A Blade So Black

REVIEW: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Alice is a normal teenager with school, a high-maintenance best friend and a mum who gets annoyed when she misses her curfew. But what her mum doesn’t know is that the reason she so often misses curfew is because she’s fighting monsters called Nightmares. Nightmares come from Wonderland, a dark realm where there’s magic, creatures and secrets. When Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor Addison Hatta is poisoned, Alice must venture further into Wonderland than she ever had before to find the antidote. She’ll have to use all her skills and connections to keep from losing her head – literally.

As you might imagine, A Blade So Black is inspired by Alice in Wonderland and it’s fun to see the references to the sour material and how the author puts a spin on certain aspects like characters names and idiosyncrasies. When it comes to Wonderland itself, not a lot of the world is explained but what you do see of it is very weird and eerie. The Nightmares are indeed nightmarish creatures and Alice’s battles with them are fierce. Alice is strong and skilled, but she also makes mistakes, gets scared and doubts herself a lot which means it’s never clear if she’ll come out on top in a battle.

A lot of the conflict in A Blade So Black comes from the fact Alice struggles being a normal teenager with being a Dreamwalker. She’s keeping secrets and lying with the only person in her “normal” life who knows about what she does in Wonderland is her best friend Courtney. Alice is black and, in her neighbourhood, a teenage black girl has recently been gunned down which adds to her mum’s anxiety when Alice seems to disappear and not answer her phone, as she is almost constantly worried the same thing is going to happen to her daughter.

Alice is a bit of a stroppy teenager (which is allowed) and one with magical responsibilities, but she doesn’t often think things through and how her actions can hurt other people. Her mum has very justifiable reasons to be angry and scared when Alice isn’t contactable for long periods of time, but Alice can’t really see that which is frustrating.

A Blade So Black is bit of a weird book pacing-wise. The first half spends the time setting up the conflicts between Alice and her friends and family as she juggles her Dreamwalker duties and being a normal teenager and introduces you to Wonderland but nothing big plot-wise happens until the halfway point. It’s then that Hatta gets poisoned and after that a lot happens very quickly with new characters being introduced and you learn more about the history of Wonderland and what it could mean for Alice. It makes the second half of the book feel rushed and, while it is the first book in a series so it’s understandable that not all plot threads will be tied up, there’s a pretty major one that doesn’t feel like the characters make much headway with.

The premise of A Blade So Black and its setting is more interesting than the actual plot. Still, it’s a quick and enjoyable read and it’s a solid foundation for future books in the series to build on. 3/5.

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N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon 2019

The N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon is the brainchild of Gi at BookRoast on YouTube. The N.E.W.T.’s are the next exams/readathon after the O.W.L.’s which took place a few months ago.

The basic premise is that each Hogwarts subject has three prompts one to get an Acceptable in the subject, one to get Exceeded Expectations and one to get an Outstanding grade in that subject, and you have to read the books/prompts in order so read the Exceeded Expectations book after the Acceptable book etc. This readathon lasts the entirety of August so it gives you plenty of time to try and cram in as many N.E.W.T.’s as possible. For more information on the readathon see Gi’s announcement video. It’s clear she puts in a lot of work into this challenge, she makes study guides and a career guide that has information on lots of magical careers and the subjects you need to study in order to be able to progress in that career.

After taking part in the O.W.L.’s readathon in April and successfully reading all the books/completing all the exams I need to be a Ministry Worker in the Department of International Magical Cooperation, I now need to achieve Acceptable in five subjects – Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Muggle Studies, Potions and Transfiguration – and achieve Acceptable, Exceeded Expectations and Outstanding in History of Magic. That means if I want to be qualified for my dream magical career, I need to read eight books during the readathon. That’s doable for me. I think.

Charms: Acceptable – Read a book you think has a gorgeous cover
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
I adore this cover! I read this book’s prologue a couple of months ago on a plane and was intrigued but for some reason I didn’t continue reading it then – story of my life!

Defence Against the Dark Arts: Acceptable – Read a book that’s black under the dustjacket
This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab
I had to go through my various unread hardbacks to find one that’s black under the dustjacket. I remember starting This Savage Song when I first got it but the story didn’t really grab me so hopefully I’m more into it now.

Muggle Studies: Acceptable – Cover that includes a photo element
Where She Went by Gayle Foreman OR Night, Again edited by Linh Dinh
I read If I Stay way back in 2014 and downloaded the sequel onto my kindle straightaway but never read it. The film adaptation of If I Stay is currently available on Amazon Prime Video so I’ll probably watch that before August so I’m not going into Where She Went completely blind because I remember nothing from the first book. Night, Again is a collection of short stories from Vietnam so would be my one and only read for the Read the World Project during the N.E.W.T.’s.

Potions: Acceptable – Read a friend’s favourite book
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
This is one of my friend Nistasha’s favourite John Grisham books and she even sent me a copy! At over 500 pages it’s a bit of a chunky one for a readathon but with rumours that Tome Topple will be happening in August as well I should be able to get through it.

Transfiguration: Acceptable – Read a book with LGBTQIA+ representation
Golden Boy Abigail Tarttelin by OR Birthday by Meredith Russo
The main character in Golden Boy is intersex and this book has been on my shelves for years so this readathon might be the perfect time to read it. Birthday is a book I got recently in a subscription box and I don’t know what the LGBTQIA+ representation is in it; I just know it has that tag on Goodreads.

History of Magic: Acceptable – Read a fantasy
To Best the Boys by Mary Webber OR Ruined by Amy Tintera OR Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
It turns out I have a lot of unread fantasy on my shelves and all of these are from subscription boxes over the years. I’m not sure which one I’ll read as I have no strong feelings towards any of them at the minute, so I’ probably pick up whichever is shortest. If you have any suggestions let me know or I might just end up doing a Twitter poll to decide.

History of Magic: Exceeded Expectations – Read a book with a map in it
Flashfall by Jenny Moyer
After going through all the unread books I have that I thought might have a map in it, this is the only one that did!

History of Magic: Outstanding – Reread a favourite/read a classic
The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
I‘m currently rereading the His Dark Materials series via audiobook from my library so hopefully The Amber Spyglass will be available to borrow and read in August. The series was one of my childhood favourites and it’s been over 15 years since I read them. If the audiobook isn’t available, I’ll have to have a rethink as I don’t often reread books – even my favourites! There’s a lot of classics available to borrow on audio from my library though so I’m sure I’ll be able to get one of them if needed.

That’s my TBR for the N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon and my TBR for the month of August to be honest. I can read eight books in a month and this looks like it’ll be a good mixture of genres to keep me entertained. There are a couple of contemporary books which I always fly through and a lot of these are books that have been on my TBR for the longest time so it would give me an extra buzz if I did finally read them. I will keep track of my progress on Twitter and will probably do a thread like I did for my O.W.L.’s.

Are you taking part in the N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon? If you are, I hope the exams for your chosen career path isn’t too taxing and you have a successful month of reading.

Women’s History Month TBR and the Indieathon TBR

This TBR post is basically going to be one big month-long TBR but a subset of these books will be relevant to my Indieathon TBR. March is Women’s History Month and because I became aware of this sooner rather than later, I plan to focus on reading books by women this month. Each year I read a pretty equal split between male and female authors, but I always find it interesting to take a proper look as to what’s on my shelves.

Also in March is the Indieathon, which is a week-long readathon where the aim is to read books from independent publishers. This readathon is hosted by Ninja Book Box and it runs from Friday 8th to Friday 15th March.

In this big TBR post there will be far more books than I could possibly read during a month (though saying that I am going to making some long train journeys for work this month so that’ll give me more reading time than normal) and I’ll note which books are from independent publishers so those are the ones I might read during the Indieathon.

I have many unread books that are written by women but not so many unread books that are from independent publishers but, surprisingly to me, most of the books on this TBR are indie books.

Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid (translated by Adam Cullen), published by Peter Owen Publishers.
Mere Chances by Veronika Simoniti (translated by Nada Grošelj), published by Dalkey Archive Press.
A Fortune Foretold by Agneta Pleijel (translated by Marlaine Delargy), published by Other Press.
Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated by Margita Gailitis), published by Peirene Press.
The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell, published by Linen Press
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies curated by Scarlett Curtis, published by Penguin
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney, published by Titan Books

The first four indie books on my TBR this month are all for my Read the World Project. I have, at my last count, 149 countries left to read so it’d be nice if this month could give me a push with my international reading.

Set in the Estonian city of Tartu, Burning Cities follows two generations of the Unger family from the Second World War to the twenty-first century. Mere Chances is a collection of short stories that are said to be strange and about characters who are struggling to maintain their identities. Soviet Milk is about the affects of Soviet rule on one person, how a woman strives to become a doctor but outside forces stop her and even deprive her of her relationship with her daughter. A Fortune Foretold is a coming of age story about a young girl in 1950s Sweden who uses fortune-telling and prophesies to make sense of the world around her. The last indie book on my TBR is one I received from Ninja Book Box’s Summer Reading box last year; The Red Beach Hut is about the friendship between an eight-year-old boy and a man who takes refuge in a red beach hut.

I’m not sure which indie books are the ones I’ll read during the Indieathon specifically, as I’ve said before I’m very much a mood reader, but these books are both from independent publishers and by women, so I hope to read them this month.

All the books mentioned so far feel like they are serious reads so I’ve also picked up Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies it’s a collection of essays and writings from lots of different women from different walks of life, so it’s something I can deep in and out of easily. The last book on my ridiculously ambitious TBR is A Blade So Black. I thought it’d be a good idea to throw some YA in here and this is an urban fantasy story inspired by Alice in Wonderland and with a black protagonist.

These are all the books I’d like to read this month. Are you focussing on reading books by female authors this month? Or are you taking part in the Indieathon? There’s going to be Twitter chats and Instagram challenges so I hope they help me to keep on track. Whish me luck! If I read five of these books that’ll be good for me.

The Joy of Christmas Book Tag

‘Tis the season for another festive book tag! Aka it’s getting near the end of blogmas and I’m running out of ideas! The Joy of Christmas Book Tag was created by Sam’s Nonsense on YouTube.

1) Anticipation: The Christmas excitement is real, what book release(s) are you most anticipating?
I recently listed my top 5 most anticipated 2019 releases but I somehow managed to forget about The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaësia Volume 1 by Christopher Paolini which is definitely my most anticipated book of 2019. Eragon was such a formative influence for me and I can’t wait to return to that world with a new book.

2) Christmas Songs & Carols: What book or author can you not help but sing its praises?
A recent read that I absolutely loved was Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell. It’s such an affecting short story collection and I want to check out more of her work soon.

3) Gingerbread Houses: What book or series has wonderful world building?
While I didn’t particularly like the majority of the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (mainly because I couldn’t stand Todd) I did think the world building in the series was brilliant.

4) A Christmas Carol: Favourite classic or one that you want to read
I don’t really read enough classics to have a favourite, but a recent classic I read that I enjoyed a lot is The Three Musketeers by Alexadre Dumas.

5) Christmas Sweets: What book would you love to receive for Christmas
I think I really need to get my hands on a copy of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I’ve heard nothing but good things so that’d be a nice Christmas surprise.

6) Candles in the Window: What book gives you that warm fuzzy feeling
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I rarely read contemporary YA but every now and then I make the exception and When Dimple Met Rishi was a wonderfully quick, light-hearted and sweet read.

7) Christmas Trees & Decorations: What are some of your favourite book covers?
I’m a sucker for buying a book because of a pretty cover. Here’s some of my favourite covers (I could’ve listed way more) though I can’t comment as to what’s inside them as I’ve yet to read these books.

    

8) Christmas Joy: What are some of your favourite things about Christmas And/Or some of your favourite Christmas memories?
My favourite thing about Christmas is having a lot of free time. Especially now I’m in a 9-5 weekday job, having the free time to see friends and family, watch films or catch up on reading is much appreciated.

I tag anyone who fancies doing this tag!