Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October

Here are the first of my October books- and we have two full “six stars” in the bunch this time! Legit books that will be up for BOTY, no question. And the others were quite good, too!

The Blood Years by Elana K. Arnold
I Loved You in Another Life by David Arnold
These Burning Stars by Bethany Jacobs

Brainwyrms by Alison Rumfitt
Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind by Molly McGhee
Red River Seven by A.J. Ryan
The Unmaking of June Farrow by Adrienne Young

Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October The Blood Years by Elana K. Arnold
Published by Balzer + Bray on October 10, 2023
Pages: 400
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

From Michael L. Printz honoree & National Book Award finalist Elana K. Arnold comes the harrowing story of a young girl's struggle to survive the Holocaust in Romania.

Frederieke Teitler and her older sister, Astra, live in a house, in a city, in a world divided. Their father ran out on them when Rieke was only six, leaving their mother a wreck and their grandfather as their only stable family. He’s done his best to provide for them and shield them from antisemitism, but now, seven years later, being a Jew has become increasingly dangerous, even in their beloved home of Czernowitz, long considered a safe haven for Jewish people. And when Astra falls in love and starts pulling away from her, Rieke wonders if there’s anything in her life she can count on—and, if so, if she has the power to hold on to it.

Then—war breaks out in Europe. First the Russians, then the Germans, invade Czernowitz. Almost overnight, Rieke and Astra’s world changes, and every day becomes a struggle: to keep their grandfather’s business, to keep their home, to keep their lives. Rieke has long known that she exists in a world defined by those who have power and those who do not, and as those powers close in around her, she must decide whether holding on to her life might mean letting go of everything that has ever mattered to her—and if that’s a choice she will even have the chance to make.

Based on the true experiences of her grandmother’s childhood in Holocaust-era Romania, award-winning author Elana K. Arnold weaves an unforgettable tale of love and loss in the darkest days of the twentieth century—and one young woman’s will to survive them.

Well. I loved this book with my whole heart, which is also the heart that this story broke several times over. What even do I say to do this lovely book justice? I will just tell you why I loved it so much that I ended up pre-ordering it, yeah? Great.

  • It is based on the author’s grandmother’s real experiences. This added such an extra element of emotion to it, frankly. Not only was the story incredibly emotionally evocative in itself, but knowing how much this meant to the author, to tell her beloved grandmother’s story, it added something extra that I can’t even put into words. Add to it, I learned so much about other people and places that were affected by the war. It was eye opening on so many levels, really.
  • I cannot overstate how much this story moved me. I mean, I know what you’re thinking: WWII novel, sure it’s going to be emotional, and you’re not wrong. It’s just that this story has so many incredible elements that take it to that next level. Obviously, the horrors of the war are front and center, make no mistake. But it is so much more. There is so much life happening- in literal spite of the war. Rieke and her family have both the horrific war-related struggles, but also some of the more mundane struggles that don’t simply go away because you’re also going through a crisis.
  • The hope in the darkest of times was everythingThe author showed how people went on living because they simply had no other choice. I often thought about how hard that would be, and it was, but also… it was the only option, too. Our characters had no choice but to keep on keepin’ on, and I loved that the author showed that side of things. That sometimes you have to go on because there is absolutely no other option. The changes their daily lives underwent was so well written- you could see how, as time progressed, little bits of their lives were stripped away by these awful people in charge, and how little they could do to fight back. The author truly did a phenomenal job allowing both the reader and the characters see these changes creep upon them, with absolutely no recourse. It was haunting, and horrifically honest. But even in the darkest times, the worst of times, the characters held steadfast to their love for each other. There were glimmers of hope and humanity in even the darkest moments, and that was worth everything.
  • The writing was just next-level. Every single thing that the author did seemed purposeful and well constructed. I felt like every piece of the story was just so well crafted, but in a way that just flowed perfectly. Add to it, I felt the author’s love and emotion in every single page. I truly don’t think there is a greater tribute than this.

Bottom Line: There truly are not enough words to express how gobsmackingly beautiful this book is. Thank you, Ms. Arnold, for sharing your family with the world. It quite literally took my breath away.

Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October I Loved You in Another Life by David Arnold
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on October 10, 2023
Pages: 352
Format:eARC, Hardcover
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

New York Times bestseller David Arnold returns with a poignant love story about two teens whose souls come together time and again through the ages—for fans of Nina LaCour and Matt Haig.

Evan Taft has plans. Take a gap year in Alaska, make sure his little brother and single mother are taken care of, and continue therapy to process his father's departure. But after his mom’s unexpected diagnosis, as Evan’s plans begin to fade, he hears something: a song no one else can hear, the voice of a mysterious singer . . .

Shosh Bell has dreams. A high school theater legend, she’s headed to performing arts college in LA, a star on the rise. But when a drunk driver takes her sister’s life, that star fades to black. All that remains is a void—and a soft voice singing in her ear . . .

Over it all, transcending time and space, a celestial bird brings strangers together: from an escaped murderer in 19th century Paris, to a Norwegian kosmonaut in low-earth orbit, something is happening that began long ago, and will long outlast Evan and Shosh. With lyrical prose and original songs (written and recorded by the author), I LOVED YOU IN ANOTHER LIFE explores the history of love, and how some souls are meant for each other—yesterday, today, forever.

I Loved You In Another Life is such a sweet coming of age story with a romance. I say that, as yes there is a romance and I liked it, but I don’t feel that is the best part of the story. No, I found myself far more enamored with the huge focus on family and personal growth that the characters undertook. In fact, I’d say that for a fairly large portion of the book, there is no romance, though it’s clear to see where it’s headed based on the chapters of other lives interspersed throughout the story.

For at least half the book, the main focus is on where Evan and Shosh are in their lives- hurting for various reasons, struggling with how to plan their next steps. Man, I’ve said it many times but it bears repeating, seventeen and eighteen year olds should not have to choose their entire future trajectories. I digress, Evan and Shosh have to do just that, and with a lot on their plates. They are both dealing with some pretty heavy family issues, and personal issues, yet have these looming unknowns hanging over their heads. So when they end up drawn to each other, it makes sense.

Here’s the thing: if you’re going into this for the “other lives” part… you may not be totally satisfied? I enjoyed reading about the other lives, don’t misunderstand! I just didn’t really get what their point in the story was, and frankly, never really got any such answer. The book mostly reads as a contemporary, with this little hint of “other”, which is not a bad thing! Just perhaps not wholly what I expected.

A few more reasons to read this one before I tag out: Evan’s mom and brother are legit everything. Like can I just have a spinoff of those two? Looove. Also, this book is very therapy positive, and I love how the author handled the mental health aspect with open and honest conversations. Very well done!

Bottom Line: A very lovely story about choosing your path, overcoming obstacles, and yeah, maybe finding love too.

Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October These Burning Stars by Bethany Jacobs
Series: The Kindom Trilogy #1
Published by Orbit on October 17, 2023
Pages: 464
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

A dangerous cat-and-mouse quest for revenge. An empire that spans star systems, built on the bones of a genocide. A carefully hidden secret that could collapse worlds, hunted by three women with secrets of their own. All collide in this twisty, explosive space opera debut, perfect for readers of Arkady Martine and Kameron Hurley.

Jun Ironway—hacker, con artist, and occasional thief—has gotten her hands on a piece of contraband that could set her up for proof that implicates the powerful Nightfoot family in a planet-wide genocide seventy-five years ago. The Nightfoots control the precious sevite that fuels interplanetary travel through three star systems. And someone is sure to pay handsomely for anything that could break their hold.

Of course, anything valuable is also dangerous. The Kindom, the ruling power of the star systems, is inextricably tied up in the Nightfoots’ monopoly—and they can’t afford to let Jun expose the truth. They task two of their most brutal clerics with hunting her preternaturally stoic Chono, and brilliant hothead Esek, who also happens to be the heir to the Nightfoot empire.

But Chono and Esek are haunted in turn by a figure from their shared past, known only as Six. What Six truly wants is anyone’s guess. And the closer they get to finding Jun, the surer Chono is that Six is manipulating them all.

​It's a game that could destroy their lives and devastate the stars. And they have no choice but to see it through to the end.

So here’s the thing: I really enjoyed the characters, loved the plot, and the world-building was very cool. So on the whole, that is pretty great, yeah? And it was! But my one issue with the book (and this may be a personal thing and maybe you’ll have no trouble with it) is that it seemed a little overly descriptive at times, which lead it to feel longer than it needed to be. I am all for description… until I’m not, you know?

But other than that, this book is quite exciting, and full of all kinds of intrigue and excitement and messy characters who I loved reading about. Don’t get me wrong, some of them were absolute sociopaths, but it’s still fun all the same. And even the less… outwardly awful members of humanity still had to make some questionable decisions, and we all know I love gray morality.

I also really liked how we got some info from the past via some “then” and “now” chapters. Gave a lot of insight into not only how the world and situation came to the point where it’s at, but it shed a lot of light on how the characters became who they are, too. I definitely enjoyed the story, I just think I would have enjoyed it more if it were a bit tighter? The pacing wasn’t bad or anything either, and there was lots of action, I just would have liked a little less on the descriptive bits.

Bottom Line: Solid series start, with great (messy) characters and a very thrilling plot. Maybe a little overly descriptive for my tastes, but also definitely not a dealbreaker.

Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October Brainwyrms by Alison Rumfitt
Published by Tor Nightfire on October 10, 2023
Pages: 304
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

From Alison Rumfitt, the author of Tell Me I’m Worthless — “a triumph of transgressive queer horror” (Publishers Weekly) — comes Brainwyrms, a searing body horror novel of obsession, violence and pleasure.

When a transphobic woman bombs Frankie’s workplace, she blows up Frankie’s life with it. As the media descends like vultures, Frankie tries to cope with the carnage: binge-drinking, fucking strangers, pushing away her friends. Then she meets Vanya. Mysterious, beautiful, terrifying Vanya.

The two hit it off immediately, but as their relationship intensifies, so too does Frankie’s feeling that Vanya is hiding something from her. When Vanya’s secrets threaten to tear them apart, Frankie starts digging, and unearths a sinister, depraved conspiracy, the roots of which go deeper than she ever imagined. Shocking, grotesque, and downright filthy, Brainwyrms confronts the creeping reality of political terrorism while exploring the depths of love, pain and identity.

TW at start: “This is a content warning too. Brainwyrms features (very) taboo sex that many would consider unsafe or unsanitary, as well as sexual violence and child abuse.”

Brainwyrms was weird, but I think you knew that? No one looks at that cover and thinks “wow this is going to be a totally mundane book about cuddling kittens”. The author’s debut was weird for me too, but this one was better-weird, if that makes sense? (Also, this is why we always give authors another chance around here- I didn’t love Tell Me I’m Worthless, but this one was a ride. I can’t say I “liked” it, that would make me sound psychotic, but I will say it was good.)

The start of the book was incredible. Honestly I’d give it a million stars, I loved some of the things the author attempted here. I do sort of wish the whole book had followed that format, but frankly, seeing the creativity the author has… she’s going places. Without giving anything away, I literally wrote in my Kindle “Pretty fucking genius.” as a whole description of a part of the book. So.

Now, obviously it’s hard to live up to that level of awesome for the whole thing, but I will say the whole story is very solid and had me invested throughout. Did I want a bit more from the ending? Yeah I kind of did. But in this case, the whole of the book far outweighs the slight underwhelmingness I felt from the end. (Is that a word? Anyway.) It’s a horrifically plausible story about transphobia going (even more) mainstream. Terrible JKR-like people banding together to not only openly show their disdain for the trans community, but to outright physically attack it. And Frankie, a twenty-something trans woman, finds herself way too close to said hateful events. As such, Frankie is… well she’s a hot mess, basically.

Then she meets Vanya. She’s mesmerized by Vanya from the start, but Vanya has their own shit to deal with, and is a mess too. We get some glimpses into both of their pasts, as well as their presents, but there is so much more going on than Frankie could have ever imagined. You will need to discover it all for yourself, truly. It’s… a lot at times, in terms of the uh, depravity, for lack of a better word? That isn’t really my jam, and I still really enjoyed this book. So unless you downright loathe that sort of thing, I’d say it’s worth it for the very bizarre and awesome ride.

Bottom Line: This book showed all kinds of creativity and unique storytelling. Also, all the weirdest shit you could never imagine, unless you’re Alison Rumfitt

Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind by Molly McGhee
Published by Astra House on October 17, 2023
Pages: 296
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

"Molly McGhee reminds me of absolutely no one. Here’s an original mind brimming over with invention and comic ferocity . . . [a] mad, hilarious writer.” —Ben Marcus, author of The Flame Alphabet

For readers of Patricia Lockwood and Ling Ma, a debut novel for the modern working stiff

Jonathan Abernathy is a loser . . . he’s behind on his debts, he has no prospects, no friends, no ambitions. But when a government loan forgiveness program offers him a literal dream job, he thinks he’s found his big break. If he can appear to be competent at his new job, entering the minds of middle-class workers while they sleep and removing the unsavory detritus of their waking lives from their unconscious, he might have a chance at a new life. As Abernathy finds his footing in this new role, reality and morality begin to warp around him. Soon, the lines between life and work, love and hate, right and wrong, even sleep and consciousness, begin to blur.

Written with all the dramatic irony of Charlie Kaufman as written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind touches on a theme most people know all too well—the relentlessly crushing weight of debt. A workplace novel, at once tender, startling, and deeply funny, Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind is a stunning, critical work of surrealist fiction.

With a keen sense of her readers, a wry wit, and an undeniable dexterity with language, Molly McGhee’s debut novel is a piercing critique of late-stage capitalism and a reckoning with its true cost.

Jonathan Abernathy is such a strange, strange book. On one hand, it is quirky, but on the other, it is depressing, and if you had a third hand, it would be quite heartfelt. Jonathon Abernathy does not have a third hand, however. What he does have is beaucoup debt. Like tons. And like most of us in this late-stage capitalist dystopia, he feels like he’s drowning. And he actually is, because he is in an even later stage capitalist dystopia, olé!

I don’t really know how to describe this book, or what I want to tell you about it. That sounds weird, right? Well, it’s a weird book! In a good way, mind. And Jonathan Abernathy is… he’s different than your usual main character, but again, it works. Nothing about this book should work, frankly, yet it does. It absolutely does. And I daresay if it didn’t feel a wee bit sloggy in the middle, I’d be giving it a full five.

Jonathan Abernathy is everyone. He’s also no one. That is to say, he is the most mundane random guy in the history of mundane random guys. He’s inoffensive, but if you passed him on the street, ten bucks says he wouldn’t even register on your radar, let alone leave any impression. He’s certainly pleasant enough that you care about him on a human level, but you’ll scratch your head at his sheer incompetence at life.  But he also makes you think: how many people are really out there killing it at life, especially in Capitalism Hell™?

This world he lives it, which is not very far removed from our own, is bleak as sin, and I think that may be why the middle felt a little rough. Even though the book is witty and quirky, sometimes the bummer of humanity got a little… much, especially when you knew things were not exactly coming up roses for our pal Abernathy. The bleakness is quiet, and I don’t know if that makes it easier or harder, frankly.   However, the book has a very heartfelt quality to it that somehow makes up for all that. The minutiae of Abernathy’s life and the relationships he tries (and sometimes fails, but alas) to make, his earnestness, they make it all feel very worthwhile. And perhaps that’s the point: it is worthwhile, no matter if you are an Abernathy or the next Nobel Prize winner.

Bottom Line: Quirky and earnest and  sure, a bit depressing, Jonathan Abernathy is unique, and unlike its titular character, wholly unforgettable.

Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October Red River Seven by A.J. Ryan
Published by Orbit on October 10, 2023
Pages: 304
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Internationally bestselling fantasy author Anthony Ryan - writing as A. J. Ryan - delivers a nerve-shredding novel in which seven strangers must undertake a terrifying journey into the unknown.

A man awakes on a boat at sea with no memory of who he is or how he came to be there. He's not alone - there are six others. None of them can remember their names, but all bear the scars of recent surgery.

When a message appears on the onboard computer - Proceeding to Point A - the group agrees to work together to survive whatever is coming. But as the boat moves through the mist-shrouded waters, divisions begin to form, and the group is plagued by questions. Who is directing them, why have their memories been wiped, and what are the screams they can hear beyond the mist?

“Detective.” He patted his chest. “Mountaineer and or polar explorer. Physicist. Doctor. Soldier. Historian. All together on the same boat. What’s that add up to?” “A set-up for a really shitty joke?”

loved that we knew as much going into this as the characters do, which is to say, nothing. The author did a tremendous job of letting us scratch our heads right along with them, and setting the atmosphere to be  so eerie that we could not turn away without answers. It was incredibly tense and high stakes (and they only get higher as the book goes on, tbh), and I absolutely loved watching it unfurl.

Since this is clearly a book you’re supposed to uncover bit by bit, we’ll keep this short. But as intense as it was, I loved that there is some lighter, wittier dialogue that kind of tones down the darkness enough to make it very readable. Incidentally, someone should very much make this into a show or movie, I can see it translating amazingly onscreen, since it is such an exciting ride. I would have liked a wee bit more from the ending, but it was still very much worth reading.

Bottom Line: This was such a ride! No one knows anything, and we all get to figure it out together, what fun!

Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October The Unmaking of June Farrow by Adrienne Young
Published by Delacorte Press on October 17, 2023
Pages: 336
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

A woman risks everything to end her family’s centuries-old curse, solve her mother’s disappearance, and find love in this mesmerizing novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Spells for Forgetting.

In the small mountain town of Jasper, North Carolina, June Farrow is waiting for fate to find her. The Farrow women are known for their thriving flower farm—and the mysterious curse that has plagued their family line. The whole town remembers the madness that led to Susanna Farrow’s disappearance, leaving June to be raised by her grandmother and haunted by rumors.

It’s been a year since June started seeing and hearing things that weren’t there. Faint wind chimes, a voice calling her name, and a mysterious door appearing out of nowhere—the signs of what June always knew was coming. But June is determined to end the curse once and for all, even if she must sacrifice finding love and having a family of her own.

After her grandmother’s death, June discovers a series of cryptic clues regarding her mother’s decades-old disappearance, except they only lead to more questions. But could the door she once assumed was a hallucination be the answer she’s been searching for? The next time it appears, June realizes she can touch it and walk past the threshold. And when she does, she embarks on a journey that will not only change both the past and the future, but also uncover the lingering mysteries of her small town and entangle her heart in an epic star-crossed love.

With The Unmaking of June Farrow, Adrienne Young delivers a brilliant novel of romance, mystery, and a touch of the impossible—a story you will never forget.

Well, this book was a huge win! So huge I don’t even know where to begin, frankly. Actually, scratch that, I do: go into it blind. Know nothing. Unravel everything as you go, it’s worth it. I can’t leave it there, can I? I should. I want to. But since I know some of you like more, I’ll oblige, but briefly.

June Farrow had my whole heart from the very beginning. I adored June as a character, and I was immersed in her story from the very first chapter. I could not put this book down, and it was because it had literally everything I love in a book: Amazing characters, a great family connection, an incredibly engaging mystery, and feels, all the feels.  For your sake, I will say no more, and I will just tell you that you need this book in your life. I am already over here trying to decide how many people will be getting this as a Christmas gift.

Bottom Line: June Farrow is going to be one of my favorite books of the year, and in basically my entire family’s Christmas stockings.

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

Posted October 11, 2023 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 15 Comments


15 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: First Batch of October

  1. Holocaust books will never not move me. It’s just one of those short list events that I can never forget. I read What Girls are Made Of years ago (also by Arnold). I recall it being quite emotional. Seems like something Arnold does well.

    • RIght!? Sometimes they are honestly too much for me to handle, but this one was just… incredible. My first Arnold book, years ago, was Infandous, which I actually hated funny enough. I gave her another chance though, and ended up loving everything else I read of hers!

  2. Another Life sounds good, even if it’s a little light on the other lives, or they’re mostly tangential. McGee’s book souns so releavnt. I mean, capitalism dystopia right? But sounds like it has a hoeful element as well, which frankly we all kinda need right? And Red River Seven totally sounds like my kind of book.

    They all look excellent though of course. what a great batch!

    • Yeah I definitely think you’d like Red River Seven! And yes exactly- Jonathan Abernathy was kind of “this is going to happen if we keep living like we are”, which I always appreciate. YES tangential is the perfect word for how the “lives” felt- I loved them in theory, I just don’t understand the point of them? Still good either way though!

  3. I can’t believe I only have one of these on my list! But I’m going to have to grab June Farrow for sure. And I’ve actually started reading These Burning Stars and its not at all what I expected. But I’m glad there were positives for you.

    • WHOA that seems strange for us 😂 June Farrow is AMAZING like, I cannot say enough good things about it. What are you thinking of These Burning Stars? I am so curious for some other opinions, because everything I read seemed like people looooved it and I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t what I expected either, really.

  4. “Brainwyrms features (very) taboo sex that many would consider unsafe or unsanitary, as well as sexual violence and child abuse.”
    ???!!!??? That sounds like…a lot. Mind you, you couldn’t convince me to read that one even if you threatened to take my Seanan McGuire collection away from me, because that cover is absolutely repulsive LOL 🤷‍♀️. I did read your review though…and now I’m wondering about those first “genius” pages. Very curious about the format…but in between the cover and the taboo sex, I just can’t 😂.

    I think June Farrow might be up my alley if it wasn’t for the romance…

    Anyhow, yay for a great batch of books (and the usual lovely reviews!).

    • So first thing, the child abuse and the creepy sex aren’t the same, so you don’t have to worry there heh. But yeah it IS a lot. So I will tell you- the author starts telling the story from like, her own POV, in the future? it was so freaking cool! I can’t wholly explain it but it was like she was telling us a story from some point after the book events went down? But yeah it is not for those who don’t like gory stuff, that is for sure!

      June Farrow is more family and mystery focused than romance focused, if that helps?

  5. I just started The Blood Years so it was perfect timing to hear that you LOVED it! I’ve been hearing great things about Unmaking of June Farrow as well so will have to check it out 🙂

  6. The cover of Brainwyrms is super gross.
    I haven’t heard of most of these but I have heard of Adrienne Young and will be checking out June Farrow for sure.
    Thanks for sharing all these.

  7. I’m so glad June Farrow is as good as it sounds in the premise! I get Practical Magic + The Ten Thousand Doors of January vibes from the synopsis, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Yay!

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