“The Watchers: The Tomb” by Carl Novakovich – Review

By: Angie Haddock


John Gideon, a former homicide detective turned P.I., has dug too deep and discovered the truth about the world while searching for the only family he has left. John and his new partner, Beth May – a spell-wielding demon who has turned her back on Hell – are humanity’s last hope to stop a collective of Fallen Angels known as The Watchers and a hierarchy of demons from breaking the first of the Seven Seals of Revelation.

-Goodreads


This was a quick and easy-to-read romp through an alternate version of current day Chicago – a version that includes a few demons and fallen angels, and the havoc that they can create.

Chicago P.D. detective John and his partner, Walter, are initially working on a missing persons case. There are a bunch of them from the past few years, and they have something in common – the missing person seems to have little to no history. So, finding leads has been hard. They finally catch a break, and bring in a suspect linked to one of the victims – but then Walter starts acting funny. Before that night is through, both Walter and the suspect are nowhere to be found.

John quits the force, and opens his own private investigation firm. But it’s mostly an excuse for him to spend all his time looking for Walter. A friend who still works at the P.D. gives him a lead that allows John to find the missing suspect again. He ends up finding a lot more, including people who seem to wield inhuman/magical powers.

Enter Beth, who has secretly been keeping an eye on John for years. She is actually over 100 years old, and first started protecting the city with the help of John’s great-great-great grandfather. His family line is important to protecting the demons from unleashing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who are imprisoned underneath a city water pumping station.

The POV shifts around within the book, which I found a bit odd. But, not hard to follow. The action is quick and keeps the story moving at a good pace.

This book is the start of a series, which the author intends to eventually be seven books long. He independently published this one in January, and then re-released it with Next Chapter Publishing in September. Currently, he is writing the third book while the second one is being edited.

You can find this book on Amazon, in both digital and paperback.


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“Yume” by Sifton Tracey Anipare – Review

By: Angie Haddock

A modern-day fantasy novel about demons, dreams, and a young woman teaching English in Japan.

Goodreads


This was a pretty hefty read – the paperback is expected to come in at 536 pages – with twisty and sometimes intense story lines. I am also not very well-versed in Japanese mythology, so I definitely took a while getting through this one. But it was certainly a wild and colorful ride!

Our main characters are Cybelle and Zaniel, although they don’t officially meet each other until the middle of the book. Cybelle is a black woman, originally from Canada, who has been teaching English in Japan for a handful of years now. Zaniel has a day job that is unimportant to the story… but by night, he finds human women for his boss, a demanding yokai named Akki.

How gorgeous is this cover?!

The world of yokai (mythical creatures of all shapes, sizes, and abilities) has been rocked recently by the arrival of a new creature. She grows larger and more powerful by eating – and she can also turn anything she wants into food to eat. At one point this includes Akki’s house, which puts her immediately at odds with the hot-tempered elder yokai.

Meanwhile, Cybelle is struggling to decide whether or not to renew her contract at the English school. The kids and parents are mostly ok, but she only gets along with one of her co-workers. She still feels like an outsider, at work and out in the world, even though she’s lived in Japan for over five years.

SEMI-SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT!

The new yokai eating her way through the dream world is Cybelle, when she’s asleep. I say this is a semi-spoiler because I felt like it was fairly evident from early on… but Cybelle herself doesn’t understand it until the end of the story.

Zaniel, being well-versed in yokai, figures out the new yokai’s identity much earlier. This is what brings him to Cybelle’s school, acting like he’s applying for a job. He really wants to get to know her real life persona, and thinks that they can help each other.

Their adventures together are wild – both the ones they take in person, and in the mythical dream world. This is where the book really starts gaining speed, in my opinion. As Akki comes after them, and they need to fight to save themselves, things also start to get pretty gruesome.

One of the interesting things to ponder throughout this story is how Cybelle’s feelings – being an outsider, being different, being tired and hungry – seem like intangibles in the real world, but are then very real in the dream world. How much of her transforming into a yokai directly came from these feelings? Or was it something else entirely – a cursed object or apartment?

This was a fun read, although not a quick one. It is the author’s first novel, and the part about teaching English in Japan is autobiographical. This book comes out today, but I was able to read an advanced copy through Netgalley and Dundurn Press.


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“Beautiful Country: A Memoir” by Qian Julie Wang – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Yet when seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994 full of curiosity, she is overwhelmed by crushing fear and scarcity. In China, Qian’s parents were professors; in America, her family is “illegal” and it will require all the determination and small joys they can muster to survive.

Goodreads


This was a good, albeit sometimes heartbreaking, read. Because the main character is only a handful of years younger than I am, I could identify with some of her memories that related to pop culture – the clothes, toys, books, and TV shows of the nineties make many appearances.

Qian tells first of her life in China – or, what little she remembers of it, since she was fairly young. But overall, her life there was pretty good. Like most kids, she didn’t really think about it or worry too much – it just was what it was.

And then, her dad left to come to America. She began to fear that he wouldn’t come back. A year later, she and her mom joined him in New York City.

She had previously only known of America through TV and movies, and she had heard that everyone there was rich. So it boggled her mind that her family had to live the way they did while there.

They often shared one room, in houses where other rooms were rented to other families, and they all shared one bathroom and kitchen. There were sometimes rats. Her parents worked long hours in miserable conditions, in places like sweatshops and fish factories. They garbage-picked their furniture.

Qian herself was first put into special education classes, because she couldn’t speak English. It seemed no one at her school was entirely prepared to help her with that. But, with a library card and a love of reading, she soon taught herself. Kids are both smart and resilient.

Even when she started doing better in school, though, she couldn’t quite shake her “outsider” status. Mostly because her parents couldn’t afford the clothes, shoes, and toys that the other kids thought were cool year after year.

Her parents had both been professors in China. Her dad seemed resigned to his fate – that they’d just have to be poor in America. He was probably depressed. Her mom was not ready to give up so easily. She put herself through some additional schooling, with the hopes of getting better jobs someday. Her mom also got very ill for a while, however. After her recovery, she was determined to get herself and Qian out of their miserable conditions – even if Qian’s dad didn’t want to come along.

If you want to know what happens, pick up a copy – “Beautiful Country” comes out today! I was able to read an advanced copy through NetGalley and Doubleday Books.


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“Twice a Daughter” by Julie Ryan McGue – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Julie is adopted. She is also a twin. Because their adoption was closed, she and her sister lack both a health history and their adoption papers―which becomes an issue for Julie when, at forty-eight years old, she finds herself facing several serious health issues.

Julie’s search for her birth relatives spans years and involves a search agency, a PI, a confidential intermediary, a judge, an adoption agency, a social worker, and a genealogist. By journey’s end, what began as a simple desire for a family medical history has evolved into a complicated quest―one that unearths secrets, lies, and family members that are literally right next door.

Goodreads


The Goodreads description gives away the entire plot of this memoir, really… but of course, there are tons of juicy details and emotional entanglements within the pages.

When the story begins, Julie is actually resistant to the idea of trying to find her birth parents. She is largely afraid of rocking the boat with the parents who raised her. Her husband, Steve, pushes her into starting this journey, though – for her own health, and that of their four children.

She gets her twin sister to agree to split the costs with her, but Julie is going to be the person doing the work. Her dad is supportive from the beginning, but her mom is not.

While initially interested only in medical histories, Julie becomes more engrossed in the emotional aspects of her search – wondering why her birth parents gave her up, if they’ll want to meet, and whether or not she has half-siblings.

Even after trying to obtain her original birth certificate, she hits one road block after another. The first one is a big one: Her mom used an alias on her original birth certificate, and the father isn’t listed at all. Apparently this was easier to do back in the 1950s.

Working in her favor, as far as the records are concerned, is that she is a twin. There could only be so many sets of twins born on a given day at a given hospital, right?

Also working in her favor are a lot of sympathetic people within the courts, Catholic Charities, and other avenues Julie tries to reach out to for help. In addition, the family members she eventually locates often bristle at the intrusion at first – but then soften because they have adopted members of their current families, and can understand the issues from both sides.

The issues at play are, of course, the birth parents’ rights to privacy versus the adoptees’ rights to know their history.

Most of Julie’s search takes place around a decade ago. She and her sister do use a DNA-testing kit to see if that gets them any leads, but to no avail. I have to imagine that the increase in use of such sites (and kits) in recent years is now shaking up the implied privacy that birth parents assumed they had in earlier eras.

(Backlist bump on that topic: “Inheritance” by Dani Shapiro.)

Overall, this was a good read. Not too heavy, but it can tug at the heartstrings here and there. It might be even more emotional for you if you’ve gone through something similar.

This book comes out today from She Writes Press, and I was able to read an Advance Reader’s Copy through Books Forward.


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“Firekeeper’s Daughter ” by Angeline Boulley – Review

By: Angie Haddock



As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Goodreads


I was interested in this one as soon as I saw the gorgeous cover, but the title and the description also added to my intrigue. My first reaction was, “This book has everything!” It’s YA, and from an own voices/BIPOC perspective. It has romance, sports, crime. There are other very relevant issues at play, as well, so let’s dive in.

Our main character is Daunis Fontaine, who is half Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and half white. She lives in the Upper Peninsula area of Michigan – which is significant, as people in her town cross the Canadian border with ease. A lot of the action actually takes place on Sugar Island, which is in the river that acts as the international border in this area.

There is quite a bit of the usual teen drama here, including hating on exes and contemplating jobs/colleges. But Daunis has some extra weight hanging around such decisions, as her mom is currently taking care of her own mom after the loss of her brother (Daunis’ grandma and uncle, respectively). She has a complicated family history, in which her white side hasn’t always been kind to (or even accepting of) her Ojibwe side. She is close to her half-brother, who is a local hockey star. Daunis herself played, until an injury cut her hockey career short. She is still close to the players, though, both past and present.

She is also close to her father’s sister, who plays a prominent role in the story. Aunt Teddie is one of Daunis’ closest ties to her Indigenous side’s histories and traditions. Her best friend Lily, and Lily’s grandma, are also great windows into this culture.

The action really picks up after Daunis witnesses a murder. She hadn’t realized that the FBI had been running an undercover investigation in her area already, and gets roped into being an informant. The investigation is concerned with drugs being made and distributed in the area. I felt like this was another layer that made this book super relevant, as the opioid epidemic has affected many communities over the past decade or so. The effects that drugs are having on her friends and former teammates is the primary reason Daunis agrees to get involved. She questions her involvement often – especially as it involves not being honest with her family at times – but keeps coming back to the idea of helping her community.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here, but there is a lot going on. Some parts are gut-wrenching. Other parts made me cheer. (The elders in the community are kick-ass on several levels.) This book definitely had a huge emotional impact.

There are some hard truths presented at the end that are very frustrating, but realistic. Not every strand in this story gets wrapped up in a positive or convenient fashion. That’s not to say there isn’t sufficient wrap-up here, because I think the author leaves Daunis in a good place, ultimately. But you will be angry at some of the injustices left bare.

I loved this book, even when I wanted to yell at it. There is a whole community of interesting characters, which feels a lot like the reality of growing up in a tight-knit community. The females are mostly fierce, which I’m all for. While the main characters are in their late teens, there are good representations of people of all ages.

This book comes out today, March 16th, through MacMillan. I was able to read an advanced digital copy through Netgalley. Also, it is already slated to be adapted for the screen on Netflix.


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“Prepped” by Bethany Mangle – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Always be ready for the worst day of your life.

This is the mantra that Becca Aldaine has grown up with. Her family is part of a community of doomsday preppers, a neighborhood that prioritizes survivalist training over class trips or senior prom. They’re even arranging Becca’s marriage with Roy Kang, the only eligible boy in their community. Roy is a nice guy, but he’s so enthusiastic about prepping that Becca doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s planning to leave as soon as she can earn a full ride to a college far, far away.

Goodreads


This was described as a YA romance, so I went into it thinking it would be a little on the fluffy side. I was intrigued by the setting – it takes place within a community of doomsday preppers – but thought that was going to be kind of a quirky hook to make it different than other YA novels.

I was not prepared for how poignant, tense, and frustrating this novel was going to be! The kids in this community literally exist to keep the species going, and calling the parents “detached” would be an understatement. In many ways, those aspects reminded me of Tara Westover’s “Educated.” The parents are often using the kids for free labor, putting them in harm’s way, and acting like any harm (physical or emotional) that they inflict is good for the kids.

Thankfully, this story is fictional. But, like any good piece of fiction, the emotions it brings up are very real.

The heroine here is Becca Adlaine, whose parents run the aforementioned prepper community. She is a high school senior, and has every intention of leaving as soon as she can… but, she also has a younger sister. A lot of the story focuses on this relationship, and Becca worrying about whether she can leave her sister behind or try to save her.

Becca’s relationships with her parents are also fraught with difficulties. She both hates them for the way they are, and still kind of loves them because… well, because they’re her parents? I have known people like this, who are still fiercely dedicated to abusive parents because they feel the pull of family ties. So, while I struggle with understanding this dynamic myself, I do acknowledge that it is real for some people.

There are also logistical issues with running away – like how to get away, how to make money to live on, etc.

The Adlaines picked out Becca’s future husband for her already – a boy in her grade named Roy Kang. His family is newer to the community, and they are Korean American, so this will diversify the gene pool. Becca is less than enthused, for obvious reasons. It also irks her that Roy seems to go along with all the training drills and such with no complaints. While she may not like Roy romantically, she is comfortable with him – he’s one of the only people who understands her upbringing, and they have a long history of shared experiences.

Photograph by James Mangle

All that changes when Roy reveals that he doesn’t believe in this prepper stuff, either. He just goes along to get along with his parents. Now, with two of them, there’s a better chance that they can make a plan that will work.

Let me interject here that Bethany Mangle is a Korean American herself, and specifically wanted to write the love interest in the book to be Korean American. However, his ethnicity is not Roy’s defining trait by any means.

Becca (and Roy) have a few other allies: one is another student in their grade, Sydney, who is not a part of the prepper community. Another is one of Becca’s teachers, Mrs. Garcia. While these two characters do not know all of what Becca is going through, she confides bits and parts to them as needed, and they both protect her secrets and help when they can.

Hopefully, I’ve given you a lot about the emotional punch of this story without giving away too many of the plot details. I didn’t want this review to be so full of spoilers that you don’t go pick up this book!

The book is being released on February 23rd, 2021. I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy through the Books Forward program and NetGalley.


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“Future Furious” by W.K. Valentine – Review

By: Angie Haddock


As the hunters become the hunted, Hen and her crew must run. Run from the bloodthirsty mercenaries and corporate soldiers on their tails. Run from the pasts that rear up to confront them. And run straight into the high-stakes conflict against a ruthless world designed to suck them dry and grind them beneath its heel. 

Goodreads


I seem to be on a sci-fi action/adventure kick lately (see last week’s review of Persephone Station), and this is the second one I’ve read lately with a female-led group of mercenaries! Interesting trend to watch out for? I could get on board with it.

The similarities end there, though, as the plot and tone of this one is completely different.

“Future Furious” takes place in a time when humans have colonized many of the planets and moons within our own (currently known) solar system, but haven’t gone further than that yet. This particular story takes place on Ganymede, but our characters are in contact with others on Mars, Io, etc.

Government has been replaced by the top five corporations operating across the colonies. The entire culture is dictated by commercialism, advertising, and capitalism run rampant. It’s an exaggerated version of our current culture, especially if you consider the way our present-day online overlords (think, social media) utilize our personal data to tailor their sites to our personalities.

Hen is our crew’s leader, a forty-ish “Mother Hen” to the various down-on-their-luck troublemakers she’s rehabilitated over the years. In between the current action, we see glimpses into all of their tragic pasts.

(There’s also a character who – while we don’t learn much about him – would definitely be played by Sam Elliott if this was a movie.)

The action starts to pick up when the crew takes a gig looking for Knickers, who turns out to be an overly-enthusiastic lead singer of a glam-punk band called Space Trash. He’s also a bit of a kleptomaniac, and he snagged a souvenir that the leading corporation on Ganymede wants back. Knickers and his sister, Layla, are now on the run… along with Hen’s crew, who stumbled into this mess unwittingly.

This book has a lot of humor in it. It’s not for anyone who’s easily offended by cussing, though. One line that illustrates both of these points:

“You look like shit,” Lin said as Hen neared the glass. “Actually, you look like some shit that shit ate and then shit out.”

The writing style can be a little choppy, which took me a minute to get used to. There are quite a few shorter sentence fragments that could easily be combined into a longer sentence. An example:

They sloshed their way through the dank, dingy sewers. Bacchus and Dionysus following closely.

It’s not a deal breaker for me, necessarily, but I did feel like it broke up the flow sometimes. So, that’s just a head’s up for the grammar junkies out there who can get caught up in that sort of thing.

Overall, I thought this was a good read. It was fun, and fast-paced. More impressive was that it’s by a first-time author, who recently gave up teaching English to try his hand at writing! He’s hoping to create more stories with these characters, and the world he created in this book is definitely rich enough to sustain some more great adventures.

You can find/read “Future Furious” on Amazon, and follow the author on Tumblr.


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