The Sun Down Motel by Simone St James

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A damn good gothic. Superb unsettling details (the smoking man, the flickering lights, the child running by the pool), a twisty plot, an actual good use of two time periods, and excellent characters that did things because of their personalities and motivations and not because the plot required them to. Made all the other gothics I read (or tried reading) throughout the spooky season pale by comparison.

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Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Surprised me at every turn. Thought I was in for a snarky, millennial wish-fulfillment in which the older generation are internet buffoons and the younger generation savvy and slick. Instead I got some very real social and political takedowns both within the story and metaphorically for what the story represents. Also did not expect all the feels between our anti-hero protagonist and the supervillain. Despite the length, this was a fast and fun read.

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Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally reading the Vorkosigan Saga! Worth the wait, lives up to the hype.

Delicious tension between our unlikely and surprised lovers Cordelia and Aral, who make a series of increasingly dramatic choices dictated by their honor that serve to not only keep them apart but work against each other, until the things to which they dedicate their honor begin to change. All the while they are also working desperately and often secretly to keep each other safe through hostile environments, space battles, personal attacks, government intrigues, and the well-meaning misconceptions of other people. The results are both harrowing and wryly and slyly comedic. My one criticism is that because the story is somewhat episodic, it felt like it had multiple endings, but I enjoyed it so much I didn’t really mind.

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The Unquiet House by Alison Littlewood

The Unquiet House by Alison Littlewood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tense and strange, grounded in solid and specific details, but ultimately left me less than satisfied. I never felt like I fully knew or cared about the characters, or the house. I didn’t feel like anything was at stake other than the usual “oh no, get out honey” at every person who walked through the door, oblivious or aware of how dangerous the house is. Didn’t reach true levels of disquieting for me.

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Age of Ash (Kithamar #1) by Daniel Abraham

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley for the e-arc in exchange for a review. (I was really excited to get to read this early.)

What a stunner of a book! Pure joy to read. Abraham’s ability to drive big story and large drama with small characters and private intrigues shines here: Tregarro’s and Sammish’s unrequited loves, Elaine a Sal’s clandestine and doomed affair, Gray Linnet’s daycare treasure hunts. Even the side and small characters have their impact on the story. The lives of the main characters feel full and lived in, particularly Alys and Sammish and the people of Longhill.

Alys’s coming of age is so effective and powerful, her longing to find her place in the world as she grows combined with her grief for her bother and what it drives her to. The crucible of her journey was so enjoyable to follow her through, and the scenes where the impurities burn away and leave only Alys’s essence behind are some of the best in the book. I loved the conversation and confession between her and her mother.

I didn’t see the shape of this book until halfway through, and that is so refreshing. I value the lack of exposition at the beginning to set up the story, the absence of clues to give the game away. The choice of Alys and Sammish as the reader’s entry into the story, the dramatic framework, the gateway for information is brilliant. That distance between the two sets of characters, the two parts of the story, allows the story to unfold, allows an ambiguity and uncertainty about who is the hero and who is the villain. BY the time it becomes clear which is which, you feel every inch caught in the trap along with these characters, wondering how they’re going to solve this, fearing that every scene may be their last. Abraham uses the knives in the story for theme as well as plot devices, and keeps the characters, the whole city, and reader on the edge of the blade.

Thrilling to see the cracks already forming as Andomaka goes forward into the next phase of this story. While there is a victory at the end of this book, it’s unclear how long it will hold, and what complications wait on the horizon. Can’t wait for the next volume.

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