Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

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The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…


RATING: ☆★☆★

There is a video I came across on Twitter a couple months ago, of a woman giving other women tips on how to protect themselves and stay safe if they have to venture outside at night (complete with where to best hide a pepper spray, how to wield your keys like you would a knife, and how many layers of clothes to wear). There was urgency and fear in the woman’s voice, and a haunted, fatalistic quality in her eyes that struck such a fundamental chord with me. The women in the replies were Continue reading “Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James”

Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A.K. Larkwood

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What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.


RATING:

The premise of “queer orc assassins and magical intrigue” had me clamoring to read “the Unspoken Name”, but the novel’s offerings left me unmoved, and about a quarter through the story, that initial cheeriness fell from my face, like a person slipping into sleep. Once my mind started to meander and the boredom glazed my eyes and I had to squint the words into focus, every page feeling like a heavy stone lifted with terrible effort and dropped again and again to the ground, I knew I had to call it a DNF (at 67%). Continue reading “Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A.K. Larkwood”

Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

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With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.

 


RATING: ☆★☆★☆

Dust lay thick on the history of Lake Scarlet: a soft blanket of years, keeping all the best secrets, undisturbed. But Chih, a traveling cleric who walks through puddles of ink, following footprints that form stories in their wake to collect like cards in their heart, is here to disturb them. Continue reading “Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo”

Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.


RATING: ☆★☆★☆

When I finished reading this book, I closed it gently, as if the pages were flesh that might be bruised. It was hard to immediately identify the sensation in my chest, then: an exultant, vaulting joy swiftly yanked back by the leash of a sorrow still incipient, a grief that had not sunk in, not just yet. There’s a hollowness in me now, a rawness that only a novel like A Man Called Ove leaves behind. Continue reading “Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman”

Review: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

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In Upright Women Wanted, award-winning author Sarah Gailey reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.


RATING: ☆★☆★

When Esther Augustus witnesses the public hanging of her lover, Beatriz, for “deviance” and “the possession of unapproved materials”, the fire in her is smothered, and something else inside her stumbles to the edge of a precipice, falls off. Continue reading “Review: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey”

Review: Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

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In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance that could not be explained – until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood, to Washington, and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability and silence victims of abuse – and it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.


RATING: ☆★☆★☆

When I finished reading Catch and Kill, two completely separate emotions fought for supremacy within me: a visceral, procreative disgust buzzing loudly in my bloodstream, and a flicker of hope that felt like just enough to fit in my fists. Something else, too. Something that can’t be solidified into ideas that words could even describe. Something inside me that still grinds at the thought of this book, like the sharp edges of a broken plate being shoved together. Continue reading “Review: Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow”

Review: The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang

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A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.


RATING: ☆★☆★☆

The Kusanagi Peninsula bred warriors, and not just any warriors, but the fiercest that ever were. Years of defending the Kaigenese Empire against its foreign enemies earned the province the nickname “the Sword of Kaigen”, and enshrined it as deeply as any truth whispered to the gods before an altar. Continue reading “Review: The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang”