ARC Review: DEFEKT (Finna #2) by Nino Cipri (2021)

Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: April 2021
Buy Links:| Unabridged Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read a NetGalley eARC
Content warning: bleeding (mild), doppelgangers

This unexpected sequel to Finna starts off with the backstory of why Derek couldn’t come into that fateful work day when Jules and Ava fall into a wormhole. What continues is an unexpected shift to tame homicidal toilets with a team of Derek’s own doppelgangers.

With fantastic dynamics, characters that leap off the page, and the cost of company loyalty, Defekt is a wonderfully weird sequel which leaves the reader wide-eyed at the strangeness and grinning with delight.

This book was a ton of fun. I feel like the tone went from scary-weird to funny-weird with clever uses of character introductions. Derek, as a person, is relatively harmless, albeit annoying as far as coworkers go. He’s senselessly loyal to LitenVäld, including details like how he lives in a cargo trailer near the store and seems to not know how to interact with other humans. He feels suddenly ill one day and takes a sick day, leading him to sleep for 30 hours which accidentally causes the relationship tension in Finna.

To make up for his absence, Derek gets assigned to a special inventory unit to deal with defekta, or mutant furniture. In true LitenVäld form, however, his coworkers are also his clones. I enjoyed how Cipri pulled this off. Each doppelganger definitely feels like they’re cut from the same cloth as Derek. It was also super exciting to see him interact with being that aren’t all LitenVäld all the time. It’s really funny from the end, and the inclusion of company handbook advice between the chapters to remind the reader of the capitalist horror that is this future brand.

Author Nino Cipri returns to the blog to talk about this sequel, which will be posted on release day, April 20.

Review: THE ICE MAN: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo (2006)

Genre: Adult True Crime Nonfiction
Year Release: 2006
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Consumption by rats, mafia violence, murder, gore, dismemberment, child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, spousal abuse, drug use, alcoholism

I got here via The Last Podcast on the Left series on Richard Kuklinski. It covers most of what happens in this book. The abridged version is ridiculous. But the unabridged account of Richard Kuklinski and his career as a mafia contract killer borders on fictional. Taking place in the tri-state area from the later 50’s to the late 80’s, this book uncovers a grisly piece of New York City history. The mafia was at their peak of activity, and the New York Police Department worked to take down the vast networks of associates and core family members. But Richard “The Ice Man” Kuklinski served several families and largely stayed off the NYPD’s radar.

This biography is about as rounded as you can get when examining the life and crimes of a killer who managed to hide his work from his family.

Continue reading

March 2021 Reading Recap

March was my first full month of dayjob. I also took a small break from writing after a major breakthrough in the revision. Unfortunately, that means rewriting the entire thing. In spite of that, I did get a lot of reading done. I even read my first physical copy of the year.

To be fair, I am finding a lot of solace in manga right now, and I can’t quite articulate why. When I figured it out, I will definitely let you know. I have also gotten majorly into buying earrings from indigenous creators. More details about this can be found on my Instagram.

The interview I did this month with C.L. Clark to celebrate their debut, The Unbroken, is one of my favorite interviews yet. I also posted a personal-feeling advice piece on beta reading and giving feedback in general (Writing is Hard Part 8).

Continue reading

Manga Review: THE PROMISED NEVERLAND Vol. 9-11 by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2018-2019
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Click here to read my review of Volumes 1-3, and click here for my review of Volumes 4-8. Major spoilers for the anime. General spoilers for the manga.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: hunting of children, gun violence

My lord, is the Goldy Pond Arc just ramping up the tension. We think we’re getting to the bottom of the mystery of Mr. Minerva and all we get is…a literal golden pond. It’s so disappointing, and opens up so many questions. But the questions don’t come in a way that obfuscates everything that came before. The thread remains and the kids’ search for Mr. Minerva continues.

I do love the relationship between the older kids and Lucas. The dramatic irony of knowing the fate of “the man,” and Lucas thinking he is the sole survivor tugs at the heart strings.

We also find out what’s going on with Norman. The poor boy has landed himself in yet another farm-like facility, this time without any other children around. He’s being prepared for something, and those questions are left up in the air, but it is nice to get confirmation of his fate. Which only makes Emma’s recollections of him hit differently.

It’s tender in a way that draws a straight line to everyone gathering together to finally take down Leuvis and his team of demons. I blitzed through these chapters because the action leaps off the page, and you’re rooting for everyone to survive. Everyone has their own strengths, but together, you’re desperately hoping they’re unstoppable.

Content warnings: Gun violence, body horror, cannibalism (demonic), impaling

The internal screaming and stress continues as Emma faces off one-on-one against Leuvis, counting down the minutes for the other teams to take down the other demons. These fights are tightly-paced and the action leaps off the page. On one hand, you’re cheering the kids on, but on the other hand, you’re a little concerned how proficient they are with firearms. But the demons fall, and hope rings. Until the fight with Leuvis, who is the strongest demon we have seen so far.

What I greatly enjoyed here is how balanced the battles are. The demons aren’t completely overpowered. While the kids have their weapons and their cleverness, there is still a real sense of danger and tensions are through the roof.

So, I read these pages while my boyfriend showers. It took all my energy to not cheer out loud when two familiar faces show up. The gang is kind of back together, but there’s still the problem of seemingly-unstoppable Leuvis to deal with.

Content warnings: Gun violence, gore, blood

The way my eyes watered during this volume sure was something.

The kids defeat Leuvis, and Lucas reunites with the man, named Yugo. The tenderness between them borders on romantic, but it is cathartic given that they haven’t seen each other for thirteen years. The relief across both their faces and the use of flashback throughout this volume as so evocative.

There is much healing and reunion to be had. One arc closes and another begins. A happy found family lives in the bunker, and there is no way this happiness can last. Peter Ratri and his clan show up at the very end and the stress kicks up once again.

Manga Review: JUJUTSU KAISEN Vol. 0-2 (2019-2021) by Gege Akutami

Genre: Horror Shonen
Year Release in English: 2019, 2021
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Note: Volume 0 came out in 2021, while Volume 1 came out in 2019. I’ll be reviewing them in numerical order.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Body horror, loss of a significant other

I recognize this was published a few years after the first volume, but this is where I started with the story of jujutsu sorcerers and the curses they exorcise.

Keeping true to prequel form, this volume follows the older students when they were first years. A new kid, Yuta Okkotsu, enrolls in the academy with some serious baggage: his girlfriend had been brought back in the form of a powerful Queen of Curses.

The monster fights in this one are fun. The demon designs are inventive, with clearly delineated powers. There’s a sense of horror-type fear, rather than just nerves informed strictly by the world-building.

The characters also leaped off the page. I was particularly endeared to Maki and Yuta, but thoroughly creeped out by Toge. I did enjoy the tenderness that developed between them as Yuta grew to trust his classmates.

The resolution was bittersweet, but it was a great introduction to the tone of the series, and I’m fully onboard with this delightful blend of shonen and horror.

Content warnings: Body horror, consumption of body parts, animal death, gore, death of a relative

Volume 1 kicks off the series with Yuji’s occult club being disbanded, which results in a curse haunting him. Then Yuji’s grandfather dies, leaving him with some inspirational words, leading him to consume a cursed object and become possessed with the King of Curses, Sakuna. We’re introduced to the hierarchy of Jujutsu sorcerers and all their quirks. And the volume ends with Sakuna taking over Yuji’s body.

So much happens, and it’s a fun ride from first chapter to cliffhanger. As with Volume 0, I love the creepy and scary monster designs. Building up the relationship between Yuji and Sakuna also works, in a way that pits them as simultaneously enemies and reluctant allies.

The magic just also speaks to me, and it’s presented in a way that doesn’t require too much exposition. My personal favorite is Megumi’s ability to summon shadow monsters, and oh boy, are they useful in a pinch. Though are mains are not overpowered from the get-go, which I appreciate in terms of tone-setting and pacing. I’m concerned and excited to keep reading.

Content warnings: Heart outside of body, death, body horror

I am completely charmed by this series. In this volume, Yuji has a heart-to-heart with Sakuna that ends with a kind of fae agreement that I’m sure will end great later. Gojo trains him via watching movies to control his emotions. There’s a face off between Gojo and a scrub, and we learn what Gojo’s powers are.

The illustrations are so rad from start to finish. I love how Akutami depicts the cursed techniques without too much explaining or dialogue. Getting to see the actions unfold really tickles my brain. Especially with the domain expansion, for which I’m sure the physics is complete bullshit, but the series is convinced and so am I.

I’m also very much enjoying the dynamics between the students, with my current favorite character being Gojo Satoru (I am weak to white-haired lads). He’s so goofy, but not easy to underestimate. It seems a mistake that the villains are committing to, and I wonder how their plan to “defeat” him will go through.

Review: THE MIRROR SEASON by Anna-Marie McLemore (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Magical Realism Contemporary
Year Release: 2021
Source: Physical copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Graphic depiction and discussion of sexual assault, slurs, PTSD

The book opens with Ciela, having just been assaulted, bringing a boy, who had also been assaulted at the same party, to the hospital, and she leaves them to the nurse’s care without ever finding out his name. Summer ends, and he is the new transfer student, whose name is Lock. What unfolds is a heavy, heavy book about healing, survival, and navigating the truth of what happened that night, while magic unfolds and folds apart around them. Trees vanish and mirrors take the place of the natural world.

The imagery in this book is absolutely the beautiful, the writing, atmospheric and evocative. But what really carries the story is the tenderness between Lock and Ciela as they grow closer, deal with the students who assaulted them, and learn the causes behind the magic unraveling and reforming.

It reminded me a lot of Liz Lawson’s The Lucky Ones in that the path to survival and healing isn’t neat, isn’t linear, and yet, the book ends on an uncertain, but hopeful note.

Continue reading

Review: ENDURANCE: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (1959)

Genre: Adult Historical Nonfiction
Year Release: 1959
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Frostbite, graphic descriptions of amputations, hunting, consumption of pets, gangrene

Spoiler alert: they all survive this one.

Told with rich contextualization of the available technology and understanding of wilderness survival in the early 1900’s, Endurance covers the harrowing adventure of Ernest Shackleton and his crew attempting to reach the South Pole. With fantastic characterizations and attention-to-detail, Lansing’s account captures all the trials and tribulations. Ultimately, it shows what a difference exploring a place with a landmass rather than strictly unpredictable ice floes and pack ice can make on the success of a journey. Though they failed in reaching their destination, there is this story to be told in all its rugged excitement.

As it always is with me and these types of stories, I wanna go to the South Pole at the end of the day.

Continue reading

Manga Review: MADE IN ABYSS Vol. 1-3 (2018) by Akihito Tsukushi

Genre: Dark Fantasy Seinen
Year Release in English: 2018

Reminder: The star rating reflects overall opinion of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Body horror, illness, vomiting

A journey begins when a plucky cave-raider-in-training, Riko, finds a robot named Reg, during one of her training expeditions into the first layer of a giant cavern called the Abyss. It goes down seven levels, with the consequences of ascension getting more and more severe the further down you go. In this world, only White Whistle cave raiders can go far below. Riko’s mother is such. Her Whistle returns and Riko sets off to find out what happened to Lysa the Annihilator.

The tone of this manga is interesting. There is so much that lures you in with the promise of something wholesome with a positive, adventurous spirit. But there are so many details strewn throughout that might suggest that this series will be darker than initially thought. This first volume of introduction is so well done in that it lays the ground rules of the Abyss for the reader. And much like Riko, there is much wonder around the secrets to be found. But at what cost, and what horrors await?

Well, we’re about to find out as this first volume ends with Riko and Reg making their descent to the depths of the known world.

Content warnings: Child abuse (traditional punishment), bed-wetting, corpses, body horror, vomiting

The wonder and majesty of the first two layers of the Abyss can only be matched with the fresh hell found within as Riko and Reg make their way. Riko’s uncle tries to stop them, but it ultimately convinced by their determination. Reg’s mission is to keep Riko safe, but that gets called into question when they meet Ozen the Unmovable, another White Whistle.

The lore of this world blows my mind. There are so many details that Tsukushi weaves in the background, with both intricate art and the pause-pages which explain a relic or a new beast.

Most fascinating, to me, are the White Whistles. Each new one we meet has been more unhinged than the one before it. Are they like that before going into the Abyss or have the various ascents through treacherous layers damaged them? Guess we’ll find out next volume when they arrive at Ozen’s Shelter.

Content warnings: Child torture, attempted amputation, poisoning, bleeding from every orifice, execution, disfigurement, body horror

Volume 3 concludes the anime. And, oh boy, is it a doozy. Riko and Reg complete a messed up training regiment with Ozen before setting off again. Between the third and fourth layers, they’re attacked by a creature. The suddenness of the ascent and a poisoned puncture wound almost spells the end for Riko, but the two are saved by an adorable fluffy named Nanachi’s whose entire backstory is one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever read. Complex and emotional charged, Volume 3 covers so much ground that I need to recover after a bit.

With regards to the depravity of the White Whistles, we start with Ozen dealing out corporal punishment to see how powerful of an Artifact Reg is. She also puts the kids out to wander without any assistance for 10 days as part of training. And then we meet Bondrewd through Nanachi’s flashbacks and just…

As I mentioned before with Volume 1, it lays out all the rules of the world. You’d think that one would be prepared for the tragedy, pain, and suffering. And yet, seeing it unfold in real time with the attention to detail in the gorgeous artwork. My eyes wouldn’t stop leaking during the last scenes with Nanachi before the volume’s end.

Bondrewd can take a hike, but I need a bit of distance before diving into this story again, because wow does my heart ache.

Author to Author with C.L. Clark

Touraine returns to the country of her birth with the colonizing force who took her in the first place and made her a conscript. After saving the royal Luca from an assassination attempt, she finds herself fighting more diplomatic battles, especially as the rebel forces want to use her as a mediator between them and the colonists. Riveting and multi-faceted, The Unbroken truly has everything: espionage, a ball, flirty language tutoring, a queernorm world, a nuanced depiction of a rebellion against an empire, and an exploration of identity and its complexities in the context of colonialism.

I’m so excited to have author C.L. Clark on the blog to talk about what inspired the world-building, their road to publishing, and even an entire list of books to read next.

Buy Links:| Unabridged Books |

Continue reading

Review: THE RAGE OF DRAGONS (The Burning#1) by Evan Winter (2019)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Vomiting, gore, blood, body horror, incineration

Since this book came out, many people whose reviews and tastes I respect encouraged me to read it. But they didn’t tell me why, and for that, I am miffed at them (not really, not at all).

In a world ravaged by war, Tau loses his father and vows revenge on those who betrayed him. To do this, he enrolls in a battle school to become the greatest swordsman who ever lived. The challenges along the way include battles against women who can call dragons from a demon dimension to Enrage warriors into becoming horrific beasts of battle quite literally and the nobility who sneer at him for his caste and underestimate him at every turn.

This book is an absolute treat for anyone who enjoys giant battles, big stakes, heart-wrenching personal tensions, and, of course, dragons.

Continue reading