; Emma, her sister who comes home from a trip to a friend’s to find her parents murdered; Bridget, the Irish maid hired by the family and Benjamin, a local criminal hired by the girl’s uncle to ‘speak’ to their father about the way he treats his daughters. It’s deliberately ambiguous to the end who committed the crime, but also… it’s not. It’s cleverly written that way.

The toxic nature of the Borden’s family dynamic comes across really well; despite being 32 years old at the time of the crime Lizzie is portrayed almost like a spoilt teenager who manipulates everyone around her to her own ends. It’s interesting seeing three different perspectives on her, including a complete stranger who witnesses the events surrounding the murders-but not the killings themselves- from inside the house. I’m not sure if Benjamin was a real person but if not he’s a clever invention based on the facts and rumours to get us inside the house.

See What I Have Done is a smart, well researched venture in to fictionalised true crime that remains a whodunnit until the end.

Deer Life by Ron Sexsmith

Deer Life is described as a ‘wicked fairytale of witchcraft, bullying, revenge’ and is probably add ‘playful’ to that too. I enjoyed reading it, but it was also a fairly flawed book.

Deryn Hedlight is already having a bad day when he accidentally shoots a witch’s dog whilst hunting and ends up being turned in to a deer. Strange things have been happening throughout the town and Deryn, dubbed Lucky the deer by his unsuspecting best friend, becomes involved in a haphazard quest to rid the town of a witch. Except none of the characters really know that’s what they’re doing.

It was a fun, quirky read with a narrator that put me in mind of the sort of Lemony Snickett omniscient ‘I’ storyteller, but just not quite as funny. I feel like as a whole the story just missed the mark and while I enjoyed it, the ending fell a bit flat for me. Perhaps the attempt to marry fairytales with adult fiction just wasn’t carried out the right way here.

I received a copy of Deer Life from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

#NotYourPrincess ed. by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

#NotYourPrincess is a collection of stories, essays, poetry, art and photography that aims to show what life is like for Native women living in America. It’s a short book- only 112 pages- but it packs a powerful punch. This was one ARC that I was very excited to be approved for. I have #NotYourPrincess on preorder already (and I really think that reading it on my kindle did not do it the full justice it deserves- I’m very excited to see that art and photography in print proper.) and have heard great things about it already.

The book contains variety of styles, my favourite being the ‘visual scrapbooks’ illustrated by Sierra Edd containing poetry and shorter thoughts about life and childhood as a Native woman. Each piece of writing is interspersed with artwork and photographs; there’s a fantastic number and range of contributors to this book. 

For an Own Voices review of #NotYourPrincess I’d like to point you in the direction of my friend Weezie’s review. I can’t personally speak for the quality of representation for Native woman myself but I trust the opinions of Native reviewers who I have seen applauding it so far.

#NotYourPrincess is released on 12th September in the US and 10th October in the UK and I would urge you all to preorder it. It’s a beautiful book that gives a voice to a group of women that have so often found their words ignored.

(TW for suicide, self harm, abuse and death)

Outside the XY edited by Morgan Mann Willis

Outside the XY is one of those books that feels like it should have been around for years- a collection of own Voices essays on why it means to be black or brown and live outside of cis manhood- but given the nature of publishing has arrived now to give a voice to people so comprehensively shunned by the Big Five.

Outside the XY is a powerful anthology; no two entries are alike and they show a real scope of experience. For someone who very much lives in the realm of white cis womanhood the book is clearly not written with me in mind but it remains an educational and thought provoking read. More importantly, for people who see themselves echoed within the writing I can only imagine how important that must be. There are so many viewpoints and topics covered; from black trans men trying to balance masculinity and not upholding the patriarchy to non-binary Native people speaking about the colonial nature of binary genders.

Understandly, there are some portions that are difficult to read (TW for anti-trans behaviour aimed at the writers in their stories, domestic abuse and self harm) but overall it’s an uplifting book about learning to love yourself completely. 

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

The Hollow Girl is the fifth ARC I’ve read for ARC August and I picked it up largely because of the hype I’ve seen about it on twitter. I’ve been wanting to try out more books with fantasy elements and this one’s description as part Roma-magic-tale part retribution-against-rapists caught my eye. I ended up starting it at about 9pm and finishing it by 11 the next morning I was so thoroughly hooked.

Set in Wales, the story is inspired by the author’s grandmother and her own Romany background. Young Bethan is apprentice to her witch grandmother and strikes up a tentative friendship with a diddicoy (part Roma) boy while selling at the local market. After a brutal assault (TW for rape that happens ‘off camera’- the author warns for this in her introduction) Bethan’s new friend is left for dead and she and her grandmother try and save him with magic, while simultaneously wreaking revenge on the boys who assaulted her.

It’s a pretty brutal story and probably not for the faint hearted; the boys all get their comeuppance in some violent way of another, but also Bethan’s feelings after the attack are understandably confused and harrowing. It’s no holds barred, but the idea of rapists getting their just desserts is one that I haven’t seen much of in fiction and wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

I loved the magical elements of this story; I’m finding that fantasy anchored in specific cultures is much more my kind of thing than ‘high fantasy’ and The Hollow Girl has a rich cultural backing to give it a sense of realism. It’s also written with the historical setting in mind- although the time period is ambiguous (unless I missed it!) the narration feels natural and not forced. It’s hard to read because of the subject nature, the writing itself is wonderful.

The Hollow Girl is out on 10th October!