October 2020 Reading Recap

In October, my friends and I went full spooky season and watched a new movie every weekend. By new, I mean, it was a different movie, but it happened to be new to at least one of us every time. Watching movies with friends is nice, don’t you know?

Started a new job this month, so reading has noticeably slowed down. Whoops.

Continue reading

Review: MIDNIGHT IN CHERNOBYL: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult historical nonfiction
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

The Chernobyl miniseries on HBO is one of my favorite pieces of visual media. While the docudrama follows the Voices from Chernobyl, this book delves more into the context of nuclear power in Russia, the culture of scientific academia, and politics and policies that influenced the choices made and, more importantly, not made.

The narrative for this one was fairly linear, starting all the way with the construction of the facility, moving through Russia’s hopes and dreams of being on the forefront of technological development, the education of the facility staff and those in power, and finally, a timeline of the disaster itself. It is fascinating from a cultural perspective, especially as this is something my parents likely remember.

Given the current circumstances of the world, parts of the government’s decision making hit uncomfortably close to reality. The saving face, the underplaying of an unprecedented disaster as something totally manageable, and taking the correct actions far too late hit differently.  For these reasons and more, this book is another fairly difficult read, but this read goes more into the science and background of being a nuclear scientist in Soviet Russia than the heart-wrenching stories of those affected by the disaster.

ARC Review: THE DEEP by Alma Katsu (2020)

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

Read an eARC off Edelweiss

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.

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.

 

ARC Review: SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS by Courtney Alameda & Valynne E. Maetani (2020)

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

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

If you’re a fan of Japanese mythology, religion, and anime, this book is a treat. Kira Fujikawa is a shrine maiden and one fateful night, yokai attack the shrine, revealing a plot to end the world on the night of a blood moon. To stop the terrifying demon king Shuten-doji, Kira must gather seven shinigami or restore an ancient sword to stop the end of the world.

The way Almaeda and Maetani balance the massive cast in such a relatively short read is truly masterful. Each person feels a bit archetypal (if you’ve watched Inuyasha or similarly-genred anime), but the characterizations were on point.

One thing present in this book that I don’t see if many young adult fantasies are living parents who also participate in their child’s life. Instead of going full rebellious streak and fulfilling her destiny, Kira still takes into account respecting her parents and elders. I found this a bit refreshing and very relatable.

Absolutely magical and scary at times, don’t miss out on this one if you also enjoy soft romances and very good two-tailed cats.

 

Review: THIRTEEN DOORWAYS, WOLVES BEHIND THEM ALL by Laura Ruby (2019)

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

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger/Content warning: war (off-page), gore, sexism, domestic assault (off-page), mental illness, miscarriage (off-page) depression, starvation, lice, in-school corporal punishment (one scene)

Historical fiction isn’t a genre I normally dip into, but I saw that this book takes place in Chicago, where I currently live, so I picked it up. This story takes place pre- and during World War II and tells of Frankie, a young Italian woman who lives in an orphanage with her sister, also told from the perspective of a ghost named Pearl.

This book takes complete advantage of its unique perspective. Pearl wanders Chicago, relaying to the reader different facets of the hardships faced by Chicagoans during the Great Depression. Though Frankie, her sister, and their friends have tender and even humorous moments during their lives at the orphanage, Ruby does not flinch away from harsh realities, such as fear of the nuns and their stern rules or the ways the Depression affected life in Chicago in general. Pearl also meets other ghosts during her hauntings which tell a variety of stories of those who came before and the challenges they faced. It all felt very well-researched, though I cannot say for sure. What I can say is that this book could not have taken place anywhere but the Windy City.

It also covers many aspects of feminine strength, some of which I had to take pauses. My heart hurt most, I think, when the complexities of Frankie’s family are put to page. Life in the orphanage was hard enough, the distance when their father moves out of Chicago to start a different life in Colorado added another layer. In addition, I could barely handle the scenes when the girls exchanged letters with boys at war, some of which came from the orphanage (like Frankie’s brother, Vito). So much of this book is about survival in several categories, and I really just wanted to give every girl we met throughout the read a hug.

A haunting, beautifully-written piece of historical fiction which cannot be separated from its setting or time period.

 

Author to Author with S.A. Chakraborty

AtoA_SAChakraborty.png

Happy book day to Shan Chakraborty’s City of Brass, a lush epic fantasy about a con artist whisked off to an enchanting world to discover who she really is. There is magic, sword fights, and political intrigue sprinkled throughout and finely woven together. As the book is also Shan’s debut, I invited her to take time to talk about world-building, process, critique groups, and publishing. Shan and I are also part of the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers group together, an excellent community of writers working on projects in science fiction, fantasy, and everything in between.

Continue reading