First and foremost, I would say that “A Song Below Water” fits more comfortably in the magical realism realm of fantasy, rather than urban fantasy, and here’s why. In this version of America (and Portland where the story takes place) mythical creatures like sirens, elokos, sprites, and mermaids are real and their existence is not questioned. Tavia is a siren, and her best friend/sister is not, but is sent to live with Tavia for her own protection. They have a gargoyle that sits on their roof and people don’t really care outside of the creature being rare and therefore a bit of a novelty, even though Tavia’s dad really wishes it wouldn’t come around. Because Tavia’s father is terrified of his daughter and doesn’t want the added attention to their home. He’s not scared for her, not anymore, but of her. But the story doesn’t focus a ton on that aspect of the relationship outside of Tavia’s extreme pain and isolation centered around her feeling like her family hates her and wishes she was anything other than a siren. There’s a lot of trauma this book addresses, both familial and racial, but the racial aspects take front and center, as they should, but it leaves the family aspect a bit unresolved. For “A Song Below Water” is not about Black sirens, but about being Black while being a siren.
“Between Starfalls” is an epic fantasy with a robust world and a large cast of characters. Our main characters are part of a culture that reveres nature and sacred rituals (think elves) but is kind of anti-magic, even though several of their members have psionic abilities. They are a society often plagued by attacks by an enemy they know nothing about. When, Kameada, one of the main characters, is attacked before their Starfall celebration, she decides to take her adopted son up the mountain path alone, where a series of very convenient unfortunate events leads to legends becoming life, and repercussions that they never see coming. This book takes a while to get going, but once it does, you’re in for a treat.
“System Collapse” probably would have been better if it was part of the novel “Network Effect”. There, I said it. The two stories are only vaguely separate, and the thing that Murderbot says it’ll do come the end of “Network Effect” doesn’t actually happen until the end of “System Collapse”. Which is kind of confusing I know, imagine how I felt reading this. The events of the latest novella follow right after the full-length book, like immediately after, which is why I am glad I re-read the novel before starting this latest novella because, otherwise, I’d have been lost throughout.
I’ll be the first to admit that “Act Your Age, Eve Brown” was, out of the Brown sister’s series, the one I was looking forward to reading the least. From the brief snippets I saw of Eve in Chloe and Dani’s books, she always kind of annoyed me. So, to say I was a bit apprehensive about her book would be putting it mildly, but man, did Eve prove me wrong just like she did to her family. Eve is a super sunshine character with certain… quirks. She’s so afraid of failing that she quits just as things start to get hard to avoid the stigma of being a failure. It’s terribly relatable, and her parents’ reaction to their twenty-six-year-old child “failing to launch” is totally understandable, too. That’s how Eve finds herself in the country interviewing, on a whim, for the chef position of an adorable bed and breakfast. Typical romance hijinks ensue, and Eve is forced to take the job, and take care of the owner who she hit with her car, out of guilt. I really enjoyed the kind of twist on the sunshine and grumpy love interests that came out of this too, because neither is happy or grumpy just for the sake of it, which is why Hibbert is my favorite romance author.
If you’re looking for a futuristic semi-dystopian where country disputes are settled through Olympic-style virtual sporting events played to the death (kind of like the Hunger Games), but with a distinctly “Matrix” vibe to it, well, that’s “MegaDeath” in a nutshell. In this futuristic version of the world, the global pecking order is decided every 4 years through a series of virtual simulator competitions which have replaced all wars. Sounds kind of nice, except the losing team dies and there’s something very fishy going on with the bets people make around these top athletes, and the Control system that puts on these virtual games. That’s where our main character, Megan, comes in. She is the elite of the elite when it comes to dominating in these games, but she doesn’t play for glory. She plays because she is in such intense anger and grief that she wants these games to punish her. That’s really compelling, but, unfortunately, Megan spent too long being an unlikable character to really get me invested in her, or the conflict.
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