ARC Review: THE DEEP by Alma Katsu (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult historical horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Edelweiss

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Having loved Katsu’s previous historical horror, The Hunger, I had high expectations for her second. The Deep is a fictional take on the events of the Titanic and the Britannic, ships which had sunk in very different circumstances, but shared a few passengers, including main character Annie Hebbley.

Katsu has such a knack for managing several timelines and points of view in one narrative. In addition to the great historical tragedies, Katsu delves deeply into one personal tragedy which spans both ships’ journeys. The one that carries the story—the Fletcher family consisting of Caroline, Mark, Ondine, and the late Lilian Notting—was particularly compelling. It features the promise of better, jealousy, terrible choices, and redemptive arcs which try to right the wrongs of the past. Katsu also narrows in on the stories of other passengers, like the Astors, Guggenheim, and more. The depth of research simmers on page, maintaining immersive dread.

Much like in The Hunger, each character gets ample page time. The supernatural, folkloric scares in this one work so well because this narrative is so character-driven. The ships simply serve as a backdrop and madness thrives independent of its majesty. Personal sins and tragedies haunt everyone every step of the way, making for yet another heart-wrenching narrative.

Once again, I found myself the kind of upset in a way that makes me say thank you.

ARC Review: ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS by Diana Urban (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

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Six students—star athlete, queen bee, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek—are invited to a scholarship dinner where they are presented with a bomb, a syringe, and a note saying that they choose one of them to die or they do.

This book delivers on all the tensions expected from a locked-room thriller. Urban expertly balances the stress in that room with the events of the year prior. Each revelations feeds into the next interaction. It is stressful from start to finish, but the teens feel so real, that the jokes amid the horror stick every landing. The author writes such relatable teen characters—and does a careful job not falling into the trope of cliques. I found myself both cringing and nodding along during the “before” segments because, wow.

There is not much I can say about the ending because when all the secrets come out, your jaw will be on the floor, and then you’ll have to read the book again with a new perspective.

ARC Review: WHEN WE WERE MAGIC by Sarah Gailey (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

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Sarah Gailey has such a knack for capturing the feeling of hopeless effort. In this young adult novel, Alexis accidentally kills a boy at prom and it is up to her and five magic friends to figure out what to do with the body. Strange things start happening around them, all while senior year winds down to a close and the feelings Alexis has for one of her friends stir stronger than ever.

I don’t think I’ve seen such accurate representation of the petulance, uncertainty, and stress that comes with being a teenager. Adding stresses like keeping your magic secret from those outside your circle and concealing that terrible thing you did definitely heightens the ante. What also really stood out to me was the fantastic balance between Alexis’s found family and true family. Because I read a lot of fantasy young adult, parents tend to be absent, either dead or evil. Here, Dad and Pop are so supportive and definitely are trying their best in terms of being parents.

This book is very light on the world-building, but that’s because it is so character-driven. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where the magic came from or how it shifts as the coven tries to solve its big problem. The story is tightly woven in its emotional arcs that ultimately, the real magic was also the friends we had along the way.

We have been blessed in these last twelve months of works by Sarah Gailey. While I hope they get some rest, I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.

 

ARC Review: DAUGHTER FROM THE DARK by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: February 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

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Dyachenko books are a delightful antithesis to the Russian aesthetic prevalent in many fantasy novels which had come out in the last few years. They strike gold again with the utterly unrelatable, but delightfully strange Daughter from the Dark. Radio DJ Aspirin encounters a young girl holding a bear on a walk home from his club DJ side gig. A group of teens and their dogs harass her, until the bear she holds turns into a demon and gets rid of the problem. Aspirin takes her home and he suddenly becomes father figure to a child with no past who may also be a demon.

Aspirin is such an asshole from start to finish. There was something refreshing, as parenthood doesn’t necessarily turn someone into a good person. Being that he is in his mid-thirties, there is a stubbornness to his privileged douchebaggery that made the reader want to find out more what happens, but also low-key cheering on Alyona as she makes an utter mess of the life he had created for himself. Their dynamic is just so good. She confronts him about the ways he is entirely difficult. He is completely trapped in the ways he cannot just get rid of her and simply has to take it.

What I would have liked to see more of is the context behind Alyona and Mishutka. That part of the book goes largely unexplored, which I guess, makes sense, since the reader only see the entire story from very human Aspirin’s point of view. It made for an interesting read, but coming out of it, the number of unanswered questions has not shifted whatsoever.

An excellent addition to the canon of “asshole becomes an unwitting father to a child of destiny.”

ARC Review: RED HOOD by Elana K. Arnold (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

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Trigger warnings: gore, murder, sexual assault (off-page, but heavily implied)

I devoured Damsel—Arnold’s other take on classic tales—last winter break. The way the story examined common tropes of princess narratives blew my mind, so naturally, I couldn’t wait for Arnold’s next work. Red Hood uses Little Red Riding Hood as a vehicle for a tale examining feminine power, menstruation, and how to survive in a world that protects awful men.

Though mostly downplayed, I really liked the fantasy elements in this. The villains in this book are men who have the inexplicable ability to turn into wolves. Bisou, our main character whose introspection and journey we follow through a second-person narrative, magically has the ability to sense when these men are afoot, and when wolves attack. I wish this element had been more explored from a world-building standpoint, but it very much fit what Arnold seemed to be doing with the narrative.

I especially admired how Bisou and her friends gain more agency as the story progresses, turning into a coven alongside Mémé, Bisou’s grandmother and parental figure.  The atmosphere here is also exquisite. Arnold works magic when it comes to melding contemporary and real-life fears with the terrors of the fantastic. The mysterious wolf attacks are horrifying, but so is the awfulness that is being a girl in high school.

A must-read for fans of more literary prose and loose but terrifying takes on classic fairy tales.

ARC Review: INK IN THE BLOOD by Kim Smejkal (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: February 2020
Source: Edelweiss eARC

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Not to sound like SNL’s Stefon, but this book had everything: queernorm, a four-faced god with six eyes, blood magic, art as propoganda, a traveling theater troupe, Italian-esque city- and country-design, disaster bisexuals, killing gods.

Celia and Anya are best friends who are inklings, devotees of the religion of Profeta, which worships a Divine who can only communicate via tattoos. Fed up with their church’s abuses, the two see a chance to escape when they audition for the Rabble Mob of Minos. But their performance proves more subversive than Profeta would like and it turns out that the Divine isn’t just a religious figment of mythology.

There was so much to like here. The highlight for me was the friendship between Celia and Anya. They are very close, both queer, and love each other, but that does not mean they are together. Overall, the queerness in this novel is so casual. Celia has two moms, multiple characters use “they” pronouns, the tenors which indicate a person’s gender identity aren’t binary. I crave this kind of queernorm world-building. It made me squee with each new detail.

In addition, I really enjoyed that Profeta itself proved a character in the novel. The religion takes on a life of its own throughout the novel. Smejkal deftly drops details both about Celia’s past and the machinations of the religion throughout the narrative in ways that feel like they add context instead of an information dump. Keeping the novel structured in three acts with interludes really fits the theater aesthetic as well.

After all, this dark fantasy is about the performance and interpretation of art, just with some disaster queers, and I want to throw it at everyone I know.

 

Reading Recap: August 2018

RRAugust2018In August, I frantically prepared for Pitch Wars, but managed to get a few good reads in. I don’t think I started a lot of book, so it was mostly me finishing up the ones I had started back in June. Continue reading