Review: FEVER DREAM by Samanta Schweblin (2014)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2014
Source: Library Audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

A short, psychologically twisty novel about a mother at death’s door talking to a child which may or may not be hers.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere. It takes place in the country, and the lengths the descriptions go on to depict it as a respite from the city crank the unsettling. The fact that it is told entirely in dialogue with none of the tenses matching in a cause-and-effect way increases the dread. Many different types of fear are tackled in this one, especially around parenthood and acceptance, but also of mortality and the things not done yet.

The pacing and tensions are also superb, which makes this book really live up to its title.

 

Review: THE CITY WE BECAME by N.K. Jemisin (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

This urban fantasy-horror novel will only come off as weird if you haven’t seen a magical girl anime before. In New York City, six individuals are chosen to be avatars of the five boroughs and the city itself. They must come together to protect NYC from a trans-dimensional new city hell-bent on stopping its growth.

Right off the bat, Jemisin takes such care in choosing these avatars. The cast is a diverse mix nationalities, ethnicities, sexualities, and experience with living in the city. It almost perfectly mirrors the variety of perspectives from all angles of life in New York. The way the different facets of the five boroughs manifest in the avatars feels so true to the spirit of the boroughs. It’s also presented, however, in a way that can be accessible to those who have never lived in NYC.

But more than that, the characters are so incredibly nuanced and human. They’re frustrating in very real ways and have entire lives outside and around their identities as avatars. I definitely gravitated to Manny (Manhattan) the most, but the journey on which Jemisin takes Aislyn is handled with such finesse. The subplots in general are incredible. It was a joy to see how they all came together during the final confrontation with the enemy.

While there is clearly a lot of love for the city, Jemisin also does not hold back any of her punches when it comes to critiquing the gentrification, bad cops, territorial prejudices, and the things people do to survive. They’re all very real elements of that particular urban environment, and the novel treats as another essential layer of world-building.

I’ve heard this novel called a cosmic horror and while the elements are certainly there, the reality is that this novel is a giant “fuck you” to H.P. Lovecraft. From starring characters he would have been afraid of to the well-placed nods to some of the creature designs come from the mythos, it’s clearly an influence, but there is a scathing hatred of the author which permeates from scene to scene. And it is absolutely wonderful.

Another fantastic entry into the list of “most New York City books ever,” this one does not hold back any of its sharp critiques and excellent dialogue that are steeped in so much love for the city that never sleeps.

 

Review: THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO by K.S. Villoso (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible

Listened to the audiobook

Content warning for assassination attempts, suicide, ideation, coerced sex work, threats of rape, torture

Talyien’s husband Rayyel walked away from his political and familial duties on the day of her coronation. Five years later, he sends a letter requesting an audience with her in an unfamiliar city. Things go horribly downhill from there.

Some books are character-driven, others are plot-driven, but this one is driven by each and every betrayal. I had such a good time watching Tali fall into some trap, get out of it, get betrayed by someone else, and the loop continues.

The world-building is just superb. There are so many states and countries, and they all co-exist in the same place in a way that feels very authentic. People can tell where others are from by their accents and word choice. The food descriptions are superb. The world feels so lived-in on several layers.

The tone of this book was way quieter than I expected going in. While there is the looming thread of war, war is never present. It is all about a mother trying to reunite with her child’s father and a queen trying to get her political ally back. The voice is absolutely fantastic and all the choices and interactions are complex and morality isn’t ever that simple. Every relationship is complicated , but some are clearly better than others, though it isn’t always obvious.

I am so looking forward to how the events of this book lead into the greater politics of the world. A must-read for fans of intrigue, twists, complicated relationships, and mouth-watering descriptions of Asian cuisine.

 

ARC Review: THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: July 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

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Content and trigger warning for gore, animal violence, body horror, death of (several) dogs

I like audibly screaming when reading a horror novel. The Only Good Indians follows four childhood friends who got a little greedy on a hunting trip and are now paying the price as adults.

This book hits all the highs of horror with gruesome imagery, specific language, and a deeply personal story. It is so intimate, with several layers of lived experience that just add depth to a book that also excels at delivering thrills. What makes this story particularly terrifying is the way Jones deliberately and pointedly plays with POV. For the most part, we see the terrors unfold from either Lewis, Ricky, Cass, or Gabe’s POV, but there are some surprises, like the shift to second person told from the Elk Head Woman’s perspective. She’s scary both from a character design standpoint and the strength of her character arc.

There are so many characters in this book and none of them feel frivolous or extraneous. Jones plays with the “final girl” trope in a way that I can’t speak more about because spoilers, but it is such a great exploration.

Gross at times and makes playing basketball one-on-one an absolutely terrifying experience, definitely a favorite new release of 2020.

ARC Review: I COME WITH KNIVES (Malus Domestica #2) by S.A. Hunt (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: July 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read a NetGalley eARC from the publisher
Content  and trigger warning for dismemberment, gore, violence against cats, emetophobia, fatal shootings

We return to the urban fantasy Untied States right off where Burn the Dark left off as Robin Martine reunites with her mentor, Heinrich Hammer, to take out the witches who killed her mother once and for all. Between those working with the witches and new allies, nothing is quite so simple.

Once again, the pacing in this book is impeccable. Between every intense action scene, there is enough room to breathe and really take in the other story elements. The world-building of the world of witches and demons really shines in this one. Robin undergoes some character development, but not as much as some of the other POVs like Joel, Wayne, and Kenway. It works because all her new friends and allies are being pulled into her violent, supernatural world by forces beyond their control, but also as a result of their devotion to each other. It’s really compelling and makes for some good found family feels.

Compared to the first book, this one is definitely more off the rails. The battles are more intense, the enemies have far more bite to them. And as alluded to in the warnings above, if you like cats, you’re going to have a really bad time because nothing feels particularly gratuitous. It is just taken to the next level as the story demands and the horror elements really work.

An action-packed sequel that leans really into the horror and the introduction of new allies and more terrifying enemies.

June 2020 Reading Recap

June2020RR

June was my birthday! I wound up reading a whole bunch of ARCs, a few new favorites, and even interviewed K.A. Doore to celebrate the release of the Chronicles of Ghadid finale, The Unconquered City.

In addition the blog, you will now be able to find my reviews on The StoryGraph, in addition to Goodreads. My handle is JoReadsBooks

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Review: BURN THE DARK (Malus Domestica #1) by S.A. Hunt (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: My own physical copy

Content warning for gore, violence, vomiting, mental illness, dead parents, blood

Robin Martine is a YouTuber who films her literal witch hunts. Her latest trip takes her home to confront the witches who brought about her mother’s death.

This story doesn’t only center Robin. The Parkins family of Wayne and Leon move into Robin’s family home and the haunts start there. Wayne just started a new school, so on top of the normal being the new kid in a place anxieties, there’s also a demon to contend with. This child was so realistically written—smart and tenacious enough to get himself out of a bind, but still definitely needing the support of the adults around him. The entire cast has such a fantastic dynamic, especially because even though Robin has so much firsthand knowledge, she can’t survive on her own and this sense of found family and community permeates from start to finish.

The pacing in this book is so good. Hunt has a real grasp of when information is necessary and trusts the reader to keep all the threads in their heads. The witches and the hunts are scary and Hunt does so many interesting things with the way the words look on the page. I definitely do not want to live in a town that’s haunted by a dryad, is all I’m saying.

A fun, spooky, witch-hunting time for all of those wanting to get Halloween started early.

ARC Review: MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: June 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC (wish granted)
Buy links: Bookshop |Unabridged Bookstore| Barnes and Noble

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Haunted house stories are great because you’re lured in with the promise of a lavish home and maybe some romance with polite homeowners, and then things go down into a trash bin faster and more strangely than expected. When Noemí received a strange letter from her cousin Catalina, she goes to High Place in an old mining town Pachuca. Eerie visions and awkward encounters unfold, spiraling into eldritch horror.

The atmosphere in this book is simply perfect. The descriptions are lush, and the reader feels the same amount of dread as Noemí as she uncovers unexpected secrets and peels back the many layers wrapped around Catalina’s illness. There is a perfect sense of time too. The book takes place in 1950s in Mexico, and the little details about pop culture really help put together that sense of setting, even if the plot beats are familiar to those who enjoy gothic haunted house tales.

Noemí is also the perfect protagonist for this story. She is a socialite and never loses that lively air around her, even as things get progressively worse around her. She has a very strong sense of self-preservation and empathy for those she interacts with. When she fights, she fights and I loved that tenacity about her.

A perfect gothic haunted house story that doesn’t take place in Victorian England.

 

ARC Review: BURN OUR BODIES DOWN by Rory Power (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Year Release: July 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop |Unabridged Bookstore| Barnes and Noble

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Mothers don’t always tell their daughters anything, but Margot Nielsen just really wants to connect with the family she had never known. Some secrets lead to a rabbit hole and the truth puts Margot and her new friends in danger.

Much like her debut, Wilder Girls, Power has such a knack for writing feral, unlikable main female characters. Margot is determined to survive and not afraid to put up a fight. The stream of conscious writing is excellent because it allows room for these asides that show just how pissed off Margot is at, well, everyone around her. In addition, even though it has no real bearing on the plot, Margot is a queer girl who loves girls and it’s on the page.

The book is steeped in this creeping dread as the reader explores the notes and diaries left behind by Margot’s mom. Gram is also sweetly unsettling, and to say anything more would absolutely be spoilers territory. There’s definitely a sense of history in the farmhouse and the ruined cornfields, and the layers keep going and going.

A delightful Midwest horror in which family secrets are kept tucked away for good reason.