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Friday, March 13, 2020

What I'm Reading: "Creatures of Charm and Hunger" and "Eden"

The current issue of Booklist Magazine contains two reviews by me. Both are excellent for a wide library audience, and although I did not give either a star, both were as close as you can get.

As always, these posts include my draft review and I have added additional information including, but not limited to further comments on appeal and my "Three Words."

Creatures of Charm and Hunger.

Tanzer, Molly (author).
Apr. 2020. 320p. Houghton/Mariner, $16.99  (9780358065210)
First published March 15, 2020 (Booklist).
Jane and Miriam are young women on the cusp of adulthood living in a small, British town during the waning days of WWII. Jane, the fashionable daughter of Nancy longs for the life of excitement lived by her Aunt Edith in Paris, while the pensive, Jewish, Miriam is thankful that Nancy is raising her as a daughter while her parents are on the run. But this is not your typical WWII historical tale because all of these women are part of a generations old society of diabolists. The girls are not only about to begin their apprenticeship, but the society is also actively fighting Nazi diabolists. Alternating between the point of view of each girl as they explore their new powers, making choices about how to best employ their special knowledge, choices with very dire consequences for themselves, their families, and the entire world, this is a compelling, fun, and thought provoking story of magical adventure, coming of age, sacrifice, and family. Jane and Miriam are the center of it all, directing the storytelling with their actions, choices, and most importantly, their secrets, secrets which add a lingering darkness to the entire tale. This, the third in Tanzer’s Diabolist’s Library series of connected novels, provides a different frame and complimentary details from the previous two, all which serve to deepen the world building but never feel repetitive. For example, here readers are treated to extensive details about how the magical society employs their skills, communicates with one and other, and trains new members. The entire series can be read in any order and is an excellent choice for fans of Seanan McGuire, Alma Katsu, and Erin Morgenstern.

YA Statement: With its headstrong, young protagonists trying to find themselves as adults, and exploring their place within the diabolical world amidst the tumult of war, this is a perfect choice for teens, especially those who enjoy dark fantasy with strong world building details.
Further Appeal: This series of linked books should become a go-to sure bet suggestion for all readers who enjoy dark fantasy with strong female characters who refuse to fit into the stereotypes of their world. Those three readalike writers in the review above also exemplify that. And all four of these female writers are not afraid to make their women characters complicated. They are not all good or all bad. They have a nuance that is honest and refreshing.

Also bonus: because the series does NOT have to be read in order, you can confidently suggest any of the three titles at any time. This is so helpful as we work with readers.

This novel has a sense of menace that comes from the dark magic and the Nazi elements equally, but it is not violent. This is a story full of dread and fear which is appropriate to the plot and setting. There are uncomfortable moments for sure, but it is light on the terror and blood scale [unlike the review coming next].

Three Words That Describe This Book: atmospheric, strong world building, character centered

Readalikes: The three authors above are perfect readalikes for the entire series. I have also reviewed the other two books in the series and provided more readalike authors here and here.


Lebbon, Tim (author).
Apr. 2020. 368p. Titan, $14.95 (9781789092936); e-book (9781789092943)
First published March 15, 2020 (Booklist).

The eco-thriller takes a deadly turn in this action packed, unsettling, and violent tale of nature out for revenge by British horror author, Lebbon [The Silence]. In a future world where climate change has reached a tipping point, world powers unite to create “Virgin Zones,” areas across the globe that are given back to nature, a final attempt to save the planet. Into the largest and oldest of these zones sneaks a veteran adventure team, comprised of people with diverse backgrounds, attempting to be the first humans to cross the zone. As dangerous as it is to enter this guarded, people free zone, once they are inside, the team encounters a landscape unlike any they have ever seen before. Not only has nature reclaimed the land in obvious ways, but it also seems to be actively trying to stop humanity from being there at all, at any cost! Told mostly through the eyes of leader Dylan and his daughter Jenn, readers are introduced to the team members, learn the differing motivations which drive them to a life of extreme, endurance adventures, and watch as what should have been just another trip, quickly transform from eerie to threatening to mortally dangerous. With each chapter prefaced by “found” documents from the wider conversation about the “Virgin Zones” adding both context and dread in equal measure, this is an unsettling story from its first lines, punctuated with a sense of doom that intensifies both the pacing and the anxiety level with each turn of the page. Readers looking for a horror-thriller hybrid will love every minute. Mix the weird, unsettling frame of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, with the international, horror-adventure of Christopher Golden’s Ben Walker Series, and add the terror of nature hell bent on revenge in Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians and you will understand the wide audience who will be drawn to this terrifying tale.
Further Appeal: This is definitely a violent, bloody, and intense tale, but it needs to be. The situation is extreme and the team is experienced in high stakes adventure racing. They would not ever give up unless they would be killed while attempting to do it, and even then.....

The world building is excellent. The found documents that preface each chapter allow the pacing to stay unrelentingly fast while still giving us all of the background information we need to understand this near future world. Also these quotes enhance the seriousness and dread.

The characters are fine here. Because of the pacing and the adventure aspects, they are drawn fairly quickly.  There are good details into their motivations and relationships, but this is NOT a character centered tale. It is the plot and the frame that drives everything. But even me, a character centered reader, very much enjoyed this novel.

What I do love about the characters is that they are from a cross section of the world. They realistically come from different backgrounds and experiences, as one would expect from an international team of experts. If everyone was white, able bodied, and heterosexual it would have been weird.

Finally, the VanderMeer comparisons above are very accurate. The monster[s] and how they manifest and attack are very different from the Southern Reach series but definitely influenced by the idea of that novel. Expect a weird and disorienting menace and the detailed descriptions of the blood and gore that results.

Three Words That Describe This Book: violent, intense, fast paced

Readalikes: The three options above accurately explain what you will get, but if I had to pick only one book to compare this novel to it would be The Ruins by Scott Smith. I did not put it in the review because I try not to recommend titles more than 5 years old; however, it is no secret that The Ruins is one of my all time favorite horror titles. That title is 100% horror, Eden, is a horror-thriller. That distinction matters because it gives readers a clue as how it will end. [Hint: thrillers will never end in complete despair and defeat; horror could.]

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