Joint Review: “The Witch and the Tsar”

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Book: “The Witch and the Tsar” by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2022

Where Did We Get This Book: We received eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss+.

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

Book Description: As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumors about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia—now the wife of the tsar, and suffering from a mysterious illness—arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realizes the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.

As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan—soon to become Ivan the Terrible—grows more volatile and tyrannical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore weaves a rich tapestry of mythology and Russian history, reclaiming and reinventing the infamous Baba Yaga, and bringing to life a vibrant and tumultuous Russia, where old gods and new tyrants vie for power. This fierce and compelling novel draws from the timeless lore to create a heroine for the modern day, fighting to save her country and those she loves from oppression while also finding her true purpose as a goddess, a witch, and a woman

Kate’s Thoughts

This was a little bit of a gamble for me, as I knew that it was fantasy, and I knew that it was going to be pretty heavy on Russian mythology for inspiration. And given that I’m not a huge fantasy person, and my book of Russian myths and fairytales has sat on my shelf unopened for years, I was rolling the dice. BUT, it also follows Yaga, a witch, and I DO LOVE WITCHES. So I took a chance on this one, and the bag was… pretty mixed.

The positives are definitely ample! For one, I liked Yaga as our protagonist. She’s a healer who is half immortal and has done her best to keep people around her safe, including her old friend Anastasia who is the Tsar’s wife, and who is being poisoned. Yaga, unfortunately, has to learn that not everyone has the same noble heart, and most of this book is her trying to survive not only against a spiraling Ivan the Terrible (who is doing unthinkable things in Russia; what a time to be reading this, given the guy in charge of Russia right now), but also other immortals and gods and demi gods. I liked how Gilmore subverted some of the mythologies to reflect lies and propaganda that the Orthodox Russian Church was spewing to undercut the non-Christian theologies of the time. I know that the fact Yaga has been de-aged from crone to young woman has frustrated some readers, which I definitely get, but I kind of like the idea of her reputation of being a cruel crone is actually a lie to make people distrust a woman who is actually a midwife, healer, and powerful woman in a community.

But overall, I think that I didn’t have enough working knowledge of the mythology (and even the history! I don’t know much about Russian history, honestly), and that meant that I couldn’t fully appreciate what Gilmore was trying to do. I also thought that it was a little ambling at times as the story went on. It wasn’t really a slog, but I did sometimes find myself skimming a bit to get through specific scenes.

So overall, “The Witch and the Tsar” was an okay read, but I’m not sure I got everything I could have gotten from it. Maybe I need to go grab that unopened book of Russian folklore off my shelf.

Serena’s Thoughts

Me, I’m the reader frustrated by the aged-down Yaga! But before I get to that, let’s start with my general impression. Unlike Kate, everything about this book is directly up my alley, so it was a bit of a no-brainer that I was going to read it either way. But I was happy she suggested we joint review it, since I think that has left us in an interesting position now. Since…the very fact that this was up my alley might be why I wasn’t this book’s biggest fan? More precisely, I feel like I’ve read this book before and better versions of it.

For example, while I generally appreciate the commentary on wise women and healers and how these women were undercut by the incoming Christian church in its various forms, I’ve also read many, many fantasy novels that have covered this very thing. And in very similar, unfortunately better, ways. So for me, many aspects of this book just struck chords that were too familiar to other, better stories, leaving me in a constant state of comparison. A big one was “The Bear and the Nightingale” and that trilogy, a series that is also Russian history/folklore inspired and tackles these same conversion points between Christianity, old world religion, and the demonization of women who were healers or stood out in any other way.

Beyond that, I had a hard time connecting to Yaga. Yes, part of me was simply disappointed that she was a young woman because I’ve read a million and one novels about young women in fantasy and it’s always refreshing to read about different age groups (people over 30 exist! especially older women! things happen to them and there is a unique power and experience to be mined there!). But beyond that, Yaga, while still young-looking, is in fact meant to be quite old. And yet she routinely seemed to be quite naive in a way that I found hard to reconcile with the amount of lived experience she should have under her belt at this point.

I also wish we had gotten a bit more from the Russian folklore, as Kate mentioned. I’m pretty familiar with a lot of it, simply due to the fact that it’s had a bit of a run recently as a go-to in fantasy fiction. But there were certain elements that I felt were just plunked down into the story without much thought or creativity. Like the house with chicken legs just kind of appears? I’ve read some pretty interesting takes on this entire concept (Orson Scott Card’s “Enchantment” probably has the most creative one I’ve seen at this point), but this book just seemed to skip over some of these opportunities.

All in all, my conclusion is the same as Kate’s. This wasn’t a slog of a read by any means, but by the time I finished it, I realized I spent most of the book thinking about other, similar stories and wishing this was more like those.

Kate’s Rating 6: I liked Yaga as a protagonist and I liked the way Gilmore subverted Russian myth and folklore, but it felt ambling at times, and I think I would have gotten more if I were more familiar with the mythology.

Serena’s Rating 6: If you haven’t read much Russian fantasy folklore, this might appeal to you. But there are better examples out there that left this one feeling uncomfortably derivative at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Witch and the Tsar” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mythological Re-Imaginings” and “Wise Women, Witches, Midwives, Healers, and Strong Girls”.

Joint Review: “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau”

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Book: “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2022

Where Did We Get This Book: We received eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss+.

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

Book Description: From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

Kate’s Thoughts

It is basically guaranteed at this point that if Silvia Moreno-Garcia has a book coming out, no matter what the genre, I am going to read it. I have enjoyed practically all of her books and her chameleon-like ability to merge into practically any genre as though she is a master of it. And while I haven’t read “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, I know enough about it that the idea of her taking it on was incredibly tantalizing. Especially since she decided to set it in the Yucatán during a volatile time in Mexican political history. And lo and behold, even though I wasn’t super familiar with the source material, and even though I’m not generally a Sci-Fi fan, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” worked wonders for me.

I think that it’s really the setting and the descriptions that gave it the extra kick for me. Moreno-Garcia has never been shy when it comes to addressing various social aspects of Mexican culture and history, and lord knows that Spanish colonialism and imperial oppression are themes that fit right into the original story of the Other and men who believe themselves to be able to play God. We have Dr. Moreau and his daughter Carlotta, who are living in isolation as Moreau creates ‘hybrids’, beings of combined animal and human genetics, which he does in pursuit of science. But funding has to come from somewhere, and therefore the wealthy Spanish descended benefactors intend to give Moreau money in exchange for laborers for their plantation. So we already have one central caste system with our main characters (as well as an outlier of Montgomery, an English doctor who is the overseer of the hybrids who is trying to escape his own dark past), one that reflects foreign influences, Spanish imperialism, and those perceived as less than. I liked seeing how Moreno-Garcia explored these themes, through the eyes of both Carlotta but also Montgomery as they have to face realities about their complicity, as well as things about their own identities. The historical aspects are on point, and Moreno-Garcia always has some great insights to explore through the genre conventions.

The streak continues for my love of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Even if you are unfamiliar with the original tale, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” will have a lot to offer. Do yourself a favor and dive into Moreno-Garcia’s works if you haven’t yet, and here is as good a place as any to start!

Serena’s Thoughts

I think there are a few things you can now expect from a book authored by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. First, she’ll have stellar characters and the story will be told from the perspective of several of them (even more unique to her, the “villain” of many of her stories will also have a perspective point). Second, the story may be a slow-burn as far as the overall tempo of the story, but if you have faith, things will very much get moving before long. And third, you can never expect what genre you will find yourself in with this author. She has an uncanny ability of weaving together a variety of seemingly completely different concepts and themes and somehow…magic happens! We’ve already seen a mixture of the classic Gothic horror story with a Mexican setting and themes of colonialism. And here, we have a reimaging of the “The Island of Doctor Moreau” set in the Yucatan peninsula during the 1800s. It’s horror, it’s science fiction, it’s historical fiction. All at once!

I only knew the most broad points of the original tale, so I can only confirm that this story was approachable as new-comer. I was able to get a pretty decent understanding of that story, but having not read it myself, I can’t say what details may or may not match up. What I can say is that Moreno-Garcia uses the platform offered up by this story (a grieving doctor and his “monstrous” creations) as a platform to explore themes of identity and otherness, and the combination works really well. Our main character, the titular daughter of the doctor, brings a unique perspective to the story, as a young woman coming into her own in a very isolated and strange environment.

As I said, one of the best things about this story is how it blends the science fiction and horror elements with the historical backdrop of this region during this time period. Like the original story itself, I didn’t have a ton of knowledge of the politics and parties involved during this time period, but the book does an excellent job introducing readers. The author also includes a great note at the end of the story that speaks to her research into this period of history. I definitely recommend this book to science fiction/horror readers, and to anyone who has enjoyed Moreno-Garcia’s books in the past!

Kate’s Rating 8: A science fiction tale that steeps in literary description and a lush historical setting, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” is another enjoyable read from genre jumper Silvia Moreno-Garcia!

Serena’s Rating 8: Another unique entry by one of the most reliable (but genre unreliable) authors of the day. Should be a hit with a wide range of readers!

Reader’s Advisory

“The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” is included on the Goodreads lists “Latino Science Fiction”, and “Historical Fiction Set in Latin America”.

Joint Review: “What Moves the Dead”

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Book: “What Moves the Dead” by T. Kingfisher

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, July 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+; NetGalley

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

Book Description: When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.

What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves.

Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.

Serena’s Thoughts:

As fans of this blog know, I’ve been on a bit of a T. Kingfisher kick lately, after discovering how much I liked her worked after reading “Nettle & Bone.” So when I saw that she was coming out with a horror novella this summer, I was all on board to read it. And of course we had to have our resident horror expert’s take as well, so I roped Kate into this one.

I haven’t read the original “The Fall of the House of Usher;” frankly, I have read very little Poe altogether. But it was easy enough to guess at the typic of gothic horror story it must have been. So, I can’t say how closely T. Kingfisher followed that story. What I do know is that the author took the liberty of not only creating an original narrating character, but an entire country and culture from which that character originated. With that came one of the most interesting takes on new pronouns that I’ve ever seen. What made it work for me was just how well-thought out the language decisions were. They all made sense in the realm of what we can see in other real languages. But beyond the pronouns, Kingfisher used this culture to highlight the limitations placed on women of the time. But, as the author tends to have a light touch on her prose, it was all done in a humorous, if not any less important, way.

I also really liked the horror aspect of this story. In the author’s note (always read the author’s note!), Kingfisher mentions that she was in the process of writing this book when Sylvia Moreno-Garcia put out her “Mexican Gothic,” another gothic horror with a focus on mushrooms and fungus. I’m glad that Kingfisher wasn’t put off of writing this book, however, because they are ultimately very different stories. The fungus, itself, was very different. Sure, it played for all the spooky horror moments. But it also drew on different emotions that I had definitely not expected. I don’t want to get into it further than that for spoiler reasons, but I was definitely having some surprising reactions to various twists and turns towards the end of the book.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Unlike Serena, I have read “The Fall of the House of Usher”, but it had been, oh… twenty five years since I last read it? I remembered the basics, though I did wonder if I would spot the parallels as well as I would have had it not been a quarter century. But good news! I remembered enough to make the comparisons! But even better news is that T. Kingfisher has made the story unique and able to stand on its own while still harkening to the spirit of the original! That is to say, I definitely enjoyed this book!

A lot of the things I found interesting and unique Serena touched upon, but as the resident horror person I will stick to that aspect of the book. Kingfisher does a really good job of sticking to the Gothic paranoia of isolation and slow mental and emotional decline, while also introducing a really gross and unsettling body horror aspect with the fungal themes. While body horror can be a sub genre that makes me incredibly uneasy, what I liked about Kingfisher’s take on it is that this book rarely goes for deliberate over the top gross outs, and instead relies on unsettling imagery like hares that are behaving oddly, or a sleepwalking woman that just seems off, or the eerie beauty of a lake that glows at night for reasons unknown. We never get to super high levels of horror in this book, as there are plenty of moments of levity as well as a matter of fact tone as the story goes on, but there are plenty of beats that are incredibly creepy that feel like moments in the original tale. It’s a very well done homage and retelling that made me squeamish for all the right reasons.

Fans of the original story should check this out, not only because it’s well done, but also because it’s a good introduction to an author who is doing creative things across genres.

Serena’s Rating 8: A short, spooky tale that introduces a new version of a classic tale, new character and culture included!

Kate’s Rating 8: Unsettling and unique, “What Moves the Dead” is a fun reimagining of a Poe staple.

Reader’s Advisory:

“What Moves the Dead” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Fungus Fiction and Summer of Speculative Reading

Beach Reads: Summer 2022

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Back for 2022, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! Perhaps a little early, but Memorial Day is the traditional kick off to Summer, after all, and that’s just a week away. “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to fast paced, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

Fantasy Title: “Bryony and Roses” by T. Kingfisher

I know I just got done reviewing this book for the blog, so it’s probably pretty familiar to regular readers. But when I sat down and thought of a fantasy beach read, T. Kingfisher immediately came to mind! For one thing, she writes a lot of standalone fantasy stories. For another, it’s a rare thing indeed to find a fantasy author who doesn’t feel the need to write 500+ page tomes with every book they release. All of this makes her a great beach read go-to for fantasy fans! “Bryony and Roses” is also a retelling of a fan favorite fairytale, “Beauty and the Beast.” But T. Kingfisher approaches the story with a fresh look on both her “Beauty” character as well as her Beast. I loved this book, and it has already found a beloved place on my shelf. Definitely check it out if you want a light-hearted, feel-good fantasy novel to read this summer!

Science Fiction Title: “Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves” by Meg Long

Science fiction as genre is also prone to long, sprawling sagas made up of several huge tomes. So it, too, can be hard to find a good beach read from within. This year, I’m going with a YA science fiction title that I think might have been overlooked by many readers in this genre. And that’s because, bizarrely, the cover art looks EXACTLY like fantasy title cover. But no, this is definitely science fiction. It’s a strange tale of essentially a life-or-death dog sled race that takes place on another planet. There isn’t a romance in this story; instead, the emotional resonance comes between our main character, a scruffy survivor herself, and the half-wild racing wolf she slowly befriends. It’s a fast-paced, adrenaline-filled story sure to please science fiction adventure fans.

Mystery Title: “The Murder of Mr. Wickham” by Claudia Gray

Another book that I’ve reviewed recently, but again, another perfect fit for this beach reads list! I had a hard time deciding whether to put this selection under mystery or history, but the title kind of forced my hand since, at its heart, this is a murder mystery. But I think the more important factor is the sheer joy that is found in a well-written Jane Austen continuation. As all Austen fans know, it’s truly hard to find a good adaptation of Austen’s work. And here, the author had to have a handle on not only one character, but ALL of the couples from the original six Jane Austen stories. On top of masterfully presenting these familiar characters, Gray also manages to introduce to two original characters who are able to stand on their own next to these famous faces. This is a must-read for all Jane Austen fans!

History Title: “Velvet was the Night” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Kate and I both read and reviewed this book last year, as we’re both huge Moreno-Garcia fans at this point and will fight over who gets to read her next (you’ll be seeing another such collaborative read this summer as we tackle the issue in the same way!) This is a perfect selection for a beach read in the history genre simply because it tackles a time period and place not often found in historical fiction: Mexico in the 1970s. The story is that of a reclusive secretary and an up-and-coming goon who both find themselves being caught up in the mystery of an art student’s death. Beyond belonging to the historical fiction genre, this is also a political thriller and tale of intrigue and deception. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a force across genres, so really, everyone should check out this and her other books.

Kate’s Picks

Horror Title: “When No One Is Watching” by Alyssa Cole

I reviewed this book last year with high praise after I pretty much sat down and read it in one sitting. And isn’t that exactly the kind of book you want to take on your vacation, one that will suck you in so fiercely? “When No One Is Watching” really fits that characteristic set, and it’s one you would LOVE to have on hand at the beach or pool because of it. Sydney is a homegrown Brooklynite, who has returned to her childhood home after being away in a fraught and troubled marriage. Her neighborhood, however, has started to go through some changes thanks to gentrification, with old neighbors leaving seeminly overnight. New people like Theo and Kim, a white couple that has just moved in, start to encroach, though Theo wants to be a good neighbor. He offers to help Sydney with a project that would delve into the history of the neighborhood. But something shady is afoot, and the old residents may not be leaving of their own accord… Addictive, scary, and super relevant, “When No One Is Watching” is a great horror novel!

Thriller Title: “We Are Watching Eliza Bright” by A.E. Osworth

It happens on occasion that I will read a book in my genres that doesn’t make it to the blog, usually because I didn’t feel like I had much to say about it, other times because of other commitments taking priority. And sometimes I really like a book but I just don’t get my shit together to write a good long review in a way I want, and that is where “We Are Watching Eliza Bringt” by A.E. Osworth falls. Eliza Bright is a female coder and game developer for an up and coming gaming company, but after experiencing workplace harassment she takes it to her superiors. When they do nothing, she takes it to the press. And once it’s made public, she is suddenly targeted by angry, misogynistic gamers who make it their mission to make her life a living hell. This thriller is action packed and really suspenseful/scary (I think I would call it both thriller AND horror), told through perspectives of Eliza, those who defend her, and the collection of dangerous men who are targetting her. It rattled me pretty deeply when I read it, but I also could NOT put it down, the very definition of what one may want in a beach read.

Graphic Novel Title: “Check, Please!” by Ngozi Ukazu

Perhaps it seems odd to have a graphic novel about hockey on a summer themed list, but don’t let the cold sport fool you! The “Check Please” Duology is quick and quippy and just a little bit romantic as well as funny and heartfelt! Eric Bittle is a former figure skater who has arrived as a freshman at college, and joins the hockey team to get on the ice and meet new people. It’s there that he meets Jack, the somewhat broody and serious captain, who takes Eric under his wing, and whom Eric suddenly becomes absolutely smitten with. There is also baking, banter, vlogs, and some decidedly adorable male friendships that don’t reek of toxic masculinity in spite of the masculine context of hockey. I really liked this coming of age hockey romance, and even though it’s two volumes it’s a really easy read that will keep you interested!

Non-Fiction Title: “I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir” by Harvey Fierstein

I knew that in my heart and mind that Harvey Fierstein was an icon, but after reading his memoir “I Was Better Last Night” it only confirmed that he is iconic on EVERY LEVEL. This memoir is candid, funny, sometimes sad, and a super interesting look into the mind and thoughts and craft of an amazing performer. Because of Fierstein’s range most people are sure to know him from something (it could be his activism, it could be his Broadway career, it could be his character in “Mrs. Doubtfire”!), and his voice is so genuine and so funny at times that this book was a quick and delightful read that had me laughing out loud and also tearing up. It’s charming to be sure and not cumbersome in the way some memoirs or autobiographies can be.

Joint Review: “Dead Silence”

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Book: “Dead Silence” by S.A. Barnes

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, February 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: We received eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss+

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

Book Description: Titanic meets The Shining in S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence, a SF horror novel in which a woman and her crew board a decades-lost luxury cruiser and find the wreckage of a nightmare that hasn’t yet ended.

A GHOST SHIP.
A SALVAGE CREW.
UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS.

Claire Kovalik is days away from being unemployed—made obsolete—when her beacon repair crew picks up a strange distress signal. With nothing to lose and no desire to return to Earth, Claire and her team decide to investigate.

What they find at the other end of the signal is a shock: the Aurora, a famous luxury space-liner that vanished on its maiden tour of the solar system more than twenty years ago. A salvage claim like this could set Claire and her crew up for life. But a quick trip through the Aurora reveals something isn’t right. Whispers in the dark. Flickers of movement. Words scrawled in blood. Claire must fight to hold onto her sanity and find out what really happened on the Aurora, before she and her crew meet the same ghastly fate.

Thank you to NetGalley and Edelweiss+ for providing us with eARCs of this novel!

Kate’s Thoughts

We’ve gone over this before, but I always like to preface my reviews of this genre with a note: I’m not super into Sci Fi as a genre, though there are certain exceptions that I am good with. Namely, “Star Trek”, the original “Star Wars”, and Space Horror as a subgenre. So when I saw “Dead Silence” by S.A. Barnes being chatted about on Twitter and Goodreads, I couldn’t help but have my interest piqued. Something described as “Titanic” meets “The Shining” is bound to be a unique combination, so I tossed my Sci Fi apprehension aside and took a chance! Especially since I was also getting some serious “Event Horizon” vibes from the description.

Where we’re going we won’t need eyes to see… (source)

And if you throw in “Alien” and “Aliens” into this mix, you pretty much have “Dead Silence”, which makes it a familiar but engaging space horror novel. Barnes does a good job of setting up our story, with our protagonist Claire at the end of her run as a Team Lead for a corporate space mission, who is worried about what she does next, as she has no money and no prospects due to a checkered past. So when she and her crew stumble upon a distress signal from the long lost space liner Aurora, which disappeared with numerous wealthy passengers on board, she sees an opportunity she can’t pass up. Things, of course, don’t go as well as she would hope, and carnage ensues. And in terms of space horror beats, “Dead Silence” hits them all pretty well with a combination of slow burn build up, well done exposition, and a genuinely disturbing scenario that will set the reader on edge. I was enthralled during the first half of the book, loving the haunted ship and how it was messing with Claire and her crew, as well as how Barnes slowly reveals Claire’s backstory and why she is already perhaps a little unreliable in her own mind in terms of what she thinks she is, or isn’t seeing.

But it’s definitely familiar. From a mysterious distress signal to a ship that perhaps is haunted and drives people to the brink to a corporation having a vested interest in what may or may not be on board, “Dead Silence” has a lot of elements that are straight call backs to other space horror stories. I think that had we not diverted from the original ‘crew goes aboard an abandoned vessel and finds terrible things’ plot, I probably would have enjoyed it more, but when we get to the very “Aliens”-esque ‘and now they’re forcing her to go back for their own motives’ plot in the second half, I was a little less enthused. That isn’t to say that it was poorly done, as it wasn’t. I still found it entertaining. But once a bit of the mystery was gone, or at least had changed a bit, the dread and suspense went down for me. And perhaps that’s because it started to lean more on other Sci Fi things that don’t resonate as much for me.

Regardless, I had a fun time reading “Dead Silence”. It totally makes me want to revisit the stories it was paying homage to.

Serena’s Thoughts

Hi! Surprised to see me reviewing anything with the slightest twinge of “horror”? But, like Kate with her reading of science fiction stories, I do make exceptions for horror stories that cross over into my preferred genres. I’ve read a few good horror fantasies last year, but this is the first horror sci-fi book I’ve read in quite some time. And man, emphasis on the “horror” part!

Like Kate references, there have been plenty of science fiction horror stories in the past, both on the screen and on the page. So with that in mind, going in I always feel like there are two rather predictable routes the book can take. And this book does employ one of those and some other commonly seen tropes. That said, the actual horror, dread, and jump scares of the book still came in hot and fast. The first half of the book had me on the edge of my seat. And, I won’t lie, several of of these scenes have stuck with me and popped into my mind at inopportune times when trying to get to sleep, even days later. It also helped that Claire herself was an unreliable narrator, so it was hard to know exactly what horror was coming from her and what was coming from the strange happenings on the Aurora.

But I’ll also agree with Kate that the book lags a bit towards the second half. It almost feels like the author got up to speed on the horror of the situation and then slams on the brakes, cutting all tension and suspense off at its knees. From there, it shifts gears, and while the story does build to a different sort of tension, we never regain the jittery creepiness of the first half. And that’s such a shame! As we learn, there was plenty of scary stuff to come and for some reason the author just jets us away from it all unexpectedly. It’s a bizarre choice, frankly.

That said, I definitely enjoyed this read and gobbled it up over only a few reading sessions. For me, a little horror goes a long way (can’t have too much nightmare fuel all at once), but this was definitely a good choice for one my rare ventures into the genre.

Kate’s Rating 7: Pretty serviceable space horror with some good scary moments, but also pretty familiar in terms of plot points.

Serena’s Rating 7: Very creepy when it stuck to its horror themes, but a bit baffling with some of the choices the author made later in the story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dead Silence” is included on the Goodreads lists “Space Horror”, and “2022 Horror and Sci Fi Releases”.

Joint Review: “Comfort Me With Apples”

Book: “Comfort Me With Apples” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Tor.Com

Where Did We Get This Book: Received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze

But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?

Kate’s Thoughts

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novella!

I will be the first to admit that, unlike Serena, I haven’t really found myself connecting with the works I’ve read by Catherynne M. Valente. I know that fantasy readers really love her stories, and I recognize the talent there, though the content itself hasn’t ever wowed me. But when Serena asked if I’d be interested in joint reviewing Valente’s new horror/dark fantasy novella “Comfort Me With Apples”, I was totally game. After all, the description was mysterious, with hints of Bluebeard and suburban horror, and I figured that all those things combined would make for an interesting tale. And then Valente went and shocked me with a whole other element that TOTALLY WORKED… and that I can’t really talk about because I don’t want to spoil anything.

Frustrating I know, but really, you should go in a bit blind. (source)

But here is what I will say about “Comfort Me With Apples”: Valente has created a very well plotted novella that slowly builds the unease from the jump, and it eventually escalates to dread, and hope, and frustration, and a bit more dread. We get two different ways of telling this story: the first is the story of Sophia, a young wife living in the perfect community of Arcadia Gardens, with a perfect husband that she feels completely devoted to and defined by, who shouldn’t have any care in the world as everything is so laid out and, well, perfect. As she lives her day to day life of perfection, she starts to have niggling doubts due to how secretive her husband can be, and small, creepy discoveries she’s making in her home that imply that someone was there before her. We also have the rules of this community interspersed in the narrative, as they go from general (if not incredibly stiff) HOA guidelines, to things that sound far more punitive and threatening. I loved how Valente used both these ways to clue you in to what Sophia was slowly discovering about herself, and the secrets her husband, and neighbors, are keeping. And boy did it build up and seep into my veins. I don’t know what I expected from this short story, but it definitely blew past them, and hit every single thing that I wanted it to hit when the big picture was finally clear for all to see.

I enjoyed this novella quite a bit. If you want a quick, creepy, and in some ways frustrating (in a good way?) read, definitely look into “Comfort Me With Apples”.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve really liked Valente’s books before, most especially her “Fairyland” series. Knowing her writing style, very lyrical and and fanciful style, I was really curious to see how that would adapt to a more chilling tone and story. I had high hopes, which is why I brought in our resident horror expert! But even with that in mind, I was still struck with just how well her unique use of words and phrasing would work to draw an increasingly disturbing picture. The build is slow, but the tension and dread wrap around you from quite early on, even if you can’t put your finger on just what is wrong.

Like Kate mentioned, this book is incredibly hard to review without spoiling the many secrets that are slowly unveiled as the story progresses. I think it is particularly interesting, though, having both Kate and I read it, because in some ways, we both came at this book from very different perspectives. Kate is more familiar with general horror and thrillers, giving her a unique perspective on the story. And I….

More like, I have a particular background knowledge set that I can’t mention because it will spoil the story. That said, those who have the same history will be quick to pick up on some elements of the story and can see where things are going a bit early on. Not to brag, but I was even able to put names to characters who never make the page. Yeah, be impressed. But that’s really neither here nor there in the end, as I don’t think being able to predict some of these twists or not really affects the reading experience too much. It was still super creepy and a very unique twist on some familiar elements.

Kate’s Rating 8: Unexpected and creepy, and hits all the right buttons for the kind of story it ends up being!

Serena’s Rating 8: A quick but creepy read that wraps up some familiar (and less familiar) elements into a brand-new tension-filled tale.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Comfort Me With Apples” is included on the Goodreads lists “Suburban Gothic”, and “2021 Horror Novels Written by Women (Cis and Trans) and Non-Binary Femmes”.

Find “Comfort Me With Apples” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Joint Review: “Certain Dark Things”

Book: “Certain Dark Things” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, September 2021

Where Did We Get This Book: Received an eARC from NetGalley;

Book Description: From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a pulse-pounding neo-noir that reimagines vampire lore.

Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.

Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.

Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

Kate’s Thoughts

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

As someone who loves, but is VERY picky about, vampire mythology, I was very interested in seeing what Silvia Moreno-Garcia would do with a vampire story. She has consistently impressed me within multiple genres, and I figured that even if I didn’t care for her take on vampirism, I would at least find something to enjoy about “Certain Dark Things”. But good news! I not only liked the story as a whole, I also really liked her take on vampirism!

I greatly enjoyed our vampire protagonist Atl, a Tlāhuihpochtl vampire whose ancestors trace back to the Aztecs, and whose family is in a vampire gang war with the Necros, Central European transplant vampires who have been infesting Mexico for awhile. As Atl flees into Mexico City (where vampires are not allowed), she meets Domingo, a young man who is a bit aimless… until he meets Atl. Moreno-Garcia does a great job of bringing these two together and bringing in various vampire mythologies of vampires and servants to make their relationship both easy to like, but also a little hard to swallow. Which is almost certainly intentional, and completely appropriate in a vampire romance if we are being quite honest. I liked Domingo fine for his can do attitude, but it was Atl, with her hard exterior and suppressed pain for her lost family (and in turn violent motivations) that really sucked me in. I also LOVED how Moreno-Garcia brought colonialism into a vampire story, as the Tlāhuihpochtl are the now waning vampires that were in Mexico initially, and have been clashing with the Central European Necros, who came into Mexico and started throwing their weight around. Boy do I love social commentary in my horror, and this is how you execute it properly. And to make things even better, there is an entire encyclopedia of vampire factions within this universe at the end of the book!

It is, Deacon. It really is. (source)

“Certain Dark Things” was very fun vampire fiction! Silvia Moreno-Garcia continues her streak of genre jumping.

Serena’s Thoughts

I, too, really liked this book! I’m continuously impressed by how effortlessly (seemingly) Moreno-Garcia jumps from genre to genre, and this book is yet another example of it. Though, to be fair, this is a re-release of this book. Back when it was originally published, many publishers were cautious that “Twilight” had ruined vampire books for a good long time. But slowly and surely, this book gained a sort of cult following, strong enough to, years later, revive the book entirely (though I’m sure Moreno-Garcia’s spate of very successful recent releases has also played a part). Reading the book now, it’s hard to imagine how any publisher could ever equate this to “Twilight.”

Like Kate mentioned, in some ways, yes, this is a vampire romance. But when the romance in question is so highly questionable, with moving dynamics dependence and power inequalities, there’s no way it can be compared to the saccharine mess that was Edward and Bella. Atl and Domingo are each such incredibly complex characters, and their respective backgrounds are so rich (her recent loss of her powerful, native family to a encroaching gang of foreign vampires, and his perilous life on the streets as a trash collector). All of this plays into the slowly-built friendship and romance they develop.

It’s also incredibly dark and bloody. People die. Like, a lot of people. There are the nameless victims that one expects to find in true vampire stories, but there is also a larger cast of POV characters, each with their own compelling arcs, and their endings are also not guaranteed. I really enjoyed the action sequences and horror aspects of this story. It was just tense enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, but also too much for my non-horror-reading self.

This was another win by this author. At this point, she’s pretty much on my auto-read radar and nearing my auto-buy cateogry!

Kate’s Rating 8: A fresh take on vampire mythology with Mexican folklore as a guide, “Certain Dark Things” is a fun dark fantasy thrill ride!

Serena’s Rating 8: An excellent entry into vampire lore bringing with it an entire host of different vampires with the added bonus of the Mexican setting and history.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Certain Dark Things” is included on the Goodreads lists “Aztec, Maya, & Inca – Fiction”, and “Horror To Look Forward To 2021”.

Find “Certain Dark Things” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Joint Review: “Velvet Was the Night”

Book: “Velvet Was the Night” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Del Rey, August 2021

Where Did We Get This Book: Received an eARC from NetGalley, received an eARC from Edelweiss+.

Book Description: From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a “delicious, twisted treat for lovers of noir” about a daydreaming secretary, a lonesome enforcer, and the mystery of a missing woman they’re both desperate to find.

1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.

Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance—and grows more and more obsessed with this woman who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.

Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets—at gunpoint.

Velvet Was the Night is an edgy, simmering historical novel for lovers of smoky noirs and anti-heroes.

Serena’s Thoughts

I remember noting in one of my early Moreno-Garcia reads that she’s a unique author in that she seems to jump from genre to genre with ease. It’s truly something rare, I believe, as most authors have a defined genre within they operate comfortably. Sherry Thomas is another favorite author of mine who comes to mind with this shared ability. But Moreno-Garcia takes it to a new level. I’ve read a Gothic horror, a Regency romance, a Mexican folktale fantasy, and now here I am reviewing a noir! At the very least, she’s single-handedly expanding my horizons in my genre reading!

One thing that does remain consistent between her books is her love of featuring duel/multiple POVs in her books. Here we experience the story from both an inside and outside perspective. On one hand, we have Maite, an introverted young woman who leads a quiet life reading her beloved romance novels before getting drawn into the mysterious disappearance of her neighbor Leonora. And on the other, we have Elvis, a gang member who works with the Hawks, an organization that works to quell political dissenters. He is interested in Leonora’s disappearance for very different reasons.

There was much to love about this book, from its exploration of the deep loneliness found in two characters leading very different lives, to the vivid painting of life in Mexico during this period of history. I knew only a little about what was going on during this time, so I was particularly interested in seeing Moreno-Garcia’s take on that situation. Elvis’s storyline, in particular, presented a unique take on these events, coming from the inside of the Hawk organization itself.

But her strengths have always been her characters and the strong, atmospheric worlds she sets them loose in. Here, both Maite and Elvis, while very, very different characters, were equally compelling. Their stories weave together slowly and with attention given to the inner workings of each character and the arcs they are covering. I don’t read a lot of noirs, but I believe this slower-paced storytelling is a specific aspect of the genre, and it blends perfectly with Moreno-Garcia’s love of careful character building.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I think I ultimately still prefer her other books that had supernatural/fantasy elements involved, but that’s also just very inline with my own reading tendencies. Fans of noirs and historical fiction, I’m sure, will gobble this up, but I recommend it to readers of all genres,

Kate’s Thoughts

Boy oh boy, I am consistently blown away by how good Silvia Moreno-Garcia is at seamlessly slipping into a new genre with every book I read, and while I always hope that she will come back for more horror and thriller elements as time goes on, I do like a good mystery. I’m not as in tune with the Noir subgenre as I am other mystery subgenres, but I do enjoy a good Noir film every now and again. Because of this, I was eager to read her new Noir novel, “Velvet Was the Night”

Serena touches on a lot of the same things I liked about this book in her review, so I’ll try not to repeat her too much. I also enjoyed both of our protagonists Maite and Elvis, and their very different backgrounds and motivations for finding Leonora. Maite gets pulled into it because 1) she was watching the woman’s cat, and 2) the mystery is exciting, and her life is decidedly not. Elvis, on the other hand, works for a secret group that crushes political dissenters, and Leonora is involved in student activism. The elements of an intricate mystery are there as they both go on the search and find out a lot about her life and how it fits into the landscape of 1970s Mexico City. I liked both Maite for her somewhat naïveté laced personality and the dark and dangerous journey she takes, and I liked Elvis and how, even though he works for a group of suppressive fascists, he has his own bits of rebellion as he, too, goes on a journey on self discovery. They both feel confined to their existences, and start to realize that there could be more.

And it’s really the time and place that worked the best for me in this story. I have no little knowledge of Mexican history, so a lot of this felt like I was learning a bit about an area I knew little about as we went on the journey. I found myself looking up information about Luis Echeverría Álvarez and El Halconazo as I was reading the book just to educate myself some more, and it made the political dissent angle all the more interesting to me. I love how Moreno-Garcia pulled a Noir story out of a setting that you don’t see within the subgenre all that often, at least in my experience. Some of the details and allusions to that theme were very unsettling, and wove in an entire lower level of dread that the Hawks were going to catch up with Maite, Rubén, and Leonora and then all hell would break loose.

“Velvet Was the Night” is a well done new Noir mystery that is sure to entertain mystery fans. Hats off to Moreno-Garcia for once again doing a great job with a new genre!

Serena’s Rating:

Kate’s Rating 8: A taut mystery, fun characters, and a unique setting made “Velvet Was the Night” a fun noir mystery that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Velvet Was the Night” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Noir of the 21st Century”, and “Books by Latinx Releasing in 2021”.

Find “Velvet Was the Night” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Beach Reads: Summer 2021

Back for 2021, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

Fantasy Title: “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik

I highlighted “Uprooted” in this list several years ago, but I think now is as good a time as any to return to the well and select Novik’s follow-up fairytale fantasy, “Spinning Silver.” In theory, these two books exist in the same world. In practicality, they each can be read as complete stand-alones. This time, Novik tackles “Rumpelstiltskin,” but her complete expansion and unique take on the fable leaves only the barest hints of the original story. Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, and when forced to take up the role herself, find she has has a particular talent for the role. So much so that she draws the eyes of powerful magical beings who would put her skills to an even greater use. But this isn’t simply Miryem’s tale. We also follow the path of a nobleman’s neglected daughter and a peasant girl who is trying to protect her family. Honestly, it’s hard to say which I like better between this book and “Uprooted,” so just go ahead and read both.

Science Fiction Title: “Driftwood” by Marie Brennan

This was a favorite sci-fi read from last summer, and a perfect book for this summer’s beach read list. Not only is it a stand-alone title, but it’s also a short, quick read. Driftwood is the world where all other worlds go to die. After whatever apocalypse took them out, the final scraps of the land and its inhabitants find themselves mashed up against other failed worlds, slowly grinding themselves into oblivion. But even here, life flourishes and civilizations rise and fall. But where everything eventually comes to end, one being endures, a man named Last. Weaving through a variety of tales and worlds, Last’s story slowly unfolds, though there, too, histories and mysteries are layered one upon another. This was such a unique read that I’ve been raving about it pretty much since the moment I set it down. Definitely check it out if you want a quick, science fiction read.

Mystery Title: “Crocodile on the Sandbank” by Elizabeth Peters

I actually had to look past through our Beach Reads posts of the previous summers, because I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t featured this one yet! It’s been a while since I’ve read a book in the “Amelia Peabody,” series, but I will never forget the sheer joy of reading this first book for the first time. I was sitting outside a coffee shop in the summer, and I ended up sitting there for like four hours just blowing through this book and laughing out loud. Oh, the days before children! Of all the books I’m featuring this go-around, “Crocodile on the Sandbank” is by far the best fit for a Beach Read in that it’s just a sheer joy to read. Fans of historical mysteries have to check it out, and if you like intrepid heroines, this one’s also for you!

Historical Fiction Title: “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler

Technically, this book could fall under sci-fi/fantasy as well, as it features time travel at the heart of the story. But as most of it is focused on the historical aspects of time travel rather than the science fiction behind it, I thought it would work well here. Dana, a young African American woman, suddenly finds herself wrenched from her life in 1976 back to antebellum Maryland. She saves a young white boy from drowning and only barely escapes with her life. The story jumps back and forth through time as Dana’s life continues to intertwine with this same young man. This book is a staple of science fiction literature and, obviously, Butler is one of the genre’s most beloved authors. If you’re looking for good historical fiction novel as well as one to check off on many “must read” lists, definitely get your hands on “Kindred.”

Kate’s Picks

Horror Title: “Feed” by Mira Grant

I reviewed one of the spin off books on this blog, “Feedback”, which takes place in the same zombie tech universe, but I haven’t touched much upon the original story that started it all. In a world where cures for the common cold and cancer became a reality, the solutions merged into a virus that turns people into zombies. Now society has figured out ways to adapt and move on, and bloggers and vloggers act as sources of news. We follow Georgia and Shaun Mason, sibling reporters who are in high demand, and who have been hired by a Presidential candidate to cover his campaign. But as they get deeper into the politics, they start to find disturbing connections to the zombie hordes. It’s savvy, it’s fun, and it’s wholly unique, and a great read for a vacation.

Thriller Title: “Help for the Haunted” by John Searles

When Serena and I and some of our friends stumbled upon an Alex Award presentation about this book at ALA in 2014, we hadn’t heard of “Help for the Haunted”. But it became clear almost immediately that it would be a thriller that is right up my alley. Sylvie Mason is one of the daughters of a famous ghost hunting duo, and after a call in the middle of the night takes her and her parents to an abandoned church, her parents end up dead. A year later, Sylvie is living with her older sister Rose, who may know more than she’s saying about their parents’ deaths. On top of that, the family basement, which houses the haunted artifacts left over from their parents cases, has been acting up. Sylvie wants to find out the truth about her parents… no matter what that truth may be. Given that this is loosely based on Ed and Lorraine Warren, and that “The Conjuring 3” is now released, this thriller is a timely choice.

Graphic Novel Title: “Ms. Marvel (Vol.1): No Normal” by G. Willow Wilson and Adrial Alphona (Ill.)

While my reactions to the “Ms. Marvel” stories have had their ups and downs, I absolutely loved the very first book, “Ms. Marvel: No Normal”. In this first volume we meet Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City who suddenly has super powers thrust upon her. She becomes Ms. Marvel, and her life of fighting crime as well as trying to survive high school begins. “No Normal” has the perfect set up which introduces Kamala, as well as her family and friends, and shows us a dynamic and engaging superhero that gives voice to those who aren’t as represented in comics. And while the series does have moments of being a little aggressively quirky, “No Normal” is pretty much on point and excellent from start to finish. Definitely check this one out if you are looking for a comic series with a lot of heart.

Non-Fiction Title: “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish

Non-fiction is such a broad swath of genres, but I thought that for beach reading you probably want to keep it lighter! So instead of going for my usual true crime pick, we turn to humorous memoirs, and there we find “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish! Haddish has established herself as a gifted comedienne in the past few years, and her memoir is a collection of reflections about her life. Some of it is VERY funny (naturally), while other parts of it are poignant and at times hard to read. But through it all Haddish has wry self awareness and some really fun stories about her life. “The Last Black Unicorn” feels like a good mix of the fun and the painful, and I found myself laughing and shedding a few tears throughout. It’s the kind of memoir that you won’t want to put down, and will make you root for Haddish the whole way through.

What books are you taking to the beach with you this summer? Let us know in the comments!

Read Deliciously: Books and Food

Last week was Pi Day, a fun quirk of a holiday that celebrates the mathematical value of Pi (3.14) with pie! All this fun pie talk was certain to make us hungry, and books and food go hand in hand in many different ways! Here are just a few books that either have recipes, or food themed plots, or anything to do with food in honor of a food centric holiday!

Book: “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg

While this story is mostly about the power of female friendships, sapphic romance, and the unrelenting spirit of women in the face of societal roadblocks, “Fried Greed Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” is also a book that has many food references that just sound amazing! As the characters of Idgie and Ruth run their own diner by a train stop in rural Alabama, they serve up all kinds of delicious treats like pies, hearty meals, and, of course, fried green tomatoes. And, uh, a side of cannibalism here and there, but that was never the main menu item! And it isn’t included in the recipe section that can be found in the back of the book, holding treats and delights from cafe head cook Sipsy. Highly recommended and not too hard to make either!

Book: “The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookie Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes” by Robin Davis

This cookbook is sure to be a treat for “Star Wars” fans of all ages! Pop culture cookbooks are definitely a thing, and while a lot of them will create and derive recipes from actual food that is found in the source material, “The Star Wars Cookbook” goes in a different direction and decides to make recipes that work on puns, rhymes, alliterations, and imagery. From the titular “Wookie Cookies” to “Boba Fett-ucine” to “Bossk Brownies”, you have character inspired goodies, as well as recipes that just look like things in the saga (such as the “Tatooine Twin Sun Toast”, which is essentially eggs in a basket but with two eggs that can look like the suns on Luke’s home planet). Lots of simple recipes, fun pictures, and encouragement for the whole family to get involved makes for a really fun day of cooking!

Book: “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain

Many people agree that the culinary and food world lost an icon when Anthony Bourdain died due to suicide in 2018. Not only was he a lover of food and cooking, but he also was a man who had a reverence and respect for the many cultures that he explored as he traveled the world doing his culinary adventures and research. “Kitchen Confidential” is probably his best known written work, and it still remains as a go to for memoirs about cooking and cuisine. While he talks candidly about the things in his own life, he also talks about the ins and outs of restaurant kitchens, and gives advice on what to definitely order, and what to definitely avoid, when it comes to eating out at a restaurant (someday we’ll get back to that, right?). Bourdain’s mark on the food world is positive and permanent, and his voice is missed.

Book: “Redwall” by Brian Jacques

This could hold true for the entire series, but I’ll list the first book here because, well, it’s first. None of the books in this long-running fantasy series about warrior animals and a mythical abbey inhabited by monk mice are overtly about food. HOWEVER. Anyone who has read even one of these stories will immediately understand why it’s on this list. Every book includes at least one feast scene with entire pages devoted to listing out the various forest food dishes the animals are eating. It’s all so lovingly and lavishly fixated on that you begin to forget that acorn pie is not really a thing. It all sounds delicious! Now, could it be said that there is a little bit too much talk about all the ins and outs of what everyone is eating at all times? Why, yes. But if you like to revel in fantasy food scenes, this is the book/series for you.

Book: “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquirel

This is a lovely book that perfectly combines a poignant love story and also includes recipes! This was a super popular book when it came out, but as I was a kid then, I didn’t get around to reading it until much later. I also don’t typically read this sort of book, but I found it absolutely delightful. It was surprisingly witty and the installment-style of storytelling worked much better than I had anticipated. I’m also not a big cook, but I grew up in a part of the country with a lot of Mexican immigrants who opened some amazing restaurants, so I recognized a lot of the recipes and dishes they included. Perhaps now would be a good time to re-visit this one, as I might be more capable of attempting some of these. Fans who want both a lovely book as well as some fantastic Mexican cuisine recipes should definitely check this out.

Book: “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal

And, of course, we could complete list this without including a book that touches on the cuisine of our beloved Midwest. Yes, we eat more than casserole here! More so than “Like Water for Chocolate,” however, this is primarily a fictional novel that also happens to touch on the food found in the Midwest. Told from a large variety of POV characters, it’s the story of a single father attempting to raise his small daughter, Eva. As she grows, her father, Lars, works to instill in her a love for the food of Minnesota, a combination of dishes ranging from the seemingly-strange Norwegian meals and to the homey, comfort foods found in an all-American meal. Each chapter introduces and focuses on a new type of food that connects to Eva’s story as she grows, highlighting how so often food is a focal point for communities and relationships. A must read for residents of Minnesota and a nice window looking in for those curious about Midwest culture and cuisine.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks or books that focus on food?

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