Review: THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (2021)

Genre: Adult Psychological Thriller
Year Release: 2021
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Drug abuse, suicide, bullying, rape (depicted), alcoholism, murder

PR manager Ambrosia “Amb” Wellington is invited to a college reunion, but there are so many skeletons buried within that closet and someone is bent on revealing the truth. What follows is a story told in dual timelines, the past and the present, as what looks like normal college debauchery turns into a matter of light and death. There are parties, there are hookups, there are gross boys and even more despicable girls. There’s a laser focus on the extracurriculars of college that felt uncomfortably true to life.

This book is one hell of an anti-bullying PSA. It’s not often we see the person who did the bullying as the protagonist, but the layers to it are hard to take your eyes of.

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Review: IN THE HEART OF THE SEA: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (2005)

Genre: Adult Historical Nonfiction
Year Release: 2005
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Cannibalism, racism, starvation, dehydration, cannibalism, descriptions of whale butchering

This is the story that inspired Moby Dick. The whaleship Essex attempts to take down a sperm whale, but the sperm whale has other ideas and sinks the ship. What then goes down is a grisly tale of survival and survival cannibalism as the crew members float along the Pacific hoping for rescue. What also features in this narrative is a lot of contextualization of whaling as an international enterprise, the lives of the crew before the tragedy, and what became of them after.

With incredible pacing and thorough research, I found myself glued to this narrative from start to finish.

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Review: THE JASMINE THRONE (The Burning #1) by Tasha Suri (2021)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2021
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Immolation, suicide, drug abuse and recovery, sibling abuse, gaslighting, execution by elephant, homophobia (both internal and external)

Malini’s tyrant of a brother locked her up in the Hirana, a decaying temple, and Priya is one of the many servants employed to take care of her. But when Malini witnesses the secret Priya tries to hide, the two form a tense alliance which can change the structure of an empire forever.

This book has so many things: swoony writing, intricate politics, kind people at the end of their rope, thorough depictions of the different political and social strata. There’s also plant magic, waters with mystical regenerative properties, mythologies that contradict, a magical plague, and then some. It’s a treat for any fantasy lover.

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Review: THE OTHER BLACK GIRL by Zakiya Dalila Harris (2021)

Genre: Adult Literary Suspense
Year Release: 2021
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Microaggressions, racism, stalking, kidnapping

A new co-worker in the office tends to be exciting. When another Black girl arrives and Nella Rogers is no longer the only Black girl her at her company, strange things begin to happen. Mysterious notes and cryptic texts telling her to leave Wagner send Nella in a spiral that could unravel the fabric of reality itself.

Excellent in its twists, and takes its sweet time establishing understanding, The Other Black Girl interrogates the publishing infrastructure for its lack of diversity while also introducing dread and menace in a tightly woven mystery.

If this has been pitched to you as Get Out meets The Stepford Wives but make it publishing, you’ve got an accurate description of this book.

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Review: THE SHIP OF STOLEN WORDS by Fran Wilde (2021)

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release: 2021
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook

Pigs fly in this whimsical novel about the importance of meaning what you say and not relying too heavily on short cuts to getting out of trouble. Fifth grader Sam is ready to kick off summer but when teasing goes too far and a little library gets vandalized, he loses the ability to use his favorite word, “sorry.” The culprits are goblins, and we’re set off on an adventure featuring prospectors, goblins, and ships powered by words.

A delight from start to finish, it was wonderful to watch Sam learn the importance of action behind meaning and Tolver learning the hard way that just because he can, doesn’t mean he should.

Treats here include understanding adults, uneven roads to forgiveness, plus Ursula K. Le Guin elementary which I wish was actually a thing I could claim as a place where I studied. I’m so excited to have Fran on the blog next week.

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Review: RASPUTIN: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs by Douglas Smith (2016)

Genre: Adult Historical Nonfiction
Year Release: 2018
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Alcoholism, rape allegations, religious persecution, murder, slander, propaganda, rural poverty

Once again, this nonfiction read comes from being thoroughly entertained by Last Podcast on the Left’s breakdown of the Russian mystic’s biography. Dear reader, there is even more to it than can be covered in a 4-part podcast series.

Douglas Smith’s account of the self-proclaimed holy man not only covers the isolated facts of his life, but also goes into contextualizing both Russian culture at the time and the myths and attitudes that contributed to his notoriety.

Told through letters, newspaper articles, diary entries, and other primary sources, this very long, captivating read ultimately leaving it up to the reader to piece together the truth about this absolutely ridiculous man. It’d be foolish to say that Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin did nothing wrong, but the antichrist, he was not.

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Review: THE FIRES OF VENGEANCE (The Burning #2) by Evan Winter (2020)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Vomiting, gore, blood, body horror, incineration, death of a parent

It took a whole bunch of self-control to not immediately dive into book 2 of the exceedingly epic The Burning series.

Anyway, this book picks up immediately after the first book ends. Tau finds himself at the queen’s side, getting more and more involved in strategy and politics as they prepare to take back the capital from a traitor while also preparing to clash swords with the Xidda. This book is so fast-paced, even more so than The Rage of Dragons. Queen Tsiora wasn’t really a presence in the previous book, but wow, does she shine in the sequel. She and her mostly female advisors had such depth, and Winter takes great care in highlighting all kinds of strength, not just physical brutality.

If you want huge dragon battles, dragons, complex female characters, and multiple moments that make you almost scream “Holy shit,” just keep reading The Burning.

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Review: THE RAGE OF DRAGONS (The Burning#1) by Evan Winter (2019)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Vomiting, gore, blood, body horror, incineration

Since this book came out, many people whose reviews and tastes I respect encouraged me to read it. But they didn’t tell me why, and for that, I am miffed at them (not really, not at all).

In a world ravaged by war, Tau loses his father and vows revenge on those who betrayed him. To do this, he enrolls in a battle school to become the greatest swordsman who ever lived. The challenges along the way include battles against women who can call dragons from a demon dimension to Enrage warriors into becoming horrific beasts of battle quite literally and the nobility who sneer at him for his caste and underestimate him at every turn.

This book is an absolute treat for anyone who enjoys giant battles, big stakes, heart-wrenching personal tensions, and, of course, dragons.

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Review: THE HOLLOW PLACES by T. Kingfisher (2020)

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

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Body horror, bad taxidermy

After a divorce, 34-year-old Kara moves in with her uncle rather than live with her mother. Uncle Earl owns the Wonder Museum, a place full of strange and manufactured finds, which is the key tourist attraction in their small town. A hole in the walls pulls Kara and her friend Simon into a twisted Narnia full of willows and untold horrors.

This book is immersive in the creepiest way. You are so deep in the physical sensations and the way reality slips slowly away from Kara as she gets deeper and deeper into the secrets of this haunted, hollow place. The creatures are creepy and vivid. But more over, I greatly admire how the narrative makes sure to let the reader that these terrors are having an effect. There’s lingering trauma that make more pedestrian problems seem far away, especially the rock bottom Kara felt like she hit.

What unnerved me the most was that this alternate reality is simply a malevolent beast. Unlike other horror where the chills and thrills clearly map to the protagonist’s trauma, this one just exists in its own evil. Thankfully, Kara has enough snark and faulty coping mechanisms to elicit a laugh when the tension gets too much.

If you ever wondered what Narnia would be like if it was less fairy tale whimsy and more Pan’s Labyrinth folk horror, definitely step into this world nested between different realities.

Review: THE LAST SMILE IN SUNDER CITY (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1) by Luke Arnold (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Violence, drug use, fantasy gore, arson
I saw that Long John Silver from Black Sails had written a fantasy novel, and I was immediately interested. In this fantasy noir, Fetch Phillips is a human detective who doesn’t work for humans, investigating disappearances around town.

This city felt so alive. There is a deep sense of history and a contemporary culture. It manifests most obviously in the presence of a private school which teaches both magical and human students, and the various types of bars and tea shops. It feels modern in a way I don’t see too often, especially given the presence of cars and other non-magical technology. I found it interesting that perspective of the city came from a feeling of recent-history, not so much ongoing conflict. There is healing, there is trauma, and Arnold doesn’t flinch from any of it.

Fetch is also a compelling narrator. A depressed PI consumed by his regrets, he has insights into the city that ring true given its history. There’s a very self-inflicted kind of bitterness, and that kind of introspection lent the voice an authenticity. He doesn’t seem to feel that the world did him any wrong, but his view of things isn’t at all optimistic. Fetch, however, is also a bit of a disaster. He’s so nervous about repeating the mindset that set off his mistakes, at the expense of his own better judgment and safety.

The plot, however, is a bit slow, with not many action pieces until the very end. It meanders through the different worldbuilding pieces which help us get to know Fetch and Sunder, plus the things that ail both of them. It’s windy, but the bitter, darkly humorous voice helps bring it to life.

A fantasy noir about a city with as many regrets as our main characters, drenched in the aftermath of conflict.