What do you have when you add Salem Witch Trials, plagues, cursed witches, polygamy, oppression of women, fantasy settings, racial commentaries, and religious allegories together? This book.
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. A biracial girl in a town of only white people, her very existence brings shame to her family as it reminds the settlement of her dead mother's sins—and witchcraft.
The Prophet is a man (I bet you guessed) and the town of Bethel exists as a small, settlement-type town in the middle of Nowhere, Nowhere. Their town is surrounded by the Darkwood, and the Prophet's religious teachings warn of the wood's dangers and temptations. Lilith and her coven of witches live in the Darkwood and they live in sin, and if you let them tempt you you'll be lost forever.
Or at least, that's what the man says.
Like so many tales of oppressive male-dominated religious regimes, The Year of the Witching is highlighting issues of gender, power, and control—and how many of those bindings go hand in hand with some extreme conservative religions. The Prophet may be in charge and he may call himself holy, but his many many underage sister wives tell a different story by the bruises on their skin.
Combining issues of female agency and power, race and poverty, and a heavy dose of critical notes on religion, this tale was extremely representative and often sacrificed world building and plot for the sake of allegory. I'm not saying that it wasn't done well, but I definitely want to highlight that fact for other readers.
At the end of the day, I thought this was a solid debut. As someone who likes fantasy/horror speculative novels that go there and push the reader, I thought this fell short. The messaging was fantastic, but the plot itself stopped its own progress by keeping it from going to that extra level. Things felt predictable—with the heart of the novel focused on the lofty concepts it was harder for the characters to authentically reach their goals.
Without spoiling this particular novel, a good example of this would be like a book to movie adaptation. It's hard to be surprised when you go the theater to view an adapted movie from a book that you've read. You know the main plot points, you've read the book, so it's really a matter of relying on the adaptation to still surprise you with something new within the framework of something that you already know.
The Year of the Witching didn't have that extra oomph for me, but I think it did for other readers.
Thank you to Ace - Berkley via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A quiet tale focused on the rebuilding aspect of a post-apocalyptic reality, this novel was a memorable addition to the genre.
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
First off, I'm not usually a reader of post-apocalyptic fiction. I don't like novels focused on the end of times, death, destruction, and the lack of hope—I tend to like more escape in my fiction, and to me the plot tends to not outweigh the personal stress I feel while reading it!
The Lightest Object in the Universe isn't about destruction though. It's about hope, and new growth.
Carson is a former school principal and history teacher on the East Coast, witnessing the breakdown of normal as the electrical grid shuts down, the world collapses, and his neighborhood, students, and city fall into the grim reality of "after." The only thing he can think of is his lover, Beatrix, who lives in California. Is she safe? Is she alive? Carson decides to go to her, and that decision sparks a cross-country trek the old-fashioned way: on foot.
Beatrix is dealing with her own end of the world life in California, and she wonders about Carson—is he safe? Is he alive? Does her remember the promise he made to her that he would cross the country to be with her? Learning how to live with her neighbors and friends in the new version of the world, Beatrix discovers what it means to carry on.
This is a quiet tale. I have to admit, at times I wished it was a little faster in its pacing...but at the same time, that was kind of the point. In our current world of technology, immediacy, electricity, and the grid, time spent on the quiet moments is seen as something extremely slow and often unnecessary. But for Carson and Beatrix, time flows differently because there is no option to do it faster. It is what it is. Over the course of the novel, I found myself slowing down to match their speed, and once I did that I was able to enjoy the novel more.
Recommended for those who like the quiet, and are willing to spend some lingering time with this radically different post-apocalyptic tale.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A haunted house, a family with too many secrets, a girl-turned-woman caught in the crossfire. Many years later, it's time for the woman to come home and deal with the remnants of her past.
Final, final ending: ★★★★
This DELIVERED. I was gripped for the entire read. I was surprised at points and not at others. I had a heck of a good time reading it in one sitting. But but but...?
Maggie Holt grew up in the shadow of The Book. The Book: a haunted "nonfiction" account of one family's few weeks of horrors in a haunted Victorian mansion. The Book was written by her journalist father when she was very small, and captured the weeks that their family lived in Baneberry Hall and experienced the most terrifying time of their lives.
Or so the world believes.
Maggie, now a grown woman, believes The Book was a clever piece of fiction that her father wrote for money. The fact that she remembers nothing of her time in Baneberry Hall—good or bad—speaks to that fact. (Well, except for her lingering night terrors, which hang with her to this day...)
So when her father dies and shocks Maggie with the deed to Baneberry Hall, Maggie knows that now, finally, it's her turn. It's her turn to find out the truth about her past and reclaim her childhood in the eyes of the public. And time to lay old ghosts to rest, permanently.
But Baneberry Hall isn't ready to give Maggie up yet, and something is determined to go bump in the night...
What if The Book wasn't a lie after all?
What I loved:
I say this every time I read a Riley Sager book: I loved the writing. There's something to be said for a story that doesn't skimp on facts and yet doesn't overuse its details. This was another Sager novel that I read in one sitting late one stormy night (if you can control your weather, I highly recommend that experience). It's moody, it's dark, it's spooky. It's also a story within a story, with spliced sections of Maggie's POV in the present and spliced chapters of The Book itself recounting the past. I loved that element too—talk about a tried and true method of creating suspense. And also, the elephant in the room, I'm a sucker for haunted houses so I was, at a minimum, going to enjoy this novel for that element alone. Which I did.
What I didn't love:
The only thing I didn't love is a small spoiler from the very end. It wasn't enough to tip me from 5 stars to 4, but it was just enough that I went, aw, really? Really? Because this novel would have been perfection if it had done one more thing. I don't want to include it here because some folks will read it and then the story won't work for them the same way, but for those who have read it I'll send you to my Goodreads review so you can read the spoiler: (view spoiler)
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
"For the girls they were, for the girl I was, for girls everywhere who are just like we used to be. For the black and brown girls. For the girls on the merry-go-round making the world spin. For the wild girls and the party girls, the loudmouths and troublemakers. For the girls who are angry and lost. For the girls who never saw themselves in books. For the girls who love other girls, sometimes in secret. For the girls who believe in monsters. For the girls on the edge who are ready to fly. For the ordinary girls. For all the girls who broke my heart. And their mothers. And their daughters. And if I could reach back through time and space to that girl I was, to all my girls, I would tell you to take care, to love each other, fight less, dance dance dance until you're breathless. And goddamn, girl. Love."
This is a searing memoir. I wasn't sure what to expect from the blurb or the critically acclaimed reviews. I knew it would be fantastically written, but I wasn't sure what kind of story it would be. Regardless, I was utterly, completely, heartstoppingly captivated by Jaquira Diaz' words.
Diaz writes about her life, and the multiple lifetimes it feels like she has lived as, in her words, an ordinary girl. Her experience is singular yet representative, poignantly alone and yet surrounded by other similar echoes of other girls' experiences. While the main story is Diaz's, the vibrating truth speaks for all the women intersecting with Diaz's voice and identity.
As a half-Black Puerto Rico child born to a Black father, poet and womanizer, and a white mother, hounded by schizophrenia and addiction, Diaz's life emerges into uncertainty and follows the fracture lines as her tale unfolds, spanning the family's early life in Puerto Rico and their move to Miami Beach, her parents' separation and Diaz's own struggles to cope with the constant cycle of change. And it's not just her tale that unfolds, but those of the girls and women who are facets of her life: her Abuela, her grandmother, her mother, her younger sister, her neighbors, her friends, her enemies, strangers on the street.
Through Diaz's words, all these women and herself and her community are connecting, spiraling, fracturing, unending. There are so many words I could use to describe the flow of the narrative but let's settle for hypnotic. That feels the most true.
What an important and showstopping debut. I look forward to whatever Diaz decides to write next—you best believe I'll have that on preorder.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Stellar. I went in with no expectations and was blown away with its brief perfection.
Now HERE'S what I'm talking about - this is why I read Tor.com novellas.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune is, simply put, the perfect speculative/fantasy novella. This review will be extremely short and sweet, as to be honest I'd rather you read the novella than read my poor retelling of it here. Go read it!
This story is really two layered stories in one. On the surface layer is a traveling cleric named Chih, whose job it is to remember their nation's histories and to observe their present surroundings for the purpose of recording it for the histories. Clerics in this world are essentially history keepers, and they are aided in their quest by magical bird companions with observation and memory skills.
Chih and their magical bird companion, Almost Brilliant, come across an elderly woman in a dwelling on their way to a different location. The elder's name is Rabbit, and she has a story to tell.
The story within the story is Rabbit's tale, which includes the story of an empress and her secrets.
As history keepers, Chih and Almost Brilliant are immediately drawn to this woman and her tale. But all is not what it seems, and some histories are buried for a reason...
Keeping it brief: perfection.
A note on the best way to read: This novella is best read, not listened to, as the narrative transitions are made more explicit with the breaking of paragraphs on the page and are not noted within the text itself at all.
This is one of those examples where not reading the blurb is the right way to go - knocked my socks off!
World building: ★★★★★
This review is going to be SUPER short because to be honest, this novella is so brief that if I write a few paragraphs there will be nothing left for the story!
Binti is the first of her race to leave their planet. She's a mathematical genius from a family of Harmonizers, and she's received shocking news: her test results are in, and she has been accepted to a prestigious intergalactic university. She's the first of her people to be accepted.
Against her family's wishes, Binti goes.
Her family didn't want her to go because their people don't leave Earth. It's just not done—the world isn't as accepting of their culture, and it's a dangerous universe out there.
Best not to tell them then about the hostile takeover on Binti's ship en route to university.
Who said leaving home would be easy, again?
This novella is the first in a trilogy, and THANK GOD for that—after the first one, I need to know more of Binti's story. It was too brief! I need more! Can we get a full novel, please?
Given the ratings, I was surprised at how much in enjoyed this slim novel about dream walking and monsters. It’s a odd one.
Out of Body comes out on May 26!
Out of Body is definitely a polarizing novella. For me, it was a clear winner—but that's because it felt like the darker, grown up version of one of my favorite young reads. This reminds me SO MUCH of Scott Westerfeld's The Midnighters.
Owen is a librarian living out his days of monotony in a haze of repetition. He's 35, but he feels both ancient and young. (He dresses like an old-school businessman, yet survives on boxed mac and cheese and frozen pizza.)
One day, Owen witnesses a robbery-turned-murder at his local gas station, where he's viciously knocked out with a head injury. After his head injury, Owen discovers that something about his reality has changed.
Now, he can dream walk. But other things also walk the nights...and not all of them are friendly.
The novel's so short I have to stop there - spoilers!
What I loved:
I LOVED the similarity in concept between this novel and Scott Westerfeld's The Midnighters. Both involve a select group of people who are active during the nighttime due to speculative circumstance. (Beyond that, the concepts are very different.) I loved Owen's bland character—yes, I know that sounds like a negative, but hear me out. Owen's lack of character distinction perfectly represents the feeling of detachment that a surrealist dreamscape requires. It was the perfect amount of distance vs. Other.
What I didn't love:
I can see why others didn't enjoy the pacing of this novel. It was slightly odd, and slow for the beginning bits. However, I think that is also an intentional part of the distanced narrative, so this "negative" was neutral at best for me.
Thank you to TOR via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This was a Michigan romance, about writers, near the places where I was raised, and about finding yourself and your love from the ashes of a recent and shattering life change. It was GREAT. Strap in for an incredibly biased review. I never read romances set in my area!
Romance itself: ★★★★★
January Andrews is a romance writer who always believed in happily ever after. Or at least, the avoiding-real-life-problems-to-fixate-on-the-happy-ever-after part of the deal. January always pretended her life was great. Her parents were happily married. Her mother successfully beat cancer twice. Her beautiful, spontaneous boyfriend was the perfect aesthetic match. Her New York City apartment fulfilled her image of a writer lifestyle.
All that changes when January's father dies, and it turns out that her life's foundations are a lie. Turns out good old dad had a second house in Michigan, complete with a long-term mistress.
January's life spirals real fast. Her boyfriend can't handle her new "sad self," so he leaves. Without him, January's out of her New York apartment, out of funds, and now on deadline for a contracted romance book deal. And the last thing January wants to do is write a book about love. Love is lie.
So January moves to Michigan to take advantage of the rent-free love nest her father left her. It's awkward, to say the least. It's even more awkward when she realizes that her next door beach house neighbor is her ex-college rival and long-time competitive/attractive muse, Augustus Everett.
Gus and January have always had it in for each other. They were neck in neck in college, and January's always Googled his recent successes to compare her own against them...oh, and also there's the fact that they've both had the hots for each other this whole time.
What could go wrong?
I loved this SO much. Anything I could say about it would just showcase my rampant bias toward these characters, this set-up, the unique clash of enemies to lovers/second chance romance/competition romance/etc, and the fact that I could picture the atmosphere in vivid detail given personal experience.
Read it and weep, folks. This one was awesome!
A mother-daughter college tour that tests their relationship in hilarious ways—with a few surprises along the way.
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Jessica Burnstein doesn't know how to talk to her daughter anymore. She barely understands her, she's not sure how to help her understand that all she wants is for Emily to be happy, and she sure as heck isn't sure how to fix where they are now.
Emily Burnstein doesn't know how to talk to her mother anymore. She doesn't understand why her mother barely talks to her, she's sick of coming in last in her mom's priorities, and she resents the pressure to be perfect.
This mother/daughter duo is about to be tested in ways that they never expected: it's time for a college tour road trip. Jessica and Emily are signed up for an exclusive, only-for-the-best college bound students tour package with students with more extracurriculars and special skills than empathy, and parents that make the term "Helicopter Parent" seem too kind.
Will they bend and break, or will this tour finally get them to let their guards down?
What I liked:
The selling point of this novel, for me, was its humor. This is a funny novel, no doubt about it. If you need a conversational pick-me-up or a distracting afternoon, this is the perfect pick. I loved the antics, the humor, and the utter relatability of family dynamics gone sour.
What I didn't like:
I really had a hard time with the choppy POV transitions. It was nice to have both Jessica's and Emily's POVs, but it was not chapter to chapter... it was almost page to page in some spots. It was too much for me—I'd barely get my grip on one scene and then have it flipped for me as we switched perspectives. It was a bit like generational whiplash, as these rapid-fire transitions were meant to give us a window into the daughter's AND mother's point of view as close to the event as possible.
Thank you to Berkley for a giveaway ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Sometimes you just need a Regency romance... This was a cute and enchanting read, with more fairy tale elements than steamy scenes.
Miss Sophie Kendall, organizer of the feminist group the Debutante Underground, has a few problems. Her family is one step above financial ruin, her father is a drunk, and her family has given her an ultimatum: she must marry, he must be rich, and it must be quick.
Now, in a deviation from one of the more traditional Regency plots, it's not an arranged setup—the family has already found Sophie a marquess willing to marry her. Too bad Sophie doesn't love him...
Reese, Earl of Warshire, is a man with a serious problem: he can't sleep. We're not talking casual insomnia—he's literally killing himself with a lack of sleep. A former war general, he's haunted by the loss of his men and even more haunted by the loss of his older brother, Edmund, who was supposed to be the Earl. Now stuck in the position with more nightmares than hope, Reese is not doing so well.
One chance encounter with Sophie Kendall radically changes his life.... And begins their sweet, chaste encounters in the nighttime. In a twist that feels more like a fairy tale than a romance, Sophie agrees to spend her Friday nights with Reese—no funny business, for real—and engages in fairy tale-like adventures with him on the moonlit gardens of his estate.
But Sophie's betrothed to another, and Reese knows he has her on borrowed time...
I thought When You Wish Upon a Rogue was a cute and soft installment for the Debutante Diaries series. This was my first introduction, and to be honest I really enjoyed it! My main qualms with the story involved the lack of realism... I know that most Regency romances often deviate from historical accuracy to follow the romance, and normally I'm on board with it, but for this particular plot the facts kept me from fully immersing myself in the story. I thought it was extremely sweet, but not overly plausible.
Intrigued enough to try out the next book in series!
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.