Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April

And now, we exit March, with me behind on reviews, and slide right on into April! 🫠 Quality books here, though!

Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes
Right Here, Right Now by Shannon Dunlap
Cascade Failure by L.M. Sagas
Calypso by Oliver K. Langmead
The Woods All Black by Lee Mandelo
A Better World by Sarah Langan
Diavola by Jennifer Marie Thorne

Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes
Published by Tor Nightfire on April 9, 2024
Pages: 377
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

A crew must try to survive on an ancient, abandoned planet in the latest space horror novel from S.A. Barnes, acclaimed author of Dead Silence.

Space exploration can be lonely and isolating.

Psychologist Dr. Ophelia Bray has dedicated her life to the study and prevention of ERS—a space-based condition most famous for a case that resulted in the brutal murders of twenty-nine people. When she's assigned to a small exploration crew, she's eager to make a difference. But as they begin to establish residency on an abandoned planet, it becomes clear that crew is hiding something.

While Ophelia focuses on her new role, her crewmates are far more interested in investigating the eerie, ancient planet and unraveling the mystery behind the previous colonizer's hasty departure than opening up to her.

That is, until their pilot is discovered gruesomely murdered. Is this Ophelia’s worst nightmare starting—a wave of violence and mental deterioration from ERS? Or is it something more sinister?

Terrified that history will repeat itself, Ophelia and the crew must work together to figure out what’s happening. But trust is hard to come by… and the crew isn’t the only one keeping secrets.

loooved  2022’s Dead Silence, and as you can imagine, this was one of my most anticipated books of the year. While I may have loved it ever-so-slightly less, I still devoured it! In Ghost Station, we meet Ophelia, who despite being from a crappy rich family, has dedicated her career to helping figure out the devastating illness of ERS, which strikes down entire space-faring crews at its worst. She’s clearly trying to atone for the sins of her family, and she is pretty thrilled when she gets the chance to join a small team who might be affected by the illness.

Thing is, the team doesn’t think they’re sick, and they really do not want Ophelia in their business. But she has a job to do, and one of their crewmates is dead under mysterious circumstances, so they’re going to have to find a way to co-exist. That’s one plot point, of course: these people trying to live with one another in the confines of space, as well as the mystery of what happened to their late crewmate.

The second part comes into play when the team lands on an abandoned planet. It is clear that humans had maintained a station here, and it is also clear that at one point, an alien civilization called this planet home. What isn’t clear, however, is why the last team left in a hurry, who the aliens were, or what the heck is happening on this planet. It is incredibly atmospheric, with a constant feeling of eeriness and dread. There are moments of humor and camaraderie that break this up, so it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly dark, but the author does a great job in making the stakes feel always high, and always present.

There is also a lot of thought provoking discussion on nature-versus-nurture, and if we really are able to break free from the sins of our ancestors. Ophelia has a lot of time to work on her own growth, as do the other characters, because scary space is not exactly full of hobbies. It makes for a great mix of excitement and adventure as well as character and relationship development.

Bottom Line: Cannot wait for more sci-fi creepiness with awesome characters from S.A. Barnes- I simply can’t get enough!

Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April Right Here, Right Now by Shannon Dunlap
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on April 9, 2024
Pages: 288
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

From Indies Introduce Pick author Shannon Dunlap comes a story of love, friendship, and possibility for fans of You’ve Reached Sam .

Worlds turn. Particles spin. Love endures.

There are infinite universes in which Elise never dies. Her best friend, Anna, never has to mourn her or choose between the weight of her grief and the weight of her ambition. Her cousin, Liam, never has to lose another loved one or fight to find purpose in a life that already doesn’t feel like his own.

But Liam and Anna do not get to choose the universe in which they live. Across multiple worlds, their paths collide as they wrestle with what it takes to save someone else and how to face love and loss on a quantum scale.

This moving, lyrical novel introduces two teens on the cusp of finding out who they are while finding each other again and again.

This one went ahead and provided all the feels! I loved the concept from the start: two universes, one in which Anna’s bestie and Liam’s cousin Elise dies, one in which she does not. Actually- there are probably many where all kinds of things happen, but these are the two diverging universes we find our main characters in. Such a great concept, and the author managed to really do it justice without it feeling overly complicated, which was impressive for me!

Certainly, it is thought provoking. You can’t help but wonder how you’d be different if this thing hadn’t happened, or that one thing went differently. In this case, it’s a big thing- Elise’s whole life. But there are other smaller differences too, which are fun to work out. Ultimately though, the story is about Liam and Anna, and who they are at their cores, in any universe. But their paths cross in both universes, and because of their connections to Elise. She is important in their lives, regardless of whether hers ends. And they still have to grow, and learn, and discover themselves, with or without Elise, and regardless of what they may mean to each other.

Bottom Line: It’s such a heartfelt novel full of amazing character development and a very well-constructed world. It’s also one I won’t soon forget.

Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April Cascade Failure by L.M. Sagas
Series: Ambit's Run #1
Published by Tor Trade on March 19, 2024
Pages: 416
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

L. M. Sagas' debut, Cascade Failure, is a highly commercial, sci-fi adventure blending J. S. Dewes' Divide series with the broad fan appeal of The Expanse and the cozy sf of Becky Chambers. It features a fierce, messy, chaotic space fam, vibrant worlds, and an exploration of the many ways to be―and not to be―human.

There are only three real powers in the universe: the corporate power of the Trust versus the Union's labor's leverage. And between them, the Guild tries to keep everyone's hands above the table. It ain't easy.

Branded a Guild deserter, Jal "accidentally" lands a ride on a Guild ship. Helmed by an AI, with a ship's engineer/medic who doesn't see much of a difference between the two jobs, and a "don't make me shoot you" XO, the Guild crew of the Ambit is a little . . . different.

They're also in over their heads. Responding to a distress call from an abandoned planet, they find a mass grave, and a live programmer who knows how it happened. The Trust has plans. This isn't the first dead planet, and it's not going to be the last.

Unless the crew of the Ambit can stop it.

So Cascade Failure has been compared to not one, not two, but three of my favorites: JS Dewes, The Expanse, and Becky Chambers. That is some high praise to live up to! For me, it definitely delivered on the character/relationship aspects of those comps, but maybe lacked a bit in the plot department for me.

For me, the plot felt a bit… stock sci-fi, shall we say? I mean you have a ragtag bunch of badasses thrown together trying to escape the big bad via space shenanigans. We’ve all seen it before, and I am not even mad about it! The only thing for me was, there wasn’t really anything that stuck out about said space shenanigans. It needed something a little different to freshen it up, maybe. That said, the book didn’t really drag or anything, either. I liked the characters, I liked their interactions and the concepts of found family and friendship and forgiveness, and I think that was enough to keep me entertained. Will I read the next one? I don’t know, I don’t know that I will actively seek it out, but who knows.

Bottom Line: Loved loved loved the characters. Felt a bit more iffy on the plot. Still, enjoyable.

Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April Calypso by Oliver K. Langmead
Published by Titan Books on April 2, 2024
Pages: 272
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Rochelle wakes from cryostasis to take up her role as engineer on the colony ark, Calypso. But she finds the ship has transformed into a forest, populated by the original crew’s descendants, who revere her like a saint.

She travels the ship with the Calypso’s creator, the enigmatic Sigmund, and Catherine, a bioengineered marvel who can commune with the plants, uncovering a new history of humanity forged while she slept.

She discovers a legacy of war between botanists and engineers. A war fought for the right to build a new Earth – a technological paradise, or a new Eden in bloom, untouched by mankind’s past.

And Rochelle, the last to wake, holds the balance of power in her hands.

Calypso was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some things worked, some things didn’t, but I still feel like overall I am glad I read it, so we have to consider that more good than not, right?

What Worked For Me:

Can you even imagine leaving everyone and everything you have ever known, tossing yourself in cryo, and hopefully waking up in a new world, centuries away? I mean that alone is compelling! When we meet Rochelle, she’s just woken from cryo, realizing that things on the ship are not as she’d expected. So that’s intense. She also realizes that everyone she’s ever known and loved is long since dead, which… oof. That has to be rough, even if you knew it was coming. Also, the writing style is definitely cool, even when I struggled at times to “get it”, I was still able to appreciate that it was doing something different and unique, which I am always here for.

What I Struggled With:

There is this subplot of the story which I simply did not understand. It takes kind of a.. strange turn, and I honestly did not know whether it was actually happening, whether it was supposed to be metaphorical, or whether it was some batshit cryo-induced dream. That could be on me, I don’t always do so well with more abstract themes. But I also felt like whatever the case, Rochelle felt quite disconnected from it all, or at least, devoid of emotions. Look, ma’am left her children behind to jump on this lifeboat, and she’s just… Idk, kind of emotionally robotic about it all.

Bottom Line: I think people who are better with deciphering themes and such may appreciate this a bit more than I did, though I did enjoy the concept and the uniqueness!

Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April The Woods All Black by Lee Mandelo
Published by Tordotcom on March 19, 2024
Pages: 160
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

The Woods All Black is equal parts historical horror, trans romance, and blood-soaked revenge, all set in 1920s Appalachia

Leslie Bruin is assigned to the backwoods township of Spar Creek by the Frontier Nursing Service, under its usual mandate: vaccinate the flock, birth babies, and weather the judgements of churchy locals who look at him and see a failed woman. Forged in the fires of the Western Front and reborn in the cafes of Paris, Leslie believes he can handle whatever is thrown at him—but Spar Creek holds a darkness beyond his nightmares.

Something ugly festers within the local congregation, and its malice has focused on a young person they insist is an unruly tomboy who must be brought to heel. Violence is bubbling when Leslie arrives, ready to spill over, and he'll have to act fast if he intends to be of use. But the hills enfolding Spar Creek have a mind of their own, and the woods are haunted in ways Leslie does not understand.

The Woods All Black is a story of passion, prejudice, and power — an Appalachian period piece that explores reproductive justice and bodily autonomy, the terrors of small-town religiosity, and the necessity of fighting tooth and claw to live as who you truly are.

“The queerly willful creatures of the world had only one another to rely on.”

Ah, this was so atmospheric and creepy! It was also very heartbreaking at times, and certainly conveyed some strong and relevant commentary on the way trans (and other queer folks in general, really) are treated- because while this book is set in the past, make no mistake, the themes are, unfortunately, still very pervasive today. There is also some great discussion on the role religion plays in hateful rhetoric.

We meet Leslie, who is a nurse who has served in some of the most horrific situations one can find themselves in, but when he goes to this small town to help people get vaccinated and take care of the citizens, he’s immediately shunned and treated abhorrently. Which is extra bad, because again, he is literally devoting his life to helping people. While in town, and while still trying to serve the people, he meets Stevie. He sees a lot of himself in Stevie, and sees how horribly the townspeople react to anyone who doesn’t fit their definition of acceptability, so he wants to be able to help more than ever.

Obviously this is a thriller/horror type book, so I don’t want to give away any more info. It does go a wee bit off the rails for me toward the end, but it is still overall an incredibly well developed story with truly phenomenal commentary that shouldn’t be missed.

Bottom Line: It’s bananas, but it’s worth it.

Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April A Better World by Sarah Langan
Published by Atria Books on April 9, 2024
Pages: 368
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

The author of Good Neighbors, “one of the creepiest, most unnerving deconstructions of American suburbia I’ve ever read,” (NPR), returns with a cunning, out-of-the-box satirical thriller about a family’s odyssey into an exclusive enclave for the wealthy that might not be as ideal as it seems.

You’ll be safe here. That’s what the greasy tour guide tells the Farmer-Bowens when they visit Plymouth Valley, a walled-off company town with clean air, pantries that never go empty, and blue-ribbon schools. On a very trial basis, the company offers to hire Linda Farmer’s husband, a numbers genius, and relocate her whole family to this bucolic paradise for the .0001%. Though Linda will have to sacrifice her medical career back home, the family jumps at the opportunity. They’d be crazy not to take it. With the outside world literally falling apart, this might be the Farmer-Bowens last chance.

But fitting in takes work. The pampered locals distrust outsiders, cruelly snubbing Linda, Russell, and their teen twins. And the residents fervently adhere to a group of customs and beliefs called Hollow . . . but what exactly is Hollow?

It’s Linda who brokers acceptance by volunteering her medical skills to the most powerful people in town with their pet charity, ActHollow. In the months afterward, everything seems fine. Sure, Russell starts hyperventilating through a paper bag in the middle of the night, and the kids have drifted like bridgeless islands, but living here’s worth sacrificing their family’s closeness, isn’t it? At least they’ll survive. The trouble is, the locals never say what they think. They seem scared. And Hollow’s ominous culminating event, the Plymouth Valley Winter Festival, is coming.

Linda’s warned by her husband and her powerful new friends to stop asking questions. But the more she learns, the more frightened she becomes. Should the Farmer-Bowens be fighting to stay, or fighting to get out?

Sarah Langan’s latest novel A Better World is gleefully ruthless in its dissection of wealth, power, and privilege, timely in its depiction of a self-destructing world—and it is a prescient warning to us all.

Sarah Langan, a Columbia MFA graduate and three-time recipient of the Bram Stoker Award, is the author of several novels including A Better World and Good Neighbors. She grew up on Long Island and she currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughters.

What do you do when the world is falling apart, but to keep your family safe you have to basically sell your soul to some creepy town? If you’re the Farmer-Bowens family, you feel like you at least have to give it a go. Things have kind of continued on our current trajectory in this near-future novel. Climate change is wreaking havoc, and the poor are becoming poorer while the rich are becoming richer. The effects of climate change are making people sick on the regular, and when Linda’s husband loses his job and an opportunity to join a self-contained community, there is little question that they have to try for their kids’ sake, and they leave their lives (and Linda’s job as a pediatrician) behind.

But when they get to this community… yikes. Linda and her family are treated like outsiders at best, pariahs at worst. The community folks have their own bizarre “religion”, complete with all kinds of festivals that scream “cult!” to anyone with basic reasoning skills. This includes Linda- she and her family aren’t burying their heads in the sand, they just simply don’t know what other choice they have. Because of this, it seems so realistic that they want to fit in. Obviously, in any other circumstance, they’d pack their bags and run, but when trying to keep your kids housed and healthy… well, options are fewer.

Things get more and more messy as the Farmer-Bowens get more acclimated to the town. What will they do? How will they cope? Is this the life they want for their kids? Is there truly any other choice? Well friends, you’re going to have to read for yourselves to find those answers- and I highly suggest you do!

Bottom Line: Incredibly thought-provoking, definitely creepy, and more than a little relevant, A Better World kept me hooked throughout.

Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April Diavola by Jennifer Marie Thorne
Published by Tor Nightfire on March 26, 2024
Pages: 304
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Jennifer Thorne skewers all-too-familiar family dynamics in this sly, wickedly funny vacation-Gothic. Beautifully unhinged and deeply satisfying, Diavola is a sharp twist on the classic haunted house story, exploring loneliness, belonging, and the seemingly inescapable bonds of family mythology.

Anna has two rules for the annual Pace family destination vacations: Tread lightly and survive.

It isn’t easy when she’s the only one in the family who doesn’t quite fit in. Her twin brother, Benny, goes with the flow so much he’s practically dissolved, and her older sister, Nicole, is so used to everyone—including her blandly docile husband and two kids—falling in line that Anna often ends up in trouble for simply asking a question. Mom seizes every opportunity to question her life choices, and Dad, when not reminding everyone who paid for this vacation, just wants some peace and quiet.

The gorgeous, remote villa in tiny Monteperso seems like a perfect place to endure so much family togetherness, until things start going off the rails—the strange noises at night, the unsettling warnings from the local villagers, and the dark, violent past of the villa itself.

(Warning: May invoke feelings of irritation, dread, and despair that come with large family gatherings.)

I am not always a fan of the haunted house story, but if anyone can make me love it, it’s Jennifer Marie Thorne (who, incidentally, somehow made me love a paranormal story once before, so I sense a theme!) In this book, we meet Anna, who is off to Italy for a family vacation in a rental house in a small town outside of Florence. She’s not particularly keen on this vacation, as her family has not exactly treated her that well on vacations past, but she is trying to suck it up for the sake of a pleasant trip.

On her way to the house, her taxi driver tried to convince her not to go. And soon enough, Anna will find out why. The cool thing about this book is that not only is Anna contending with whatever creepiness factor is messing with the house, but dealing with her very messy family, too. They treat her pretty terribly, shame her for stuff that is not shame-worthy, and basically call her the black sheep to her face, and then wonder why she’s not thrilled to hang out with them. So throw this wildly messy dynamic into a house where all kinds of weirdness starts to happen, and you have a recipe for the vacation from hell.

The setting was great- the Italian countryside pulls in the reader much like it does Anna and her family, but the atmosphere and isolation make it feel appropriately eerie. And look- I shan’t say much more, for this is a mystery and thriller after all, but suffice it to say I was completely drawn in. Also, I love when a thriller can make me care about the characters, and this definitely delivers.

Bottom Line: Incredible atmosphere, messy family drama, and a touch of humor to compliment the eeriness, I positively devoured Diavola!

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

Posted April 4, 2024 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 5 Comments


5 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: Marching Into April

  1. I love this selection, since I’m reading/have read a few of them. Diavola is in my top 5 books of the year at the moment, I absolutely loved it. And right there with you on Calypso. I’m only about a third in and struggling a bit to keep going (but I will because I’m a huge Oliver fan!) In fact last night I set aside Calypso and picked up Ghost Station and wow that was a great idea😁

Leave a Reply