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Boys in the Valley by Phillip Fracassi

Boys in the Valley

*Thank you to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for the ARC.*

Boys in the Valley is a coming-of-age novel that falls between Lord of the Flies and The Exorcist. Set in an isolated valley, a Catholic boy's orphanage is attacked by a vengeful spirit after one of the priests exorcises it from a wounded occultist. What follows is a gruesome tale of demonic proportions. Boys, who had once seen each other as brothers, are pitted against each other in a battle of good versus evil.

Fracassi's prose is excellent, and the characters were intriguing. The changing POVs added layers to the story, though Peter was by far the most prominent voice. The scenes were visceral, gory, and full of emotion. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for Fracassi's future works.

I'd recommend this to readers looking for an adult Lord of the Flies, stories about demonic possessions, or isolated horror.

Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

Untethered Sky

*Thank you to Tordotcom and NetGalley for the ARC.*

Untethered Sky is a story about grief, vengeance, acceptance, and loss. Ester becomes a ruhker (a roc trainer) to avenge her mother and brother's deaths after a manticore attack. It is a tale simultaneously about love and loss and the bittersweet acceptance of a fleeting bond between woman and beast. I didn't believe a story about training and hunting with a large bird would win me over so completely, but I found myself falling in love with Ester and Zahra's story. I adored Lee's prose and can't find a fault in her compelling yet compact novella.

I recommend this to anyone looking for a book about slaying enemies and finding an unflinching love for nature along the way.

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

The Salt Grows Heavy

The Salt Grows Heavy is rich with descriptions, gore, and ingenuity. As a story about a murderous mermaid attempting to tear down the cult of three grotesque surgeons, this novella delivers on body manipulation, viscera, and terror. While the prose is luscious, it is also overwrought with high-brow vocabulary that often took me out of the story. While I like the usage of uncommon words, there comes a point where it's a detriment to the story. I also found that, when it came to world-building, there was next to none.

While I believe this would do better in a longer format, I enjoyed the gruesome visuals and romantic undertones. I'd recommend this to anyone looking for a quick and bloody read.

*Thank you to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for the ARC.*

Tell Me I'm Worthless by Alison Rumfitt

Tell Me I'm Worthless

*Thank you to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for the ARC.*

Tell Me I'm Worthless, at its core, is a story about trauma, identity, bigotry, and fascism. The novel follows two women and centers around transgender rights and the politics and ideologies that inevitably come along with it.

While I can only attempt to understand the difficulties in being a trans woman, I found the internal conflicts Alice faced compelling and wrought with emotion. Her raw, and often ugly, truth and unflinching self-awareness gave me insight that I never would have known if it weren't for this book.

My only complaint is that I didn't find the novel scary, at least not in a traditional sense. There is a tone which this novel hits about politics and identity that I can grapple with and understand as a real threat, but the House and its terrors felt alien to me, even if they were strange and grotesque and dripping with body horror. I ultimately finished the novel unsure what truly happened within the House's dilapidated walls.

While it wasn't what I expected, I enjoyed the read and would absolutely pick up another of Rumfitt's books down the line.

The Keeper's Six by Kate Elliott

The Keeper's Six

The Keeper's Six is a short read that packs a punch. Simply put, it is about family, righting wrongs, and the willingness to sacrifice yourself for what's right. Throughout the journey, however, there are dragon kings, a multiverse with doors into countless realms, and magic.

Without spoiling anything, this novel is packed with action, interdimensional travel, and unearthly beings while simultaneously offering a heartfelt message.

I recommend picking up a copy (when it comes out on January 17th) if you enjoy fast-paced fantasy romps with a feel-good core.

*Thank you to Tor for the advanced copy.*

The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older

The Mimicking of Known Successes

The Mimicking of Known Successes is a mystery novella set on a platform constructed around Jupiter. While the world-building is great, there isn't enough of it. I loved the descriptions of the platforms and how sections and railways are set around the uninhabitable gas giant—not to mention the university's large role in the future reintroduction to life on Earth through meticulously planned ecosystem building. Unfortunately, that was the only thing I really enjoyed about this book and there wasn't enough of it to paint a full picture.

The main plot centers around a mystery regarding a missing person and what could have become of him. Though there are numerous snippets of information thrown at Mossa and Pleiti, most of it seems disconnected, and the ending proves unsatisfying because there aren't breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the story for the reader to pick up on. If I'm reading a mystery, I don't want to come to the end without having seen it coming. I should at least be able to look back, knowing everything that led up to that point, and stitch clues together. This story did not offer that, and for that reason the ending fell flat.

I also disliked the overstated romance. Mossa and Pleiti's relationship is paper thin, yet the narrator (Pleiti) never lets up about how she wishes Mossa will give her a sign that their relationship—which Pleiti broke off—might be rekindled.

All in all, I believe there was too much going on in this 176-page novella. If it had been novel length, there would have been time to flesh out the world, mystery, and romance.

*Thanks to Tordotcom for the physical ARC.*

The Spite House by Johnny Compton

The Spite House

*Thank you to Tor Nightfire for the physical ARC.*

The Spite House is a contemporary horror that takes inspiration from novels like The Haunting at Hill House. It follows the Rosses, a family made up of a father and two daughters, running away from something in their past. It isn't revealed until halfway through what it is they're actually running from. When the father, Eric, lands a job as a groundskeeper for the paranormal-friendly Masson House, secrets are unearthed and many questions about grief, anger, and family debts/grievances are brought forth.

Apart from mildly ominous children spirits and people disappearing, there was nothing to spook me (or any fan of gothic horror). Plenty of truths were sprinkled throughout the novel, and POVs changed nearly every chapter, so any huge questions I had were revealed by the middle of the book. For a "gothic" horror, this was lacking in atmosphere.

Despite my slight disappointment, the book was well done, and I'll definitely be picking up Compton's future works.

This is a great paranormal suspense novel that I'd recommend to anyone who appreciates a good thriller with a supernatural slant.

Feed them Silence by Lee Mandelo

Feed Them Silence

Feed Them Silence is a sci-fi/horror novella that begs the question: What would happen if we linked a human brain with a wolf's?

Lee Mandelo's story is gripping and rife with political commentary and moral qualms about conservation and what we do to help animals nearing extinction. While the premise was intriguing, and I found the tech and science-based plot beats fascinating and well done, Sean's relationship with her wife took up almost a third of the book. Though Sean's "connection" with her wolf, Kate, highlights the disconnect she feels with everyone around her, the story would have benefitted from a trim where Sean's relationship issues were concerned. Apart from the relationship drama, I loved it.

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to inhabit another animal's mind, or find near-future technology fascinating, I recommend giving this 113-page novella a read.

Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder

Sister Maiden Monster

*Thank you to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for the ARC.*

Wow! Going into this book, I thought I was getting into something much different. But, in many ways, the surprises along the way were more fun than the blurb had me assume.

Sister, Maiden, Monster is a novel rife with bodily horror, existential terror, and tons of gore. It follows three women in the midst of a new pandemic which originates from a virus more infectious and deadly than COVID. What follows is zombie-like behavior, with blood drinking and brain eating galore. But it gets far weirder than that. Imagine if a zombie apocalypse had a baby with an Eldritch horror and you'd be pretty close to this novel's vibe.

I recommend it to anyone looking for an out-of-this-world horror with a heap of Lovecraftian terror and a dash of current political commentary. Tread carefully if you don't do well with blood, dismemberment, or flesh-eating monstrosities.

Into the Light by Mark Oshiro

Into the Light

Into the Light is a YA suspense/thriller that tackles the US fostering system, religious ideology, family, and finding your true place in a world full of prejudice, discrimination, and injustice.

I always love a culty premise, so I didn't hesitate to ask for an ARC when I found this on NetGalley. I found Manny's homelessness and defenselessness compelling and heart-wrenching. His mistrust of anyone willing to help him was sad but realistic, when you take into account the poor foster care system in the US.

Despite liking the premise and enjoying Manny's character, the pacing of the novel was all over the place. The first 75% was too slow; there was a great deal of repetition, and it felt like not much happened until the big reveal. From then on, it was a sprint to the finish. The book would have been more gripping if it had been shorter and Manny didn't spend so much time getting to Idyllwild.

The following contains some minor spoilers.

I didn't appreciate the unexpected reveal. Having a supernatural twist made the rest of the novel seem bland in comparison. If there was an otherworldly presence at the camp, why hadn't it ever been tapped before? Why not use that to bolster the cult's following and create an atmosphere outside of what can already be stripped from the headlines? I feel that, with the twist, the book lost a lot of weight.

End of spoilers.

Despite the pacing and twist issues, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes reading about religious camps, cults, and found family.

*Thanks to Tor and NetGalley for the ARC.*

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