ARC Review: BAD CREE by Jessica Johns (2023)

Genre: Adult Literary Horror
Release Date: January 10, 2023
Buy Link: | Unabridged Books |

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an eARC from the publisher
Content warnings: death of a sibling, brain hemorrhage, discussion of alcoholism, blood, gore, violence against animals (birds, the dog does not die), drowning. generational trauma

Mackenzie lost her older sister, Sabrina, several years prior in what seemed like a natural cause. But recently, horrible nightmares have been plaguing her sleep, including items being pulled from the dreamscape into the real world. Turning to her remaining sister, cousin, mother, and aunties for help, perhaps she can quiet the supernatural disturbance once and for all.

Johns masterfully uses dreams as both a narrative and a plot device to tell the story of trauma both personal and generational with a focus on finding support in one’s family and community for respite and healing.

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Book & Show Review: MADOFF TALKS by Jim Campbell & MADOFF: THE MONSTER OF WALL STREET (2021 & 2023)

Financial fraud that ends in negative consequences for the perpetrators remains one of my key hyperfixations. I also enjoy painting while having a document on in the background. So, it was perfect when Netflix dropped a new document on the largest Ponzi scheme in history, executed by Bernie Madoff, which left literal bodies in its wake and the disappearance of billions of dollars in savings and long term accounts. A friend tipped me off about the book that inspired the documentary, so naturally, I queued that up on my TBR immediately.

I think watching the show and reading the book in parallel helped my understanding of the both the people involved and the execution of the fraud. With its interviews and depictions, Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street definitely focuses more on the human element while Madoff Talks does a good job distilling the finances, economics, and (lack of) governmental oversight that made a fraud this huge possible.

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Light Novel Review: BAKEMONOGATARI Part 01 by NISIOISIN (illust. Vofan) (2016)

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release in English: 2016
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Mention of an attempted rape, death of a child, cults, injuries, blood, threats of violence

This light novel series starts off with a fairly simple premise: a former vampire catches his classmate who slipped on a banana peel, only to find that she weighs literally nothing. And if full of stationery. And haunted by a crab. In the second half of the book, the two of them encounter a little girl haunted by a snail aberration, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Full of friendship, interesting exchanges, strange happenings, and explorations of past trauma that don’t get resolved with the resolution of the haunting, there is so much to like and see in this work told almost entirely through dialogue but does not at all feel like reading a script.

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2023 Bookish Hype Train

Per my post about 2023, I really need to refocus on refilling my creative well. So, this year, I’m limiting the number of author interviews I do and reshuffling my to-read list to be mainly about backlist titles. Plus, I am releasing a novella of my own, which I am more than thrilled to unleash upon the world.

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My 2022 in Reading: Jo Needs a Nap

I read 192 books this year in a split of: 54 ARCs (up from last year), 33 audiobooks (down from last year), 72 manga volumes (down from last year), 20 physical copies (up from last year), 8 light novels (up from last year), and 5 eBooks (down from last year). I want to share my favorites, so please enjoy my favorite 20 2022 books, favorite 10 books from before 2021, and my favorite 5 manga. I would have done a favorite 20 of backlist books, but, unfortunately, I did not prioritize this year, and I think that contributed to my exhaustion.

Overall, it’s not as many things as last year, and it did bring me dangerously close to burning out on reading. 2023 will be a year for resetting some of my priorities with regards to reading, which will focus on my backlog and reading a whole lot of light novels.

Note: Harper Collins book links have been replaced with the linktree for the Harper Collins Union until that publisher goes back to the bargaining table

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December 2022 Reading Recap

December is a strange month for me because of traveling to get home and other plans, and having to recon with my own success at completing my own goals (not going to touch on that whatsoever here). It was a month where I read a bunch of things in translation and a singular ARC which feels more in the direction of how I want to be reading into 2023.

December’s only blog interview:

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Light Novel Review: VAMPIRE HUNTER D Vol. 2 Raiser of Gales & Vol. 3 Demon Deathchase by Hideyuki Kikuchi & Yoshitaka Amano (2005)

Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy Science Fiction Western
Year Release in English: 2005
Buy Link: Barnes & Noble (Initially received via Humble Bundle)

Review of Volume 1 can be found here

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Blood, kidnapping, incest, rape (fades to black, but unequivocal), dismemberment, nonconsensual medical experimentation

The mystery in this one is so engaging. We start off finding a young girl who has been selected by her town to go off into the capital as part of a special program that gets her a higher status in human society while the village of Tepes gets more resources. But there’s more to the precocious young woman than meets the eye, and gnarly is just one word for it.

What really shines here is how monstrous the humans are especially juxtaposed to the Nobles. I won’t spoil the mystery, but there is a horrific arc in which we learn more about Lina and the mayor who took her in. Please heed the content warnings for that portion of the story.

The action is incredible, and I really liked how less animalistic the vampires were in this one. The conspiracy is a years’ long literal medical experiment in eugenics. It’s very horror, and highlights Kikuchi’s ability to blend genres and use tropes to great effect. I can’t say too much without spoiling the entire story arc.

Content warnings: Blood, kidnapping, dubious consent, body horror of John Carpenter’s The Thing variety

This entry is absolutely the gnarliest one I’ve read so far, and, yes, I am aware that I am only on volume 3. While Demon Deathchase is the lightest on lore so far, the mesh of science fiction and dark fantasy is at its tightest. There are death cars and possessed carbuncles that grow into fully sentient tumors. It’s disgusting. It’s incredible.

There is no stone Kikuchi will leave unturned when it comes to the horrific scientific possibilities plaguing the world eleven thousand years into the future. We have flesh-possessing carbuncles that are eerie like ghosts and unsettling in the way flesh distorts with science that feels like magic.

The women within this work show a range of strength, from the lovelorn dhampir mechanic Caroline to the gearhead hunter Leila. I love them all, especially how they relate to D. The purple prose really works throughout the series to draw attention to D’s terrific power and ethereal beauty. The interactions and obsessions only highlight it further, and seeing the variety of personalities attracted to him definitely keeps me engaged in the new characters regardless of gender and whether or not they label their attraction love.

The ending to this one is brutal, gross, and eerily beautiful.

Manga Review: DICK FIGHT ISLAND Vol. 2 by Reibun Ike (2022)

Genre: Fantasy Josei
Year Release in English: 2022
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review of Volume 1 can be found here
Content warnings: Dubious consent with lots of male sexuality on display; fantasy prejudice

The second half of the story of Pulau’s political system of having a coming tournament every four years focuses on the relationships between its chosens and the origins of the Great Wyrm Tournament. It’s earnest, it’s sexy, and there are so many men in love with other men.

We get the full introduction to Harto and his lover, Matthew, who were roommates in college. They got along as more than just students, with Harto telling Matthew about his culture to comedic and earnest effect. The way their relationship develops is swoony and romantic.

Then we cut to others who also had chance encounters connected to some loosely developed mythology. Bulan had been saved by a stag that loosely reminds him of Roro, and years later, the two get stuck in a snowstorm and there’s only one bed. Another couple are gifted a whole lot of lube to improve their “technique.” There’s even a wedding. It’s a wonderful snapshot of different types of relationships, and, honestly, this had me smiling and flailing from cover to cover.

Very fluffy, raunchy, and full of gay earnestness.

Review: THE BOOKS OF JACOB by Olga Tokarczuk (trans. Jennifer Croft, 2022)

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2022

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: antisemitism, child death, rape, pogroms, prejudice, discrimination, vomiting, death of a parent

Ambitious is not a big enough word to describe the majesty of this novel. At a whooping 955 pages, this book is not just about Jacob Frank. Tokarczuk paints a mosaic of eighteenth century Europe centering the rise and fall of a messianic cult leader Jacob Frank. Starting in a village in what is now Ukraine and stretching across Poland and Lithuania, this story isn’t just about Frank, but about the people around him as well, from priests to rabbis to princes to village folks and so much more.

Vast in scope, yet this work is simultaneously personal and deeply human, showcasing every possible perspective of class and religion in one narrow slice of Europe.

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Manga Review: ROSEN BLOOD Vol. 1 by Kachiru Ishizue (2022)

Genre: Fantasy Shoujo
Year Release in English: 2022
Source: Kinokuniya

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Blood, attempted murder

Stella is on her way to start a new job after a freak accident takes out her carriage driver, and she wakes up in a Gothic mansion that’s more a thorned cage than a residence occupied by four men who are definitely vampires. They eat crystals, have strange mannequins, and barely leave the building. There’s a sense of dread but the boys and the art are swoony.

This first volume is horny in ways that are very befitting of vampire lore. There’s a fixation on taste and devouring, with sensual wound care, and one of the vampires gets put in a muzzle during one of the chapters. As far as the boys go, the work leans into tropes and archetypes in ways that are swoony and delightful. I had fun during this first read, and I’m definitely looking forward to more.