Sunday, March 3, 2024

*Review* Dark Parts of the Universe by Samuel Miller

 

Genre: Coming of Age
Published: April 23, 2024
Pages: 432


Outer Banks meets Bone Gap in New York Times bestselling author Samuel Miller’s propulsive and genre-bending YA mystery, following a group of teenagers who discover a dead body while playing an app-based adventure game that sends players to “random” locations, unlocking a much deeper mystery about their small town. 

In Calico Springs, Willie’s life has been defined by two powerful forces: God and the river. The “miracle boy” died for five minutes as a young child, and ever since, Willie is certain he survived for a reason, but that purpose didn’t become clear until he found the Game.

The Game is called Manifest Atlas, and the concept is simple: enter an intention and the Game provides a target—a blinking blue dot on the map. Willie’s second time playing Manifest Atlas, his intention takes him to an ominous target: three empty graves. Willie is sure the Game is telling him he’s going to die.

Willie’s older brother, Bones, doesn’t believe him, but their friends are intrigued. Sarai, a girl from across the river, sets the next intention: something bloody. The group follows the Game’s coordinates and they discover something even more unsettling than the graves: a dead body. Sarai’s stepfather’s body. The Game is suddenly personal.

Willie is dedicated to proving the Game works while Sarai is set on finding out what happened to her stepdad. Bones just wants to enjoy his last summer before real life begins. As the group digs deeper into Manifest Atlas, stranger and wilder things begin to appear, unlocking a much deeper mystery running like an undercurrent through the small town. 



I received a digitally generated version of this audiobook through Netgalley. It was not the voice-narrated version. This is my honest review. 

When I started listening to this book, I was expecting science fiction based on the title and the cover. I was quickly disabused of that notion. Instead of taking me into outer space, it took me into small town America, and I'm quite familiar with small town America attitudes towards anyone who is other. In this story, this manifests in the behavior towards everyone who lives in the town across the river from Calico Springs, a town that is almost exclusively Black. I'm sure you can see where this is going. 

In a way, this book felt like it was telling two stories. The story of Manifest Atlas, and the story of Calico Springs. And it wasn't until near the very end of the book that I really started to see how the two stories connected, and I would not have gotten there on my own. I did not see how the game was influenced by the events in the town until it was spelled out for me, and vice versa. But also, that connection left me feeling a little disappointed. 

Aside from also living that small town life as a kid, I couldn't really relate to the characters in this book, but that's really just because we didn't have anything in common. I could see how their life experiences shaped them from the glimpses into the past that we were treated to, and I feel like I understood them, but I still couldn't really relate. 

Overall I give Dark Parts of the Universe 3.9757 out of 5 stars because even though it wasn't the story I was expecting when I started, it was intriguing and kept me listening. - Katie 




Samuel Miller is a novelist and screenwriter, made in South Dakota, based in Los Angeles. His most recent novel, Redemption Prep, was a New York Times and Indie bestseller and is in development for television with MGM. His debut, A Lite Too Bright, released to critical acclaim and has been translated into four languages and published in eight countries. Sam wrote his first novel in a fifteen-passenger van while touring with his alt-rock band, Paradise Fears. In addition to writing novels he coaches Little League Baseball, walks his dog, and works to dismantle capitalist systems of power. You can find him at samuelmillerbooks.com.

*Review* Claw Heart Mountain by David Oppegaard

 

Genre: Horror
Published: January 31, 2023
Pages: 476


What happens when good people make one bad decision?

Imagine you are on the way to a remote mountain cabin with your friends. Upon arrival, you discover an abandoned armored van with fifteen million dollars on board. Would you take the money?

Nova and her friends answer with a resounding yes. Perhaps their answer would have been different had they known that a professional killer was already tracking down the money. Or that a legendary creature known as the Wraith roams the mountain, ravenous with hunger.

Thinking they’re safe and anonymous, Nova and her friends divvy up the stolen cash, unaware who or what is after them, unaware that soon they will be fighting for their lives.

For readers who enjoy The Ritual by Adam Nevill and The Terror by Dan Simmons.



I received a copy of this audiobook through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

I have some seriously mixed feelings about this book, and that's due in large part to the fact that as things happened in the book, had the kids simply not done one thing, I think it's very likely they would have gotten away with their theft free and clear. They wouldn't have been in danger at all from either the killer or the wraith. But things did happen the way they happened so...

As far as the rest of the story goes, I found myself relating to Nova the most. Like Nova, I was always the last resort friend (and still feel that way at times if we're being honest). I'd get invited to do things when literally no one else was available, and that's exactly how Nova ends up on Claw Heart Mountain in the first place. Nova and I are also more similar in the financial aspect as well, although I don't think I would have cautioned against taking the money like she did, so morally, she's better than me. 

Once the danger showed up, I was on the edge of my seat, anxious to see how things would turn out and if I was correct about who would survive, because you don't have a story like this without some death. It's just not possible. I did have a pretty good bead on the way things would go, although there were a few twists in between that took me a little by surprise. 

The narration was decent. There wasn't much effort to do specific voices for the different characters, but that means there also weren't cringey opposite gendered voices, which can really grate on my nerves and is probably my biggest pet peeve where audiobooks are concerned. Overall I give Claw Heart Mountain 3.6927 out of 5 stars. - Katie 




David Oppegaard is the author of Claw Heart Mountain, The Town Built on Sorrow, The Firebug of Balrog County, The Suicide Collectors, Wormwood, Nevada, And the Hills Opened Up, The Ragged Mountains, and Breakneck Cove. His work has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award and a MN Book Award.

David's work is a blend of science fiction, literary fiction, horror, and fantasy. He lives in St. Paul, MN, with his wife and their ravenous cat.

You can visit his website/blog at davidoppegaard.com

Saturday, March 2, 2024

*Review* The Atlas of Us by Kristin Dwyer


 Genre: YA Coming of Age
Published: January 9, 2024
Pages: 336


Atlas has lost her way.

In a last-ditch effort to pull her life together, she’s working on a community service program rehabbing trails in the Western Sierras. The only plus is that the days are so exhausting that Atlas might just be tired enough to forget that this was one of her dad’s favorite places in the world. Before cancer stole him from her life, that is.

Using real names is forbidden on the trail. So Atlas becomes Maps, and with her team—Books, Sugar, Junior, and King—she heads into the wilderness. As she sheds the lies she’s built up as walls to protect herself, she realizes that four strangers might know her better than anyone has before. And with the end of the trail racing to meet them, Maps is left counting down the days until she returns to her old life—without her new family, and without King, who’s become more than just a friend.



I received a copy of this audiobook through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

I grabbed this book because I loved the cover and it was available as a "listen now" so I didn't have to get any sort of approval for it. It wasn't until after I downloaded the book that I realized the copy available wasn't the voice actor version of the audiobook. The version I had was AI generated for review purposes only, which certainly lent something to the experience. It confirmed for me that I would never want to pay for an audiobook with AI generated audio because it has some serious drawbacks, namely unnatural pauses (and a lack of pauses in some places they should really exist). 

This book is a good example of why you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover (but I'm still gonna). Although I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from this book, what I got wasn't it. And sure, I could have read the blurb first, but that would have ruined my 23 year long blurb non-reading streak. I was definitely expecting a heavier romantic storyline than I was treated to. I struggled to feel a strong connection with the characters. Me no longer being a teenager and having a more privileged childhood than they did may have contributed to that, but I'm not sure. 

Overall I give The Atlas of Us 3.7946 out of 5 stars because although it wasn't what I was expecting and I didn't feel particularly connected to the characters, I was still mildly invested in the story itself and wanted to see where it went. - Katie 




Kristin Dwyer grew up under the California sun and prayed every day for a cloudy sky. Now Kristin and her spouse are currently raising their mischief-makers in the hills of North Carolina, where there is just the right amount of clouds. When she’s not writing books about people kissing, Kristin is a part-time hair model and full-time TSA PreCheck. One time a credible news outlet asked for her opinion on K-pop (it was the best day of her life). Please do not talk to her about your fandom; she will try to join.

*Review* Armadas in the Mist by Christian Klaver

 

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Published: December 6, 2022
Pages: 508


The Black Shuck’s forces gather just beyond the mist . . .

Captain Justice Kasric knows how complicated family can be. The escalating Human-Faerie war has scattered and wounded her siblings and transformed her parents beyond recognition. After narrowly escaping yet another dangerous clash, fifteen-year-old Justice has had enough. She’s determined to defeat the Black Shuck, the mysterious leader controlling the Faerie invasion of London, but if Justice hopes to stand a chance at victory, she’ll have to do the impossible: reunite her family and lead them against the looming Faerie Armada.

With her mother and brother at the helm of the enemy fleet, and the prophesized Seven Virtues slipping out of reach, Justice more than has her work cut out for her. Even if she can save England, the cost may be higher than she’s willing to pay.



I received a copy of this audiobook through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

Do you ever start reading a book and feel like you're just completely lost, almost like the author isn't giving you enough information about character's backstories and things? Then you wonder if maybe you just weren't paying close enough attention, or maybe skipped a couple pages on accident? Then after you finish reading the book you go check out some of the reviews other people have posted and realize that the book you were reading wasn't the first book in a series, but it's the first one you've read? If that ever happens to you, did you learn your lesson and start checking those things? Because I apparently never fricken learn my lesson. 

Armadas in the Mist starts in what feels like some serious action, which is fine, grab my attention any way you can, right? But typically books that start like that head back in time in the next chapter so you can see how you got there, at least when those books aren't sequels to a story that you, the reader should already be familiar with. I wasn't familiar though, and just kept waiting for that backstory and it never came. Do not make the same mistake I did and start this series with this book. And yet, despite the two books worth of missing backstory, I eventually felt like enough of that information was imparted that I basically understood what was going on by the time we got to the final battle. If you have already read the first two books, you don't have to worry about tedious recaps. 

I didn't really feel particularly attached to any of the characters in this story, but I'm fairly certain that is because of when I came into the series. There just wasn't enough character building in this book to develop that relationship (presumably because the characters were already built in previous books). I definitely had characters I was rooting for, but that was more because they were clearly the good guys and therefore should win. A couple of the characters surprised me with their actions, but I don't know if those actions would be surprising if I knew them better. 

Overall I give Armadas in the Mist 4.07845 out of 5 stars because I eventually felt caught up, and it's not the book's fault I started the series at book 3. - Katie 




This author of Science Fiction and Fantasy lives in the suburbs just outside the sprawling decay of Detroit, Michigan. There he resides with his wife (Kimberly) his daughter (Kathryn) and a group of animals he refers to as 'The Menagerie'.

He has been selling short stories since the early '80's, including recent sales to Escape Pod and Dark Wisdom Anthology from Elder Signs Press.

He is an alumni of Viable Paradise Writing Workshop, managing and contributing Editor of The Nautilus Engine: A Speculative Webzine and a regular attendee and speaker at Confusion Science Fiction Convention.

www.christianklaver.com

mrchrstn@yahoo.com

Thursday, February 29, 2024

*Monthly Update* February 2024

 Heyo! Look at me sitting here pretending like I'm doing a good job writing posts regularly enough to justify a monthly update post (and that I'll keep up with that too!) But for some reason I'm feeling optimistic and motivated right now, so here we are. Anyway. 

In February, I made it a point to read books almost exclusively by Black authors for Black History Month. I did have a couple books I was finishing up at the beginning of the month and I think two audiobooks from Netgalley that I had to listen to as their archive dates were fast approaching, but otherwise, the only books I read in February were by Black authors. I even managed to read 22 books in February, because I certainly wasn't spending that time writing reviews for those books (but we're not going to talk about that, okay?) Sixteen if those 22 books were by Black authors, and I have three books currently started also by Black authors, two of which I intend to finish sooner rather than later. The third is a big ass book about the history of racism in America, and while I'm absolutely going to finish it, I do intend to put it on the back burner for now because...

March is Women's History Month and I want to spend the entire month reading books by women (and none of those three Black authors I'm currently reading are women). The caveat to my month of reading books only by women is that I want them to be mostly non-romance. Not that I have anything against romance, but I want to focus on genres that aren't dominated by women writers. Additionally, I intend to read at least 5 non-fiction books about notable women (ideally written by women, but I may make an exception on that. I will acknowledge that it's quite possible those books will all end up being memoirs). So hit me with your recommendations of non-romance books by women, especially if you have some recommendations of non-fiction about notable women. 

Books read in February

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
The Dollmaker by Morgan Shamy
The Black Queen by Jumata Emill
The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson
Queen's Catacombs by Jordan H. Bartlett
Poemhood: Our Black Revival edited by Amber McBride, Erica Martin, and Taylor Byas
Stronger Together by Terry Crews and Rebecca King Crews
Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
We're Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
The Poisons We Drink by Bethany Baptiste
White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson
The Shadow Sister by Lily Meade
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
Pride by Ibi Zoboi

My blogging goal for March is to do some serious work on getting caught up on my backlogged reviews (I have over 80 non-children's books to write reviews for and more children's book reviews than that to write). I'd really like to see exactly what kind of hole I'm in on Netgalley, but to do that, I gotta' get my feedback written and submitted. Only 5 of the 22 books I finished in February were Netgalley books, but at least 5 of the books I read were Netgalley books (it could have been worse!) Anyway, I've got some reading to do to hit my amended page goal for the month, and only a few hours left to do it, so tata for now. - Katie 




Wednesday, February 21, 2024

*Review* The Black Queen by Jumata Emill

 

Genre: YA Thriller
Published: January 31, 2023
Pages: 396


Nova Albright was going to be the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High—but now she's dead. Murdered on coronation night. Fans of One of Us Is Lying and The Other Black Girl will love this unputdownable thriller.

Nova Albright, the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High, is dead. Murdered the night of her coronation, her body found the next morning in the old slave cemetery she spent her weekends rehabilitating.

Tinsley McArthur was 
supposed to be queen. Not only is she beautiful, wealthy, and white, it’s her legacy—her grandmother, her mother, and even her sister wore the crown before her. Everyone in Lovett knows Tinsley would do anything to carry on the McArthur tradition.

No one is more certain of that than Duchess Simmons, Nova’s best friend. Duchess’s father is the first Black police captain in Lovett. For Duchess, Nova’s crown was more than just a win for Nova. It was a win for all the Black kids. Now her best friend is dead, and her father won’t face the fact that the main suspect is right in front of him. Duchess is convinced that Tinsley killed Nova—and that Tinsley is privileged enough to think she can get away with it. But Duchess’s father seems to be doing what he always does: fall behind the blue line. Which means that the white girl is going to walk.

Duchess is determined to prove Tinsley’s guilt. And to do that, she’ll have to get close to her.

But Tinsley has an agenda, too.

Everyone loved Nova. And sometimes, love is exactly what gets you killed.


For Black History Month this year, I decided I wanted to really focus my reading on books by Black authors, and as I'm currently on a YA horror/thriller kick, this was a great book to start me off. I was immediately drawn into the story, and although one of the two characters started out comparing situations to She's All That, I saw some serious Bring it On vibes at the beginning of things. In both cases Gabrielle Union is the reason for the comparisons (and even though she's over 40, she could probably STILL play a convincing teenager). 

This story is told from two perspectives, her best friend Duchess and her arch-enemy Tinsley. They ultimately have the same goal of finding out who killed Nova and will stop at nothing to do it. Duchess wants justice for her friend and Tinsley desperately needs to clear her name, because she's the number one suspect after a drunken rant goes viral. 

I'd love to tell you that I saw all the twists and turns coming, and figured out who the killer was immediately, but that would be a big fat stinking lie. This book consistently had me second-guessing myself, and I didn't really figure out who the killer was until Tinsley and Duchess did. That basically never happens to me. 

As an added bonus, this book gave me up close and personal insight into how Black police officers can be viewed in their community, and the extra pressure it puts on them. 

Overall I give The Black Queen 4.76854 out of 5 stars. - Katie 




Jumata Emill is a journalist who has covered crime and local politics in Mississippi and parts of Louisiana. He earned his BA in mass communications from Southern University and A&M College. He’s a Pitch Wars alum and a member of the Crime Writers of Color. When he’s not writing about murderous teens, he’s watching and obsessively tweeting about every franchise of the Real Housewives. Jumata lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and is the author of The Black Queen and Wander in the Dark.

*Review* The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook by Erin Browne

 

Genre: Cookbook
Published: April 4, 2023
Pages: 240 


Bring the fun of Dollywood right to your own kitchen with 100 of the most delicious foods from Dollywood and its surrounding parks.

From favorite snacks and main dishes to refreshing drinks and popular desserts, Dollywood has some incredible food. And now, you can recreate all of your favorites—and discover some new favorites—with these 100 recipes in 
The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook.

You’ll learn to make:
-Frannie’s Famous Fried Chicken Sandwich from Grandstand CafĂ©
-Meatloaf Stackers from Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans
-Fruity Pebbles Funnel Cakes from Crossroads Funnel Cakes
-And much more!

Perfect for everyone from Dollywood super fans who miss those familiar flavors in between trips to fans who have never visited but still want to experience the amazing food, 
The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook has all the recipes you’ll need to make treats worthy of Dolly Parton herself.


I received a copy of this book through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

I have never been to Dollywood and before reading this cookbook didn't really know a whole lot about Dolly Parton either. I'm familiar with a few of her songs and knew what she looks like, but that's about it. After reading this cookbook, I feel like I know quite a bit more about Dolly Parton herself, and she seems like a pretty fantastic human being. I also feel like I know a fair bit about Dollywood now too (it seems to be a theme park along the lines of Silver Dollar City in Branson). And I have all of this information because it was included as information explaining the various different recipes and their inspiration. 

I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to try any of the recipes from this book while I had access to the eARC, so I can't tell you if they are actually good, and I wouldn't know if they were at all accurate anyway. But boy, when I tell you this book made me so hungry. I was basically salivating over the recipes, and not only do I intend to buy myself a copy of this book so that I can actually try them out at home, but I also really wanna go to Dollywood now just to eat all the food. And while I'm no slouch in the kitchen, I'm also not a gourmet chef, but these recipes seemed fairly simple, with easy to follow instructions. 

Overall I give The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook 4.8756 out of 5 stars. - Katie 




Erin K. Browne is the blogger and photographer behind Brownie Bites, where she shares approachable, easy recipes that are as fun to make as they are to eat. She especially loves pop culture and fandom-inspired recipes, with Dollywood being a major source of such inspiration as the park is just a short drive from her home. Outside of the kitchen, Erin enjoys reading in a cozy chair, hiking in the mountains, and exploring the country in her family’s RV. She currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her husband, Matt, her two children, Jasper and Shelby, her goofball corgi, Dewey, and the sweetest kitty who ever lived, Ham. Learn more at BrownieBites.net.