Into the Drowning Deep

Cover of Mira Grant’s book Into the Drowning Deep - under black water, red hair and a hand seem to sink

Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author: Mira Grant
ISBN: 9780316379403
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: November 14, 2017
Page count: 512
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5 stars!

Goodreads description:

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.

But the secrets of the deep come with a price. (From Orbit Books)

My Review:

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! I finished this book with full-body goosebumps and chills!

Into the Drowning Deep is a TERRIFYING and FUN read! If you’re trying to stop biting your nails, this is maybe not your best choice of books, because YIKES, the pacing is tight! I mean, killer mermaids?! What more do you really need in life?

This book is super page-turnery – I was frustrated every time I had to put it down to deal with real life. It has a BIG and fantastic cast of fleshed-out characters (more flesh for the mermaids to eat? Hahahahaha, I digress). There are queer & bisexual main characters, deaf twins (who are not having the hearing world’s crap, thankyouverymuch), so many smart scientists and someone called a sirenologist, which sounds like a pretty great job if you ask me. This book passes the Bechdel Test so many times over that I think it made up for books I’ve read in the past that didn’t. I loved that the story pivoted around climate change repercussions!

This looks to be the beginning of a new series from Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire in case you didn’t know). Surprisingly, there is no cliffhanger ending, so do not let that hold you back from picking it up. However, the door is HUGELY WIDE OPEN for future books. I can’t WAIT!

Thanks to Orbit and Netgalley for a copy of this this book in exchange for an honest review.

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Cover of the novel Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner. The back of a woman's head, shoulder-length hair, with trees on either side; all very sepia-toned except for her jacket which is blue.
After a run of some pretty disappointing galleys, I am thrilled to report that this book broke the curse because it is GREAT!

Title: Persons Unknown
Author: Susie Steiner
ISBN: 0812998340
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Page count: 321
Genre: Mystery
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodread’s description:

The sequel to Susie Steiner’s bestselling MISSING, PRESUMED

Manon has settled back into life in Cambridgeshire with her adopted son Fly. She’s perfectly happy working on cold cases until a man is stabbed to death just yards from the police station, and both the victim and the prime suspect turn out to be much closer to home than she would like. How well does Manon know her loved ones, and are they capable of murder?
—————————–

I read Steiner’s first book Missing, Presumed as a galley, too (it was one of my first galley reads!) and really enjoyed it. I don’t read a TON of mysteries despite liking the genre, so I was thrilled to stumble upon this author. This is a series, so if you haven’t read Missing, Presumed yet, I recommend starting there. There aren’t really any spoilers about the mystery aspect of it in Persons Unknown, but it does introduce you to recurring characters so you have a firmer footing in the story.

Manon Bradshaw is the main character in both books, and I just love her – she is such a delightful mess. Manon is so far from perfect, and she knows it but can’t help herself because she is above all HUMAN, and it’s just really refreshing to read. Steiner has a fantastic sense of humor that is threaded throughout the whole book (I highlighted SO many passages!), and it’s most clearly realized in the characters of Manon and Birdie.

The mystery in Steiner’s first book was definitely compelling, but it had a teeny bit of something unsatisfying about it; it was a little remote in feeling. The mystery in Persons Unknown could NOT be more immediate – it affects several of the main characters – including Manon – personally, and this was a satisfying change. I do want to be clear that this is not a thriller – the pacing is steady, not urgent. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a thriller from time to time, but there does seem to be a glut of them lately, so it was really nice to read something that is a mystery first.

One cool aspect is that since this is a book with multiple perspectives, the reader has the benefit of the collected experience of all, and this creates some delicious dramatic tension, since we know more than the characters do individually. Another interesting facet for reading nerds is that this is written mostly in 3rd person, but there is one character, Birdie, who is written in 1st person. I didn’t know what to make of the combination at first, but I really came to love reading Birdie’s 1st person voice (her obsession with a certain British politician is so great!). I now wonder if Steiner did it to differentiate Birdie from Manon more clearly – they are VERY different characters, but they share a similar snarky, self-deprecating sense of humor (which I love so much).

This was a mystery where I guessed a few things correctly (or rather, knew that certain aspects were WRONG) but I was definitely surprised by some things in the end. Not, like, fell-off-my-chair floored, but definitely a bit “Ohhhhhhhh.” 

One more random thing: the way that Steiner writes about motherhood is so authentic that you absolutely KNOW she has been there. A+ on that.

This is a great series, and you should definitely read it. If I had to choose, I’d say I definitely liked Persons Unknown more than Missing, Presumed, but both are solid reads!

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Uprooted It Is Not

Cover of the book The Waking Land by Callie Bates

Title: The Waking Land
Author: Callie Bates
ISBN: 9780425284025
Publisher: Del Ray
Publication date: June 27, 2017
Page count: 400
Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 2/5 stars

Goodreads description:
Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the King who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

My Review:
I was excited to receive a chance to read The Waking Land – it has been compared to Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which I loved. And maybe if it hadn’t been, my expectations wouldn’t have been so high and I would have enjoyed it more. Alas.

In recent years, I’ve been trying to be more open to unlikeable protagonists for a variety of reasons, but I just canNOT with Elanna. Selfish, bitter, wishy-washy, naive, angsty, self-victimizing (in the “people only like me for my powers WOE IS ME BOOOOHOOOOO” vein) – I mean, I get that she’s supposed to be 19 and sometimes those descriptors come with the age, but UGH. I had whiplash from how often she changed her tune. Basically? Whatever she THOUGHT was happening was NEVER happening, which took all the tension out of the book. You think that guy is a bad guy? Surprise, 1 page later you find out he’s not AD NAUSEUM. Fool me once, etc. 

I found the magic in the book poorly described, which is too bad because it had a lot of potential. Elanna IS the land, but the descriptions of being both a singular person and the land incarnate were few, lacking, and just not believable. I am HERE for magic and have a strong ability to suspend disbelief, but I was just not convinced. It felt like such a missed opportunity.

I really wanted to like this book – I love a good fantasy story with magic, a strong female protagonist and revolution – but this one just fell short for me. Convoluted to the point of not interesting with a main character who I never felt much sympathy for – I just wasn’t convinced by this story. 

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Cover of the book Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. A group of kids and a dog stand in silhouette with a tentacled monster in a lake in front of them. Pinks, greens, oranges.

Title: Meddling Kids
Author: Edgar Cantero
ISBN: 0385541996
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: July 11, 2017
Page count: 336
Genre: Mystery/Horror
Source: NetGalley
Rating: Unrated

Goodreads Description:
1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.


With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids taps into our shared nostalgia for the books and cartoons we grew up with, and delivers an exuberant, eclectic, and highly entertaining celebration of horror, life, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

Review
As a lifelong fan of Scooby Doo (who had VERY STRONG OPINIONS of such things as the creators changing the theme song when I was 4), I thought this sounded like a fun romp of a book. It might have been, but it contains some really troubling language that was both unnecessary and extrememly disappointing.

For example: Pretty early on, as we’re getting introduced to all the main players in the story, we’re taken to an asylum. The opening scene there is one of the main trouble spots. The author is setting the scene, talking about other patients there before we even meet Nate. On one page he describes a character named Kimrean – so the character has a name. But in two different instances, the character is referred to as “the hermaphrodite.” At first, the term took me aback, because we have much better language to talk about trans/intersex life these days. I wondered if I was being “overly sensitive” because it IS supposed to be 1990. But then when I went back to reread it, it’s not just the term hermaphrodite that is troubling. It’s the fact that he refers to a named character as both “the schizophrenic hermaphrodite” and again as “the hermaphrodite.” Why?! It’s such incredibly othering language, and it’s just lazy. That is what makes it offensive. Despite it being set in 1990, it was written long after that -and I am CERTAIN that the author could have handled this scene with more care. Instead, he went for the cheap laugh (of the “look at all the freaky people!” variety), and it really failed.

So, if I could excise that scene from the book and my memory, how would I feel about the book? It was okay. I didn’t love it, but it was definitely a unique story. There is a sense of snarky, overly clever humor (the kind where you can imagine the author being so entertained by his own wit) threaded through that might work really well for you, or it might make you cringe – it was about 30/70 worked/didn’t work for me. Words like “tragichuckled” don’t exist FOR A REASON.

The pacing was odd. And there are no chapters, just Parts (I think 1-5). I kind of missed the endpoint of chapters for pacing’s sake. It was the kind of book where if I was reading it, I found it compelling enough, but I was NOT rushing to get back to it between readings. I should say that I have never read Lovecraft, so I can’t speak to that aspect of the book.

If it was cleaned up a LOT, and sensitivity readers/writers were brought in, it could make a fun summer movie – that’s what I kept thinking as I read it.

But as it stands, it needs a rewrite. I could not in good conscience recommend this book to anyone as it is now.

Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N. Wagner

Cover image of An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N. Wagner

Title: An Oath of Dogs
Author: Wendy N. Wagner
ISBN: 0857666673
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Page count: 432
Genre: Science Fiction/Mystery
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5 stars!

I really enjoyed this science fiction mystery! I am a sucker for stories set on alien planets, especially when the flora and fauna are part of the story. Add in a questionably ethical mega-corporation, a religious sect that helped colonize the planet, mysterious and scary feral dogs and MURDER – and you’ve got yourself a good story. I liked that the perspective changed – seeing both out of biologist Peter Bajowski’s eyes and that of newly-emigrated communications manager Kate Standish (who has a therapy dog companion, Hattie) made the story more interesting. But maybe the most interesting were the diary excerpts from the Believer woman who was part of the first human convoy to the moon of Huginn. These slowly reveal the creepy story that is in the background of all the action taking place.

If you like Sheri S. Tepper, the later books in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card or even the movie Avatar, you should definitely give this book a try.

The Innkeeper Chronicles Volume 1

Cover of the book The Innkeeper Chronicles Volume 1 by Ilona Andrews

Title: The Innkeeper Chronicles Volume 1
Author: Ilona Andrews
ISBN: 1596068361
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: May 31, 2017
Page count: 768
Genre: Urban Science Fiction/Fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5 stars!

Goodreads description:
Meet Dina Demille, a nice Texas gal who runs a seemingly ordinary, quaint B&B. But Dina’s inn is a magic, thinking entity; her fluffy Shih-tzu, Beast really is a beast; and her guests are the kind that no one on earth is supposed to know about: guests like a dethroned galactic tyrant with a massive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced—and superhot—alpha-strain werewolf.


So don’t expect a normal stay…and don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage.

I used to read a lot of urban fantasy – for a few years, I read it almost exclusively. Needless to say, I got pretty burned out on the UF tropes. I continued to read my favorites (The Hollows by Kim Harrison, Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs), but I didn’t actively seek out new authors in the genre.

All this to say – I can’t believe I missed Ilona Andrews! I am so excited to have found this writing duo through this book (and SO excited that they have so many other books out for me to read!)

This book is an omnibus of three books: Clean Sweep, Sweep in Peace, and One Fell Sweep (as an Innkeeper, Dina has a magic broom, hence the punny titles). Each of the books was released serially and for free on the authors’ website; once each was complete, it was edited and repackaged as an ebook for sale (they currently run $4.99 each). I am desperate for news of when the next book will start being released!

These stories have a lot of humor and a lot of heart. I would often read funny passages aloud to my husband, and he giggled along with me. There is also a bit of romance, but it is not the focus of any book (there is no over-the-top hand-wringing angst, which I tired of in a lot of other UF series. I never wanted to smack Dina upside the head, bonus). But the real stars of the series are the characters. The cranky and overly-dramatic porcupine-like chef, the bloodthirsty, calculating yet charming Caldenia, requisite vampires and werewolves that somehow don’t fall into the usual pitfalls of those beings, the adorable Shih-tzu that guards the Inn, and the Inn itself – Gertrude Hunt is a mysteriously sentient being in her own right. Bottom line: if you enjoyed the Scooby gang vibe in Buffy or the found-family feels in Firefly or Guardians of the Galaxy, you will dig these books. Heartfelt and delightful are the words that most often spring to my mind.

And really, the whole series is worth reading for the alien chef’s take on Christmas alone.

Review: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

The cover of the book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat (watercolor shelf of ingredients and kitchen implements)

Title: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Author: Samin Nosrat
ISBN: 1476753830
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: April 25, 2017
Page count: 480
Genre: Cooking / Food Science
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 5/5 stars!

I am a little bit of a food nerd. I loooove food and and I loooove science and I loooove learning and understanding the whys and hows of cooking. If you do, too, then run to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of Salt, Fat Acid, Heat – it’s a food nerd’s dream-come-true! Easy to read, engaging, and with beautiful watercolor illustrations, this is a book that I think any food-lover will enjoy. 

If you’re a novice in the kitchen, this book will give you tons of information about proper technique, and it can prevent bad habits from being formed, not to mention years of underseasoned food and kitchen disappointments. Learn when and how much to salt meat, how to fix a broken emulsion, how to cream butter and sugar together for the lightest cakes, and almost a million other tips and tricks (all based on SCIENCE!).

Are you a regular in the kitchen, like me? This book gives you the most important information: the WHY of it all. I know that when I have a why, I’m much more likely to incorporate a thing into my life. Now I know that salting chicken even up to a day in advance will NOT dry it out but in fact make it more delicious and seasoned all the way through, because of reverse osmosis! Boom. Done. Now I salt my chicken in advance. You, too, can try all these techniques out: Over 200 pages are dedicated to recipes that reinforce the lessons Nosrat is teaching. The theory is great, but you’ll really be convinced when you taste the results!

I love a good cookbook, but Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat goes beyond the normal boundaries of the genre. I would almost say that this book is like the kosher salt in your kitchen – it’s going to enhance alllll the other recipes and cookbooks in your life.  Personally, I have more confidence in my cooking than before reading this book, AND my food is more delicious. I couldn’t’ really ask for anything more!

In short, if you ever cook, EVER, then buy and read this book. Your food will be more delicious, your bank account will thank you (because I guarantee you’ll cook at home more!) and your brain will be delighted by the conversational, you-can-do-it approach the author takes. Buy one for yourself, buy one for a friend. It really is that good.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Simon & Schuster!

Review: Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Cover of Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Title: Follow Me Back
Author: A.V. Geiger
ISBN: 1492645230
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire / Wattpad
Publication date: June 6, 2017
Page count: 368
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 2/5 stars

Summary (from GoodReads): Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies. When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…Told through tweets, direct messages, and police transcripts.

Review: Ok. Look. I’ve read some seriously top-notch fanfiction over the years – fantastically written, well-researched, the whole gamut. I have deep, deep respect for fanfiction writers. I also really enjoy YA, and I know that so much of YA can and does have appeal beyond the YA-aged audience.

But this reads like very underdeveloped, sophomoroic, wish-fulfillment fanfiction by a very, very young person.

This just felt…young. Not in topic, but the writing style. Yes, there was a plot. There were twists and turns. But it is ALL telling and nooooo showing. It’s a bit like a paint-by-numbers book. I am holding your hand and telling you every single thing I want you to see/hear/think, and I’m not leaving anything up to interpretation. No metaphors. No subtext.

For a while I thought this would be a 3-star read – it’s fast, it’s easy to read, the police interrogation documents keep you wondering what all this tweeting and DM-ing can possible lead to. But. Nah. I didn’t hate it – but I rolled my eyes. A LOT. And by the 70% mark I was skimming a lot of the filler text. At that point, I just wanted to see the resolution, so I didn’t waste a ton of time on reading every word carefully (because by then I knew that I wasn’t going to miss a great turn of phrase or something particularly underline-worthy).

SPOIILER:

The “twist” ending felt soooooo tacked on. Boooooo. It felt like a total last ditch effort to make people talk about this book. “OMG! What do you think happened?! Why?!? How?!?” I don’t care. I see in GoodReads that there is a sequel forthcoming – I will not be reading it.

If you need a high calorie snack type of book, this is your bag of greasy potato chips. I’m not angry that I read it, but I can tell that I will spend exactly 0 minutes thinking about it in the future.

This books was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher in exchage for an honest review. Thanks to both.