Book review: The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson

OUT FEBRUARY 11th! Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD x FSG Originals and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Amazon

♥♥♥♥ 1/2 (Four and a half stars, trigger warnings for violence against women, self harm, assault, sexual assault, lots of blood)

Do you like action? Brooding? Cults? Women highly skilled with a bow and arrow? Ancient swamp magic? REVENGE?? I’m sure your answers were all ‘yes’, and so I highly recommend to you The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. This book is a thrill ride with plenty of bloody action, terrifying folk magic, and beautiful found family vibes. It feels like Winter’s Bone meet Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it’s amazing.

Miranda Crabtree is an orphan and has been since her father disappeared in the bayous of Arkansas when she was eleven. The only evidence left behind was a shotgun shell and a baby Miranda could have sworn was dead when her father and an old witch took it deep into the woods. Miranda barely escaped that night with her life. Something in the bayou wanted her.

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Book Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

OUT JANUARY 14th! Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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If there are people in your life (or if you are this person) who are thirsting for beautiful, thoughtful, magical YA novels with an inclusive and LGBTQ+ focus, look no further than Anna-Marie McLemore! Their classic fairy tale retellings and LGBTQ+ fantasy-lite YA novels really scratch an itch and fill the soul.

They continue to delight with Dark and Deepest Red, a retelling of both the classic fairy tale The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen and real historical events from hundreds of years ago. McLemore seamlessly moves the narrative between two teens living in a slightly enchanted modern town and a young Roma woman (Lala) trying to pass in society with her aunt and a trans boy in Strasbourg in 1518, the same year a mysterious dancing mania overcame hundreds of residents in the city. The two stories blend together and inform each other in ways that will break and mend your heart. This is a story about building acceptance, community, and self-love. It is about honoring your past, your heritage, and your place in the world.

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Book Review: Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun

OUT JANUARY 7th! Thank you to Grove Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

While I am very solidly in the Millennial generational bracket, I really enjoyed reading Why We Can’t Sleep, Ada Calhoun’s nonfiction examination of Gen X women’s experiences with aging and managing their middle-aged years. I appreciated the discussion as a way to prepare myself for midlife, which will be coming for me in about a decade. Calhoun hoped as much, that younger women would learn from the generation above them, but she also does a lot of work explaining why Gen X has been uniquely set up to experience the issues that they currently are doing battle with.

In Why We Can’t Sleep, Calhoun talks about how a lot of Gen X women have found themselves to be miserable in their 40s and 50s. Maybe their careers (or lack thereof) are nothing like they expected. Maybe they hate their children or their partner or their body. Maybe they desperately want children and are running out of time to have them. The list is long, as I’m sure we can all understand. No one is 100% satisfied all the time.

Calhoun looks at the reasons why Gen X women seem to be more miserable than the women of other generations. She looks at how they were raised, with elevated expectations after Title IX and with elevated levels of parental neglect. She looks at the geo-political climate over the course of the entire lives and what made the biggest impacts on Gen Xers. And she examines the roll advances in medicine, science, and technology have had on a Gen Xers lives and their choices, as well as the shifts in social/cultural/gender dynamics from their parents’ generation. With all of this, she concludes that Gen X just seems to be the generation in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were hit hardest by the Great Recession and continue to, as a generation, hold the most consumer debt. They have a deep distrust of authority, the biggest deficit between reality and expectations, and they have acted as a kind of oldest child to Millennials and Gen Zers…facing technologically induced problems first.

Why We Can’t Sleep is an incredibly addictive read. I found myself unable to put it down, perhaps because I craved a fuller (and more honest) understanding of real women’s experiences. Calhoun’s writing was engaging and entertaining, and she covers a good range of topics. That being said, I have a couple issues with Why We Can’t Sleep. The first is that at times it can come off as one giant complaining session and whoa is me-ing. There are legitimate reasons why Gen X has had a rough go, but some things in the book make me want to roll my eyes.

Part of that is wrapped up in the second issue…she refers to Millennials as kids multiple times. The youngest of us are out of undergrad and the oldest of us are nearly 40. We are adults with adult issues. We don’t have our heads buried in video games. We are fully engaged with what’s happening in the world, and (I hate to break this to everyone) some of us actually do remember a time without Internet in our homes OR AT ALL. We are battling with our own set of grown bullshit that is decidedly not childish in nature. She also uses some generalizations about Millennials and Boomers as ways to prove why Gen Xers have it the worst, and that just doesn’t fly with me. Stereotypes don’t prove points.

My third and probably biggest issue with Calhoun’s book is her seeming lack of diversity in voices. While there is at least one queer person’s story, we’re not really told the ethnicity or socioeconomic situation or childhood environment for a lot of the women in the book. I know Calhoun isn’t trying to conduct an exhaustive survey on the issue, but I think that the reason I felt like rolling my eyes at a lot of the stories in this book was because they felt like #FirstWorldProblems.

Loosing jobs is awful, being in debt is awful, facing fertility issues when you want children is incredibly painful, but what happens when you face these things as a Gen X woman who came from a very impoverished family or who can’t pay for groceries every week or who has been homeless or has suffered racial discrimination. I don’t think trans women were mentioned at all (and that would have been incredibly valuable). We don’t get much insight on those women’s experiences, or a look at how a Black Gen X woman or a trans Gen X woman experience the difficulties of middle age differently than a White Gen X woman. I am certain that there are notable differences that are worth discussion.

But those issues aside, this was a very readable book that does offer valuable insight into our middle aged years in the new world we live in. I found it helpful (as a white, middle class, cishet woman), and if you are a Gen X woman you will probably feel some great comfort in reading your peers’ experiences. I applaud Calhoun for sharing these details about female life. Middle aged women tend to get pushed aside and their problems not taken seriously, so this was a nice step to correcting that.

I’m at a point in my life where big decisions have to be made. These things affect the rest of our lives, and choices we make will sometimes come back to haunt us. I greatly appreciated hearing the stories and lessons of women 10-20 years my senior. Sharing that knowledge is very important, especially for women. And while I did feel comforted in some ways, I also learned that there is no right way to do anything in life. Women interviewed by Calhoun were miserable for the same reasons other women were happy. And some women were miserable because they couldn’t have the things other women had (like a family or high-powered career or both), but some of those same women who do have those things hate them and wished they’d never attained them.

So honestly, it feels to me like the best we can do is try to know and love ourselves as well as possible, make educated guesses as to how to proceed with life, try to live in the moment and appreciate what we have when we have it, temper our expectations in order to have an achievable goal of happiness, and not be afraid to change something that makes us unhappy if it is possible to change! Calhoun’s book does have plenty of positive stories to offset the sad ones, and she does leave us on a hopeful note. Many of the women she talks to who are going through a hard time end up in a better place when she follows up with them later on. Humans are adaptable and resilient, and while life is getting harder and things have changed drastically from the Baby Boomers’ experience, there is hope for happy and fulfilling lives as we age!

 

 

Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

OUT DECEMBER 10th! Thank you to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

Every year I usually end up picking up a book I know little about and then get my socks blown off by how exciting and entertaining it is. Last year it was A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay. This year, it’s The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters. Wow, this book was a complete blast! A wild ride from beginning to end!

Heather is a successful therapists who works with troubled children. This might seem ironic, considering her own childhood holds an extremely troubling and traumatic event that begins to come back to bite her. Her best friend Becca died the summer they were twelve. More accurately, Heather killed her. But it wasn’t just Heather…The Red Lady was there too.

I loved this book. I loved the “kids going on an adventure during summer break” vibe it had. I loved the constant ramping up of action, and I loved the paranormal elements. Coming of age stories will always suck me in, and as a child who grew up in a small town where I was constantly running off with my group of friends to play a town-wide game of manhunt, build forts in the woods, and tell ghost stories in the graveyard, books like The Dead Girls Club and IT really click with me. That depiction of youthful nostalgia will get me every time, and Walters does a great job of it here.

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Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

The Night Circus was a bit of a slow burn phenomenon for the bookish world. Over the 7/8 years since it was published, people have found it and fallen deeply in love with it at their own pace. I didn’t go crazy over The Night Circus when I first read it, but all these years later I find myself thinking about it a lot. The atmosphere, the setting, the magic, the character relationships. It really stuck in my brain, so I was very excited to hear that Morgenstern was finally coming out with a new book this year!

I was shocked when I saw The Starless Sea available for request on NetGalley. I had just assumed it would remain elusive and exclusive to only the most renowned of book reviewers. I was even more surprised when I was approved for the digital ARC.

A real quick synopsis: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a grad student studying immersive media (video games) design and storytelling. One day he stumbles on a mysterious book in the library that appears to be a collection of short fairy tales and folklore. The thing is…a true story from his childhood is in this book. No one else knows this story but Zachary, and on top of that, the book looks to have been written way before Zachary was born. He starts to do some digging and in the process gets stuck down in a weird underground magical library where clothes are perfectly tailored for him and the food is exactly what you need and cats wander everywhere. But there is like, no one else in this library. The space itself is confusing and labyrinthine, and time and place don’t hold much power.

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Book Review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

OUT OCTOBER 1ST! Thank you to Gallery / Saga Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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My Aunt’s dock at Bloody Pond

A few years ago, I went with my Mom to stay with her and my Aunt at my aunt’s new cabin on a kettle lake in upstate New York. Kettle lakes look like ponds, but they were formed by ice blocks melting many a year ago. Bloody Pond, the kettle lake my Aunt has her cabin on, is spring fed so the water is crisp and clear. It’s very refreshing! My Aunt’s cabin is set deep among some pines, and it feels very bewitching to be there.

We had a lovely weekend in her adorable cabin, swimming, reading, eating, and drinking. There was, of course, an amazing campfire, and we stayed up late talking and laughing. But the later we stayed up (and the more red wine I drank), the more I couldn’t stop looking out into the pines. It got really creepy. What could be in those pines? Were there creatures watching us? What kind of creatures?

I was also raised on a very healthy dose of creepy folklore. My family has a lot of Scottish and Irish blood, so stories of changelings and brownies and selkies etc. were very common. I’m convinced my mom is in good with some faeries. I think it’s because of all of this that I loved T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones so much. I think I love folk horror best now.

Mouse lives in Pittsburgh (heyo, local gal!), and she doesn’t see much of her immediate family. Her Aunt raised her after her Mom died, but she talks to her Dad every week on the phone. Her Grandma lived in rural North Carolina (I also have family in North Carolina…too many coincidences), but now that both she and her Step-grandpa are dead, their house is just sitting vacant. Mouse’s Dad calls her up and asks a huge favor…would she please go down and clean the house out so they can decide what to do next with it? She can’t say no.

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Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

OUT SEPTEMBER 24TH! Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

I say with no exaggeration that Sara Faring’s The Tenth Girl contains the biggest twist and flip I have ever witnessed in fiction. This book is a slow burn that ends in the most unexpected way. In my wildest dreams, I could never have predicted what happens at about 80% of the way through. I can’t even truly review it because I don’t want to spoil anything!

A split perspective narrative, The Tenth Girl bounces back and forth between Mavi, a young woman in 1970s Argentina beginning work as an English teacher at a secluded prestigious boarding school in Patagonia (such a stunning place on this earth), and Angel, an American teen in the 21st century (I think) suffering from the loss of her family. Through a series of  events, Angel’s spirit finds itself at the very same boarding school as Mavi, and she soon learns that other spirits are hunting and feeding from the residents of the school.

Angel and Mavi make an unlikely connection but strong, and together they decide to fight the seemingly paranormal forces bent on destroying everyone and everything around them. These forces seem linked to an old indigenous Zapuche (mapuche) legend, where the tribes attempted to protect themselves and their lands by inviting back the spirits of their departed, but instead opened the floodgates of hell. The only way to quell The Others, as these destructive spirits are called, is to sacrifice a young girl.

If it seems like I’m being cagey here with details, it’s because everything I thought I knew about this book through 3/4ths of it is a lie. One of the biggest twists I have ever experienced in a book (perhaps even bigger than Gone Girl), occurs with only a fourth of the narrative to go, and from there on out it completely defies genre and expectations.

Up until that twist, I felt like The Tenth Girl was really dragging, lacking in character development, and uninventive with its plot. Most of the book, and it’s not a short book, is rather dull. After the twist, those potential faults are explained away, but I honestly don’t know if I like it any better. I wish the twist occurred sooner, and we got to spend more time acclimating to the new reality of the situation. And what Faring explores in the last ten percent of the book is more fascinating than anything that happened in the preceding ninety. I desperately want her to write THAT book, exploring the events that lead us to the conclusion and after.

Faring’s writing is beautifully descriptive, but it can drag in places. The Tenth Girl is written for a Young Adult audience, but it contains some very dark creepy moments. As I mentioned, it is hard for me to nail down an actual genre for this book, but predominantly I would say it’s a YA psychological thriller with elements of horror and historical and science fiction.

The Tenth Girl is Faring’s debut, and while I only rated it a 3/5 stars, I would definitely pick up another of her books in the future. She intrigued me with this one, and her sensational end saved it for the most part. Once you’ve read it, I’d really like to know what you all think!! It’s really frustrating to not be able to talk about the most interesting part of this book.

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

OUT SEPTEMBER 10TH! Thank you to Redhook Books and Netgalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

43521657When I read Alix H. Harrow’s short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” in the February 2018 issue of Apex magazine, I cried. That story hits on a very deeply rooted value I hold in librarianship and illustrates the life-saving abilities of literacy.

In it, a librarian watches a young boy come in to the library time and time again, lingering longer each time, using the books to escape whatever real life horrors were happening outside of the stacks. In the story, the librarian is a witch. There are rules to the magic of librarianship. Some magical books are not to be offered to patrons, and there is knowledge that should be locked away safely, protected. The librarian knows this, and she knows what will happen to her if she breaks those ancient rules. But she also knows the exact book this boy needs to break free of his oppressive life and find happiness in a new world. She gives him the book and watches him escape to better life, risking her own exile and ostracism.

This is important to me not only because of the obvious metaphor concerning literacy, education, and freedom, but also because of what it says about librarianship. It’s hard to explain fully to folks who don’t work in libraries, but there is a bit of a split between librarians and what we think librarianship should be. I belong to the camp of disobedient witches.

I bring all of this up to say that Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January is written with just as much passion using similar plot devices and metaphors, and it’s fucking beautiful. January Scaller and her father Julian are outsiders to the wealthy white elite of Vermont in the early 1900s. The color of their skin makes that known immediately. But January has the privilege of growing up in a fine mansion under the care of their benefactor, Mr. Locke. Julian travels the world for Mr. Locke, bringing back rare artifacts stolen from other cultures in exchange for taking care of his daughter. Mr. Locke then takes these items and “safely” preserves them by locking them away in dusty rooms and cases.

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Book Review: Violet by Scott Thomas

OUT SEPTEMBER 24TH! Thank you to Inkshares for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Amazon

I grew up on a lake. My grandparents had an adorable lake house on one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York very close to the small town I grew up in. We spent most of our summer days making the quick drive to their house and enjoying the fresh, cool water, the slight breeze, the gorgeous and magical woods, and the secret worlds we created. There were caves, waterfalls, glens, clearings, fields of wild flowers, and of course the lake itself. We learned how to swim and sail on that lake, and spent countless hours sunbathing on the dock and telling ghost stories around the fire on the beach. Our favorites were about the ancient monsters that lived at the bottom of the deep Finger Lakes, which were formed by glaciers making giant cuts in the land thousands of years ago.

Lake houses mean true peace, serenity, and happiness to me, so this book hit me like a ton of bricks. I was always on the look-out for ghosts in and around my grandparents’ lake house, but Scott Thomas’ Violet has made me grateful I never found them!

After Kris’ husband is killed in a crash, Kris takes her young daughter Sadie to her family’s lake house on Lost Lake in Pacington Kansas to get away from the memories and the prying eyes of family for the summer. Kris hasn’t been back to the lake house in thirty years, since she was a child herself. Her memories of the place are happy and full of joy, and she thinks the house could help her and her daughter handle the grief of suddenly losing her husband. The issue (one of many, as it turns out) is that the lake house hasn’t been touched in years. It has been neglected and is now overgrown and even rotting in some places. And it becomes very clear early on that the state of the lake house mirrors the state of Kris’ soul, and just like with her own trauma, Kris assumes she can just slap a coat of paint over it and it will get better.

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Book Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

OUT SEPTEMBER 17TH! Thank you to Pantheon for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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From Goodreads

There are monsters in the world, unspeakable evils that rob us of that which is most precious to us. Life can break your heart and rip you apart, but Noah Turner has more to contend with than the familiar horrors of human existence. Noah can see monsters, like real monsters. Big harry creatures. And they can see him too.

Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters is an incredibly touching story about the Turner family. What starts off as a cute love story quickly turns to sorrow as Harry and Margaret Turner and their three children face tragedy after tragedy over the years. But in the midst of their struggles (struggles that many of us would recognize and be acquainted with), a fantastical element rears it’s furry, sharp-toothed head. A true monster has had its sights on the Turner family for decades, and Noah, the youngest, decides to let it into his home, his family, and his heart. What Noah doesn’t know is that his father also saw monsters, and his mother knew something was wrong.

I knew from the cover art that this was a book I needed to pick up. Once I read the synopsis I was hooked, and I couldn’t put it down. This stunning literary horror debut hit me in all the right places. I was up way past lights out flipping the pages, fully invested in the Turner family’s story and the monster(s) that haven’t stopped haunting them for generations. I couldn’t get enough of the throwback 80s/90s vibes mixed with Lovecraftian horror! Despite it being a horror/fantasy novel, I found it oddly relatable.

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