Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils

Guys, most of these April books are fire. Get you to the bookstore, friends!

The Redemption of Morgan Bright by Chris Panatier
The Gathering by C.J. Tudor
This Is Me Trying by Racquel Marie
The Practice, the Horizon, and the Chain by Sofia Samatar
Ocean’s Godori by Elaine U. Cho
The Kill Factor by Ben Oliver
First Light by Liz Kerin

Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils The Redemption of Morgan Bright by Chris Panatier
Published by Angry Robot on April 23, 2024
Pages: 416
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

What would guilt make you do?

Hadleigh Keene died on the road leading away from Hollyhock Asylum. The reasons are unknown. Her sister Morgan blames herself. A year later with the case still unsolved, Morgan creates a false identity, that of a troubled housewife named Charlotte Turner, and goes inside.

Morgan quickly discovers that Hollyhock is… not right. She is shaken by the hospital’s peculiar routines and is soon beset by strange episodes. All the while, the persona of Charlotte takes on a life of its own, becoming stronger with each passing day. As her identity begins unraveling, Morgan finds herself tracing Hadleigh’s footsteps and peering into the places they lead.

CW via author’s note: “This novel contains situations and imagery that some readers may find disturbing or traumatic, including depictions of mental illness, non-consensual violence, suicidal ideation and conduct, sexual assault, injury to a child and off-screen death of a child.”

Okay, this book was amazing. And not just because the title made me think of one of my favorite The 100 moments every time I picked it up, though it didn’t hurt either. No, everything about this book was just… unputdownable, frankly. I was so curious about so many things! None of which I can tell you about! So I will do my best to highlight what I loved that I can discuss:

  • The format! Oh, how I love when authors change things up. In this one, the story is told through typical storytelling fashion, but also through the use of interviews, which I dig. A lot. Especially considering the mystery element.
  • The setting and atmosphere were perfectly on point. I mean, we all know that the midwest can be a little… iffy, especially in the middle of nowhere. But add an old, sketchy “asylum” to the mix and you know it is going to deliver.
  • There is a website in the book that is a real website you can visit! You have no idea how happy this made me. I’d read the book first for context. But it’s kind of the best.
  • The commentary is fabulous. I mean, sure, come for the mystery and creepiness, but very much stay for the extremely relevant real talk about… actually no it might be spoilery to give you the details, just… it’s going to make you stabby but that is the point.
  • I really, really felt for Morgan. I mean, she has been through it. Both her past and present pull at the heartstrings, and she is a surprisingly complex and well developed character, especially considering the genre, and the fact that we spend a chunk of the book with not-Morgan at the helm!
  • There is just so much absolutely bananas stuff going on, I just could not stop reading! There were a lot of twists and surprises and “oh shit!” moments that made this book so, so readable.

There may have been one or two tiny points I had wished had been expanded on a bit at the end, but that is me being way too nitpicky, honestly. I can’t even take off a half star for it, so yeah.

Bottom Line: This book needs no redemption, for it was awesome, but it can have this gif anyway:

Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils The Gathering by C.J. Tudor
Published by Ballantine Books on April 9, 2024
Pages: 352
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

A detective investigating a grisly crime in rural Alaska finds herself caught up in the dark secrets and superstitions of a small town in this riveting novel from the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man

Deadhart, Alaska. 873. Living.

In a small Alaska town, a boy is found with his throat ripped out and all the blood drained from his body. The inhabitants of Deadhart haven’t seen a killing like this in twenty-five years. But they know who’s responsible: a member of the Colony, an ostracized community of vampyrs living in an old mine settlement deep in the woods.

Detective Barbara Atkins, a specialist in vampyr killings, is called in to officially determine if this is a Colony killing—and authorize a cull. Old suspicions die hard in a town like Deadhart, but Barbara isn’t so sure. Determined to find the truth, she enlists the help of a former Deadhart sheriff, Jenson Tucker, whose investigation into the previous murder almost cost him his life. Since then, Tucker has become a recluse. But he knows the Colony better than almost anyone.
As the pair delve into the town’s history, they uncover secrets darker than they could have imagined. And then another body is found. While the snow thickens and the nights grow longer, a killer stalks Deadhart, and two disparate communities circle each other for blood. Time is running out for Atkins and Tucker to find the truth: Are they hunting a bloodthirsty monster . . . or a twisted psychopath? And which is more dangerous?

I am so glad vampires are making a comeback! Especially since authors seem to be making their own unique, fresh twists on the genre. Case in point, The Gathering. This isn’t a formulaic vampire book; in fact I’d say it is the opposite. It’s really an atmospheric mystery-thriller that just so happens to take place in a world that vampires inhabit. Now, in this book, they are referred to as “vampyrs”. Their particular habits were quite intriguing, and  the author did a tremendous job of comparing the hate the vampyrs encountered with other disgusting brands of hate in our society. Because of this, the story felt extra relevant.

Anyway, we meet Barbara, a detective who specializes in vampyr shenanigans, who has just been assigned to a case in small town Alaska. There is a vampyr colony nearby, and a teenager has been found murdered, suspected to be from vampyrs from the townspeople. The town does not like that a vampyr colony lives close to its borders, and is looking for any reason to literally destroy them- even if they may have had nothing at all to do with the murder. So, Barbara has her hands full: a town full of folks who have already made up their mind on guilt, an isolated locale with few resources, and a lot of people trying to hold onto a lot of secrets.

This story was non-stop, and I devoured it. There were so many times I was completely mind-blown by the twists and secrets that unfurled, so obviously I could not put the book down. My only (very minor) qualm was that I may have liked a little more character development, as it sometimes felt like a bit of an afterthought, but still. The story and the world were incredible, and the last thing I noted in my Kindle when I finished was “a series, mayhaps?”, because although it is not listed as a series, it very much ended in a way that leant itself to be one. And if so, I am 100% here for it!

Bottom Line: Vampire-meets-detective-meets-Alaska? Yes please!

Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils This Is Me Trying by Racquel Marie
Published by Feiwel & Friends on April 16, 2024
Pages: 368
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Perfect for fans of Nina LaCour, This is Me Trying is a profound and tender YA contemporary novel exploring grief, love, and guilt from author Racquel Marie.

Growing up, Bryce, Beatriz, and Santiago were inseparable. But when Santiago moved away before high school, their friendship crumbled. Three years later, Bryce is gone, Beatriz is known as the dead boy's girlfriend, and Santiago is back.

The last thing Beatriz wants is to reunite with Santiago, who left all her messages unanswered while she drowned alone in grief over Bryce's death by suicide. Even if she wasn't angry, Santiago's attempts to make amends are jeopardizing her plan to keep the world at arm's length - equal parts protection and punishment - and she swore to never let anyone try that again.

Santiago is surprised to find the once happy-go-lucky Bea is now the gothic town loner, though he's unsurprised she wants nothing to do with him. But he can't fix what he broke between them while still hiding what led him to cut her off in the first place, and it's harder to run from his past when he isn't states away anymore.

Inevitably drawn back together by circumstance and history, Beatriz and Santiago navigate grief, love, mental illness, forgiveness, and what it means to try to build a future after unfathomable loss.

CW via author’s website: “Off-page teenage boy’s death by suicide (method is never disclosed), grief over loved one who died by suicide, grief over paternal death by car accident, intrusive thoughts and behaviors fueled by obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks, anxiety, morbid ideation, discussions of suicidal ideation and depression, absent/neglectful parents, off-page grandfather injury (fall without serious complications), off-page teenage sex, underage drinking and intoxication, smoking, discussions of teenage pregnancy and motherhood, side plot emotionally abusive relationship, mild violence (main character punching a side character), mild injury (hurt hand from punching)”

This Is Me Trying is such a lovely, heartfelt book about grief and living, and just being human. Beatriz and Santiago have lost their friend Bryce to suicide, and neither is doing great. Bea was also Bryce’s girlfriend, which adds an extra layer to her grief. They all used to be besties, but a series of events lead to them not having spoken in quite some time. Now, Santiago is back in town, and Bea is struggling to handle her feelings of betrayal that now accompany her grief. It is basically a slice of life book in which these two young people need to figure out how to forgive themselves for decisions of the past, and learn to move forward in life despite their grief. It is very emotive certainly, and pulled at my heartstrings. It did eventually mention getting some mental health help, though I might have liked if it delved into that a bit more.

I think my favorite part of the book was that it didn’t ever make it seem like the grief would end, just that Bea and Santiago would be better equipped to live with it. Obviously there are also a lot of relationships at play too- friendships, family dynamics, romance, and they are all some level of imperfect, just like life. So for me, this book just felt really authentic.

Bottom Line: Beautiful story about love, loss, and grief, and finding a way to navigate through it all.

Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils The Practice, the Horizon, and the Chain by Sofia Samatar
Published by on April 16, 2024
Pages: 128
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

“I am in love with Sofia Samatar's lyricism and the haunting beauty of her imagination. Her stories linger, like the memory of a sumptuous feast.”―N. K. Jemisin
Celebrated author Sofia Samatar presents a mystical, revolutionary space adventure for the exhausted dreamer in this brilliant science fiction novella tackling the carceral state and violence embedded in the ivory tower while embodying the legacy of Ursula K. Le Guin.

"Can the University be a place of both training and transformation?"

The boy was raised as one of the Chained, condemned to toil in the bowels of a mining ship out amongst the stars.

His whole world changes―literally―when he is yanked "upstairs" to meet the woman he will come to call “professor.” The boy is no longer one of the Chained, she tells him, and he has been gifted an opportunity to be educated at the ship’s university alongside the elite.

The woman has spent her career striving for acceptance and validation from her colleagues in the hopes of reaching a brighter future, only to fall short at every turn.

Together, the boy and the woman will learn from each other to grasp the design of the chains designed to fetter them both, and are the key to breaking free. They will embark on a transformation―and redesign the entire world.

Okay first thing I need to address: the eARC formatting in this was bad-bad. Like, mistakes are cool, minor formatting errors are totally expected! But at times, this was simply not readable. I mean, some of my favorite quotes include “Hislifehadbeensoordinarythatgoingupstairsinthe lift,thatbrilliantboxoflightwhoseraysseemedtopierce”, and the ever famous “Intheshower,thewomanrememberedthatlaugh.She recalledthevoiceoftheprophet.Hiswordsreverberated aroundher,slurredandbreakinglikefallingwater,telling” What am I supposed to do with that? Look, I did translate them all, but how much is one enjoying a story that way? This is all to say, take my thoughts with a grain of salt. Or several, or the whole damn shaker, frankly.

Because here’s the rub: the premise was cool and I appreciated the ideas, but I was mostly confused and bored. Was I confused because of the formatting? Well, no, because like I said, I meticulously figured out what it was supposed to say, because I think I have problems. But also, when you spend so much time just deciphering the words, the context has a tendency to get lost in the shuffle (no, really! This is a thing that happens to kids who are not fluent readers- their comprehension doesn’t lack because they can’t comprehend, their brains are just too busy decoding the words to bother with the meaning.

Erm. Anyway, that has nothing to do with this book. The premise, like mentioned, is great! A kid who was doomed to spend his whole life in servitude on a mining ship is plucked out of obscurity and given a chance to be educated with the “elite”. But is life “up there” really any better than before? And probably some other philosophical stuff I missed because I don’t always understand symbolism. The thing is, I just didn’t feel all that connected to any of the characters, they felt… distant, maybe is a good word? Muffled? I don’t know, I just didn’t feel all that immersed in the story.

Bottom Line: I really wish I had read a more coherent version, because I truly can’t tell if the problem was the formatting, the story, or a combination. But because of that, I feel like it is unfair of me to really rate it. (For the sake of argument, let’s give it a three for now on sites where I have to.)

Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils Ocean's Godori by Elaine U. Cho
Published by Zando – Hillman Grad Books on April 23, 2024
Pages: 352
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Ocean Yoon has never felt like much of a Korean, even if she is descended from a long line of haenyeo, Jeju Island's beloved female divers. She's also persona non grata at the Alliance, Korea's solar system-dominating space agency, since a mission went awry and she earned a reputation for being a little too quick with her gun.

When her best friend, Teo, second son of the Anand Tech empire, is framed for murdering his family, Ocean and her misfit crewmates are pushed to the forefront of a high-stakes ideological conflict. But dodging bullets and winning space chases may be the easiest part of what comes next.

A thrilling adventure across the solar that delivers hyperkinetic action sequences and irresistible will-they-won't-they romance alongside its nuanced exploration of colonialism and capitalism, Ocean's Godori ultimately asks: What do we owe our past? How do we navigate our present while honoring the complicated facets of our identity? What can our future hold?

Okay so this cover might be one of my favorites of all time. It is stunning. And I think it fits the book really well, too! I will say this before we get into it, I did struggle a bit with the beginning. The world was a little unclear to me, and we’re a bit thrown right into the story, so it took me some time to get my footing. That said, when I did, I really started to enjoy it! It does seem like the start of a series, though I came up empty finding anything official saying so. Do with that what you will, but it did seem to be heading for a sequel (or a very rude ending, heh).

First of all, I adored the characters! Their interactions and relationships were witty and complex, and I certainly enjoyed that aspect. The plot, once I knew what was happening, was equally engaging with a lot of unexpected twists and some very cool elements. (I can’t say too much about them because they’d be spoilery, but things were bananas at some points, and I loved it!) I also really enjoyed the Korean cultural infusion! In this world and time period, Korea is on the cutting edge of everything, especially the space program, which is just all kinds of fabulous. Also of note, there is a very fun glossary in the back, so make sure you check that out (probably easier on a physical copy, but it was still an enjoyable surprise on ebook format). So yeah, action, excitement, great characters, good twists… this was a win!

Bottom Line: While it started out a little iffy, I ended up very much enjoying Ocean’s Gadori, and look forward to the sequel!

Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils The Kill Factor by Ben Oliver
Published by Chicken House on April 16, 2024
Pages: 368
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

A brand-new game show that offers young criminals the chance at freedom has been greenlit. Little do they know, winning is their only chance at survival.

A captivating examination of the dark truths around the criminal justice system, Ben Oliver, critically acclaimed author of The Loop trilogy, delivers an action-packed thrill ride with deadly high stakes.

Fifty contestants. Five mental and physical challenges. One winner. In a near-future where a virtual currency of digital content fuels a fame-hungry society, a brand-new experiment that combines social media and reality TV has been greenlit. Voted on, and contestants are sent to a maximum-security reform camp on an island where they can have no contact with the outside world. To lose means prison. But to win is to be free. The most popular young offender with the most upvotes by the end is given both a second chance in society and a cash prize.

This kind of money could mean everything to Emerson and her family who live in the Burrows, one of the subterranean villages where the government have buried affordable housing. It's more than freedom. It could mean the chance to change her family’s circumstance and finally find a place in the society they’ve never been allowed into. But what Emerson doesn’t know, what the viewers don’t know, is that the prison on the island is empty. Those who lose, those who are voted off aren’t incarcerated. Each challenge will leave more and more contestants to die. And the only choice they have is to win over viewers before it’s too late.

Look, I am going to be straight with you: this book does require a bit of suspension of disbelief. It just does. But it is so worth it, because once I was able to do that, I could not put the book down. It was so delightfully messed up, and there were so many questions to be answered. Also, the stakes were immensely high, as the author made it very clear from early on that no one would be safe.

Here’s the gist: Emerson was arrested for some shenanigans that resulted in a fire and death. She’s obviously facing prison time if convicted, even though she swears she did not do it. This guy comes to her and makes an offer: join some messy reality show, win and earn your freedom and some money for your struggling family. Lose and it’s life in solitary confinement. Now- this is where my suspension of disbelief came in, because who the everloving heck would accept this offer?! I mean, you have a 98% chance of being imprisoned for life, or worse. And in fairness, Emerson does at least scoff at the offer for awhile, though based on the entire premise of the book, you know she eventually acquiesces. So you just have to go into it accepting that she is making this terrible life choice, and move on.

Because once you do, things get wild. She meets 49 other fools kids who are willing to take this chance, too. Some for fame, some for freedom, but the result remains the same, they find themselves on a cruise ship to hell, where even the winners are losers. Because this is not set up for success, it is set up to be horrifying, and it’s also set up for views.  Certainly, you can see the relevance in our current culture, yeah? There is a lot of great commentary on current societal problems, which was fabulous too.

The premise was wild, the execution even more so. It’s a pretty dark concept, but there were some lighter moments, a hint of romance (that was a little insta-lovey but also was not at all the main focus so it was fine) and a lot of very solid friendships being made. Of course, there was also backstabbing and awfulness, but it’s a reality show about teen murder, so. I thought I had figured some stuff out, and I had, but the stuff I had figured out was just the tip of the iceberg, and there were so many twists and turns and secrets that I had no idea were coming!

It ends in a sort of satisfying way, but it also very much lends itself to a sequel. Like, it definitely seems like it was designed for one, so fingers are very much crossed!

Bottom Line: Truly could not put this book down- it was so messed up in the very best way!

Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils First Light by Liz Kerin
Series: Night's Edge #2
Published by Tor Nightfire on April 23, 2024
Pages: 352
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

First Light, the riveting sequel to Liz Kerin’s Night's Edge, is about seizing a brighter future by confronting the shadows of our past.
“I came all this way to watch you burn.”

It's been nine months since the catastrophe in Tucson sent Mia fleeing from her home. But she’s not running away from the darkness―she’s running toward it, obsessively pursuing the man who gave her mother a thirst for blood and destroyed their lives.

But when Mia finds the monsters she’s been hunting and infiltrates a secret network of fugitives, she discovers she might have been their prey all along. To escape their clutches, she’ll have to reckon with her mother’s harrowing past and confront a painful truth: that they might be more alike than she ever imagined.

I have no idea how to properly gush about this book without spoiling stuff from either this or the first book, but wow. This is how a sequel should be done. Take the OG story, which is awesome, and introduce all kinds of new and exciting elements while still keeping the overall characters and theme. Make it fresh! Make it feel unique while still feeling like part of the same world. I have no idea how Liz Kerin did it, but she nailed it.

In fact, I wasn’t even sure how there would be a true sequel, given the ending of the first book (IYKYK). But I can admit when I am wrong, and guys, I was so wrong! This sequel was epic. There was so much character development, and such a great plot with a ton of action and high stakes (vampire pun absolutely intended). We learn even more about the Sara (vampire) culture, and how the country is handling it, and there is so much relevant commentary packed in, too. If you have read the first book, you will need this one in your life. And if you haven’t… well what the heck are you waiting for?!

Bottom Line: Truly one of the best sequels in the history of sequels. Full stop.

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

Posted April 20, 2024 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 6 Comments


6 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: Amazing Aprils

  1. What an awesome batch of books for you. I am impressed you kept reading that poorly formatted ARC. I got one once, with no spaces between the words. I quickly put it aside.

  2. Awesome bunch of reviews! I am actually writing my review for First Light today, and I totally agree, it was amazing. Very dark but wow can she write! And I gave Morgan Bight 5 stars as well. Chris is another talented writer who needs more attention😁

  3. Wendy

    Shannon, you always get such great books and review them so well! Absolutely spoiler free, yet tantalizing and clear. I’m adding most of these to my TBR and seeing if I can put them on hold at my library yet!

  4. The Kill Factor sounds so interesting! It’s giving Squid Games vibes based on how you described it — a bunch of desperate people willing to risk anything to avoid their fate… I’m intrigued!! So glad you managed to get past all the skepticism to enjoy this! 😂

  5. Ohhhh Ocean’s Godori was on my list and I’m so glad to hear it lives up to the hype! Also, Ocean is officially my most favorite name ever now. And I’ll sure as heck be checking out the rest of the highly rated books up there. What a great batch! I was never into vampires, but vampires as victims intrigues me.

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