Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The more I think about this book, the more I love it. Came for the ghosts, gods, and family drama, was very excited for the surprise GANGSTERS. All the elements (characters, plot, surprises) are very well balanced. The story moves at a good clip that feels urgent without tossing all the character and family development aside to be a straight thriller.

I enjoyed this so much, I struggled to write a review because I couldn’t identify any single thing that made this book stand out. All of it was so good, and all of it worked so well together.




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Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise

Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Thanks to NetGalley and Titan Books for the free e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A.C. Wise does not flinch in this brutal and feminist take on Neverland and what happened after for Wendy Darling. She explores the consequences of capturing Peter Pan’s attention and the disenfranchisement of women who stepped out of line or failed to meet male expectations in the early 20th century.

I’ve been reading A.C. Wise’s short fiction here and there for a few years, and was really excited to sink my teeth into a whole novel, especially a female-centric take on the Peter Pan mythos. I recently re-watched Hook, and as much as I love the twists that film takes, as much as I appreciate a fathers-and-sons story, there are ladies in this sandbox, too, and they are often marginalized and underutilized when writers decide to play with Pan.

This was not an easy book to read. It was an adventure, and it was satisfying, but it was not fun. It was a pleasure to arrive at Wendy’s self-actualization and triumph, but difficult to follow her through her valley of despair along the way. While Wise doesn’t flinch, she still handles with care. She makes interesting rather than easy choices, and goes for nuance over cliché. Native and queer characters and experiences are given places of prominence, and the darkness at the heart of Peter Pan is at the center rather than the edges, interrogated rather than left to the subtext.

I don’t want to give spoilers, so I’ll give a warning instead: read this book only if you’re prepared for some darkness and to be challenged. The rewards are worth the risk.



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The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis

The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Thank you to NetGalley and Titan Books for a free e-arc of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I’m sorry to say this book did nothing for me.

Jarvis’s plot and ideas sounded thrilling and exciting and intriguing, but the things Jarvis finds interesting about these ideas, the things she focuses on in her writing, are not what I find interesting, or are not delivered in a savvy and interesting way. Her attention to those things is overbearing, with full repetition of ideas and thoughts, as though I would have forgotten what the characters motivations and desires or the themes and point of the story are as I read along. Ideas like “slavery is bad and this creature doesn’t deserve to be enslaved” were fully stated the moment they were dropped into the story, and they didn’t evolve from there, just repeated until the plot resolved them. Her prose style also did not appeal to my sensibilities, frequently falling into metered sentences of similar length that did not draw me in or create a compelling reading experience.

Domek’s desire to use his intelligence instead of his muscle, and his interest in mechanics, feel like window dressing rather than deep character building or driving motivations, because they’re not deeply explored or manifested. He largely solves the problems of the plot through muscle not wit, and his attempts to be smart create blockers instead of solutions in the plot. He also seems to have never pursued his mechanical or intellectual passions outside of his work as a lamplighter. It’s stated he also works part time for his relative’s watchmaking business, but it’s hardly there in the landscape of his life or the story. When he is called naïve, I think we are meant to take that as someone misunderstanding or underestimating him, but his choices and actions as he attempts to do the smart and right thing are truly naïve, his intellect underdeveloped.

I didn’t care about the lore built around the pijavica, or the physical descriptions. The White Lady was far more interesting to me, but had much less presence in the story. I do prefer ghosts and spirits to vampires, so choosing the read a vampire-centric story is my own fault, on this count.

As for intrigue and thrill, it just wasn’t there. The intrigue between the pijavica families fell flat because we had no embedded point of view characters to experience real back and forth. Ora’s agenda was her own, and she only engaged with the intrigue shallowly, and to her own ends and the ends of her human friends. The families’ agendas were kept hidden from the reader so they could be revealed to Ora and Domek as part of the mystery plot, or as surprises, but like so much else in this book, by the time we got the reveal, I didn’t care, or it drowned in discussions. Jarvis has a habit of halting dramatic tension in scene after scene with lengthy conversations. This was not the terse walk-and-talk of The West Wing or the banter-while-fighting of the Princess Bride. Movement in the scenes frequently ground to a halt while the characters had moral and philosophical debates to decide their course of action. It sucked the drama, urgency, and thrill from the story. With a string edit, this book could have been 100 pages shorter and 100% snappier.

I’m sure there’s an audience for this book, more ideal readers who will find a great deal of pleasure in these pages. Alas, I am not one of them.



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The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Riveting. Moved so smoothly from scene to scene, between past to present, I was carried along and desperate for the next tidbit, even when it was awful. And this story is full of mostly awful things, a woman’s sad and angry remembrances of her life up to this point, the week of her father’s death. Cutting through all the disappointment and the rapidly unraveling sibling bonds is her hope for the return of a dark creature that might carry her away from a continued life of heartache, loneliness, and missed chances. The book pitch sounded to me like this was a “something lurking in the dark” story, so I expected a shivering and stalking sort of gothic haunting, but instead I found melancholy longing twisted up with barely suppressed rage. This story lures you in with soft sorrow and beautiful language and then twists all the sharp objects you didn’t realize were being pushed between your ribs. I loved it.

Read on: December 29, 2020

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The Book of Lamps and Banners (Cass Neary, #4) by Elizabeth Hand

The Book of Lamps and Banners by Elizabeth Hand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Cass Neary #4 was worth the wait! In the first 50 pages it hit all my buttons for “ancient occult book thriller” and didn’t let up on the thriller for a moment. I was surprised by the challenges and unexpected changes of location Cass experienced along the way, which made for a really exciting and fresh read. I was not surprised that Cass was hitting bottom in this book, and I was rooting for her the whole time, not only to find the book but to decide to take care of instead of destroy herself. Hand uses the titular book to both introduce the is it/isn’t it supernatural element of the story and to dig out Cass’s trauma and force her to confront it and the ruin it’s wrought over decades of her life. The ending perfectly straddles that line between confronting the harsh reality of the present and being hopeful about the future.



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