Review: THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu (2018)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult historical horror
Year Release: 2018
Source: Audible audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

This book has been on my mind ever since I learned the story of the Donner Party over at Last Podcast on the Left. Having survived a horror read like The Devil in Silver, I figured I dive in with this historical horror.

Dear reader, I found something far more upsetting.

Come for the rumors of cannibalism, stay for a story of human error, loyalty, and fear of the unknown as a wagon train falls under a series a mishaps. Could it be the witch, Tamsen Donner? Could it be the scoundrels of John Snyder and Lewis Keseberg? Could it be biting off more than you can chew when trying to escape your tragic past, a la Charles Stanton? The book answers these questions and more.

Katsu expertly navigates several points of view while trying to humanize the members of the Donner party. After finishing the book, I think the tragedy came from an unfortunate concoction of error, fear, and interpersonal conflicts. From the outset, it’s hard to decide whom to trust and the morality there is kept so gray. If you know the story, then you’ll know who the villain is. Worry not, there’s no sympathy given there.

This read left me equal parts nauseated and the crying kind of upset in a way that makes me say thank you.

 

ARC Review: INK IN THE BLOOD by Kim Smejkal (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: February 2020
Source: Edelweiss eARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Not to sound like SNL’s Stefon, but this book had everything: queernorm, a four-faced god with six eyes, blood magic, art as propoganda, a traveling theater troupe, Italian-esque city- and country-design, disaster bisexuals, killing gods.

Celia and Anya are best friends who are inklings, devotees of the religion of Profeta, which worships a Divine who can only communicate via tattoos. Fed up with their church’s abuses, the two see a chance to escape when they audition for the Rabble Mob of Minos. But their performance proves more subversive than Profeta would like and it turns out that the Divine isn’t just a religious figment of mythology.

There was so much to like here. The highlight for me was the friendship between Celia and Anya. They are very close, both queer, and love each other, but that does not mean they are together. Overall, the queerness in this novel is so casual. Celia has two moms, multiple characters use “they” pronouns, the tenors which indicate a person’s gender identity aren’t binary. I crave this kind of queernorm world-building. It made me squee with each new detail.

In addition, I really enjoyed that Profeta itself proved a character in the novel. The religion takes on a life of its own throughout the novel. Smejkal deftly drops details both about Celia’s past and the machinations of the religion throughout the narrative in ways that feel like they add context instead of an information dump. Keeping the novel structured in three acts with interludes really fits the theater aesthetic as well.

After all, this dark fantasy is about the performance and interpretation of art, just with some disaster queers, and I want to throw it at everyone I know.

 

Review: THE DEVIL IN SILVER by Victor LaValle (2012)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2012
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Victor LaValle’s works have consistently capture New York City on page in ways not often seen in other forms of media. There’s the variety of characters from all walks of New York life, and the nature and spirit of the city is as much a character as the characters, especially in this bottle episode of a book taking place in an asylum in Queens. Pepper, our trouble-making protagonist, finds himself at New Hyde Hospital following an altercation. When he’s kept there for more than the initial 76-hours of monitoring, he makes unsettling discoveries. Like the devil living in one of the wards, the one the orderlies and doctors don’t believe exists.

The way LaValle captures helplessness against a system is superb. At every turn, the doctors manipulate records, dosages, etc. to eliminate knowledge of the Devil, even though the patients all believe each other. The relationships are rocky, but there are some moments of sweetness to violent encounters. The morality here is a bit gray, as patients have different definitions of survival. Throughout, there is a profound feeling of abandonment, a system that doesn’t care about the very real danger stalking the halls.

In addition, this book takes its time cultivating that sense of helplessness. Digressions span different histories, from Van Gogh to silver mining, highlighting various groups who have been abandoned in the name of advancement. It is masterfully pulled off, even as you’re terrified of things going bump in the night and what those medications are actually doing.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with very loose allusions to mythology, Victor LaValle artfully adds layers to horror tropes in this earlier work of his.

 

ARC Review: UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED by Sarah Gailey (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Alternate History/Future (Speculative Fiction)
Year Release: February 4, 2020
Source: The Publisher, Tor.com

Received an ARC from the publisher, Tor.com

The Wild West seems to be a having a very small moment. If you enjoyed Gailey’s first novella, River of TeethUpright Women Wanted will tickle those cowboy needs, albeit with fewer swamps and hippos.

The femmes in this novel are all so complex. Queer librarians actually spying for the resistance on horseback? A tough cinnamon roll who followed all the rules only to run away from there? A non-binary who code-switches when going into towns to protect the mission at large? Casual polyamory? Betrayals? This novel has so many trappings of a great desert adventure on horseback and so much more. The world-building is great and gives context to the work these librarians do without actually having to spell it out for the reader. In addition, it doesn’t flinch away from the mundane nastiness of life on the road, and I found that magical.

It bears repeating: if you liked Gailey’s first two novellas, you’re going to be enamored with this one.

 

Review: THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY by Alix E. Harrow (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Throughout literature and movies, there was a kind of fascination with the idea of grand adventures who sought treasure. Going into this book, I knew that it was a coming of age tale about a girl with the power to cross into other worlds and having been raised by one such adventurer. I didn’t expect the thorough admonishment of the whole practice through the points of view of magic and family.

This book is whimsy from start to finish, despite the heavier moments and times I wish that January’s ability to word craft and jump into other tales would solve her problems, aside from create new ones. I loved how this ability also gave us insight into January’s father and how he got roped into the society. There’s a heavy focus on roles and the things certain folk are around to do, but it’s folded so nicely into the plot, it doesn’t come off as pedantic at all. It truly condemns the entire notion of treasure hunting and who the real monsters are (sometimes disguised as actual monsters).

There’s also a very good dog named Sinbad who doesn’t die in the book. Some parts romp, some parts found and given family feelings, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is an adventure perfect for fans of Wayward Children.

 

February 2020 TBR

Here are my intended reads for February.

Hard Copies

  • Conspiracy of Ravens (The Shadow #2) by Lila Bowen (Library Borrow)
  • The Fortress by S.A. Jones (ARC)
  • Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey (ARC)

Kindle

  • Finna by Nino Cipri (ARC)
  • Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst (ARC)
  • Flotsam (Peridot Shift #1) by R.J. Theodore
  • Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal (ARC)
  • Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold (ARC)

Audiobooks

  • Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith
  • The Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons #1) by Jenn Lyons
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
  • We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Plus two books I offered to beta read. Wow, this month is busy.

January 2020 Reading Recap

January2020RR

Happy 2020! Welcome to the first addition of what I learned by reading. This month felt like it was a million years long, which is fine in terms of reading because I read 12 books so far, well ahead of my 100 book goal for 2020.

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