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. 

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: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Cover of the book Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova on a white background with tiny yellow flowers

Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
ISBN: 1492620947
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: September 6, 2016
Page count: 336
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads summary:
Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Review: 4 Stars!

I really enjoyed this! It has familiar tropes that you can slip right into (heroine who doesn’t appreciate her gifts and acts rashly without understanding the whole situation, a little bit of a love triangle, and a quest to redeem her actions) – but it felt totally fresh. The underworld of Los Lagos was really original – I loved all the fantastic creatures we met there (and some were pretty scary!). The description of the colorful landscape itself was really great – I would *love* to see this is as a movie or mini-series! I can see it as supersaturated, so many purples and oranges…

This book was a page turner – the short chapters might have had something to do with that? Whatever it was, I liked it, I felt like I was flying through it without rushing at all. The pacing is absolutely perfect – no lulls or long drawn-out boughts of hand-wringing.

Alex felt totally believable to me as a teenager – she’s confused, she’s afraid of her magic, she’s unsure of her feelings – but she’s also not taking any shit, she’s brave, and she stays true to herself. Her growth as a character over the course of the book felt really authentic. I worried a bit about The Chosen One trope, but I think the author handled it in a really cool way – I won’t say anymore because I hate spoilers.

Side note: The Devourer reminded me of a scarier, waaaay meaner version of David Bowie’s Jareth, The Goblin King, from the movie Labyrinth (which is one of my all-time FAVES). She had a much more developed backstory though (I mean, who the hell is Jareth? How did he become the Goblin King?!) ANYWAY, she’s a worthy foe, and I want to see someone’s rendering of her cool steel and bone dress and mask.

The system of magic that Córdova created is really cool and original, and I thoroughly appreciated her Author’s Note at the end where she explains what’s real, what she used as inspiration for the fictional pieces, and where you can learn more about each facet.

Also: it’s rad that this book is populated 100% by people of color. And, bonus queer rep. If that’s a thing you try to read more of (I do!), then know that this book has it.

All in all – two very enthusiastic thumbs up to this book. It’s fun, it’s heart-felt, and it’s super satisfying. I will give a side WTF to that epilogue, buuuuut, I guess since it’s the first in a series, we’re just going to have to come back to see what’s up with that in Book 2! Very much looking forward to the next adventure.

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.

Review: Borderline by Mishell Baker

Title: Borderline
Author: Mishell Baker
ISBN: 1481429787
Publisher: Saga Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: March 1, 2016
Page count: 400
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Library
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Photo of the hardcover of Borderline by Mishell Baker on a black and white scarf

I used to read a LOT of urban fantasy. For a few years, it felt like I was reading it almost exclusively, with a bit of straight up SF and fantasy thrown in there. Needless to say…I kinda burned out on it. There are a few series that I still follow or followed to their conclusion (The Hollows by Kim Harrison and Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs, I’m looking at you), but I really started to get sick of all the tropes of the whole urban fantasy sub-genre.  So in recent years I’ve approached urban fantasy warily. 

I’m happy to report that Urban Fantasy and I have had a very happy reunion in the form of Borderline. 😁

Millie Roper is a very interesting character to get to know – I really appreciated seeing the world through her eyes. She has Borderline Personality Disorder, and she’s survived a suicide attempt that resulted in the  double amputation of her legs. She’s been voluntarily living in a psychiatric facility for quite some time when a stranger walks in and offers her a job adjacent to the world that she has left behind – the film industry. Cautious but interested, she agrees. However, she finds herself in a verrry different situation than she anticipated: instead of fetching lattes for executives, her first assignment is to track down a (famous) rogue fey actor who has overstayed his fairy visa. Wait, what? 

Yes there are fairies, but honestly? They’re kind of the least interesting part of this whole story. Really. This is more a story of how the world of fairy and the fey themselves end up affecting people in our world, for better or worse. 

Millie is joined by a very interesting cast of supporting characters, some of which we get to know, some I’m still very curious about. Luckily this is the first in a series, so we have time to do just that!

The pacing is great, the various mysteries (both the main plot and the back stories of many of the characters) unfold slowly and kept me guessing the whole time. 

 Super looking forward to reading more in this world! It’s also nominated for a Nebula for 2016, which is pretty cool – I feel like it’s kind of unusual for urban fantasy to be nominated, but that’s a gut reaction thing – research may prove me wrong. 

What are your favorite Urban Fantasy reads? I’m in the market for more these days. 😉