Blurb Book Review: Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (spoilers ahead)

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This novel was a remarkably difficult read. Not for the narrative style, but for the content. Still, I was glued to it from the first page right until the end.

Some people are bred to be consumed. In the novel, this is literal. A virus made animal meat inedible so all animals were exterminated. The population still wanted meat, so the government created and monitored a process for sterile cannibalism.

In reality, the working class is bred for consumption of corporations. Celebrities are bred or curated for consumption by the masses. The only perceived value some people have is what they can offer in terms of content.

Beyond cannibalism, the novel explores how humans can sanitize the most horrific acts by using clinical language. The characters weren’t consuming people, they were consuming ‘special meat’. The group of humans entering the processing facility weren’t human, they were ‘head’ or ‘meat’.

What was truly disturbing was how fast this society adapted to this concept. The main character, Marcos, remembers animals as a child. As a young adult he worked in a meat processing facility where he learned how to handle the head and the ins and outs of the industry. Now, as a middle-aged man, he ran a processing plant for special meat.

This novel is a masterpiece in examining human attitudes and beliefs, of our societal norms, and of how easily people can be manipulated. It’s also, hands down, the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. I recommend this book to anyone who can stomach the contents.

Blurb Book Review: The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate (spoilers ahead)

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This story takes place in a world where memories can be extracted and put into pill form, called Memoroxin. These pills can be consumed by people and they’ll experience those memories as if they were their own. This process becomes part of a new medical therapy for Alzheimer’s patients, where they can experience their own memories in hopes of repairing the mind or at least staving off the disease for a while.

The pills are also used recreationally by others.

At no point in the narrative did I read that consent was given by the memory’s owner to be shared. The implication could be that people voluntarily sold their Memoroxin pills for money, but other than that, each consumption of the pill, when it was someone else’s memory, was without consent.

On to the characters.

Lucien moves to Los Angeles to be with his grandmother while she undergoes this treatment for Alzheimer’s. His mother died of cancer very recently and he’s still raw with the loss of her.

Sophie moved to Los Angeles to advance in ballet. She got the lead in a production, La Sylphide.

Dr. Sloane runs a rehab clinic for people who have become addicted to Memoroxin, as well as heads up the research for Alzheimer’s patients.

Lucien sees his grandmother’s pills and yearns to feel closer to his mother. He steals a few of the pills and consumes them, learning about a secret his grandmother had as well as how much love his grandmother had for him and his mother. When his grandmother dies he takes the remainder of the pills all at once.

The novel opens with Lucien entering a rehab facility and agonizing over a secret baby. From this intro, I thought the novel would be about revealing the secret and the consequences of that action. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. The secret is revealed to the reader, but the information goes nowhere. Lucien doesn’t use it for anything other than to feel closer to his grandmother.

Sophie works as a waitress while not training for her performance. There, she sees others spaced out on Mem. She also spies a particularly distasteful man, Ray, who is a mover and shaker in Hollywood. He regularly uses Mem and encourages young actors to do the same. Sophie doesn’t like him, she merely tolerates him.

Her personality is somewhat irksome to me, but I’ll admit she’s a well written character. She’s anxious and is the kind of person that goes along to get along. At one point, Ray corners her into accepting a drink with him.

She knows he takes Mem. She knows he forces it on others. Yet she accepts a drink with him rather than have him mad at her. After all, he can make one single phone call and she’ll never work as a waitress again. This bothered me so much. There are plenty of restaurants in Hollywood and what, he could ruin her chances at earning minimum wage plus tips? This storyline felt weak.

Anyway, she accepts the drink and, surprise surprise, it’s laced with Mem. The memories she ingests are violent cravings for injuring people. These violent tendencies linger after the Mem wears off, enough that she seeks out more Mem and cannabis to numb herself. She spirals out of control and ends up in the rehab facility run by Dr. Sloane.

Dr. Sloane is barely more than a secondary character, but it’s worth noting that while she and her partner developed these pills, she ingested some of her partner’s memories. She saw herself, unflatteringly, through her partner’s eyes. At her rehab facility she treats a man named David, who turns out to be her daughter’s boyfriend.

During treatment, the patient is given a pill bottle full of their own memories. They take them in a controlled setting to help heal traumas and even erase disturbing memories.

Dr. Sloane’s daughter, Remy, takes David’s pills as a way of remembering him. Dr. Sloane finds out by accident, just before Remy is hit by a car. Brain damage results and Remy is taken to the rehab center as the facility deals with memory loss and brain injury. Dr. Sloane takes it upon herself to remove all of Remy’s memories of David under the guise of protecting her daughter.

Then Dr. Sloane takes her daughter’s pills, the ones with the memories of David. The author writes that Dr. Sloane feels like she understands her daughter more as a result, and even knows that this action is a violation.

I almost threw the book at the wall.

So the doctor, who took the pills without her partner knowing, also takes her daughter’s memories away and consumes them for herself and is somehow supposed to be sympathetic to the reader? No.

The other two characters, Lucien and Sophie, fall in love at the facility. When they leave, their memories of the facility are erased. They find each other anyway afterwards and start to fall in love again.

I could have been satisfied there. If this book is considered a love story, well the circle is complete, the couple is together.

But the author ties up one more thread.

Sophie goes to the restaurant/bar where Ray is hanging out. She’d selected one of her post-therapy pills that was thick with her disgust for this man, her and her coworkers’ contempt for him, and her overall loathing for him. She crushes the pills and slips them into his drink.

So, she was violated by being drugged with horrible memories and her reaction is to violate him with distasteful memories. The author gives the impression that Sophie is proud of herself, that Ray will feel these awful feelings and they will impact him in the same way the violent memories impacted her.

But they won’t. Why? Because of the person Ray was. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t care what a bunch of waitresses think of him. Their opinions are beneath him. I’m sure he’d feel awful for a moment or two, then shrug it off as ‘a bunch of bitches’ or some such thing.

That ending left a foul taste in my mouth. Revenge is never a good answer. While in this novel you can make a person feel what you feel by ingesting their memories, you can’t forever change their outlook on life based on that dose. How a person reacts to feelings, emotions, and memories is just as important as feeling something someone else feels.

Anyway, the narrative style was rich with imagery while also feeling like the author was telling me the story. An odd combination that frustrated me throughout. The concept was interesting though. Extracting memories and consuming them is fascinating.

I really didn’t like lack of consent throughout though.

Blurb Book Review: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (spoilers ahead)

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This book was fantastic, multi-layered, and engrossing. I’m honestly not sure where to begin.

The plot: People are losing their shadows. Without warning and without prejudice, the shadow just detaches and vanishes. When someone’s shadow is lost, they can do magic.

They can re-route roads, create walls of water, put wings on antlers, or make entire areas disappear. But there’s a cost: the loss of memories. The pull of magic is almost too much to resist, so the person will eventually forget what food or water is and perish.

While the book is told from four character’s perspectives, two stood out to me.

The first was Max. She loses her shadow two years after the phenomenon begins and decides to leave her husband, Ory, and the safety of the abandoned hotel they’d been holing up in. She takes her tape recorder with her and dictates her memories. While travelling she meets up with others who are heading to New Orleans, where they’d heard there might be help for the shadowless.

The author did a fantastic job of writing the slow loss of Max’s memory. At first Max doesn’t seem to be forgetting anything, but once her memories are noticeably failing, they degrade rapidly.

The second was The Amnesiac. This is a character who, just before The Forgetting incident, was in a car accident and lost all his memories. Diagnosed with complete retrograde amnesia, he recalls how to speak, what to eat, and whatnot but has no personal memories. While he’s told he loved sailing, it was just data to him, not something where he could feel the salt spray on his face.

He works with a doctor and the very first person to lose their shadow. As The Forgetting progresses, The Amnesiac tries to continue the doctor’s work of searching for a way to re-attach shadows to people. These new shadows don’t hold the memories of the person, though. A shadow of a rock will make a person comatose. A shadow of a book will give false memories.

The Amnesiac is able to use the dictation to create a new shadow, but does that shadow belong where it’s stitched? The author had me guessing right up until the reveal, which was fantastic.

I want to read this again, just to see if I can pick up the clues of the ending sooner. Also because the author’s rich worldbuilding had me engrossed from the first page to the last. Excellent book, and I’m eager to read more by this author.

Blurb Book Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (spoilers ahead)

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It’s been a while since I read a book. I’ve been working on a synopsis for my novel and I must say, that document was harder to write than the actual book.

Like previous books by this author, this novel tells the story in alternating points of view that are woven together. By the end, everything is tied up in neat little knots, which is something I admire.

This book is about time travel and how one person, Zoey, believes they are living in a simulation because of an anomaly that happens where three timelines overlap briefly. At first, the reader is led to believe the anomaly is caused by a maple tree, the location of the two earlier timelines. This turns out not to be the case.

The time travel aspect of the book is one where no matter what you do to alter the past, you have done already. Gaspery doesn’t follow instructions and ends up creating the very anomaly he’s investigating. If he hadn’t created it, he wouldn’t need to investigate it.

Thankfully, the book doesn’t go into any technical discussion about time travel or physics, instead it’s more of a backdrop to the exploration of how our actions have consequences and how we’re frequently unaware of what ripples we’re creating.

Good book, definitely in line with the others the author has written.

Blurb Book Review: The Seep by Chana Porter (spoilers ahead)

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What a fantastic book. Absolutely wonderful.

The Seep is a gentle alien invasion. The entity merges with humans to make them happy and give them peace. Police officers are no longer needed and jobs aren’t mandatory. People can grow wings, hooves, and unicorn horns. In addition, the environment changes so that if you drop dirty clothes on the floor, the floor washes and dries them.

Humans’ relationship with animals change as well. Pets are willing companions and not leashed. Animals are no longer bred to be eaten.

Trina and Deeba are married. Deeba announces she’d like to be a baby again and receive the love she didn’t when she was a child. Trina is unable to accept this change, and actually seems to feel there’s too much change already. She barely enjoys everything The Seep has to offer because The Seep took her wife from her. Deeba goes through the transformation anyway and Trina plunges into depression and becomes neglectful of herself and her environment.

When Trina meets a boy who’d never experienced The Seep (these people live in the Compound), she gives him directions, then decides to find him. Make no mistake, she’s not looking for him to help him, she’s looking for him to help her.

The book is immediately engrossing and the worldbuilding rich and intricate for such a little book. I’ll be buying this one so I can read it again and again.

Blurb Book Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (spoilers ahead)

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A Final Girl is one who is the last one standing in a slasher film. This book is about a support group of these women, each one with her own horror story.

Then one of their group is murdered and the entire group is targeted.

The book hits the ground running with immediate anxiety and well paced action. The reader stays in the main character Lynnette’s head the entire time and while this is exhausting, it’s also engaging and engrossing. The author’s descriptions of environment and characterization are vivid and wonderful as well.

There are plenty of twists in the book, all that I felt were well done. Once the twist was revealed, I checked back in the story and saw the author did indeed leave hints for them so it was a matter of, “I should have seen that coming,” instead of, “I didn’t see that coming”. The end tied things up well and didn’t leave any loose ends that I could find.

The story is centered around the idea that these women had been commercialized after their traumatic events, then forgotten. They meet to support each other while navigating their lives after these horrific events, but aren’t friends. They barely tolerate each other, really. Even when Lynnette asks for help or warn them that their group member’s killer will come after them, they ignore and handwave away any concern. When push comes to shove though, they help each other out.

Overall, the book was interesting and provided a different subject matter for the whole ‘found family’ trope. It also showed that you don’t have to love each other, or even like each other, but you can still bond with each other.

Blurb Book Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (spoilers ahead)

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I picked up this book because I enjoyed Foe by the same author. This one was equally creepy.

The narrative style has a dreamlike quality; disjointed, eerie, odd, strange, and weird. I could still mostly follow the story though. It’s told with chapters devoted to people talking about what happened, an apparent murder or suicide, and a woman navel-gazing.

The novel starts out with a woman talking about how she’s thinking of ending things. The reader is led to believe she’s thinking of ending her relationship with Jake, the man who’s taking her to see his parents. They drive in the snowy dark, he shows her around his family farm, then introduces her to his parents, where they have dinner.

Everything about meeting the parents is slightly off, from conversation that doesn’t quite match up to seeing photos of her as a child in his house. They leave, get a lemonade, and go to a school even though it’s closed. There, she’s confronted with the reality that she is him and he’s taking his own life.

The ending ties it up nicely, but still leaves the reader with a sense of, ‘what the hell did I just read?’.

The disassociation of Jake is interesting. He’s imagining a girlfriend’s point of view of his life and himself, but left me wondering if she was always a part of him, if he either has multiple personalities or was raised a girl and is now a man.

Weird, eerie book, definitely worth a read.

Blurb Book Review: The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy (spoilers ahead)

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This is the sequel to The Ninth Metal. I found it to be much more engrossing than the first.

To recap, a meteor struck Earth and left behind a ninth noble metal, one that has kinetic energy properties.

This novel follows the path of a couple: Nora, a detective and her husband Jack, a biologist who studies mushrooms. Their daughter Mia goes missing on the night of the meteor and this apparent abduction tears the couple apart. Nora dives into her work and Jack becomes a shell and almost ruins his career.

Five years after the meteor and the loss of their daughter, it rains heavily and mushrooms start popping up everywhere. People become infected with the fungus (grossly, but still interestingly) and begin killing each other in what looks like a ritualized fashion. Nora investigates the murders while Jack investigates the mushrooms.

The first book is referenced most of the way through this one. There’s nothing to tie them together except the meteor. None of the characters from the first book appear in this one. They’re both in the same universe, both involve the metal, but both have different story lines. But they both lead to the same thing: the creation of a door.

The first book had this door made of metal, created by the metal-eaters. This one was a door created by mycelium. This mycelium door is actually a kind of coffin for the daughter, Mia, who is miraculously still alive. She infects her parents by giving them some fungus to eat and they become a kind of hive mind.

This novel was much more interesting to read. The characters were easier for me to relate to and the story a bit easier for me to follow than the first novel. I’m looking forward to the third installment.

Of note: this is the fist book to mention COVID outright. Masks and sanitizer are mentioned, so is Seattle’s reaction to the virus. I was pleased to read this bit of actual history in a novel, and pleased that one character still wore a mask afterwards.

Blurb Book Review: The Truth About Luck by Iain Reid (spoilers ahead)

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It’s been a while in between books. I’ve been writing a short story every week and a 250 word story every day. There were a few books started since the last one reviewed, but I didn’t finish any of them.

I bought this book because I loved the author’s writing style in fiction. This one is a memoir, centering around his five day road trip with his grandmother. He gave her this trip as a gift, but neglected to plan anything. They end up having a staycation, visiting local attractions and eating some nice meals.

Iain feels anxiety throughout the book, although it eases toward the end. He’s constantly concerned that he didn’t plan anything exciting, didn’t stock his cupboards with interesting food, didn’t arrange an actual road trip even though he told her that’s what the gift was. I could identify with this heavily. His wondering if she’s comfortable, if he’s done enough, if he’s failed somehow, all of this was remarkably relatable.

The grandmother’s attitude is easygoing. She seems happy with everything he suggests, not once showing disappointment or judgment about anything. She starts talking about her life, reliving some of her memories, and the book focuses on those that involve her nursing career in WWII.

Overall I thought the book was all right, but not outstanding. I liked how his anxiety eased as she relived her memories, but I did grow a bit weary of his anxiety and self doubt.

Blurb Book Review: Dead Space by Kali Wallace (spoilers ahead)

Image pulled from that wonderful place,

This is a locked room mystery, in space.

Hester Marley is the main character, who was a survivor of a ship explosion. She received medical care and prosthetics, as well as indentured servitude to pay for those prosthetics. Her job and life shifted from being an AI programmer to an investigator for a company that doesn’t care about solving crimes, just sweeping stuff under the rug.

Another survivor of the explosion, and a friend of hers, David Pressenko, is found dead on a mining asteroid with less than a dozen inhabitants. Shortly before his death, he sent Marley a cryptic message. She goes to investigate his death and gets caught up in a terrorist plot.

I love mysteries even though I sometimes have trouble following all the clues. I like that the clues are subtle and I like when all the loose ends are tied up, but I do find it frustrating when there are too many diversions. This book had too many diversions. It was hard for me to keep track of what was an important clue and what was just information.

I felt like the first quarter of the book was backstory. Every time something new happened, the reader was treated to Marley remembering something about her past. This information was relevant, absolutely, but I found it annoyingly long in places and was happy when the plot finally started moving forward. The pacing was slow at first and ramped up significantly toward the end.

Everything does get tied up neatly, with a surprise or two thrown in for good measure. The book is written as though a sequel could take place but also could stand alone.

This book was listed as LGBTQ+ because the main character was a lesbian, her partner in the investigation is a gay man, and her former/part-time lover is non-binary. There’s no romance in the book – thankfully, as it wouldn’t fit well – but it’s mentioned here and there.

The non-binary character was written so smoothly that it took me a couple of pages to realize the pronouns were they/them. I loved this, I absolutely adored how seamless it was to read a non-binary character this way, as just another character and not someone who needs to be pointed out to the reader or put in a spotlight.

Overall, the book was good enough to hold my attention and make me want to keep reading, even with the frustrating way the backstory was integrated.