Review: WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF by Elana K. Arnold (2017)

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Year Release: 2020
Source: Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: abortion, animal death, attempted sexual assault (author’s note), vomiting

I took Elana K. Arnold’s Revision Season course last fall, so before getting into the book itself, I felt like I had an insider knowledge of its revision cycle. I got my ears into the audiobook and dove right in.

This work follows Nina Faye as she navigates her teenage years with the social pressures as they relate to autonomy and sexuality. Her mother tells her that there is no such thing as unconditional love, and Arnold explores the different modes of love during key moments of Nina’s life. It feels like the contemporary precursor to Damsel, so if you enjoyed the brutally honest way it explored its topics through fairy tale, you will enjoy this.

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Review: THE ABSTAINER by Ian McGuire (2020)

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: murder, revenge, Irish-English tensions of the nineteenth century, child abuse

One of the reasons that I am so drawn to Ian McGuire’s work is that the writer absolutely does not flinch away from the nasty parts of historical accuracy that permeate both the time period and his characters’ backstories.

In this latest work, we go between Manchester, England and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as generational trauma and crime in the name of a greater cause chase our two main characters, Stephen Doyle and James O’Connor, respectively.

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Review: RUSE (Want #2) by Cindy Pon (2019)

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings
: gunshots, murder, knives

These books are such delightfully quick reads. Action-packed, multi-faceted, with a great group cast and corporate intrigue unraveled by brilliant teen rebels.

If you enjoyed Want, Ruse provides more of the same, with tight pacing, an intricate near-future but still cyberpunk-y setting, and a hopeful ending that leaves the reader like the kids will truly be all right, leaving the world a better place than the one they entered.

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Review: THE INCENDIARIES by R.O. Kwon (2018)

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction
Year Release: 2018
Source: Chirp Audiobooks

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning: rape, abortion, drug abuse, cults

I went into this novel having heard of it and subsequently posting it as a “pick my next audiobook” poll. I wish I could send everyone who voted on this one a thank you card because I listening to it in one sitting.

The prose in this work is tight and hypnotic, particular in its intentions and at times, incredibly heavy. None of the main characters are likable, but their journeys to the end of the narrative are simply fascinating.

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Review: BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. Cosby (2020)

Genre: Adult Thriller
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: gun violence, gore, drug abuse, arson, domestic abuse (mentioned, child neglect (mentioned)

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is a family man who has fallen on dire financial straits. A diamond heist comes his way and it seems like the answer to most of this problems. But it goes horribly wrong, and Cosby leads us on a fast-paced journey with complex characters and an earnest depiction of one life in a southern American town.

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Review: THE TROOP by Nick Cutter (2014)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2014
Source: Chirp Audiobooks

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning: maggots, pica, body horror, surgery, starvation, medical experimentation

Some of my peers who are avid horror readers recommended this read to me, without much context aside from its excellence. What I came to discover is a book a little like Lord of the Flies if wasn’t trying so hard to be important with a backdrop of of Rory Power’s Wilder Girls.

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Review: I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (2018)

Genre: Adult Crime Nonfiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning: graphic discussions of murder, sexual assault, and home invasion

Being the fan of true crime that I am, I had heard so many amazing things about McNamara’s work. With my recent interest in nonfiction, especially, i thought it was finally time to dive into this piece of true crime canon.

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Review: THE LAST BOOK ON THE LEFT: Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers by Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski (2020)

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

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning: sexual assault, murder, body horror, cannibalism, and the depravity of history’s most notorious serial killers

I’ve been listening to Last Podcast on the Left (LPotL) for a while now. What keeps me coming back to them is the depth of research that goes into the episodes (especially the multi-part stories) and the way they portray the heinous murderers from past and present as the losers they are. There’s nothing to admire with these folks and LPotL loves to use humor to strip these monsters of any “rock star” status they might have acquired as a fascination with true crime had gone mainstream.

This book covers: Ted Bundy, Richard Chase, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, David Berkowitz, BTK, Andrei Chikatilo, and Jeffrey Dahmer. These heinous villains eras past have a full chapter devoted to each other, starting from childhood going all the way through their demise. While there is much focus on the severity of the crimes, there are also many details provided about the victims, but, most importantly, the structural failings of the American justice system (with the exception of Chikatilo, who was active in the U.S.S.R.). There is also so much time spent on contextualizing America (and Russia) at the time of the murders, the kinds of behaviors and attitudes which let these crimes slip through the cracks, and persist to monstrous notoriety. It’s clear that Parks did most of the writing, but Zebrowski and Kissell do make asides that ease some of the tension and terror.

Respect for the art of research and an enthusiasm about covering the macabre with the same blunt humor permeates off the page. If you’re a fan of the podcast, you will be a fan of the book.

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 MERCIFUL CROW (#1) by Margaret Owen (2019)

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

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Teeth, vomiting, blood, attempted murder

I’m sorry for having sat on this novel for a little too long. Fie is the chieftain’s daughter of a nomadic caste of mercy killers called Crows which are at the frontlines of protecting the land from a plague. They arrive at a home, thinking that the prince and his guard are dead, when they are very much not. On the run, the trio work together to deceive the Vultures on their trail to get to the prince’s aunts realm of mammoth riders.

This book was so fun for a multitude of reasons. The magic system might seem gross at first, but it fits the rituals of the Crows. There is lore and there is an established learning curve that comes with it. Unlike many fantasies where the main character stumbles upon The Magic, Fie had been training for it her whole life. If anything, it felt like she was taking her final exam and needed to use all the tools and cleverness at her side. Moreover, Jas and Tavin provided support but also deference when necessary when Fie’s rage clouded her judgment. The chemistry among the three of them as the central characters really worked for me and helped move the story along in a way that felt organic both for the plot and for each of their development.

In addition, the world is very thoughtfully constructed. There is a diversity among the cast (the prince is gay and his guard is pansexual). It is implied to be queernorm, which for me, is always refreshing. This work is another to add to the list of young adult studies which are wonderfully sex positive. Not only are periods addressed, but it is also implied that Fie had partners before the love interest, and consent is on the page. All the tension comes from secrets of an interpersonal nature which nod to some tropes, but ultimately only make sense for this cast.

Well-paced, great characters, and a fantastic world I can’t wait to visit in The Faithless Hawk.