Review | Wow, No Thank You.

Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby

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My introduction to Samantha Irby was her essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life (read my review here). I’d heard that it was hilarious and heartfelt but honestly, I never expected to sob! She shared tragic and often embarrassing stories from her life with the perfect balance of honesty and humor.

In Wow, No Thank You. Irby delivers more hilarious and relatable stories of her life with a focus on aging. She’s now forty, married with stepchildren, questioning things like home ownership, and uses an entire day to prepare to leave the house for a night out.

In girls gone mild, readers learn the hours of preparation that go into a night out:

“I used to party a lot. The only reason I stopped it because I got too old to do it right.”

“5:00 p.m.: it’s put-up-or-shut-up-time.
This is the absolutely latest I can cancel without pissing off my friends…
If I’ve put on a real bra and you pick up the phone to tell me some shit about a headache, I’ll meet you at the club with some Excedrin, bitch.”*

In hung up! she muses on technology in a satirical and completely relatable way.

late- 1900s time capsule is my favorite essay in the collection! Irby reminisces on the music of her youth and gives her readers a special ‘90s mixtape complete with the personal reason behind each selection.
“Mixtapes were the love language of my youth. If you got one from me, that shit was as serious as a marriage proposal.”*

love and marriage is a hilarious Q+A where Irby answers relationship questions and delivers gems like this: “I have to get over myself and let go of young-person shit that is irritating to me. If I’m too old for it, I don’t give a shit about it.”*

lesbian bed death is a long list of “Sure, sex is fun, but have you….” and I felt some of these deep in my soul.

Irby also shares her time writing the pilot/pitching her memoir Meaty for TV, and the summer she spent in California writing for Lindy West’s hulu series (adapted from her book of the same title) Shrill.

Wow, No Thank You. is another strong essay collection full of heart and humor that are at times gross and almost always relatable.

I recommend these essays to readers who love humor, personal essays, and memoir.

Thanks to Vintage and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Wow, No Thank You. is scheduled for release on March 31, 2020.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Inside Out

Inside Out by Demi Moore

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I wouldn’t say I’m some big fan of Demi Moore.  I grew up seeing her on-screen, I remember her striking eyes and unique voice.  I knew she’d married Bruce Willis and had a few kids, that she went on to marry Ashton Kutcher and the tabloids couldn’t get enough of their relationship, and of course I remember her Vanity Fair cover by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.

I usually pick up memoirs randomly at the library and this was no exception.  It happened to be on the shelf so I said, “Sure, why not?”

I ended up reading this almost entirely in one sitting!

Demi is honest about her rough childhood moving constantly with her parents who weren’t really capable of taking care of her and her brother because they were so wrapped up in their own drama.  She spends years trying to heal that hurt and I was overwhelmed by the strength she had to take care of her mom in her final months and make peace with their history.

She struck out on her own at just sixteen and worked pretty steadily in film from there.  She discusses her broken engagement to Emilio Estevez, whirlwind romance with Bruce Willis, her struggles with addiction and fame, the roles that made her the highest paid actress in Hollywood (wow, there are so many!), the complicated relationship with her parents, and raising her daughters.  I was surprised at the information she was willing to share about her relationship with Ashton Kutcher but it was written in an emotionally honest way that didn’t feel like juicy details given just to sell her book.

Inside Out is Demi Moore’s engaging life story and she doesn’t hold back, sharing with readers her successes and failures and owning her part in it all.

(Trigger warnings for rape, abuse, details of addiction/eating disorder, and miscarriage.)

Review | Deathless Divide

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

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Dread Nation was a completely surprising read for me in spring 2018 (you can read my review here).  A YA novel about the dead rising at Gettysburg and combat schools teaching former slaves how to fight the dead and be bodyguards for wealthy white women.  Of course I was intrigued and it did not disappoint!

The sequel, Deathless Divide, managed to surprise me also.  The book opens with Jane, Katherine, and Jackson in the aftermath of the Summerland attack but quickly shakes up the direction I thought we were headed.
Jane and crew are on the road headed for Nicodemus, yet another supposedly protected town and there are both losses and reunions in short order.  A series of deceptions in Nicodemus leads to a shambler (zombie) attack that separates Jane from Katherine and places Jane on a dark and brutal path.

There’s a time jump that explains what Jane and Katherine have been doing in the interim and suddenly our story becomes a Western set in a zombie apocalypse with both young women haunted by the events at Summerland and Nicodemus.
Jane and Katherine cross paths and team up once again to track the man they hold responsible.

First of all, it’s so hard to review this book without spoilers!  I was completely invested in this sequel but I was disappointed that it had trouble finding an even pace.  There is so much happening all at once and then a sudden time jump.  Readers are given a brief summary of the lost time and placed into an entirely new location and different atmosphere where our MCs conveniently cross paths again. While the book is action packed it also gets stuck at times in Jane’s obsession over particular events and begins to feel repetitive.

Deathless Divide is a worthy sequel to Dread Nation even with its struggles with pacing.  I really enjoyed the Western vibe and Jane’s character development. I’d definitely be willing to read more books set in this world.

I recommend this book to fans of Dread Nation or readers who enjoy YA, historical fiction, alternate history, and/or zombies.

Deathless Divide was released on February 4, 2020.  Huge thanks to my library for purchasing a copy!

Review | Repo Virtual

Repo Virtual by Corey J. White

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The city of Songdo blurs the line between virtual reality and the real; a smart city designed to be viewed through a rig with all the trademarks of a corporate facade, complete with plenty of advertisements.
The population steals and hustles on the streets to survive while the Zero Corporation continues to control the world, both virtual and real.

Julius Dax (JD) is an online repoman trying to make ends meet.  In need of enough money to cover a knee surgery and pay off debts, JD can’t turn down a job willing to pay fifty thousand euro.  All he has to do is steal a piece of software that was stolen from the inventor.

The problem is that the tech billionaire behind Zero Corporation is the person in possession of the software and the inventor is an influencer named Kali who has created a commune to preach her disgust for the system and belief in the power of AI.

Stealing the software isn’t overly complicated with the right team but the plan changes when JD realizes the software is actually a sentient AI that could change the future of the entire world.

Neither Zero Corp or Kali are aware that the software is actually the first sentient AI in existence but they both know it’s powerful enough to fight (and even kill) for.  JD pulled off the heist but now he has to bring down his pursuers to save Songdo and the world from their further influence.

There isn’t a shortage of cyberpunk heists these days which means Repo Virtual is right on trend in sci-fi publishing.
The problem for me is that it gets lost in the genre with the same old storyline:  a team of rebel outcasts pull off a dangerous heist and then have to save the world from villains using tech.
The worldbuilding was weak and I struggled to understand certain scenes for lack of detail.
The caricatured villains lacked depth and I rolled my eyes at the nonsense that Kali offered up.  Zero Corporation and Kali never felt like real threats.
I did enjoy the action scenes, diverse character representation, and overall atmosphere despite subpar worldbuilding.

Repo Virtual
doesn’t stand out as exceptional among the recent cyberpunk releases but it’s still an entertaining addition to the genre.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Tor.com for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Repo Virtual is scheduled for release on April 21, 2020.

Review | He Started It

He Started It by Samantha Downing

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Downing’s debut thriller My Lovely Wife surprised me in the absolute best way last year (you can read my review here) and I’ve been looking forward to seeing what she’d offer up to readers next!

Siblings Eddie, Beth, and Portia aren’t particularly close as adults.  In fact, they don’t even trust one another.
When their grandpa dies, the three find that there is a large inheritance that will be divided equally among them if they meet a few conditions:  They must recreate the road trip taken in 1999 and scatter his ashes at the end.  They cannot deviate from the original trip at all and anyone who ends up in jail or fails to complete the trip will get nothing.

Beth narrates this trip and is up front with readers from the beginning that her dysfunctional family has a history of secrets, rivalries, and deception for personal gain.

It doesn’t take long for readers to realize that there is a whole lot of crazy to unpack on this road trip!  Grandpa wasn’t a dear old man intending to bring his grandkids back together to share fond memories and make new ones.  No, he has a motive and Beth is going to figure out what it is.

The siblings have used each other their entire lives when there was anything to gain from an alliance or a betrayal.  It has been a game they’ve played since childhood and it continues on the road as they consider their options.

Eddie and Beth have brought their spouses along for the ride, which raises the stakes because neither has any idea what actually happened on the original trip.
Beth barely knows Krista, who Eddie seems to have marrried entirely on a whim after leaving a long-time girlfriend recently.  Her own marriage to Felix is under some strain with work stress and the fact they can’t agree on if they want children …and she’s been cheating on him.

In a mini van crisscrossing America with pit stops at random sites like the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, the Gunfighters Wax Museum, and the Codger Pole; this family has to (literally) survive each other in order to claim their vast inheritance.

What a wild ride! Downing once again gives us unlikeable yet fascinating characters who are willing to share all their dirty secrets with readers, which are revealed at a pitch perfect pace for maximum shock factor!  I had no idea what direction this story was going in, I was just happy to be along for the ride.

I highly recommend He Started It to readers who love a good mystery/thriller with unreliable narrators and juicy secrets to be revealed.

Thanks to Berkley and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for an honest review.  He Started It is scheduled for release on April 28, 2020.

 

 

Review | Edinburgh Dusk

Edinburgh Dusk (Ian Hamilton Mysteries #2) by Carole Lawrence

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Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton is back and this time he’s investigating the suspicious death of a railroad lineman that female physician Sophia Jex-Blake believes to be caused by arsenic poisoning.

It doesn’t take long for Hamilton and his partner Sergeant Dickerson to determine that the married victim was known to have had several affairs.  They visit the Royal Infirmary to gain insight on poisoning from the well-known medical student Arthur Conan Doyle.

When another poisoning victim is discovered in the bed of a prostitute, it appears that the killer is seeking revenge on Edinburgh’s promiscuous residents.
When the prostitute is found dead in the river soon after, Hamilton isn’t as quick as the medical examiner to call it a suicide by drowning.

As the body count rises, Hamilton considers the commonalities in the cases and follows a series of clues.  If he isn’t careful, he could become the next victim.

At the same time, Hamilton discovers a letter that was written by his mother to his aunt Lillian warning of danger shortly before the fire that killed both her and her husband and injured Hamilton.

I enjoyed Edinburgh Dusk as much as the first in the series! (Read my review for Edinburgh Twilight here.)  I really love the cast of characters and was thrilled to see Sergeant Dickerson, Chief Inspector Crawford, and young Derek McNair again!  The author has me so curious about the truth behind the death of Hamilton’s parents and I enjoyed the development of his relationships with his brother Donald and aunt Lillian.

I’m looking forward to the third book in June!

I recommend this series to readers who enjoy historical fiction and mystery.

Review | The Book of Longings

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

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“A man’s holy of holies contains God’s laws, but inside a woman’s there are only longings.” *

Young Ana has been raised in a wealthy family in Sepphoris; her father, Matthias, is the head scribe to the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas.  Her mother, a beauty from a poor family, is cold and calculating.  Her adopted brother, Judas, fueled by his hatred of Rome for the loss of his parents, has left home to become part of a revolt to overthrow their power.

Ana is restless and daring, learning to read and write so that she can document the narratives of voiceless women.  When she is forced into a betrothal to a local widower, Ana is determined to find a way to make a life on her own terms and to save the many stories she has painstakingly chronicled from being destroyed.

She finds a kindred spirit in a young man named Jesus.  They are drawn together through a series of dramatic events that change the course of Ana’s life and the couple marry.  They live in a compound in Nazareth with Jesus’s mother and brothers James and Simon.

When Jesus is compelled to follow John the Immerser, Ana’s longings and frustrations intensify.  She’s left behind in Nazareth with Jesus’s mother, brothers James and Simon, and her aunt Yaltha until Jesus sends for her.

Ana’s stubborn streak earns her the wrath of Herod and she leaves Nazareth for Alexandria with Yaltha, awaiting news from Judas when it’s safe to return.

Alexandria is both a prison and a haven for Ana and Yaltha as they face past regrets and bravely plan for the future.  Ana discovers her purpose and when she receives word that she can return to Jesus’s side, she leaves behind Yaltha who has been reunited with her long-lost daughter.

After two long years, Ana arrives home to find that Judas has betrayed Jesus and must follow her husband to witness his suffering on the cross.

While there will always be a debate over whether Jesus was human or divine, I have always loved the idea that Jesus was a man who inspired divine events.  I identify with him better considering him with human feelings and desires.  It isn’t too much of a stretch for me to imagine him falling in love and marrying.  I love that Sue Monk Kidd took this possibility a step further and gave us the imagined story of the wife of Jesus.

Ana is a memorable character with her longings, defiance, and ambitions.  I appreciated that she and Jesus offered each other their unwavering support in the pursuit of destiny.  They were each compelled to sacrifice their desires to share and advance their beliefs.

We meet so many familiar characters (Lazarus, Martha, Tabitha to name a few) and I love how they were seamlessly included and enriched this story.

The Book of Longings is a beautiful piece of historical fiction that offers a rarely considered perspective of the life of Jesus, but most importantly it focuses on the story of the bold and passionate Ana.  There are so few stories of women from this time period and I appreciate the careful research and respect by Kidd in creating this novel.

Thanks to Viking and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  The Book of Longings is scheduled for release on April 21, 2020.

*Quote included is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

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Patricia Campbell is your typical suburban housewife:  she always has a mile-long to-do list to keep the lives of her husband and two kids functioning smoothly (and it mostly goes unnoticed) and she’s recently taken on the care of her mother-in-law whose health is declining rapidly.

The one thing she has for herself is book club, a group of Charleston moms who enjoy obsessing over true-crime and relate over the trials of marriage and motherhood.  They help each other out in times of need and Patricia is grateful to have these women in her life.

When her elderly neighbor dies, Patricia’s southern manners determine she needs to take a casserole to James Harris, the grand-nephew taking care of the final arrangements.  She finds herself strangely attracted to the mysterious stranger at first but soon she can’t shake the feeling that there is something dangerous about the man.

James decides to stay in town and begins investing in the neighborhood which gains the trust of the residents and also earns them a great deal of money.

A chain of horrific events, including a bizarre incident that leads to her mother-in-law’s death and the disappearance of several children in nearby Six Mile, leads Patricia to believe James Harris is somehow involved.
James knows that Patricia is on to him.
He also knows that no one will believe her so he isn’t afraid to show her exactly what he is.

Patricia needs the help of her book club to rid them of James Harris once and for all.   These ladies may be willing to look away when death is on the other side of town, but when it arrives at their front door, they will stand up to the monster they invited into their homes.

“Patricia knew how they looked, a bunch of silly Southern women, yakking about books over white wine. A bunch of carpool drivers, skinned-knee kissers, errand runners, secret Santas and part-time tooth fairies, with their practical jeans and their festive sweaters. Think of us what you will, she thought, we made mistakes, and probably scarred our children for life, and we froze sandwiches, and forgot car pool, and got divorced. But when the time came, we went the distance.” *

Okay, be prepared for me to gush now.  I mean, I’ve been trying to thank of a coherent review here but all I’m coming up with is:  It’s so good y’all, read it!

Grady Hendrix has this signature style of blending pop culture, satire, and horror together.  He’s written a book about a teen in the 1980’s possessed by a demon who is saved by the power of friendship (and Phil Collins… I remember Phil Collins was mentioned in the exorcism) and a book about a former rock star determined to save her soul from the devil with the power of music.  Do they sound ridiculous and awesome at the same time?  Yesssss.

So when Quirk Books announced the upcoming release of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires with the blurb “Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula” I was like, how did I just realize I need this in my life?

 Hendrix writes in the author’s note: “With this book, I wanted to pit a man freed from all responsibilities but his appetites against women whose lives are shaped by their endless responsibilities.”

We underestimate women endlessly, especially those who fit the “middle age soccer mom” stereotype.  These are the women always behind the scenes, their work unnoticed or underappreciated.

With this book, Hendrix has given readers a look into their everyday lives with the unexpected thrill of learning what they’re capable of when a vampire moves in next door.

It’s an extremely bloody story about proper Southern ladies who are way too polite to forget their manners …until you mess with their children.

I adore Grady Hendrix and Quirk Books so this has been a highly anticipated read of 2020 for me!  Huuuuuge thanks to Quirk for providing me with an advance copy of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires in exchange for my honest review.  I can’t wait to read it with my own Southern book club following its release on April 7, 2020!

*Quote included is from a digital advance reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Lakewood

Lakewood by Megan Giddings

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Lena Johnson is trying to cope with the recent death of her grandmother and her mother Deziree’s debilitating health issues while dealing with the mounting medical debt.

She receives an invitation to take part in The Lakewood Project, a series of research studies.  The offer seems too good to be true:  high pay, family health insurance with no out of pocket expenses, and housing provided.

The catch?  Lena has to participate in a secret program and cannot disclose any details to her family and friends.  Despite the limited details, she applies anyway.  Her mother’s health will continue to suffer without medical coverage and the pay would allow her to pay off their debt while also saving so she can return to college.

Lena arrives in the remote town of Lakewood, Michigan and is given a “cover story”:  she works for Great Lakes Shipping Company as a dispatch operator. To the small town of Lakewood, it appears to be like any other trucking/warehouse company.
Lena will actually spend her time in research studies but will be given a card with small made up details about her work day to share with family and friends.

At orientation, Lena discovers the study participants are all black, Indian, or lantix with the exception of one older white woman.  The group is told their research will benefit countless people.  Among the many studies performed, they will be testing pills that could potentially cure dementia and eyedrops that can temporarily change eye color.

What is not discussed are the potential consequences of these studies.  The participants have all signed NDAs and understand they’ll be compensated for side effects and injuries but no one will discuss these possibilities at length.

It isn’t long before Lena witnesses the horrors of the research trials, first in other participants and eventually in herself.   There are people watching at all times.  In fact, she begins to wonder if the entire town of Lakewood is part of the study.

Lakewood is a provocative medical thriller that raises questions about the very real struggles working-class families face, sacrifices made, and the history of horrific experiments performed on minorities under the guise of scientific advancement.

The atmosphere is intense, I felt a sense of unease the entire time I was reading!  As the events become more horrific and Lena becomes more confused, my sense of paranoia was heightened and I didn’t trust a single character or reject a single possibility.

My sole issue is that the story felt disjointed as it switched between third person and first person narration.  We’re given brief horror scenes and unsettling interviews Lena endures in third person while reading her confused and anxious thoughts written in a series of letters to her best friend.  It felt like a collection of scenes rather than a full-fleshed novel.  The foundation is absolutely there but the structure wasn’t as cohesive as I needed it to be to deliver the full story.

Thanks to Amistad and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Lakewood is scheduled for release on March 24, 2020.

Review | In the Valley of the Sun

In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson

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Travis Stillwell travels the roads of West Texas in search of isolated honky-tonks where he can go unnoticed and find a woman to quiet his demons for the night.
The problem is that the demons never stay quiet and the Texas Rangers always find these women eventually.

Then one night a mysterious woman in red boots finds Travis.

Travis wakes up in his cabover camper bloodied and worn with no recollection of the previous night.  He’s parked in the lot of The Sundowner Inn, a rundown motel owned by widowed Annabelle Gaskin, and he’s short on money.

Annabelle gives Travis odd jobs around the place to cover his board and he uses the time to lay low from the law and try to heal.  He gets to know Annabelle and her ten-year-old son Sandy while realizing that something has followed him to The Sundowner Inn.

Memories of the woman in red boots return and a hunger begins in Travis so strong that he begins to worry it can’t be contained.
At the same time, a seasoned Texas Ranger is tracking Travis for his past crimes.

On a quiet autumn evening there will be a reckoning as Travis makes a choice that will change the lives of everyone around him.

In the Valley of the Sun is everything I could possibly want in a horror novel.  It’s a contemporary Western with a paranormal aspect (vampires— not the glittery kind!).  It’s full of flawed characters with secrets and the building anticipation of retribution for a number of wrongs.

I loved that readers are offered glimpses into the past that give insight into the current storyline and allow the characters to develop at a believable pace.

Dark, compelling, and rich in atmosphere; In the Valley of the Sun is a must-read for those who enjoy horror, Westerns, psychological suspense, and vampires (the truly creepy and non-glittery kind).