Mini-Reviews: Just Like Home & The Black God’s DrumsJust Like Home by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor Publishing Group on July 19, 2022
Genres: Horror
Pages: 428
Source: the library

Just Like Home is a darkly gothic thriller from nationally bestselling author Sarah Gailey, perfect for fans of Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House as well as HBO's true crime masterpiece I'll Be Gone in the Dark.

“Come home.” Vera’s mother called and Vera obeyed. In spite of their long estrangement, in spite of the memories — she's come back to the home of a serial killer. Back to face the love she had for her father and the bodies he buried there, beneath the house he'd built for his family.

Coming home is hard enough for Vera, and to make things worse, she and her mother aren’t alone. A parasitic artist has moved into the guest house out back and is slowly stripping Vera’s childhood for spare parts. He insists that he isn’t the one leaving notes around the house in her father’s handwriting... but who else could it possibly be?

There are secrets yet undiscovered in the foundations of the notorious Crowder House. Vera must face them and find out for herself just how deep the rot goes.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Vera Crowder’s estranged mother calls her out of the blue to deliver bad news: first, she’s dying, and even worse, it’s time for Vera to come home. It’s been twelve years since she last set foot in the Crowder house, and Vera isn’t eager to return. The house was once Vera’s refuge but now she sees it as the site of terrible evils. For her beloved father lived a double life, and there was a reason why she wasn’t allowed to go in the basement…

As always, Sarah Gailey’s writing is impressively evocative. Their descriptions of the Crowder house were deeply unsettling, especially the archetypical “monster under the bed” and the “forbidden evil basement.” I’ve always seen those concepts as too cliché to be frightening, but Gailey sure showed me. A few times Just Like Home actually had me feeling freaked out that I was home alone! But maybe that’s the point: the story revolves around Vera’s fear of being alone with her thoughts and confronting who she is, where she comes from – and what she’s done.

The novel keeps you in suspense about what that actually is for quite some time, alternating chapters between Vera’s childhood and the present. This clever structural choice kept me reading despite the frankly sluggish pacing because I wanted to know why those two timelines are so different. The contrast between the hazy summer days spent with her father in childhood and the gnawing loneliness, isolation, and shame of Vera’s life after his arrest provided interesting texture to the story. Unfortunately, I thought the chapters set in the past were much stronger than those in the present.

For me, the final act of Just Like Home fails to deliver on its initial promise. The big reveal, the explanation for why all these eerie and inexplicable things happen inside the Crowder house, felt random and jarring. I was expecting psychological horror coupled with a sprinkling of the supernatural and got…something altogether different.

Just Like Home is a good fit for horror fans looking to embrace the strange and unexpected.

Mini-Reviews: Just Like Home & The Black God’s DrumsThe Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
Published by Tor Publishing Group on August 21, 2018
Genres: Novella, Steampunk
Pages: 112
Source: Received from publisher

Rising science fiction and fantasy star P. Djèlí Clark brings an alternate New Orleans of orisha, airships, and adventure to life in his immersive debut novella The Black God's Drums.

Alex Award Winner!

In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air--in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.

Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.

“A sinewy mosaic of Haitian sky pirates, wily street urchins, and orisha magic. Beguiling and bombastic!”—New York Times bestselling author Scott Westerfeld

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Jacqueline, or “Creeper” to her associates, is a precocious and tenacious thirteen-year-old street kid. Eking out a living through petty crime is no easy feat in of Civil War-era New Orleans, but Creeper gets by. She has a leg up on the competition thanks to her visions, which are a blessing from Oya, the goddess of storms. When Creeper’s latest vision foretells the destruction of her beloved New Orleans, she reluctantly falls in with an airship captain and her ragtag crew to save the city.

New Orleans is a great real-world setting for a fantastical steampunk story: it’s already an atmospheric city packed with history, culture, and magic. P. Djèli Clark makes the most of it, drawing on the diversity of Black cultures and experiences in the city to flesh out the characters. The language and culture of Black southerners, Haitians, and French people all contribute to the richness of the world. Yoruba culture informs the magic system, which relies on Orisha to bless people with magics. Creeper’s own gifts come from an almost possession-like relationship with Oya. Sometimes the goddess lives within Creeper, whispering to her and using Creeper’s body to make her powers manifest. This world sunk its claws in and hooked me right away!

Creeper’s narrative voice is distinct, with a fresh perspective and a strong dialect. When done well, I really enjoy dialectical writing, and I’m pleased to report that P. Djèli Clark pulls it off. What I thought he could’ve done better was the balance between the world building and the story: as much as I love the world, I think it overshadows the actual plot. I appreciate how difficult it must be to craft a unique world with such a limited page count, but I still wanted a little more from the story. I would happily read another novella or even a full-length novel set in this world.

Recommended for steampunk fans, world building lovers, and readers looking for Black speculative fiction.