FOURTH WING - Rebecca Yarros
Yarros had the AUDACITY to put all of my favorite things in one book?? *fans self* Dragons, fights to the death, enemies to lovers, and a perfectly accessible writing style have made this an addictive series to watch.
This book really said, "Let's combine everything that worked in a bunch of fantasy books before and mash them into something awesome." And it worked.
Fourth Wing has been all over the book community this spring. If you've somehow not heard of it yet, you will, and if you haven't broken under the hype train and tried this story out, then you are an insanely strong personality and I fear you.
I had no desire to avoid this hype train—I've been eagerly awaiting it since this book popped up on my Amazon "you might be interested in..." window in late 2022.
Dragon riders. A college segmented into quadrants. A quashed rebellion with lingering consequences. A longstanding war. Magic powers. A girl caught in the middle, tugged on by Fate.
I know, I know. We've heard those things before, right? That's like Eragon + Divergent + Deadly Education + Red Queen + [insert blockbuster series here].
But Y'ALL. When I tell you that I couldn't put this book DOWN, I mean that I literally took it into the bathroom with me so that I could keep reading it. (Outing myself here, but you need to hear me right when I talk about this level of obsession.)
I ignored texts for this book. I ignored meal times. Like I've already said, I took this book with me for calls of nature. Fourth Wing couldn't be stopped, and I was obsessed beyond reason.
Addictive is the only word I can use to describe this reading experience and the subsequent fandom hype that happens after you finish. Unlike some popular reads out there—where let's be honest, once you gain some distance you realize flaws and your passion fades—I don't see this happening with Fourth Wing. I'm days out from my first read and I'm still wishing I could dive back into this world.
This is so clearly a reaction review that I don't think I want to talk about anything specific in this story. The blurb pretty much covers it.
My only caveat for Fourth Wing is related to its fanfiction-like status as a remix of the greatest trope hits: Listen, I know this book isn't a unique snowflake. But I literally don't care.
There's something to be said for the talent required in taking an established set of ingredients and still baking something tasty that feels like a handmade treat tailored to you, you know?
Ride the wave, y'all. It's so much fun.
Thanks to the author for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This rating is a preliminary one. I think it deserves more from me, but I’m not there yet—I need to boil it down and reread the series later with more context.
Two things are immediately true: 1) this book is not a one-time reading comprehension experience and 2) I continue to be in awe of Jones’ electric-tripwire, running-from-Death (or running to?) writing style that is unlike anything I’ve experienced as a reader.
Horror elements: ★★★★★
Writing style: ★★★★★
Wait, so you thought Jade Daniels was done?? Welcome back to Proofrock.
It's 2019. Jade is back to "Jennifer" and she's just stepped back onto Proofrock soil following the trauma, trials, and incarcerations as a result of the events of My Heart is a Chainsaw. She's ready for whatever could qualify as a "fresh" start for someone who's seen the shit that she's seen. Her days of final girls, horror movies, and niche survivalist trivia are behind her. (Didn't you pick up on that from the "Jennifer" nonsense?)
But let's remember, this is Proofrock. It's like the town was waiting for its bloody princess to step back into the ring, because one Jade's back, things get dicey again.
On one cold, blizzarding night in February, Proofrock welcomes a convicted serial killer into its midst. Indigenous murderer Dark Mill South escaped his heavily armed convoy a few miles outside of Proofrock under the helpful blanket of an avalanche and found his way into town. There's a lot of teenagers who somehow managed to escape the previous massacre. Dark Mill South might not know the town's bloody history, but he's unwittingly about to decimate the surviving playing field anyway.
The players from My Heart is a Chainsaw are older and grudgingly wiser, and, in Letha's case in particular—armed with all of the slasher knowledge that she missed the first time around. Letha Mondragon, the previous final girl, isn't about to be caught unawares again. She's vigilant, she's alive despite the medical odds, and she's ready with every horror play in the book.
On a dark, dark night...
Dark Mill South’s Reunion Tour began on December 12th, 2019, a Thursday. Thirty-six hours and twenty bodies later, on Friday the 13th, it would be over.
Soooooo let's talk about it. Don't Fear the Reaper is, arguably, my most interesting anticipated release for this year. I took My Heart is a Chainsaw as a singular standalone, a titan in the horror genre that stood alone and needed no further explanations, riffs, or sequels. But then this sequel appeared out of the madness of Jones' mind and I knew I needed it.
Reaper was simultaneously exactly what I expected and yet also, wonderfully, different.
Did I fully understand it? Debatable. Do I need to watch the entire canon of classic horror slasher movies in order to fully understand this latest installment? ...Honestly, probably.
Don't Fear the Reaper is a honed blade for the slasher community. As a general horror fan with a particular interest in body horror and speculative horror, I was WAY out of my depth with this story.
It was an almost alienating experience to witness this novel play out via referential dialogue, meta takes on the subniche, and high-level interplay between established slasher canon (and fanon?) all stitched within a narrative that, itself, was a reflected commentary on the events of My Heart is a Chainsaw. It was brutally intelligent. I just didn't have the right playbook.
There were layers on layers here, folks. Forget Shrek's onion—I'm so sorry, horror fans, let me horrify you with that Shrek reference—this was the Meta Onion. I caught just enough of the referencing to make it through my reading experience, but I know I missed most of it.
The dialogue, scene setups, tropes, character developments, and more were all linked to other elements of the genre. And if you didn't get the reference, you lost the momentum. I do think that affected my personal reading enjoyment. But unlike other novels where that lack of understanding repelled me and made me DNF, this version made me curious, and—for the first time in my life, yes, even Chainsaw didn't inspire me—made me want to dive into the world of slasher films.
There's a lot to take away from Reaper. Similar to the interspersed essays within the narrative itself, I'd need a thesis to get into it. I didn't even have time to mention the subplots and subhorrors hiding behind the surface plot (let's just say, it is similar to Chainsaw in more ways than one.)
But suffice to say, this sequel was spectacular, and worth several rereads and discussions. I look forward to Jones pulling it all together into one brilliant dissertation in the final book.
Thank you to Gallery Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Classic K.J. Parker flair and wit! Not my favorite in his canon, but still a fun ride.
I think it's no surprise that I'm a huge fan of K.J. Parker. Both Inside Man and Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City are some of my favorite books of all time--I can't seem to get enough of his wit and no-holds-barred sense of "you better keep up, because I'm not slowing down" energy.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels had that classic wit and barreling-freight-train energy.
What would you do if you found yourself caught in a theological paradox? Think chicken and the egg, but instead of farm animals we graduated right to the big guns: the existence and willpower of God.
A clerical student grew up with the truth and lies surrounding his family name. If you believe the myth, he says, then you believe his grandfather trapped an Angel and thwarted the will of God.
Despite being a supposed clerical student, our main character has always assumed that this was the myth, not the fact. Angels and God aren't actually real, right?
Wrong. Said clerical student finds out the hard way that the unbelievable is possible, and the barometer of believability is much more suggestible and fragile than he imagined.
Enter into the vortex with K.J. Parker and find yourself questioning everything and nothing at the same time... No matter what, you're always in for an experience.
Like all of Parker's works, I find his unique writing voice and sharp wit truly one-of-a-kind. There really isn't another narrative voice out there that matches him. It's a dash of Pratchett, a splash of something sharper than Gaiman, and a heavy dose of... Parker.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels was a truly fun ride. I will admit, I think it's one of my least favorites, but that's not saying much as I still enjoyed it. My personal lower rating is more to do with the subject matter and how heavy-handed the religious theme was in this novella more than anything else. (I can only handle so much theology and philosophical whirlpools.)
K.J. Parker fans are already onto this novella, so my pitch here is for the newbies. If you like irreverent takes on religious, smart humor, and quick stories: pick this one up.
Thank you to Tordotcom publishing for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A miniature mansion, a woman who lovingly crafts its tiny rooms and shares them on the internet for others to see, and a man on the other side of the country who is inexplicably finding photos of a dollhouse on the internet that portrays... his actual home?
Myra Malone lives in her home surrounded by the frozen time warp that is her life. At the age of five, she was in a devastating car accident—it killed her step-grandmother and left Myra traumatized and near death. Her recovery journey went from coping with some altered facial differences as a child to isolating herself inside as a homeschool student to being an adult wholly unable to leave her home.
In this very, very isolated and hermit-like existence, Myra has her Mansion.
Well, it's not a mansion. It's actually a very well-crafted large dollhouse, complete with dozens of furnished rooms, beautiful miniaturized fixtures, and a little extra something that Myra herself never questions. (If the rooms she creates react and adapt on their own, who's to say? Myra knows there's something a bit like magic happening under her nose, but she doesn't mind.)
Across the country, Alex works in his father's furniture store. His family is Virginian old money, and they have an old estate in the woods that his father hates and Alex loves. It's a true mansion in the Virginian woods, and it calls to Alex like some kind of magic. Furniture moves around when he's not looking, and every once in a while he can here music and voices.
Alex and Myra don't know it, but their worlds are about to collide.
Myra made an online blog about her miniature Mansion, and it developed a massive cult following despite her lack of interest—it was all her friend Gwen's idea, after all. But that cult following kept growing, and one day it reached the ears of Alex in Virginia.
Alex is stunned to discover that Myra's "Mansion" is... his house. And the bedroom she just took a photo of is... his bedroom. Done in miniature, of course, but it's his room. And that's his library, and that's his... and on.
Myra and Alex are about to uncover a lot of history and the magical ties that bind them together...
The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone was such an enchanting and original read. I was drawn to this story by its very unique title, but the ultimate thing that made me ask for an early reading copy was this concept of a magic dollhouse tied to a real mansion. What a fun twist on the magical house trope!
And, for those who come to this story for that reason, I think you're in for a similarly delightful read. Quaint, soft, yet overwhelmingly filled with heart and healing, this is a story that I think will find broad appeal in the soft fantasy, romance, light historical, and contemporary literature market. There's a dash of this, a dash of that...
At times too drawn out and at others too condensed, I did feel like this story included too much and yet also too little. This was a deceptively large concept hiding behind a small pitch line, and once you pulled on the first thread it all just collapsed into your metaphorical reader lap.
Something about this story that I did not expect were the multiple timelines throughout it. This is a multi-generational epic that spans over 100 years, with chapters of various points in time. Myra and Alex each have their own POV thread with chapters throughout the book, but interspersed continuously through that main story arc is a very dense historical narrative with some other characters. I wasn't expecting that in this story, and frankly I think it led me as reader to feeling too spread out between such a long time period and too many characters. My personal preference would have been to keep this story contemporary, with Myra and Alex, and let the past be the past. But take that with a grain of salt—I am not a historical fiction reader!
However, quibbles aside, I think this story will find its niche audience and bring out some joy and emotional healing to its readers.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A RESTLESS TRUTH - Freya Marske
A ship traveling from America to England. A deadly game of find-that-magical-item. A fantastic sapphic romance. Oh and also? More of a truly engaging magical world. I love this series!
Maud Blyth is on a mission. She's helping her brother, Robin, with his quest to save the magical community of Great Britain from some truly deadly stakes that we discovered in A Marvellous Light, the first book in the series. She's on her way back to Britain via steamship.
It's not Maud's fault that her charge, an elderly woman holding a secret magical artifact, dies on the first day of their voyage. And it's not Maud's fault that said elderly lady never actually told her what item in her possession was the all-important magical artifact.
Oof. Things aren't going to be so easy, after all.
Good thing Maud Blyth is the best person to have in your corner when you're trapped and in need of assistance.
Enter Violet Debenham from stage right, the beautiful and enigmatic heiress-to-be with a reputation she keeps in purposeful tatters and way too much personality and charm for any one room. She's a gravitational pull, and Maud finds herself helpless to resist—and discovering that even she could, she may not want to escape Violet's embrace.
And from stage left, the broody and constantly irritated Lord Hawthorne enters the scene as well with his anger, lack of magical ability, and tortured past. He's a reluctant player in Maud's play of Christie-like whodunit, but he's present and more helpful than nothing so Maud takes him into her stride too.
With magicians, murder, and mayhem... We're in for a bumpy voyage. All aboard!!
I am so pleased to report that A Restless Truth proved to be just as delightful as its first book, A Marvellous Light.
I was initially bummed to find out that this book abandoned the characters from the first book (Robin and Edwin), but quickly found myself getting over it in the absolutely perfect character in Maud. Maud was everything. I loved her. (Don't get me wrong, I found Violet to be a ton of fun too in different ways, but MAUD!)
There's just something about this quaint historical fantasy series that pushes all of my buttons. It's intriguing, yet not pulse-pounding. It's quaint and quiet, yet grips me. It has a dense and interesting magic structure and yet at no point do I feel lost or overburdened by complexity. It's "just right," and continues to be.
My only quibble with this installment was its limited setting... I am not a fan of boat-centered content. Or any other limited-setting story that traps our characters into a very small geographic range. Outside of certain mystery books with extreme action, this type of limited setting leads to me as the reader feeling trapped and pent-up in the mental reading space. It's hard for the plot to feel like it's moving along when our characters can only go from A to B... and back... and repeat. I wish this story had taken place somewhere else and given Maud, Violet, and the crew more room to breathe and explore. But, that in mind, I still greatly enjoyed this read.
Eagerly awaiting book three!!
Many thanks to Tordotcom for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
LEECH - Hiron Ennes
I have never read a novel like this before. I have…feelings about it. Can you be repulsed and engrossed at the same time??
Body horror: ★★★★★
My enjoyment: ★
I love body horror books. Or at least, I used to say that. I think Leech broke my brain and has redefined the threshold on which we determine "body horror" in the realm of medical trauma, consent, and what it means to be a person in, essentially, meat suits.
If the phrase "meat suits" makes you uncomfortable, please take that as your cue to stop reading this review here—and to avoid this book.
Leech is very hard to describe. I commend whoever was tasked with writing the blurb for the inside jacket... it couldn't have been easy. How does one describe a novel like this?
Every monster is the hero of its own story... that could be said about this book.
When our society collapses in on itself and future versions of humanity exist in a very bleak, grim, and macabre future... that could be said about this book.
Let's combine the idea of parasites with a gothic, moldering castle and make it mentally insane... that could be said too.
Leech has a LOT going on in its pages. It's dense by every meaning of the word-- paragraph-wise, character-wise, worldbuilding-wise, and horror-wise. It is a LOT. And it makes no apologies for being that way. (It doesn't have to apologize, but it could have done with a stronger warning label! Lol.)
To say "I enjoyed this reading experience" would be a lie. I did not have a good time.
I loved the first bit of the book a lot—it's confusing, but intriguing and interesting at the same time. I thought the middle was a very dense attempt at trying to figure out the setting, worldbuilding, and sense of pacing. It took me ages to get through the middle sections because it was terribly easy to put the book down and simultaneously very hard to reengage with it when I tried to pick it back up. The ending... was both absolutely horrifying to my personal reading tastes and also a wild trip into the ether in terms of character arc upheaval.
If you've made it this far into my review, you might be wondering why I'm giving this novel a generous 4 stars despite being viscerally upset by its contents. I, too, am a bit confused by myself. But at the end of the day, I think the author deserves some very high praise for instilling such a unique concept into such a horrifying package that dealt with literally every single variant of medical body trauma that could possibly exist in our human minds. All of it. It's all here in this book.
If, for some reason, you're not yet turned off from this book by my review, then I do recommend it. Hiron Ennes is an author to watch—they are doing very unique things in the horror space.
Thank you to TOR for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
SHIP WRECKED - Olivia Dade
Such a satisfying end to this series! A slow-burn friendship with tension, lots of room for quiet dramas and growth, and a sweet romance at its core.
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Please Note: This book is the third installment in the Spoiler Alert series by Olivia Dade. While this is technically a standalone romantic story between two characters, I highly recommend reading this series in order to get the full context. There are a TON of references to the first two books in this one, and Maria and Peter's story exists in a dense bubble of context references from the other books.
Maria and Peter are both costars on the same TV show, Guardians of the Gates. It's a Game of Thrones-esque show with an international following and a lot of drama and character arcs.
Their characters play two isolated gods who have been stranded on a remote island with just the two of them.
It's just them. And a small production crew. On a very small island. Staying in a limited-space boutique inn.
Why does this matter, you ask?
Because Maria and Peter had an explosive, no-holds-barred sexy one night stand the night before they both landed roles on Guardians of the Gates. After one night of perfect passion, the last thing either of them thought would happen would be to see each other again. And now they're not just seeing each other—they're acting face to face, in a remote location, for several years of filming.
It's not... shall we say... ideal. Especially when their passion still exists, and yet personal hang-ups and a desire to maintain professional boundaries keeps them from ripping each other's clothes off and resuming their hot-HOT chemistry.
Can these two costars make it through the slowest burn of their lives? What will happen once they have the space to make their own decisions?
Ooooooh, oh. Ship Wrecked was fun, y'all. I enjoyed it very much. The tension, the soft drama, the dual points-of-view of two characters and their unique torture of falling in love while being unable to admit it?? Delicious.
This was a very sweet end to a wonderful romance trilogy. I think fans of Spoiler Alert and All the Feels will be quite satisfied. I definitely was! While this one had the most worldbuilding context and the least amount of fanfiction references—the first two books were heavily influenced by fanfiction internet culture—I do think Maria and Peter's story fit the series. And, just as important, Ship Wrecked provided a happily-ever-after ending for all of the people we've grown to love over the series.
Thank you to Avon for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
LAVENDER HOUSE - Lev AC Rosen
A locked room mystery, a 1950s queer haven manor, and an interesting soap side plot. This was so wonderful—and remarkably cozy even with its dark themes.
Mystery(s)/Reveal(s): ★★ 1/2
Andy is a former detective at the end of the line. He's ready to call it quits in a very real way—trigger warnings right out the gate—and he has nothing left to strive for. He's gay in 1950s America. Recently outed at a raid by his own former police officer coworkers and ruthlessly fired from the force, Andy doesn't know what is next, and if it's worth finding out at all.
The last thing he expects is to be offered a job sitting at the bar, blind drunk at 11 am. A well-dressed, wealthy older woman wants him to solve a murder. Well, maybe it was a murder. Either way—she wants to know what happened, and she's willing to pay Andy and house him for his trouble.
Oh, and the best part? This woman and her surviving found family live in a hidden utopia of queerness. The dead woman is her wife, and their blended family are all queer on the estate.
Andy doesn't know how to receive this news, but he takes the lifeline for what it is and accepts the job.
However, the family is hiding secrets. (Aren't they all?) And Andy's stepping into a much bigger scene than he's anticipating. When you factor in the dead woman's soap dynasty... things are about to get interesting.
Lavender House was the perfect read for me at the right time. It was surprisingly cozy, the right blend of serious with quaint, and a remix of the classics bringing something fresh to the character tableau of the "classic" murder mystery setting.
It also deftly handled the line of realism vs. utopian ideals surrounding the concept of a hidden queer family living happily in the 1950s. They were a wealthy family who kept to themselves and had the resources to keep their happiness separate from harsh realities, true, but the doses of reality in this novel kept this story grounded for me.
I will caution my queer friends and those reading this review—given the contents, there is a lot of potentially triggering content for period homophobia and other elements. Please proceed with caution.
Overall, a fantastic cozy read that I would be happy to pick up again when I'm in need of a quaint escape.
Thank you to TOR Forge for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Oh YES. I had such a horrifically good time. This is the mirror-twin counter melody to Mexican Gothic, the Fall of the House of Usher done grotesque.
Well, it's happened again: I have fallen in love with yet another bizarre and lingering horror story with a special focus on mushrooms. ("Again," yes, because this niche apparently has multiple books in it.)
Join me and the spores...
Alex Easton has heard word that their childhood friends, the Ushers, are struggling. Madeline is gravely ill, Roderick is not faring much better, and something is amiss.
Alex arrives, and they quickly realize that Roderick's understated things. There is something very, very wrong with this scene.
Madeline looks like she's already dead, Roderick doesn't look much better. The Usher estate is damp, moldy, and near-death itself. There's a visiting American doctor who has no idea what is going on, and a wandering older British woman on the grounds with a passion for mushroom study and a daughter named Beatrix Potter.
As Alex stays in the home, a creeping sense of foreboding and inevitability starts to sink in. The longer they stay at Usher, the worse it seems to get...
And that's IT. I won't say any more.
What Moves the Dead looks like—and sounds like—a repeat of concepts to those of us who have already read and loved Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Mexican Gothic. In fact, T Kingfisher themselves writes in the Author's Note that they'd been chewing on this idea already, and then Mexican Gothic came out and What Moves the Dead disappeared into a drawer, almost for forever, as Kingfisher went "gah, I can't do it better than THAT!"
Well I, personally, am thrilled that someone got T Kingfisher to revisit and finish this tale. This is something akin to a cousin, a neighbor, someone with the same facial features as Mexican Gothic but with an entirely different set of personality traits. These two novels are NOT the same, and—as a Moreno-Garcia superfan I can't believe I'm saying this--What Moves the Dead did it... better.
This was grotesque, truly horrifying, and went somewhere that even I didn't full expect. I thought I knew the steps, and I was having a good time, but then... yeah. This seasoned reader was still surprised in an interesting way. A very, very good horror novella that I recommend to anyone with the stomach to handle it.
Thank you to TOR/Nightfire for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Told in a hypnotic, prismatic point-of-view using multiple characters all turned toward the same direction—our "main" character, distanced yet vital--Calling for a Blanket Dance is one of the most unique fiction novels I have ever read. And its resonances thrum deep.
Narrative voice: ★★★★★
Plot/Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Sense of time and place: ★★★★★
Ever Geimausaddle is a Native man living in Oklahoma. This is his story, but it's not told in his voice. (But, is it?)
Carried through the voices, emotions, and chords of his multigenerational family and community, this story follows Ever as he is raised and formed by his community, his family's struggles, and the seemingly endless loop of forced endurance and perspective placed upon him in harsh and gentle knots.
Who are you, individually, among all of the roots and tangles of your family, culture, and place in time and space?
Can you be an individual when the circumstances around you pilot more of your choices and opportunities around you than you do?
These weighty questions and deeper concepts of Native experience, generational expectations and situations, and reactionary living are all explored in Calling for a Blanket Dance. I thought it was beautiful, poignant, surprisingly lyrical yet accessible, and overall an interesting view of the contemporary Native experience. There is a lot of trauma here. There is a lot of joy. There is muchness, there is never-done.
As a white woman living in Michigan, I'm sure I missed some of the deeper ties to Native culture and the possible resonances within the community and others familiar with the unique situations of marginalized groups. I'm interested to see how those with more perspective find this novel. From this non-Native reader, I thought it was stunning.
Looking forward to more from this author.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.