Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Author: Sarah Penner
Publisher: Park Row
Released: March 2nd, 2021
Received: Own (BOTM)
Warnings: Affairs, assault, miscarriage, betrayal

4 1/2 kitties

The Lost Apothecary is one of those novels that I have heard SO much about lately; it was impossible to resist the temptation to put down everything I was doing and just read.

It is February 1791, and Nella’s latest customer is about to change everything. And not for the better. Nella is an apothecary, and while once her shop healed people, now it kills. However, Nella has a few set rules that she always follows, one of which being that nothing she makes will ever harm a woman.

Meanwhile, in present-day London, Caroline Parcewell was looking for an escape. Anything to distract her from her marital problems. Luckily, she came across an antique bottle that got the historian in her working overtime.

“To me, the allure of history lay in the minutiae of life long ago, the untold secrets of ordinary people.”

If you haven’t read The Lost Apothecary yet, you absolutely must add it to your list! I was worried that my expectations were set too high, thanks to all of the hype, but it turns out that I needn’t have worried.

The Lost Apothecary is an amazing work of historical fiction. It’s a novel that hits really close to home in so many ways. It’s powerful and beautiful and tells the story of a multi-generation battle to fight for the freedom and comfort of women.

Sarah Penner did such an outstanding job of capturing two very different worlds and bringing them to life here. The sheer amount of detail was a joy. You can really see just how much time she spent researching before she sat down to write this work of fiction.

As you might have guessed from the description, this novel is told from two different perspectives. One set in the past (Nella) and one in the present (Caroline). Their stories are so different and yet so very similar at the same time.

Better yet, by splitting the narrative and timeline into two, Sarah Penner managed to spread out the building of tension and intrigue. It was a compelling story, one that was difficult to predict how it was going to end.

“Healing by way of vengeance … no such thing existed; it never had. Hurting others had only injured me further.”

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. I absolutely adored the time I spent reading The Lost Apothecary. Perhaps that is why I was so surprised when I turned the page to find nothing left! I would have happily read another thousand pages of Penner’s enchanting writing. More, please!

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Review: Monstress Vol. 4: The Chosen

Writer: Marjorie M. Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Image Comics
Released: October 1st, 2019
Received: Own
Issues: Monstress 19-24

4 1/2 kitties

Monstress Vol. 4: The Chosen is a graphic novel that I practically counted down the days for, as the story and artwork are beyond compare. Written by Marjorie M. Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda, this is one of the most memorable series out there, at least in my mind.

Last we saw, Maika and Corvin had lost sight of Kippa, through a series of tragic and fairly dark events. Now the group is fracturing, as each one learns more about themselves and the war that is heading their way. All thanks to the truths revealed.

The war is coming ever closer, with it on the verge of breaking out in some locations. Yet Maika still has yet to choose a side – to decide where her loyalties (and her powers) lie. Soon, time will run out for her to make that decision.

Monstress Vol. 4: The Chosen is a dark and complex read. Honestly, that doesn’t even begin to cover it, if you ask me. It’s harrowing and twisted on more than one occasion, and is dense enough where a second read through would certainly not hurt anyone.

Myself included. In fact, I think I’ll be reading it for a third time before I dive into the five volume of this series. Just to make sure that I picked up on (and remember) every little, yet vital, detail snuck into the background.

The fantasy world of this series is still blowing me away – even after all of these years. It’s a fantastic blend of magic, lore, and just a hint of steampunk. All of which weave together in brilliant fashion.

Let us not forget the artwork. I sincerely mean it when I say that Monstress is without a doubt the most stunning series I have ever read. Literally. Sana Takeda’s work is breathtaking, and I don’t think the series would be the same without it.

Just take a look at those covers! Where sometimes a series will have covers that deviate from the style within the pages, Monstress is not one of them. That level of complexity and detail is a constant on every single panel. It’s so incredibly impressive. I actually bought a Monstress comic book box, because it’s so darn pretty.

I cannot recommend Monstress enough to any potential fans out there. Though I will confess my bias here, as I adore Marjorie M. Liu’s writing, and have for quite some time.

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Review: Sisters of the Snake by Sasha Nanua and Sarena Nanua

Series: Ria & Rani #1
Authors: Sasha Nanua & Sarena Nanua
Publisher: Harper Teen
Released: June 15th, 2021
Received: Own

The Prince and the Pauper meets fantasy in Sisters of the Snake. Sisters of the Snake, written by Sasha Nanua and Sarena Nanua, is arguably one of the better-written retellings I’ve ever seen. Throughout 500 (plus) pages, it takes on a life of its own.

Princess Rani has always felt like she was trapped in a gilded cage. Sure, she has magic, but it doesn’t feel like she has much else. Meanwhile, Ria is an orphan who has mastered the art of quick hands to survive.

The two have more in common than they could have ever imagined. Their meeting will do more than change their lives – it’s going to change their world, hopefully for the better.

“You can be more than what the stars wish for. More than you ever dreamed.”

Can I just start by saying that I am thrilled that Sisters of the Snake is getting a sequel? That was the first thing I needed to confirm when I finished reading. I hope that tells you something! This was such a thrilling and fun read!

I love how different Rani and Ria are, and yet they cared so deeply for the people in their lives. You can see how it directly impacts their decisions, as well as how much each one grows throughout this novel. It was, dare I say, inspiring.

“They expect us to die, but the best revenge is to live.”

Sisters of the Snake is another successful OwlCrate choice, as far as I’m concerned. I’m so glad they picked it, as I would hate to think about missing out on this read! It’s one of my favorites for the year (which, yes, I know I say that often, but I mean it every single time!).

Long story short, while Sisters of the Snake may have been inspired by the Prince and the Pauper, it is so much more than that. And I cannot wait to see what happens next. Seriously, are we there yet?

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Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Series: Iron Widow #1
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Released: September 21st, 2021
Received: NetGalley
Warnings: Misogyny, femicide, rape (referenced), abuse (physical and emotional), torture, alcoholism, suicide ideation

4 1/2 kitties

The Iron Widow is the first novel in a series of the same name, written by Xiran Jay Zhao. This is one of those books that has been getting a lot of ink – and with good reason. I’m so happy to see it making so many different lists, and I hope that many readers get a chance to read it!

Huaxia depends on Chrysalises – giant transforming robots – to protect the Great Wall and the people within. Each mecha requires two pilots, a boy to take command and a girl to help take the strain. It is often the girls who pay the price.

Zetian knows this all too well. What started as a quest for revenge quickly turned into something else as power sweeps through her world. Now Zetian has had a taste for it, and she’s never going to let go.

“He should be the Iron King, and I should be the Iron Queen. Yet Iron Demon and Iron Widow is all they’ll let us be.”

Holy cow. If I could choose one a handful of books to read over and over again, you better believe that Iron Widow would make the list. This delightfully complex novel has so much to offer, and I’m just captivated by it all.

To say that I was blown away by Iron Widow would be the understatement of the century. Zetian is so very much my hero, as is Xiran Jay Zhao for creating this novel. It simultaneously tackles patriarchy, revenge plots, and a quest for power. And it does so with style.

Did I mention that there are giant mecha battling alien mecha? That’s a thing I didn’t know I needed in a setting such as this. It reminded me of a better thought-out version of Pacific Rim. I mean no offense to fans of the movie – as I myself am one. is just that good.

Honestly, the marketing pitch for Iron Widow is freaking amazing: “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China’s only female emperor.” Um. Yes, please! I saw that description and knew that this book was one worth reading. I wasn’t disappointed, let me tell you that much!

Thanks to Penguin Teen and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Review: Along the Saltwise Sea by A. Deborah Baker

Series: The Up-and-Under #2
Author: A. Deborah Baker/Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor.com
Released: October 12, 2021
Received: NetGalley

Along the Saltwise Sea is the second novella in The Up-and-Under series, written by A. Deborah Baker (aka Seanan McGuire). This series started as a children’s book referenced in another one of McGuire’s worlds (Middlegame), but I feel like it has quickly gained a life of its own. Also, before I dive into my review, can we take a moment to appreciate that cover? It’s to die for.

Once up a time, two children, Avery and Zib, climbed Over the Woodward Wall. Now they’re stuck in the Up-and-Under, and what an adventure that has been! Two have become four, and now there are four children (only two humans) on this adventure.

The children have unintentionally found their way to the coast of the Saltwise Sea, where they come across a pirate queen’s cottage. One night there costs them a week out on the waters and yet another adventure that they couldn’t have planned or prepared for.

Now, I may be in the minority here, but I think I loved Along the Saltwise Sea even more than Over the Woodward Wall. I feel like both the children and the story have really grown to fit the world, and it shows.

Or maybe I’m just a sucker for nautical stories. Either way, I adore the events that transpired in Along the Saltwise Sea. If you read and enjoyed the first part of this adventure, or even if you read Middlegame and want to know how the story goes, I would strongly suggest picking up Along the Saltwise Sea and giving it a read.

Everything about this journey has felt so unbelievable and yet so organic. Each part flows smoothly onto the next, even as the world changes and new scenery pops into the foreground. I’m gobbling up all the details to this world; you better believe me.

I think the thing I loved the most about Along the Saltwise Sea is that it felt like we got to know all four children a bit more here. Not just Avery and Zib, but Niamn and Crow Girl as well. More than that, I feel like their individual stories are being pushed to new horizons as they grow alongside the main plot.

I’m thrilled that I got the chance to read an early copy of Along the Saltwise Sea, even though this means that I will naturally be waiting even longer for the sequel to come out. Still, I already know that it will be worth it.

Thanks to Tor.com and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Review: The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis

Author: Jessica Vitalis
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Released: September 21st, 2021
Received: Review Request

The Wolf’s Curse is the debut novel of Jessica Vitalis, and it is going to steal you away to another world. At least, it did for me!

We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf. But what about the tale of a cursed boy who actually did see the wolf? Gauge has been cursed. Cursed by the same wolf that stole his grandpapa’s soul, and yet nobody else will believe him.

Well, nobody, except for one. Together, they’re going to find a way through this to the other side. Together, they’re going to break the curse.

“The path ahead isn’t easy. It will be filled with darkness and despair, and you will almost certainly regret your decision, just as I regret mine.”

Guys, if you’re looking for an endearing and enchanting middle-grade fantasy, then trust me here: go pick up The Wolf’s Curse. It is everything promised – and so much more. This story struck a chord with me, and I can only imagine what a younger version of me would have felt while reading.

This is a tale that is simultaneously so human and so delightful. It explores complicated concepts such as grief and our purpose in the world. It delves into fear – of the world, of loss, of it all. And yet, it does so in such an approachable way.

Having read The Wolf’s Curse, I can promise you that all marketing comparisons (Lemony Snicket, The Book Theif, etc.) are more than fair! Yet, the best part is that Jessica Vitalis already has such a clear and unique voice of her own. One that weaves through the narrative and brings the story home.

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Banned Book Week 2021

Books To Read During Banned Book Week

September 26th marks the beginning of one special week. Every year where book lovers celebrate the banned books of the world. It’s a time to promote books that have been removed from libraries, schools, and more for various reasons.

Banned Books

The practice of banning books is, sadly, not new. It is also not in our past, with new books making the banned list every single year. It’s all the proof that many of us need to know that censorship is still alive – and still very much something we should all be battling.

Suppose you want to stay up to date on books actively being banned. In that case, The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has been working diligently to track and record any attempts to ban books. It has been doing so since the nineties, and as you might imagine, has quite the list going at this point.

Top Banned Books

The OIF also has a list of the top banned books. By the top, we, of course, mean the books getting banned with the highest frequency. Here are the ten books they’ve seen the most:
-The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
-Captain Underpants (whole series) by Dav Pilkey
-Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
-Looking for Alaska by John Green
-George by Alex Gino
-And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
-Drama by Raina Telgemeir
-Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
-Internet Girls (whole series) by Lauren Myracle
-The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

What To Read

Typically, book lovers will join together and try to read one or two (or more) banned books during this week. There are certainly more than enough books to choose from. One could use the supplied list from OIF, the Popsugar List, or any other lists that collect banned books. It’s really up to you.

All that matters is getting the word out there about books being banned. Some people truly don’t know that it is still happening. More than that, many people would be shocked to see some of the books making those lists. So take a look, speak up, and read.

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Review: LEGO Still Life with Bricks

LEGO Still Life with Bricks: The Art of Everyday Play
Artist: Lydia Ortiz
Contributor: Michelle Clair
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Released: April 7th, 2020
Received: NetGalley

4 kitties

I received a copy of LEGO Still Life with Bricks in exchange for a fair and honest review.

What do you do when a box full of LEGOs show up at your office door? You pull them out and start creating, of course! That is the premise behind LEGO Still Life with Bricks: The Art of Everyday Play, only to a whole new degree.

In this collection of photographs, Lydia Ortiz (with some help from Michelle Clair) takes LEGOs and begins to playfully work them into real-life situations. They’re funny, they’re cute, and they’re certainly unique.

This aren’t your typical LEGO creations. There are no LEGO masterpieces here. Instead, these pieces all merge with other objects, having the LEGOs stand in for the real world in truly clever, and sometimes hilarious, ways.

The collection is every bit as whimsical and fun as you might imagine. The photographs themselves are bold, simple, and surprisingly elegant. Between that and the colors of the backgrounds, the whimsy really does feel enhanced, almost like a story is being told throughout the pages.

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Realm Review – Thor: Metal Gods Episode 7

Loki’s Grand Plan in Thor: Metal Gods Episode 7

The quest continues in Thor: Metal Gods Episode 7. This series has been told in episode format through Serial Box (now Realm) and has been rapidly ramping up as Thor, and his allies seek to find the crown (a bit of a long story there).

Last we saw, Loki had been persuaded (slightly by force, alongside some surprising twists) to join Thor’s quest. That brings with it plenty of complications on its own, being that this is Loki and all. But it is the perfect fit for this series.

Thor: Metal Gods has been a fascinating series thus far. Each week a new episode (chapter, really) drops on Serial Box, much like a show releasing a new episode. I have to admit that Thor is well suited to the new format and have begun to really look forward to each new episode.

A Daring Heist

Jay Edidn steps up to the plate to write us this latest episode of Thor: Metal Gods. And I’ve got to say; he’s nailed the brotherly dynamics here. Thor and Loki have always had a…contentious relationship. The mixture of love and hate is so fine; it quickly obfuscates most other problems in the room.

That mixture was shown here, and there’s no doubt that it was the highlight of this episode. Actually, I take that back. It was a highlight, one of two. Delving into Horangi’s backstory was another much appreciated moment in this series. It added some true weight and heft to the plot and served as a reminder that this quest even began.

Thor: Metal Gods Episode 7 perfected the Loki smarm, charm, and sass that fans have loved so much. However, I should probably give some credit to the narrator for that as well. More on that in a moment.

Loki’s scheming is in full force here, with the phrase ‘trust me’ coming up enough times to give readers the chills. Granted, with Loki, you really only need to hear it once to start getting nervous. But that’s all proof that they’re using his character wisely here.

This episode felt much like a buildup as if they were setting the scene. Yes, plenty of conversations and events did occur. But there’s something much bigger looming on the horizon because we all know there’s no way this heist will go as planned.

Narration

Thank goodness for Daniel Gillies. He was once again the narrator, bringing Thor: Metal Gods Episode 7 to life. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, every character has found a voice through him. But it’s perhaps his portrayal of Loki that has made me so especially fond of his work.

You know how Loki practically oozes charm? Like you can almost feel it rolling off of him? Gillies did an excellent job of capturing that feeling while also portraying several key differences known to this series (mainly, Loki’s new fascination). It was very well done.

This episode did seem to focus more on the dialogue and thus left out many of the sound effects found in previous parts. But honestly? I’m okay with that. I think the focus was a good call, and it enhanced the scene.

Conclusion

Thor: Metal Gods Episode 7 was another fun and thrilling addition to this Serial Box series. I’ll be honest; I really wasn’t sure what to expect when this series was first announced. But now I’m extremely happy that I’ve been giving it a chance. In fact, I’m honestly getting really hyped for news about the other Marvel series they’ve been working on. But I guess we’ll have to be patient on that front.

This review was originally written for Word of the Nerd, but has been ported over to Quirky Cat’s Fat Stacks now that the site has shut down.

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Review: Dead Space by Kali Wallace

Author: Kali Wallace
Publisher: Berkley Books
Released: March 2nd, 2021
Received: NetGalley
Warnings: Graphic death/injuries

I’m just going to come out and say it: Dead Space is the best science fiction novel I’ve read this year. And I expect it will still be my favorite by the end of the year. This is a thrilling tale written by Kali Wallace that merges science fiction with horror, with touches of mystery.

Once upon a time, Hester Marley had a plan. She had a job she loved; she had friends, the works. But that all went away the day of the tragedy. While she was lucky to escape with her life, she lost so much in the process.

Now she’s stuck indebted to a company she hates, working a dead-end job that she can barely pretend to tolerate. It’s a life of misery, and it’s about to get a whole lot more complicated with the death of an old friend and college.

“This was my body now. Nothing more, nothing less, and never what the biohackers and transhumanists and weird fetishists wanted to hear.”

Dead Space grabbed my mind with both hands and refused to let go. No, seriously, I was that invested in the plot. In some ways, I still find myself thinking back to Hester and all of the insanity that she found herself involved in.

This novel combined two of my greatest loves: science fiction and horror. But it did more than that as well, throwing in some thriller and mystery elements, as well as having a lot of fantastic representation (LGBT+ and a prosthetic-wearing main character).

On that note, Kali Wallace did an excellent job describing the world and situation. Hester’s pain and PTSD felt both real and accurate – almost too much so at points. There’s plenty of danger and gore to go around as well, so keep all of that in mind.

This is a dark book. Not just because of the horror elements, but for the view on corporations and humanity as a whole. It was actually the ideal setting for everything else that happened. This is also a novel that will make you think, which you guys know I adore. There’s a moral center to this story, and it will not hand feed it to you.

Dead Space by and far has one of the best endings I’ve read in such a long time. It actually left me both amused and satisfied, which I feel is a rare thing, especially in the horror genre. I seriously cannot recommend this book more.

Thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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