Review: BENT HEAVENS by Daniel Kraus (2020)

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Chicago Public Library

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Torture, PTSD, poverty, psychosis, blood, bullying

Liv Flemming retreated from all but her best friend Doug when her dad went missing two years prior to the start of the story. Lee Flemming claimed to have been captured by aliens, and his ensuing psychotic episodes made him a bit of a lost cause to the town’s authorities. But when an unidentified humanoid winds up in the woods behind her house, Liv will stop at nothing to find out what really happened to her father.

Pissed all the way off and horrifying, this book has twists and turns with a compelling character arc of understanding and the prices paid for the truth.

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Genre: Adult Magical Realism Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Chirp Audiobooks

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: child abuse, cartel violence, discrimination, hate crimes, alcoholism, physical violence, vehicular manslaughter

Fulgencio Ramirez is a renowned pharmacist in the border town of La Frontera. He scans the newspaper, waiting for news of a death. When it comes, we’re launched into the epic tale of his and Carolina Mendelssohn star-crossed romance, starting in the 50’s and onward. There’s tragedy, heartbreak, the dead not being truly gone, serenades with mariachi bands, roses blooming in winter, and the pursuit of the American dream. This book was a delight through all the twists and turns.

Bittersweet, deeply romantic, the dead are never truly gone in this work of magical realism. In fact, death might just be the beginning.

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Review: WHAT BEAUTY THERE IS by Cory Anderson (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Thriller
Year Release: 2021
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Hanging, drug-related crimes and violence, meth, poverty, violence against children, emotional abuse, blood, death of mothers

This contemporary thriller follows brothers Jack and Matty, whose father is in jail and her mother had just died by suicide. With funds dwindling, older brother Jack choose money to keep himself and his brother out of the foster care system. Except for the fact that a scoundrel named Bardem chases after them. A detective also tries to make heads and tails of the trail of bodies, but everyone is hardly a half-step ahead of the others.

A book that makes great use of its wintery setting in theme and tone, this tale of brothers tugs at the heartstrings something fierce as they rely on each other and another fellow child to make it to the other side.

This book is as brutal as its prose is beautiful. There were times I had to pause the audiobook because a line or a turn of phrase stopped me in its place. Or, in the opposite direction, some absolutely bananas turn comes out and the reader scrambles as much as the characters to figure out the next step. It works on a character and plot-level. With break-neck pacing and deliberate pauses for character development, Anderson shows deft guidance but also lets the reader experience this fraught journey.

While Jack wears his heart on his sleeve, Ava is a mystery that slowly unravels. We know from her introduction that Bardem is her father, and he raised her to be as closed-off from the goodness in the world as he is. This book toes the line between survival and cruelty, especially in her POV. She could have abandoned the brothers at any turn, but stays to help. The tension can be cut with a knife. But there is so much tenderness, of kids recognizing the hurt in each other. It’s so beautifully done, it hurts.

For those who need it, there is a puppy in the final act, and he makes it to the end.

Light Novel Review: BERSERK OF GLUTTONY Vol 1. by Isshiki Ichika & Fame (2020)

Genre: Dark Fantasy
Year Release in English: 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Abuse, violence, fantasy violence, dismemberment, death of a parent, poverty

Welcome to my first ever light novel. It came up on my radar because two of my friends had worked on the editing and localization, but I was not prepared for the fun time to be had.

Fate Graphite has an ability called Gluttony, which grants him massive power at the expense of, well, starvation. He’s a commoner who happens upon a snarky sword named Greed who helps him enhance his abilities at the cost of leveling up. He also comes under the employment of Lady Roxy, with whom he has very oblivious romantic feelings.

What surprised me is that despite the very RPG-esque descriptions of abilities and leveling, this isn’t an isekai. This light novel starts and stays in its secondary world fantasy. It’s a bit cheesy and takes some getting used to but Ichika uses it to great effect to establish stakes.

The art is great. Loved seeing the depiction of key scenes and getting to know Fate and Roxy a bit better. Seeing Greed transformed between sword and bow helped put it together better than my mind’s image could supply.

Overall, fun dynamics between characters, interesting world-building, definitely will continue reading.

April 2021 Reading Recap

Excuse me, but where did April go? This month went by so quickly, I cannot wrap my head around it. And what a roller coaster of a ride it was.

The big thing that happened to me was that my beloved Eclectus parrot, Investor, had to be put to sleep due to poor health. He was in our family for 20 years. I try to smile through the happy memories, but mostly it’s just tears.

In addition, the situation in India hit a close friend of mine in her immediate family, so I wanted to link to this thread of resources and places to donate to.

Honestly, my mind’s been a mess and the fact that I can focus on anything is a miracle.

Nino Cipri stopped by the blog this month to celebrate the release of Defekt, the unexpected sequel to Finna, which came out this month.

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ARC Review: FOLKLORN by Angela Mi Young Hur (2021)

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an ARC from the publisher
Content warning: parental death, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, hate crimes, discrimination

Physicist Elsa Park returns from a research trip to Antarctica when she founds out that her catatonic mother had died. All Elsa has left of her is a collection of stories and an uncanny ghost who follows her around. Then begins a search for discovery as Elsa reconnects with the stories she inherited from her mother and what it means for the rest of her adult life. There’s physics, there’s ghosts.

Hypnotic in its exploration of mythology, culture, and family, this literary contemporary fantasy shows how family and mythology have lines that might not at all be clearly defined.

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Review: UNDER THE KNIFE: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations by Arnold Van de Laar (2018)

Genre: Adult Science Nonfiction
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Infections, sutures, stitches, fatphobia (mentions of obesity), gore, blood, old-timey medicine

Clearly, my non-fiction reads have taken on a specific mood. We have more gross human anatomy and the things people have done to it. This time, it’s not about cadavers, but about the major turning points in development of the operational theater.

Van de Laar clearly has a passion for the work he does. He takes great care describing the importance of his work, but also contextualizing the attitudes and beliefs leading up to the pivotal changes.

My knowledge about medical history barely scratches the surface, so it feels disingenuous to say that I learned a lot. But I did! The histories told here are as interesting as the voyeurism of someone explaining medical procedures. Particular highlights include Bob Marley’s toe, Pope John Paul II’s bullet wound, and the number of times I whispered, “Oh no, don’t do that” while listening. Your mileage may vary depending on your squeamishness when it comes to infections and related.

ARC Review: SORROWLAND by Rivers Solomon (2021)

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read a NetGalley eARC
Content warning: birth, self harm, teen pregnancy, drowning, child abuse, cult, emotional abuse, blood, gaslighting, drowning, rape, gun violence, hanging, suicide, AIDS

Fifteen-year-old Vern gives birth to twins in the woods after having escaped the religious compound where things were amiss. She seeks to raise them free of that influence, but the hauntings and hunts force her to interact with the forbidden world beyond.

Feral and howling, this brilliant piece of speculative fiction is not one to miss. It is as beautiful as it is raw, and I am truly jealous that I can’t re-experience it for the first time again.

An interview with author Rivers Solomon will be posted on the blog on release day, May 4th 2021.

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Review: STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2004)

Genre: Adult Sciene Nonfiction
Year Release: 2004
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Human remains, death, decapitation, cannibalism, old-timey medicine and related horrors

This book is not one for weak stomachs, no matter how much humor she injects between each grisly detail. Starting with a visit to the morgue, Roach meticulously goes through the history of how surgical preparation and practice came to be.

But the scope of the book also covers consumption of human flesh for medicinal purpose, human decomposition, the science of head transplants, crash test dummies, the Shroud of Turin, and much, much more.

It’s interesting and I would highly advise against eating this while eating. Ultimately, it’s strangely wholesome and about the ways the dead can bring people and cultures together.

Manga Review: THE KINGDOMS OF RUIN Vol. 1 & 2 by yoruhashi (2020-2021)

Genre: Dark Fantasy Seinen
Year Release in English: 2020 – 2021

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Gore, violence, public execution, internment camps, mass destruction

Witches and humans lived alongside each other until an industrial revolution ushered in an era of distrust, and the witch hunts begin. Adonis was only a boy when his mentor, Chloe, was publicly humiliated and executed. As a human who uses witch powers, he captured and hidden away for ten years. Until he wakes up as does a ferocious thirst for revenge.

This series is intense. It’s very grimdark and the precise art does not pull any punches. Some pages are just hard to look with the hyper violent content on them, but if that’s your thing, you’re in for some delights.

The set-up of a very capable anti-hero protagonist and the oppressive government he’s up against are evenly matched. This kingdom defeated the witches despite their magic somehow, and it’s internally consistent as far as the world-building goes. Plus, the magic system with Adonis using a pen to summon spells really works and renders beautifully from panel to panel.

I am definitely going to keep reading because I just have to know how these battles between magic and science play out and the twists that lay ahead.

Content warnings: Gore, violence, public execution, internment camps, mass destruction

In Volume 2, it seems all is lost for Adonis, until he’s rescued by other witches planning a resistance…from their base on the moon. It is here he discovers a way to review Chloe using magic and his memories.

This series in two just volumes achieved big Code Geass energy in that you know the unexpected is going to happen, but in which direction, you have no idea!

The world-building continues to be great, the art gorgeous. I really loved the design and concepts upon the lunar base. Adonis is consistently angry and bitter, but he’s not impulsive and I think that’s what makes him so interesting. It’ll be good to see him interact with other characters in future volumes.