ARC Review: A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine (2021)

Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: March 2021
Buy Links: Bookshop.org| Unabridged Books | Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Content warning: vomiting, death, attempted genocide

The sequel to A Memory Called Empire picks up right where the previous entry left off: with Mahit Dzmare returning to Lsel Station. However, we are treated to a few new POV characters in the form of Nine Hibiscus and her fleet waging war on aliens they can’t communicate with who fight back with novel weaponry.

Taking a few pages out of Arrival (2016), the second half of Teixcalaan’s story moves away from a single location mystery and brings that political intrigue to space and beyond. As hypnotic as the first and ties up many loose ends in its satisfying conclusion.

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ARC Review: THE GOOD GIRLS by Claire Eliza Bartlett (2020)

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Thriller
Year Release: December 2020
Buy Links: Bookshop.org| Unabridged Books | Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Trigger warning: sexual assault, rape culture, predatory teacher, murder, suicide, substance abuse, guns

This twisty read follows the investigation for four girls. Three of them perhaps have something to do with the fourth’s murder. Secrets come out, and to protect each other and their truths, they have to stand up to a police department which doesn’t believe them and a school administration actively working against them.

Complex, evenly paced with a compelling, complex characters who are neither “good” nor “bad,” The Good Girls is a layered read that delivers a satisfying mystery and catharsis.

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ARC Review: THE BLADE BETWEEN by Sam J. Miller (2020)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: December 2020
Source: NetGalley
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Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Trigger warnings: Arson, stabbing, suicide, eviction, drug addiction, sexual assault (implied)

The city of Hudson, New York is rich in a history that’s about to be erased by the gears of gentrification and corporate interests. The community fights back, but it isn’t until the whale gods and ghosts of Hudson’s past join the fray, feasting on hate and unleashing violence upon this already-tense community.

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ARC Review: THE FACTORY WITCHES OF LOWELL by C.S. Malerich (2020)

Genre: Adult Historical Fantasy Novella
Year Release: 2020
Source: NetGalley
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Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Content warning: Workers’ rights violations, terminal illness

In Lowell, Massachusetts, weavers are fed up with long hours, unfair and unequal wages, and terrible working conditions. Judith and Hannah, literal witches, band their boarders together with witch craft and hope, starting a union to fight back against their managers.

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ARC Review: THE HARPY by Megan Hunter (2020)

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: NetGalley
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Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Content warning: Blood play, suicidal ideal, infidelity, sexual assault (not depicted but heavily implied)

It took me a few days after finishing this one to figure out how I felt about it. On one hand, it is a literary fiction about someone getting cheated on. On the other hand, this one is from the point of view of the one being cheated on, and her evolving bitterness towards the factors that may or may not have contributed to the cheating, and her pre-motherhood love of harpies.

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ARC Review: BURNING ROSES by S.L. Huang

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Fairy tales from the East and West come together in this brisk tale of regret, forgiveness, and closure told in flashbacks while two legends—Hou Yi and Rosa (Red Riding Hood)—hunt sunbirds to save their countryside.

I love how the present-day story serves as a book-end to having the two characters recount to each other their great tragedies. As readers, we get to watch that past unfold on page. Huang expertly balances nostalgia and regret, while also having the characters be open about feelings that made past decisions seem like a good idea in the first place. Both main characters are honest with each other in a way that’s compelling both as people who need to work together to solve an immediate problem and as people who need to make room for healing from the past.

In addition, how many retellings appeared in one novella impressed me. We got the fairy tales of our main characters, but Goldilocks and Beauty and the Beast also make an appearance. The world-building isn’t heavy in this one, but the subtle way Huang highlights the difference in Hou Yi and Rosa’s languages was a very nice addition.

Two older queer women (one of whom is trans) embark on a retelling that suggests that there other ways to make things last than quests for immortality.

ARC Review: THE SEVENTH PERFECTION by Daniel Polansky (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Content warnings: Cutting off a finger, removal of an eye

The structure of this novella is absolutely fascinating. Manet, Amanuensis to the God King, is trying to solve the riddle of her origin and the secret of the king himself. She also has the seventh perfection, a condition which grants her perfect memory.

Which leads seamlessly explains why and how each chapter of this book is told via dialogue from an intriguing character. It reads to me like the dialogue from an RPG, except we don’t have the visuals and interiority of the main character to ground us in a story. It’s all told from the perspectives of essentially NPCs. But the tone, pacing, and sense of a larger world are all there. The history and aesthetics of the land simply shines. It’s a magic-techno world where a discussion unfolds about mythology and the veracity of epic tales that become more legend than historical account, even if contemporaries still exist in the present.

The journey to having the curtains pulled on god’s truths is a wild ride, and The Seventh Perfection is highly recommended for those wanting to read experimental novels or novellas.

ARC Review: PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Content warnings: Water and drowning, cult activity

Piranesi is a book that takes place in an impossibly labyrinthine mansion where the basement is flooding. It is told from the journal of a narrator who may or may not be named Piranesi.

The plot centers on Piranesi cataloguing all the locations and the ways he spends his days. There are two other characters, the Prophet and the Other, who exist in the world of the House. Having the story be presented in the form of diary entries really worked for the intrigue. The narrator knows about as much as the reader does, and the pace which both reader and narrator learn the truth of this strange locale works really well. There is also an examination of identity and freedom, which come together seamlessly by the very end. To speak more specifically is spoiler-territory.

The prose and presentation read like a dream diary. The decision to capitalize most proper nouns and giving enough detail to get the sense of shape, but keeping the aesthetic overly vague really added to dream-like quality of this work. There is a sense of time being all sorts of broken, and it all works to unsettle but entrance the reader.

Creepy but entrancing, a whimsical novel with all the trappings of dream gothic.

ARC Review: EVEN IF WE BREAK by Marieke Nijkamp (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Content warnings: Addiction, violence, transphobia

In this cabin-in-the-woods thriller, five friends reunite to play one last session of an RPG. Things take a turn for the worst as one of them goes missing and their game’s story beats turn deadly and real life.

There are 5 POVs: Finn (trans rep), Ever (nonbinary rep), Maddy (autistic rep), Liva, and Carter. Everyone has their secrets, and Nijkamp does a great job weaving the details of their RPG with letting the reader in, while also ramping up the tension. The problems these teens face feel more realistic than some of the trials I’ve read about in the back story portion of these thrillers. Two of them have to deal with being queer in high school, one has excessive pressure to succeed, another has to support their family. It’s very thoughtfully handled and presented, especially the darker aspects.

One of the delights that made this read almost-cute were two things:

  1. The friends-to-lovers romance
  2. The RPG itself

Gonfalon works really well as the string keeping the friends together both narratively and metaphorically. I thought it would be just a gimmick to get everyone in the same place, so I was pleasantly surprised that it threaded all the way to the end. There were interludes told from the point of view of a GM as well which worked as a meta-narrative.

Even If We Break reminded me a lot of the game Until Dawn, but with no supernatural elements. If that’s your thing, please give it a read when it hits shelves on 9/15/2020.

ARC Review: THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER (The Drowning Empire #1) by Andrea Stewart (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Content warnings: surgery, body horror

There are few things I love more in a story than messy families, magical constructs powered by bones, and mythological lore returning. The Bone Shard Daughter has it all and then some.

The main POVs are the emperor’s daughter, a governor’s daughter, her girlfriend, and a smuggler. Stewart expertly balances these POVs to tell a story about a falling empire. But they don’t just do that, they all have their own goals and aspirations. The places where they intersect are particularly exciting, the choices made there driving the plot.

Much of the interior journey for the characters have one thing in common: they focus heavily on identity. Lin lost a bunch of her memories and tries to discover who she in her father’s shadow, in competitive solidarity with foster-brother Bayan. Both Ranami and Phalue are trying to work through the fact that Phalue is the governor’s daughter and Ranami is a commoner. Jovis, meanwhile, is burdened by how much he misses his wife and the deals he’s willing to make to find her. There is so much pain, but so much hope throughout. I definitely won’t spoil the endings here, but wow the twists were all incredible, and could not be separated from the greater world of the Empire. Every choice has consequences big and small, and the intricacy is simply impeccable.

Speaking of, the world-building filled me with glee. The incorporation of the constructs and the magical way shards powered them blew my mind. Stewart lays out the rules and programming for how the constructs work throughout, but in a deft way where it doesn’t interrupt the narrative. The concept of migrating islands also made me want to learn even more about the world. The fact that Book 2 is being worked on brings me so much joy.

On 9/8/2020, a empire begins its descent as the emperor’s daughter tries to uncover her father’s secrets and rebellion brews throughout migrating islands.