The Workshop of Filthy Creation by Richard Gadz – A Review

The Workshop of Filthy Creation by Richard Gadz
Gothic Horror
Published by Deixis Press
Released October 25, 2021
Goodreads | The Storygraph | Amazon

Note: I received a free physical copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinions in any way.

When most of us think of gothic horror novels, we tend to think back on the classics, such as Dracula or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The most famous title of the genre, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, has influenced generations of writers. Iterations of her beloved story are found throughout popular culture and many reimaginings have been created in a variety of mediums.

Richard Gadz (the pen name for author Simon Cheshire) draws on the imagined legacy of Dr. Victor Frankenstein to tell the story of Maria, the first lifeform to be created entirely in a laboratory. The Workshop of Filthy Creation is an exciting modern gothic horror novel that examines what it means to be human and the dangerous role that a purely logical mind can have on the progression of science.

Author Richard Gadz

Set in Victorian England, we meet Maria as she escapes the Continent with a biologist named George Hobson. Maria’s very existence is both a scientific marvel and a secret, and Hobson, along with three close friends, attempt to determine what exactly should be done with her. Things take a dark turn, however, when Wilhelm von Frakken, Maria’s creator and previously thought dead, shows up in London to claim his “property.”

As someone who loves gothic horror, I thoroughly enjoyed Gadz’s modern take on a classic tale.

There were some portions of the novel that slowed the pace a bit due to excessive descriptions. For example, there’s a scene where passengers are disembarking from a train. However, the detailing goes a bit too far; while I might need to know that these passengers are getting off the train, I don’t particularly need to know how:

“Passengers began to flow out, either setting themselves down from the carriages in a single hop or watching their feet as they stepped carefully from step to platform.”

Even with the slow pacing at times, the story is exciting to read. The laboratory scenes are gruesome, the villain is detestable, and the hero, Maria, is sympathetic and is more human than her creator seems to be. Gadz takes all of the best parts of Gothic horror and wraps them into a near-perfect romp.

I want to quickly mention something that doesn’t pertain to the story itself. This was my first time receiving a book from Deixis Press, and I was very much impressed by the presentation of this novel. The cover is wonderfully illustrated, the paperstock is thick and has a wonderful feel to it, and the physical book is just high quality.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Workshop of Filthy Creation and would recommend to anyone who loves either classic gothic horror or the Frankenstein story.

On The Beach by Nevil Shute – A Review

Nevil Shute’s classic post-apocalyptic novel On The Beach is an unemotional look at the aftermath of a worldwide nuclear war.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute
Released July 1, 1957
Published by Vintage International
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach officially wins the award for the most disappointing book that I’ve ever read.

I’ve said a million times that post-apocalyptic fiction is my favorite genre. Books like The Road, Station Eleven, and The Stand always give me chills.

On the Beach is a well-known classic of the genre. I’m honestly shocked that it took me so long to finally read it.

The novel was written after Nevil Shute, both an author and aeronautical engineer, moved from the U.K. to Australia. Set a year after a devastating worldwide nuclear war, a group of survivors in Melbourne, Australia live out their final days as a cloud of fatal radiation spreads across the Earth.

The characters deal with their impending demise in quite different ways. A young couple, Lieutenant Peter Holmes and his wife Mary, make plans for a garden; US Commander Dwight Towers attends to his naval duties, despite the US Navy no longer existing; Moria Davidson spends much of her time drinking; Professor John Osborne fulfills his lifelong desire to drive a racecar.

Shute’s book is very much a character-driven novel as opposed to a plot-driven one. There’s actually very little plot. We follow these characters as they attempt to live their lives as much as they are able to in what little time they have left. Meanwhile, the nuclear apocalypse that has taken place and destroyed the world is little more than an afterthought and plot device.

Nevil Shute
Author Nevil Shute

I found the novel dreadfully boring, and the characters had so little emotion that I was unable to care about them. The entire book felt detached to me. I had gotten my hopes up based on seeing how much praise the book had received. Here’s a paragraph from the book’s Wikipedia page, just to give you an idea:

Historian David McCullough, writing for The New York Times, called On the Beach “the most haunting evocation we have of a world dying of radiation after an atomic war.” The San Francisco Chronicle called it “the most shocking fiction I have read in years. What is shocking about it is both the idea and the sheer imaginative brilliance with which Mr. Shute brings it off.” Daily Telegraph called it “Shute’s most considerable achievement”, and The Times stated that it is “the most evocative novel on the aftermath of a nuclear war.” The Guardian commented that “fictions such as On the Beach played an important role in raising awareness about the threat of nuclear war. We stared into the abyss and then stepped back from the brink.” The Los Angeles Times described the novel as “timely and ironic… an indelibly sad ending that leaves you tearful and disturbed”, and The Economist called it “still incredibly moving after nearly half a century.”

My frustration grew as I read further into the novel. The main reason for this was Shute’s habit of building up an event that’s about to happen and then skipping over it entirely. For example, Commander Towers leads his submarine on a tour of the western coast of the U.S. up to Seattle, where strange radio signals have been detected. No one should have been able to survive in North America. Shute writes about the preparations for the journey, but then literally skips most of the trip until they get to Seattle. We get a brief look at one building in the city, where the radio tower is, and then they’re back in Australia. There’s more time spent on the characters drinking and fixing a race car than on the journey to America or on anything having to do with the apocalypse.

As I already mentioned, this is a character-driven story, so in a way I understand it. However, the characters are so flat that there needed to be some sort of plot to make up for it, and there wasn’t.

One aspect of the characters that I found hard to fathom was their unnatural calmness. They’re the last people in the world, and no one seems all that upset. There’s no rioting in the streets, hardly any crying, and people seem to just not care. I found it extremely unrealistic.

The science in this book is far from realistic, but I can’t hold that against it. Nuclear science and radiation weren’t fully understood in the 1950s when this book was written.

There are so many better post-apocalyptic novels out there, so I can’t recommend this one. I was so sad to discover how plain this novel was and how unemotional the writing felt. There have been two films made based on On the Beach, and I might give those a try, but as for the novel, save your time and read something else.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson – A Review

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Young Adult | Contemporary | LGBTQ
Published by Scholastic Press
Released June 2nd 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I skipped my high school prom. I was an anti-social loner with extreme social anxiety and decided to stay home on that particular night. I don’t regret it, but sometimes I do feel like I missed out on a normal high school experience.

Fortunately, Leah Johnson’s knockout debut novel, You Should See Me in a Crown, allowed me to live vicariously through the main character, Liz Lighty. It was a delightful experience and I enjoyed this book much more than I had expected.

The novel follows Liz Lighty after the college scholarship she had been expecting and counting on falls through, and she’s desperate to find another way to go to her dream school. Luckily, her Campbell, IN high school is obsessed with prom and offers their yearly prom king and queen a substantial scholarship.

Since it appears to be one of her few remaining options, Liz enlists the help of her friends to become prom queen. Things get a little derailed, however, when a new girl shows up and sweeps Liz off her feet.

I went into You Should See Me in a Crown skeptically, as young adult contemporary often leaves me feeling bored. I was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to the audiobook (narrated by Alaska Jackson), however.

The romance between Liz and the new girl, Mack, is adorable. While Mack does have some manic pixie dream girl/quirky qualities, it’s not so over-the-top that it detracts from the character or the story.

Like many YA contemporary romances, this book seemed like it could be easily adapted to a cute family channel show or movie. I did find my skeptical adult self scoffing at some points at how perfectly everything worked out, but as a teenager, I don’t think I would have been so cynical (thanks world). I’m not going to fault a YA book for being something that its target audience would enjoy.

I definitely recommend picking up this book or audiobook and giving it a go. It’s a quick, light read that’ll leave you with a smile on your face.

The Death of Democracy by Benjamin Carter Hett – A Review

The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic by Benjamin Carter Hett
Nonfiction | History
Published by Henry Holt and Company
Released March 29th, 2018

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m currently learning to speak and read German. While I have read a ton of books about British history, I realized recently that I had never read a book on German history. To correct that, I purchased Benjamin Carter Hett’s The Death of Democracy alongside several other non-fiction historical accounts of German history.

The Death of Democracy is an account of how the Nazi party, and Adolf Hitler in particular, came to power in Germany in the 1930s. It’s extensively detailed, to the point where the meticulous reporting of German politics can become overwhelming. However, it’s such a complete account that I have to recommend it.

Without getting into details about current American politics, there was an uncomfortable number of times that I found similarities between this period of German history and our own modern era. History is vitally important in order to have a complete understanding of current events, and I found it fitting to be reading The Death of Democracy at this point in America’s history.

Author Benjamin Carter Hett did a wonderful job of showing the reader how a completely unremarkable soldier during World War I became one of the world’s most despised leaders. Most people are going to have a very basic understanding of who Hitler was, but through The Death of Democracy, you end up really seeing how Hitler’s sociopathic tendencies led to him having certain gifts that allowed him and the Nazi party to end up in power.

I’ve read a lot of non-fiction history books throughout my life (probably inspired by my father who reads nothing but historical non-fiction), and The Death of Democracy is clearly a well-researched book. I greatly commend Hett for the time he must have spent working on this project.

I am recommending this book not only because it’s such a great account of a very important time in world history, but because of the lessons we should take away from that time. From “fake news” to censorship and beyond, one can gain an understanding of the horrors that await a society that isn’t careful.

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The Illustrated Book of Mindful Meditations for Mindless Moments by Courtney E Ackerman – A Review

Courtney E. Ackerman’s The Illustrated Book of Mindful Meditations for Mindless Moments is a short book with advice on how to use mindfulness in your everyday life.

The Illustrated Book of Mindful Meditations for Mindless Moments by Courtney E. Ackerman
Non-Fiction | Meditation & Mindfulness | Self-Help
Published by Adams Media
Released December 29th, 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Mindfulness and meditation have both been huge influences on my quality of life since I discovered books about the subjects at my local library back in 2006. As a result of that and of wanting to constantly expand my knowledge, I’m ready to pick up any book about these topics.

When I requested The Illustrated Book of Mindful Meditations for Mindless Moments from Adams Media, I was expecting an adorable, illustrated guide to mindfulness. And that’s exactly what it was… sort of. Unfortunately, the advice contained within these 190 pages felt shallow. As someone who’s been reading and studying up on the subject for years, I learned absolutely nothing. I can’t be sure, but I feel that someone completely new to the subject would also struggle to learn anything useful.

Courtney E Ackerman

I hate having to give this small book such a low star rating, but I was very disappointed. I’ve seen plenty of small, easy-to-digest meditation books done so much better.

Here are a few examples of the “advice” contained in this book:

  • “Look out the window and take note of what you see. Count the birds or the telephone poles. Look at the trees or hanging flags and decide whether it’s windy or not.”
  • “Whether you sign in online or write out a check, notice the movements your hands and arms make as you pay your bills. Feel the smoothness of the pen in your hand or the keys on your keyboard.”
  • “As your coworkers chat nearby, take a minute to listen. Don’t eavesdrop, but take note of the tone of the conversation. Hear the rise and fall of their voices as the discussion continues.”

These are the only words written on each page. There’s no real introduction to what mindfulness meditation is. The advice goes no deeper than what you just read.

The illustrations on every other page are sort of cute, but this book seems like a waste of printing material. I feel horrible saying it, but there are a thousand better books about mindfulness meditation, including on how to use it in your day to day life.

My recommendation is to skip The Illustrated Book of Mindful Meditations for Mindless Moments. It’s not worth the $15.99 US price tag. Instead, pick up Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are or Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness.

What’s the best book on mindfulness meditation that you’ve read? Let me know in the comments!

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Earth A.D. by Michael Lee Nirenberg – A Review

Earth A.D.: The Poisoning of the American Landscape and the Communities That Fought Back by Michael Lee Nirenberg
Non-fiction | Environmental
Published by Process
Released 28 July 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Michael Lee Niremberg

In Earth A.D.: The Poisoning of the American Landscape and the Communities That Faught Back, Michael Lee Nirenberg takes a microscope to two American environmental disasters: Tar Creek in Oklahoma and Greenpoint in Brooklyn, NY.

They are very different places. Tar Creek is isolated and remote in northeast Oklahoma, while Greenpoint is right in the middle of New York City. Tar Creek was once a bustling mining town and Greenpoint has had a variety of people make the area their home.

The book is written in an interview format, which bothered me. It distracted me from the conversation. I wished Nirenberg would have taken all of his interviews and compiled them into a more approachable narrative. Nirenberg is better known as a documentary filmmaker, which might explain his use of this format, but again, it would have been more linear and understandable as a narrative.

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint, Brooklyn NYC

I very much appreciated that Nirenberg didn’t just speak to people that were promoting environmental stewardship – he also spoke to the politicians and people responsible for making the mess in the first place or failing to clean it up properly. While I’m very much on the side of the environmentalists, non-fiction books, especially books about current events, are significantly better when they contain information from both sides.

Tar Creek Superfund Site

Earth A.D. teaches the reader that it is very possible to pursue environmental justice within your community. It’s the type of inspiration that a lot of people living in polluted areas need. At the same time, however, Nirenberg’s interviewees don’t hide the fact that it’s immensely difficult to do. There’s so much red tape, bureaucracy, and cover-ups that citizens have to really fight to get what they want.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interesting in environmental stewardship or that have a connection to either Tar Creek or Greenpoint. Overall, however, for the casual reader, this might be a book worth skipping. I’m sure there are other options for more readable books on the topic.

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Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson – A Review

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Magical Realism | Contemporary
Published by Ecco
Released October 29, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here is a short novel about found family and children that catch on fire.

Yes, you read that right.

I chose Nothing to See Here as one of my Book of the Month picks several months ago (or maybe a year ago, I can’t remember) because the idea of spontaneous human combustion in a non-fantasy or science fiction novel intrigued me.

The story takes place in modern time and follows Lillian, a woman who pretty much has no life and nothing going for her. One day, out of the blue, her old school friend Madison contacts her with a mysterious job opportunity that has to be discussed face to face.

Lillian arrives at Madison’s mansion after years of not speaking. Madison has married a senator and is rich beyond belief. Madison offers Lillian the position of governess to her husband’s two children from a previous marriage. Once Lillian accepts, Madison tells her about the children’s “condition” – they catch on fire when they’re upset.

Agreeing to take care of the two children, Lillian moves into a guesthouse on the property and starts caring for twins Bessie and Roland. After a few incidents involving fire, Lillian helps them grow and learn how to manage their mysterious affliction.

While Nothing To See Here was an entertaining novel, it wasn’t anything particularly great. It was perfectly average. Sort of like a kinda fun movie you see once and enjoy but never watch again. This isn’t to say it’s bad, because it’s not, but for me it was just average.

I did enjoy the surrealism of spontaneous human combustion juxtaposed over our modern world. It added a unique element to the story. I also liked the characters of Bessie and Roland, but especially Bessie. Very no-nonsense and smart for a child her age, she ended up being my favorite character in the book (although there weren’t many others to choose from – so many of the characters are boring or unlikeable).

What I didn’t like was Lillian. She was such a boring character. The only thing she seems to enjoy in life or even think about is basketball. She takes the job because she’s pretty much a dead-beat that doesn’t do anything else. I in no way sympathized with her.

There’s also an awkward romance situation between Lillian and Madison that seemed a bit out of place. Perhaps if it had been explained further in the novel it would have meant more to me as a reader.

I won’t be reading this book again, and there’s nothing I can particularly recommend about it. If it sounds intriguing to you, however, definitely pick it up. It took me less than a day to finish.

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This Little Light by Lori Lansens – Book Review

Lori Lansen’s “This Little Light” is a young adult, light dystopian story about two teenage girls on the run from Christian fundamentalist bounty hunters.

This Little Light by Lori Lansens

Contemporary | Dystopian | Young Adult
Published by The Overlook Press (Abrams)
Released 11 August 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I kept seeing Lori Lansens’ This Little Light described as a dystopian novel, so I was excited to give it a shot. Dystopia, especially young adult dystopia, is a genre that has been done to death. Starting with The Hunger Games, there were years of YA dystopian novels being pushed by publishers, most of them not worth your time.

I would love the genre to make a comeback, however, so I’m always on the lookout for something new. This Little Light is a very light dystopia, where Christian fundamentalists have gained power and abortion has become illegal.

Two teenage girls, Rory and Fee, are forced to flee after an explosion at the American Virtue Ball they’re attending. The novel is told from Rory’s perspective, as she live-blogs the entire situation.

The first thing I want to mention is that events like the American Virtue Ball actually happen. The point of these “Purity balls” is to promote abstinence and to promise your fathers and god that you’ll abstain from sex until marriage. Just like in This Little Light, fathers present their daughters with some kind of gift (ring, necklace, etc.) in exchange for their daughters promising a vow of chastity to their fathers. I’m not going to get really deep into this, except to say that it creeps me out, women are not possessions of men, and that abstinence doesn’t work.

The blog format was interesting. On the one hand, it propels the narrative forward and portrays a sense of panic to the reader. At the same time, however, I found it irritating. Rory would write things like:

“Holy shit.

Just heard something, and it wasn’t the wind. There’s a truck on the road, and it’s coming this way.”

I find it to be unrealistic that someone would type that instead of just jumping up to investigate, especially when they’re literally being hunted by bounty hunters. I understand why Lori Lansens went with this format because, again, it does add a sense of urgency to the story, but it would have worked just as well as a more typical first-person narrative.

The biggest issue I had with this novel is that the reaction to the book’s inciting event is excessive and it requires a suspension of disbelief. There’s a small explosion at the American Virtue Ball (where no one is killed) and the person running the show (whose name is Jagger Jonze, by the way) puts up a million-dollar bounty to track Rory and Fee down. There’s no real evidence that they’re responsible for the explosion, and I found it hard to believe that the entire nation would rally behind this and start tracking down two teenage girls. For this level of reaction, something much bigger and more important should have occurred.

I don’t know if this is because I’m getting old, but I struggled with Rory’s vernacular. The author is 58 years old but is writing from the perspective of a 16-year-old. Lansens uses a particular sentence structure over and over again that really annoyed me:

“We live in Calabass, California, which is famous because Kardashians.”

Maybe young people today do talk like that, but it bothers the crap out of me. Obviously, this is a personal preference, so it might not bother you at all, but “a because b” is not proper English.

All of the characters in This Little Light are incredibly rich and privileged, which usually turns me off of a book. So I really appreciated that Lori Lansens wrote Rory to be hyper-aware of her privilege and how lucky she is compared to the majority of the world. It made her character a little easier to stomach.

This isn’t a book that I can recommend. Much better options would be Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, both novels that are highly deserving of your attention. I appreciate what Lori Lansens was attempting to with This Little Light, but it ultimately fell flat.

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The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell – Book Review

Richard Farrell’s debut novel, The Falling Woman, is a unique mystery story. A woman survives falling out of a plane, and an investigator is tasked with finding out why.

The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell
Mystery | Literary Fiction
Published by Algonquin Books
Released 23 June 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Here’s a morbid fact about me that you might not know: I’m slightly obsessed with plane crashes and their subsequent investigations. I mean, generally, I’m just absolutely in love with planes because we use them to freaking fly. Sometimes I even enjoy the flight more than the destination! For this review, though, let’s just focus on the plane crash part.

When I first saw the synopsis of Richard Farrell’s The Falling Woman, I was immediately hooked. The novel is about a woman who falls out of an exploding plane and survives, and the investigator tasked with finding her and learning her story. I’m super thankful for Algonquin for sending me a review copy.

The novel is told is two perspectives, which are woven together perfectly. First, we meet Erin, aka “The Falling Woman.” Dying from advanced pancreatic cancer, she decides to book a flight to a retreat for cancer victims on the west coast in order to get away from everything, including her family, for a bit of time. Then we meet the National Transportation Safety Board Investigator Charlie, who is on his first big assignment. He’s tasked with IDing the victims of the plane crash, and ultimately with discovering the truth of Erin’s survival.

Aside from their parts in the primary plot of the novel, each character has a trial in their own lives that they’re trying to deal with at the same time. For Erin, it’s the cancer that’s killing her, the stoic husband who seems to have no passion in life, and the affair she had. When it comes to Charlie, he’s struggling with his wife’s desire to have children, something that Charlie doesn’t want.

Erin’s story line was intriguing, and it was interesting to learn her motivations for the actions she took and the way she feels about the world and her family. I certainly didn’t agree with everything she did and at times found it difficult to sympathize with her, but I sort of liked that. It can be boring to read about a character who does “all the right things.” We learn why she had the affair, why she’s gone missing after surviving a catastrophic event, and about her outlook on the world, her impending death, and her responsibility to her family. Her story arc fit in nicely with the overall plot of the novel and made her character far more complex.

Charlie’s story arc, however, didn’t add much to the overall book. I suppose the author had to give him some kind of inner conflict because otherwise he would be boring, but I think it could have been more interesting. Whereas Erin’s arc ties directly into the overall plot, Charlie’s didn’t, and I found myself wanting to push through those parts to get to the meatier bits of the story.

Keeping in mind what I said about being mildly obsessed with all things plane related, I was fascinated by the investigation into the crash. A fair bit of time was spent on the ground with the investigators, and is one of the biggest reasons that I enjoyed the novel as much as I did. It makes sense, since author Richard Farrell is a former pilot. One tiny gripe I had was that I wanted more of Lucy’s story. She’s one of Charlie’s fellow investigators and I was intrigued by her from the start.

The overall theme of the story is about how we control our own narrative and life. Erin’s decision to disappear after falling from the plane is something that has heavy impacts on the people around her – her husband, her two daughters, the public who is enthralled with her miraculous story, and the investigators trying to uncover the truth about what happened on the flight. Throughout the story, I found myself thinking about our rights as individuals to determine how we live and what people know, despite what kind of repercussions that could have.

Despite a few minuscule issues with the story, I ended up really enjoying it. The Falling Woman is Richard Farrell’s debut novel, and I will be eager to read anything he comes out with in the future. I’d recommend this novel to anyone wanting a unique mystery to unravel.

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Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew – Book Review

Told in verse, Lucy Cuthew’s Blood Moon tackles public shaming, sexuality, friendship, and more. A must-read for young adults.

Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew
Young Adult | Contemporary
Published by Walker Books US
Released 1 September 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Public shaming has always existed, but it seems far more prevalent and far-reaching in our age of internet and social media. Lucy Cuthew’s Blood Moon is a young adult contemporary novel told in verse that takes a look at the impact of public shaming, as well as the importance of friendship.

Frankie, our main character, is a high school girl who has her first sexual experience, during which her period starts. She and the guy, Benjamin, both agree that it’s not a big deal. (Which is a great thing to be included in a young adult novel – let’s nip that taboo in the bud.) The same week at school, however, Frankie starts to realize that something is up as rumors start flying that Benjamin fingered a girl on her period. On top of that, there are memes about the situation that start making their rounds, horrifying Frankie.

While all of this is happening, Frankie is also dealing with the fallout of a huge fight with her best friend Harriet. At the time when Frankie needs Harriet the most, she’s not there, causing Frankie to navigate the whole sphere of public shaming by herself.

I have a tendency to really enjoy novels told in verse. It sometimes adds a touch of whimsy, other times it is just an interesting way to tell a story. For Blood Moon, I don’t think that it added to the story in any way. I would have felt the same way about the novel if it had been written in prose. The writing style wasn’t bad, I just felt incredibly neutral about it.

More than how Frankie managed the public shaming debacle, I’m glad that Lucy Cuthew focused so much on her troubled friendship with Harriet. I love books that feature healthy friendships, especially young adult books. All friendships have their rough patches, especially in our turbulent teenage years, and realistic portrayals of this is always a healthy aspect to include in a story such as this one.

Frankie’s relationship with her parents and how they react to learning of her sexual exploit and everything that followed was another incredibly strong aspect of this story. Sex isn’t a big deal, and everyone does it. Her parents’ reaction mirrors this perspective, and is a much better way of dealing with teenage sexuality than universally punishing it.

The reason I can’t give this book a full four stars was due to the way the ending was wrapped up too quickly and perfectly. Without giving away too much of the ending, it has to do with Frankie and Harriet’s friendship. I just feel that everything was resolved much too easily.

Overall, Blood Moon is a wholesome and positive novel perfect for pre-teens and teenagers. It reads young, so if you’re an adult fan of YA keep in mind that it’s written for the lower end of the age group. I’d love to see this sort of taboo-tackling, feminist, positive narrative become a new trend for the young adult audience. I know that I would have loved to have access to a book like this when I was a teenager.

A big thank you to Walker Books for the advanced review copy.

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Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean – A Review

Daring and the Duke Sarah Maclean

Daring and the Duke (The Bareknuckle Bastards #3) by Sarah MacLean
Romance | Historical Fiction | Regency
Published by Avon
Released June 30th, 2020
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

2020 has been the year that I’ve started to explore the romance genre, and boy, am I loving it! Sarah MacLean’s third book in her Bareknuckle Bastards series, Daring and the Duke, is the first Regency romance I’ve ever read.

I haven’t read the first two books in the series, which is fine – while I’m sure you’d understand the characters’ backstories a bit better after reading them, Daring and the Duke is a self-contained story. That said, I will be going back and getting the first two now that I’ve fallen in love with the third.

Sarah MacLean
Sarah MacLean

The book centers around Grace Condry, known to the world as Dahlia, who runs an underground nightclub for women wanting to spice up their sex lives. We also follow Ewan, the Duke of Marwick, who wants nothing more than to have Grace’s heart. Grace has plenty of reason to hate the Duke, however, so is understandably reluctant.. somewhat, anyway. hint hint.

While I was honestly expecting more steamy scenes (there are really only two such scenes in the book), I really enjoyed the storytelling. I was intrigued by many of the side characters, such as Grace’s brothers Devil and Whit, while being drawn into the drama between the two main characters.

Grace’s character was strong and sexy, although at times I think she was being too lenient with Ewan and his past mistakes – and his mistakes were major. I understand her forgiveness and learning that she still loves him, but I feel like he should have fought for it a little bit more. Likewise, Ewan’s reconciliation with Devil and Whit was too easy.

The tension between Grace and Ewan was intense and wonderful. It’s a very slow-burn, hate-to-love, second-chance romance, and by the end of the story I was definitely rooting for them to get together.

The alternating timelines and narratives were easy to follow. We get the story from both Grace and Ewan and learn of current and past events. It smoothly transitions from one scene to the next.

The steamy scenes? They were perfect. As I mentioned before, though, I would have been okay with more sexy times.

As someone who is not usually a fan of regency romance or historical romance, Sarah MacLean managed to hold my attention and make me swoon over the story. I can’t wait to read her other past books, as well as anything she releases in the future!

Thank you to Avon for sending me a finished copy for review.

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On Cats by Charles Bukowski – A Review

Charles Bukowski On Cats

On Cats by Charles Bukowski
Nonfiction | Poetry | Animals
Published by Ecco
Released December 1st, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_and_a_half_stars

As a cat mom and someone who has always lived with cats, I really appreciated Charles Bukowski’s poems and anecdotes about his feline friends in the collection, On Cats. He clearly loved each cat that came into his life, and anyone who has lived with a cat will immediately see themselves in his writing.

charles bukowski
Charles Bukowski

I’ve never read anything else by Bukowski (although I would like to in the future), so I can’t compare this to anything else that he’s written. In the literary world, Bukowski had a reputation for being controversial, sexist, and cynical. I don’t know enough about him or his life to form an opinion, so I’m not going to get into any of that. However, based on this single collection, I did appreciate his tone and candor, which is something that will prompt me to read more.

In On Cats, he doesn’t just talk about cats in an abstract or general way; instead, he focuses on the specific cats that have come into his life, their tragedies, joy, and fates. For example, a cat that gets hit by a car and then makes a full recovery, or a cat that jumps through the window.

There’s honestly not too much that I can say about On Cats. It is, quite literally, a collection of anecdotes, poems, pictures, and stories about cats. I recommend it for many reasons, but particularly because it’s full of such wisdom as this:

“Having a bunch of cats around is good. If you’re feeling bad, just look at the cats, you’ll feel better, because they know that everything is, just as it is.”

How true is that?

I feel lazy writing a review this short, but here we are. If you like cats, read On Cats. If you enjoy Charles Bukowski, then, again, read On Cats.

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The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark – A Review

the black god's drums p djeli clark

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
Science Fiction | Steampunk | Alternate History | Novella
Published by
Released August 21st, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I can’t remember the last time I read a really great steampunk story, so I’m thrilled that I finally picked up P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums. At just 112 pages, it’s a short and quick story, but one that is packed with an interesting world, intriguing characters, and a solid plot.

P Djeli Clark
P. Djeli Clark

The Black God’s Drums is a steampunk-fantasy story set during an alternate history where the Civil War agreed to an armistice and New Orleans became a free city. Creeper, our main character, is a teenage girl who lives on the streets and pickpockets newcomers to the city in order to survive. One day, after hearing a group of men plotting over a Haitian scientist coming to town, Creeper tries to sell the information, instead getting tangled up in a race to keep a dangerous weapon out of the hands of the wrong people.

I read the whole thing in a single sitting and wanted more as soon as I finished it. It’s a world that would warrant a full-length novel. I want to know more about The Free Isles, which, in the story, became free after the Haitian Slave Rebellion in 1794 and comprises Haiti and the Caribbean. Using the mysterious weapon known as The Black God’s Drums, won their freedom against the French naval fleet that was on their shores.

I want to know more about the gods and goddesses who live inside of people and can unleash their power through them. I need to know more about Ann-Marie, captain of the airship Midnight Robber.

Clark did an amazing job of weaving history with fantasy and creating a “what if” scenario, and made it even better by adding airships. There’s so much happening in the story, but it never feels overwhelming. I’ve read some novellas where the authors tried to stuff the pages with way too much information that it becomes confusing, and P. Djeli Clark certainly didn’t do that.

One of the things I most appreciated about the novella is that the author didn’t make the female characters (which, by the way, they’re almost all female characters) sexualized or have them fall in love. They simply were awesome and kicked all the ass. I wish more authors would just let their female characters be themselves without forcing awkward romances on them.

The only gripe I have about The Black God’s Drums is that the politics of the world, and of New Orleans specifically, felt a little jumbled. There’s limited space for explanation in a novella, so I get it, but I needed more information on that front.

This was the first piece of literature by P. Djeli Clark that I’ve ever read, and it certainly won’t be the last. I want to read everything by him now because of how impressed I was by The Black God’s Drums. 

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The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by K. Woodman-Maynard: A Review

The Great Gatsby K Woodman Maynard

The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by K. Woodman-Maynard
Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Graphic Novel | Classics | Literary Fiction
Published by Candlewick Press
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Adapting a classic and beloved novel into a graphic novel is no easy task, but K. Woodman-Maynard has done a fantastic job of adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. 

K Woodman-Maynard
K. Woodman-Maynard

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time, so I went into this adaptation a little skeptical but wanting to love it. I needn’t have worried though – K. Woodman-Maynard stuck to the roots of the story while making it accessible to a new (and old) audience.

The ARC I received from the publisher was in black and white, but the finished version, set to be released in early January 2021, will be in full color. I actually loved the black and white artwork, but I am eager to see the full-color version! The art is simple and fits this medium perfectly, and also manages to grasp the feelings of extravagance and yearning of the original story.

Great Gastby
Colored preview courtesy of Amazon and the publisher

While it’s impossible to adapt a novel such as The Great Gatsby without leaving some elements of the original story out, Woodman-Maynard kept all the important bits and everything needed to create the same atmosphere and themes of the original. I wouldn’t call The Great Gatsby a difficult classic novel by any means, but I remember not really “getting it” in high school – this may have been a much better medium for me to be introduced to the story.

There’s no substitute for the original F. Scott Fitzgerald novel – there never will be. It’s one of the Great American Novels for a reason and I encourage you to read it if you never have. If it’s a story that you love, however, or if you find the original novel uninteresting (a concept I can’t understand!), picking up K. Woodman-Maynard’s adaptation is an absolute must.

You can tell when a writer and artist loves the story that they’re working on, and Woodman-Maynard’s love of The Great Gatsby shines through clearly in her work.

Thank you Candlewick Press for the free advanced copy for review.

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