Here are the first of my September reviews! There are quite a few good books to be had, yay!
With Regrets by Lee Kelly
The Fallout by Kristy Acevedo
The Death I Gave Him by Em X. Liu
The Collector by Laura Kat Young
The Spirit Bares Its Teeth by Andrew Joseph White
Mammoths at the Gate by Nghi Vo
With Regrets , from author Lee Kelly, is equal parts Big Little Lies and Bird Box , a suburban drama wrapped in a 24-hour survival story at the end of the world, perfect for fans of David Koepp's Aurora.
Seven courses, seven guests, twenty-four hours that will obliterate everything.
When recent NYC-transplant Liz Brinkley and her husband are invited to an exclusive soiree by their neighbor, “lifestyle guru” Britta Harris-Che, Liz’s immediate thought is hell no. Britta is insufferable, and Liz is wary to leave her young children with a barely-teenage babysitter. And yet she RSVPs anyway, trying to extend an olive branch to her withdrawing husband, who seems desperate to get in with the cliquey elite.
They’ve barely made it through their first round of champagne when a “red alert” comes through their phones, and every channel on the television tells the same strange atmospheric masses, reported to look like “glimmering clouds,” have been spreading through major U.S. cities and killing anyone they touch. Authorities have just one clear Find shelter. Immediately.
A collective panic seizes the dinner party; all the guests have children at home. In the mad dash to their cars, they see a shimmering net floating over the town. The street is littered with wrecked cars and dead bodies. Leaving now is not an option. Instead, the group launches into survival mode, grabbing supplies to take shelter in the hosts’ wine cellar. But everyone has very different opinions about the best plan from there.
Liz becomes increasingly willing to do anything it takes to get back to her children. As the glimmering clouds continue to kill anyone who steps outside, the tensions and suspicions among the party guests near a boiling point. But she begins to realize that there may be others in that cellar even more desperate than she is.
Two things! First, wow did I fall in love with this story! I had a feeling I would enjoy it, but I devoured it. Second, I don’t want to live in the swanky suburbs. Never, ever, I won’t do it. Anyway, these unfortunate souls had the bad luck to not only live in the ‘burbs, but to be in them during a global catastrophe, and during the worst dinner party of all time? Yeah, hard pass. Guess who else doesn’t want to be there? Liz, who we meet whilst getting ready for Britta’s dinner party. She doesn’t want to go in any way, but she acquiesces to her husband who I guess hates himself enough to want to go? Hard to tell.
Anyway, the aforementioned host, Britta, is an “influencer”, which is obviously cringe-worthy. And don’t worry, everyone knows this is cringe-worthy, but because of whatever weird unspoken suburbs rules require it, people go anyway. Liz is quasi-likable at times, mostly because she was a writer for an apocalypse show that should be a real thing, and also because she is so concerned about her kids. Padma is the only truly likable and relatable character, but the rest are really well developed to the point where you kind of can’t help but care about them in some sick twisted way? Let’s just say, the author does a phenomenal job of making their flaws humanize them.
So to set the scene, at first, everyone is just kind of begrudgingly at Britta’s stupid dinner party, counting the minutes until they can feel they’ve done their neighborly duty and leave. Britta and her husband are not getting along, Mabel’s husband is a Grade A Jerk, Liz’s husband left their kids home with a literal child babysitter without telling her, and Padma’s husband (who is the only decent dude in the bunch) is at home with their infant. There’s what seems to be a slightly older couple involved, too. Then suddenly, there are warnings going off all over the place- something is wrong, very wrong, and it is heading for their town next.
Well, everyone wants to bail immediately to go to their kids, of course. Problem is, the Event has other plans. Want to go outside? Good luck, you’re probably getting vaporized. Now, Liz is more desperate than ever to get out of there, as her kids are alone with a different kid. So it becomes a survival and escape all in one. Throw in a character expose, and you basically have the bones of this story. And I could not put it down. I won’t say much more, because there are all kinds of secrets to unravel, and excitement to be had, just know that you should read this book, and also, never ever move to the swanky ‘burbs. Or go to an “influencer’s” dinner party, but I trust that you already knew that.
Bottom Line: Dinner party from hell meets the apocalypse? Um, yes please!
They chose survival...but at what cost? A fast-paced, empowering YA dystopian novel for anyone who's ever felt betrayed, then came back stronger. The sequel to The Warning.
Senior year would have been stressful enough without an apocalypse. When the holograms arrived, allegedly offering safe passage to those who stepped through their vertexes, Alexandra Lucas thought going or staying would be the hardest decision of her life. She was wrong.
Because she is the one person who knows the truth, a truth that will change everything: the holograms lied.
Alex can't deny this new world is mesmerizing. Holo technology lets her customize everything from her clothes to her surroundings. But she can't let it distract her from searching for her boyfriend, best friend, and brother. They need to know what happened. Because there's a rebellion brewing, and every utopia has a breaking point. What price must they all pay to survive?
“Content Warning: This book contains depictions of mental illness, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, and PTSD. In addition, it includes suicide ideation, suicide, physical abuse, and violence.”
What a sold follow-up/conclusion to The Warning, which I found and loved just a few months ago! If you have little patience, like me, you’ll be thrilled to know that this is a nice, neat, wrapped up duology that will leave you entertained and satisfied. I was so excited to jump back into the world (well- whichever world we jump into with Alexandra, that is) after finding the first book to be quite exciting. We pick up right where book one leaves off, and waste no time getting to know the world in which Alex now finds herself.
Alex finds herself among some new folks, and her friends and family nowhere in sight. She’ll have to navigate the world around her and integrate if she has any hopes of tracking them down, so it is a challenge from the start. Alex obviously has a lot of information to pass on, but she wants to be sure she does it right- because the fate of humanity could hang in the balance. The story is incredibly high stakes, and also quite emotional, considering what everyone has left behind. I am keeping this purposefully vague in case people haven’t read the first book yet and want to know if starting the series is worth it, and I say unequivocally that it is.
I was wholly satisfied by this installment, and was intrigued with the world, and how our characters were going to navigate through it. I loved that Alex had to handle this massively huge situation while also dealing with debilitating panic attacks, and while trying to figure out friendships, romantic relationships, family drama, and all the other aspects of every day life.
Bottom Line: A solid conclusion that built an exciting and intriguing world, while being a fully satisfying ending for the characters I’d come to love.
A lyrical, queer sci-fi retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet as a locked-room thriller
Hayden Lichfield’s life is ripped apart when he finds his father murdered in their lab, and the camera logs erased. The killer can only have been after one thing: the Sisyphus Formula the two of them developed together, which might one day reverse death itself. Hoping to lure the killer into the open, Hayden steals the research. In the process, he uncovers a recording his father made in the days before his death, and a dying wish: Avenge me…
With the lab on lockdown, Hayden is trapped with four other people—his uncle Charles, lab technician Gabriel Rasmussen, research intern Felicia Xia and their head of security, Felicia’s father Paul—one of whom must be the killer. His only sure ally is the lab’s resident artificial intelligence, Horatio, who has been his dear friend and companion since its creation. With his world collapsing, Hayden must navigate the building’s secrets, uncover his father’s lies, and push the boundaries of sanity in the pursuit of revenge.
The Death I Gave Him is a pretty solid sci-fi mystery/thriller, and I was quite intrigued. First things first, I am going to keep this short because well, mystery. I don’t want to tell you too much. The book opens with Hayden realizing his dad has been murdered in their lab. And someone has messed with the security, making it much harder to figure out who did the killing. And oh by the by, these guys were working on basically making folks immortal. Obviously, Hayden has a bit of work to do: find the killer, stop them, figure out how to bring dear ol’ dad back from the dead, the usual.
Of course, you can imagine that nothing and no one can be taken at face value. The story is being told after the fact, in a series of mixed media which I really enjoyed. There are bits from a book written about the events, some footage from interviews, some from the AI logs. It made the story all the more interesting, since we were getting bits of information from various angles and sources. As you can imagine, there are some pretty messed up bits since we’re talking about trying to cheat death, and I think we all know by now that it rarely seems to end well.
There were some points that the story felt a little long, especially in the middle, but for the most part I was definitely invested in what was happening, who was responsible for what, and you know, if the whole “immortality” thing was going to pan out. Definitely a solid book, I will be eager to read more from the author!
Bottom Line: A solid sci-fi based mystery told in a very readable and entertaining format.
A frightening dystopian horror novel where grief is forbidden and purged from the mind – a nightmarish mix of 1984 and Never Let Me Go
The Bureau has your best interests in mind
Some people kill themselves first. Dev is the Collector of the month. His job is to record memories of grief for the Bureau’s catalogue before the person is Reset.
After all, sorrow is unproductive, inefficient
But after Dev records the memory donations, he returns home and secretly preserves them for himself in a notebook, kept hidden behind a wall in his tiny apartment. But the Bureau is always watching. And Dev’s small transgression leads to a terrible betrayal from which there is no way back.
I really loved most of this book. I found myself deeply invested in both Dev’s story and the world he lived in, and wanted to know all the things. Because that is who I am as a person. Dev is working as a Collector, which means he goes around grabbing people’s memories to keep banked before they are reset. Why are they being reset, you ask? Well, they are sad. They have lost someone, and because they are human, are experiencing grief. As one does. But in this world, sadness and grief are simply not allowed. People try to fake happiness, so they can keep their memories, but any report of sadness has the resetting team on their doorstep before a tear can even be shed. Dev starts the story out as Collector of the Year, but as the story goes along, maybe he is not totally happy? And even when he is just tired and wants to rest, he has to pretend to be engaged otherwise he could be accused of being sad.
It’s a very interesting world, and certainly thought provoking. Can you even imagine living in a world where, if you look like you’re having a bad day, you’re suddenly wiped, mind-erased, gone? They’d be resetting my ass daily, we’d never get anywhere! As Dev digs deeper, the things he finds out will paint him a new picture, and I loved taking the ride with him.
And here’s the thing: if I’d been asked to rate this at the 90% mark, I’d be giving it five stars. The end, however, left me wanting more. The world building and character development in the book were so very well done, but when the book ended, I felt that none of it was realized. This is one of those situations where if there is a sequel, I’d absolutely change my rating, but as it stands now I enjoyed most of it so much that the ending was just extra disappointing. Because I have questions, so many questions!
Bottom Line: Amazing story, wish I’d had more questions answered, but overall incredibly thought provoking and entertaining! (Read: Give me a sequel and/or an epilogue.)
New York Times bestselling author Andrew Joseph White returns with the transgressive gothic horror of our time!
Mors vincit omnia. Death conquers all.
London, 1883. The Veil between the living and dead has thinned. Violet-eyed mediums commune with spirits under the watchful eye of the Royal Speaker Society, and sixteen-year-old Silas Bell would rather rip out his violet eyes than become an obedient Speaker wife. According to Mother, he’ll be married by the end of the year. It doesn’t matter that he’s needed a decade of tutors to hide his autism; that he practices surgery on slaughtered pigs; that he is a boy, not the girl the world insists on seeing.
After a failed attempt to escape an arranged marriage, Silas is diagnosed with Veil sickness—a mysterious disease sending violet-eyed women into madness—and shipped away to Braxton’s Finishing School and Sanitorium. The facility is cold, the instructors merciless, and the students either bloom into eligible wives or disappear. When the ghosts of missing students start begging Silas for help, he decides to reach into Braxton’s innards and expose its guts to the world—if the school doesn’t break him first.
Featuring an autistic trans protagonist in a historical setting, Andrew Joseph White’s much-anticipated sophomore novel does not back down from exposing the violence of the patriarchy and the harm inflicted on trans youth who are forced into conformity.
TW via author’s note (there is also an extended warning in the text which can be found here): “The Spirit Bares Its Teeth contains transphobia, ableism, graphic violence, sexual assault, discussions of forced pregnancy and miscarriage, mentions of suicidal ideation, and extensive medical gore.”
After really enjoying the author’s debut, I was super excited to see what he had in store for us next. And friends, I daresay this one is even better than its predecessor! I was quite impressed because The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is altogether different than Hell Followed With Us, but still maintains a lot of the same messages in a wholly fresh story.
I fell in love with Silas from the start, and as such was instantly invested in his story. He is sent to some kind of finishing school (which is obviously a front for some kind of horrific “taming women into subservient housewives” schtick) because he was deemed “veil sick”, which means basically that he didn’t conform to some bullshit societal standards. You know, the way they’d lock folks away for being different. So look, he knew this was going to be bad, but I don’t think even he had any idea just how bad. There are some good points, though. He gains some friends in the women who were there before he arrived, and he finds that he actually might sort of like the person who is meant to be his husband, and it turns out has more in common with Silas than he could have imagined.
Make no mistake, this is not for the faint of heart, as there is a lot of awfulness that is happening to Silas and the girls at any given time. The secrets that Silas and company uncover are absolutely messed up, but they are also compulsively page-turning, so if you can handle the material, it is very worth it. The found family aspect, especially amidst all the horrific events, gives the book the hope it needs despite the truly awful situation.
Bottom Line: An absolute must read if you can handle the body horror, I cannot wait to see what the author delivers to us next!
The Hugo and Crawford Award-Winning Series!
The wandering Cleric Chih returns home to the Singing Hills Abbey for the first time in almost three years, to be met with both joy and sorrow. Their mentor, Cleric Thien, has died, and rests among the archivists and storytellers of the storied abbey. But not everyone is prepared to leave them to their rest.
Because Cleric Thien was once the patriarch of Coh clan of Northern Bell Pass--and now their granddaughters have arrived on the backs of royal mammoths, demanding their grandfather’s body for burial. Chih must somehow balance honoring their mentor’s chosen life while keeping the sisters from the north from storming the gates and destroying the history the clerics have worked so hard to preserve.
But as Chih and their neixin Almost Brilliant navigate the looming crisis, Myriad Virtues, Cleric Thien’s own beloved hoopoe companion, grieves her loss as only a being with perfect memory can, and her sorrow may be more powerful than anyone could anticipate. . .
The novellas of The Singing Hills Cycle are linked by the cleric Chih, but may be read in any order, with each story serving as an entrypoint.
Well, Nghi Vo has gone ahead and outdone herself. This is hands down my favorite of the series so far, and that is saying quite a lot because I loved pretty much all of the stories up to this point. But for me, Mammoths had something special, and it wasn’t just the aforementioned mammoths. No, our favorite cleric Chih is heading back to Singing Hills Abbey, where they haven’t been in six years. That is a long time, and we have, until this point, only traveled with Chih on the road, never to the abbey.
It is amazing to get to see where Chih came from, who their friends and loved ones are, and how those relationships have changed in their absence. One sad bit of news is that Chih’s mentor, Cleric Thien, has passed. Chih is pretty devastated, as you can imagine, because many of their memories include Thien, and they never had a chance to say goodbye. But they are reunited with their close friend Ru, who has not been able to travel as Chih has, and instead made themself a fixture and leader at the abbey. Obviously, things are very different from when last Chih visited, and they have to figure out where exactly they fit in to the new order at the abbey.
I loved all the concepts this story was able to tackle in so few pages. Relationships, grief, growing up, finding one’s place, moving forward, they all played such a big part, and were handled beautifully. As always, the writing is perfection, but I was so glad to be able to get so much history and insight into Chih’s past, and hopefully, their future as well. I think that going forward, the reader will have such a new appreciation for Chih’s life, and we will be able to connect to them in a much deeper way.
Bottom Line: Nailed it. My new favorite in a already very beloved series.