ARC Review: THE STORY OF THE HUNDRED PROMISES by Neil Cochrane (2022)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: October 4th, 2022
Buy Links: Bookshop.org | Unabridged Bookstore | Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read a physical ARC
Content warning: queerphobia (specifically against aromantic and asexual people), transphobia, gender dysphoria, menstruation

The Story of the Hundred Promises is a fantasy novel that centers queer people and queerness in a fairy tale setting that feels lived in steeped, steeped in a familiar aesthetic and the trappings of a classic, complete with curses, magicians, fae, and more. Darragh, a trans sailor, is summoned to his family home where his father lies dying. To help, he goes on a quest to find the magician who helped him tradition several years ago.

The story that follows is full of tenderness, hard-won acceptance, and magic.

An interview with the author is going up on release day, October 4th, 2022.

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Review: OUR WIVES UNDER THE SEA by Julia Armfield (2022)

Genre: Adult Literary Horror
Year Release: 2022
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Trigger warning: eye trauma, death of a parent (both parents discussed in different scenarios), claustrophobia, blood

Leah is a marine researcher. Miri is her work from home wife. Leah went missing for a bit after going on a deep sea dive. She returns, but Miri worries when she starts spending more time in the bath

Haunting with beautiful prose that led me to excessively mark up my copy, this literary horror moves deftly from quiet melancholy to straight-up nightmare fuel when a wife returns, but did she really?

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Review: LAPVONA by Ottessa Moshfegh (2022)

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2022
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Trigger warning: realities of birth, rape, sexual assault, religious trauma, graphic religious flagellation, child sexual abuse, incest (between adults), child physical abuse, death of babies, maggots, starvation, pica, vomiting, murder, cannibalism, murder, self-harm, violence against animals, ableism

The invented village of Lapvona sits at the feet of its manor, both literally and figuratively. The lord is a pig with zero self-awareness, but the story of this seemingly cursed town also centers on its inhabitants. Not a single person is a good person, the plot moves from one natural disaster to personal disaster, ping ponging between the two. The prose is crisp and clear, making the happenings uncomfortably unambiguous in their depiction.

I’ve read so many things that I can reliably comp to The VVitch, but this one definitely follows a kind of interpersonal dread that makes you beg the question of the devil’s involvement. In this work, however, the answer is clear as mud. And if you’re into the unlikability of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, it is relentless across a wider cast of characters.

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Review: FLOWERS FOR THE SEA by Zin E. Rocklyn (2021)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2021
Source: Sirens Con 2021 (Physical Copy Buy Link)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warning: realities of birth, generational trauma, vomiting, infant harm and death, body horror, threat of drowning

On an ark escaping from a flooded kingdom, Iraxi is ostracized both on land and at sea, with her pregnancy the only thing keeping her company. Claustrophobic in its intimacy, this story has her narrowly escaped hell only to find herself in a new nightmare of razorfangs and other things that stalk the deep.

The language in this novel is intimate and precise. The location is tight – it takes place entirely on a ship escaping from a drowned world. Outside, there is the danger of literal sea monsters. Inside, there is starvation and distrust, especially as Iraxi seems to be the only one to have successfully gotten pregnant in the last five years. There’s hope in the new birth, but also fear of what comes next from her fellow passengers and rejection as Iraxi questions if she even wants the child altogether. The other characters aren’t much help either, though they definitely explain a lot as to why Iraxi feels the way she does about her predicament, both personally and on a community-level.

The horror found within pulls no punches, with key moments engaging both visual fears as well as audio, making for incredible reading jump scares. Pregnancy is part of the peril here, as is the child that comes of it. There is some body horror in addition to uncomfortable nightmare sequences to depict the before-times. I won’t go more into specifics because it’s best experienced first half, but it is as terrifying as it is awe-inspiring.

Anger simmers and propels the plot forward. Though there is time ticking with the upcoming arrival of the baby, Rocklyn keeps the reader going with hints as to what got Iraxi on this path, why she’s so angry, arriving an ending that tracks perfectly.

Review: THE HACIENDA by Isabel Cañas (2022)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2022
Source: Book of the Month Club

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warning: arson, murder, gore, rape (mentioned, not depicted), vomiting, financial abuse

Beatriz lost everything when her father was executed during the Mexican War of Independence. She and her mother go to live with reluctant relatives, until Beatriz sees an opportunity to return to some form of personal security in marrying Don Rodolfo Solórzano. It takes her to his family estate in the countryside, Hacienda San Isidro. But the promised security is quickly dashed when things start going bump in the night and there is more truth to the rumors surrounding Rodolfo than initially ignored.

This book has everything: 1800’s Mexican history, political tensions, a haunted house, a restless spirit, and a priest who’s also a witch. An incredible blend of historical fiction and gothic horror, I simply could not put this one down until the very last page.

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Review: WOMAN, EATING by Claire Kohda (2022)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2022
Source: Barnes & Noble

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Sexual harassment (physical and verbal), sexual assault, gore, animal violence, hospice care

Lydia is a vampire and, for the first time in her adult life, she’s on her own. She’s dropped off her mother at a long term care center. She’s taken up residence in a studio, around humans and artists. This book explores Lydia navigating on her own at the crossroads of human and animal, looking back on what being human has meant all her life versus the experience she’s living now.

Incredibly introspective and melancholy in the way it approaches vampirism as a means to explore loneliness, human connection, and finding one’s place in the world.

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Manga Review: OROCHI Vol. 1 by Kazuo Umezz (2022)

Genre: Horror Shonen
Year Release in English: 2022
Source: Forbidden Planet NYC

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The first volume of a short story collection from a new-to-me horror writer. To be honest, I picked this volume up because the cover and packaging were gorgeous. I found myself delighted by the horrors found within.

A mysterious young woman finds herself entangled in others’ personal lives with powers that can shift the tides of fate.

It’s easy to tell that the art style is much older, with the original works having come out in the late 60’s, early 70’s. The lines are bold and there’s great use of blank spaces with solitary figures. There’s also not a lot text to be found in the pages, letting the art do a lot of the story-telling. Some of it is unsettling, and I’m invested in the stories told in facial expressions alone.

I found both stories chilling, but “Sisters,” to me, had the more effecting twist. I’m definitely into the style and I’m looking forward to the stories found in the following volumes.

Review: CHERISH FARRAH by Bethany C. Morrow (2022)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2022
Source: Barnes and Noble

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warning: gaslighting, vomiting, racism, blood, gore

Cherish is, as her best friend Farrah describes it, white girl spoiled. Farrah, on the other hand, was used to the luxury her parents lifestyle afforded her until foreclosure pulls that rug out from under her feet. She then tries to manipulate her way into Cherish’s family, and then it’s secrets and ulterior motives all the way down.

Gripping, intense, and a compelling exploration of the duplicity that comes with being in control, a delight if you like if you love feeling uncertain and deeply interior character journeys.

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Review: AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK by David Diop (2018)

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction (Translated)
Year Release: 2018
Source: Unabridged Bookstore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warning: gore, violence, murder, trauma, PTSD

Alfa Ndiaye is a Senegalese man and a soldier with the French army during World War I. His more-than-brother, Medemba Diop, begs for death, but Alfa can’t do it. This haunts. What follows is an exploration of trauma and violence and a twist that made me press the book against my face and yell.

This book is hypnotic and another adventure in “the less you know going in, the better.” Like a lot of books that are considered literary fiction, not a lot happens. The event of Alfa failing to mercy kill Mademba takes place both on- and off-screen. There’s no plot, there’s just a lot of processing. There’s also an overt sexual overtone to the seduction of war and the emergent forced proximity that’s appropriately uncomfortable.

It’s brutal and unflinching in places, so if up-close descriptions of violence and dehumanization of enemies and allies isn’t your thing, look elsewhere. War is as much a character as the trauma and the literal players in this story. It’s such a masterful work of prose and translation. This is definitely one of those that I’ll be revisiting because there is so much to chew on.

Review: THE ONES WE’RE MEANT TO FIND by Joan He (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: 2021
Source: Unabridged Bookstore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warning: terminal illness, suicide, violence (including choking), death, death of parent (off page), vomiting, large scale natural disasters and mass casualties

Cee has lived on an abandoned island for three years with no idea of how she got there. All she knows is that she has a sister, Kasey, who lives in eco-cities, a final bastion protecting humanity from ecological collapse that has been an apocalypse of humanity’s design. With intricate science and a stern point of view about its role in human lives, Joan He crafts a story steeped with mystery and melancholy.

A book that left me with that feeling of sitting on the shore while a beach day winds down, it’s better to go into it knowing as little as possible.

But, I can’t leave the review like that, now can I? What I really liked is the exploration of survival and, specifically, survivor guilt. There is so much tragedy, from the sisters’ mother’s death to the large scale natural disasters that ravaged the Earth, whose solutions led to other disasters. The prose is immersive, with deep interiority in the POVs of both sisters.

What He does particularly well is letting the reader comes to conclusions on their own before the book confirms suspicions. It’s engaging in the most masterful way. Again, I cannot go into specifics, but before you open up to page 1, trust He as she takes you on a journey of sisterly love and coming to terms with unresolved griefs.