The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”46207682

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

****

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a book I have seen passed around many a ‘Top XXX self-published books you should read’ list. Having gotten the chance to meet the author through various blogging circles, I was delighted to hear that Orbit picked this book up. I’m glad to say that my support for this book was not unfounded. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro finds its life in its main character Talyien, and while Talyien is brash and at times unlikeable character, her force-of-nature personality makes it hard to pull away.

I think the only way to start this review is to talk about Talyien. Force-of-nature, aggressive and unrelenting Talyien. Did I like her? To be honest, probably not. My favorite characters are the methodical and intelligent ones, always one step ahead of their opponents. Talyien is not that. Did I root for her though? Hell yes I did. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is told from her perspective and as a very character-driven book, we learn a lot about her personality, her love for her son, all the shit she gets from her country, and the messy breakup between her and her husband. We learn of her (many) insecurities, from her husband issues to her daddy issues, but we also learn about the sheer amount of love she has for her son and her concerns for his future. Villoso paints this incredibly real and sympathetic character that even if you don’t like, you sure as hell can root for.

The worldbuilding is fantastic. The departure from fantasy-Western Europe is always nice, but the amount of detail that Villoso puts into creating this Asian-inspired world around Talyien is amazing. There are details on how the cultures dress, how they do their makeup, lost history and techniques from Taylien’s home (they used to be dragon-riders!). And then there’s the food. THE FOOD. I read this book in one sitting, fairly late at night in a nearby coffee shop and there were times I genuinely considered running home so I could make myself food. Early on, Talyien finds herself stuck in a different land and so we experience these new details as she tries to pick her way through the world.

The plot might be the part most people struggle with. I’ve seen multiple reviewers on GoodReads call the plot ‘anxiety-inducing’, and that’s probably the best descriptor I’ve read. Between how character-driven the plot is and how much worrying Talyien does on screen, reading becomes incredibly anxiety-inducing. Taylien goes through Some Shit in this book and with how much recovery and down-time she spends in-between big events, all of it taken up by Taylien worrying, events that would seem bad get feel even worse.

Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. KS Villoso has delivered a beautiful, character-driven story in The Wolf of Oren Yaro, packed full with political betrayals, a fascinating complex female lead, and phenomenal world-building.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • SFF Novel by a Local Author (Canada)
  • Title with 4+ Words
  • #OwnVoices

Publication Date: 18 February 2020
Publisher: Orbit
Format: Paperback, ARC
Pages: 496
Word Count:
ISBN: 0316532665

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, Translated by Ken Liu

 

20518872The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

****

Review:

The Three-Body Problem has been a book on my To-Read shelf for years. A highly acclaimed, Chinese Sci-Fi novel that caught the eye of even President Obama. That checks a lot of boxes for me. Having finally read the book, I come out with mixed opinions. On one hand, the worldbuilding and the science are both phenomenally written. On the other, the characters come off as flat and wooden, as if merely going through motions instead of actually interacting with the world.

Some of my favorite sci-fi novels are ones where the author really knows their science and The Three-Body Problem might just top that list. With the book mainly being told from the perspective of two well-respected Chinese academics, Liu dives hard into both the mechanics and competing philosophies behind astrophysics and electrical engineering. Numbers are quoted, calculations and the theory behind calculating the Three-Body Problem is explained in graphic detail, and at one point there’s even a research paper cited. Liu helpfully provides footnotes to explain some of the more technical terms. Granted, I have very a surface understanding of either field so I can’t speak to the accuracy, but a friend’s dad who happens to be a physics professor enjoys this series so I’ll assume the science checks out. Liu also flexes his background in computer engineering when characters, on two separate occasions, build themselves very unorthodox computing engines. All of this is included without, in my opinion, detracting from the story. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the science bits were my favorite parts.

Liu’s handles the worldbuilding and politics of this book extremely well. While this book is set mainly in the modern world, it holds a lot of cultural and historical context in the Chinese Cultural Revolution that I’m guessing most English-readers aren’t familiar with. However, the descriptions in the book and some translator’s notes provided by Ken Liu do a good job providing this context without detracting from the story. In the modern world sections, I really enjoyed the tension that builds between different factions of the CCP as the existence of aliens becomes known and what the Chinese response to these beings should be. I do wish the international community played a direct role sooner instead of only being mentioned as contributors to the global body of science, but I’m sure that gets addressed much more in the sequels.

Easily the weakest part of this book were the characters themselves. The book is read from two POVs, astrophysicist Ye Wenjie and nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao. Through the book, these characters undergo the death of loved ones, supernatural meddling of the senses, and more. Yet, I never truly felt like either of them had emotional attachment to this world. It’s a little understandable with Ye, given the trauma she undergoes during the Cultural Revolution, that her POVs would feel numb, but with Wang, I never felt like he had emotional reactions to things. Yes, the author would tell you Wang felt shocked, or confused, or surprised, but that emotion never really seemed to register to the character itself. For readers who prefer more character-driven novels, or at least prefer reading with engaging perspectives, this is not that book.

Another criticism I had was the writing. While the science and technical parts were great, the overall story felt off. Going back to the characters not emotionally interacting with the world, the tone of the story just felt wooden. I recognize this book has been translated from Chinese to English and having worked for a translation group that translated Chinese light novels to English, I understand how hard it is to capture to feel of the original text while staying true to the writing. Having also read many machine-translated, fan-driven light novel translations, I’m more than willing to forgive awkward translations. However, I asked my dad who’s read the books in Chinese about writing, and his response was, quote, “The writing is quite bad” (to recognize biases, he also didn’t like the book because he prefers his science and his sci-fi to remain separate). With that said, I’m lead to believe Ken Liu has a faithful translation and that the base material wasn’t the best to begin with.

One minor nitpick I had: This book was sold to me as, what if aliens, but China made contact first. As such, I expected aliens and China making contact first. If I read this correctly, China was arguably slow to make contact with the Tri-solar aliens. More importantly though, is that there’s actually very little aliens. This book is very very slow burn (though still engaging), and it looks more at how different groups of humans react to the existence of aliens and their invisible presence than it does the aliens themselves. That being said, the aliens do make an appearance, just very late in the book.

Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. I loved how unforgivingly technical Liu went with the science and how in-depth his exploration was with how humanity would react if aliens were discovered. However, the characters and the writing I found to be lacking.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • Title with 4+ words
    • does one count Three-Body as 1 or 2 words
  • #OwnVoices

Publication Date: 12 January 2016 (English translation publication)
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: Paperback
Pages: 416
Word Count: ~119,000
ISBN: 0765382032

The Slow Descent of Falling Behind

I have a confession to make.

I’ve fallen behind on my book blogging, fallen behind in the book community in general. My Goodreads has been left all but abandoned. The last four posts on this blog were queued from May. I didn’t even know SDCC was occurring, let alone filled with so many publishers and authors, until I checked Twitter for the first time in ages, and I live in the damn city.

I’ve fallen behind and I didn’t even notice.

It starts with noticing the reading pace slowing down, until you find yourself barely getting through ten pages a day. It’s the gradual slip of book-related websites and communities like NetGalley and /r/Fantasy, sliding further and further down the recommended websites list in Chrome. It’s the creeping feeling of guilt that comes every time you open up Twitter, berating you for not staying caught up on the latest news in publishing, not picking up references to new drama and events, not recognizing new names and authors and debuts and what the upcoming catalog of every publisher in your sphere is. It’s the indifference, yet shame felt every time you check your blogging email and see the number of unopened emails, notifying you of author updates, new blog posts, publisher newsletters, grow and grow and grow.

It ends when even looking at the Twitter icon showers you in a wall of shame and guilt, when the simple act of picking up a book to read during a lunch break trips you up with guilt over Netgalley requests left unfinished. It ends with the knowledge that you’ve probably been blacklisted from every publisher and author you love and follow because of requests left untouched and ignored for months.

To me as a reader, it’s saddening. To me as a blogger, it’s crushing.

Because I like to read. Because I enjoy blogging. Because I enjoy this community and the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had. I enjoy getting to share my love for books I’ve been enthralled by, and encouraging others to read something they otherwise would not have.

But sometimes it becomes overwhelming.

I don’t plan to stop reading, or posting (hopefully), but I don’t think I’ll be able to maintain that book-a-day pace that I used to be able to manage. I won’t use this as a formal announcement for anything, but this simply has been something I needed to get off my chest.

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

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San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where mystery, science, and art intersect.

*****

Review:

Why yes, I did buy this book purely for its beautiful beautiful cover (I actually put down a copy of Foundryside to buy this one instead.) Passing Strange crossed my radar when I saw the cover on the nominee list for the Nebulas two years ago, which told me it was probably hella gay and very little else. Buying the book, I still didn’t know much other than that the main characters were probably lesbians and boy was I right.

Through this novella, we follow the lives of three queer women navigating their way through 1940s San Francisco. There’s Helen, a Chinese lawyer/club dancer, Haskel,  semi-famous painter known for her pulp fiction covers, and Emily, a newcomer who’s introduced to the two through mutual acquaintances.  Through certain circumstances, Haskel and Emily start seeing each other early on and much of this book is a slice of life following of their interactions.

Characters aside, what really makes this book unique is the setting. 1940s San Francisco has its aesthetic and charm (see: the cover), which is explored quite well as we follow the characters. However, it also has its downsides: the racism and Orientalism that was occurring nationwide, but especially San Francisco due to the number of Asian immigrants, as well as the abysmal treatment of queer women during the time. The book does not shy away from those topics and while some terms used may be triggering to readers today, I found it extremely powerful that Passing Strange, not only addressed those topics, but showed how women of the era thrived despite their oppressors.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. Not only do we get a fantastic depiction of the lives of three queer women in 1940s San Francisco, we also learn about the darker side of that era and how these women were able to thrive nonetheless.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • Slice of Life Fantasy (hard mode)
  • SFF Novella
  • #OwnVoices

Publication Date: 24 January 2017
Publisher: Tor.com
Format: paperback
Pages: 131
Word Count: ~113,000
ISBN: 0765389517

Anticipated July 2019 Releases

July coming in with yet another strong month of publications. I feel like I’m never going to make one of these posts where I’ll only have one or two books.


The Heart of Hell – Wayne Barlowe – 2 July 2019

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I have a certain fondness for evil protagonists, demons especially, that I really don’t get to read enough of in traditionally published fiction. I’m not sure if this book is a sequel (it’s not marked so on Goodreads but the author has an earlier book that mentions one of the characters in this summary), but either way that’s an extra book added to my TBR!

Sargatanas has Ascended and the doomed, anguished souls have found themselves emancipated. Hell has changed…hasn’t it? The demons, wardens of the souls, are free of their inmates…

And the damned, liberated from their terrible torments, twisted and bent but thankful that they are no longer forced to be in proximity to their fearsome jailors, rejoice. But something is stirring under the surface of Hell’s ceaseless carnage…and into this terrible landscape come three entities:

Lilith, the former First Consort to Beelzebub and her Sisters of Sargatanas trying to find a way to save Hannibal…again;

Boudica, a brick no more, forever in search of her lost daughters;

Adramalik, the former Grand Master of the Priory of the Fly reduced to serving a new lord, Ai Apaec, and seeking his destiny as Prince of Hell. (more)


Spin the Dawn – Elizabeth Lim – 9 July 2019

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I’ve seen sooo much for this book through Twitter and NetGalley and I’m so excited to read it! Project Runway mixed with an East Asian setting? Amazing. Truly amazing. I was devastated when I didn’t get a NG ARC, but now that gives me the excuse to buy the book for its gorgeous gorgeous cover.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined. (more)


This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone – 16 July 2019

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I think half the bloggers I know have been raving about this book, and it sounds like the wonderfully weird mathy unique SciFi that I think I would love. I’ve got a copy of it arriving in the mail and I can’t wait to get to it.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right? (more)


The Wolf’s Call – Anthony Ryan – 23 July 2019

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Blood Song was one of the reasons I got hooked on the fantasy genre, way back in 8th grade. I was pretty disappointed with how the rather infamous rest of the series turned out, but I’m always down for more Vaelin and several of the early reviews look promising.

PEACE NEVER LASTS

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. Yet he cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Now whispers have come from across the sea of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat. (more)


Shatter the Sky – Rebecca Kim Wells – 30 July 2019

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Lesbians. Dragons. Political drama. Yes please and thank you! I’ve got an ARC of this one sitting on my Kindle and you can bet the moment I saw this on NetGalley I smashed the request button.

Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground… (more)

The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

38581969Publication Date: 13 August 2019
Publisher: Text Publishing
Format: eBookc, ARC
Pages: ~24,000
Word Count: ~21,000
ISBN: 1925603741

Summary:

Lottie collects dead creatures and lovingly cares for them, hoping to preserve them, to save them from disintegration. Her father understands—Lottie has a scientific mind, he thinks. Her aunt wants it to stop, and she goes to cruel lengths to make sure it does.

And her mother? Lottie’s mother died long ago. And Lottie is searching for a way to be close to her.

The Art of Taxidermy is a heartbreaking verse novel exploring love and death, grief and beauty, and the ways we try to make sense of it all.

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

This is one of the few non-SFF novels that will appear on this blog, but like the main character, I have a fascination with death and so when a title like The Art of Taxidermy appeared on NetGalley, I knew I just had to read it. What I did not expect was that this novel is actually a collection of poetry that together make-up one complete story: a story about a girl who experiences death too early in her life and finds herself inexplicably drawn to dead animals at a young age, much to the chagrin of her aunt. The book itself is a quick read, but it packs quite an emotional punch that I was not expecting to hit on a flight at 2AM. The cast of characters around Charlotte, our young taxidermist-to-be, become quite well fleshed-out and very realistic. Primarily, this book deals with grief, and how different people handle it, and how they let it change their behavior. I won’t spoil anything, but this ending is happily ever after. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5.

The True Queen by Zen Cho

32671617Publication Date: 12 March 2019
Publisher: Ace Books
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 384
Word Count: ~104,000
ISBN: 0425283410

Summary: 

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

 

***

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

DNF@25

This is a weird one for me, because I didn’t really dislike it. The main characters, Muna and her sister Sakti were quite compelling main characters and the overall worldbuilding, the combination of Malaysian and English cultures, was quite interesting. There’s a lot to like in this book. However, for some reason, I kept finding myself straying whenever I tried to read it, and after the fifth time trying to pick it up, I had to call it quits. I think a large part of it had to do with the writing style, namely the Regency-style prose. I adore Regency-era settings, but I’ve learned through high school English classes that I can’t stand that era’s writing style, and there was just a little too much of that in here. Perhaps in the future, I’ll try to give this another go.

2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • SFF featuring an ocean setting
  • SFF published in 2019
  • #OwnVoices

T5W – Rainy Day Reads

T5W is a weekly book meme created by Lainey from Gingereadslainey and hosted by Sam from Thought On Tomes with a different bookish topic each week. You can check out the GoodReads group here. The group is currently on a summer hiatus, so I’ll be picking out topics I think are fun for these three months.

Topic: Rainy Day Reads – Short, fun reads for when I want to lift my mood and turn my brain off on a rainy day

The Last Sun by KD Edwards

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This was a recent read that I just simply COULD NOT put down. The plot was thoroughly rompy, the worldbuilding was creative, and the characters, especially Rune and Brand, were extremely fun to read. It’s been a while since a book has grabbed me so much and I foresee many re-reads in the future.

Read More »

Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

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Publication Date: 25 June 2019
Publisher: Solaris

Format: eBook, ARC

Pages: 400

Word Count: ~93,000
ISBN: 1781085641

Summary: The essential short story collection set in the universe of Ninefox Gambit.

An ex-Kel art thief has to save the world from a galaxy-shattering prototype weapon…

A general outnumbered eight-to-one must outsmart his opponent…

A renegade returns from seclusion to bury an old comrade…

From the incredible imagination of Hugo- and Arthur C. Clarke-nominated author Yoon Ha Lee comes a collection of stories set in the world of the best-selling Ninefox Gambit. Showcasing Lee’s extraordinary imagination, this collection takes you to the very beginnings of the hexarchate’s history and reveals new never-before-seen stories

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

Warning, the following review will contain heavy spoilers for the main trilogy and readers are highly recommended to read the main trilogy before reading this review or the discussed collection.
For fans of Yoon Ha Lee’s The Machineries of the Empire trilogy, this short story collection is a must read. Featuring snippets of flash fiction that give insight into the Hexarchate’s inner workings, small fluff bits describing Jedao Cheris’ childhoods, one memorable 1K word fic on Jedao’s uniform kink, and two Jedao-centric novellas “The Battle of Candle Arc” and “Glass Cannon”, Hexarchate Stories works as an excellent accompaniment to supplement to main trilogy.
About half of these stories center around Jedao and his life pre-Black Cradle. We get short snippets of this childhood living on a goose farm and more insight in into his mother, younger sister, and older brother. We also get several shorts of his life during the Shuos Academy (with not enough Ruo) and his early military career. These shorts do a fantastic job painting Jedao as a tragic figure who never really got to mature past the age of 17 before vowing revenge on the Hexarchate for Ruo’s death. As a reader who was fascinated by Jedao and wished we got to see more of his life, these stories more than satisfied me.
We also get a fair bit of Cheris’s childhood, making friends servitors on the beach and “teaching” them math, then joining the Kel Academy. It’s nice to see more of her childhood and her backstory, something I thought we didn’t get quite enough of in the main series. I was hoping Mikodez would ge a short or two (maybe possibly even featuring Istradez), but alas, I supposed I can’t have everything I want.
Many of the shorts in this series have been published online or in print prior to this publication, like “Battle of Candle Arc” and “Extracurricular Activities” and I have a faint recollection of reading several of the flash fiction stories on the author’s website way back when. However, the last short “Glass Cannon” is a completely new piece that acts as a direct continuation of the main trilogy. I don’t want to spoil anything, but for anyone who thought there wasn’t nearly enough Jedao/Cheris interaction at the end of Revenant Gun, you will love this short. It also likely sets up for a brand new conflict and, if I’m reading the ending right, an entirely new series!

Overall, I rate this collection a 5/5. Machines of the Empire fans will adore this collection and for those that haven’t started, you’re surely missing out!

/r/Fantasy 2018-2019 Bingo Squares:

  • #OwnVoices
  • 5 Short Stories
  • Novella (Extracurricular Activities (not hard mode), Glass Cannon (hard mode))
  • 2019 Publication
  • Novel with AI Character

T5W – Emerald Covers

T5W is a weekly book meme created by Lainey from Gingereadslainey and hosted by Sam from Thought On Tomes with a different bookish topic each week. You can check out the GoodReads group here. The group is currently on a summer hiatus, so I’ll be picking out topics I think are fun for these three months.

Topic: Emerald Covers – May’s birthstone is emerald so talk about those emerald covers. Not just green. EMERALD.

A quick perusal of my Goodreads tells me that I’ve read ZERO books with emerald covers. And very very few with green covers at that. So I’m afraid this will be a very short post of emerald covers I find pretty but haven’t read and only may or may not read