BOOK REVIEW: Nooks & Crannies, by Jessica Lawson

BOOK REVIEW: Nooks & Crannies, by Jessica LawsonTitle: Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson
Published: May 10th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue when six children navigate a mansion full of secrets—and maybe money—in this “delightful gem” (School Library Journal, starred review) with heart.
Sweet, shy Tabitha Crum, the neglected only child of two parents straight out of a Roald Dahl book, doesn’t have a friend in the world—except for her pet mouse, Pemberley, whom she loves dearly. But on the day she receives one of six invitations to the country estate of wealthy Countess Camilla DeMoss, her life changes forever.

Upon the children’s arrival at the sprawling, possibly haunted mansion, it turns out the countess has a very big secret—one that will change their lives forever.

Then the children beginning disappearing, one by one. So Tabitha takes a cue from her favorite detective novels and, with Pemberley by her side, attempts to solve the case and rescue the other children…who just might be her first real friends.

This was purely a cover buy, because every time I’d walk by it, I’d tell myself I needed it. But then it sat on my shelf for years until this year when I added it to my 20 books in 2020 list (that I’m not going to finish, but that’s okay!!). I’m glad I read it when I did because it’s the perfect mystery escape, and I think it will appeal to a lot of different readers of all ages. Within the first few chapters, I found myself thinking This is a little dark for a kids’ book but then seeing the comparisons to Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket made perfect sense. This is something that would appeal to those readers and definitely belongs on the shelf next to Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong mystery series!

Tabitha is such a wonderful character, sure of herself while also searching for her place in the world, smart without being too smart, and very funny on top of it all. After being told by her parents they’re dumping her off at an orphanage because they can’t keep her any longer (!!!) but days before she’s set to be dropped off, Tabitha receives a mysterious invitation to the Countess of Windermere’s mansion. She along with five other children are chosen to help get to the bottom of a lineage mystery as well as an inheritance mystery.

Mysteries can be easily spoiled, so I won’t write much about the details, but I will say that I was delighted by all of the twists and turns and red herrings. This is such a well-crafted traditional mystery story, and it made me want to dive back into reading some Agatha Christie again because the pacing of the story and the characters and reveals within reminded me so much of what I’ve read of Christie.

I just really loved this one for all sorts of reasons. If you enjoy well-paced adventure stories, well-plotted mysteries, and great multifaceted characters (no matter your age), this one should be on your list to read next. Nooks & Crannies was the sort of book that reminded me of how much I loved reading when I was younger, and I feel like there are so few middle grade books I’ve read in the past few years that make me feel that way. I also loved that it’s a standalone title! In this current pandemic with all of the stress of it on top of regular life stress, it’s so nice to be able to read a story from beginning to end in one book!! (But this is also a post for another time, because while I love series, my brain is definitely leaning toward standalones.)

BOOK REVIEW: Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

BOOK REVIEW: Black Sun, by Rebecca RoanhorseTitle: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Series: Between Earth and Sky #1
Published by Saga Press
Published: October 13th 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 454
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

Before receiving access to a digital arc, I had been eagerly anticipating reading Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun. I didn’t know much about it going into it aside from the fact that it’s high fantasy that isn’t European inspired. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some medieval-esque fantasy, but as it seems to be the “standard” in what’s out there, I want to read beyond that. The gruesome opening scene to this novel propels the story forward and kept me wanting to know how and why and what, and I devoured this in a matter of days.

This story is has the foundation of Indigenous mythology, and Roanhorse weaves culture and identity in delightful and refreshing ways. Nothing about this novel feels didactic; the characters’ genders, sexualities, and lives felt so immediate, real, and never forced. To be in a world in which you can be who you are and to have it accepted without a second thought is so refreshing, and I know this will resonate with a lot of readers who are trans and non-binary. While fantasy is often considered ‘escapist,’ this fantasy wants you to consider looking at your own world through a different lens. It especially made me want to learn more about precolonial indigenous mythology and literature.

The relationships and the conflicts among the characters against the backdrop of politics and celestial prophecies propel this story forward, and I’m already craving the sequel. I loved the matriarchal societies, especially the Teek, and I hope more of the Teek culture is featured in the next books in the trilogy. It’s one of those books in which I found every single character compelling, from the protagonists to the antagonists, because each “side” has credible reasons for behaving and believing in what they do, and to me that makes the conflict much more real, personal, and elevated.

I don’t want to talk about the details of this too much because so much enjoyment for me from this book came from the discovery of reading it. This is one of my top reads of the year, and I’m going to be talking about it and recommending it for years to come.

If you only read one high fantasy this year, make Black Sun your choice.

I received a digital arc from Netgalley/Saga for review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Phlebotomist, by Chris Panatier

BOOK REVIEW: The Phlebotomist, by Chris PanatierTitle: The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 8th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 344
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In a near future where citizens are subject to the mandatory blood draw, government phlebotomist Willa Wallace witnesses an event that makes her question her whole world.To recover from a cataclysmic war, the Harvest was created to pass blood to those affected by radiation.

But this charitable act has led to a society segregated entirely by blood type. Patriot thanks and rewards your generous gift based on the compatibility of your donation, meaning that whoever can give to the most, gets the most back. While working as a reaper for the draw, Willa chances upon an idea to resurrect an obsolete collection technique that could rebalance the city.
But in her quest to put this in motion, she instead uncovers a secret that threatens her entire foundations…

Chris Panatier’s The Phlebotomist is a wild dystopian ride that took a turn I was not expecting but by which I was completely thrilled. It starts out as a Bladerunner-esque dystopia in which people must sell their blood to Patriot, the government, in order to survive and to help those in the Grey Zone, an area suffering from the aftermath of bombardment. This differs from the usual dystopian fare in that the main character is a grandmother, and I truly love seeing older characters in the spotlight. Yes, the younger ones can be fun, but having the experience of life while also learning that you don’t know as much about the role you play in society is such a refreshing thing for me to see.

If you’re bothered by blood and medical terminology, definitely be aware that this has a lot of it. It’s so well done that even I was feeling a bit squeamish at some of the scenes, but I think that added to the grim reality of selling blood every month to the government for survival. I loved the medical definitions related to blood at the beginning of each chapter that kind of clued into where the story was going. Around a hundred pages in is where the twist happens, and it’s better if you don’t know what it is, because that’s when the puzzle of this future world starts piecing itself together and making its reveal. I went into this only knowing it was about a phlebotomist in a dystopian setting, and that twist got me excited to finish reading this to see how everything ended. All of the characters brought so much life to the story, and the unusual cast was another reason I was hooked, even though I knew no one could possibly be safe.

While this isn’t your typical gritty dystopia, I recognized a lot of throwbacks to dystopian favorites while also being fresh and innovative. There are a lot of WTF moments that pulsed throughout because it’s full of secrets, political intrigue, and class exploration that feels so relevant toward today, especially with COVID, society collapse, and its criticism of governments exacting control over their citizens. Because it blends together elements of so many different genres — thrillers, science fiction, mysteries, and dystopias — I think it’ll appeal to a wide variety of readers. It’s definitely a fun, fast read, and I hope someday there’s another book set in this universe! It reads as a standalone with enough of an open to add more.

Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey

BOOK REVIEW: The Echo Wife, by Sarah GaileyTitle: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor Books
Published: February 16 2021
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride, perfect for readers of Big Little Lies and enthusiasts of Killing Eve and Westworld­

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be.

And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

When they said all happy families are alike, this can’t be what they meant...

Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife reminds me so much of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein crossed with a domestic thriller in the sense of examining the question: how much responsibility do we carry for our creations?

Evelyn Caldwell’s research leads to genetically cloned replicas of people, and her entire life is shattered when she discovers that her husband stole her research and created her clone – a “better” version of herself so that he could have what he wanted out of their marriage. Evelyn is a workaholic who prefers to work to starting a family, so when she discovers that Nathan, her husband, is wanting a divorce because he has created an Evelyn clone named Martine who is everything Evelyn couldn’t be for him – including being the mother of his child. The twist in general domestic thrillers usually ends here, but this is where the story actually begins.

Clones, by design, should not be able to get pregnant, but Martine clearly is carrying Nathan’s child. This is only the survace of the story, and it dives deeper and deeper into uncanny territory the more Evelyn gets to know Martine. Everything takes a complete turn when Evelyn receives a call from Martine saying she has killed Nathan. The only way the two decide to cover this up as Martine’s existence, and pregnancy, are illegal, is to create a clone of Nathan. As they bury and re-bury Nathan’s body in the backyard, Evelyn and Martine realize they have only scratched the surface of what Nathan has done.

I loved this so much. I’ve loved every single book Gailey has written, and I’m sure I’ll love everything they’ll ever write. They have such a knack for taking a trope, running with it, and twisting it so that you have to continue reading to see how everything unfolds and resolves. This is one of my favorite science fiction and thriller books I’ve read in a bit, and I’ll be recommending this one to everyone on its release in February. And I’m sorry you have to wait that long to get your hands on this, but believe me, it’s well worth your time and consideration, because I hope, like me, you’ll continue thinking about the nature of personal responsibility in the aftermath of creating something.

Thank you to Tor and Netgalley for an early copy to read and review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Fable, by Adrienne Young

BOOK REVIEW: Fable, by Adrienne YoungTitle: Fable by Adrienne Young
Series: Fable #1
Published by Wednesday Books
Published: September 1st 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn't who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they're going to stay alive.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

You weren’t made for this world, Fable.

I have a weakness for pirate and pirate-related stories, especially when they’re female character centered. Adrienne Young’s Fable is the first book in a duology that follows a young woman named Fable who has been left on an island by her father with the directive to get off that island. Once she gets off the island by spending the last of her coin, Fable begins to realize there is so much more to the world in which she lives and to which she discovers she belongs than she had ever imagined.

As a dredger, Fable dives to collect stones in the sea, and she keeps to herself that she has a knack for discerning the truth about stones and gems. During her voyage on The Marigold, the crew learns that Fable’s stone-scrying ability isn’t just a hunch or a knack; she could be a stone sage, one who intuitively knows everything about a particular stone and its value. Her abilities as a stone sage tie into her family, and the more she learns about her father who left her on the island and her mother who died in a wreck the more she learns about herself and who she is – and who she’s meant to be.

To Fable, nobody is who they present themselves to be. Everyone, including her, carries secrets that are only revealed in time. The book itself is slow to open and slow to make these revelations, and once they are revealed I was left both satisfied and wanting more. By the time the action picked up and carried me through the last third of the novel, it was over and left on a cliffhanger that made me glad the sequel is releasing in only a few months! Each of the characters lean more toward the morally grey area that seems relatively popular in YA fantasy these days, and this leans into the grimdark style of fantasy too. It’s a harsh world, and you can only survive if you keep the soft, quiet things close to your heart.

Even though the world-building takes up quite a chunk of this first installment of a duology, it never felt unnecessary. The tension created from the first line ties all of this story together (and hopefully through the sequel!), and the tension kept me turning the pages to see where and how it would all tie together. I was not disappointed, and I can’t wait to see how all of this ends. If you like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Princess Bride, I think this one will be right up your alley.

Thank you to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for an advance copy to read and review! All opinions are my own.