Trio Review: The SMALL SPACES series by Katherine Arden (2018-2021)

From left to right: covers for Small Spaces (2018), Dead Voices (2019), and Dark Waters (2021), all by Katherine Arden

To get in the mood for spooky season, I’ve decided to dip back into some horror reads. Katherine Arden’s shift to Middle Grade has been on my radar for a bit. What a delightful series it is. We follow the scary adventures of Ollie Adler, Coco Zintner, and Brian Battersby, three middle schoolers with different experiences of the supernatural. These books are scary but heartwarming, with tense situations and fantastic character development. The cliffhanger Dark Waters ends on makes me impatient for the next book, but they are a delight and highly recommended for fans of things like Over the Garden Wall, Crimson Peak, and urban legends coming to life.

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Review: BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage (2018)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: abuse, Crohn’s disease, parental neglect, attempted murder, hitting a child, gaslighting, burning

Usually when there is a horror trope of an evil child, the kid is either possessed or we see the entire thing from the parent’s point of view. In this book, we get the point of view of the mother, Suzette, and the daughter, Hannah. Suzette has Crohn’s disease, body image issues, and really wants a life that isn’t being a stay at home mother. Hannah, meanwhile, has been expelled from several kindergartens and refuses to speak. Something dark lurks beneath and she wants her mother out of the picture.

Baby Teeth is designed to make the reader deeply uncomfortable with sharp prose that’s intense from start to finish.

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Duo Review: DEVIANT (1985) and PSYCHO USA (2012) by Harold Schechter

It took me ten days to listen to the interview between Last Podcast on the Left, Harold Schechter, and Eric Powell discussing their new graphic novel project because I kept getting distracted by reading Schechter’s work. I thought it would make more sense to combine the reviews.

Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original “Psycho” (1985) on the left and Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You’ve Never Heard of (2012) on the right, both by Harold Schechter

I spend more time than is probably recommended listening to Last Podcast on the Left. Which is why it surprised me that it took me days to get through an interview that’s just under an hour long. Infected with Marcus Parks’ enthusiasm for Schechter’s work, I wanted to dive in and do some of my own reading. Wow, the hype is definitely well-earned. The discussion of mental health in both works seem somewhat progressive for their time, especially given the subject matter. The structure of both novels also kept me engaged and is worth studying from a story-telling perspective.

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Review: TRUE NORTH: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole by Bruce Henderson (2005)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2005
Source: Library Physical Copy

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warning: starvation, frostbite, medical procedures, microaggressions

Taking a break from Northwest Passage research, I wanted to venture a few decades later to read other tales of exploration. This book, in that regards, is a treasure. Almost told in dual-POV between Americans Peary and Cook, we watch the way these two men’s lives intersected. They both wanted to reach true north, not magnetic north as had been established on prior voyages.

Epic in its telling and scope, True North depicts what should have been a friendship turned into a bitter rivalry in expeditions taking place in the most remote places on Earth.

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Review: EMPIRE OF PAIN: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe (2021)

Genre: Adult Historical Nonfiction
Year Release: 2021
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: antisemitism, suicide, drug abuse, drug dependence, overdose, homophobia

One of my hyperfixations is the opioid abuse epidemic. My other is marketing (in fact, I have a degree and it’s my current profession). Patrick Radden Keefe’s history of the Sackler family, which brought to market Valium and OxyContin, covers the full spectrum of rich people nonsense, aggressive marketing which still informs the industry today, and one of the tragedies that has taken million lives over the past several decades.

Fascinating and induced many screams and clutching-the-side-of-my-face, this is a must-read for anyone who wants a more biographical account of how one of the most addictive painkillers became so widely (ab)used and the motions trying to bring the family to task.

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Review: LUCK OF THE TITANIC by Stacey Lee (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2021
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: racism, racial slurs,. freezing to death, drowning

The story of the Titanic fascinated me as a child. The luxury, the hubris, and specific ironic tragedy captivated me. But now as I’m older, I gravitate towards the individual stories of passengers. When I saw that a young adult novel about fictional characters had been coming out, I was thrilled.

Valora Luck gets a ticket on the Titanic where her twin brother Jamie who’s on his way to America in search of work. Because of policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act in the U.S., Valora has to sneak her way on board and gain passage into America using acrobatics and cleverness to win over an associate of Ringling Brothers.

Immersive in a way that made me periodically remind myself that there was a major maritime disaster on the way, this is a must-read for those who additional details and contexts about the people who found themselves on that doomed voyage.

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Review: FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Year Release: 2021
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning: Drug abuse, gun violence, rape (depicted, fade-to-black), microaggressions against indigenous people, vomiting, drug overdose, murder, kidnapping

Taking place on the border between the U.S. and Canada, this thriller follows Daunis Fontaine, a biracial, dorky, 18-year-old who deferred college enrollment to take care of her mother and grandmother. A newcomer captures Daunis’ attention and hidden truths come to light when she witnesses a murder. The body count starts climbing and the source of harrowing trouble might hit closer to home than initially expected.

Heart-breaking as it is beautifully written, Boulley presents a thriller that’s as much about the power of community and honoring those around you as it is about the terrible ways the drug trade ravages communities.

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Review: SOCIAL CREATURE by Tara Isabella Burton (2018)

Genre: Adult Literary Thriller
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Alcoholism, murder, drug use, dubious consensual sex, domestic violence, attempted suicide

This book is absolute bananas from start to finish. A worthy entry into books which spiritually remind me of My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, Social Creature features Louisa and Lavinia at its core. Louisa is a down-on-her-luck New York City transplant who works several jobs to not even make ends meet until one day, she’s booked as a tutor for Cordelia and meets Lavinia. Lavinia is a socialite who is one a sabbatical from Yale who lives in some kind of alternate universe where everything is beauty and poetry. We know Lavinia dies, and we beat witness to that toxic friendship.

This book has prose that hypnotizes with all the surreal glitz of oblivion. A wild ride from start to finish where having everyone be deeply unlikeable is part of the charm.

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Review: THE HOUSE THAT WASN’T THERE by Elana K. Arnold (2021)

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release: 2021
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Deceased parent

In this charming and heart-warming novel, Alder sees that the walnut tree between his house and his neighbor’s had been cut down. A new girl, Oak, moves right next door and the two are off to a rocky start. But due to school projects and adopting kitten siblings, I found it really sweet from start to finish and a brilliant use of literary devices to make an exceptionally satisfying resolution.

During the fall, I had taken Arnold’s Revision Season class and I feel like a lot of the concepts were on display here. The pieces of this story’s puzzle and its mystery fit so perfectly together, allowing the reader to fall to the rhythm and charm from start to finish. Great care was taken to make sure that motifs fit and that concepts were repeated, but not so much in a way that seemed repetitive. Really effective, really tight writing to be found here.

I greatly appreciated the range of children’s experiences and emotions present throughout the book. It was really great to see them disagree with their parents and have that interaction be honest and respectful. The fact that is mirrored among the children also added a necessary cohesion to the prose’s evolution as the we learned more and more about the goings on around.

Overall, really quick listen with a satisfying mystery to boot.

Review: MALICE OF CROWS (The Shadow #3) by Lila Bowen (2017)

Genre: Adult Fantasy Western
Year Release: 2017
Source: Chicago Public Library

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Vomiting, animal violence, gore, gun violence, suicide, surgery, poison, fungus

Trans cowboy Rhett Walker is on the hunt for the alchemist who had run off with Cora’s sister across an alternate version of the U.S. West full of monsters and shifters. The battle to come is the fiercest yet. During his travels, Rhett ponders where boundaries between himself and The Shadow, especially as his found family grows closer together, despite their individual heavy baggage and destinies to come.

This book’s pacing is exquisite and I read it in two sittings. The cliffhanger at the end, however, was so cruel, I immediately requested the fourth and final installment from the library.

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