Book Review: Roberto to the Dark Tower Came

Roberto to the Dark Tower CameRoberto to the Dark Tower Came by Tom Epperson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roberto to the Dark Tower Came needs ALL the trigger warnings: Gore, death, torture, sexual assault, rape, cruelty to animals, death of animals, language, whatever you can think of. If that is enough for you to not read it, then you probably don’t need to read the rest of my review.

If your still reading my review, then maybe you will consider picking up this novel. It was disturbing and dark, but I couldn’t make myself stop reading it. I became invested in the characters, and I wanted so bad for them to triumph, but this isn’t that kind of book. It’s the type that juxtaposes flawed characters who want to make a difference with the cruelty of those are resisting. It’s the kind of gritty realism where no one wins.

Roberto to the Dark Tower Came is written in third person present tense that gives an immediacy to the prose as Roberto, a left-wing journalist, receives death threats, makes plans to leave the country, gets pulled into reporting on one last story, and witnesses all manners of atrocities. The narrative builds suspense like a thriller, but it is layered with literary symbolism and imagery.

The most terrifying aspect of it was the realism. The story has a contemporary setting. The little details about daily life ground in it a place that may or probably does exist somewhere. Even though the country the book was set in was never directly named, at least not that I noticed, other real countries were.

It’s one thing to read about a character who witnessed someone get flayed in an epic fantasy like Game of Thrones that is set in a secondary world. It is far more disturbing in a book like this, but also probably more worth reading. Because somewhere in the world, people are living in fear of getting killed for disagreeing with governments or living on land people in power want to exploit. I can tell myself “It’s fiction, don’t let it get to you,” and it almost works with a secondary world fantasy, but with a book like this, my brain responds, “yes, fiction, these people aren’t real, but someone else might be living an equally hellish story.”

This story made me think about more social, political, and humans rights problems than I can count, but ones that stood out to me were the relationship between people and land, between those in power and those indigenous to the land, and how it’s not just things diamonds or gold, but some kind of metal or element used to make everyday things like cell phones, that directs greedy monsters to the places they destroy. How many everyday items that I take for granted are made with materials that were obtained by exploiting land and murdering those who love it?

After reading Roberto to the Dark Tower Came, I appreciate what I have and where I live ten times more than I did before, but it also makes me sick about what my privileges, safety and conveniences have cost someone else. Maybe it will drive me to research things and be more careful about what products I buy. Maybe because this book was so damned disturbing, I’ll lose myself in another story and I try to forget about.

I came away from this novel appreciating how precious my freedom is and terrified the current American leadership could make my world more like Robertos.

Overall, if you want a book that will take you out of your comfort zone, keep you up at night, engage you with a blend of literary realism and a political thriller plot, and make you think a lot, then this is the book for you.

But be warned, this book is loaded with triggers.

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Book Review: Mask of Shadows

Mask of ShadowsMask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mask of Shadows has been on my TBR list for a while, but it took being on a vacation in a cabin with no internet and inconsistent, minimal phone service for me to finally pick it up and dig in.

Why did I wait so long to read this? I have no clue.

Mask of Shadows has a well-executed gender-fluid character, a fascinating cast excellent world building, and a steady plot.

Most of the non-romance books I’ve read with this much LGBTQ+ rep have been from smaller publishers that specialize in queer fiction, and because they are small, have a limited reach. It was refreshing to read something like this from a somewhat larger publishing house.

The best part about the book are the characters. Sal had a fascinating backstory, and I enjoyed seeing the story’s world developed through the eyes of survivor and their who had their own set of morals — one that was different from mainstream society, but a code of morals nevertheless. I also loved that Sal’s fluid gender identity was what it was and didn’t have any major impact on the plot. The book was about a thief becoming an assassin. Not about being gender fluid. And it was refreshing to see that most of the other characters were so accepting.

Even though I didn’t get to see the world through their eyes, they other characters also had well-developed back stories. I knew just enough about them by the end to understand their motivations, complications, and why they did what they did, but not so much that it distracted from Sal and the plot.

The plot was decent, but not as good as the characters. I’m getting a little tired of reading books where the plots seem like lethal versions of reality TV shows: everyone is competing for ___, only one can get it, and either everyone else, or a lot of the other competitors, die. Hunger Games, Throne of Glass, and Ink and Bone are a few that follow this plot line.

While the tone and characters were very different, the concept of people competing to be a monarch’s assassin was extremely similar to that of Throne of Glass. However, there were some problems I had with Throne of Glass, that I didn’t have with this book. Explaining them would have some potential spoilers, so I’ll refrain. However, if you haven’t read either and only want to read one, Mask of Shadows is definitely the fresher take on the many competing in deadly game for one title trope. It has less cliches and more interesting characters.

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Book Review: Ardulum Third Don

Ardulum: Third DonArdulum: Third Don by J.S. Fields

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review coming soon4.5 Stars
Ardulum Third Don was the perfect ending to the trilogy. I can’t comment too much on why without spoiling it, so I’ll just that it came full circle and took Neek aka Atalant in a direction she never expected her life would go.

While the characters are entertaining with fulfilling arcs, my favorite part of this series is the science and how it intersects with a touch of the unknown — of something greater and more spiritual that is just beyond the reach of hard science. I love the idea of spaceships made out of cellulose, of highly intelligent fungi capable of taking down a fleet of spaceships and the sheer biodiversity of the beings in this galaxy.

The vastness of it was very well developed, though I will admit that I had a hard time orienting myself when I returned to book three. I read the first two books back to back, and then I had to wait several months for the third installment. This series is one best binge read.

There is so much to keep track of in the galaxy, but readers are gradually introduced to it in the first two books. I didn’t get lost in those at all. However, having forgot some of those details, trying to remember them, or having to look them up in the back of the book, did pull me out of the story. This is my fault as a reader though, not necessarily a flaw of the story.

The real reason I gave this 4.5 instead of 5 stars was because Captain K’s relationship with the Mmnnuggl was confusing. I did have a hard time following his relationship to them and their thoughts of him. I kept thinking there was an inconsistency but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

Otherwise, once I got back into the flow of the world, I was quite pleased with the overall experience, and very happy to see non-binary characters having adventures in space. There was a great balance of seriousness and humor, a touch of romance that didn’t overpower the plot, plenty of ethical questions to stimulate my mind, suspense, space battles, a great plot and characters I want to spend more time with.

This is a fantastic series. If you are starting from book 1, give yourself time to read the whole trilogy straight through.

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Review Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain HookLost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book in a day — a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon. It was an escape from the stress of finals week during a lull in the grading. It was a great read — much better than Henry’s Alice books. While those were horror, this was more dark fantasy. Peter almost reminded me of one of Holly Black’s faeries: cruel, failing to understand love, and not quite aware of the havok his selfishness wrecks.

I’ve read a few different Peter Pan retellings, and this one was definitely my favorite. Part origin story, part coming of age narrative, Lost Boy told the story of how Captain Hook came to never land, learned to see through Peter’s shallow lies, learn what it really means to love and to hate.

There was conflict, emotion, and a neverland finally as fey as I’d always imagined it.

This was the kind of story where I knew what the end was going to be before I started reading, but the fun was in figuring out how Jamie became Captain Hook, how he grew from being a lost boy to a cursed “pirate.”

It may not be the happiest story ever, but there was truth in it. There was a compelling voice and an antihero I could root for.

I recommend this to anyone who likes the flavor of dark that shows up in Holly Black’s books, but craves a more “adult” narrator and can do without the angsty teen romance.

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Book Review: Curved Horizon

Curved Horizon (The Camellia Clock Cycle, #2)Curved Horizon by Taylor Brooke

Since I got an ARC of Curved Horizon on NetGalley, it has kept me warm on some bitter New England nights. As wind gusts across a frozen lake just outside my window, my mind is still in the warmth of Laguna beach and the characters Taylor Brooke brought to life on it’s shores.

I read Curved Horizon slowly, savoring the gorgeous sentences packed with emotions I seldom feel in real life. I drank in the passion and pain the words evoked, the bruised kisses of new love, and imagery that made me crave summer.

Curved Horizon is a book about friends, soulmates and the kind of family you choose for yourself. It may not be the fastest paced, most suspenseful book, but I like it just the way it is. I enjoyed lingering in little moments, watching the characters grow and bloom from both good moments and challenging ones.

There was one big plot event described in the cover copy that came much later in the book than I was expecting, so while I was not forever wondering what was going to happen, I was wondering when it was going to happen, holding my breath, waiting for the weight to drop. And when it finally came, it was flawlessly executed.

I could go on and on about how good this book was, but I’m not going to. Want to know more about Curved Horizon? Pre-order.

Support the author by pre-ordering it, reading it, and leaving a review of your own.

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Another Book Review: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper (Shadowshaper, #1)Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper series has been in my TBR list for a while. I bought it a few weeks ago, but had to work through the ARC’s I had to review before I got to it. I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. It is amazing, and I am going to try really hard pinpoint what I loved about it without just saying it was awesome.

At first, the book seemed to play into the classic YA urban fantasy trope of teen finds out they are part of some supernatural world, but this book was so much more than that.

Yes, Sierra Santiago, spunky Puerto Rican protagonist, did get drawn into a supernatural world her family had hid from her, but her personality, and her friends, were enough to make the story unique. Of course, Older didn’t just leave it at that. Sierra has a powerful internal struggle against racism and expectations. While she struggles against terrifying enemies, she also has to learn to love herself for who she is — to embrace her culture and identity.

This is all painted in colorful detail against the backdrop of a diverse, alive, sensual Brooklyn, where gentrification and hipsters are creeping up on old school neighborhoods where old men play dominos in vacant lots.

Hailing from different parts of the Caribbean, the supporting characters, including a lesbian couple, added more flavor to cultural melting pot this story happens in.

Not only did I enjoy this story, but I learned from it. I was reminded of somethings that should be obvious but aren’t always. I’m “white” and sometimes we (me and other white people) stupidly tend lump “people of color” into a few categories, and/or don’t always think about how someone who might be Puerto Rican, like Sierra’s aunt, might be a bigot towards someone who was Haitian and “darker.” It reminded me of how one time, I overheard a Dominican student whisper, “I thought that kid was black, not Dominican” to one of their friends as class was ending.

Books like this one, are so important for so many reasons. They represent a groups neglected in literature, allowing more people to see their people on the page. They are also a way educate people who are culturally illiterate or blinded by whiteness. By saying this last thing, I worry even that I am taking value away from this book by partially making it “for white people.”
I always worry I am going to overstep my place when talking about race and other people’s cultures, but being silent only fuels oppression.

Anyway, culture and race issues aside, this is an awesome book. The plot, while a little formulaic, engaged me, the magic concept was unique and the characters were deep. So if you like YA urban fantasy, books like Mortal Instruments, Chronicles of Nick, and Tithe, read this book, because it is even better than those.

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Book Review: Seven-Sided Spy

Seven-Sided SpySeven-Sided Spy by Hannah Carmack

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Seven-Sided Spy from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review and was pleasantly surprised to find it’s science fiction element was a more prominent part of the story than I initially expected.

When I read the cover copy about once attractive spies deformed and on the run from the KGB, I thought normal scarring, not superhuman abilities and blue skin. The later is much more exciting, at least in my mind.

Yes, it has speculative elements, but Seven Sided Spy is also firmly grounded in reality and history. The slang, cars and clothing really ground me in the time period. The deep character development grounds me in humanity.

I loved how the characters’ past, present and future were all woven through the novel, but felt that at one point, having characters tell each other stories as a way to do that was used a little too much. It worked, though, because a lot of the “present” narrative was the characters stuck in the woods, trying to figure out when or if it would ever be safe to leave.

I honestly was not sure how this was going to end. I had a clear idea of how I wanted it to end, but my ideal ending would not have been the best for the stories true hero, so when I got to the end, the one I didn’t quite expect, it left me a little sad. It almost made me cry. However, it was also happy for at least for one characters. And it worked. I’m just a baby when it comes to endings.

While I am sure there are comparable novels like this one out there, I have not read once recently enough to make comparison. However, if you have ever wanted something like a darker, more grounded, queer Agent Carter, or if you just like spy novels with deep characters and a slight speculative element, then read Seven-Sided Spy.

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