Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the shortest of stories like the sweet "The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced" to the novelette length" Our Lady of the Open Road," this is a uniformly fine anthology of Pinkser's short fiction. Limning the human condition in all of its weirdness and hopefulness, each story can be savored. "Wind Will Rove" was particularly memorable in its appreciation of collective cultural memory and the role of art and music, while "And Then There Were (N-One)" is a clever hat-tip to Agatha Christie.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this anthology in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Review: Storm of Locusts

Storm of Locusts Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Rebecca Roanhorse has followed up her smashing debut in the The Sixth World series, Trail of Lightning, with an emotional rollercoaster entry that centers on family, born and found. Maggie Hoskie is recovering from a chaotic showdown from the events of the first book, mourning the absence of her friend Kai, and trying to understand her role in Dinétah as the purported "Monster Hunter," a fearsome role that seems to separate her even more from those in her world. News that Kai and Caleb Goodacre have been kidnapped by a god-like entity calling himself the White Locust rouse her into action. Kai left a message for her on video, telling her not to go after him and that he loved her. Anyone knowing Maggie knows those two things are not going to fit together. But what happens when it seems like maybe Kai went willingly? At its core this is novel about finding your place in a dystopian world with the help of friends and faith, steeped in rich elements of Navajo mythos.

Roanhorse has taken a huge amount of heat from some in the Navajo nation for distortion of their culture and beliefs in The Sixth World series. This reader has felt her interest piqued to learn more about the Navajo culture and mythos as a result of Roanhorse's writing and is hard pressed to think this is a bad thing.

I received a Digital Review Copy and a paper Advance Reader Copy of this book from Saga Press in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Luminous Dead

The Luminous Dead The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Luminous Dead is a deeply creepy genre-bending novel of science fiction and psychological horror. It's protagonist, Gyre, is a caver who lied her way into a high-paying job that rapidly turns out to be a nightmare. Expecting a team of topside support, what she gets instead is Em, a young woman who proceeds to leave out vital information about the purpose of her mission, to medicate her into compliance, and most of all to use computer constructs to alter Gyre's visible environs, leaving out a few things like all the dead explorers that were down in this same miserable cave on Cassandra-V before her. And all of that is before she starts seeing odd fungal spores everywhere. (Wait 'til you see what they do....) Or hears the massive tunnelers, subterranean creatures carving through rock.

Starling manages to generate a steadily growing sense of terror/horror in the reader, as Em begins to look more and more like a sociopath, forcing Gyre to make herself palpably human in Em's mind. In the process of doing so, the women bond over their losses of their mothers, Isolde and Peregrine (Em's to a mysterious mission, Gyre's to what she had thought was illegal activity). The writing is excellent but I kept expecting to the plot to deliver some massive twist that it didn't. There are twists mind you, but they felt like they were somehow less explosive than I expected given the way the tension ratchets up continuously. I also felt that the relationship between Gyre and Em was almost Stockholm Syndrome-like on Gyre's end, since the entire experience breaks her psychologically and in a very real way, physically. The relationship felt abusive, even though Gyre had lied her way into the job.

I will definitely pick up the next book Starling writes. But I might need a good glass of wine to steady my nerves if it's like this one.

The audiobook is excellent, by the way.

Content Warnings: claustrophobia, amputation. Sure to give some people nightmares!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: Riverland

Riverland Riverland by Fran Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

My reaction to this book is deeply personal. From its opening passages, which I found excruciatingly familiar, I felt a kinship with the rituals of safety- the house rules, and the magic that these rules invoke for making a fragile home "peaceful." Anyone who knows what it is like to not be able to explain to a friend why they can't come to your house, especially without advance planning. Anyone who has lived with all the rules about what you can say and not say, who you talk to and what you never reveal, will find this book resonates with them. It paints a haunting picture of children's perceptions of domestic abuse.

Riverland is about El and Mike, two sisters who come from an unhappy family. We see the carefully circumscribed world the sisters live in, with all its rules centered on palliating an aggressive Poppa, and their Momma's magic, which holds the home and family together in ways that children will grow to question over the course of the book. But that's only part of this story. Their house, their family, and soon, their magic, is broken, culminating in a mysterious river leaking under El's bed. Since under the bed is a favorite hiding place (again, familiar) it's only natural that when Mike falls in, El dives in after her, taking care of her baby sister, just as she always has done. What they find is another secret world, another one in which agreements and rules were made without their knowledge or understanding. The magic of that world is intimately linked to the house magic of their own world. The alternate world is filled with 'mares (nightmares) and terrifying figures. But is it as bad as the world that El and Mike come home to every day after school? What does it mean when you feel safer in an alt-world than in your own home? The fantasy elements of the story, which in some ways feel more like elements of magical realism (in the tradition of Allende, for example), present the girls with the means to transform their situation.

This is an emotionally complex book that would be the perfect summer reading assignment for middle-grade students. It's a novel about healing hearts, navigating difficult family circumstances, about learning to speak out, upholding agreements, and doing what is right.

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