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BOOK REVIEW: Kallie Reviews A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL by John Hornor Jacobs and SKEIN ISLAND by Aliya Whiteley

I first read John Hornor Jacobs after a friend suggested him to me. I instantly became a huge fan of his and reading A Lush and Seething Hell made me an even bigger fan. The book is composed of two stories, one of which I like a bit more than the other, but I’ll get to that. This book is described as cosmic horror and that is spot on. This book is unsettling and it sticks with the reader long after they’ve finished it. The first story is “The Sea Dreams it is the Sky.” It follows a mysterious poet and a young woman he meets in a cafe. Jacobs seems to have a knack for world-building and I would love to read a series from him. He pays such close attention to the backstory, character building, and small details that it really feels like he has a  huge background for even the side characters. It all feels so real when you’re reading it, like you could have heard of any of these characters on the news you watched this morning when you awoke. 

The pacing of the first story seemed a little off-balance to me. There was a lot that happened in the last quarter of it, but the first three felt slow. That first seventy-five percent of the story wasn’t boring, but it just seemed too slow compared to the last twenty-five. This story ended up getting very gory and I loved it. But, if you’ve read any of my reviews before, you know that I am heartless when it comes to gore and violence. The more the merrier, I say. The story ended up breaking my entire heart and not telling me exactly why. It didn’t answer all of the questions I had, but if there is ever more written in this world, I will be first in line to read about it. I give “The Sea Dreams it is the Sky” 4 stars and recommend it to any horror lovers that wants a good story to think on for a while.

The next story is called “My Heart Struck Sorrow” and it is by far my favorite of the two. Being a musician and a book lover, this story was basically written just for me. It’s about a librarian that is tasked with cataloging an estate that was left to their company. When going through the home, he finds the journals of a man from The Library of Congress who worked to collect the folk songs of the 1930’s. The story follows the journals and also the librarian going back and forth between the two. A certain song keeps popping up in the journals and it becomes apparent that both the author of the journals and the librarian are becoming obsessed with the song. We follow along as they each journey to find the meaning of the song for themselves.

This story, like the first, had so much amazing detail and character studies. Every person mentioned was interesting and felt extremely real. Unlike the first story, this story had a great pace. Everything felt timed to perfection and it left me wanting more. “My Heart Struck Sorrow” is a must-read for every horror lover. I wish Jacobs would expand on this story. I know that this author is a musician and I would love to see what he would do with this story as a series. This one gets 5 stars from me.

Skein Island is a privately owned island off the coast of Decon. No men are allowed to step foot on the island and women can’t go unless they are invited for a week-long refuge from their normal lives. The only thing you’re required to do once you’re on the island is to write out your declaration. Your declaration, a story from your past, will be put in to the island’s library and kept there long after your departure. But what is done with them after you’ve left? And why are no men allowed on the island? 

Aliya Whiteley is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and this book solidified that for me. It was one of those books that had enough little mysteries along the way that I couldn’t put it down. I had to keep reading to find the answers. 

Our main character, Marrianne, is invited to the island right before an incident at her workplace puts her life in shambles. Her husband, David, doesn’t want her to go and is left alone when she ultimately decides to go for her own week-long refuge. Marrianne is awesome. She is a motivated and smart woman and she seems like a real human. Her actions and motivations were sensible. David, on the other hand, I kind of hate. Whiteley is a pro at writing social commentary without having to come out and say exactly what she means. It’s all in the tone of the writing. For me, David’s character is a perfect example of that. It took me a while to realize that he wasn’t just a character I didn’t like. He was written as someone that forced me to take a look at gender roles in relationships. To put it plainly, he is the kind of partner that needs to constantly save people because he thought he was the only one that could do it. The entire time I was reading scenes with David, I just kept thinking, “ oh good, thank god there is a man there to save the day since a woman certainly couldn’t save herself.” I’m hoping you could sense the sarcasm in that. 

This book also has a good bit of Greek mythology and World War II history in it. I went in expecting more mythology than I got, but I wasn’t disappointed. I can’t say a ton about it without getting into spoilers, but Whiteley put a spin on the classic myth of the fates that really intrigued me. World War II history wasn’t massive, but it too was interesting. Especially in the way it talks about women in World War II. The setting on the island was really bleak, but the way it was described was really thought-provoking. It talked a lot about how things were once beautiful and how they worked better at one time. It felt like overtime, the island had been weighed down by the stories that were told there. Like the women that were coming there to unload there secrets and traumas we taking the beauty of the island with them and leaving the stress that modern women have.

Skein Island was a fun read. It had some amazing gory scenes and different stories that gave us multiple mysteries and then intertwined to give us answers. It was a quick read, but it definitely sat with me for a long time after I finished it. It made me think about my own relationship. I know plenty of women who would hate to be a stay at home mom while their husband goes out and brings home the bacon. Those women would much rather pave their own way and never be “a kept woman.”  But this book doesn’t give an opinion. It talks about different types of relationships but ultimately says that all of our choices in relationships are fine. As long as we, as women, have chosen that for ourselves and are happy with our own decisions. 

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants a quick read packed full of social commentary that they will probably chew on for months after they finish the book. Liking a bit of Greek mythology will probably help as well.

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