Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Devolution [review]

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Devolution by Max Brooks
Published by Del Rey Books on June 16, 2020
my rating: ★★★★.5 (4.5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.92 (as of 2020-01-14)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop | Author’s Website

Bigfoot’s as American as apple pie and guns in schools.

While it’s been a while, I loved World War Z so much that I’ve read it through 2 or 3 times. I was worried Devolution wouldn’t live up to my recollection of Brooks’ writing, but I was completely wrong. While the two books differ in content and structure, I found them both absolutely riveting. I read this in just a few sittings because I just didn’t want to put it town. I found Kate to be a great narrator and the plot itself was extremely compelling. This is really a gritty reboot of the bigfoot myth, depicting them as the apex predators they would likely be. In addition to the tension and horror written into this, there’s also a gentle examination of the characters themselves and the ways in which we react to tragedy and adversity. I’ll be recommending this left and right for ages.

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Mexican Gothic [review]

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Published by Del Rey on June 30, 2020
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.83 (as of 2020-08-16)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads Bookshop | Author’s Website

While I can see what others may have gotten out of it, this book just wasn’t for me. The first half dragged, and even when things picked up I didn’t find myself interested in continuing. I could go days without reading it just because I didn’t care. Even though the pacing and story didn’t really click with me, I recommend picking this up if you’re interested. The book is exactly what it labels itself: Mexican gothic. It is a genre I’d like to read more of, and I found myself reminded of Lovecraft Country in a lot of bits. I am glad to see I do seem to be in the minority as far as disliking this goes, and would like to give more of Moreno-Garcia’s work a shot.

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The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion [review]

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy
Published by on August 15, 2017
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.60 (as of 2020-08-03)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads Bookshop | Author’s Website

“Fucking hell,” Thursday said. “It’s almost like you can’t summon otherworldly beings into existence, let them loose on your enemies, and set up a culture of worship around them without people getting all crazy.”

i really liked this! it’s not necessarily a new favorite, but it’s an exciting horror novel that takes place in an anarchist commune and is filled with queer characters. i felt like things happened a little too quickly toward the end, and some scenes just didn’t feel organic, but otherwise i don’t really have any complaints! i’ll definitely be recommending it to others, as it’s a quick read to satisfy one’s horror cravings.

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Survivor Song [review]

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on July 7, 2020
my rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.86 (as of 2020-07-24)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

There are elephants at the Southwick Zoo maybe thirty miles west, and Natalie hopes those fuckers are on lockdown.

My introduction to Paul Tremblay was A Head Full of Ghosts, which I absolutely adored. I’ve since read two more of his horror novels, and his newest short story collection; my experiences with the 3 varied slightly but I’m still a fan of Tremblay’s. I was particularly looking forward to this novel because I have a rabies phobia and could not imagine many things more terrifying than a super rabies epidemic. To read this during a worldwide pandemic was even more compelling.

Tremblay really hit it out of the park with this one. I picked my copy up as soon as I got home from the bookstore and literally didn’t put it down until I hit the last page. The entire story takes place in the span of just a few hours and there is such an urgency to it that I couldn’t imagine going to bed without finishing it.

This is really a twist on the traditional zombie story; those who are bitten by a carrier of the super rabies experience symptoms within an hour, compared to the traditional weeks one has with rabies as we know it. This means the virus in this story is spread remarkably quickly, leading those infected to become extremely violent and uncontainable. While the story itself is certainly action-packed, I found the ‘zombie’ story itself secondary to the characters. This is far more a story about the friendship between two women, and the lengths one will go to in order to save a loved one than it is a story about zombies.

And god, some of the pieces of this were prophetic as hell. At one point we meet a group of right wingers who insist that the virus is biowarfare unleashed by foreign countries — or by our own government, as a means of pushing vaccines. I’m sure some people will see these as caricatures but I honestly felt like I was seeing some of my relatives portrayed on the page. Even more: the panic and anger and fear of healthcare workers given insufficient training and even more insufficient PPE had me grimacing in sympathy, knowing that this was the case in my own country just a couple months ago.

Like I said above, the characters are really what made this for me. Rams, one of the POV characters, is a British biracial self-identified asexual woman (who I also read as aromantic). Natalie is a pregnant spitfire of a woman. I loved their relationship and felt like Tremblay did an incredible job of portraying what felt like a very real friendship. I was also delighted and surprised by the appearance of two characters from Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. While the two are not at all plot-dependent, I think one would struggle to connect with these characters and would find a specific interlude to be much less emotionally impactful if one had not read Disappearance. The discussions in this book also spoil some of the events in Disappearance, so I would highly recommend reading that first if it’s on your TBR!

Anyway, yeah, I just loved this book. I’m so impressed with Tremblay and am really looking forward to seeing whatever he puts out next!

content warnings: violence against animals and humans; animal [and human] death; gore; racism and xenophobia (challenged on page); death of a loved one.

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The Ballad of Black Tom [review]

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Published by on February 16, 2016
my rating: ★★.5 (2.5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.89 (as of 2020-07-11)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website

I’ll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.

I buddy read this with Hadeer, who enjoyed it and wrote a much more thorough review than I did. Go check hers out!

This is a retelling of one of Lovecraft’s stories, which I have not read. Lovecraft himself is infamously racist, so LaValle’s retelling is a commentary on racism. What I found myself most struck by was how some of the explicitly racist bits could have been pulled straight out of today’s world even though the story takes place some 100 years ago. I found myself absolutely horrified by one scene, only to immediately see how it is paralleled by stories in the news today. But while I appreciated LaValle’s commentary, I couldn’t connect to the character’s or the story itself and had a difficult time feeling invested in the novella. I’ll still be recommending it to others, and am glad to see most people have enjoyed it more than I did.

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Burn Our Bodies Down [review]

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power
To be published by Delacorte Press on July 7, 2020
my rating: ★★★★ (4)
Goodreads avg: 
4.13 (as of 2020-06-22)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

It’s about time love left a mark on me.

Okay, I really liked this. While I enjoyed Power’s debut, Wilder Girls, I feel like she really hit her stride here. I found myself drawn into Burn Our Bodies Down almost immediately. Margot came to life for me right away and I was so invested in her story and where it would go. The mystery was soo twisted and I was constantly on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. And I was absolutely wrong at every turn. My only problem was really some inconsistencies I’m sure will be ironed out in the final copy.

I never got good at recognizing attraction in other girls–it took me long enough to recognize it in myself, and even longer to say “lesbian,” without blushing.

I also love the queer rep in this; the main character is a lesbian and while there is no romance she has that little “do I want to be friends with her or do I want to kiss her” struggle that I think most wlw experience when they meet another woman they’re drawn to. I’m glad a romance wasn’t shoehorned in here; I feel like it would have been out of place in the story considering what’s going on.

Overall, this book is soooo good and I’ll definitely be recommending it in the future!

content warnings: Fire. Emotional abuse by a parent, including gaslighting. Familial and generational abuse. Body horror, some gore, blood (lighter, relative to Wilder Girls). Death. On page character death. Child/infant death (takes place off page but implied violence – pages 301 and 308 in the print ARC). Off-page gun violence. Emesis (mention of vomiting). (I removed one cw that I felt was a spoiler, but you can click the link for a more comprehensive list from the author that she will be updating as she receives feedback!)

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Lovecraft Country [review]

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Published by Harper on February 16, 2016
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.05 (as of 2020-06-21)
Spoiler-free review

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website

That’s the horror, the most awful thing: to have a child the world wants to destroy and know that you’re helpless to help him. Nothing worse than that. Nothing worse.

I found myself so drawn into this so quickly, but unfortunately that didn’t last. I thought this would be one continuous story, but it’s sort of more of a collection of interrelated stories that become more fully tied together as the book progresses. The start of the first was a pageturner and so, so eerie but shifted to more of a middling pace and became less outright spooky. I went through bursts of really wanting to read it and others where I was just kind of waiting for the next thing to happen. The characters, though, really made the book. I found them all to be distinct and realistic and didn’t have to worry about mixing any of them up which I usually do with a slightly larger cast.

I had gone in a little nervous about reading a full cast of Black characters written by a white man, but I think Matt Ruff handled this pretty well (I’m not really able to fully speak on this, though). I was pleased to see that at the end of the edition I was reading, he had a recommendation list containing some historical books on the Jim Crow era as well as sci-fi books written by Black authors. It was nice to see him using his platform to lift up others and to point his readers in an ownvoices direction.

Overall, I found this very readable and will likely be recommending it to others!

I am a white woman and my review is written through that lens. If you are an ownvoices reviewer who would like your review linked here, please let me know!

content warnings: Jim Crow era racism

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Disappearance at Devil’s Rock [review]

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on March 14, 2017 (originally 2016)
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.58 (as of 2020-03-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale, a blend of literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts.

Elizabeth sends her a list of groceries. As she types milk 1% and diet soda and 1 lb turkey and cheese and bread she wonders how it was she got here, to this particular moment; calmly texting an ordinary grocery list seconds after shutting off a national cable news show discussing the evils of her missing son.

This took me a bit to get into but ended up being quite thrilling. There were some very spooky bits and the “twist” (I suppose it could be called) was so disturbing it actually made me nauseous and I had to put down the book for a bit. This is an interesting combination of horror and thriller, and it’s hard to figure out which the book really is, so I’d classify it as both. I didn’t feel any of the characters besides Elizabeth were particularly compelling, but I did find the plot interesting and am glad I read it.

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Mini-Review Compilation #22

Gone at Midnight

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

I kept trying to push myself to pick this up, but just couldn’t press any further. The writing leaves a lot to be desired; I didn’t feel engaged with the content at any point. It really felt like the author was just regurgitating info they found online, and jumping from topic to topic without much of an idea of where they’re going.

There were several points at which I had to wonder how much independent research they had really done. One of these involved a quote from Elisa’s tumblr, where some thought she could have been commenting on graffiti from the roof. But I recognized it right away — it’s literally a quote from the Game of Thrones books. Could she have just been reading asoiaf? Yes! There’s no way for me to know whether the author knew this but either they intentionally left it out to make it look like Elisa had written it herself or they didn’t do the bare minimum of research it would take to realize this was a popular quote from a popular book series.

Regardless, I just didn’t feel like putting time in energy into reading a book I wasn’t at all enjoying.

Rating: DNF @ 15%

Face Off

-quick read
-mostly fun

-biphobic mc; assumed another wlw must be a lesbian and later said that she thought her ex (who she had dated for YEARS) who left her for a man was just a straight woman looking to experiment with “a dyke”
-the premise itself didn’t make that much sense to me (two people obviously into each other decide to fake date instead of just… dating)
-using an abusive stalker ex for drama
-mc has a homophobic teammate for ?? no reason, just more drama i guess even tho nothing comes of it
-editing issues (inconsistent timelines, mixed up names, etc)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️.5

The Outsider

This was a really great read, especially after I struggled so much with Mr. Mercedes. We run into just a couple of the same issues — namely, King’s obsession with Holly taking Lexapro (yes, Holly makes an appearance!). It was kind of funny to see Holly saying she absolutely could NOT drink because of her Lexapro when just about everyone I know who is on it drinks to no ill effect. Regardless, I thought this was a pretty clever way of doing the shapeshifter trope. As I began it, I thought “wait, how is he going to do this in a creative way?” but he really pulled it off. This was quite the spooky read and I had to put it down a few times while reading it alone at night. My only real complaint is that things kind of fell apart in the finale and I felt dissatisfied at the ending. Regardless, I highly recommend this but do be forewarned that there are major spoilers for the Bill Hodges trilogy. While it is not necessary to read the trilogy before this, do NOT read this first if you do plan to read the trilogy.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Dead of Winter [review]

Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke
Self-published on December 11, 2018 (originally 2010)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.20 (as of 2019-12-24)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Winter it’s coming… it’s already here, and with it comes a horror no door can keep out. It’s there in the yard, in the faces of the snowmen a young boy doesn’t remember building. It’s in the oddly empty streets below Santa Claus’s crumbling sleigh. It’s in the unnatural movement of the snow that suffocates a widower’s town, and in the cold eyes of a lonely man’s estranged children.

Here, there is no holiday cheer, only spine-chilling fear, in the DEAD OF WINTER.

This was my first time reading Kealan Patrick Burke and in all honesty, I was pretty disappointed. This collection had an average of 4.2 on Goodreads, so I was expecting something rather spectacular. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it certainly fell short of what I was hoping for. This is a rather short book (only 96 pages!) containing 7 short stories. I think that part of the issue for me is that it’s difficult to fully develop a story in so few pages. Some stories did remarkably well considering their length, but others just didn’t do much for me.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

  • Snowmen 3.5/5
  • Doomsday Father Christmas 2/5 
  • Black Static 2/5 
  • Visitation Rights 4/5
  • Home 4.5/5
  • The Quiet 3/5 
  • They Know 4/5 

Which comes to an average of 3.29. Like I said, not a bad rating by any means. My favorites, as you can probably tell, were Visitation Rights, Home, and They Know. In particular, Home went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and really hit me in the gut, as did Visitation Rights. They Know was the longest story in the collection and its length allowed for a lot more development of the story and the characters. A couple of the stories have tugged at the back of my brain in the couple days since I’ve finished the book, which I always take to be a good sign as well.

I have to wonder if this was just a poor introduction to Burke’s work for me, and think that may be the case. When I love short story collections, I really love them, but others can fall flat easily. This unfortunately settled into the latter category. I had a similar reaction to Paul Tremblay’s book of short stories recently, but I love his novels from what I’ve read. So I’ll definitely be picking up more of Burke’s work, even if this set of stories didn’t work very well for me personally.

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