Snapshot (ARC) Review: Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal

Title: Five Midnights
Author:
Ann Dávila Cardinal
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: June 4th 2019
**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review.**

TW: ableism

      “Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.
      If Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre can survive each other’s company, together they can solve a series of grisly murders sweeping though Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there—murderer, or monster?”

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  • The concept – I love the concept for this one. Cultural myths coming to life in a modern setting and two teens desperate to solve the mystery with a body count that continues to grow.
  • Javier – I love reading about a teen character who didn’t always make the best decisions, but who is doing their best. Javi has been clean for two years, but he still struggled with his drug addiction on a daily basis.
  • A too curious for her own good MC – I’m fondly referring to Lupe as the Latina Nancy Drew. She is driven by her insatiable curiosity and doesn’t easily back down. When there is a mystery to solve, she is going to do whatever it takes to solve it.
  • Family – Lupe doesn’t have a lot of good adult role models in her life, so her relationship with her uncle is so important. I loved scenes between these two and loved that so much of Lupe’s drive to solve mysteries was nurtured over the years by her uncle.
  • Puerto Rican myths – I need more horror books in my life that explore more Latinx myths. I loved the monster in this one, the concept of retribution, and that the past can sometimes come back to haunt you.

  • Lupe – As much as I enjoyed Lupe’s stubbornness, I found her need to argue about everything grating. Any time someone tried to help her or maybe got in her face, Lupe was ready for a fight and/or argument. I was never sure if the author meant for this to be an example of a teen sorting out who she is in the world or if Lupe’s behavior was meant to somehow “prove” what a feminist she was. If the latter, the text completely missed the mark. While I could appreciate how much Lupe longed to feel validated as Puerto Rican, she never fully acknowledges her privilege as white-passing and expected everyone to immediately make her feel accepted. This made me root against her more than anything else.
  • More banter – I love banter and the synopsis promised banter. What I got was a couple of teens arguing maybe once and one making some poor decisions because she had to prove she was tough.
  • Marisol – I had high hopes when this character showed up. I pictured Lupe and Marisol forging an important friendship, but this character was so mistreated. We aren’t supposed to like her, but she made a lot of sense and most of the characters were so dismissive of her. Her interactions with Lupe especially bothered me because all they seemed to do was tear each other down.

Ann Dávila Cardinal’s Five Mightnights is refreshing when it comes to its monster, but suffers from overplayed tropes like girl-on-girl hate and a protagonist that mistakes combativeness with strength.

★★
(2/5)

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Snapshot Review: Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

Snapshot reviews are a new format I am trying out here at A Kernel of Nonsense that helps both me the reviewer get straight to the point and you the reader find out if a book is for you without having to read a longer review.

Title: Suffer the Children
Author: Craig DiLouie
Series: N/A
Pages: 343
Publisher: Gallery/Permuted Press
Release Date: May 20th 2014

**I received a free copy of this book from the author which does not influence my review**

Trigger Warning: death of children, suicide, and sexual assault.

      “From an acclaimed horror writer, a chilling tale of blood-hungry children who rise from the dead in this innovative spin on apocalyptic vampire fiction.
      Suffer the Children presents a terrifying tale of apocalyptic fiction, as readers are introduced to Herod’s Syndrome, a devastating illness that suddenly and swiftly kills all young children across the globe. Soon, they return from the grave…and ask for blood. And with blood, they stop being dead. They continue to remain the children they once were…but only for a short time, as they need more blood to live. The average human body holds ten pints of blood, so the inevitable question for parents everywhere becomes: How far would you go to bring your child back?”

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“A massive roar of grief and rage washed over the crowd. One after another, the children went limp in their parents’ arms. The father who’d shouted at the camera howled and tore at his clothes while his wife screamed.”

  • The set-up – Much of Suffer the Children is devoted to getting to know four adult characters and their relationship to their children. There is the devoted stay-at-home mom Joan, her blue-collar-working husband Doug, single-mom Ramona, and pediatrician David, who lost a child years ago.
  • The surprise character arcs – Based on the synopsis, I expected the focus to be on the children and how they change after coming back from the dead, but DiLouie instead stays with the adult characters and takes readers on a journey of grief that ultimately leads in desperation.
  • Aftermath of Herod’s syndrome – The story doesn’t shy away from the devastation that follows: the collecting of bodies, grief that manifests itself in self-destructive behavior, and how easily the characters resort to violence to achieve their goal.
  • The real horror – While children dying all over the world is a horrifying and then them coming back from the dead with a need for blood is terrifying, the real horror of this story are the parents who find out just how far they are willing to go to have a one more day with their children.

  • My own expectations – I went into this thinking it was going to be more about the kids and how creepy it would be for them to be walking around needing blood, so was a tad disappointed that it took so long for this to come about.

  • Craig DiLouie’s Suffer the Children is unlike any vampire novel I’ve come across and the behavior exhibited by the adult characters is as terrifying as it is plausible.

★★★
(3/5)

Mini Reviews: Down Among the Sticks and Bones + Not Even Bones

MiniWhoops, I meant to post this set of mini-reviews before the last, so these are very very late. I wrote this set of mini-reviews back in October, but ended up going on a little hiatus in November and so this post has been sitting in my drafts for several weeks. They were both stellar reads for me and I’m a little sad that I wasn’t able to share my reviews of them sooner. If you’re on the fence about picking up either of these series, I say throw away all your doubts and dive in now. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Author: Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #2
Pages: 187
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: June 13th 2017 

      “Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
      This is the story of what happened first…
      Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.
      Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.
      They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.
      They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.”

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“It was an uncomfortable thing, feeling like their parents weren’t doing what was best for them; like this house, this vast, perfectly organized house, with its clean, artfully decorated rooms, was pressing the life out of them one inch at a time. If they didn’t find a way out, they were going to become paper dolls, flat and faceless and ready to be dresses however their parents wanted them to be.”

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway introduces readers to what happens to children after they step back into the real world after spending time on the other side of magical portals. Jack was instantly one of my favorite characters and after the ending of the first book, I was happy that this next book in the series covers what happened to Jack and her twin Jill when they found their magical door. The contrast between these to characters is so stark, but in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we discover that these two girls used to live very different lives. Jill was the tomboy, always running around wild, while Jack was always too afraid of getting dirty. But this says more about their upbringing than either child as their parents had quickly made up their mind about who their children were before letting them discover it for themselves. When Jack and Jill stumble into the Moors, they are given a chance to be who they’ve chosen to be for the first time. The Moors is not a bright, happy place and the two girls grow up to be reflections of their mentors. Seanan McGuire once again impresses with her storytelling ability. It isn’t hard to fall into the story, to become invested in the characters. I cheered when Jack was able to be herself and be valued for more than how she looked and even though things work out a little differently for Jill, she was still able to do many of the things that were once barred to her. The story is heartbreaking as both characters end up losing something precious to them, but is mesmerizing in its darkness and the tragedy of twins who were never able to come to fully love the other because the adults in their life always set one against the other. 

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Not Even Bones
Author: Rebecca Schaeffer
Series: Market of Monsters, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 4th 2018

      “Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.
      Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared teenage boy is a step too far. But when she decides to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold in his place—because Nita herself isn’t exactly “human.” She has the ability to alter her biology, a talent that is priceless on the black market. Now on the other side of the bars, if she wants to escape, Nita must ask herself if she’s willing to become the worst kind of monster.”

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

Rebecca Schaeffer’s Not Even Bones is a bloody romp which explores morality in a world that has little room for things like mercy. Nita has spent years dissecting bodies and helping her mother sell various parts of “unnaturals”, humans with strange abilities that can be both deadly and odd, on the black market. Nita finds conversing with the dead far easier than with the living, but this way of life has kept her in part ignorant of the world outside. When her mother returns from a hunting expedition with a living, breathing young man as a prisoner, bent on selling his body parts one piece at a time, Nita must decide what kind of person she is going to be. If you’re easily squeamish when it comes to blood or severed body parts, Not Even Bones may not be the novel for you. But if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate that Schaeffer takes her gloves off in this one, so to speak, embracing the gruesomeness of the story and testing her characters at every turn. There are no clear-cut good and bad characters in this one. Though you may root for someone like Nita, she isn’t without her flaws. But she like many of the other characters are very human. They show selective empathy, making good and bad decisions in equal measure. Sometimes they are forced to ignore other people’s pain and sometimes they even delight in it. In the end, they are just trying to survive in a world that decided they are less than human. Not Even Bones is the start of a unique and deliciously disturbing series that challenges both its characters and its readers.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Series: N/A
Pages: 248
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Release Date: October 3rd 2017

      “”In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
      A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.
      Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious,
Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.”

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“On either side of the road, the white trunks of the trees were illuminated to a degree, the kind of brief visibility provided by a camera’s flash at midnight. I saw a layer or two of trees, and beyond that an opaque blackness that was disturbing to me. Autumn was the worst time to go into the mountains, I thought to myself. To drive into the wilderness when it writhed and gasped for air seemed foolish.”

Carmen Maria Machado takes readers on a strange, yet thought-provoking ride in her short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. Each story features a different nameless female narrator, with one exception, surrounding the theme of female autonomy and both the subtle and conspicuous ways women are stripped of control. Though it is difficult to give a label to these stories, much of them are infused with horror and science-fiction elements. Each of the eight stories were compelling in their own way, but I was taken with how introspective each of Machado’s narrators were. A couple of stories had me scratching my head, trying to understand exactly what the purpose was, but I kept turning the pages regardless, wanting to know the end even if I understood very little.

There are two stories that stand out to me the most in this collection. The first being The Husband Stitch, the opening story and inspiration for the cover art. It tells of a young woman’s sexual awakening, her marriage and the difficult birth of her one and one child. She gives everything of herself to both her husband and son, while trying to protect this one small part of herself. This is physically manifested as a ribbon tied around her neck. Some may recognize this story from In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz, but I assure you, Machado brings her unique voice to the tale. The narrator’s husband becomes fixated on her green ribbon, not because it is in itself a mystery demanding to be unlocked, but because it belongs to this woman and her husband cannot fathom why she should not want to share it with him. Even her son, small as he is, must eventually be warned away from the ribbon. One of my favorite elements of this story is Machado’s inclusion of these interactive annotations at the end of key scenes. For example, this excerpt comes after she is forced to startle her child with a can full of pennies in order to stop him from pulling her ribbon. She ends the scene by saying something has shifted between them and their relationship is never the same.

“(If you are reading this story out loud, prepare a soda can full of pennies. When you arrive at this moment, shake it loudly in the face of the people closest to you. Observe their expressions of startled fear, then betrayal. Notice how they never look at you exactly the same way for the rest of your days.)”

The Resident is another story that ended up being one of my favorites. The story opens with a woman driving to the mountains to take part in a type of retreat for various artists. The narrator makes the trip to a familiar area she used to visit as a Girl Scout. There are hints of a traumatic event that happened in the past and an building tension throughout the story. My favorite aspect of these stories was the horror component. For this story in particular, I loved how eerie the setting was, the dark and strange descriptions, and the foreboding atmosphere. The story, like many of the others, has more of an ambiguous conclusion. It’s a familiar horror trope that I didn’t mind because of how much I enjoyed the journey these stories took me on.

If you’re looking for a short story collection with captivating writing and don’t mind the odd story or two, Her Body and Other Parties is one you should definitely check out. Machado’s storytelling is addictive and I dove into each story with my eyes wide and ready to be taken on an unique ride.

4/5

★★★★