Review: FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings can be found on the author’s website

This book blew my mind. I had been seeing so much hype for this cathartic young adult retelling of Macbeth, I just had to jump in.

The hype was so real.

Elle goes out with her friends on her sweet sixteen. The night takes a horrible turn when untouchable, privileged white boys make her the target of their sick idea of “fun.” Instead of relying on any judicial system, Elle cuts off her hair, transforms into Jade, and takes justice into her own hands. She infiltrates St. Andrew’s Prep to get her bloody revenge on those golden boys.

Capin does not shy away from the horror of what had been done to Jade. The sharp prose only enhances the rage and venom seeping through the page. Jade’s scheming and voice are simply excellent, with the more stream-of-conscious narration working super well. In some places, the plot and descriptions become so over-the-top to the point of delightful. The murders are so intricately spaced out, keeping the tension tight from start to finish. I found myself cheering Jade on in her vengeance and in her manipulation of Mack in particular.

The fact that Capin included Jade’s parents who agreed to her transferring schools was, honestly, an unexpected touch. This novel leans deeply into its own dark revenge fantasy. No one tells Jade that her methods are questionable at best or tries to stop her, but that is part of the magic of this book.

Breath-taking, suspenseful, and delightfully violent, Foul is Fair is a perfect addition to books starring female rage like The Female of the Species and Sadie.

Review: THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu (2018)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult historical horror
Year Release: 2018
Source: Audible audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

This book has been on my mind ever since I learned the story of the Donner Party over at Last Podcast on the Left. Having survived a horror read like The Devil in Silver, I figured I dive in with this historical horror.

Dear reader, I found something far more upsetting.

Come for the rumors of cannibalism, stay for a story of human error, loyalty, and fear of the unknown as a wagon train falls under a series a mishaps. Could it be the witch, Tamsen Donner? Could it be the scoundrels of John Snyder and Lewis Keseberg? Could it be biting off more than you can chew when trying to escape your tragic past, a la Charles Stanton? The book answers these questions and more.

Katsu expertly navigates several points of view while trying to humanize the members of the Donner party. After finishing the book, I think the tragedy came from an unfortunate concoction of error, fear, and interpersonal conflicts. From the outset, it’s hard to decide whom to trust and the morality there is kept so gray. If you know the story, then you’ll know who the villain is. Worry not, there’s no sympathy given there.

This read left me equal parts nauseated and the crying kind of upset in a way that makes me say thank you.

 

Review: THE DEVIL IN SILVER by Victor LaValle (2012)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2012
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Victor LaValle’s works have consistently capture New York City on page in ways not often seen in other forms of media. There’s the variety of characters from all walks of New York life, and the nature and spirit of the city is as much a character as the characters, especially in this bottle episode of a book taking place in an asylum in Queens. Pepper, our trouble-making protagonist, finds himself at New Hyde Hospital following an altercation. When he’s kept there for more than the initial 76-hours of monitoring, he makes unsettling discoveries. Like the devil living in one of the wards, the one the orderlies and doctors don’t believe exists.

The way LaValle captures helplessness against a system is superb. At every turn, the doctors manipulate records, dosages, etc. to eliminate knowledge of the Devil, even though the patients all believe each other. The relationships are rocky, but there are some moments of sweetness to violent encounters. The morality here is a bit gray, as patients have different definitions of survival. Throughout, there is a profound feeling of abandonment, a system that doesn’t care about the very real danger stalking the halls.

In addition, this book takes its time cultivating that sense of helplessness. Digressions span different histories, from Van Gogh to silver mining, highlighting various groups who have been abandoned in the name of advancement. It is masterfully pulled off, even as you’re terrified of things going bump in the night and what those medications are actually doing.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with very loose allusions to mythology, Victor LaValle artfully adds layers to horror tropes in this earlier work of his.

 

Review: THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY by Alix E. Harrow (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Throughout literature and movies, there was a kind of fascination with the idea of grand adventures who sought treasure. Going into this book, I knew that it was a coming of age tale about a girl with the power to cross into other worlds and having been raised by one such adventurer. I didn’t expect the thorough admonishment of the whole practice through the points of view of magic and family.

This book is whimsy from start to finish, despite the heavier moments and times I wish that January’s ability to word craft and jump into other tales would solve her problems, aside from create new ones. I loved how this ability also gave us insight into January’s father and how he got roped into the society. There’s a heavy focus on roles and the things certain folk are around to do, but it’s folded so nicely into the plot, it doesn’t come off as pedantic at all. It truly condemns the entire notion of treasure hunting and who the real monsters are (sometimes disguised as actual monsters).

There’s also a very good dog named Sinbad who doesn’t die in the book. Some parts romp, some parts found and given family feelings, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is an adventure perfect for fans of Wayward Children.

 

Review: THE WHISPER MAN by Alex North (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Thriller
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Trigger warnings: Child murder, blood, child abduction, alcoholism

Listening to this book on audio was certainly a choice. When I finish a long reading project like Kushiel’s Dart, I need a bit of a breather from long science fiction and fantasy. A contemporary thriller was such a great idea. And Christopher Eccleston did the audio? A bonus!

What a surprise of a novel this was. Equal parts police procedural and family drama, The Whisper Man is a spine-tingling time. In the village of Featherbank, Tom and his six-year-old son, Jake, seek a fresh start after tragedy strikes their family, only to find out that a copycat has been following the format of grizzly child murders which took place prior.

Where this book shines is its exploration of grief and family. So much time was spent going through the things lost to “smaller” tragedies and the ways that kids and adults deal with their problems. Jake has his imaginary friends, DI Pete turns to alcohol, and Tom has anxiety over trying his absolute best to be both parents. The way this novel handles its antagonist also fascinated me. Revealing the scoundrel at the very end could be tracked from start to finish, but this book is definitely more about the journey than the reveal.

Terrifying in times that left me suppressing screams, The Whisper Man is more about family than anything else, so definitely give this thriller a read.