Review: Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times – Carolina De Robertis

radical hopeRadical Hope is a collection of letters–to ancestors, to children five generations from now, to strangers in grocery lines, to any and all who feel weary and discouraged–written by award-winning novelists, poets, political thinkers, and activists. Provocative and inspiring, Radical Hope offers readers a kaleidoscopic view of the love and courage needed to navigate this time of upheaval, uncertainty, and fear, in view of the recent US presidential election. 

Rating: 4.5/5

I’m not American, but I did follow the electoral goings-on with a mixture of horror and dismay. And dramatic political upheavals are not limited to the US of A – a brief glance at the news will reveal that bigotry and corruption have gotten a stranglehold in countries across the globe.

So when I saw this book up for request on Edelweiss, I didn’t hesitate to click. I think we’re all in need of some mental encouragement, some restorative for the soul in these rather trying times. (I’m not one to bury my head in the sand, but constant political awareness is somewhat exhausting and depressing.)

This is hard work. One could easily become exhausted, or fall prey to despair. This is where this book comes in. There is an antidote to despair to be found in connection, in shared words and thoughts and voices.

While the anthology is obviously US-centric, many of the lessons, observations and encouragements contained in this anthology can be applied across borders. As evidenced by the cover, this collection is made up of a diverse array of voices, some which may resonate with you, and others you will learn from.

And I think, for this review, I’ll allow a selection of quotes from the book to speak for themselves.

Colonial power, patriarchal power, capitalist power must always and everywhere be battled, because they never, ever quit.

On nationality, roots and ancestral history:

The human story is one of continual branching movement, out of Africa to every corner of the globe. When people talk of blood and soil, as if their ancestors sprung fully formed from the earth of a particular place, it involves a kind of forgetting.

On idealism:

I want to believe in prophecies more than policies. I want to listen to poets instead of pollsters. I want prosperity for all rather than profits for some. I want to believe in the people rather than the president.

Being a white women, it is perhaps unsurprising that one of the essays that resonated with me was one entitled “Dear White People”.

Nothing changes if we just feel shitty about being White. And nothing changes if we refuse to talk about it. The opposite of white pride does not have to be white shame. We can’t push it away and pretend it’s not us. We are not color-blind, we are not post-race, we do not get to reject our whiteness because it makes us feel bad…This does not get solved with a Celebration of Diversity Day and a coexist bumper sticker.


You are an ally because of your actions, not because you say you are.

On those who hold political power:

Sometimes the office may elevate the man; more often, the man degrades the office.

On despair:

I saw that I had overestimated the goodness of ordinary people. I saw that men who care about nothing but money will always rule the world.

A critique of the ‘better option’ still not being good enough:

Yet we progressives had handed you the very tools with which you would critique what was possible in favour of what was perfect. You couldn’t see Hillary as creating the preferable but imperfect conditions in which you would act. Because you were taught to wait on the sidelines for someone beyond criticism.

And this food for thought, which I don’t think I have the goodness to embrace:

There will come a time and it won’t be long, when the followers of Orange Caesar will realise that they have been lied to. That they have been fooled. That they are objects of cynical derision.  And they will be hurt. We think we ache, we Nasty Women and Bad Hombres. That is when we must act. It will be our task not to gloat or mock. Because they are Us. It will be our job to comfort. We are not, in this midnight, permitted to refuse to shine. We are the light. Grace beats karma.

This thoughtful rumination on the power of words:

But language is malleable, and it is not always on the side of truth. This is something every writer knows. Words make and unmake the world with terrifying rapidity, and they do so without moral distinction…There is a battle going on right now over the words we use, over who has the right to speak and who does not.

A scathing indictment of US policy towards migrants – this passage just gripped me and wouldn’t let me go:

…Obama’s so called Plan Sur, which has literally outsourced immigration enforcement to corrupt Mexican authorities, providing Mexico with millions and millions of dollars to hunt and deport – effectively hunt, rape, rob, extort, murder, and maybe deport – Central American migrants in its southern regions in an attempt to alleviate the embarrassment of having hundreds of thousands of child refugees amassing at our borders, fleeing the violence and poverty of the very same Central America countries we gifted with “democracy” in exchange for helping to turn their countries into mass graves back in the ‘80s.

And a final message for all of us, going forward.

That people you don’t know are worth knowing, that they have something to teach you. That learning about them – that encountering new ideas – doesn’t threaten you, it enriches you.


ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.

Review: The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) – N.K. Jemisin

the obelisk gateThe season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever.

It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy.

It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.

The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

Rating: 4/5

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to report that there is no second-book syndrome here. The Obelisk Gate is just as rich and pacy as its predecessor – revealing more of the mysteries of the world building that were introduced in The Fifth Season.

Firstly, on an utterly shallow note, the covers for this series are incredible. This one in particular really caught my eye with its pleasing purple shades. Deceptively beautiful, considering the rather dire situations contained within.

As far as the plot is concerned, we pick up directly where the previous book left off – Essun and Alabaster have been reunited, with Alabaster on his way off this mortal coil. He has much knowledge to impart, although an understanding teacher he is not. However, it is only around halfway through the book that Essun finds out what, exactly, he intends for her to do.

You want me to catch the fucking moon?

Oh, I had to chuckle at Essun’s profanity-filled proclamation.

I was reminded, yet again, of the breathtaking scope of the originality and world building. It’s utterly refreshing to have a fantasy setting that isn’t a poor imitation of medieval Europe. Most of the people populating the novel are varying shades of brown. Women aren’t oppressed, at least not because of their gender. In fact, most of the characters are women who are adept and powerful in their own rights, whether they are leaders, physically strong, magically talented or mechanically skilled – to name but a few examples.

I also found this instalment much easier to follow, in terms of perspectives. We follow Essun as she adjusts to life in her newfound community, with increasing responsibilities to prevent civil war, save her own skin, and master her powers over the floating obelisks in the sky. The second perspective is that of Essun’s daughter, Nassun, detailing her flight from her home with her father and the events that follow. Finally, we have short interjections from a third, mysterious narrator, whose identity you can figure out as the book progresses.

But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people.

One thing that has stood our for me throughout this series is the dark, wry humour. The kind that comes from situations that seem so hopeless that if you don’t temper it with sarcasm you’ll end up crying instead.

You’re the one who has to explain to Tonkee that Hjarka’s decided, through whatever convoluted set of values the big woman holds dear, than an ex-commless geomest with the social skills of a rock represents the pinnacle of desirability.

Finally, I was really drawn to the depiction of platonic relationships that form the heart of the novel – mainly between Essun and Alabaster, but between Essun and the other supporting characters as well. The somewhat begrudging relationships that turn into real care and concern, sometimes despite Essun’s intentions – understandable, considering the staggering losses she has faced in her past. The role she takes on to protect the people of her community, despite how they may treat her, and her attempts to preserve life, despite her abilities to wipe out everyone surrounding her.

Creative, powerful, entertaining and at times philosophical, The Obelisk Gate is a fantastic continuation of this effortlessly blended-genre series.

Books from my childhood

books from my childhood

There are a number of books that I read as a child that have remained with me to this day…mentally, at least. Since some of their physical forms just couldn’t withstand the ravages of time, ha. And these books weren’t necessarily favourites, although some did fall into that category – but rather books that, in one way or another, had a major impact on me. (And I purposefully avoided Harry Potter, because the dear boy appears on every childhood reading list ever written.)

his dark materials

His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

I read, nay, devoured this trilogy when I was 12. And boy, did it leave me disturbed. Not necessarily in a bad way – it was just so thought-provoking and the ending left me utterly bereft. Coming from a rather religious household, it was also the first time I’d encountered subject matter so decidedly anti-religious-establishment, which also left me with a lot to grapple with. For a ‘children’s book, it dealt with so many complex issues in an accessible way.  Combined with exquisite worldbuilding and memorable characters, this trilogy gave me food for thought for months afterwards. I think it may be time for a reread as an adult – it will be interesting to see my take on it now, some 15 years later.

I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are.

walk two moonsWalk Two Moons – Sharon Creech

Sharon Creech is like the Melina Marchetta of middle grade literature. Walk Two Moons was the first book of hers that I read – and I then I promptly sought out everything else she had every written. While I don’t recall the exact plot, I do know it had the perfect balance of family drama and humour, which was what made it such a stand out read.

“How about a story? Spin us a yarn.”
Instantly, Phoebe Winterbottom came to mind. “I could tell you an extensively strange story,” I warned.
“Oh, good!” Gram said. “Delicious!”
And that is how I happened to tell them about Phoebe, her disappearing mother, and the lunatic.

a child called itA Child Called It – Dave Pelzer

SO NOT A CHILDREN’S BOOK. I saw it on my mother’s bookshelf one day and started surreptitiously reading this forbidden subject matter. Gah. I couldn’t stop myself, even though I knew it was very much not appropriate for my age group, and left me highly disturbed due to the rather horrifying descriptions of child abuse. Can’t say it scarred me for life, however, so I guess it’s all good.



when hitler stole pink rabbitWhen Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr

This was my first encounter with WW2 fiction. It was a fantastic combination of historical fact and family drama, told from the eyes of a young girl, which made it easy for me to digest and make sense of the horrors of that particular time. I didn’t realise it was published all the way back in 1971 – which I only discovered now when putting together this post.



louis sacharHoles – Louis Sachar

I’m beginning to realise that aged 12 was a rather prolific year of reading for me, ha, considering almost all the books on this list I read around then. This is another one of those books I think would be well served by me rereading it as an adult. Again, while I can’t recall specific details, I know it dealt with a lot of social justice issues, and was alternately humorous and heartbreaking.


sisterhood of the travelling pantsThe Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants – Ann Brashares

I read this one at the beginning of high school and – don’t laugh – thought it was very profound! (At the time, okay.) I really enjoyed the ruminations on friendship and all its nuances, along with the focus on growing up and approaching adulthood.

Maybe happiness didn’t have to be about the big, sweeping circumstances, about having everything in your life in place. Maybe it was about stringing together a bunch of small pleasures.

Are there any books from your childhood that stand out – either because you loved them, or because they made an impact on you in some way? Would be great to hear about yours!

Review: Caraval – Stephanie Garber

caravalRemember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

Rating: 2/5

Black sheep alert! I say, BLACK SHEEP ALERT. I was so looking forward to this one, but I have to say it’s my biggest disappointment of the year so far.

At first, I thought it was because it’s YA and I’m not the target audience – it did feel really juvenile, which is obviously not the book’s fault, but mine. But then I saw almost every other adult reader of the book raving about it – so that couldn’t be the reason!

The biggest issue for me was the writing. The overly descriptive, purpliest-prose that I have ever read. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for description – but every single object encountered by our protagonist is described. Every. Single. Object.

And described in excrutiatingly flowery detail, but using incredibly simplistic imagery. See the following examples:

“The isle on the horizon looked nothing like her familiar Trisda. Where Trisda was black sand, rocky coves, and sickly looking shrubs, this bit of earth was lush and alive. Glittering mist swirled around vibrant green mountains – all covered in trees – that rose toward the sky as if they were massive emeralds. From the top of the largest peak an iridescent blue waterfall streamed down like melted peacock feathers, disappearing into the ring of sunrise-tinted clouds that pirouetted around the surreal isle.”

“Lush red carpet cushioned her steps, while soft golden lights licked her arms with gentle kisses of warmth. Heat was everywhere, when a blink ago the world had been covered in cold. It tasted like light, bubbly on her tongue and sugary as it went down, making everything from the ends of her toes to the tips of her fingers tingle.”

Now imagine this but for 400 pages. (You don’t want to know how many times ‘emerald’ or ‘silver’ are used to describe something. If I took a shot every time I read a jewel-toned adjective…it would probably have made it a more enjoyable reading experience, to be honest.)

And the figures of speech were also clumsy and cringeworthy. They didn’t even make sense.

“She remembered her first impression of him, tall, roughly handsome, and dangerous, like poison dressed up in an attractive bottle.” 

“And to her horror, rather than feeling distaste, a tingle of periwinkle curiosity prickled her senses.”

Now all of this, of course, would have been slightly redeemed if we’d found out early on that the heroine Scarlett has synesthesia. But the author leaves it until past halfway to enlighten us. So I was left trying to grapple with these bizarre colour combinations and smells and the rest of it.

But let’s have more awful examples of the writing.

This is how the love interest’s eyes are described: “Light brown, the colour of caramel and liquid amber list.”

“She pictured two hungry pools of liquid amber fringed by dark lashes.”

Excuse me while I roll my eyes…sorry, I meant pools of liquid.

“Around her, the people on the street were as thick as a murder of crows.”


“Her skirt and blouse were silver this time, with eyes and lips painted to match. Like a teardrop the moon had cried.”


But let’s get onto the other things I didn’t like, since I appear to be on a roll!

In terms of the plot, everything is just far too damn convenient. Oh, Scarlett needs to find a clue? Oh look, there it is, conveniently waiting for her. Repeat times 5.

Scarlett as a character is also incredibly slow on the uptake – it’s not great form if the reader keeps guessing before the character figures things out. Her naiviety and prudishness can be excused as product of her upbringing, but she gives absolutely no sense of agency to her sister, who is only younger than her by a year. While it’s admirable that she loves her sister and tries to save her constantly, Tella is not some helpless baby.

Also, some delightful slut-shaming:

“…she was not going to let Julian make eyes at some tart in a bar…”

And the romance didn’t do it for me. There’s a lot of pressing together through layers of flimsy dresses, oh my, and plenty of mentions of Scarlett’s curves. While Scarlett has waxed lyrical about Julian’s eyes (see above quotes), his mouth is also a point of descriptive butchering – sly, sinful, immoral. How a quirk of a mouth can be immoral is beyond me.


Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Windwitch (The Witchlands #2) – Susan Dennard

windwitchAfter an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

Rating: 3.5/5

As a result of the events of the previous book, Safi has been captured by the Empress of Marstok, Merik is presumed dead, Iseult is trying to find Safi, and Aeduon is on his own mission.

Unfortunately the momentum of the last book completely stalled in this one. While all our characters were on the move, it seemed like they were on particularly dodgy road trips, rather than having an end-goal in mind.

I suppose I should also have refreshed myself on what happened in the first book before delving into this one, because I was fairly lost on some of the major plot points and it took me a while to remember who was doing what and why.

I really do love the worldbuilding in this series, although we don’t have all the necessary information all the powers and the origin wells – I assume this will be delivered to us as we need it.

The characters and their relationships are what really make this series for me. I enjoyed Safi and Iseult learning how to compensate without the other one there – although I did miss their interactions, now that they are separated. Aeduan and Iseult have the world’s slowest of burns going on. I do wish there’d been more resolution to the Merik/Vivia conflict – it felt very abrupt at the end. And the newer cast members added some welcome flavour to the mix.

Plot-wise was where the book let me down. As I mentioned, it just felt incredibly slow to me, and it took them all a very long time to do the things they needed to do. And since the main characters were separated from each other, some of the quick-witted chemistry was lost. Furthermore, Merik wasn’t the most riveting of characters, and this was technically ‘his’ book.

Despite this, I’m still invested in the series, and I hope that Bloodwitch recovers the pace and excitement that was missing from this installment.

I ordered my first book box…and I liked it!

Ahem. So many of you UK/US/AUS book people have a great choice of subscription book boxes to choose from – I frequently see unboxings on Tumblr and Instagram and it always makes me rather envious. Being in South Africa, the exchange rates for these are brutal, even if they do ship internationally, and then things tend to sit in customs for around three months. So all in all, not a particularly worthwhile experience.

BUT. Recently I found out about the first South African book box service, courtesy of a friend on Facebook. And I was suitably intrigued. Two things convinced me to order – 1. I was fairly certain about which book it was, and it was one I had been wanting to get anyway, and 2. I had just fractured my foot and was feeling very sorry for myself – i.e. treats were required.

📚 My @thebcase box has arrived! #bookstagam #bookmail

A post shared by Hannah (@fullybookedreviews) on

The unpacking was ever-so intriguing…

But whatever can be inside…? @thebcase #bookstagram #bookmail

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I greedily opened everything in the office…and then re-examined everything when I got home.

In case you didn’t guess, it was a circus theme, relating to the much-hyped Caraval. My lovely box was promptly delivered, and arrived to much fanfare on my part!

I think everyone adores bookish goodies – it’s like a literary treasure box. And while I can’t afford to sign up for one every month, I’ll definitely be treating myself every now and then, especially when there’s a theme that appeals to me.

So, my lovelies, do you have a regular subscription to something like this? What’s the nicest treasure you’ve received? I was quite taken with the stripy socks in the jar! And the popcorn, which totally got me through the last hour of my working day.

Mini Reviews: Magic for Nothing (InCryptid #6) – Seanan McGuire + The Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3) – Genevieve Cogman

magic for nothingImprobable, adjective:
1. Not very likely to happen; not probable.
2. Probably not a very good idea anyway.
3. See also “bad plan.”

As the youngest of the three Price children, Antimony is used to people not expecting much from her. She’s been happy playing roller derby and hanging out with her cousins, leaving the globe-trotting to her older siblings while she stays at home and tries to decide what she wants to do with her life. She always knew that one day, things would have to change. She didn’t think they’d change so fast.

Annie’s expectations keep getting shattered. She didn’t expect Verity to declare war on the Covenant of St. George on live television. She didn’t expect the Covenant to take her sister’s threat seriously. And she definitely didn’t expect to be packed off to London to infiltrate the Covenant from the inside…but as the only Price in her generation without a strong resemblance to the rest of the family, she’s the perfect choice to play spy. They need to know what’s coming. Their lives may depend on it.

But Annie has some secrets of her own, like the fact that she’s started setting things on fire when she touches them, and has no idea how to control it. Now she’s headed halfway around the world, into the den of the enemy, where blowing her cover could get her killed. She’s pretty sure things can’t get much worse.

Antimony Price is about to learn just how wrong it’s possible for one cryptozoologist to be. 

Rating: 4/5

Another entertaining instalment of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, a dazzlingly original and imaginative world of weirdly wonderful creatures, as well as weirdly wonderful family members – and the weird but less wonderful faction of purists that want to hunt them down.

This is the first time we are introduced to youngest sister Antimony (Annie), who feels pretty hard done by as a result of older sister Verity’s antics – essentially outing them to the entire world on live television. Annie ends up getting sent on a super dangerous mission to infiltrate the family’s enemies, due to the fact that she looks nothing like the rest of them.

It’s an enjoyable romp from start to finish, with some more serious moments thrown in, a hint of romance, and a dash of the delightful talking Aeslin mice. I particularly enjoyed the carnival setting in this one – the atmosphere was so authentically evoked.  While I prefer the author’s other UF series, October Daye, InCryptid is its light-hearted cousin with plenty of humour and a strong focus on family, persecution and subterfuge.

Maybe finding a body had been the icebreaker we needed. In which case, wow, was I staying the hell away from him. Some ice is not meant to be broken.


ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.


the burning pageLibrarian spy Irene has professional standards to maintain. Standards that absolutely do not include making hasty, unplanned escapes through a burning besieged building. But when the gateway back to your headquarters dramatically malfunctions, one must improvise. And after fleeing a version of Revolutionary France astride a dragon (also known as her assistant, Kai), Irene soon discovers she’s not the only one affected. Gates back to the Library are malfunctioning across a multitude of worlds, creating general havoc. She and Kai are tasked with a mission to St Petersburg’s Winter Palace, to retrieve a book which will help restore order.

However, such plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy – particularly when the enemy is the traitor Alberich. A nightmare figure bent on the Library’s destruction, Alberich gives Irene a tainted ‘join me or die’ job offer. Meanwhile, Irene’s old friend Vale has been damaged by exposure to Chaotic forces and she has no idea how to save him. When another figure from her past appears, begging for help, Irene has to take a good hard look at her priorities. And of course try to save the Library from absolute annihilation. Saving herself would be a bonus.

Irene’s adventures feature stolen books, secret agents and forbidden societies – think Doctor Who but with librarian spies!

Rating: 4/5

I really love the concept of this series – librarian spies? Secret bookish organisation that spans worlds? And indeed, the world building has been well thought-out, in terms of how things can happen, when and why. And I definitely enjoyed this book more than its predecessor, mainly because we were back in the world of the library, discovering the ins-and-outs of Irene’s employer.

Irene is a delightful character. She comes across as quite stoic, but she is a professional to the core and will do whatever she needs to in order to get the job done, and bring home the people she loves safely. Sometimes these two elements are in opposition, in which case she prioritises the latter. And while Irene is bloody competent, she is perfectly willing to step back when necessary and let the person with the  required skill set get to work. No unnecessary dramatics from Irene. And that is not to say she doesn’t get emotional – many near-death experiences really put her through the wringer – but she is a loyal Librarian and friend to the core.

In this instalment, the Library, and Irene, are under threat from a former enemy who made his appearance in book one. It’s a race against time to try and preserve this institution from complete annihilation. Poor Irene just can’t catch a break, can she? It was great getting insight into the different factions as well – I have to say, I’m quite fond of the dragons:

Kai had explained, in tones of kindly condescension at human convention, that social gender among dragons was what the dragon in question said it was. And since Li Ming said he was male, then he was male. 

There were some romantic overtures in this one that came out of absolutely nowhere, at least in my opinion. Rather curious to see where it goes, since I had another ship in mind. But I’m absolutely open to polyamory as an option, so there’s always that! Another facet of the book I really enjoyed is how Kai, Irene and Vale work together to solve whatever obstacle they’re facing. Overall, knowing there are two more books in the series, I’m intrigued to see where Cogman takes our favourite trio and their extended crew in future instalments.

The only problem is that it’s difficult to imagine something entirely new. We use the words and definitions of the past to shape our ideas. Something that is genuinely the next evolutionary step is unlikely to resemble anything we can imagine. 


ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.