ARC Review: HOUSE OF YESTERDAY by Deeba Zargarpur (2022)

Genre: Young Adult Speculative Contemporary
Year Release: November 29th, 2022
Buy Links: Bookshop.org | Unabridged Bookstore | Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to a NetGalley AudioARC
Content warning: intergenerational trauma, domestic violence, divorce, blood, vehicular manslaughter

Fifteen-year-old Sara is really going through it between her parents’ impending divorce, her Bibi Jan’s dementia, and the house her mother is flipping that is unequivocally haunted by a ghost which may be a part of Sara’s past. Family secrets and a truth hidden for generations come together in this contemporary fiction that’s as much about community within an immigrant family as it is about Sara’s personal coming of age.

If you’re looking for a YA book with a younger protagonist and no romance arc that’s as heart-wrenching as it is spooky, you are in for a treat. Definitely among the best books I’ve read this year.

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Review: EMPTY SMILES (Small Space #4) by Katherine Arden (2022)

Genre: Middle Grade Horror
Year Release: 2022
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: missing children, reference to a dead parent
Gentle spoilers for previous entries in the Small Spaces series

Empty Smiles picks up precisely where Dark Waters leaves off: with Ollie missing in an alternate dimension where no one else can see her either. It’s just her, the Smiling Man and a bunch of mannequins, some of which are clowns, some of which are others kidnapped like her. Brian, Coco, and Ollie have to work together across dimensions to keep their families in tact while the Smiling Man himself finds an enemy he can’t contend with.

A perfect conclusion that tugged at my tear ducts and heart strings, where family born and found is the central hero of an otherwise terrifying story.

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Review: LANNY by Max Porter (2021)

Genre: Adult Fantasy (Folk Horror)
Year Release: 2021
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: child kidnapping, speculation around child molestation and trafficking

Lanny takes place in a bucolic English village with a handful of residents and the titular child who befriends the town coot, Mad Pete, while Dead Papa Toothworth – part fae, part cryptid – observes the comings and goings in the land that he’s lived in since time immemorial.

In reviews I’ve read, I see people describing this as a contemporary fantasy, but since it covers a child disappearing without a trace, I came out of it feeling it’s more a folk horror with a hopeful ending. The audiobook narration is enchanting and unsettling, with great voice work done to enhance the stylistic choices on page. It also adds to the eeriness of Toothworth’s narration as well, a combination of different voices throughout the village.

The magic within the novel is very slipstream, not quite explained, but very much rooted in something older than the village itself. I liked the way Porter approaches the rift between Lanny’s family who are newcomers to the village and those who have lived their entire lives. There’s mistrust and skepticism, and it really worked for me in terms of driving up the tension. In terms of the themes, collective myth and what belonging means are two of them, and the chosen perspectives bright those to life.

If you want to disappear into something magic, something examining art as a craft, and to be somewhat unsettled with the end result, give this a read.

Review: THE DISAPPEARING SPOON: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Element by Sam Kean (2010)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2010
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: war crimes, human experimentation, mention of racism, misogyny

Sam Kean weaves a yarn that takes a trip through the entire periodic table. It’s mostly in order by linear history and delves into a bit about how the table itself can be a communication tool with extra-terrestrials beings (which are more likely to exist than one might think).

Much like The Icepick Surgeon, Kean delivers again on engaging storytelling with appropriate historical context, where madness isn’t as much the focus as it is an emergent property of scientific history.

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Review: SINKABLE: Obsession, the Deep Sea, and the Shipwreck of the Titanic by Daniel Stone (2022)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2022
Source: Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: drowning, deaths at sea, maritime disasters, Atlantic slave trade

I was definitely one of those kids with a RMS Titanic obsession as a child, that honestly, had nothing to do with the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet romance movie (didn’t want that until much, much later). The level of hubris and poor planning in the name of aesthetics is what captured many people’s attention, but for me, it’s the physics and aftermath that fascinated me. Humans are characters, but the focus here rests on shipwrecks in general, as a study, as a phenomenon, as a hobby, and some of the greatest tragedies that befell humans on the regular before air travel rose to prominence.

The specific lens that this book tells the tale of the fated voyage is strictly through the point of view of finding and uncovering shipwrecks. Entertaining, informative, and so focused on the final phase of a ship’s life time, rather than the story of a single ship’s demise.

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Review: I’M GLAD MY MOM DIED by Jennette McCurdy (2022)

Genre: Adult Memoir
Year Release: 2022
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: anorexia, bulimia, vomiting, child abuse, death of a parent, cancer, alcoholism, sexualization of minors

Jennette McCurdy is best known for playing Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon show iCarly. I had not grown up watching the program, so what drew me to this memoir is its evocative title. And I found an incredibly frank and intense personal story within its pages.

Exploring the pain of and recovery from being raised by a narcissistic and abusive mother, McCurdy brings humor and frankness to a discussion on the aftermath of parenthood that often gets buried under the sentiment, “Do not speak ill of the dead.”

Content note: This review will mention specifics of the abuse.

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Review: THE ROUTE OF ICE AND SALT by José Luis Zárate (2021)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2021 (1998 in Spanish)
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content/Trigger warnings: discussion of a hate crime, voyeurism, nightmares, PTSD

Continuing the series of vampire books we, as a culture, were not privy to until very recently (first of which is The Gilda Stories), this novella is a retelling of Dracula’s journey to England from the point of view of the ship’s captain. It originally came out in 1998, but debuted in English last year.

This novella is horny and gothic with all the pricks and discomfort of long months of an icy sea.

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Review: ROGUES: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe (2022)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2022
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: terrorism, mentions of rape and child sexual assault, mentions of parental death, gun violence, colonization, suicide, drug abuse, state-sanctioned violence, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, 2016 election

Empire of Pain was among my favorite reads last year, so when I belated saw that Patrick Radden Keefe published a collection of his New Yorker articles, I knew immediately what I had to listen to next. Keefe has such a knack for contextualization and bringing the human element into stories that are known for their divisiveness and post-hoc sensationism.

I found myself enthralled by the care, research, and thought put into every snippet of some very recognizable and major cases in contemporary history, ranging from wine fraud to drug lords to pharmaceutical fraud to a beloved culinary figure.

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Review: EXTASIA by Claire Legrand (2022)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2022
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: religious trauma, misogyny, dead parent (mother), dead dog, attempted sexual assault, suicide (mentioned), vomiting, gore

Extasia takes place in a post apocalypse where supposedly the last bastion of humanity is a village called Haven, run by patriarchal fundamentalists who believe that a woman’s role is to be a pure baby maker. The main character, whose saint name is Amity, has wanted nothing more than to be a saint, especially after her mother was ousted from the village. But she catches two other girls wandering off to a coven of literal witches, and suddenly, she has an idea to put an end to the increasingly mysterious and gory deaths of the men in Haven once and for all.

The magic is very real and the cult seems omnipotent, this book is a little less The VVitch and little more like The Village, but definitely in conversation with works like The Grace Year by Kim Liggett.

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Review: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (2013)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2013
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: misogyny, suicide

Finally, at long last, I have been granted the ability to listen to this mess of a tale. Enron started off as a natural gas company looking to disrupt the industry which turned into strict trading of energy that led to an energy crisis that endangered and disrupted the lives of millions. There’s much economic and office-political maneuvering to be found within this book.

Fascinating in its deception and complexity, the authors of this account provide fiction-esque portrayals of the key players while keeping in mind the vast losses and far-reaching consequences.

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