Review: A CERTAIN HUNGER by Chelsea G. Summers (2019)

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

Trigger warnings: Rape, cannibalism, butchering of humans, car accident, arson, prison

Books with detestably unlikable female characters hold a special place in my heart. Dorothy Daniels is in prison and recounts her midlife crisis in which she murdered and ate a few of her exes. It is Eat, Pray, Love as narrated by Amy from Gone Girl with cannibalism.

This book does not blink at any of its details. Seeing that Dorothy is a food critic and thus the description of every meal are absolutely top notch, including the ones that would be frowned upon in polite company. The way Daniels unabashedly asserts her power and autonomy, using a variety of tools. No one is safe, until you remember that the narrator is in prison. Summers fantastically teases the answers, a hypnotic ebb and flow between posing questions and delivering responses.

The part that I found most fascinating was the interlude that explored Daniels’ childhood. Some of the choices her parents made definitely influenced her career. But the way that the strength of teen friendship and the unique ways women can harness power through sexuality and information-gathering. These themes continue throughout the story, book-ended with indulgence and violence.

Like a deadly car wreck, you simply cannot look away from the horrors, indulgences, and hungers found within. I read this in basically one sitting, glued to the twists and reveals chapter after chapter after chapter.

 

ARC Review: THE DARK TIDE (#1) by Alicia Jasinka (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Dark Fantasy
Year Release: August 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read my NetGalley eARC

Every year in Caldella, a boy is taken to be sacrificed by the witches to prevent the dark tide from rising and swallowing the city. When Lina realizes her brother, Finley, and her crush, Thomas, are potential targets, she offers herself up.

The language throughout has the whimsy and atmosphere like a classical fairy tale. The atmosphere is just perfect and the reverence towards legends makes the world feel lived in. Every scene uncovers a new, dark secret about the world of witches and serpents, with some wonderful gray morality throughout.

Throughout, the book focuses on sibling relationships and takes a very deep dive into selfishness, grief, and what heroics mean. The tensions are very individual, but it never lets off the focus on saving the city. I wish we had gotten to spend more time in Thomas’s head to get to know him better, but perhaps that will be further explored in the next tome.

A fabulous tale that’s queer and dark, perfect for fans of Alexandra Cristo’s To Kill a Kingdom.

 

Review: THE SHADOWS by Alex North (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Thriller
Year Release: 2020
Source: Book of the Month Club

Trigger warnings: Child murder, suicide, blood, dementia

I had really enjoyed Alex North’s The Whisper Man. So, when I saw that another book was out by him, I had to jump on it. In this thriller, a man named Paul Adams returns home 25 years after a tragedy involving the death of a classmate, lucid dreaming, and a disappearance. A copy cat murder takes place and detective Amanda Beck returns to tie the connections linking the two crimes.

North has such a knack for write dual timelines and multi-POV. The details and the clever drops of certain details lead to excellent pacing and characterization. The twist in this book had my jaw on the floor, and scrambling to figure out how I had missed the clues. The realization is heartbreaking, but provides the proper impetus to race through the end, where secrets and truths are revealed, and the mystery is solved.

The use of lucid dreaming and a scary folkloric figure like Red Hands reminded me of the 2014 Wisconsin Slenderman stabbing, but there are enough differences that this book is definitely not a retelling.

Unsettling with an awesome twist, this thriller hits all the notes with a creepy mystery and a satisfying resolution.

Review: LABYRINTH OF ICE: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition by Buddy Levy (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2019
Source: Libro.fm Audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

This book must have been recommended to me by a friend, because it showed up on my libro.fm wishlist and wow. I do not regret a single minute of this harrowing tale about an expedition to reach the new “furthest north” where only five members survived in the end.

The way Levy takes the reader through the promise of adventure and the light-hearted before times to the places where disaster loomed and the aftermath and the brave rescue. Like other reads, this one never fails to bring forth the wonder and prestige of partaking in such expeditions. There is an allure to the land of groaning ice floes, unpredictable weather, and creatures which can’t be seen anywhere else on earth. It really helps mitigate the “why would anyone do this” factor of this tragic expedition. Terrifying to think that this is one of the more successful excursions (yes, there are mentions of cannibalism towards the end).

Plus, the ending does a fantastic job of connecting the expedition to the realities of climate change endangering those arctic lands. An absolute must-read for those interested in immersing themselves in the wonders and dangers of the arctic.

 

ARC Review: HARROW THE NINTH (The Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Dark Science Fantasy
Year Release: August 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read my NetGalley eARC
Content warnings: Suicidal ideation, bones, murder, cannibalism, blood

It is very hard to summarize this book without spoiling the ending of Gideon the Ninth. But it picks up right where that left off and goes into the adventures of Harrowhark the Ninth as she starts service as a Lyctor to the Emperor of the Nine Houses.

This book examines trauma through magic and science fiction in a way that I’ve never seen in any other kind of book. It is what grimdark wishes it could be. The prose shifts between third and second, never flinching from the grief of the and pain of the end of Gideon. There is sincerity, tough love, and the grossness you’d expect from necromancy (soup is cancelled), but there is a joke and a colorful insult thrown in from time to time to get some relief as part of that processing. There is a deep sense of loss of control, being lost, and constant violence, but the empathy radiates off the page. Such a unique reading experience, and then there is another perspective shift that had my heart and mouth screaming.

A surreal sequel that maintains the tone and aesthetic of the first book, definitely pick up Harrow if you loved Gideon. Give me Alecto, now.

 

Review: FLOTSAM (Peridot Shift #1) by R.J. Theodore (2018)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2018
Source: Kindle copy

If you watched Treasure Planet as a kid and wanted to see the same energy  for adults in book form, Flotsam will be right up your alley. Captain Talis takes on a mysterious contract to make sure her crew can eat and survive, but this requisition of a ring opens up an entire can of worms that includes aliens and maybe even killing some gods.

The pacing of this book is so fun. The line from skyward treasure hunt to saving the world goes on some amazing curves. There is enough space between the big action set pieces so that we can really get to know the characters (Sophie is my personal favorite). Speaking of the action, there is a fantastic split between airships and close-quarters encounters. Though most of it takes place in the sky, it has the same familiarity as sea battles in other books.

That’s what makes this book work so well: the leaning into genre conventions of fantasy and space opera in ways where neither outshines the other. Theodore introduces enough magic to ground this piece as a fantasy, with enough technology to add unique bits of world-building. The ship even becomes a character on its own.

Great for folks who like queer characters, airships, pirates, coffee, quests, and encounters of an alien and god kind.

 

Review: THE GUEST LIST by Lucy Foley (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Thriller
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: self-harm, emetophobia, revenge porn (mentions), suicide, blood, drug use

Weddings bring people together who haven’t talked in a while. It can also bring together people who have unexpected connections. And then a murder happens and anyone could be a suspect.

I really enjoyed the tight web of connections Foley had woven together, from the bride to the wedding planner to the plus one to the best man to the bridesmaid. If you’re a fan of the subgenre of rich people shenanigans and intricate family drama, this book hits all those buttons. As it went on, the tension became less about who got murdered and why, to “wow, I hope all those involved find the help and healing they need.”

The ending is super satisfying and makes the suggestion of healing for many of the character. The sense of catharsis was incredible and really lifted my spirits, despite the harrowing road to get there.

A must-read a fan for murder mysteries, taking justice into your own hands, and tensions reminiscent of HBO’s Succession.

 

Review: SPYING ON WHALES by Nick Pyenson (2018)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2018
Source: My own physical copy

Whales are my favorite animal. Majesty, ignorant of their vast majesty, a mammal that returned to the sea during their evolution, they are simply awe-inspiring. After reading the litany of incorrect whales fact that is Moby Dick last year, the time had finally come to learn something new.

Pyenson really draws into his own experiences as a paleontologist to contextualize discoveries about whales and presenting facts about their life cycles. What I loved most about the way information is presented is that it ties together into an overview of the past, present, and future, using each segment to support the others. In addition, Pyenson refrains from over-relying on the novelty of every new discovery. There is so much left to learn about them, and the vastness of the oceans doesn’t help.

A great overview about whales, their lives, and the ways humans made an impact on their ecosystems.

 

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.