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Octavia E. Butler: Kindred (EBook, 2008, Beacon Press) 4 stars

The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of …

Review of 'Kindred' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

‘I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.’

Kindred drew me in and refused to let me go, much like Dana is snatched from the comforts of her modern ‘home’ and taken back to the 1800s, serving as witness and savior to a white plantation owner who turns out to be quite important for her ancestry. I’ve read some of Butler’s Patternmaster series before this, but this book has a different style and a different vibe to it. The themes and philosophy are much stronger, the characters and plot mainly vehicles for the former. The characterization is decent though, and even though the plot remains slightly stagnant—we see the ending in the beginning, and then work from the beginning towards the dreaded conclusion—it was nevertheless quite enthralling. Read for a book club in December 2022—and to think I was almost afraid I wouldn’t finish it in …

Review of 'Underworld Lit' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

An exciting novella-length ‘prose poem’ by Srikanth Reddy, Underworld Lit is a delightful mix of ramblings adjacent to academia, underworld mythology, and the spaces between family and mortality. I was drawn to this book by the frequent interruptions of ‘quizzes’, which were presumably provided by the main character, a literary professor, to his students. The narrative is told as a mix of the professor’s story and that of the ‘weird or strange’ Chinese text that he is translating, a surreal adventure that happens to a certain time-and-space-traveling administrative functionary named Chen.

It is safe to say that this is unlike anything else I have read. And yet it managed to charm and hook me completely into finishing it over the course of two afternoons. The characters and the plot aren’t necessarily that strong; since it’s a poem, there is a lot more in the way of atmosphere and ambiance than …

Jane Harper: The Survivors (2021, Flatiron Books) 4 stars

Review of 'The Survivors' on 'Goodreads'

3 stars

Jane Harper is an author new to me, but The Survivors was a decent read to get me through a few rough days. The book revolves around Kieran, a new father coming back to his hometown with his girlfriend and their infant daughter. There is a great trauma and tragedy that haunts this town from Kieran’s past. Though the writing style could have used some finer editing and sharpening, the characters and narrative piqued my interest through the end of the novel. The mystery and suspense is gradually built up over the course of the book and while it isn’t a particularly twisty novel, it is one that kept me reading to find out the end.

The narrative is fairly simple, and not much happens other than the main mystery, which is inevitably tied to events that happened in the town’s and protagonist’s past. We get snippets from the past …

Review of 'Untitled Chelsea Manning Memoir' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I was rather surprised that more people aren’t talking about this book, but whether that’s on the publishers or the public, I cannot say. I only heard of this from stumbling on a publicity event where Chelsea Manning was promoting the book in conversation with another. It was really cool to see her in person and also get to hear her talk about some of the experiences from the book, which she said isn’t really a memoir as such. It’s more of an expose on the defining events from her early life and what led her to where she is today—and importantly the events she is most famous for. During the leaks of the war logs, I was too young and politically inept to really concern myself with the details, though her name was vaguely familiar. This book doesn’t presume you know anything about what happened, but it does give …

Junji Ito: Remina (2020, Viz Media) 3 stars

Another of Junji Ito's classics, the sci-fi masterwork Remina tells the chilling tale of a …

Review of 'Remina' on 'Goodreads'

3 stars

This is my first full-length Junji Ito read, as I’ve only looked at his short works before. As a standalone, this has a somewhat odd narrative, but the visuals and cosmic horror are top notch—creating a perfect atmosphere for that feeling of slightly unsettled in your own skin. The main downside is that the plot had a lot of conveniences and was overall a bit strange, with odd pacing throughout. There is also a rather large cast of characters that pulls the story in a few different directions, which can be jarring.

Still, the central concept of the ‘alien’ planet that comes to threaten earth raises a lot of interesting philosophical and more physical questions—like who gets to survive a catastrophic event, and what qualities are needed to survive in such circumstances. I wanted some more depth from this, but it was a relatively short work, so I wasn’t too …

Janice Hallett: Appeal (2022, Simon & Schuster, Incorporated) 4 stars

Review of 'Appeal' on 'Goodreads'

3 stars

Read this in about 24 hours, so the descriptor ‘gripping’ is well-deserved. I was drawn to this by the voyeuristic promise of being presented with ‘case documents’, in the form of correspondence between our cast of characters, and trying to unearth the murder mystery. Much of the novel establishes what leads up to the murder rather than the event and its aftermath, so I wouldn’t call it a murder mystery in that sense. Nonetheless, it presents a curious cast of characters, members of an amateur theater group, and their inclinations and underhanded motivations that lead to the dreadful climax. I managed to pick this one up from the library, as it is definitely one to read in paper rather than ebook.

The premise of the novel is completely ridiculous—so don’t pay too much attention to it. All these characters send way more emails than I probably have in a given …

"Charles Forsman's graphic novel debut follows James and Alyssa, two teenagers living a seemingly typical …

Review of 'The end of the fucking world' on 'Goodreads'

2 stars

I wasn’t planning to read this after the disappointment with I Am Not Okay With This, but I got a notification that my library hold was ready, and so I decided to make the library’s hold retrieval worth it. This ended up being slightly less disappointing. Yes, the show is still much preferable to the comic, but the comic has its own… not exactly charm, but draw, maybe. For one, the hardcover edition is just nice. And it’s a short read, as I read it on two bus rides over the course of an hour. Like the other novel, this one is dark and grim and veers extremely towards the nihilistic side of being a teenager. The protagonists, James and Alyssa, are both extremely broken individuals with not much to live for, except each other—and even this relationship is built on a gossamer web of lies.

I am biased …

Katherine Addison: The Goblin Emperor (EBook, 2014, Tor Books) 4 stars

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant …

Review of 'The Goblin Emperor' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

But he could feel compassion for them, as he did for the other victims, and it was that he sought more than anything else: to mourn their deaths rather than holding onto his anger at their lives.

This book has been on my TBR shelf for nearly 7 years. If you are at all considering reading this, don’t let that be you! I had always heard great things about The Goblin Emperor; and really, this amount of heaping praise does tend to make one suspicious. So I avoided it on principle, but also because I didn’t realize it is somewhat a standalone instead of a series. (Really, I need to do more due diligence to what I read.) This is a political, courts intrigue novel layered in the ambiance of high fantasy—Addison said she was inspired by her studies in the Byzantine era, which makes a lot of sense. …

Review of 'I Am Not Okay with This : (Netflix Series Tie-In Edition)' on 'Goodreads'

1 star

This is a pretty strange book… and shorter than I was expecting. I watched the Netflix show and it was quite good, and I was sad when they discontinued it. I thought the source material would give me some answers, but it feels like almost another story. The graphic novel takes a snippet of Sydney’s life, which is a fairly bleak and dark snippet. Sydney’s attitude at times felt fairly realistic to being a teenager, but at other times, it didn’t feel like there was really a point to her ruminations and it didn’t encapsulate the ‘teenage ethos’ as well as the blurb anticipates. Her struggles and the plot were understandable, and the ending was to be expected in light of those, but I’m still not sure what the takeaway here is for the reader.

The use of supernatural powers could have been interesting, but its symbolic use feels quite …

Ryka Aoki: Light from Uncommon Stars (EBook, 2021, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 4 stars

An adventure set in California's San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer …

Review of 'Light from Uncommon Stars' on 'Goodreads'

2 stars

From the blurb, this book promises ‘cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts’. Ideally, you should be interested in some or most of those things in order to truly get the most out of this book. The premise and cover sealed the deal for me, and I was quite curious about how the bargain would play out. While I don’t think I quite matched the author’s ideal audience, I did like some parts of the novel. There is a lot here about found family, identity, and hope for a better future.

The first part of the novel was its most enticing, since it brings the setup and introduces our main characters. We’ve got one character involved in a rather brutal bargain with a demon and another who is a trans runaway just trying to make it through each day. How can one not find that interesting …

Oliver Pötzsch: The hangman's daughter (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 3 stars

Germany, 1659: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely …

Review of "The hangman's daughter" on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I managed to read this at a rather appropriate time, so the setting and atmosphere were right up my alley. This is a mystery set in Schongau, a small but well-connected town in Bavaria in the year A.D. 1659. It is a strange feeling reading about locations you are somewhat familiar with, or at the very least, looking at the locations on the map and imagining the characters and events that are mentioned in the novel. For historical fiction, this kind of setting is rather unusual, even more so in the English language world. There is no dearth of historical fiction mysteries, but not many of them—aside from our current work—can claim to be set in the cusp of medieval to early-modern Bavaria. The setting drew me into it, but the plot and characters kept me engaged and interested to find out what happens.

The plot is a straightforward mystery, …

S. Fry: Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece (Paperback, 2018, Penguin Random House UK) 4 stars

Review of 'Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

It is their refusal to see any divine beings as perfect, whole and complete of themselves, whether Zeus, Moros or Prometheus, that makes the Greeks so satisfying.

Like most people, I’ve always been fascinated with mythology—and Greek mythology was one of my first forays into it (but certainly not the last). Having studied classics, I was well-versed with a lot of the Greek myths but not all of them, so I went into this book with a fairly open mind. Despite knowing some (and perhaps most) of the stories, it was still rather fun and entertaining to see Fry recount them. He does have a particularly conversational and jovial style of storytelling that made me laugh or smile at the gods’ actions on the page. I also got a chance to collect some finer details in the mythology that I previously hadn’t dived into. Fry also provided generous (but not …

Review of 'No Exit' on 'Goodreads'

3 stars

The premise is a bit dodgy, and some of the events that unfold are rather convenient, but this is a good thriller to breeze through when you want something uncomplicated and easy. I picked this up and finished it within a day, though not consecutively; but it fits well with this rather early autumn chill. There are curious twists and turns in the narrative, and even the characters—though sometimes formulaic—have some surprises up their sleeves. From my previous experience with contemporary thrillers, like Riley Sager, I knew not to examine or fret over details thoroughly and enjoy it like a movie. Given that this was adapted into a film pretty quickly, it makes sense—the fast-paced action and dialogue are appropriate for treating it as such.

This is more of a ‘survive the night’ thriller, as I guess they are called, and not really a ‘whodunnit’. The abduction and its …

Erin Morgenstern: The Starless Sea (Hardcover, 2019, Doubleday) 4 stars

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story …

Review of 'The Starless Sea' on 'Goodreads'

2 stars

This was not one I planned on reading due to the mixed reviews, but I found it for cheap at a secondhand shop and it was nice having a chance to read in paperback again. The Starless Sea is a novel that really delights in dragging the reader into the unknown; nothing is conventional about it, let alone structure or the genre. It isn’t exactly a straight fantasy, but there are definitely speculative elements and parts that seem like they would fit with fantasy—and yet, worldbuilding is not a terribly huge concern. This book reminded me of those fancy fondant cakes: they look incredible from afar, but cut it open and you’ve got yourself a fairly mediocre cake with terrible plastic-like junk on top. This book excelled at creating the right ambiance and atmosphere, and it was fun to go through the mystery of the Starless Sea, but it ultimately …