Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer

I did not know when the actual “dog days of summer” were and if this counted, so I double checked, and it does! It is July 3-August 11, so says Google, so. These all qualify!

Mister Magic by Kiersten White
A Little Like Waking by Adam Rex
Lessons in Birdwatching by Honey Watson

Emergent Properties by Aimee Ogden
Whalefall by Daniel Kraus
Bridge by Lauren Beukes
Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington

Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer Mister Magic by Kiersten White
Published by Del Rey on August 8, 2023
Pages: 288
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Who is Mister Magic? Former child stars reunite to uncover the tragedy that ended their show—and discover the secret of its enigmatic host—in this dark supernatural thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hide.

Thirty years after a tragic accident shut down production of the classic children’s program Mister Magic, the five surviving cast members have done their best to move on. But just as generations of cultishly devoted fans still cling to the lessons they learned from the show, the cast, known as the Circle of Friends, have spent their lives searching for the happiness they felt while they were on it. The friendship. The feeling of belonging. And the protection of Mister Magic.

But with no surviving video of the show, no evidence of who directed or produced it, and no records of who—or what—the beloved host actually was, memories are all the former Circle of Friends has.

Then a twist of fate brings the castmates back together at the remote desert filming compound that feels like it’s been waiting for them all this time. Even though they haven’t seen each other for years, they understand one another better than anyone has since.

After all, they’re the only ones who hold the secret of that circle, the mystery of the magic man in his infinitely black cape, and, maybe, the answers to what really happened on that deadly last day. But as the Circle of Friends reclaim parts of their past, they begin to wonder: Are they here by choice, or have they been lured into a trap?

Because magic never forgets the taste of your friendship. . . .

Mister Magic was such an unusual and different sort of book that I really could not put down because I needed to know what the heck it was all about! I really enjoyed the author’s recent book, Hide, but this one worked even better for me, I think because the author pulled from such personal experience, which made the book all the more heartfelt. (Even if you don’t usually read author notes, this one is worth a read- it gave me an even greater appreciation for the story than I already had.)

Anyway, I really liked Val from the start. She doesn’t remember a ton about her early life, just that she and her dad have been isolated and on the lam for as long as she can recall. But after his passing, some people from an old kid’s show, Mister Magic, come a-knockin’. Turns out, Val was part of the last cast of the show, and so were these guys, and someone has resurrected interest the series via an upcoming podcast. Val sees this as the opportunity she’s been waiting for to find out more info about her past, so even though a lot of things in her head (namely her dad’s teachings, certainly) tell her this is a bad call, she heads out with them.

Here’s where things get weird though: Mister Magic isn’t online. It has no video clips, no news, no internet presence whatsoever. Which is strange, as even the most obscure media usually can be found somewhere. But that isn’t the only weird part about the show, not by a long shot. Why was Val’s cast the last? What happened to the sixth cast member? What didn’t Val’s dad want her to remember? Where was her mom in all this? There are so many questions, and as each question is answered, it brings up even more questions.

I absolutely loved reading this story! It was wonderfully strange, and I could not help flying through the pages to get to all the answers. And just when you think you might have some idea of what was going on… you had  no idea. The ending was, for me, a little… less than I would have hoped for, but it also provided a good message and a resolution, so I can live with it. This book was such a weird, wonderful win for me!

Bottom Line: I very much enjoyed unearthing every bizarre twist and secret right alongside Val!

Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer A Little Like Waking by Adam Rex
Published by Roaring Brook Press on August 1, 2023
Pages: 400
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

You’ve Reached Sam meets The Good Place in this deeply-felt, unconventional love story about a girl, a boy, a dreamer, and a dream from best-selling and award-winning author Adam Rex.

Zelda is stuck in a dream. A very strange dream, where people can fly, bears sneeze money, and her childhood cat, Patches, is somehow alive - despite being run over years ago. Things only get stranger when Zelda meets Langston, a sweet if overly timid guy who feels more real to her than anyone she’s ever met.

As Zelda and Langston explore the far reaches of the dreamscape together, they find themselves growing closer and closer. But what they uncover along the way pushes them towards a truth neither of them wants to face. Will it turn out that he's the guy of her dreams, or is she the girl of his?

A tender, insightful read that defies time, space, and expectation, Adam Rex's A Little Like Waking is perfect for fans of Every Day and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I was kind of expecting to be crying the whole time based on the comps. Here’s a happy surprise though, I spent most of the time laughing, because this was such a delightfully weird book, with some more seriousness blended in. The humor may not be for everyone, but I positively adored it. It really made the story feel incredibly fresh and unique, which I appreciated, and it made me genuinely enjoy reading the book.

Zelda and Langston are great characters and all, but if you don’t fall completely in love with Patches, the dead talking cat, then you simply cannot be helped. See what I mean about this book being quirky? It is, yet for me, wonderfully so. It probably tends toward the younger side of YA, but it was so charming that I really think it will appeal to people of any age. I mean- who among us can’t relate to a dream that feels way too real, right? Only this one is seemingly endless, and Zelda and Langston (and obviously Patches) are trying their best to figure out why.

And that is the crux of the book: overcoming your fears and other obstacles is a big part of life in the real world. And so to get back to it, someone is going to have to overcome a lot of stuff, especially since the dream town keeps pulling the whole gang back in. The story wraps up nicely, if a bit easily, but overall I was really glad I read this book, for it was a delightful experience.

Bottom Line: This book genuinely lifted my spirits and made my heart happy, and I hope it does the same for yours!

Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer Lessons in Birdwatching by Honey Watson
Published by Angry Robot on August 8, 2023
Pages: 400
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Lessons in Birdwatching is a darkly comic, politically charged novel set in a post-earth future, where beings—human and otherwise—careen towards annihilation in service of zealotry and nihilism alike.

During their temporary research post on Apech—a planet ravaged by a time distorting illness—Wilhelmina Ming and four other elite students of the Crysthian empire have witnessed such illogical brutality that they’ve resorted to psychedelic antidepressants and group sex to take the edge off. After a night of indulgence following a gruesome execution, they wake to find an oblique warning in the form of an impaled corpse dangling from the exterior of their residence.

When their subsequent investigation uncovers a web of collusion and conspiracy in the ranks of their own diplomatic corps, the envoys find themselves caught in the middle of a bloody civil war. As bodies pile up above ground, a deranged fanatic stokes an existential threat below, coaxing the embers of a forgotten god, and its temporal virus, to life.

People were surprised that I wanted to read this because birds. But I didn’t think this would be a bird book, so I went for it.  And good news, it is not a bird book! Bad news is, that didn’t really help with me liking it, so. Now, it wasn’t bad bad, but it just never fully clicked for me, so I will do a likes-dislikes thing because I love those. Can I also say, this could definitely all just be me not jibing with the book? Because that could be it too! Read on!

What I Enjoyed:

  • It is located in a post-Earth, far flung planet. Idk anything about said planet (see below, I assume) but it’s cool that there are multiple species trying to live together in harmony. Especially considering that we all know how well humans do that. (I also enjoyed that the author certainly acknowledged this fact!)
  • I did quite enjoy some of the secondary characters and was invested in their fates. Now, I did not feel the same about the “main” character (I use that loosely since there are quite a few characters’ viewpoints that are offered, which is good because if you’re anything like me, you don’t want to hang out in Ming’s head the whole book), but the secondary characters were more… tolerable? Multifaceted? Sure let’s go with that. Also, they were kind of funny at times, which helped.

What I Struggled With:

  • I loathed Ming.  In fairness, I think we are supposed to loathe her? But it’s hard to read a book where the main character just gets to be crappy and that is… kind of the point? Like they’re all just willing to continue being awful no matter the consequences, and to me that seems short sighted to the point of being unbelievable, I guess. But she, and most of the people aside from a few, are just next level unlikable, so I had a hard time caring about what happened to them.
  • I was confused at times. I really don’t love being super lost in a book. I don’t mean in the way that I don’t know what is going to happen next, that is fun! But the feeling of just simply not understanding is frustrating for me. Some people are cool with it, so if that’s you, ignore me! But yeah, I didn’t have a good grasp on which group was which, who was on which side, and if anyone was any good or if it was just “which bad guy is going to come away victorious?”. There were people being introduced, but I didn’t have the faintest clue as to how or where they fit into the story, and in fairness, I eventually just stopped trying to figure it out because they all sucked anyway. And I also didn’t fully understand the world building, either, and why certain groups ended up on certain planets, other than the general concept of trying to take over whatever they want whenever they want.
  • The way they treated the tama was bad-bad. And look, I get that it is supposed to be bad, and I have read some downright horrifying things in my day, but usually there is some kind of… retribution? Consequence? But no, here it is just fine to assault the feeble-minded, use them for whatever, and then get rid of them. I just wanted some justice, any justice, but alas.
  • The synopsis claimed it was comic but… I just didn’t get too much in the way of comedy, frankly. They nailed the dark bit at least. At no point did I think it was dark humor, though, just… bleak darkness. And that is a very different thing.
  • I felt underwhelmed by the ending. I could not figure out if we even found out all the fates of the characters, but by that point I had mostly given up caring, so. I just had a very overwhelming feeling of “wait so that was it?”, and simply did not feel satisfied by the conclusion. I also didn’t feel particularly mad at that point either, in fairness.

Bottom Line: I so wanted to love this one, especially since the whole bird thing didn’t even come into play. But alas, it just didn’t hit the mark for me.

Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer Emergent Properties by Aimee Ogden
Published by on July 25, 2023
Pages: 126
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Emergent Properties is the touching adventure of an intrepid A.I. reporter hot on the heels of brewing corporate warfare from Nebula Award-nominated author Aimee Ogden.

A state-of-the-art AI with a talent for asking questions and finding answers, Scorn is nevertheless a parental disappointment. Defying the expectations of zir human mothers, CEOs of the world’s most powerful corporations, Scorn has made a life of zir own as an investigative reporter, crisscrossing the globe in pursuit of the truth, no matter the danger.

In the middle of investigating a story on the moon, Scorn comes back online to discover ze has no memory of the past ten days—and no idea what story ze was even chasing. Letting it go is not an option—not if ze wants to prove zirself. Scorn must retrace zir steps in a harrowing journey to uncover an even more explosive truth than ze could have ever imagined.

This is a novella, and I would say a very character driven one at that. In fact, I don’t know if there was a whole lot in the way of plot? I kept waiting for something to happen, but it just never really did? We follow Scorn, an AI who is pretty salty with zir human mothers and society in general.  I mean, it’s fair enough, but it wasn’t really enough to keep me invested. We know little about Scorn, as ze actually has lost the past ten days of zir existence. So it’s tough when the story seems to be character driven, yet you just don’t feel completely drawn to the character. There is a mystery plot, but it felt a bit convoluted at times, and since it is such a short story, I just never became fully invested in its outcome (which I felt was a bit anticlimactic anyway, if I am being honest).

There are some good concepts brought up in this story, such as the complicated parental relationships, and Scorn having to forge zir own path regardless of zir mothers’ wishes, and obviously the whole bit about corporate greed being awful, and comparing AI rights to the lacking rights of LGBTQ folks here. So great concepts in theory, but in execution, somewhat lacking, since I didn’t really know enough about who Scorn was to properly care, and not a ton happened in the way of plot to flesh that out either. It did pick up a bit toward the end, but by then I am afraid it was too little too late for me.

Bottom Line: Great ideas and concepts, but somewhat lacking in execution and development of character and plot.

Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer Whalefall by Daniel Kraus
on August 8, 2023
Pages: 336
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Whalefall is a scientifically accurate thriller about a scuba diver who’s been swallowed by an eighty-foot, sixty-ton sperm whale and has only one hour to escape before his oxygen runs out.

Jay Gardiner has given himself a fool’s errand—to find the remains of his deceased father in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Monastery Beach. He knows it’s a long shot, but Jay feels it’s the only way for him to lift the weight of guilt he has carried since his dad’s death by suicide the previous year.

The dive begins well enough, but the sudden appearance of a giant squid puts Jay in very real jeopardy, made infinitely worse by the arrival of a sperm whale looking to feed. Suddenly, Jay is caught in the squid’s tentacles and drawn into the whale’s mouth where he is pulled into the first of its four stomachs. He quickly realizes he has only one hour before his oxygen tanks run out—one hour to defeat his demons and escape the belly of a whale.

I don’t know about you, but being stuck in a whale sounds like quite literally one of the worst possible things that could befall a person. I mean. Not only are you in mortal peril, but you are in something’s stomach. Suffice it to say, things are not going well for Jay. Add to it, the whole reason he is out for this dive is to try to recover his father’s body. So this wasn’t exactly a fun adventure gone wrong, it was a horrible adventure gone even more wrong.

Jay is dealing with a lot of guilt and mixed feelings after his father’s death by suicide after a pretty rough cancer diagnosis. Jay left home and did not return before his father’s death, and he holds guilt, but also resentment at his father’s treatment of him. And frankly, rightfully so, as his dad was incredibly hard on Jay, and mostly didn’t care who Jay wanted to be, just who the dad wanted Jay to be.

And as you can guess from, well, everything about the cover and synopsis and title of this book, Jay ends up in the literal belly of a whale. The book is basically half survival, and half Jay coming to terms with his fraught relationship with his father that he never was able to mend. And I think also, his relationship with his mom and sisters, which he probably will want to work on a bit if/when he gets out of that whale.

I won’t give anything away, other than to tell you that Jay’s story is absolutely as harrowing as you’d expect. I liked how the author included the quieter, introspective moments about Jay’s past to balance it out, because if it had been all whale guts all the time, things would have been rough. The way the author alternated, it was never overwhelming in either direction. Sometimes the writing was a bit overly descriptive, but the author did do a great job on the atmosphere so I can let that go.  I will say, I would have loved an epilogue. This book felt like it needed one, and that is probably my biggest qualm. But it was certainly a unique experience, and if you learn nothing else, you will maybe grab a few whale-swallowing survival tips, so it’s a win-win.

Bottom Line: As if dealing with difficult parents isn’t hard enough, try doing so inside a whole damn mammal.

Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer Bridge by Lauren Beukes
Published by Mulholland Books on August 8, 2023
Pages: 432
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

A grieving daughter’s search for her mother becomes a journey across alternate realities in Bridge, a wildly entertaining, reality-bending new thriller from Lauren Beukes, author of the AppleTV+ smash hit The Shining Girls.

It was a game they played; the other worlds, the other lives. It was part of her mom’s grand delusions. It wasn’t real. Unless it was…

Bridget Kittinger has always been paralyzed by choices. It has a lot to do with growing up in the long shadow of her mother, Jo, a troubled neuroscientist. Jo’s obsession with one mythical object, the “dreamworm”—which she believed enabled travel to other worlds—led to their estrangement.

Now, suddenly, Jo is dead. And in packing up her home, Bridge finds a strange device buried deep in Jo’s freezer: the dreamworm. Against all odds, it actually can open the door—to all other realities, and to all other versions of herself, too.

Could Bridge find who she should be in this world, by visiting the others? And could her Jo still be alive somewhere? But there’s a sinister cost to trading places, and others hunting the dreamworm who would kill to get their hands on it . . .

Across a thousand possible lives, from Portland to Haiti, from Argentina to the alligator-infested riverways of North Carolina, Bridge takes readers on a highly original thrill ride, pushing the boundaries of what we know about mothers and daughters, hunters and seekers, and who we each choose to be.

Putting a spin on the multiverse theory, Bridge explores mother-daughter relationships, friendships, and self exploration with the backdrop of parallel universes. I found it very compelling and thought provoking, and really enjoyed Bridge as a character. Her mother has died, but has left Bridge some clues about how maybe she isn’t as dead as people seem to think. Bridge herself had some inklings that her mom wasn’t her mom during her last days, but when she gets more evidence supporting that theory, she dives right in, consequences be damned. And by her side is her bestie Dom, who is hands down my favorite part of the story.

When Bridge and Dom find the “dreamworm” in her mom’s possessions, which in theory allows a person to travel through the multiverse, Bridge sees a chance to get her mom back. Dom sees it as a really risky proposal, and there are some newcomers to the story who clearly are invested for their own reasons. I shan’t say too much about any of that, for fear of spoiling anything, but there are a lot of secrets being kept by a lot of people.

loved the concept of switching places with different “yous” in other realities. It is so fascinating to think about who we’d be if just a few tiny things had been different. I also loved all the world-building that went into the story. Obviously, there are a lot of different rules and “what-ifs” happening when traveling between universes. What if you’re already dead in that world? What if you never existed? The author does a great job of asking and answering these questions, or at least trying to, which I loved. Also, I think having Bridge looking to find her mother adds a layer of emotion to the story that works really great. In fairness, I didn’t think Jo, the mother, was worthy of Bridge’s love and concern, but alas it is her mother, so it makes sense that she’d want her back regardless. And Dom being the voice of reason, while also being a loyal and caring friend, adding another layer of emotional fortitude to the story.

I won’t say anything more, so that you can unravel all the layers of the multiverse (and all the relationships, too) for yourselves. But I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and this emotive and exciting take on the genre!

Bottom Line: I would have given the dreamworm a go too, tbh, but my mom is awesome, so.

Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on July 25, 2023
Pages: 416
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review

A Black teen desperate to regain her Ivy League acceptance enters an elite competition only to discover the stakes aren’t just high, they’re deadly, in this searing thriller that’s Ace of Spades meets Squid Game with a sprinkling of The Bachelor.

You must work twice as hard to get half as much.

Adina Walker has known this the entire time she’s been on scholarship at the prestigious Edgewater Academy—a school for the rich (and mostly white) upper class of New England. It’s why she works so hard to be perfect and above reproach, no matter what she must force beneath the surface. Even one slip can cost you everything.

And it does. One fight, one moment of lost control, leaves Adina blacklisted from her top choice Ivy League college and any other. Her only chance to regain the future she’s sacrificed everything for is The Finish, a high-stakes contest sponsored by Edgewater’s founding family in which twelve young, ambitious women with exceptional promise are selected to compete in three mysterious events: the Ride, the Raid, and the Royale. The winner will be granted entry into the fold of the Remington family, whose wealth and power can open any door.

But when she arrives at the Finish, Adina quickly gets the feeling that something isn’t quite right with both the Remingtons and her competition, and soon it becomes clear that this larger-than-life prize can only come at an even greater cost. Because the Finish’s stakes aren’t just make or break…they’re life and death.
Adina knows the deck is stacked against her—it always has been—so maybe the only way to survive their vicious games is for her to change the rules.

I have to start off by saying the one thing I didn’t like about this book: the beginning. I tell you this so you will hopefully give it a chance even if you too do not like the beginning. So, I was kind of bored for the first couple chapters, and didn’t really like Adina at first. She kept complaining about being middle class, and was just not the most likable. But. When the story finally took off, I was hooked, and I also started to like Adina a lot more!

Adina has lost her scholarship to Yale after a bit of a bad decision, which is something she does not tell us about at first so neither will I. The winner of “The Finish”, which is a competition for young women hosted by a local mega-rich family, basically gets to write her own ticket, so Adina is pretty desperate to join. Only thing is, she isn’t really part of the hoity-toity elite who usually get an invite, so she… makes sure she gets one in other, more scandalous ways. But get one she does, ultimately.

The story really takes off once Adina joins the game, as you might imagine. Even the introductory bits were interesting, to see the dynamics of all the girls at play. It is so clear that this is a shifty situation, which Adina obviously understands, but just how shifty is something she’s about to find out. All the girls are obviously there for a big win, whatever that may be, and finding out exactly what each one has to gain from the games is entertaining in itself.

It soon becomes clear that the stakes are far higher than scholarships or business investments, however. And Adina doesn’t need Yale badly enough to risk her life. But when she tries to escape, turns out, that is very much not an option, and now she is in this mess for the long haul- or even worse, the short haul if things go badly. Between everyone’s secrets and the high stakes of the game, I was basically unable to put down this book after it got going. I was invested in Adina and the other girls, even if I didn’t like them all they certainly deserved better than the games. It was fun, fast-paced, and entertaining, and an all-around win.

Bottom Line: Definitely readable and entertaining, I am so glad I stuck with this one! Also, “never enter billionaire games” is a solid life lesson.

Have you read any of these books? Plan to? Let us chat about them!  

Posted August 1, 2023 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 21 Comments


21 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: Dog Days of Summer

  1. Got some ouchies in there. I struggle with books where I don’t like the MC. I need to want things for them (for the most part). Glad there were some hits in the bunch too. Dreamworms and traveling through the multiverse – intriguing for sure.

  2. “As if dealing with difficult parents isn’t hard enough, try doing so inside a whole damn mammal.”
    “Also, “never enter billionaire games” is a solid life lesson.”

    Being confused doesn’t sound like a “you” thing…usually, when a book outsmarts someone who’s been reading AND reviewing its peers for years, it’s on the book.

    Mister Magic and Bridge are on my radar now. I mean, I’ve known they existed for a while, but you made them extra-appealing..😉.

    • Aww well that is very kind of you! I often wonder if things are too… figurative for me? Like my mind is pretty literal, so when authors are too metaphorical I kind of get a little lost. But I agree, I am not like, a complete fool, I can usually figure stuff out heh. I really hope you like them if you read them!

  3. Mr. Magic sounds very fun, especially given the phenomenon that exists where people will fully remember a thing that didn’t happen (en mass) because our brains are very easy to manipulate (including self-manipulation).

    And I’m happy to see the new Lauren Buekes novel is a good one. She writes such downright bizarre stories but they’re compelling in dark ways and I kinda love it.

    Also adding Their Vicious Games to the list. Because *of course* billionaires would design games around manipulating people- when you’re so wealthy that you don’t have to strive for or truly earn anything, and you’re never in danger or stress, chasing a dopamine high with someone else’s life must seem justifiable. Yikes.

    • YEP exactly! I love that it deals with that- what the heck happened, is it the Mandela effect, etc. Very interesting stuff!

      Yesss I read my first book of hers last year, and needed more. I have seen some backlist I am very interested in too!

      That was a fun one- and exactly, it doesn’t seem like such a stretch even, because rich people do be like that 😂

  4. Wow- so many of these sound good. I’m always about the parallel universes. And Emergent Properties I was so curious about, bummer it was a little lacking in the execution.

  5. I just finished Mister Magic last night, hope to post my review tomorrow. It was an interesting story for sure! Some of these are already on my TBR, but the Whalefall book I’m just today seeing on blogs all over the place. Could be because I’m behind in commenting, lol. Great reviews!

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