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
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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
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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.

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.

 

Review: YOU LET ME IN by Camilla Bruce (2020)

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

Trigger warning for gore, violence, child abuse, murder, disembowelment, dismemberment

Cassandra Tipp left behind an unfinished manuscript a year after her disappearance. In it, she tells the truth of her fairy tale life, which is more Hans Christian Anderson than Disney.

The ferocity and violence of the fairies in this one is something to behold. The entire book operates under the question of how much of her violent life is grounded in reality and how much is the work of fairies. As alluded above, they are not friendly. Pepper-man is as much nemesis as he is friend, but he is never friendly. The narration to the reader proved really effective, and many of the texts that exist within the book felt like real books.

The details in this work are very much inspired by nature and do not shy away from grim realities and gory details. It is easy to see how Cassie found solace with the fairies, but giving those around her who couldn’t see the fairies the correct dubiousness. I highly recommend looking at the trigger warnings before diving into this one.

Uneasy and a must-read for people who want to read more murdery fairy instead of simply the mischievous kind.

 

Review: WALK AMONG US by Genevieve Gornichec, Cassandra Khaw, and Caitlin Starling (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror Novellas
Year Release: 2020
Source: Libro.fm

Content warning for suicide ideation, blood consumption, gore, violence, manipulation

Genevieve Gornichec’s “A Sheep Among Wolves” performed by Erika Ishii
A college student looks for companionship and finds it in the unlikeliest of places. I really appreciate how Gornichec approached the recruitment strategy, and laid out a solid framework for that final reveal. The mental health aspect of it was also relatable, plus the general loneliness that comes with being in college. Very atmospheric.

Cassandra Khaw’s “Fine Print” performed by Neil Kaplan
Of the three, I think this one might have been the grossest. Khaw takes the approach of food insensitivities and the paperwork that goes into  becoming a vampire. It also tackles individual interpretations of privilege that are both incisive and has you rooting for the antagonists in the best way. Sometimes the vampires are the good guys.

Caitlin Starling’s “Land of Milk and Honey” performed by Xe Sands
The setpiece of a verfiable blood farm was exquisite in this work. Leigh just wants to have an ethical source of vampire food, and nearly compromises the Masquerade in the process. If you’re looking for some sapphic pining, this novellas also has plenty of that to go around. The women are complex, and the attention to detail regarding animal husbandry is particularly good.

A must-listen for people needing more vampire stories in their life.

 

Review: THE GOOD HOUSE by Tananarive Due (2006)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2006
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning for suicide, sexual assault, violence, body horror, emetophobia

This book was so good, I got myself a hard copy upon completion. In this horror novel taking place in the Pacific Northwest, a Fourth of July party goes horribly wrong and homeowner and lawyer Angela Toussaint works to find out what led to her son’s suicide, as other acts of violence take place.

The structure of The Good House absolutely blew me away. Where many novels build up to the absolute worst thing, this one starts with it. But the horrors don’t stop there—a father drowns his son, a starlet winds up dead, and other happenings make Angie’s journey a race against time. The attention to the reactions steep the reader in the loud horror that is this novel. Due does not pull any punches with this one, so if you’re squeamish or prefer quieter terrors, this book might not be for you.

Much attention is taken to round out each and every one of the characters.  The attention to intergenerational “sins” in a framework that’s not based in Christianity was something new to me, and I loved how seamlessly integrated it was into the more immediate problems of suspicious stomach aches followed by violence. The evil here doesn’t exist in a binary, which is what makes this story so immersive. There were definitely points at which I wished I could have looked away, but Due takes her time exploring the lead-up and consequences. The attention to detail is astounding. Even on a sentence level, the language in this work is so precise. No metaphor or simile is wasted and draws a straight back to the plight of the POV character.

A harrowing haunted house story with so many layers and a fascinating structure about a lawyer trying to do right by her family.

ARC Review: THE ORDER OF THE PURE MOON REFLECTED IN WATER by Zen Cho (2020)

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

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A bandit walks into a coffee shop and it goes about as well as you expect. This novella is a fun ride with a large cast that shares equal page space. Stakes are high as they are trying to deliver relics on contract in a shifting world.

This novel is much quieter than its boisterous beginning implies. There is a lot of fun banter between the nun from the titular order and the unsavory characters that are the bandits. Cho deftly weaves together worldbuilding in a dense package. Each character has their own stakes and tensions, plus moments of evolution and self-discovery. A feat, given that this novella is under 200 pages.

The world and its relationship to and understanding of magic weaves expertly from page to page. What I also admired is the normality of queerness. Though there is an organized religion, we do get moments when the gendered aspects of it are deconstructed and rebuilt into something into something refreshingly inclusive.

A wuxia fantasy novella which blends together tight world-building, fun dialogue, and found family.