Kate’s Review: “Shutter”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson

Publishing Info: Soho Crime, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC of this novel at ALAAC22.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: This blood-chilling debut set in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation is equal parts gripping crime thriller, supernatural horror, and poignant portrayal of coming of age on the reservation.

Rita Todacheene is a forensic photographer working for the Albuquerque police force. Her excellent photography skills have cracked many cases—she is almost supernaturally good at capturing details. In fact, Rita has been hiding a secret: she sees the ghosts of crime victims who point her toward the clues that other investigators overlook.

As a lone portal back to the living for traumatized spirits, Rita is terrorized by nagging ghosts who won’t let her sleep and who sabotage her personal life. Her taboo and psychologically harrowing ability was what drove her away from the Navajo reservation, where she was raised by her grandmother. It has isolated her from friends and gotten her in trouble with the law. And now it might be what gets her killed.

When Rita is sent to photograph the scene of a supposed suicide on a highway overpass, the furious, discombobulated ghost of the victim—who insists she was murdered—latches onto Rita, forcing her on a quest for revenge against her killers, and Rita finds herself in the crosshairs of one of Albuquerque’s most dangerous cartels. Written in sparkling, gruesome prose, Shutter is an explosive debut from one of crime fiction’s most powerful new voices.

Review: Thank you to Soho Crime for giving me an ARC of this novel!

Before I went out to the ALA Annual Conference this summer, I made a list of books that I wanted to look for in potential ARC form. I also sat down and tried to figure out which publishing house was where on the map so I could be the most efficient in finding said potential books. There were some that I put little stars next to, denoting that these were the books I was most excited for, and “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson was one of those books. I had stumbled upon the description of this book online, and it just called out to me. An Indigenous author combining a gritty detective procedural with a story of a woman who can see ghosts at the crime scene she photographs? In Albuquerque, when New Mexico is one of my favorite states?! HELL YES I WANT THIS BOOK! And I was so thrilled when it was available. I finally sat down to read it about a month after the conference, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

The first big thing is that, as we all know, I am a HUGE sucker for stories with people who can see ghosts. I love the idea of a person communicating with the dead, and so help me, if it helps solve a crime and gets tangled up in a procedural setting, I am going to be SO ON TOP OF THAT. And Emerson nails that entire concept here with a really likable medium protagonist, a well established psychic connection to the dead, and how that can both help and hinder her (and it’s mostly hinder her) in her professional and day to day life. I love the idea of the dead not being at all chill about finding someone they think can help them, and then becoming so obsessed with her that THAT is one of the scariest things. In so many stories like this the medium just assists the ghosts because that’s just the right thing to do. In “Shutter”, the ghost in question, Erma, is a complete psychotic asshole who is making Ramona’s life a living hell, and watching it escalate is creepy and scary. I also liked the kinder and gentler interactions between Ramona and ghosts, mostly those from her childhood where her deceased grandfather would come to visit. But along with all that, I also LOVED how Emerson brings an Indigenous perspective to this, and how for Ramona as a Navajo woman seeing the dead is incredibly taboo and something that makes those in her community wary of her, as well as worried for her. Because of this, she cuts herself off from her culture in some ways, and it reflects a lot of the tragic ways that Indigenous people can lose grasps on their identities in a reality that doesn’t involve ghosts.

But this is also a solid procedural thriller, that mixes in gritty detective drama, cartel threats, and a very real and malevolent undercurrent of police corruption that is rotting at the systemic level. While it is true that Erma is a pain in the ass and genuinely creepy at times, the real threat to Ramona is getting too close to not only dangerous drug runners, but also realizing that the supposed ‘good guys’ that she works with can be just and threatening, as law enforcement has its own problems with violent, dangerous people working within it. Emerson also addresses how Rita, as an Indigenous woman, had bad run ins with police as a kid, where she tried to use her powers to help solve a murder, but then was zeroed in on as a potential suspect as opposed to someone with information. Sometimes procedurals get lost in the idea of good police working against the odds, and maybe address a smattering of bad cops here or there while being sure to show that the hero cops are righteous and true. I always kind of like it more these days when stories about law enforcement, even those that follow detectives and police, are more honest about the serious problems law enforcement in this country has in regards to racism and corruption, and “Shutter” addresses it very well.

If you love a good detective story, and if you love a good story about people who talk to ghosts, absolutely pick up “Shutter”. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating 8: Heavy, creepy, and suspenseful, “Shutter” is an awesome horror twist on a procedural mystery.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shutter” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Not the ‘Normal’ Paranormal”.

Book Club Review: “We Are Not Free”


This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “We Are Not Free” by Traci Chee

Publishing Info: HMH Books For Young Readers, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book that takes place during a war.

Book Description: “All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us. We are not free. But we are not alone.” 

We Are Not Free, is the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.

Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco. Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted. Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps. In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.

Kate’s Thoughts

This was actually my Book Bingo prompt, and I wanted to think a little bit outside of the box when it came to picking a book that took place during a war. Partially because I’m not super interested in military themed fiction, and partially because I wanted to kind of wanted to stay away from pro-militaristic themes. It quickly occurred to me that I hadn’t yet read Traci Chee’s YA historical fiction “We Are Not Free”, a book about a number of Japanese-American teens who are incarcerated during World War II because of the United States Government’s despicable Executive Order 9066. I’ve reviewed a lot of recent novels about the Japanese American Incarceration on this blog, and found this to be the perfect opportunity. And boy, what a book, and what a great book club discussion.

Chee approaches this story through the eyes of numerous characters, each one getting their own chapter with different perspectives and sometimes writing styles, and each character engages with a different fact or theme of the Incarceration. At first I was a little daunted by the idea of so many characters, but Chee does a really good job of not only letting us get into their heads and get to know them, but also touches on so many aspects of the Incarceration this way. Instead of finding the characters to be maybe less complex due to the one chapter approach, I ended up really caring for all of them as they mention each other and as we get into their heads, allowing us to see how they are perceived by others, but also how they see themselves. They all feel very authentic in their voices, either in how they are reacting to their ordeal and their trauma, or even just in moments of them having very relatable teenage moments that go beyond the Incarceration, like teen love, or school issues, or moments of joy that can still be found in spite of everything.

But we also are able to explore a number of aspects of the Incarceration through these characters that may have been a bit overstuffed had it just been one or two. Chee skillfully tackles things like having to leave everything behind, the cultural divide between the non-Amercain (by force of the government) Issei vs their American Citizen children Nisei, the loyalty oath that was given as a choice to sign or not to sign (and why some may sign and others may not), and the experience of those who enlisted in the war to try and prove their loyalty to their country. And many more. The book doesn’t shy away from any of it, and finds the nuance and complexity in some things while being unflinchingly honest about others. It is such a valuable book in that way for anyone who wants to learn about the Incarceration, as it has relatable and enjoyable characters whom the reader will attach to, and will therein learn through. Our book club had some awesome conversations about this book, and I have no doubt that classrooms would as well.

I’m glad I finally read “We Are Not Free”, and glad that this cycle’s theme got me off my butt to finally do so. It’s highly recommended, and necessary, historical fiction.

Kate’s Review 9: Powerful, engrossing, enraging, and hopeful, “We Are Not Free” is a valuable tool to learn about the Japanese American Incarceration that is must read for those interested in the subject.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the structure of this novel? Did you like all the different perspectives? Why or why not?
  2. When did you first learn about the Incarceration? How was it approached when you did learn about it?
  3. Chee has an author’s note about the use of modern language sensibilities in this book? What were your thoughts on this choice?
  4. Did you have a chapter you liked best or that stood out from the others? What was it about that chapter that spoke to you?
  5. What were you thoughts on the way Chee portrayed the conflict between Nisei vs Issei in how they dealt with their ordeal?
  6. Do you think this would be a useful tool to teach the Incarceration to teenagers? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory

“We Are Not Free” is included on the Goodreads lists “Japanese American Internment in YA & Middle Grade Fiction”, and “Surviving in the Japanese Relocation Centers of WW2”.

Next Book Club Book: “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix E. Harrow

Serena’s Review: “The Wonder Engine”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Wonder Engine” by T. Kingfisher

Publishing Info: Argyll Productions, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Pull three people out of prison–a disgraced paladin, a convicted forger, and a heartless assassin. Give them weapons, carnivorous tattoos, and each other. Point them at the enemy.

What could possibly go wrong?

In the sequel to CLOCKWORK BOYS, Slate, Brenner, Caliban and Learned Edmund have arrived in Anuket City, the source of the mysterious Clockwork Boys. But the secrets they’re keeping could well destroy them, before the city even gets the chance…

Previously Reviewed: “Clockwork Boys”

Review: So, I actually read these books pretty much back to back. But, due to blog scheduling and wanting to get more timely releases out during the month they were published, here we are about a few months later with this review. Before getting into anything else, I will say that I recommend all readers of this duology to read the books this way, one after another. They’re both short and, all things considered, they read better as a longer, single story than as two separate works.

The journey to Anuket City was fraught with peril. Frankly, Slate didn’t think she and her band of criminals were even going to make it. Which was part of the reason she agreed to go. But now they’ve arrived, Slate must not only deal with the ruthless crime boss who’s out for her head, but she and the others still must discover the source of the powerful Clockwork Boys. On top of all of this, Slate isn’t quite sure what to do with her increasing feelings for the proud and proper paladin, Caliban.

Given that I already stated that I think these two books should be read as one, and the fact that I rated the first book fairly high, it’s probably no surprise that I enjoyed this second book. After some of the events of the first book (and, honestly, the title itself??), I felt like the mystery to the creation of the Clockwork Boys was pretty obvious, however. There were a few other surprises along the way, but I feel like the astute reader will be able to predict most of them. The way they all worked together, however, I thought was interesting. Most of these reveals also drove character growth in our two main characters, so I think they were largely successful.

The reveal regarding Slate’s history with the city was, perhaps, a bit underwhelming as a hole. But again, when her past caught up to her, there were a good number of exciting action sequences, as well as some self-reflection on her part. When the duology began, Slate was very cavalier with her own life, seeming resigned, almost eager, for her own death. Here, she not only has to come to terms with the fact that she does want to live, but that she may need to change the way she has been living as well (though not so much as to give up forgery!).

For his part, Caliban has been dealing with a crisis of faith, a loss of belief in not only himself but the emptiness in his being where his god has resided. But during their time in Anuket City, Caliban begins to once again find the value in himself and the unique abilities that he still brings to the world. At times, these are cruel, harsh choices. So his worth is not only in being able to commit challenging acts but in shouldering the weight of decisions other may have crumpled beneath.

I also really liked the romance that develops between Slate and Caliban. They are both adults with full lives behind them. This means they bring their own baggage to any potential relationship. But it also means they have to learn to bend again, to understand what compromises they are willing to make to slot their own lives in alongside another.

This was a really fun book (both this and the first one). It was action-packed and read so quickly! I finished this second book up in two sessions, and probably could have done one, but for the pesky children in my house. Fans of T. Kingfisher’s work will definitely enjoy this. And anyone looking for a fun, light fantasy read should check this out!

Rating 8: Some of the twists were a bit too easy to predict, but the fun and heart of the story make it well worth the read!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Wonder Engine” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Speculative Fiction Heist/Caper Stories and Indie Authors Everybody Should Read.

Kate’s Review: “Mademoiselle Revolution”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Mademoiselle Revolution” by Zoe Sivak

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A powerful, engrossing story of a biracial heiress who escapes to Paris when the Haitian Revolution burns across her island home. But as she works her way into the inner circle of Robespierre and his mistress, she learns that not even oceans can stop the flames of revolution.

Sylvie de Rosiers, as the daughter of a rich planter and an enslaved woman, enjoys the comforts of a lady in 1791 Saint-Domingue society. But while she was born to privilege, she was never fully accepted by island elites. After a violent rebellion begins the Haitian Revolution, Sylvie and her brother leave their family and old lives behind to flee unwittingly into another uprising–in austere and radical Paris. Sylvie quickly becomes enamored with the aims of the Revolution, as well as with the revolutionaries themselves–most notably Maximilien Robespierre and his mistress, Cornélie Duplay.

As a rising leader and abolitionist, Robespierre sees an opportunity to exploit Sylvie’s race and abandonment of her aristocratic roots as an example of his ideals, while the strong-willed Cornélie offers Sylvie safe harbor and guidance in free thought. Sylvie battles with her past complicity in a slave society and her future within this new world order as she finds herself increasingly torn between Robespierre’s ideology and Cornélie’s love.

When the Reign of Terror descends, Sylvie must decide whether to become an accomplice while a new empire rises on the bones of innocents…or risk losing her head

Review: Thank you to Berkley Books for sending me access to an eARC of this novel via NetGalley!

I remember a few years ago I was at a party that was thrown by a former work colleague, and I was sitting on the couch with my friend Scott as we played introverts and talked to each other for almost two hours as we caught up and enjoyed each other’s company. We ended up talking about the ills of society, and he made some comment about guillotines and the French Revolution, and as I sipped my mixed drink I said ‘yeah, but then you get Robespierre. I don’t want Robespierre!’ I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about Robespierre ever since we learned about the French Revolution in tenth grade. Like, what a dick! A timeless tale of someone who had good intentions but then was completely corrupted by power and then turned into a goddamn blood soaked monster in an effort to hold onto his power.

It’s a weird angry fixation I have, but it’s mine all the same. (source)

Needless to say, when I found an email from Berkley Books in my folder tempting me with “Mademoiselle Revolution”, a story about a biracial woman who fled Haiti during their Revolution only to find herself cozying up to Robespierre during the French Revolution, I was immediately on board. BRING ON THE ROBESPIERRE DISSECTION AND HOPEFULLY SLANDER!

But even better, “Mademoiselle Revolution” is a story that has a deeply resonant heart, centered by its protagonist Sylvie de Rosiers, a biracial woman who grew up in privilege due to her father’s status as a plantation owner, though her mother was one of the enslaved women he owned whom he raped and exploited. Sylvie was raised in her father’s home and treated like family, though her lineage and the color of her skin made it so she never truly belonged, even as she got to live in lavish luxury while other people who looked like her were being subjected to daily brutality and dehumanization. It is when the Haitian Revolution is at her doorstep and her family flees that Sylvie starts to grapple with the Otherness she has always dealt with, and her complicity to a system that she had the privilege to be mostly removed from. It makes for a complex and nuanced character from the jump, and it sets up to make all of her choices, once she and her loving brother Gaspard end up in Paris, make perfect sense. I really loved seeing Sylvie evolve in this story as she tries to make up for her complicity, and how she dives head first into the romanticism and justice seeking angles of the rumbling French Revolution as she gets close to Robespierre and his lover Cornélie, and how her guilt and optimism and naïveté send her into dangerous waters. Sivak tackles the racial politics and racism of the time and the cultures at hand with deftness, and shows the seeming contradictions of Sylvie’s experiences with ease and in a way that makes it very understandable. She is also that really well done main character who interacts with historical figures without feeling like it’s overdone or unrealistic. Sylvie’s role is well conceived enough that I totally bought into all of the scenarios and relationships that Sivak put her in, and that says a lot. Because Sylvie does a LOT.

I also really liked how Sivak shows that complexities of a group of true believers whose hearts start in the right place, and then become corrupted as time goes on. That’s my biggest issue with Robespierre at the end of the day; he wasn’t wrong about the corruption and the violence of the French Aristocracy. But when you start cutting the heads off of anyone you please because you THINK they may disagree with you, that’s when you become a whole other problem. And Sivak has a lot of horrifying moments in this book that really hit home how off point the message became, which led to a lot of suffering and then Napoleon friggin’ Bonaparte. There is one scene in particular that involved a severed head being put on display around town, specifically in a cafe, and used in a way that is SO dehumanizing and disgusting that it made my blood run cold. Sivak does a fantastic job of showing just how horrific the Reign of Terror, and the violence leading up to it, was, and how people like Robespierre are more than willing to exploit and use people like Sylvie to get what they want. It is intense and it makes for some very suspenseful moments, and that is why I am classifying this as a thriller as well as an historical fiction title. It’s absolutely harrowing at times, watching the walls close in on the circle of revolutionaries as they turn on each other.

I really enjoyed “Mademoiselle Revolution”. It is sure to wow fans of political thrillers and historical fiction alike. Go out and get your hands on this book!

Rating 9: Engaging, intense, and harrowing, “Mademoiselle Revolution” is a historical political thriller that explores identity, race, revolution, and the dangers of fanaticism.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Mademoiselle Revolution” is included on the Goodreads lists “Historical Fiction – The Caribbean”, and “Historical Fiction – France”.

Serena’s Review: “Fevered Star”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Fevered Star” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Publishing Info: Saga Press, April 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.

The Meridian: a land where magic has been codified and the worship of gods suppressed. How do you live when legends come to life, and the faith you had is rewarded?

As sea captain Xiala is swept up in the chaos and currents of change, she finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For the Clan Matriarchs of Tova, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens is reflected upon the earth.

And for Serapio and Naranpa, both now living avatars, the struggle for free will and personhood in the face of destiny rages. How will Serapio stay human when he is steeped in prophecy and surrounded by those who desire only his power? Is there a future for Naranpa in a transformed Tova without her total destruction?

Previously Reviewed: “Black Sun”

Review: This one came out a few months ago, obviously, so it’s probably a bit surprising it took me this long to get to this. I loved the heck out of “Black Sun,” but I had a good reason for my delay! I listened to the original book as an audiobook with an excellent full cast of readers and I couldn’t bare to give up the opportunity of experiencing this book in the same format. Given the immense waitlist for the library’s audiobook copy, I wasn’t the only one with this plan. So here we are, months after its release, finally getting to this one!

The order of the last several centuries came smashing down in one violence-filled day. Now, gods walk the Earth and powerful forces vie to fill the void in power left after the destruction of Sun Priest and her order. But she has not gone. Instead, Naranpa finds herself filled with a powerful force of light, the dimetric opposition to Serapio’s Crow god and the enforced shadow over the sun. Xiala, adrift in the city, works to find her way back to Serapio after learning he survived what he thought was a suicide mission. But soon she, too, is caught up in forces more powerful than herself, and slowly she begins to understand that her past and future are fast heading towards a calamitous intersection.

So, it’s no surprise that I very much enjoyed this book. True, it did suffer a bit from “second book syndrome,” but we’ll get to that after we go through all the pros. For one thing, it’s always hard to start up a second book in a fantasy series one whole year after reading the first. There’s always a lot to catch up on. But Roanhorse does an excellent job of recapping the events of the first book without resorting to paragraphs of exposition. One way that she does this is by reintroducing the story in the first few chapters from characters who, while present in the first book, were definitely slotted to the second tier. Through their eyes, we see the cataclysmic events that occurred when Serapio called upon the Crow God and destroyed the priesthood.

I will say, that while I enjoyed getting more of an inside look into these other players and their interpretations of what is going on (as well as more and more layers involved in whose plan is really being followed here), I did miss getting to spend as much time with our initial three characters. Of them all, Naranpa definitely has the most storyline in this book. We see her not only have to come to grips with the presence of a godly power within her body, but we see her struggles to redefine her place in the world. The priesthood is gone, and her brother, a leader of the underworld of the city, has plans for her. Her journey is one of self-definition and, eventually, the realization that her vision of the future and the world is what made her unique as the high priestess, and it may be what is needed now.

Sadly, we see very little of Serapio. Mostly, he’s the man who wasn’t meant to live, and now that he finds himself occupying a time past the point of his own imagination, he, too, must redefine his own path. But for both Serapio and Naranpa, they are the avatars of gods with their own plans. So we see the struggle they each must balance between their own sense of duty and the futures they see outside of what their gods may have in mind.

We do get a fair amount from Xiala, which is great since she was my favorite character from the first book. But her story is really where we see the pitfalls of the second book thing coming into play. The biggest flaw of the book is that much of the story is window dressing (excellent and fascinating, but still window dressing) for getting our main character from one point to another point from which book three will surely jump forward. Xiala’s story is literally this: she spends 90% of the book travelling from point A to point B, all of it driven by factors around her and characters making decisions that force her hand. This leaves her in a very passive role, spending much of her time wishing she could reunite with and help Serapio and the rest of the time avoiding her past. Her story does pick up a bit towards the end, and I was pleased to find out more about what exactly happened to Xiala that left her an exile of her own people.

As I mentioned above, the story added a lot of layers of intrigue and shadowy players who have been moving pieces around in the background and only now are coming into the light. Honestly, I’m not sure I was able to fully keep track of it all. But I was having such a blast anyways that I didn’t really mind. This will likely be one of those things that will come down to retrospect: does the third book pull this all together in a way that makes this book more clear in hindsight? Or did I actually miss important things here, which might mean there was a slight lack of clarity here. Either way, I’m fully on board for book two and am very excited to see where our characters go from here. I do hope that Serapio and Xiala can be reunited though. My poor romantic heart was very sad to see zero scenes of them together in this book. Alas. Anyways, fans of the first book will surely be pleased with this one and should definitely check it out if they haven’t already!

Rating 9: While some of the pacing and lack of direct action speaks to “second book syndrome,” there was enough intrigue and character growth to leave this one as a very satisfying and enjoyable read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fevered Star” can be found, bizarrely, on this Goodreads lists: What Women Born in the 90’s Have Read in 2022

Kate’s Review: “The Devil Takes You Home”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Devil Takes You Home” by Gabino Iglesias

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley and an ARC from the publisher at ALA.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: From Bram Stoker, Anthony, and Locus award-nominated author, Gabino Iglesias, comes a genre-defying thriller about a father desperate to salvage what’s left of his family, even if it means a descent into violence–both supernatural and of our own terrifying world.

Buried in debt due to his young daughter’s illness, his marriage at the brink, Mario reluctantly takes a job as a hitman, surprising himself with his proclivity for violence. After tragedy destroys the life he knew, Mario agrees to one final job: hijack a cartel’s cash shipment before it reaches Mexico. Along with an old friend and a cartel-insider named Juanca, Mario sets off on the near-suicidal mission, which will leave him with either a cool $200,000 or a bullet in the skull. But the path to reward or ruin is never as straight as it seems. As the three complicated men travel through the endless landscape of Texas, across the border and back, their hidden motivations are laid bare alongside nightmarish encounters that defy explanation. One thing is certain: even if Mario makes it out alive, he won’t return the same.

The Devil Takes You Home is a panoramic odyssey for fans of S.A. Cosby’s southern noir, Blacktop Wasteland, by way of the boundary-defying storytelling of Stephen Graham Jones and Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

Review: Thank you to NetGalley and to Mulholland Books for giving me an eARC and an ARC of this novel!

I had been hearing about “The Devil Takes You Home” by Gabino Iglesias for a number of months, either on social media or on buzzy book lists. It was one that was definitely on my list, given that I enjoyed Iglesias’s previous book “Coyote Songs”, so when I had the opportunity to read it via NetGalley AND through an ARC I got at ALA, I was eager, but nervous to start. I knew that Iglesias wasn’t going to pull punches, and the description alone tipped me off that this was probably going to be supremely creepy, and also very sad. And reader, I was right. Iglesias just kicked me in my feelings AND set me on the edge of my seat in this part horror story, part cartel thriller, part indictment of American society and the tragedies it creates through its apathy.

The supernatural horrors that Iglesias describes and explores were super, super unsettling, using an air of mystery and ambiguity to fuel them. Just as Mario doesn’t know what he is seeing in the tunnels or out in the desert, we too don’t know, outside of glimpses and short descriptions of things that just don’t sound right. A potential psychic gift that is growing louder. Creatures that sound perhaps humanoid-ish, but which are feral and grotesque. Witchcraft and rituals harkening to the Narcosatánicos conjures up seemingly impossible acts, with the dead coming to life for a fleeting moment to descend upon enemies. Rituals end with otherworldly goo that is then used as a blessing of sorts. A story of a man whose barn was inhabited by a strange being. All of these moments were fleeting, and we didn’t linger to understand or to get an explanation, and honestly that made it all the scarier.

But then it was the real life horrors that REALLY got under my skin. Iglesias doesn’t put too much focus on the magical or otherworldly terrors, but he lasers in on the very real terrors of cartel violence, systemic racism, torture, and childhood illness and brings out so much dread and devastation. I found myself having to put the book down after a particularly devastating moment, but it always feels like there is a purpose and meaning behind the most devastating beats. Iglesias also knows how to capture the rage and trauma and grief that Mario is feeling after his family is ripped asunder by his daughter Anita’s illness, and how a child dying of leukemia is the greatest horror of this book should you be a parent of a young kid (and hello, that is me, so you know I was just reeling in despair). Iglesias doesn’t hold back on the realism that comes with the violence and the violent world that Mario inhabits, and you find yourself horrified by some of the things he does, but you also completely understand it as he is grief stricken AND up to his ears in medical debt. The clear line of society causing so many ills due to capitalism, racism, and class warfare cuts through the pages of this novel, and the desperation of some of our characters drives them into this dark journey in which we are passengers. It mixes horror and thriller and spits out something wholly unique. As I was reading it it felt almost dreamlike, which I imagine is the point, as Mario certainly doesn’t know what is reality and what is in his head as the journey goes on.

“The Devil Takes You Home” is scary and tragic, a cartel thriller and a ghoul-ridden horror tale at once, and it left me breathless by the end. Steel yourself for this one, both in the vivid moments of violence, but also the tragedy of a parent at the end of their rope.

Rating 9: Dark and genre bending, “The Devil Takes You Home” is incredibly tense, unwaveringly scary, and is both bleak and dreamlike.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Devil Takes You Home” would fit in on the Goodreads list “Diverse Horror”.

Highlights: August 2022

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Hot, hot, hot. Have we mentioned that it’s been hot? But while Kate eagerly looks forward to the cool weather of the fall and the Halloween Horrorpalooza, Serena somehow remains sad to think of the hot weather going away. But either way (one of us sensibly staying in the AC indoors and the other sweating it out in the sun) we still have a lot of books to get through this summer. Here are a few we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks:

Book: “Soul Taken” by Patricia Briggs

Publication Date: August 23, 2022

Why I’m Interested: I’ve been a faithful reader of the Mercy Thompson series for several years now. With all of that time, I’ve seen all of the highs and lows of the series. Currently, the series has been on a bit of a streak with some fun stories one after another. But that always makes me nervous that the trend could collapse at any moment. This story, revolving around an urban legend (a murderer with a scythe) that seems to have come to life, sounds kind of strange, but who knows? There also seems to be an emphasis on the local vampires, and as that is a particularly interesting supernatural group in this series, I’m excited to see what more there is to learn!

Book: “Wildbound” by Elayne Audrey Becker

Publishing Info: August 30, 2022

Why I’m Interested: I really loved last year’s “Forestborn.” It was one of those surprise hits where I really had no expectations going in, but by the time I had finished, I just loved it. It didn’t end on an outright cliffhanger, but it was right up to that line. So I knew when I saw this one coming out this summer that I’d be right at the front of the line. This time, it looks like the POV will be split between Rora and her brother, Helos. I’m not sure how I feel about that, as I really enjoyed Rora as a single narrator and Helos was not the most likeable character ever in that first book. But who knows? Either way, I’m excited to see this story wrapped up.

Book: “The Drowned Woods” by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Publication Date: August 16, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Ever since devouring “The Bone Houses” a few years ago, I’ve been stalking Emily Lloyd-Jones’s Goodreads page for news of another book from her. So I was beyond thrilled when I saw this book lined up to come out this summer. Even more exciting, I nabbed an ARC copy at ALA! Talk about a win! This book has been marketed as “Welsh Atlantis” and I have no idea what that means, but I’m excited. Really, I would have been excited if this had been marketed as “a book about a puddle of mud,” but a vengeful mage, a deadly assassin, and some sort of heist sounds right up my alley!

Kate’s Picks:

Book: “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson

Publication Date: August 2, 2022

Why I’m Interested: We all already know that stories about people who can see/communicate with ghosts are very much my jam, and that I have an enjoyment of crime procedurals as well. So when you take those two things, add in examinations of police corruption, and make it all from an Indigenous perspective, I am going to be 100% on board. I was lucky to snag “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson at ALAAC22, and I have been eager for it. Rita is a photographer who works for the Albuquerque police department, who has been able to see ghosts ever since she was a little girl growing up on a Navajo reservation with her grandmother. When a victim named Erma realizes that Rita can see her, she is hellbent on making Rita figure out what happened. But it gets Rita caught up in a dark underbelly of cartel violence as she reluctantly investigates. This has been a can’t wait read for 2022 and it’s finally here.

Book: “Kismet” by Amina Akhtar

Publication Date: August 1, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Far be it from me to be any kind of wellness or spiritual healing kind of person. The closest I get is the occasional bath bomb in the tub after a long day. But I am VERY interested to see what Amina Akhtar does with this culture, as she is known to be a balls to the wall thriller author. Ronnie has spent her entire life in Queens, living with an repressive aunt and wondering if she has any choices for herself. When she meets Marley, a self help influencer, they click, and Marley convinces her to leave her life behind and move with her to a wellness loving community in Arizona. Ronnie is excited to start over… until other wellness aficionados in their community start dying over the top deaths. Soon Ronnie starts fearing that their wellness based community is anything but. This seems like it could be raucous and fun.

Book: “The Devil Takes You Home” by Gabino Iglesias

Publication Date: August 2, 2022

Why I’m Interested: This has been on horror lists all year long in terms of most hyped and most anticipated, which is a strong argument on its own, but I read Gabino Iglesias’s previous book “Coyote Songs” and found it strange and unsettling, so that pushed it into ‘must read’ territory. Mario never imagined he would be a hit man, but when his young daughter was diagnosed with childhood leukemia, he had to take on this dangerous profession to pay the ever mounting bills. After she dies, Mario is left broken and despondent. When a friend approaches him with a very dangerous job, but one that would make him debt free and allow him to start over, Mario accepts. But their job takes them not only into the violent world of Mexican cartels, but also into otherworldly horrors that only progress as their mission goes on. Iglesias is a quickly rising star in the horror novel world, and this one will surely be on many horror fans lists this year.

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

%d bloggers like this: