Friday, January 13, 2023

Book Review: A Song Below Water

A Song Below Water 
by Bethany C. Morrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a hidden gem!!! A Song Below Water may start out a bit slow; with very heavy focus on racism, BLM, prejudice, cop supremacy, and so much more (sadly) relevant in today’s society. Bethany Morrow has done something really cool here though. Instead of just putting us in our own cruel world, she puts us in a world of literal mythological creatures. From gargoyles, sirens, sprites, and so much more; this story is a plethora of interesting creatures (monsters?) to not only bond with, but relate to. Any given teenager is likely to find some part of our leading POC girls and their challenges. Be it their looks, friendships, parental challenges, boyfriends, etc. There’s only one thing missing, which I can overlook given how unique this story is, queer representation would have made this nearly perfect for me.

Morrow writes her Own Voices story, in her unique world that is exactly like ours; and yet nothing like it. I listened to most of this book on audio (my third audiobook of the year; it’s working!!) and the narrator was good enough. Not amazing but certainly kept things moving and gave just enough intonation change to know if it was Tavia or Effie’s chapter (even without the chapter name indicating whose POV it is).

Ultimately, I want to spoil the ending sooo much because it’s absolutely amazing. The twist here is foreshadowed; but I bet very few figure it out. I had it sorted just before the reveal; and looking back I realize I should have known given how much I LOVE the creature that ultimately holds the reader hostage at the climax.

Just read it! But do read it to the end. Even if you get a bit disenchanted halfway through; trust me the ending is absolutely worth it. At least 2-3 twists happen and so you’re bound to be (pleasantly, I hope)surprised by one of them. As a final note: this is a teen book and so I expect it to read like a teen book (which it does). If you’re looking for high fantasy, complex romance, or something more than a typical teen book then I’d recommend finding something else. I give this 5 stars and love it for being exactly what it is; a unique, well represented, uniquely fantastical teen book.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Book Review: The Girl With all the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts
by M.R. Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I waited much, much too long to enjoy this! Listening to most of it as an audiobook (I have a goal for 2023 to learn to do audiobooks better) and the narrator was fabulous! Changing her voice slightly to do ‘voices’ of characters, without sounding ridiculous.

I’m going to be ordering a paperback copy of this ASAP so it can be on my shelf, and so that my husband can read it. The Girl with all the Gifts is really his class of book, zombie horror. Except MR Carey has given us a real twist on the zombie story that was so popular for awhile.

There’s still gory descriptions, infections, bites, food scavenging, utter destruction of society, and all the ‘fun’ things that come with a dystopian horror zombie story; but there is also a little girl who is gifted beyond what you might believe. This is really her story. There are adults around her; including: veteran military man, schoolteacher, and a scientist. And these adults react to her in very different ways. Ultimately her voice is that of which we experience most of the story from and also the most important to allow for the brilliant ending.

We also get quite a bit of science to go along with this story. Kind of like Max Brooks meets Michael Crichton. I always appreciate a well thought out plot; and usually that means adhering to or explaining the science. In this case, as we have an infectious situation, the science is critical. While no specialist myself, it all felt in line with what we know about pathogens today; and the Poe nod with the use of fungus is a nice touch. It also made me realize it’s my fifth fungus book in two years! Glad I finally read House of the Fall of Usher (by Poe) to understand the origin of this idea.

Normally horror story endings are why I am disappointed upon conclusion. I find most endings lame, convenient, cheesy, or just completely implausible based on the rules set-up previously (cheap) in the horror genre. Carey has written an ending that is not only poignant, and believable, but truly 100% brilliant!! It solves so many problems; makes so much sense, and yet leaves readers in utter shock. Or at least it did for me. Obviously you’ll need to read the book to learn what it is.

I can’t wait to get to the sequel of this book and plan to listen to it on audiobook as well (hoping it’s the same narrator). If you are one of the very few, like I was, that didn’t consume this story when it was super hyped; do it NOW!! You will not be disappointed in its overall uniqueness and brilliancy in a fairly overdone and mundane genre grouping.

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Sunday, January 8, 2023

Book Review: Cult Classic

Cult Classic 
by Sloane Crosley
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 43%

Wow do I just not care. I gave this book three chances to get better. On three different occasions (and days) I wanted to give it up. Finally at about 40ish percent I decided I was not making 2023 start with a torturous story such as Cult Classic feels to me.

The concept is interesting but the execution, writing, and lecturing is poorly done; and at times obnoxious. Our leading lady runs into her multitude of boyfriends one day after the other as she is leading up to marrying her live-in boyfriend (who somehow had a short list of exes; while hers is a mile long). The most interesting moments of the book at the backstories about the exes she runs into; and the most boring are those moments where it’s her and the fiancĂ©e. If this book doesn’t end in them splitting up I’d be shocked. Unless the whole point is to say that life-long love is mind numbing dull. At which point I’d argue, after 15 years of my own relationship, that you’re obviously not with someone who challenges or interests you enough if you are bored that quickly. But to each their own.

In one piece of fairness to Cult Classic. I am going to be 40 next month; and I understand from others reviews and those who like this that it is written for millennials (which I both am technically by date; but also not I remember using card catalogues, didn’t have internet until I was in high school and went through most of college without even t9 texting). So perhaps I truly am just too old to get the nuances, internet memes or jokes that (apparently) persist throughout.

Although, what I feel is more likely is that, while a jaded goth girl, I’m not quite as down on relationships as those younger than me tend to be. Probably based on my 15 years with my husband to date. So if the concept interests you and you’re between 25-35 years old then this may really work for you. To me it just felt like being lectured by someone, with a great thesaurus, who hasn’t had enough experience with long term love to even understand what their characters should be or could be striving for.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Book Review: The Foundling

The Foundling
by Ann Leary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My first book of 2023 finished; and it was a doozie! The Foundling is about eugenics in American during the 1920s. Not unlike what happened commonly, and even into the 1970s or later with women who were inconvenient, ‘hysterical’, burdensome, or otherwise too independent; husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. would pack them off to a facility. In many cases it was an asylum (aka prison). In Ann Leary’s The Founding it is a community (aka compound) where girls are made to work until they are past the age of child birthing. Essentially a 30+ year sentence if you were shipped off at the age of say 20 years old. All in the name of eugenics.

Eugenics is an interesting, and compelling theory, when it is explained by someone with charisma, fancy medical degrees, or of great prestige. Even Charles Darwin implies that other species (besides humans) inherently cut out the feeble and weak in order to reproduce the best possible animal to survive. Many today may not even realize that they likely believe this to a certain degree; without realizing what it might mean or how it could be construed, used to control populations, and dismiss minority groups. It’s obviously wrong. Period. No one should be told they cannot have children, be locked up, or otherwise sterilized because of who they are; be it race, religion, mental capacity, physical disability or otherwise. It’s disgusting; and yet even as the original ‘scientific’ literature is quoted in The Foundling I can see how compelling of an argument the theory of eugenics makes. History goes on to prove how true this was/is as in WWII Adolf Hitler took the concept of eugenics to its absolute extreme with his concentration camps, genocide, and mass sterilization of anyone who didn’t fit his intensely narrow view of ‘worthwhile human beings’.

Thankfully, The Foundling does an excellent job of taking our leading girl/lady on a journey from belief, to acceptance, to defence, to the utter and complete realization that she was tricked by very smart, charming, and ruthlessly greed folks. Thus the reader also goes on this journey too. Whether you need help to see the evil or not; I’d be shocked to hear someone reading this and not coming out of it with the realization that the greed, power, and dominance of our antagonist characters is obviously, undoubtedly wrong and/or evil; I think readers will have some connection with our leading lady as she learns the world around her is not easily navigated by blindly respecting authority. A lie she was told and believed upon leaving the Catholic orphanage she was raised in.

From page 1 Leary writes a compelling story. She builds up sympathy, and even empathy, for her fictional lead character. While all characters, plots, etc are fictional; there is truth in every line of Leary’s fast-paced novel. It’s clear her research has been done, and she has thought a lot about how one might get drawn in or caught up in something and be fooled for a time. We still see that today; look at those who were fooled by cryptocurrency kings who toted huge returns to investors; all the while embezzling the money and using it to buy themselves mansions while their companies fell further into debt. People want to believe they are inherently better, smarter, stronger, and capable of finding a way to justify those beliefs. For whatever reason (humanity, society, religion, culture, survival instinct, etc), I’m sorry to say, humans have this massive crutch to feel superior to everything and everyone around them.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding how The Foundling reveals and uncovers it’s secrets; as it would be a shame to give them away. I can share that my immediate thought when thinking of a comparison novel is one I read earlier in 2022 called “Looking for Jane”. A novel based on the illegal abortion network of the 1960s and beyond. The Foundling has many similarities in that as the story is unfolding, it reveals horrific moments in recent history that we should all be aware of; as well as shows the reader why it’s wrong to believe the misguided ‘science’ of those times. Instead of lecturing about the practices or choices made; we are shown how they hurt the women involved. How quickly they can turn and be used against women by cunning men (and sadly some women) to control, hide, and otherwise dispose of ‘inconveniences’.

I believe The Foundling is an important historical fiction novel that people should absolutely read and understand it. Take a moment and think of someone, a celebrity (in whatever way), that you look up to; so you question what they say? If you don’t maybe you should? Just because we aspire to be like someone, or love the work or talent someone does/has, doesn’t mean we must accept every inch of their personality, beliefs, and choices as scripture. In fact, I’ve learned over my 40 years of living, that the people you need to question most stringently are those you’re closest to, or those you look up to the most. As they are the most likely to have major flaws you rationalize away so as not to accept that all humans are flawed and all humans are capable of making greedy decisions to benefit themselves. Be it a parent, celebrity, religious icon, best friend or spouse, or from within yourself; decisions always hold a bit of want, need, and greed in them. That is inherent in all humans on a grand scale; and we can only combat it by asking ourselves, and others, a lot of complex, difficult, and even heart wrenching questions.

The Foundling does an amazing job of reminding the reader of these misguided theories and how they come to take root (often resulting in more patriarchal control); while exposing a horrible time of discrimination and imprisonment over women of child birthing age. Not only is the story fast-paced, intriguing, and well written; but there is something to learn about ourselves and human nature from the revelations of our leading girl.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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