Review | Sundial

Sundial by Catriona Ward

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The picture perfect image of Rob’s life is fading fast as she argues constantly with her husband Irving and becomes fearful of her oldest daughter Callie who has started collecting tiny bones and whispering to imaginary friends. There is a darkness to Callie that Rob is familiar with.

Rob takes Callie to her childhood home in the Mojave Desert called Sundial to share a dark but important story with her. As Rob’s story unfolds, Irving becomes increasingly angry that she has left with their daughter and soon readers aren’t sure who they should be afraid of or afraid for.

I really enjoyed Ward’s novel The Last House on Needless Street (read my review here)- it was almost <i>too</i> out there for me but managed to pull me in with a brilliant psychological horror I didn’t expect. While I devoured Sundial quickly, it kind of left me unimpressed. I once again appreciated the unsettling confusion as I tried to piece together what was real but the truth was a mixed bag that didn’t have the emotional punch that Ward’s previous novel delivered.

Trigger warning for physical/psychological animal, child, and spousal abuse.

Review | Fevered Star

Fevered Star (Between Earth and Sky, #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

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Fevered Star is the sequel to 2020’s Black Sun and book two in the Between Earth and Sky epic fantasy trilogy! (Read my review of Black Sun here.)

Readers return to The Meridian where the great city of Tova is veiled in a lasting eclipse while blood covers the ground after the Crow God’s return. Serapio struggles with being a man and a god and grapples with his destiny while Naranpa searches for her place within the devastated city.
Sea captain Xiala yearns to be with Serapio but understands she must learn the plans being made against him.
Clan Matriarchs gather to form alliances as war becomes imminent.

I don’t want to give too much away because the world building and character development is so strong as it weaves together this epic fantasy. I can’t say enough good things about this series! This book has less action but the amazing plot sets up the final book to put the intense build up in motion. I can’t wait for the conclusion!

Thanks to Gallery/Saga Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Fevered Star was released on April 19, 2022.

Review | Her Dying Day

Her Dying Day by Mindy Carlson

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The disappearance of famed mystery author Greer Larkin has been the subject of intense debate for 20 years. Aspiring filmmaker June Masterson, who learned of the mystery as a teen living in an isolated family commune, is digging into the case and making it the subject of her first documentary.

Meeting with those closest to Greer, June finds everyone from her mother to her agent to her fiance has a different theory. After Rachel (Greer’s former BFF) gives June a suitcase of Greer’s private notes with the desperate hope she’ll find new clues, Rachel is found dead. And whoever killed Rachel — and possibly Greer — has turned their attention to June.

I loved the mystery, I loved meeting the suspects, I loved piecing together what could’ve happened to Greer based on the intriguing missing person scene. What I didn’t love was June’s character. Her relationship with her married teacher was annoying, her odd upbringing that caused her to stop speaking to her parents felt random/out of place – so did the “big reveal” behind that at the end. The climax was also sorely lacking here. All in all, a great mystery that needed a different MC (just my personal opinion).

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Her Dying Day is scheduled for release on June 7, 2022.

Review | I’ll Be You

I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown

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Identical twins Sam and Elli are former child stars who have grown apart through the years. Elli is a florist living close to the beach with her lawyer husband. Sam is a recovering addict still hoping for a Hollywood career. The sisters haven’t spoken in over a year when Sam receives a call from her mom that Elli is taking an extended rest at a spa in Ojai and requesting a visit from Sam to help care for Elli’s adopted two-year-old daughter. Sam is stunned to learn about the adoption as well as her sister’s recent marital woes.

Sam arrives to help care for her niece while navigating sober living, an awkward relationship with her parents (most of all her mom), and concern for her sister who has failed to call and check on her daughter. As Sam looks into Elli’s life in the days leading up to her disappearance, she also considers the past, giving readers insight into their childhood and family dynamic, and Elli’s investigation soon becomes a rescue mission as shocking secrets unfold.

While the relationships should be the focus of this story, I honestly felt like the over the top storyline overshadowed them and I didn’t become as invested as most readers (based on other early reviews I read after finishing the book myself). I’m a huge fan of Janelle Brown’s storytelling, this one just didn’t have the impact of her previous books for me.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. I’ll Be You is scheduled for release on April 26, 2022.

Review | Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls by Deborah Goodrich Royce

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Soap opera star Eleanor Russell has been fired under shady circumstances. Uncertain of her future in acting, she flees to Europe where she meets and marries handsome stranger Orlando Montague within weeks.
Everything is coming together: they’ve purchased a gorgeous cottage nestled in the Hollywood Hills and Eleanor has been cast as the lead in a remake of Rebecca.

But Eleanor’s future begins to look uncertain as her husband seems to change overnight and his behavior becomes suspicious. Worse, Eleanor has a secret she’s keeping from him: she was abandoned at Ruby Falls by her father when she was only six. He left her in the cave, his car was found in the parking lot, and not of a trace of him was ever found.
This traumatic event has left a lasting mark on her life and the ripple effects continue as she begins to lose her grasp on reality.

This book left me guessing! I couldn’t determine if Eleanor was an unreliable narrator, mentally ill, or if her spiral was simply because Orlando appeared to be the king of gaslighting.
The stranger the story became and the more skewed Eleanor’s perspective seemed, I was racing to learn the truth about what happened to her father and her husband’s true intentions.

While Ruby Falls was highly entertaining, the ending required a suspension of disbelief that I didn’t care for and created an underwhelming/disappointing ending for me.
I can recommend this book to readers who truly appreciate gothic mysteries!

Thanks to Post Hill Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Ruby Falls is scheduled for release on May 4, 2021.

Review | Road Out of Winter

Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine

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In Appalachian Ohio, Wylodine (Wil) keeps to herself, tending a crop of marijuana on the farm after her mom leaves with her boyfriend for California.
For two years now, there has been only snow. Spring has forgotten to return.
When Wil heads to town, she finds a scene that looks like the end of the world. People are lining up a day in advance for bottled water (all the pipes have frozen), schools have closed because it costs too much to heat the buildings, basics like canned food can no longer be found in the stores that remain open. It seems that everyone is packing up to leave and find warmer weather.

Wil packs up the few grow lights and supplies she has, hangs a pouch of pumpkin seeds from her neck, hooks her tiny house to the back of her truck and heads in the direction of California. The journey is slow and she picks up a small group of misfits along the way. They come in to contact with small communities, each more violent and desperate than the last, as Wil fights to keep them together and on the road in search of a fighting chance.

Road Out of Winter is a fantastic dystopian novel. I loved how Stine created this gritty atmosphere of a world on the brink of collapse where readers are aware of the gradual changes but then witness the sudden switch to survival mode. Wil is an authentic character: she remains focused on survival and is increasingly wary of people but is loyal to those in her group. The life she’s led gives her an edge as she knows how to take care of herself and most importantly: she can make things grow.

Thanks to the author and MIRA for sending me an ARC to review. Road Out of Winter is scheduled for release on September 1, 2020.

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 | Bottle Grove

Bottle Grove by Daniel Handler

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Daniel Handler (also known as Lemony Snicket) is the King of Quirky.  He can take the mundane and make it mystical or unusual.  In his capable hands, quirk can be anything, but it’s almost always charming.

That being said, this fictional story of two couples was just sort of “meh” for me.
Bottle Grove starts out exciting:  Rachel is about to marry Ben Nickels in a ceremony at Bottle Grove, a small forest on the edge of San Francisco donated to the community years ago by a wealthy family.
There are caterers working the wedding, as well as two barmen who own a bar nearby which is also named Bottle Grove.
The head barman, Martin Icke, falls for Padgett, a wealthy twenty-something randomly hired for the catering gig who is already drunk from vodka she’s sipping out of a cough syrup bottle.

A barrel of alcohol goes missing but is quickly forgotten when Reynard, the vicar who officiated the ceremony, is caught cheating on his fiancee.  There’s a huge scene between Reynard and Nina during the Nickels’s wedding reception that leads to a car accident and Reynard goes missing.

Martin schemes up an idea after the disastrous Nickels wedding to get his wealthy girlfriend Padgett to date a ridiculously wealthy man called “the Vic” in order to get money for his failing bar.  What he doesn’t consider is what will happen if Padgett’s greed outweighs his own.

In the years after their wedding, Rachel finds herself annoyed by her perfect husband.  She doesn’t know how to talk about her own problems or approach the problems she has in her marriage.

Eventually Padgett is in the middle of another dangerous scheme cooked up by Martin and Rachel finds herself in a messy situation with Reynard, the vicar from the beginning of the story, who has a penchant for shape shifting.

This was a humorous look at relationships: what drives people together and tears them apart, at times mundane and at times… supernatural.
The story is of course trademark Handler-quirky and in between the dark comedy there are some unexpected lovely sentences, like this:

“Half past five on a school day, and it’s quiet in the place like it’s time to turn the record over and play the other side.” *

And my favorite quote, which is a simple but profound statement on relationships:

“You meet people and you tell them stories. You meet someone, you marry them, and they’re part of the story you’re in. They are it. You’re the same story and as it changes, every living day, you can never, never keep up.” *

I’m not sure what I was expecting from Bottle Grove, but this story wasn’t it.  It had its moments but overall I didn’t feel invested in the characters or their lives.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Bottle Grove is scheduled for release on August 27, 2019.

*The quotes included are from a digital advanced readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Saga: Book Three

Saga: Book Three by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples (artist)

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I had no idea when I picked up the first volume of Saga in 2015 that I was going to become so invested in the series!  I read comics as a kid, sure, but this is not your average comic and it’s certainly not kid-friendly.

While Saga is full of sex and violence, it’s also a beautifully illustrated tale of family and acceptance with social commentary on the pulse of current hot button topics.

Readers follow Alana and Marko, two soldiers from different planets in a long war to destroy each other.  Alana (from Landfall) and Marco (from Wreath) are in love and on the run from both Landfall and Wreath for betrayal of their own kind.  Once their daughter Hazel is born, they’ll do anything to protect her.

The family collect friends like Izabel, the ghost of a girl killed in the war who is bonded to Hazel; and foes, like the assassin known as The Will who is never more than a step behind.

Along the way, Hazel and her grandmother are captured and held in a Landfallian prison while Alana and Marko maintain an uneasy alliance with one of their biggest enemies, Prince Robot IV.

Alana and Marko are eventually reunited with Hazel and it isn’t long before the couple realizes they’re expecting a second baby and settle for a time on the comet, Phang.

Saga: Book Three collects volumes 7-9 (issues 37-54) and let me just say I was not emotionally prepared for the heartbreaks endured.
While Alana and Marko should be enjoying their reunion with Hazel, they face a miscarriage after a dramatic exit from the comet Phang.
Old foes return and the family must make decisions about their future but are interrupted by an enemy’s arrival.
A shocking cliffhanger leaves readers stunned and in need of the next issue immediately …only to find that creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are taking at least a year long hiatus from the series to recharge.  Vaughan promises they will return because the story is not over yet, with plenty more major events.

Saga has been going since 2012 and has built a community of faithful readers emotionally invested in the lives of the characters.
All of the characters, from the family members to their pursuers, are well developed and genuine; each adding to the storyline in compelling and necessary ways.

Hazel is a fantastic and honest narrator giving readers are given a candid look at war with all its prejudice and violence, but also an assertive look at family, love, and devotion.

If you appreciate innovative stories, whether you’re a regular reader of graphic novels or not, Saga is a series worth checking out.  It’s a wildly creative sci-fi/fantasy covering contemporary issues.

Thanks to Image Comics and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Saga: Book Three is scheduled for release on June 4, 2019.

Review | The Vinyl Frontier

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record by Jonathan Scott

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In 1977, NASA approved a team led by Carl Sagan to create a message representing Earth and humanity that would travel into deep space on the Voyager probe.  The message would contain a playlist of music, sounds, and pictures; essentially it would be a mixtape introduction to Earth for any extraterrestrials that may discover the probe at some point in time.

“When a group of scientists, artists and writers gathered in Ithaca, New York, to begin work on the Voyager Golden Record, they were attempting to capture the soul of humanity in 90 minutes of music.” *

One of the first decisions to be made was how the message would be delivered as it needed to be preserved for a long period of time in the harsh elements of space.  A record would allow a great deal of information to be preserved in a compact space and the groove could carry not just sound but also encoded photographs.

Next, there needed to be some basic criteria for selecting music and images.  An important early decision was to avoid politics and religion (which would confuse extraterrestrials) and to skip artwork entirely; the music would be the art and the photographs would be the facts.  Concerned that images of war and violence could be seen as a threat, the group decided to leave this part of history out of an introduction to extraterrestrials and instead promote Earth as seen “on a good day”.

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record is a fascinating look at the group who created the record with insight into the music and photographs that were selected.  The author conducted interviews with those directly involved in selecting the content on the Golden Record and compiled many facts from the testimony of the Voyager team found in Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, written in 1978, just months after the probe launch.

There is some “info-dumping” with scientific explanations that are at times overwhelming and/or confusing for readers with little-to-no background in the field (*ahem* that would be me!), Scott does an excellent job of discussing the facts in an entertaining and conversational way.

While The Vinyl Frontier focuses primarily on the music, it also gives readers a brief look into NASA’s opinion of the record and its message (and the one thing they didn’t want to send to ETs that could offend the American people… *spoiler alert: it was the female anatomy*) and what the U.S. government added at the last minute (*spoiler alert: it was a list of names of officials …because ETs will totally understand and appreciate four pages of names!*)

The Voyagers 1 and 2 both contain a copy of the Golden Record; a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk with an aluminum cover electroplated in uranium-238, which has a half life of almost 4.5 billions years.
I like to imagine extraterrestials finding the record sometime in the next billion years, understanding the mathematical instructions to play it, and hearing Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode for the first time in deep space.

Both Voyagers served us well, gathering data from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Nepture throughout the 1980’s.  Now, they’re cruising in deep space, carrying a message that may someday be heard by intelligent life we cannot even begin to fathom.

“Both spacecraft are still beaming back information about their surrounding through the Deep Space Network. We are still receiving readings from these amazing machines, almost half a century after their launch, with instruments aboard enabling technicians and astronomers on Earth to study magnetic fields, investigate low-energy charged particles, cosmic rays, plasma, and plasmas waves. Both Voyagers are expected to keep at least one of their functioning instruments going into the mid-2020s.” *

If you’d like to see a list of all the images, music, sounds, and greetings on The Golden Record, along with photographs of its manufacturing, visit the link here.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Sigma and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record is scheduled for release on May 21, 2019.

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