Review: Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco

Review: Silver Under Nightfall by Rin ChupecoSilver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, epic fantasy, fantasy, Gothic, horror, steampunk, vampires
Pages: 512
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Full of court intrigue, queer romance, and terrifying monsters—this gothic epic fantasy will appeal to fans of Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree and the adult animated series Castlevania.
Remy Pendergast is many things: the only son of the Duke of Valenbonne (though his father might wish otherwise), an elite bounty hunter of rogue vampires, and an outcast among his fellow Reapers. His mother was the subject of gossip even before she eloped with a vampire, giving rise to the rumors that Remy is half-vampire himself. Though the kingdom of Aluria barely tolerates him, Remy’s father has been shaping him into a weapon to fight for the kingdom at any cost.
When a terrifying new breed of vampire is sighted outside of the city, Remy prepares to investigate alone. But then he encounters the shockingly warmhearted vampire heiress Xiaodan Song and her infuriatingly arrogant fiancé, vampire lord Zidan Malekh, who may hold the key to defeating the creatures—though he knows associating with them won’t do his reputation any favors. When he’s offered a spot alongside them to find the truth about the mutating virus Rot that’s plaguing the kingdom, Remy faces a choice.
It’s one he’s certain he’ll regret.
But as the three face dangerous hardships during their journey, Remy develops fond and complicated feelings for the couple. He begins to question what he holds true about vampires, as well as the story behind his own family legacy. As the Rot continues to spread across the kingdom, Remy must decide where his loyalties lie: with his father and the kingdom he’s been trained all his life to defend or the vampires who might just be the death of him.

My Review:

I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into this book, and now that I’ve read it I’m still not entirely sure. Except that it was fantastic. Heart-pounding, fingernail-biting, stay up until 3 in the morning to finish fantastic.

But the question about whether this is fantasy or horror still feels a bit up in the air.

Let me explain…

Remy Pendergast is a Reaper. In this world that means vampire hunter. But Remy only hunts so-called “rogue” vampires – ones who are causing mischief in human-controlled countries like Aluria. Vampires also have fiefdoms of their own where the rules are undoubtedly different.

Where Remy wouldn’t exactly be welcome because he’s famous for hunting their kind.

Not that Remy is exactly welcome in his own country, either. And not because he’s a Reaper. There are plenty of Reapers in high positions in Aluria’s government. In fact, his father used to be one of them.

But his father, who is a cantankerous old bastard at the best of times – of which he has damn few – is also in the midst of a lifelong feud with the head of the Reaper’s Guild – who also happens to be the Royal Chancellor. A man who is just as big a bastard as Remy’s father, and who is taking his feud out on the son now that the father has publicly retired.

And that’s just the tip of the really massive and ugly iceberg of why Remy is persona non grata in his own country – unless they need something killed and everyone else is too scared or too prissy to get their hands dirty.

That’s where the zombies come in. Well, not really and not exactly zombies. But sorta/kinda and close enough.

Someone is creating monsters that at first seem to be super-duper enhanced vampires. But they’re not. They’re mindless husks who regenerate at will and seem to be impossible to kill. Upon closer scientific study (this world is steampunk-ish so there’s plenty of mad science at least of the medical variety) it’s revealed that these mindless husks were never vampires – and that vampires are immune to the infection that creates them.

Lord Malekh and Lady Song, leaders of the Third and Fourth vampire Courts, have come to Aluria to ally with its Queen in order to combat what they call “The Rot” and whoever is behind that threat.

They need a human liaison. They both want Remy (in more ways than one) – who isn’t at all sure what he wants except to get out of Aluria for a while. The political temperature is getting way too hot for him and his father’s demands are becoming even more outrageous than they always have been.

And he’s tempted. Even though becoming a vampire’s familiar is against the law. Even though he’s fought vampires all his life. Even though a vampire killed his mother and he was born from her corpse.

Even though Malekh and Song are clearly in love and engaged to marry each other. Remy can’t understand why either of them wants him when no one else has ever wanted to do anything except use him for their own purposes.

He has a chance at having the kind of happiness that he never expected to even get a glimpse of. And he’s so, so certain that someone will take it away from him – unless he does it to himself first.

Escape Rating A+: Clearly, the setup for this is ginormous. It’s also endlessly fascinating. I got stuck into this and absolutely could not get out until I finished the last page at about 3 AM. It was just that good.

To the point where I’ll probably be squeeing uncontrollably more than reviewing per se. But I did love it so, so hard.

While the blurbs reference the anime series (and videogame) Castlevania, I think that’s because of the vampires, the politics and the monsters. I haven’t played or watched that so it’s not where my mind went. Instead, I kept seeing Remy as a younger, less confident Geralt of Rivia, in a world where hunting magical creatures gone rogue is needed while the people who do it are reviled. I would call it a bit of a coming-of-age story for The Witcher but I’m not sure Remy is fully adulting even by the end of the story – although he’s finally getting there.

Where I started with this review was that I still wasn’t sure whether the book was horror or fantasy. It was presented to me as horror and the scientific experimentation with zombie-like monsters who roam the countryside and infect others definitely has that vibe. There’s even a Doctor Frankenstein who is entirely too proud of his work even if he doesn’t use electricity to achieve his goals.

And then there’s the vampires, both the rogue vampires and the sexy vampire nobility. Which pushes the whole thing towards the paranormal which is an offshoot of horror.

But the form of the story reads like a big, sprawling epic fantasy. The world is huge and vastly complicated. The political agendas have political agendas and everyone is trying to knife everyone else in the back. The grudges seem to last for centuries – and not just among the vampires who have the excuse of living that long.

Basically, the politics behind everything are beyond Byzantine – as much as that is still an understatement if I ever heard one.

All of that makes the story feel epic in scope in a way that horror seldom is. And most of what is truly horrible in this story isn’t the monsters. It’s all the endless betrayals. It feels like the foundations of Remy’s world get pulled out from under him over and over as he keeps learning that under the corruption of everything if you scrape it away there’s yet another layer of, you guessed it, rot and corruption. Nothing he thinks he knows turns out to have any bearing on any truth.

That the triad relationship between Malekh, Song and Remy becomes both his only source of solace and a never-ending well of betrayal AT THE SAME TIME is just the icing on what is an utterly decadently delicious devil’s food cake of a story.

Whether it’s horror or fantasy or gothic or all of the above it’s riveting and downright compelling every step of the way. But whatever genre it falls into, I’m absolutely thrilled that the story isn’t over. Silver Under Nightfall is the first book in a projected duology, so there’s more dark, deadly and decadent delights to come!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-18-22

Banned Books Week begins today, and I can’t even. By that I mean that the whole mess has gotten so far out of hand that when I try to talk about it I end up stuttering in rage. I know I’m not alone. The whole damn point of a public library is that it has something in it to offend everyone. Not because libraries set out to be offensive, but because no matter how much a community’s residents might seem the same on the outside, they still represent many different beliefs and perspectives. And the members of that community will have to go out and deal with the rest of the damn world, which will undoubtedly have even more different perspectives. Reading opens the mind – and that seems to be what so many people who want to censor books are the most afraid of. Or to quote Stephen King, “Censorship and the suppression of reading materials are rarely about family values and almost always about control, about who is snapping the whip, who is saying no, and who is saying go.”

Go forth and read a banned book. Find out just what it is that someone doesn’t want you – or anyone else – to know.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Summer 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop (ENDS WEDNESDAY along with the season!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Fabulous Fall Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Glam and Glitz Giveaway Hop is Christy R.

Blog Recap:

C+ Review: Haven by Emma Donoghue
A- Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
B- Review: The Book Haters’ Book Club by Gretchen Anthony
C Review: Lucky Girl by Mary Rickert
Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop
Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop Sign Up 2022
Stacking the Shelves (514)

Coming This Week:

Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco (review)
Hades: Sentinel Security #2 by Anna Hackett (review)
Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory (blog tour review)
Fall 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop
Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (514)

As you can all see, the stacks do eventually get smaller. Thank goodness! If these were all or even mostly print books, the house would have caved in long ago!

The covers this week aren’t so much pretty as they are curious – or at least I’m curious about the books inside them. And not that the Valdemar Companion pictured on the cover of Shenanigans isn’t pretty, because it is and they are. But there are some I’m terrible curious about this week. Essex Dogs because it’s historical fiction about the Hundred Years’ War, and after reading 1632 again I’m interested in the period. A Tempest at Sea by Sherry Thomas because the Lady Sherlock series both fascinates me and drives me bananas, sometimes in the same book. And finally, Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen because it looks absolutely fascinating while sounding nothing like the previous book of his that I’ve read, Light Years from Home.

For Review:
Don’t Open the Door (Regan Merritt #2) by Allison Brennan
Essex Dogs by Dan Jones
Hades (Sentinel Security #2) by Anna Hackett
The Poet’s House by Jean Thompson
Riverside by Ian Skillicorn and Glenda Young (audio)
Shenanigans (Valdemar #16) by Mercedes Lackey
Singer Distance by Ethan Chatagnier
A Tempest at Sea (Lady Sherlock #7) by Sherry Thomas
Three Assassins by Kotaro Isaka
Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen
The Whispering Dark by Kelly Andrew
Wings Once Cursed & Bound (Mythwoven #1) by Piper J. Drake


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:


Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

Speaking of leaves and falling, let’s talk about leaf-peeping! While this hop is about leaves falling, we’re not quite into the season for it, at least not yet. I don’t mean just not here, I mean that according to predictive maps, most of the US isn’t there yet – except New England, Michigan and along the Canadian border.

But here in Atlanta peak season for leaf-peeping is a month off. Which makes this a perfect time to post this reminder:

When do the leaves let go where you are? What part of the change in seasons are you most – or least – looking forward to? Answer in the rafflecopter for a chance at one of Reading Reality’s usual prizes, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous fall prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Review: Lucky Girl by Mary Rickert

Review: Lucky Girl by Mary RickertLucky Girl: How I Became A Horror Writer: A Krampus Story by Mary Rickert
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: holiday fiction, horror
Pages: 112
Published by Tordotcom on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Lucky Girl, How I Became A Horror Writer is a story told across Christmases, rooted in loneliness, horror, and the ever-lurking presence of Krampus written by World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson Award-winning author M. Rickert.
“Smooth and ruthless, Lucky Girl is M. Rickert at her ice-cold best.”—Laird Barron
Ro, a struggling writer, knows all too well the pain and solitude that holiday festivities can awaken. When she meets four people at the local diner—all of them strangers and as lonely as Ro is—she invites them to an impromptu Christmas dinner. And when that party seems in danger of an early end, she suggests they each tell a ghost story. One that’s seasonally appropriate.
But Ro will come to learn that the horrors hidden in a Christmas tale—or one’s past—can never be tamed once unleashed.

My Review:

Once upon a time there was a girl who survived the deaths of her entire family – because she was waiting to meet a boy in a deserted park on Christmas. People called her a “lucky girl” for her survival, but if this was luck it was certainly of the perverse variety. The kind of luck that generally described as “if it wasn’t for bad luck she wouldn’t have any at all.”

Once upon a time there was a college student who met four other lonely students at a diner on Christmas and invited them back to her low-budget student apartment so they could all be lonely together. They ended the evening by telling each other creepy stories that fit the season. She took one of those ghost stories and turned it into her first novel, launching her career as a horror writer.

Considering how difficult it is to make a living as an author, receiving the seed of that story that she turned into a career could certainly be considered “lucky” for some of the better definitions of luck. At least at the time.

But the girl who survived and the student who became the horror writer of the subtitle of this book are the same person. And just as young Ro the survivor is the same person as Goth writer Ro, so too the horror of her family’s murder, and the horror of that story she turned into her first novel turned out to be continuations of all the horrors she had already experienced.

Neither of which was going to EVER be over.

Krampusz és Mikulás (Krampus and Saint Nicholas) ca. 1913

Escape Rating C: Horror is not usually my cuppa. Come to think of it, Christmas isn’t either. So these are not exactly two great tastes that go great together. The combination is a bit more like black licorice and anchovies. There are people who like both, but they are also most definitely, acquired tastes that not everyone manages to acquire. And I can’t imagine combining the two in the same dish, although I’m sure there’s someone out there who has or will try it. Hopefully far away from me.

There are two stories in Lucky Girl that also feel like they don’t quite go together. The first story is the murder of Ro’s entire family after she sneaks out of the house on Christmas to meet a boy who has been leaving her anonymous cards. She doesn’t know who he is, she doesn’t know what he looks like, but she’s a teenager and the whole thing sounds more romantic than it does dangerous.

But it’s not nearly so romantic when he doesn’t show. When she returns to her family home, her family is dead and the house has been consumed in the fire that killed them. Ro doesn’t know whether it was all a horrible coincidence, whether she’s lucky to be alive, and/or whether her mystery suitor planned on kidnapping her for sex trafficking.

Whatever the cause or the intended result, it’s a non-fiction horror that leads her to pursue a career in fictional horror.

The ghost stories that Ro and her impromptu lonely hearts club share that Christmas night at college is supposed to be some of that fake horror. Ghost stories. Just stories. But one has that haunting quality that makes it seem like it might be more.

Still, the two stories, the real-life familicide and the holiday Krampus story, don’t seem like they are part of the same thing. One is all-too-real, while the other can’t possibly be. At least not until they both turn out to be, not just real, but worse than even Ro’s gothic imaginings ever dreamed of.

Because Ro’s origin story was real-world horror, and its denouement managed to be even more horrific real-world horror I can’t help but wonder if that real-ness was intended to make the other story, the ghost story that wasn’t just a story – seem more real as well. To make it seem more real than it could have been.

Ro’s own story, as horrific as it was, creeped me out but didn’t send my willing suspension of disbelief off gibbering into the night. The horror of that story was in its plausibility. The holiday ghost story, the Krampus story, would have been mythic-type horror if told on its own, but the two looped together just didn’t gel into one horrific whole, at least not for this reader. And the combination of the two did give my willing suspension of disbelief a very bad case of the gibbers.

Your reading mileage – quite possibly while in full flight from the gruesomeness – absolutely may vary.

Review: The Book Haters’ Book Club by Gretchen Anthony

Review: The Book Haters’ Book Club by Gretchen AnthonyThe Book Haters' Book Club by Gretchen Anthony
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: books and reading, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

All it takes is the right book to turn a Book Hater into a Book Lover…
That was Elliott’s belief and the reason why he started The Book Haters’ Book Club—a newsletter of reading recommendations for the self-proclaimed “nonreader.” As the beloved co-owner of Over the Rainbow Bookstore, Elliott’s passion and gift was recommending books to customers. Now, after his sudden death, his grief-ridden business partner, Irma, has agreed to sell Over the Rainbow to a developer who will turn the cozy bookstore into high-rise condos.
But others won’t give up the bookstore without a fight. When Irma breaks the news to her daughters, Bree and Laney, and Elliott’s romantic partner, Thom, they are aghast. Over the Rainbow has been Bree and Laney’s sanctuary since childhood, and Thom would do anything to preserve Elliott’s legacy. Together, Thom, Bree and Laney conspire to save the bookstore, even if it takes some snooping, gossip and minor sabotage.
Filled with humor, family hijinks and actual reading recommendations, The Book Haters' Book Club is the ideal feel-good read. It’s a celebration of found family and a love letter to the everyday heroes who run bookstores.

My Review:

Elliot Gregory is watching from somewhere over the rainbow – or somewhere in the ‘Great Beyond’ – as his business partner, her daughters and his domestic partner all flail together and separately in the aftermath of his sudden death.

Yes, this is one of those stories that starts, to paraphrase Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Elliot was dead, to begin with.

He left behind a mess. He also was a mess. And he’s left behind a whole bunch of people who all loved him in one way or another to clean it up. But first they have to find the depths of that mess.

And then they have to find the true depths within themselves and each other.

Things don’t begin auspiciously. Irma Bedford meets her daughters, Laney and Bree, along with the late Elliot’s domestic partner Thom, at the offices of a real estate development firm to inform them that she has already sold the bookstore and the land it sits on to said investment firm for a sum that does not remotely look like the true value of the business and its real estate.

And that it’s a done deal that closes in less than a month.

What Irma doesn’t tell them is why – no matter how many sneaky and not so sneaky ways they ask. As far as Irma is concerned, it’s her business and not theirs. And an argument could be made for that. (Elliot and Thom were not married, Elliot didn’t leave a will, so as the surviving business partner the bookstore is legally Irma’s to continue to operate or dispose of as she pleases. Or as she feels compelled to. Or whatever the hell is motivating her at this point.)

But it makes no sense. It’s clear from the outset that the development firm is shady AF and that they seriously lowballed the offer. Even if Irma does want to sell she’s being taken advantage of while she’s at a low place. And even if she does want to retire – and she might – she’s been grooming her younger daughter to take over the bookstore for Bree’s entire life. The change in direction is abrupt to say the least.

And the more Laney, Bree and Thom dig, the fishier the whole thing seems. So they fight back with everything they have, banding together and stepping way out of their collective comfort zones to get the developers to back off of the deal before it’s too late.

But just when they think they’ve won, they discover that they had lost the war long before they began the first battle. Now they’ll have to fight on an entirely different front – before it really is too late after all. Again.

Escape Rating B-: I expected to fall in love with The Book Haters’ Club, but I left – or rather I middled – with a whole lot of mixed feelings.

I say middled because the first half of the book is all about Laney’s, Bree’s and Thom’s all-out, no-holds barred campaign to save the bookstore – no matter what Irma thinks. While what Irma thinks, feels and for that matter what in the hell she’s doing this for is all a deep, dark secret that makes absolutely no sense at all.

At the midpoint, the story turns itself around, because it’s only then that the first layer of the secret is revealed. But it kind of feels like that slog to save the store was all a waste. It is a waste for Laney, Bree and Thom, but it’s at that point where the first half of the story feels like it was pointless for the reader as well.

But once that first, brittle, outer skin of that onion of secrets gets cracked and peels away, the story finally starts getting somewhere. Because, while Elliot may have left them all with his big, untidy mess of secrets, they all have plenty that they need to reveal, not just to each other, but to themselves.

So the first half of the story was a whole lot of frenetic action that led nowhere, The second half is a whole lot of introspection and grief and the work of opening up and letting friends in to help with your mess.

While turning a group of people who were once a roiling mass of resentment at each other – and honestly for good reason – into a surprisingly cohesive found family.

The biggest part of the charm of this story is in the characters, once we’re finally able to start getting to know them – and they’re back to getting to know each other. One of the odder things about this story is the way that dear, dead Elliot breaks the fourth wall from on high (presumably) to inject himself into both the storytelling and the proceedings in a way that just didn’t work for me. Your reading mileage, of course, may vary.

So there’s plenty to love in this story about secrets, partnerships, quirky neighborhoods and found families. And if you love books about books and reading filled with terrific book recommendations, there are plenty of those here to savor. I just wish the whole thing had gotten to its point a whole lot sooner.

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van PeltRemarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, magical realism, relationship fiction
Pages: 360
Published by Ecco on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A novel tracing a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus.
After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.
Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.
Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.

My Review:

Remarkably Bright Creatures is a story about higher numbered chances than merely second and the long tentacle of coincidence that helps them happen.

Initially, they don’t seem to have much in common. A man whose prime isn’t very prime, who seems to have thrown away all his chances. An aging woman who has lost both her husband and her son, living lonely but determinedly in the house her parents built. And a giant Pacific octopus eking out his final days in the tiny Sowell Bay Aquarium on Puget Sound.

But Marcellus the octopus, whose placard outside his tank lists him as a “remarkably bright creature”, is as clever as he is bright. He’s also an intelligent observer of human behavior and a bit of an escape artist. There isn’t much else to do, all alone in his tank.

So he occasionally squeezes himself out to graze on the sea cucumbers – or even hazard a trip to the staff break room when the smell of leftover Chinese takeaway is too tempting to resist.

Which is how Tova Sullivan finds him, outside of his tank, caught in a tangle of wires and electrical cords and about to suffer what Marcellus calls “The Consequences” of being out of a tank for more than 20 minutes. Which he can calculate.

Marcellus is, after all, a remarkably bright creature.

Tova rescues him from the tangle. Not only that, but she doesn’t report Marcellus nighttime excursions to the aquarium’s director. It’s their little secret and the beginning of their unlikely friendship.

A friendship that ultimately results in both of them achieving the dreams they never admitted that they held. Not even to themselves.

Giant Pacific Octopus at the National Aquarium in Washington DC

Escape Rating A-: This book turned out to be WAY more charming than I expected. It was recommended by someone in my reading group so I was expecting a decent to good read, but this turned out to be just lovely.

This is kind of a quiet story, where things happen slowly and truths emerge over time. To the point where it borders on literary fiction a bit. But instead of being dark and gloomy where nothing happens and everyone argues a lot – which is how I tend to see litfic – the situations all start out a bit gloomy but everyone gets better. Even Marcellus.

At first you kind of wonder how Cameron’s story is going to link up to Tova’s and Marcellus’. And that coming together takes a while and goes off on a couple of tangents as it meanders along. But once it does, it all fits together beautifully.

What holds the story together – besides Marcellus’ tentacles – is Tova. Her son disappeared without a trace when he was just 18. Her husband has passed away. She’s alone – and yet she’s not. She has friends, she has a job, she makes sure she has purpose. And yet she also has concerns about what will happen to her when she can’t live on her own anymore.

Being Tova, she doesn’t wallow. Instead, she takes steps to determine her own future for her own self. In her situation I’d want to be her when I grew up. She’s a character to both admire and empathize with. To the point where we want her to get a better ending than it looks like she’s headed for when the story begins.

Cameron is not initially all that likable. He’s not bad, and he’s taken some seriously rough knocks, but he’s not good at taking responsibility for himself. And at 30 it’s past time he did. He arrives in Sowell Bay searching for his sperm donor in the hopes of a big financial score. He’s doomed to be disappointed – and it’s the making of him.

Marcellus – who is much more present as a character than one might think – is an absolute gem. At the same time, his intellectual presence in the story, his perspective on the events that he helps to bring about, is both fascinating and a bit equivocal. Anyone who wants to believe that all of the thoughts and actions ascribed to Marcellus are in the minds of Tova and Cameron – in the same way that we all believe we know what our pets are thinking when we most likely don’t – the story still works – and works well.

But it’s so much better if you let yourself believe that Marcellus is helping Tova and Cameron all along – and that they are helping him as well.

I enjoyed Remarkably Bright Creatures a whole lot more than I ever expected to. And in that way that when you are conscious of something you suddenly start seeing it everywhere – like getting a new car and being aware of all the cars of the same make and model sharing the road with you – I liked this so much that I started seeing books with octopi characters everywhere. In addition to Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus from a few years ago there’s The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler coming out in October, and Sea Change by Gina Chung next year.

I’m going to hunt me down some more octopi to read about while I look forward to seeing what this author comes up with next!

Review: Haven by Emma Donoghue

Review: Haven by Emma DonoghueHaven by Emma Donoghue
Narrator: Aidan Kelly
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 272
Length: 8 hours and 35 minutes
Published by Audible Audio on August 23, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Three men vow to leave the world behind them. They set out in a small boat for an island their leader has seen in a dream, with only faith to guide them. What they find is the extraordinary island now known as Skellig Michael. Haven has Emma Donoghue’s trademark world-building and psychological intensity—but this story is like nothing she has ever written before.
In seventh-century Ireland, a scholar and priest called Artt has a dream telling him to leave the sinful world behind. Taking two monks—young Trian and old Cormac—he rows down the river Shannon in search of an isolated spot on which to found a monastery. Drifting out into the Atlantic, the three men find an impossibly steep, bare island inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. In such a place, what will survival mean?

My Review:

Some books make me think. Some books make me feel. This book made me want to push one of the characters off of a very high cliff. And there are plenty of precipitous crags and rocky outcroppings to choose from on the Great Skellig.

Skellig Michael

(In case the location of this story sounds a bit familiar, it probably is. The Great Skellig is now known as Skellig Michael, and was the place where Luke’s Jedi retreat was filmed in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.)

There really was a monastic retreat on Skellig Michael, and it probably was founded at the time this story is set, the 7th century AD. But probably, hopefully, not like this. Because the monastery at Skellig Michael seems to have had continuous occupation – barring the occasional Viking raid – from its founding through at least the 11th century.

That record of continuous occupation requires a level of both practicality and sanity that is just not present in this story. Haven could be read as a how NOT to do it book.

The opening is not exactly a reasonable start for the 21st century, but would have been for the 7th. Brother Artt, a well-known monastic scholar, has a dream that he and two other monks found a monastery that will be isolated from the temptations of the world. Artt sees those temptations everywhere, including in the safe and well-endowed monasteries of Ireland where he travels.

Artt’s real dilemma, however, is the one that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar so eloquently described a millennium later. That the fault is not in our stars – or in this case Artt’s stars or even his dreams – but in himself.

It’s not even that Artt is a rather extreme ascetic, not merely willing but seemingly desirous of giving up even the relatively spare comforts of an established monastery because they simply aren’t spare enough for his desire to punish himself to death. It’s that he takes two men with him into his remote, deprived and in some ways even depraved exile, and that because of the rules of the church they are sworn to obey him no matter how crazy he gets.

And he gets very crazy indeed. It’s Artt’s descent into madness and Cormac’s and Trian’s diligence and obedience – to the point of their own mental and emotional breaking – that forms the rocks and crags of this thoughtful, sometimes lyrical, but also exceedingly cold story.

Escape Rating C+: One of the things about reading is the way that it gives the reader the ability to step into another’s shoes and see the world as they might have seen it. This is a book that made me wonder just how far out of ourselves we are, or even should be, able to step.

It’s not just that Artt is an arsehole – although he certainly is in the way he treats Trian and Cormac – it’s that his arseholery comes from a place that is so foreign to me that he grates on me every bit as much as Cormac’s endless stories and Trian’s burbling chatter grate on him. (And I’m saying that even though Artt’s reaction to their constant need to make verbal noise would drive me just as far round the twist as it does him.) Howsomever, while I don’t share their religious faith – let alone the almost blind way in which they practice it – I can see both reason and fellowship in Cormac’s practicality, just as I can in Trian’s youthful curiosity. I can walk a bit in their shoes – or sandals as the case may be.

Artt I’d prefer to throw off one of the rocks. But because his outlook on life is so completely foreign to me, I spent an uncomfortable half of the story caught between wondering if that’s because his perspective is so alien – or if he’s just an arsehole and he’d be one in any time and place in which he found himself. But as the situation on Skellig Michael became increasingly dire, and Artt’s response to the direness of those circumstances and his complete, total and utter unwillingness to consider ANY of the practicalities of their inevitable plight I reached the conclusion that he was just an insecure and angry arsehole and that he’d be one no matter what the situation. His arseholery would just manifest differently in other times and places.

So this is not a comfortable story and not just because of the increasing discomfort of the monks’ situation. And that is well beyond uncomfortable. But Cormac and Trian are under the rule of an emotionally and psychologically abusive master and what we witness is their increasing desperation and self-blame as they attempt to reconcile what they’ve been taught to believe with the increasing insanity of what they feel compelled to do.

One of the few shining lights of this story was that I listened to the audiobook instead of reading the text. I probably would not have continued without the audio because this story felt so brutal. But the narrator Aiden Kelly was excellent. I have to particularly call out that he did a terrific job of making the three men’s voices sound so distinct that I could easily tell one from another even when dropping back into the audio after a day or two away from it. His reading elevated the book to that plus in the rating.

In the end, I’d have to say that I’d recommend this narrator unreservedly, and I’ll look for more audiobooks he’s been part of. The book, on the other hand, I’d be guarded about who I recommended it to. The writing, as I said, is lovely to the point of being lyrical, but this story is so very cold. The author is extremely popular, but for someone looking for an introduction to her work I’d definitely choose something else, either The Pull of the Stars or Room.

And if someone is interested in historical fiction about this time period in Ireland in general and the Catholic Church in Ireland at this period in particular, I’d recommend the Sister Fidelma series by Peter Tremayne, which begins with Absolution By Murder. These are historical mysteries, featuring a central character who is both part of the church and a practicing lawyer. She’s also, I have to say, someone who Artt would detest on sight, so recommending her instead of him seems like a bit of well-deserved payback.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-11-22

It’s been a week, hasn’t it?

The World Science Fiction Convention was held last weekend in Chicago. We had intended to go, but after we both came home with COVID from the library convention in June we decided to give Worldcon a pass this year after all. But I did watch the Hugo Awards Ceremony Sunday night. The list of the winners is pretty much everywhere, but if you are interested in science fiction and fantasy and haven’t seen the full list yet, this is a link listing the nominees and the winners.

It still seems strange that Queen Elizabeth II passed. She was starting to seem eternal. While there are mixed feelings about her, her country and her legacy, it does feel like the end of an era. This has reminded me of stories that my parents used to tell about the passing of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was elected president when they were both 4 years old and died when they were juniors in high school. He was the only president a lot of people, especially children and young adults, had ever known. I’ve seen some statistics showing that 9 out of 10 people alive in the world today were born after Elizabeth became queen, so the same sensation multiplied by, well, a lot.

And today is the TWENTY-FIRST anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It HAS been a week, hasn’t it?

Before I close out this post and look ahead to the next week, we all need a cat picture to complete the week. Here are Luna and Tuna, showing exactly why they needed to be adopted as a bonded pair. Looking at their faces it’s also easy to see the family resemblance.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Glam and Glitz Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Summer 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Fabulous Fall Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

Labor Day 2022
B+ Review: Desperation in Death by J.D. Robb
A Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish
A- Review: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
Fabulous Fall Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (513)

Coming This Week:

Haven by Emma Donoghue (audiobook review)
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (review)
The Book Haters’ Book Club by Gretchen Anthony (blog tour review)
Lucky Girl by Mary Rickert (review)
Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop