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.

Review: HOUSE OF HOLLOW by Krystal Sutherland (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Horror
Year Release: 2021
Source: Physical copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Body horror, vomiting, child abduction, suicide (graphic), sexual assault (discussed)

Years before the story starts, three sisters went missing on New Year’s Eve, only to return to their parents with white hair and black eyes without a clue where they went or what happened to them. In the present, Iris is doing all she can to be a normal teen while her oldest sister, Grey, is a global fashion powerhouse, and her older sister, Vivi, traipses across Europe as a rockstar. When the sisters are supposed to reunite, Grey goes missing, and Iris and Vivi stumble down a horror/fairy tale rabbit to get answers to both Grey’s disappearance and the truth about their past.

This strange, scary adventure is a fantastic exploration on the layers of messiness when it comes to femininity, identity, in family with fabulously double-edged prose that’s equally unnerving and beautiful.

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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: 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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Review: BENT HEAVENS by Daniel Kraus (2020)

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Chicago Public Library

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Torture, PTSD, poverty, psychosis, blood, bullying

Liv Flemming retreated from all but her best friend Doug when her dad went missing two years prior to the start of the story. Lee Flemming claimed to have been captured by aliens, and his ensuing psychotic episodes made him a bit of a lost cause to the town’s authorities. But when an unidentified humanoid winds up in the woods behind her house, Liv will stop at nothing to find out what really happened to her father.

Pissed all the way off and horrifying, this book has twists and turns with a compelling character arc of understanding and the prices paid for the truth.

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Review: THE MIRROR SEASON by Anna-Marie McLemore (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Magical Realism Contemporary
Year Release: 2021
Source: Physical copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Graphic depiction and discussion of sexual assault, slurs, PTSD

The book opens with Ciela, having just been assaulted, bringing a boy, who had also been assaulted at the same party, to the hospital, and she leaves them to the nurse’s care without ever finding out his name. Summer ends, and he is the new transfer student, whose name is Lock. What unfolds is a heavy, heavy book about healing, survival, and navigating the truth of what happened that night, while magic unfolds and folds apart around them. Trees vanish and mirrors take the place of the natural world.

The imagery in this book is absolutely the beautiful, the writing, atmospheric and evocative. But what really carries the story is the tenderness between Lock and Ciela as they grow closer, deal with the students who assaulted them, and learn the causes behind the magic unraveling and reforming.

It reminded me a lot of Liz Lawson’s The Lucky Ones in that the path to survival and healing isn’t neat, isn’t linear, and yet, the book ends on an uncertain, but hopeful note.

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