Book Review: Where the Drowned Girls Go (Wayward Children, #7) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Where the Drowned Girls Go
Series: Wayward Children, #7
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 150 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC via Netgalley; hardcover purchased

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company.

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.
It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

And it isn’t as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming…

If it’s January, it must be time for a new Wayward Children book!

Children have always been drawn to the doors.

In the 7th in the series, Where the Drowned Girls Go, the main character is Cora, whom we’ve met in previous installments as a secondary character. Here, she takes center stage.

Cora is a mermaid. That is, she was an ordinary human child until she went through a door to the world of the Trenches, an undersea world where Cora became a hero and a mermaid. Even though she was returned to her “real” world, she knows she belongs back in the Trenches… or she did, until (in book #5, Come Tumbling Down), she accompanies her friends through a door to the Moors, where she has a fateful encounter with the Drowned Gods.

She used to put her head down on the pillow and let the night take her away, off into dreams full of deep, diamond-dappled water, diving down where the currents were warm and the waters were always welcoming.

Since the Moors, though… since the Moors, her dreams were still full of water and waves, but the sea she swam in while she slept was no longer remotely kind. It was filled with teeth, and colder than she would have believed the water could be.

Now, back at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, Cora can’t shake the memories of the Moors and the awful whispers of the Drowned Gods, who want to drag her back down to their terror-filled realm. Feeling hopeless, Cora requests a transfer to the Whitethorn Institute, the other school for children who journey through portals to strange worlds and come back again. Against Eleanor West’s advice, Cora insists on the transfer, and soon finds herself in a very different type of school.

Days at the Whitethorn Institute always followed the same pattern, as perfect and predictable as a spider’s web.

At Whitethorn, the emphasis in on conformity. The students are urged through behavioral control to abandon any thought of other worlds. They must learn that this is the only world that exists, and give up the fantasies and delusions of other lives. It’s harsh, full of punishments and insistence on obedience, with an overwhelming grayness to it all.

But Cora is still a mermaid at heart, and soon comes to realize what an awful mistake she’s made. And when her friend Sumi shows up at Whitethorn on a rescue mission… well, things really get interesting.

I love the world of the Wayward Children, and despite the bleakness of the new school, there’s still plenty of magic and nonsense to appreciate in Where the Drowned Girls Go.

One of the truly special things about this series is how it celebrates otherness. The children in these books struggle to fit in in their “normal” worlds, and finding their doors is key to discovering who they truly are. What’s clear throughout this series is that the children’s differences aren’t the problem — the problem is a world that has no place for children who don’t conform.

As always, the writing is spectacular. Rovina Cai is back as the illustrator, and her drawings (again, as always) are beautiful and perfectly in tune with the narrative of the story.

Illustration by @RovinaCaiArt

I love this series so, so much. If you haven’t tried these books yet, start at the beginning! I’m thrilled that three more books in the series are listed on Goodreads — here’s hoping the Wayward Children thrive for years to come!

Book Review: Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle, #1) by C. L. Polk

Title: Witchmark
Series: The Kingston Cycle, #1
Author: C. L. Polk
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: June 19, 2018
Length: 318 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

C. L. Polk arrives on the scene with Witchmark, a stunning, addictive fantasy that combines intrigue, magic, betrayal, and romance.

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen. 

I’ve had my eye on Witchmark for a few years now — I’m so glad I finally sat down with the book and gave it a try!

In Witchmark, we’re introduced to a steampunk-flavored world in which aether lines power lighting and telephones, while average people get around the city on bicycles or in horse-drawn carriages. Witchcraft exists, but it’s divided very sharply along class lines: There is a secret inner circle of nobility with magical powers, known as the Invisibles. They serve the Queen, and keep Aeland protected from storms and natural disasters through quarterly rituals to sing in the seasons.

Invisibles have powers that run through the generations of their families, and in general, there’s one main mage in the family, who uses a lesser-powered family member (known as a Secondary) essentially as a backup battery. The Secondary is magically bound to the family mage, and their own strength is drained as needed in order to power the required spells.

In the lower classes, however, witchcraft is feared and something to be punished. A person accused of witchcraft is tried and examined, and if found guilty, is committed to a witches’ asylum — permanently. It’s a scary, gruesome fate.

The main character in Witchmark is Dr. Miles Singer. A son of the powerful Hensley family, Miles fled home years earlier to join the army and pursue a medical education. He let it be known that he was killed in the vicious war with Laneer; meanwhile, he actually returned home to the city of Kingston, where he works in psychiatric medicine at a veterans’ hospital.

When a dying man, claiming to have been poisoned, identifies Miles as a Starred One — someone gifted with magic — he sets off a chain reaction that leads to Miles becoming embroiled in investigating the possible murder, as well as strange occurrences involving war veterans, otherworldly interest in missing souls, and dire scheming and jockeying for political power among the nobility. He also becomes unwillingly reintroduced to his estranged family and forced to participate in their power plays.

Something sinister is happening behind the scenes, threatening all of Aeland society, and with an unexpected companion, it’s up to Miles to figure it out before it’s too late, even at the risk of his own life.

Witchmark is an engaging read, thanks especially to Miles. Miles is a complex character, with his aristocratic background, his war service and resulting psychological damage, and his commitment to treating and supporting the wounded veterans in his care. His compassion makes him a sympathetic character, one whom it’s easy to root for.

There’s an enigmatic love interest who is very interesting, but I don’t feel as though I understood enough about this individual, their powers, and what they represent.

That brings me to my chief complaint about Witchmark: The world-building is insufficient, from my point of view.

There are a lot of names and terms thrown around — Invisibles, Secondaries, Amaranthines, Solace — which only get minimal explanations. I liked what I saw of this world, but felt like I was missing a deeper knowledge of the types of power, the mystical elements, and more. I often felt like I was trying to catch up, but I think this was because of the lack of specifics in some key areas. I think we’re meant to get a feel for this world and its societies through the plot of the story, but I couldn’t help feeling as though I needed more in order to truly become immersed and connected.

There are two more books in the Kingston Cycle, and I do plan to continue. I like the characters and the overarching story enough to want to see what happens next. I’m hoping that I get deeper into the trilogy, some of the more confusing elements will become clearer.

Book Review: Getaway by Zoje Stage

Title: Getaway
Author: Zoje Stage
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication date: August 17, 2021
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A cinematic and terrifying new novel from “the master of the psychological thriller” and the bestselling author of Baby Teeth and Wonderland, about three friends who hike into the wilds of the Grand Canyon—only to find it’s not so easy to leave the world behind (Entertainment Weekly).

It was supposed to be the perfect week away . . . 

Imogen and Beck, two sisters who couldn’t be more different, have been friends with Tilda since high school. Once inseparable, over two decades the women have grown apart. But after Imogen survives a traumatic attack, Beck suggests they all reunite to hike deep into the Grand Canyon’s backcountry. A week away, secluded in nature . . . surely it’s just what they need.

But as the terrain grows tougher, tensions from their shared past bubble up. And when supplies begin to disappear, it becomes clear secrets aren’t the only thing they’re being stalked by. As friendship and survival collide with an unspeakable evil, Getaway becomes another riveting thriller from a growing master of suspense and “a literary horror writer on the rise” (BookPage).

I went into Getaway not knowing much about it other than that it takes place in the Grand Canyon and that something ominous happens. The cover image makes it clear that this will not be a happy book! But I truly had no idea what awaited me, and that was a good thing. With no foreknowledge, I was shaken and then terrified by every new development.

That said, if you haven’t read Getaway and want to experience it the way I did, stop reading this review right now! Just know that this is a five-star reading experience, steel yourself to be truly disturbed, and go for it.

Onward, though, to discussing more of the book. First off, I must say that I had no idea that there would be a Jewish component to this book, and that’s always something that speaks to me. The book starts off shockingly, as we learn that main character Imogen survived the horrific attack on the Etz Chayim synagogue in Pittsburgh, by chance arriving just as the shooting began and being able to hide outside rather than being inside the building to be massacred.

Although physically unharmed, Imogen bears psychological scars that only intensify those she already carried from “the thing” (which we learn about over the course of the novel) that happened to her in college. Over her adult years, Imogen has become more and more reclusive, to the point of agoraphobic. She doubts herself, her worth, and her ability to function in the world.

Imogen and her sister Beck grew up in an outdoorsy family, with frequent backpacking and wilderness trips. It’s been years since Imogen has felt secure enough to venture out like this, but Beck has arranged for the two of them plus their friend Tilda to spend a week in the Grand Canyon. Once inseparable, Tilda and Imogen have been estranged since “the thing”. Beck hopes that their week together, away from society and distractions, basking in the beauty of the wilderness, will provide an opportunity for the three of them to come back together, heal, and reestablish the closeness they once had.

Needless to say, things go horribly wrong. I wont’ say how or why, but the beautiful getaway that Beck envisioned turns into a nightmare in which their lives are on the line, and any wrong move can spell disaster. The three women must rely on each other and on their own internal resources if they have even a tiny hope of making it out of the Grand Canyon again.

Getaway is a thriller that introduces its dangers in an almost innocuous way. As with the characters, I was lulled into thinking “how bad could this be?” But the danger becomes more and more clear, and the escalation is terrifying yet also insidious. There seems to be hope, again and again, that reason and compassion and conversation can yield a solution… but that hope gets dashed repeatedly, and it quickly becomes clear that only drastic action can save them.

(Sorry, being deliberately vague here… but honestly, it’s best not to know much in advance.)

I loved the complexity of the women’s relationships, and how this informs the way they interact as well as how they initially respond to the threats they face. Imogen, as our point of view character, is fascinating — we see her doubts and fears, her resentment toward Tilda, her sense of inadequacy when comparing herself to Beck, and the self-doubt she’s harbored for years about whether she’s good enough, whether she’s able to defend herself, whether she lets herself and others down in times of urgency. In order to survive, Imogen has to face her inner turmoil and put herself on the line in ways that would seem unimaginable in any other facet of her life.

Truly, Getaway is rich and complex, and scary as hell. I was creeped out and terrified throughout much of the book, and had a hard time envisioning any outcome that wasn’t devastating. At the same time, I loved the main characters, loved the Grand Canyon setting, and really marvelled at the author’s ability to weave together the elements of an engrossing thriller with a moving story about friendship and resilience.

This is my first encounter with Zoje Stage, but I hope it won’t be my last! I know she has two previously published novels, and I’m eager to find out more about them. If you’ve read either Baby Teeth or Wonderland, please let me know what you thought and if you recommend them!

Getaway is highly recommended, a powerful and frightening read that’s also redemptive and empowering. Don’t miss it.

Shelf Control #301: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota, #1)
Author: Ada Palmer
Published: 2016
Length: 433 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destablize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

How and when I got it:

I picked up the Kindle edition about three years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve been keeping my eye on this series ever since I first stumbled across it. Now complete, with four books in total, I have fewer excuses for not starting!

The series overview, from the publisher’s website:

Just this week, I shared my series reading goals for 2022, and I didn’t think to include this one — but I do still intend to get to these books. I’m intriguing by the sound of the world and the political structures, and want to know more about the conspiracy and the special child.

What do you think? Would you read this book (and/or the series)?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books Releasing In the First Half of 2022

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Books Releasing In the First Half of 2022. While one of my goals this year is to read the books I already own, I can’t help feeling excited about a bunch of new releases that will be coming my way too!

My 10 most anticipated new releases for the first half of 2022 are:

  1. Where the Drowned Girls Go (Wayward Children, #7) by Seanan McGuire (1/4 — my copy arrives today!)
  2. An Impossible Imposter (Veronica Speedwell, #7) by Deanna Raybourn (2/14)
  3. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle (3/1)
  4. Spelunking Through Hell (Incryptids, #11) by Seanan McGuire (3/1)
  5. The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (3/15)
  6. Reputation by Lex Croucher (4/5)
  7. The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth (4/5)
  8. To Marry and to Meddle (The Regency Vows, #3) by Martha Waters (4/5)
  9. Book of Night by Holly Black (5/3)
  10. Tokyo Dreaming by Emiko Jean (5/31)

What new releases are you most looking forward to in 2022? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Book Review: Shipped by Angie Hockman

Title: Shipped
Author: Angie Hockman
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: January 19, 2021
Length: 335 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Unhoneymooners meets The Hating Game in this witty, clever, and swoonworthy novel following a workaholic marketing manager who is forced to go on a cruise with her arch-nemesis when they’re up for the same promotion.

Between taking night classes for her MBA and her demanding day job at a cruise line, marketing manager Henley Evans barely has time for herself, let alone family, friends, or dating. But when she’s shortlisted for the promotion of her dreams, all her sacrifices finally seem worth it.

The only problem? Graeme Crawford-Collins, the remote social media manager and the bane of her existence, is also up for the position. Although they’ve never met in person, their epic email battles are the stuff of office legend.

Their boss tasks each of them with drafting a proposal on how to boost bookings in the Galápagos—best proposal wins the promotion. There’s just one catch: they have to go on a company cruise to the Galápagos Islands…together. But when the two meet on the ship, Henley is shocked to discover that the real Graeme is nothing like she imagined. As they explore the Islands together, she soon finds the line between loathing and liking thinner than a postcard.

With her career dreams in her sights and a growing attraction to the competition, Henley begins questioning her life choices. Because what’s the point of working all the time if you never actually live?

Perfect for fans of Christina Lauren and Sally Thorne, Shipped is a fresh and engaging rom-com that celebrates the power of second chances and the magic of new beginnings.

In this office romance (set on a cruise ship!), two people competing for one job end up finding romance and chemistry while forced to spend time together. Henley has harbored anger and resentment toward Graeme ever since he joined the marketing team of Seaquest Adventures, although they’ve only ever met via video conferences. She is not thrilled to learn that he’s being considered for the promotion that she thought she had in the bag, and is especially unhappy to learn that part of the selection process for the promotion involves going on the company’s Galapagos tour — with Graeme.

While enjoying the gorgeous setting, Henley continues to bump heads with Graeme, but between their instant physical attraction and the fact that he actually seems nice in person, she’s forced to reevaluate her opinions of him.

Shipped is pretty standard fare when it comes to contemporary romance. It’s the enemies-to-lovers trope, every step of the way, and while the Galapagos setting makes it fun, the plot beats are exactly what you’d expect.

I had a hard time with main character Henley pretty much the entire way through the book. Her impression of Graeme and the way she interacts with him are so uncalled for — she comes across as unreasonable and extreme, and I doubt that was the author’s intention. He’s clearly not an awful person, and the way she talks to him and acts around him just doesn’t make sense. As Henley puts it:

The fact is, I acted like a lunatic today […]

Some of the writing is a little clunky, with language that left me scratching my head:

We barely make it through the door before we’re on each other like duct tape.

That sounds… painful? sticky? Not sexy, which I think was the intent. And then there’s this, which… I don’t even know.

My nether-kitty yowls and hisses at this interruption.

Of course, I also should disclose that office romance storylines are probably my least favorite romance plots, so that factors in as well. I didn’t find the office dynamics believable, and don’t even get me started on the promotion competition or the book’s tidy resolution for Henley’s career.

Still, there are some cute moments, and I liked Henley’s relationships with her friends and her sister, as well as the importance she places on giving credit where credit is due. The descriptions of the sights and wildlife of the Galapagos makes me want to go there, immediately! And I appreciate that the author includes all sorts of information on how to support wildlife preservation initiatives in the area as part of her notes at the end.

Maybe this book will work better for those who enjoy the specific romance tropes included here. Alas, while it was a quick and light read, it just wasn’t really my cup of tea.

The Monday Check-In ~ 1/3/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Happy New Year! Wishing one and all a joyful, happy, and healthy 2022!

Reading and blogging:

A new year means a new Goodreads challenge! Here’s my 2022 goal:

I’m intentionally setting my goal slightly lower than my 2021 goal and final reading numbers. I know I have some BIG books on my to-read list for 2022, and I want to be able to take my time!

Wrapping up 2021:

Weirdly, a book I finished on December 31st isn’t included in this Goodreads summary, but close enough, I guess! And I always appreciate GR’s little words of encouragement:

Also, over the weekend, I posted a list of the series I’m hoping to get to in 2022 (you can see it here), and see below (under “ongoing reads”) for a quasi-goal I have about actually enjoying and spending time with some of my pretty, decorative books this year.

What did I read during the last week?

Read and reviewed:

Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti: I loved this powerful novel! My review is here.

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer: A light holiday read. My review is here.

The Unfamiliar Garden (The Comet Cycle, #2) by Benjamin Percy: A relatively short but very intense (and somewhat icky) science fiction thriller. My review is here.

Also read (but no review):

The Scenic Route by Nnedi Okorafor: A fun short story set in the world of Akata Witch and Akata Warrior. With the next book (Akata Woman) coming out this month, it was great to reconnect with a couple of the characters.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers: I didn’t get a chance to write a proper review, but this novella was a 5-star read for sure! It’s beautifully written and thoughtful, but with moments of humor too. Can’t wait for the follow-up book, to be released later in 2022.

Pop culture & TV:

I finished watching Wheel of Time, and my overall reaction is.. meh. Some interesting concepts and sequences, but the episodes for the most part felt really, really slow. And I was confused by some of the interpersonal relationships — for example, a hook-up in episode 7 that seemed to come out of the blue between two characters with zero chemistry, except I think we were meant to believe that there had been building attraction, maybe?

I’m wondering — should I bother with the books? Or just wait for season 2, whenever that might be, and leave it as a viewing entertainment only?

In other streaming/watching entertainment, my son and I really enjoyed Don’t Look Up on Netflix, and finished The Witcher, season 2 (which does make me want to pick up the books again).

Puzzle time:

Spending the week at home gave me plenty of time for puzzles!

This is another terrific one from Eeboo — it’s called Ancient Apothecary, and was a lot of fun.

Fresh Catch:

I didn’t intend to buy any more books this week, but since I just happened to stop by my favorite local bookstore this week, I couldn’t walk away empty handed! I found this used hardcover for sale, in excellent condition:

I do already own a paperback edition, but it’s quite beat-up and tattered by now, so this feels like a special find!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Shipped by Angie Hockman: I don’t remember buying this — there must have been a Kindle price drop that enticed me — but anyway, it popped up on my home screen over the weekend and I decided to give it a try. Very standard lightweight romance material, but at least it’s going fast!

Now playing via audiobook:

Getaway by Zoje Stage: This story of a Grand Canyon hike gone wrong is terrifying. I think I have about an hour’s worth of listening to go.

Ongoing reads:

One of my casual goals for 2022 is to spend some time with the pretty art books and coffee table books that I’ve picked up over the years. I have several that I’ve never done more than just glance at. This book is one that I bought more recently, after doing a series of jigsaw puzzles based on it. It looks lovely, so I think I’m going to keep it on my nightstand and look through it a few pages at a time over the next few weeks.

So many books, so little time…

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Reading goals: Series to read in 2022

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2022 brings joy and health for all of us!

As is my annual tradition, rather than setting a bunch of reading goals that I probably won’t actually try to achieve, I prefer to limit my bookish goals to series reading. There are so many series out there that I want to get to! My priorities change from year to year, but as of now, I have a pretty good idea of the series I want to tackle in 2022.

Most of the series I’m including here are completed, rather than ongoing series. I end up enjoying series most when I can read them either straight through or within a relatively short span of time, so everything stays fresh in my mind and I can feel like what I’m reading really connects.

I absolutely recognize that I may end up changing my mind on some or all of these, but as of now…

My priority series to read in 2022 will be:

The Kingston Cycle trilogy by C. L. Polk – I own copies of all three books, and have been wanting to start for a while now.

Children of Time and Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky: I’ve heard such great things, and what’s not to love about a duology?

The Expanse by James S. A. Corey: This has been on my list for a couple of years in a row, but I seem to manage to read only one book per year. So far, I’ve read books 1 – 5. With the TV series ending this month, I want to move forward and get through most (or all) of the remaining books in the series. There are 9 in all, and next up for me will be #6, Babylon’s Ashes.

Gideon & Harrow by Tamsyn Muir – This isn’t a completed series (#3 will be out in the fall), but I’m disappointed in myself for not reading these yet!

Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers – Another series that I should have read by now!

Patternist series by Octavia Butler: I’ve been wanting to read more Octavia Butler, and this series has been on my shelf for a few years.

The Lady Janies series by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows: These look like so much fun!

Finally, I do want to go back to The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. I’ve read a few, but the last two were audiobooks that just didn’t stick with me (I couldn’t keep my attention from wandering), so basically, I’d need to re-read two of these before getting to the rest:

Are you planning to start any new series this year? If you’ve read any of the series on my list for 2022, please let me know what you thought and if you have any recommendations!

Book Review: The Unfamiliar Garden (The Comet Cycle, #2) by Benjamin Percy

Title: The Unfamiliar Garden
Series: The Comet Cycle
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The night the sky fell, Jack and Nora Abernathy’s daughter vanished in the woods. And Mia’s disappearance broke her parents’ already fragile marriage. Unable to solve her own daughter’s case, Nora lost herself in her work as a homicide detective. Jack became a shell of a man; his promising career as a biologist crumbling alongside the meteor strikes that altered weather patterns and caused a massive drought.

It isn’t until five years later that the rains finally return to nourish Seattle. In this period of sudden growth, Jack uncovers evidence of a new parasitic fungus, while Nora investigates several brutal, ritualistic murders. Soon they will be drawn together by a horrifying connection between their discoveries—partnering to fight a deadly contagion as well as the government forces that know the truth about the fate of their daughter.

Award-winning author Benjamin Percy delivers both a gripping science fiction thriller and a dazzling examination of a planet—and a marriage—that have broken. 

The Comet Cycle, a three-part look at the effects of a devastating meteor fall, began with the 2021 release of The Ninth Metal (reviewed here). The premise of this trilogy is chilling: A comet passes by earth, close enough that people around the globe gather to celebrate and enjoy the beautiful sight. But… a year later, Earth’s orbit takes the planet through the comet’s debris field, and it’s here that things go terribly wrong.

Earth is inundated with meteors and meteorites, and beyond the immediate destruction of the massive impacts, the biology and chemical makeup of the planet is forever changed.

In The Ninth Metal, we see the effect of the introduction of a strange, never-before-seen metal into the world of humans. Known as omnimetal, this element has strange properties that change the world in terms of huge leaps forward in technology as well as changing the economy, power balances, and in some cases, humans themselves.

In the 2nd book, The Unfamiliar Garden, the action moves from the Minnesota setting of the 1st book to the Seattle and Northwest rainforest area. The main characters are Jack, a professor of biology specializing in mycology, and Nora, Jack’s ex-wife, a neuro-atypical detective with the Seattle PD. Five years earlier, as the meteorites were striking Earth, their 8-year-old daughter Mia disappeared while out in the forest with Jack. No trace was ever found.

Now, after a long drought, rains have returned to the area, and with the rain comes a huge growth spurt for fungi and other plant matter. Also, and maybe not coincidentally, Nora’s department faces a rash of gruesome murders and seemingly ordinary people having sudden psychotic breaks.

As their work overlaps, Jack and Nora have to join forces to try to understand what’s causing this outbreak of violence, and along the way, may finally get answers to the mystery of their daughter’s disappearance.

The Unfamiliar Garden is a fast-paced, tautly-written thriller with sinister government agents, alien organisms, and a wave of bizarre illness and madness. Through Jack and Nora, we see the way the baffling clues start to form patterns, while also getting a sense of the horror of finding oneself in the midst of what’s actually happening.

Without giving too much away, let me just say… fungi = ewwwwww. I’ve now read several books in which fungi in some way or another basically spell the end of human life as we know it, and honestly, it’s terrifying!!

There are some scenes that are pretty gross, so this book may not be for you if you have a weak stomach and a low tolerance for an ick factor.

I found it fascinating, and I loved the relatively short length, which meant that the storytelling stays lean and propulsive throughout. I also love how each book in this trilogy focuses on a different geographic area and a different aspect of the comet’s aftermath.

Book #3, The Sky Vault, will be released in June 2022. I can’t wait!

Book Review: When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord

Title: When You Get the Chance
Author: Emma Lord
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Nothing will get in the way of Millie Price’s dream to become a Broadway star. Not her lovable but super-introverted dad, who after raising Millie alone, doesn’t want to watch her leave home to pursue her dream. Not her pesky and ongoing drama club rival, Oliver, who is the very definition of Simmering Romantic Tension. And not the “Millie Moods,” the feelings of intense emotion that threaten to overwhelm, always at maddeningly inconvenient times. Millie needs an ally. And when a left-open browser brings Millie to her dad’s embarrassingly moody LiveJournal from 2003, Millie knows just what to do. She’s going to find her mom.

There’s Steph, a still-aspiring stage actress and receptionist at a talent agency. There’s Farrah, ethereal dance teacher who clearly doesn’t have the two left feet Millie has. And Beth, the chipper and sweet stage enthusiast with an equally exuberant fifteen-year-old daughter (A possible sister?! This is getting out of hand). But how can you find a new part of your life and expect it to fit into your old one, without leaving any marks? And why is it that when you go looking for the past, it somehow keeps bringing you back to what you’ve had all along?

Millie Price is a LOT, and she knows it. Almost 17, done with junior year of high school, and completely obsessed with musical theater, Millie is ecstatic when she finds out that she’s been accepted ot a competitive “pre-college” (a combination senior year of high school plus four-year undergraduate program) that claims to have huge success in turning wannabes into Broadway stars. The problem? She never told her dad that she’d applied, and he’s absolutely opposed to her going.

But Millie is nothing if not determined, and she decides to convince her dad to let her attend in the weirdest way possible: After stumbling across her dad’s awful LiveJournal musings about his sad college romances, she decides to track down her mother — who, she’s sure, will back her up on this pre-college thing, since one of the few things Millie knows about her is that she was also a performer.

On her quest, Millie ends up taking an internship at a talent agency, where she’s forced to work side-by-side with Oliver, the grumpy stage manager from her high school theater department with whom she’s had a serious battle of the wills (not to mention ongoing very loud conflicts) for three years now. But working together, she finds out there’s more to Oliver than she realized.

When You Get the Chance is a cute story, sure to appeal to anyone who (a) loves New York and (b) loves musical theater — but even if you don’t happen to love either of those, Millie’s out-there personality, her relationship with her father and her aunt, and the madcap search for her mother are sure to charm you anyway.

Millie’s extroverted personality, in person, would make me hugely uncomfortable. She’s someone who craves the spotlight, and her big emotions and reactions are constantly on display. While these traits carry her where she needs to go, she also steps on people’s toes and gets into all sorts of awkward situations, not to mention hurting the people she loves most by not talking to them directly instead of carrying out her wild schemes. Still, as a fictional character, she’s funny and charming, and we readers know that her heart is in the right place, even when her actions are over the top.

There are a lot of cute and engaging elements in this story: Millie’s search for her mother, based on the sparse cues she and her best friend find, take her all over the city and introduce her to people who all enrich her life in various ways. The mother “candidates” are interesting women who share some traits with Millie (and whose scenes with Millie are very entertaining), and the travels around New York are lively and enjoyable. Also, Millie’s aunt owns the Milkshake Club, a performance space that serves amazing milkshakes, which is such a fabulous concept… and now I desperately want a huge milkshake of my own!

The family conflicts and drama get resolved in satisfying ways, the romantic element is sweet (and I appreciated that the romance doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the story), and as a musical theater fan myself, I appreciate all the silly ways that various lyrics, plotlines, and characters get woven into Millie’s daily conversations and thoughts.

When You Get the Chance is a engaging read with an entertaining (and occasionally exasperating) main character. It releases the first week in January — what a fun way to start the new year!