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This cave is cursed.” 


There’s a lot of things in Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead that are relatable in our present day post-Covid world.  The isolation of working alone.  The inability to scratch an itch for fear of unknown contaminants invading your body.  Demanding bosses who want to control your every bodily function while waking you up at unreasonable hours with Zoom calls.  An ever growing feeling of existential dread with each passing day.  The threat of giant alien subterranean space worms that can move between rock molecules hunting you down and cutting you apart.  All things that can be a constant worry in these tremulous 2020 times and in a few centuries when humanity has spread capitalism to alien planets.  In an almost Michael Crichton like fashion, Caitlin Starling weaves a fast-paced, believable sci-fi thriller where mistakes of the past can rise to haunt the present.  Sometimes literally.

Allegory of the Cave aka: The Plot

Our protagonist Grye is a strong, confident, sarcastic, POC woman who may be in way over her head.  Desperate to get enough money to leave her inhospitable home planet of Casandra-V in order to search for the mother that left her behind, she lies about her work experience in order to get hired for a dangerous cave mapping expedition with terrible benefits and a very low survival rate.  Her only support on her expedition; her equally controlling and maniacally goal oriented boss and handler, Em.  But Em’s objectives for the expedition may not be as straightforward as Grye first assumes.  

Jeff Bezos wishes he had this much control over his workers.

As the dangers of the expedition, and the bodies of the cavers that came before her, start to pileup, can Grye really trust Em, herself, or the fact that she’s truly alone on the expedition?  

No meat and potatoes but lots of food canisters

The setup may be simple but the journey is anything but.  The claustrophobia of the cave, deadly submerged tunnels, malfunctioning suits and underground terrors known and unknown creeps in slowly as you read like a increasingly loud heartbeat.  While the cave may resemble some of our own earthly subterranean spaces, there’s always some unique and unexpected alien flora or fauna (did I mention GIANT WORMS) that reminds you this isn’t your casual earth spelunking. I wish I could tell you more of what to expect, but as the unforeseen happens, and contingency plans fail, it’s the terror of wondering what’s going to happen next to Grye that keeps you up at night biting your nails.

While the detailed and repetitive descriptions of Grye’s journey may put off some readers, the prompt realization that any wrong move on Grye or Em’s part is instant death for Grye makes for some realistic heart-pounding reading since when things go wrong for Grye they go very wrong.  It’s easy to fly through this book as if it was the hot summer blockbuster that we’re all currently missing.  The fact that both the main characters happen to be POC and LGBT just adds wonderful color to some already complex and believable characters.  The fine line between trust and betrayal, survival and death, obsession and determination; if you want to find out what it looks like look no further than The Luminous Dead. Oh, and there’s giant worms.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Book Reviews

What Have We Done: Alex Finlay Produces Another Hit

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  • Jenna: A stay at home mom with a secret assassin past
  • Donnie: An alcoholic rock star
  • Nico: An executive producer of a reality television show

They all have a past, but who is out to get them?

The Plot

Jenna, Donnie, and Nico share a troubled past. They were all orphans who lived at Savior House — which is much less savior, much more terror. When their friend Benny, a famous judge, is murdered and the FBI comes looking, Jenna, Donnie, and Nico must race against the clock to figure out who is targeting them.

The Verdict

From the author of The Night Shift, which I reviewed here, I would expect nothing less than what Finlay has delivered. Finlay notoriously creates stories with palpable thrill and spine-tingling revelations.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Jenna. She is a reformed assassin living a normal life as a new stepmom. When she is called in to make a hit and her family is threatened, she goes badass mom on ’em. While I still thought Donnie and Nico as characters were engaging, it was nothing for what I felt for Jenna.

Also, major props to Finlay for creating a character that kills with a very unique weapon. Read it to find out more!

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Buy it here!

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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