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!

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

I’ve literally just finished this incredible book (at the time of writing, I have a backlog of posts scheduled right now) and I’m not sure how to express how truly astounding it was as a debut.

Freshwater draws heavily on the author’s own experiences and deals with the subject of living with a fractured self. It’s left ambiguous and the book refers to Nigerian concepts of ogbanje children, but my assumption is that the central character, Ada, is living with a form of dissociative identity disorder as a result of childhood trauma- but that’s my interpretation as someone coming from a very British background and I would happily be corrected. The story is narrated by several ‘selves’ within Ada, and occasionally Ada herself, who talk about the destructive behaviours they carry out over the course of Ada’s journey to adulthood as the people they find and lose along the way. 

Freshwater is a beautifully written book and I’d agree with the praise I’ve read so far that it’s shocking that this is the author’s debut. It’s lyrical and poetic and angry, but most of all a powerful testament to how people can survive.

It’s not an easy book to read, and I’d attach several trigger warnings (sexual abuse, self harm, suicide attempts, body dysmorphia, references to bimisia), but it’s a powerful story about identity, love and self destruction.

Latin@ Rising edited by Matthew David Goodwin 

I got this anthology some time ago on the recommendation of Naz at Read Diverse Books and have been dipping in and out of it for the past few months. Reading The New Voices of Fantasy really put me in the mood for more speculative short stories so I read the final half of it yesterday! 

Matthew David Goodwin has put together a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories and poems from Latin American writers based in the United States. It’s got great scope as a collection, from more subtle fantasy to magical realism to high science fiction concepts and the stories sort of ebb and flow between different speculative themes. But running through all of them is the idea of what it means to be Latinx in America as both an immigrant or several generations down the line.

It’s a very well thought out collection, beginning and ending with stories about heritage and tradition. The introduction to each story (or author if they have more than one piece of writing) is comprehensive and interesting- I ended up buying quite a few books from th authors included thanks to the descriptions in the anthology- and it’s clearly a labour of love.

So if you’re in to speculative fiction, short stories or Latinx writing and culture then I’d thoroughly recommend this book! 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I’ve been a big fan of Matt Haig ever since I read, and fell in love with, The Humans a few years ago. So I was really excited to get a copy of his newest book to read. How to Stop Time is a story about a group of people termed ‘albas’ (short for The Albatross Society) who age at a much slower rate that normal humans and can live to be 900. Tom Hazard is one such person; born in Shakespeare’s time to a woman later killed on suspicion of being a witch he is now a history teacher in London trying to find his daughter who lives with the same condition as he does.

There’s a fair amount of flitting back and forth between time periods- not confusingly so- while we learn more about Tom’s incredibly long life up until this point. It’s not a conclusive backstory- that would be impossible- but we learn enough to understand where he is in life and why he does the things he does. 

Most of all this is a story about someone discovering what’s really important, how to live a life rather than just existing. Like all of Matt Haig’s books it’s uplifting and life affirming and by the end you feel all warm and squishy inside.