“Survive the Dome” by Kosoko Jackson – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Jamal Lawson just wanted to be a part of something. As an aspiring journalist, he packs up his camera and heads to Baltimore to document a rally protesting police brutality after another Black man is murdered.

But before it even really begins, the city implements a new safety protocol…the Dome. The Dome surrounds the city, forcing those within to subscribe to a total militarized shutdown. No one can get in, and no one can get out.

Goodreads


I was drawn to this book on NetGalley because it had a great-looking cover and title – and who doesn’t love some dystopian YA?

This one doesn’t take place in some far-off future, however. It takes place in today’s America, with much of our own history and current problems – but with one new invention that we don’t have (yet?): The Dome.

Our main character is Jamal, a gay black teen in Annapolis. He drives to Baltimore, where there are some BLM protests going on. The governor of Maryland has been wanting to test the new Dome invention, and the protests offer the perfect opportunity. Now, Jamal is trapped inside. Not only can the citizens not get in or out, but neither can any electronic information – cell calls and texts, emails, etc.

In addition to the Dome, there is one other new technology that the government/police unveil during their Dome experiment: the police have powerful suits of armor that are all linked. The officers wearing the suits are basically super-soldiers. The only caveat is that the suits are pretty bulky, which makes them a little sluggish.

Jamal falls in with Marco, a wannabe hacker with contacts in Nemesis (analogous to the real world’s Anonymous). Marco is a pretty good hacker himself, with high ideals of changing the world, but he hasn’t been accepted into Nemesis because of his criminal record.

They also team up with Catherine, who is just a little older than them. She just got out of basic training, so her military background is useful. At first, she is cagey about herself – how does anyone know who they can trust in this situation? – but eventually we learn that Catherine is fighting to find her parents, who have been taken by the government.

The action here is non-stop, which makes this book move fast. Each chapter picks up right where the last stops, with virtually no down time. The entire story takes place over just a couple days.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I will say that Jamal seems too idealistic at times. He often puts himself in harm’s way to save anyone he comes across, including random people he sees on the streets. He’s precious, but almost too precocious to be a survivor in this harsh environment.

The views on police and government in the story are BLEAK. I’m not even saying they’re out of place, mind you, but they obviously come from a very frustrated place. We see leaders as the villains in most dystopian stories, though – think “The Hunger Games” – so it is really only striking in that these leaders are supposed to represent the ones we have in our present times.

This was a fast-paced read that has a lot of social commentary about the times we live in. It comes out today, March 29th, and I was able to read it ahead of time through NetGalley.


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“Circe” by Madeline Miller – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child – not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power – the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Goodreads


I had heard the name Circe before, and a quick Google search reminded me that she was in The Odyssey. I did read that, but in high school, so… it’d been a minute. For anyone who is familiar with that story – Odysseus does play an important role in this story, but his ship does not appear until about half way through this book.

The first half of this one is dedicated to Circe’s childhood and growth into the witch she becomes. She is one of four siblings who all possess the ability to use herbs and spells to change the beings and world around them. She is meek as a child, and is the last of them to discover her abilities.

Her first attempt at spells comes after she falls in love with a mortal, and wants to make him immortal (like her). After he rises to the ranks of the gods, however, he falls in love with a nymph named Scylla. Circe uses some potions on Scylla that turn her into a hideous and ravenous beast. For this, Circe is exiled from the halls of the gods, and sent to live alone on an abandoned island.

She uses her time there to hone her abilities, and experiment with the plants she finds on the island. But she doesn’t remain alone for long, as she occasionally receives visitors – sometimes gods, but more often sailors who are lost or in need of restocking their supplies. (She even gets to leave the island herself, to help her sister in childbirth.)

So, she loosely keeps up with the world around her. Eventually, Odysseus and his men arrive, and they end up staying for a good while. She does take Odysseus as a lover, but he wasn’t the first. What makes her tryst with him different, though, is that she gets pregnant.

Her son is mortal, and Circe has to spend a lot of energy warding off the goddess Athena, who has promised to kill him. Around age 16, though, he wants to venture out into the world and find his father. Circe struggles with the idea that she will not be able to protect him forever – much like we mortal moms do still to this day. She does realize that, even if she can keep him under her wing, she would still have to watch him die from old age someday. So she lets him make his own decisions.

Near the end, with her son gone, Circe decides she has one mission she must complete – stop the monstrous Scylla from killing sailors who pass her cave. Since Circe turned her into the monster she is, she feels guilty for much of Scylla’s destruction. She must blackmail her father into releasing her from her exile, but she is finally able to go into the world for herself to accomplish this task.


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“Campfire Confessions” by Kristine Ochu – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Annie, Sondra, and Jo were the best of childhood friends—but they haven’t seen each other in far too long. To the outside world, their lives are perfect. But appearances can be deceiving…

Goodreads


The story idea here is that three women reconnect on a canoeing trip. They were childhood friends, but two of them have moved away from the small Midwestern town where they grew up. All three are facing big life problems – depression, divorce, overwhelm, recovery from addiction, a sexless marriage, etc.

The first third of the book introduces us to the characters – Annie, Jo, and Sondra – and all the aforementioned issues (and then some). In 100 pages or so, we see multiple sex scenes (plus one with a vibrator), an overdose, and an attempt at blackmail. This all seemed a little too “soap opera-y” for my personal tastes, but I realized that it was just set-up.

The next section of the book has Jo and Sondra returning to their hometown to see Annie. They reconnect with family and old friends, and hatch a plot with Annie’s four sons.

Eventually, they get out onto the river, with two canoes, a tent, and some basic provisions. This part is where the action really picked up. But it also got to be a little too much at times. All three women end up hurt and/or sick before this excursion is out, and many of their encounters were dramatic.

There’s an interesting dichotomy here, in that the book kind of honors multiple spiritualities. For example, Annie is a preacher’s wife, and so the Christian perspective is represented. But Jo’s husband’s family – who live in the area, and interact with our characters a few times – are Indigenous. Especially out in nature, the women talk a lot of spirit animals and the like, so this perspective is also prevalent.

While I enjoyed that the book included multiple perspectives like this, all of them seemed a little too “in your face” at times. For example, when Annie falls and breaks her arm, she passes out and sees Jesus. They have a conversation, and she writes a song about it – while unconscious – that she remembers and sings after she wakes up. I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen, but it was a little over the top for my personal tastes.

This was a decent book – I didn’t love it, but didn’t dislike it, either. And it moved at a good pace, especially in the final two-thirds.

This book comes out today, March 8th, 2022. I was given an advanced copy from the author through the Books Forward program.


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“Champagne Widows” by Rebecca Rosenberg – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Champagne, France, 1800. Twenty-year-old Barbe-Nicole inherited Le Nez (an uncanny sense of smell) from her great-grandfather, a renowned champagne maker. She is determined to use Le Nez to make great champagne, but the Napoleon Code prohibits women from owning a business.

Goodreads


This is a fun bit of historical fiction, based on real people and events. I hadn’t read much about this era in a while, so it was also a good change of pace!

Our heroine, Barbe-Nicole, has a knack for blending wine, which was a business her grandfather was in. She can’t directly inherit the business, of course, because she’s a woman. But, she does talk her childhood sweetheart into going into business with her, as a married couple.

As the title implies, her wedded bliss only lasts a few years. With Napoleon trying to take over all of Europe, she now faces multiple challenges: how to keep her business in her own name as a widow, and how to sell her products. The French people are broke, but other countries have mostly outlawed French imports. There are blockades, even. And some of her seller’s journeys are so long and treacherous that the product is ruined by the time it gets to its destination!

Barbe-Nicole has to reinvent her business several times over during the long years of the Napoleonic wars. She takes on various partners and investors, but still wants to have the last word on her wines. This makes some of her (male) partners very frustrated, as they all think they know better than she does.

There are some lean years, often due to weather harming the crops. She also employs mostly women, many of them war widows. This is one of the reasons she keeps trying again every year – she doesn’t want to leave these women without jobs. She is stubborn, but it’s for a good cause!

She also faces a lot of personal heartbreak during these years, often from the loss of family members. She also feels the losses of her freedom to practice her religion, her family’s old way of life before the wars, and the loss of cultural norms she grew up with.

There is also a lot about winemaking in here! If you have any interest in wine, vineyards, etc. – that’s a fun aspect.

The year of the Great Comet brings the best harvest in years. Napoleon is finally facing defeat. But will the laws change in time for Barbe-Nicole to sell the fruits of that year’s labors?

This book comes out in paperback today, March 1st. I was given a copy by the author, Rebecca Rosenberg, who intends it to be the first in a series of novels about real-life women in the wine business.


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“The Paradox Hotel” by Rob Hart – Review

By: Angie Haddock


For someone with January Cole’s background, running security at a fancy hotel shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Except the Paradox is no ordinary hotel. Here, the ultra-wealthy guests are costumed for a dozen different time periods, all anxiously waiting to catch their “flights” to the past. And proximity to the timeport makes for an interesting stay. The clocks run backwards on occasion—and, rumor has it, ghosts stroll the halls.

A locked-room murder mystery set at a hotel for time travelers—in which a detective must solve an impossible crime even as her own sanity crumbles.

Goodreads


One of my (many) book email lists mentioned that the publisher of this one, Random House, was auto-approving all requests for it on NetGalley. Even though I had some other things on the docket, I thought I was due for some sci-fi – admittedly one of my favorite genres. So, on a lark, I added it to my list.

It was slow-going at first. Like with many books in this genre, it took a while for me to familiarize myself with the world that exists in The Paradox Hotel. But once I got going, I read huge chunks at a time, often needing to keep turning more pages!

The story takes place in our near-ish future, in the northern United States (seemingly upstate New York), in a time when time travel is a common vacation activity. The Paradox Hotel sits near Einstein, which is the machine/portal used for time travel. People who use time travel for recreation are often the ultra-rich, so that’s who the hotel mostly caters to.

Einstein, for obvious (don’t eff up the timeline) reasons, is controlled by the government. But, being in debt, they’re currently looking to privatize it. There are four billionaire-types coming to the hotel to bid for it, and a snowstorm raging outside. All the makings of a classic locked room scenario.

January Cole used to work at Einstein, as a sort of “time cop” who jumped into the timestream to stop people from doing crazy things (like killing Hitler, the usual). People who time travel too much, though, become “unstuck,” and start having episodes where they see things that happened in the past – or in the future. Having reached level one of being unstuck, Cole was reassigned to be the head of security at the nearby Parodox.

So, as the guests arrive, Cole is put on the spot to make sure things are all up to their high security standards. But there’s a dead body that only she can see – leading her to believe the murder hasn’t happened yet? – and problems with the internal security camera footage, in which large portions of data seem to have been erased.

The story, like so many involving time travel, gets twisty and weird. And sometimes philosophical. There is a lot of action, small incidents that add up to bigger issues, clues left along the way, and three dinosaurs on the loose inside the hotel. And all the while, Cole’s mental state is deteriorating, leading us to wonder how much of any of it is even real.

But aside from the actual story, the atmosphere of the hotel plays an important part in this book. There’s an element of “we’re all in this together” that seems relevant to the times we live in – the lower class hotel staff often being pushed around by their wealthy customers inspires them to stick up for one another on multiple occasions. The staff like to think of themselves as an extended family, and they are certainly a motley crew.

The colorful characters are part of the charm, I’d say. But I also did like the story, even though it was complicated at times. If you’re the type of person who could get through “Inception,” for example, I think you’d enjoy this story. If movies or books similar to that give you a headache, this one might not be for you.

This twisty sci-fi action adventure comes out today, February 22nd, 2022.


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“Wildcat: A Novel” by Amelia Morris – Review

By: Angie Haddock



New mother, aspiring writer, and former shopgirl Leanne has lost her way. As she struggles with both her grief and the haze of new motherhood, it also becomes clear that her best friend, the default queen of East Side Los Angeles, Regina Mark, might not actually be a friend at all.

-Goodreads


This is another book about a stay-at-home mom living near L.A. – so it was a little funny that I read it back-to-back with Adult Conversation. But the similarities pretty much end there.

This story follows Leanne, a new mom in her early thirties. She also has a book coming out, a lot of well-to-do friends in L.A., and some family baggage from back home in Pennsylvania. In fact, her dad died a week before she had her baby, and she couldn’t fly back for the funeral.

The book’s real drama comes from Leanne’s friends, though, and especially one named Regina. Leanne starts to realize how Regina’s world is so “curated,” every friend and party specifically picked to look good on social media, and/or to get her some publicity for her line of home goods.

Social media plays a big role in this book. I felt like this was a part of it I couldn’t really connect with – I’m on social media, but certainly don’t define my life by how many followers I have. Maybe it’s a generational thing? (Although I’m only a handful of years older than the main characters.) Even though this aspect of the drama didn’t ring true for me, I don’t doubt that it will for some people.

The idea that we compare ourselves to our friends – or maybe seek out friends who make us look good, or can introduce us to certain people we want to connect with – is pretty universal, though. (Even if some of us don’t live all of that out on Instagram alone.)

The initial rift between Leanne and Regina opens when Leanne realizes Regina is not vaccinating her baby. The story takes place pre-COVID, and uses a local measles outbreak to illustrate their stances on this topic. But of course, it’s coming out during COVID, so this aspect of the story could be seen as a “hot-button issue.” Not to say the book is overly political- but I feel like any reader who has strong feelings on that should know ahead of time that this issue plays a strong role in the book.

This book comes out on February 22nd. I won a copy from the publisher, Flatiron Books, in a Goodreads Giveaway.


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“Women Warriors From History” by H.G. Hicks – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Are you tired of the lack of female representation in history books and stories and wish your little lady had the example of some inspiring women to look up to?

In many areas, women can now achieve whatever their hearts desire for the first time in history… And yet not know how far they can go due to lack of historical example.

Women Warriors from History gives young, female readers the inspiration and motivation to fight for what they believe in.

Reedsy


The full title of this one is “Women Warriors From History: Badass Divas to Inspire Your Little Lady” – and already, I was left with more questions than answers! The use of “little lady” bothered me right from the start, as it sounds both antiquated and belittling. So is this book for… possessive men? Parents? It starts off talking about school textbooks, so I assume it’s actually aimed at young readers themselves. So, what’s up with this title?

The question of audience doesn’t stop there, as the author continuously uses the term “Badass Divas” to talk about the subjects of the book. Now, I am all for cussing, myself, but if the book is supposed to be for young readers I don’t know if this is a great tactic to use.

And, oh, get ready for a lot! of! exclamation! points!

I could go on about how terrible the writing is here, but an astute reader can probably already infer that it doesn’t get better.

I picked this book to read, though, because I do love the subject matter. Some good stories are in here – some I’d read about before, some I hadn’t – and the book does cover women from different time periods and cultures. A few of the topics include women Samurai, pirates, and queens. The author also covers healers (from when women could not officially become doctors), artists, and spiritual leaders.

One inclusion that I found odd was that of goddesses. As these women did not really live, and weren’t mortal humans, their inclusion felt unnecessary. However, if the point of talking about them was to show that some societies worshiped female deities, I guess I could see that as important?

There are some good and fun tidbits in here. If you are truly a young person, or someone who for whatever other reason has never read about women warriors or leaders, this might be a good intro to these topics. If you are an adult, and want to find detailed and well-written stories of women in history, I’m sure you could do better than this one.

I read this one through Reedsy Discovery, and my review also appears there.


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“The Book of Delights” by Ross Gay – Review

By: Angie Haddock


a genre-defying book of essays—some as short as a paragraph; some as long as five pages—that record the small joys that occurred in one year, from birthday to birthday, and that we often overlook in our busy lives. His is a meditation on delight that takes a clear-eyed view of the complexities, even the terrors, in his life, including living in America as a black man; the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture; the loss of those he loves.

Goodreads


This is another one off my TBR, and I honestly don’t remember how long it’s been there. But what a great one to be reading around New Year’s Eve! It even prompted my to start my own list – although mine is less eloquent than Ross Gay’s.

The idea is this: Ross set out to keep a chronicle of things that delighted him for one year, starting on his 42nd birthday (in August) and ending on his 43rd. It’s a little like a gratitude journal, but not quite. Also, since he is a poet by trade, his musings are wordy and worded in fun, unique ways. That is to say… reading his words are a delight in and of themselves, regardless of what delight he is talking about in any given chapter.

And the chapters are small, easy to read. Some are really just a paragraph.

His musings often center on plants, and other things found in nature (birds, bees); music; nostalgia and memories; and other people/people watching. And some of those are interconnected – music can bring up memories, often connected to other people, for example.

Many of the musings are really about connectedness, I think. His ones on people often describle how people greet one another, or whether or not he is acknowleged by people in his surrounding area (at the coffee shop, airport, etc.). One delight is about a stewardess calling him “baby!” So, while this is obviously a person who takes his gardening and plants seriously… he’s also very observant of the connections between humans.

A few fun quotes:

“And further, I wonder if this impulse suggests – and this is just a hypothesis, though, I suspect there is enough evidence to make it a theorem – that our delight grows as we share it.”

“It might be that the logics of delight interrupt the logics of capitalism.”

If you’re looking for a sweet little pick-me-up sometime, keep this one in mind.


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“Adult Conversation” by Brandy Ferner – Review

By: Angie Haddock


April is a thoughtful yet sarcastic mother of two who tries her best to be a caring, connected mom in a middle-class culture where motherhood has become relentless. April rages at modern motherhood’s impossible pressures, her husband’s “Dad privilege,” and her kids’ incessant snack requests. She wants to enjoy motherhood, but her idealist vision and lived experience are in constant conflict with one another. Is she broken—or is motherhood?

Goodreads


This book came out in 2020, but I just got around to reading it… familiar story, right?

It starts out as expected – frazzled mom juggling two kids and all the craziness that comes with that (like goldfish crackers and Baby Shark). If you’re a mom who is in that phase now, or can remember it vividly, you will definitely see yourself in many of her daily struggles! I know I laughed out loud at some of the random, everyday stuff she brings up.

But, this story doesn’t just stay in that lane. Oh, no, it gets wild.

April decides to go out of her comfort zone and find a therapist. Just the act of going is a challenge, as it requires her to put on real pants and get someone to watch the kids.

There is a very harrowing scene just over half way through the book that definitely made my heart start racing. This incident brings her closer to her therapist, despite rules of professionalism.

As these women’s lives become more intertwined, things get both scary and fun. (If you know the name Calvin Broadus, and what his “supply” might be… it’s involved. Just sayin’. Cue up your favorite nineties hip-hop while reading.)

April comes to a place where she can appreciate her life. She still needs to work on some things, for sure, but she’s getting there.

I first heard of this book on Facebook, and you can follow the author’s musings there.


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“Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead ” by Emily Austin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Gilda, a twenty-something lesbian, cannot stop ruminating about death. Desperate for relief from her panicky mind and alienated from her repressive family, she responds to a flyer for free therapy at a local Catholic church, and finds herself being greeted by Father Jeff, who assumes she’s there for a job interview. Too embarrassed to correct him, Gilda is abruptly hired to replace the recently deceased receptionist Grace.

Goodreads


This one came out earlier this year, and immediately intrigued me. I’m not one to ruminate about death too much myself, but the idea of a lesbian atheist pretending to be Catholic was too funny for me to pass up.

Like with “The Midnight Library,” the only complaints I’d seen online about this one were about how depressing the lead character is. So, if you’re not in the mood for that, don’t pick this one as your next read.

Admittedly, Gilda is weird. And depressed. She goes for long periods of time without washing a single dish or cup in her apartment, until they’re stacked so high they end up toppling over. She sits on the edges of bridges while contemplating death. There are a lot of reasons to be worried about this character’s well-being.

But she’s a good person at heart, and I’d even say she’s probably an overly sensitive person who sees/feels everything going on around her. She is worried that her younger brother drinks too much, and angry that her parents don’t see it. She is worried about a neighborhood cat that has gone missing.

She takes a job at a Catholic church, replacing the old secretary who passed away – and is concerned for her friends who will miss her, even though Gilda herself never met the deceased.

But her time at the church was amusing to me, a practicing Catholic. She contemplates religion as a whole, and some of the specific practices she learns while at her job. Some quotes that made me laugh out loud:

“Organ music reminds me more of Halloween and demons that it does of heaven and cherubs.”

“I bet that baby would be absolutely baffled to hear why she’s enduring this. Imagine someone forced you to wear a miniature wedding gown, dunked you underwater in front of an audience of your loved ones, and then explained that their rationale for doing so was so that when you die your spirit would fly to the clouds. If I were this baby, my first words would be ‘fuck off.'”

So, yea, entertaining observations such as these are why I enjoyed this book, despite a lot of it being a bit morbid.


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