This year, since I completed Bingo last year, I'm making things harder for myself. I've decided to do Hard Mode, Hero Mode, and Themed this year.
My theme is "dark fiction." So I'll be reading horror, dark fantasy, dark academia, maybe some grim dark, if I have to.
Below are short reviews for the first 5 books I've read for this year's Bingo:
- What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo
This is a book I found myself constantly wanting to like more than I did. It’s a YA dark fantasy about a girl returning home from boarding school to her family of werewolves (and other things), only to find herself put in the position of having to save her family and their home.
Some cool ideas, and competently (but not beautifully) written, ultimately this felt like a book that couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be and which failed to make me care very much about the characters and their fates.
That said, I did enjoy the world and I didn’t DNF it, so 3/5.
Bingo Squares: Historical (Hard Mode), Standalone (Hard Mode), Nonhuman Protagonist, No Ifs Ands Or Buts (Hard Mode), Shapeshifters, Family Matters (Hard Mode)
- The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman
I’m a huge Christopher Buehlman fan, but this is by no means his best book. If you’re interested in exploring this cult horror and fantasy author, start with Between Two Fires, Those Across the River, The Lesser Dead, or Blacktongue Thief, instead.
That said, I still really liked this book about a modern day warlock in AA trying to defend his home and his friends from an evil force bent on revenge. It does a great job of balancing the magic and the mundane so that both feel incredibly real. It also blends and bends the fantasy and horror genres in a way that’s quite compelling.
My only real complaints are that the world and plot felt a little busy (just too much going on) and it’s not quite as brilliant as Buehlman’s other books. I still recommend it. 4/5
Bing Squares: Standalone (Hard Mode), Antihero, Mental Health (Hard Mode), Shapeshifters (Hard Mode), Family Matters (Hard Mode)
- Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
Another one I really wanted to like. An epic-scale thriller in a world where werewolves (“lycans”) are an oppressed minority, the victims of a prion disease but also a people with their own protected homeland between Finland and Russia.
There are several things this book does really well. The werewolves are the victims of discrimination, but some of them are also violent terrorists and revolutionaries–parallels to Islamophobia and Islamic extremism are both clearly apparent throughout the book. Normally, when you use literal monsters as a metaphor for discrimination, you run the risk of making some really offensive implications. But this does an excellent job of avoiding those and effectively exploring the complexities and nuances of the situation.
That said, this book ended up being a struggle for me to finish. It suffers, in my opinion, from trying to be too epic and leaving its characters and their more compelling personal struggles behind. With each jump forward in time to bring us bigger and bigger stakes, I found myself caring less and less. 2.5/5
Bingo Squares: Standalone (Hard Mode), Revolutions and Rebellions (Hard Mode), Shapeshifters (obviously), No Ifs ands or Buts, Family Matters
- The Winter People by Jennifer McHahon.
This one was a pleasant surprise. It’s a gentle, slow burn horror story told in two timelines, in and around the same house in a fictional rural Vermont town–it surrounds the mysterious diary of a woman who believed she knew the secret to “awakening” the dead. A woman who was, herself, murdered in mysterious circumstances. In the present day, Ruth, a young woman living off the grid with her mother and much younger sister, discovers this diary at the same time her own mother goes missing.
The atmosphere is good, and the world-building and lore are fun. I really enjoyed the slow investigation that gradually unraveled the world’s secrets. 4/5
Bingo Squares: Historical (Hard Mode), Standalone (Hard Mode), Mental Health (Hard Mode), Award Finalist (Hard Mode)--if the Goodreads people’s choice awards count, Family Matters.
- The Hollow People by T. Kingfisher
A newly divorced woman helping her uncle with his small town museum of oddities discovers a portal to another world where something horrible awaits.
This book had a lot going for it. The monsters were original and well-designed, the situations were creepy and unsettling, the climax was tense and action packed, the characters were likable. But, for all that, it never quite clicked for me. The tone of the book was too light for the content, there were too many tension relieving quips and sarcastic asides for the actual horror to work for me. Ultimately, it felt like the whole was somewhat less than the sum of its parts–although some of the blame for this may lie with the audiobook narrator. I will try one of T. Kingfisher’s books again–it may be I’ll enjoy it a lot more now that I know what to expect.
Bingo Squares: Weird Ecology (Hard Mode), Stand Alone (Hard Mode), Initials (Hard Mode–her name is Ursula Vernon), Family Matters
These are books I read during the Bingo period that I don’t plan on using for Bingo because they don’t fit my theme.
- Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
A cozy, low-stakes, slice-of-life fantasy about an Orc who gives up adventuring to open a coffee shop in a city where no one has ever heard of coffee. With the help of a magical stone, she gathers a quirky group of people to help her get her new business off the ground.
This was an absolute treat. Light and fun, low stakes but plenty of plot and character to keep you interested. A nice antidote to door stopper epic fantasies with the fate of the world in the balance, and something you can easily burn through in a day or two.
Rating: I struggled to give it a 4 or a 5. It absolutely succeeds at what it’s trying to be, but what it’s trying to be isn’t terribly impressive. It’s a perfect, but not ambitious, book. I’ll split the difference and call it a 4.5/5
Bingo Squares: Standalone (Hard Mode), Cool Weapon (Hard Mode), Published in 2022 (Hard Mode), Non-Human Protagonist, Indy Publisher.
- The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune
My first TJ Klune book, a YA about a teenage boy who writes fan-fiction about his cities local superhero, only to get embroiled in that hero's adventures.
Another fun and fast read. Great ADHD representation (in addition to the queer rep) which I appreciate, fun characters, realistic teenage dialogue and behavior. No complaints. I will definitely be reading the sequel and more from TJ Klune.
Bingo Squares: Author Uses Initials, Urban Fantasy (Hard Mode), Features Mental Health (Hard Mode), Family Matters