Book Review: nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery & the Macabre, Nancy Kilpatrick & Caro Soles, eds. (2015)

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

There’s a piece by 16-year-old Margaret Atwood! Eeep!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence, as well as transphobic and homophobic bullying and suicide.)

I consider myself a bit of a Poe fangirl. Not to the tune of being able to reenact entire scenes from The Tomb of Ligeia or keeping a raven as a pet; but as in the first (and only!) gift my father every personally picked out for me was a leather-bound collection of Poe’s complete works (I’m vegan now, but I keep it around for sentimental reasons) and I might, one day, name one of my rescue dogs Annabel Lee. It’s fair to say that I’m interested, but not obsessed.

So when I spotted nEvermore! in Library Thing’s July batch, it was Poe’s name that grabbed by attention – but Margaret Atwood’s that really sealed the deal. If I’m a bit of a Poe fangirl, then I’m freaking Annie Wilkes when it comes to Atwood. I exaggerate, but not by much.

Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles, nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery & the Macabre features twenty-two stories that are inspired by Poe; contain elements from Poe’s oeuvre; and/or are retellings of his stories. Some are more modern takes on Poe, while others employ similar language and have the same weirdly sinister vibe. If you’re a hardcore Poe fan, probably you’ll get more out of the stories than the casual or non-fan; there’s a lot of name-dropping, as well as references to real, historical events from Poe’s life. However, I wouldn’t limit the audience just to those familiar with Poe; many of the stories are solid enough to stand on their own. Bonus points: Each story is prefaced with a brief introduction by the author(s), for added context.

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Book Review: Out of Tune, Jonathan Maberry, ed. (2014)

Monday, December 1st, 2014

A Solid Collection of Short Horror/Fantasy

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I receive a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Also, the story summaries may include spoilers, so skip them if you’d rather read the anthology with fresh eyes. Trigger warning for rape.)

Confession time. I requested a review copy of Out of Tune based solely on the merits of one of its contributors: Seanan McGuire. I devoured the Newsflesh trilogy (penned under the pseudonym Mira Grant) and thought that her contribution (“Each to Each”) was the single best thing in Lightspeed’s special “Women Destroy SF” issue (a magazine filled with awesome things, mind you). I recognized some of the other names, but no one struck a chord like McGuire. Additionally, my interest in old ballads pretty much begins and ends with covers recorded by my favorite folk singers – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie. I didn’t really have any expectations, good or bad, for this collection.

Overall, I came away pleasantly surprised. The fourteen stories in Out of Tune run the gamut: there’s lots of horror and fantasy, peppered with a little romance and some good, old-fashioned ghost stories. Some, like “Wendy, Darling,” incorporate elements of other, much-loved tales, while others have an air of historical fiction; here I’m thinking of “In Arkham Town, Where I Was Bound,” which features Edgar Allen Poe as the incidental narrator. The authors’ respective senses of humor – whether wry, playful, or just downright wicked – are evident throughout. A few of the stories are remarkably poignant and painfully beautiful; “Driving Jenny Home,” I’m looking at you. As for the Big Bads, you’ll spot a number of usual suspects – ghosts, demons, mermaids, and wicked women – as well as villains less common to ballads, such as gods from Norse mythology.

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Mini-Review: Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart, Jennifer Adams & Ron Stucki (2014)

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Edgar Avian Poe: The Early Years

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program.)

Edgar is a rambunctious little toddler who just so happens to be a raven. One day his mother goes out, leaving Edgar and his sister Lenore to fend for themselves. What starts out as a fun afternoon of coloring ends in disaster, when Edgar starts chasing Lenore around the house with paper airplanes and accidentally knocks over the bust of his namesake, Edgar Allen Poe. Edgar attempts to hide the evidence, but Poe’s head is way too large to stuff under the floor boards – and with Lenore threatening to Cindy Brady him, it’s unlikely he’ll escape punishment anyway. What’s a toddler to do?

Part of Jennifer Adams’s “BabyLit” series, Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart is a fun way for parents to instill a love of literature in their kids from the crib onward. Other books in the series include homages to Dracula; Jane Austen; Moby Dick; Romeo & Juliet; Jane Eyre; Wuthering Heights; Frankenstein; The Wizard of Oz; A Christmas Carol; and Sherlock Holmes – and Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart is preceded by the similarly Poe-themed Edgar Gets Ready for Bed. (Quoth the raven: “Nevermore!”)

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Book Review: The Tell-Tail Heart: A Cat Cozy, Monica Shaughnessy (2014)

Monday, May 26th, 2014

A Cat of Letters

four out of five stars

“There are no coincidences, only cats with impeccable timing.”

Philadelphia, 1842. A series of most unusual and gruesome murders has left the city on edge. In a fortnight, the bodies of two women have been discovered: each with their throats slashed – and their expensive, prosthetic glass eyes stolen right out of their sockets. Speculation runs the gamut: could “The Glass Eye Killer” be building an automaton, one stolen body part at a time? Maybe he’s making a patchwork doll? Or perhaps it’s something about these fake eyes (both pale blue) that triggers the madman to kill? Either way, with little to go on, it appears that the local police won’t soon unmask the killer or his depraved motives.

Little Cattarina – “Catters” to her Eddie – is thrust into the middle of this human mystery when she stumbles upon a wayward glass eye while prowling the floors of Shakey House, a local pub. Much to her surprise and delight, the pilfered eye drags Eddie (as in Edgar Allen Poe) out of his funk. The Glass Eye Killer inspires him to begin a new story, which will eventually be known as “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

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Book Review: Glitter & Doom: A Masque of the Red Death Story, Bethany Griffin (2013)

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Beauty and the Nerd

four out of four stars

Set in the same world as Masque of the Red Death and its sequel, Dance of The Red Death, Glitter & Doom is a short story (about 50 pages, give or take) that focuses on two of the series protagonists, April and Kent. The blurb for Glitter & Doom promises that it will show us what happened to April when she mysteriously disappeared for much of Masque of the Red Death – and while some of the story does indeed take place between the two novels, it also functions as a prequel of sorts, giving us an idea of what life was like for April and Elliott during their imprisonment in Price Propsero’s castle.

There are two main parts to Glitter & Doom: “Glitter,” which is told from April’s perspective, and “Doom,” in which the narrative switches to Kent.

“Glitter” opens with a spectacle in Prince Prospero’s throne room. An eleven-year-old April and her mother are forced to look on as Prospero commands Elliott to torture a young boy in front of the court. He refuses and suffers terribly for his defiance. Fast forward five years, and we meet April as she waits in line for the opening of a new nightclub, The Morgue. Here she’s approached by a mysterious robed woman who attempts to lure her into the Debauchery Club instead. The women are attacked en route and April barely escapes with her life. It’s a year after this incident that April and her new-ish friend Araby are stood up (seemingly) by brother Elliot at the Debauchery Club. She and Araby are drugged – by one of Reverend Malcontent’s men, it turns out – and April is kidnapped…only to find herself imprisoned underground with Kent, her brother’s nerdy friend.

“Doom” shifts the focus to Kent, who’s been kidnapped by Malcontent and forced to build a bomb – the very bomb that will be used to destroy Elliott’s ship Discovery in Masque of the Red Death. We learn a little bit of Kent’s back story (which is both adorable and heartbreaking), and see how the characters’ story arcs intersect at various points throughout the duology. He and April manage to escape, but not before Prospero burns Kent’s childhood home to the ground – and the “frivolous” rich girl and the nerdy, nearly-blind inventor start to fall for one another. The story ends with the explosion of Discovery – and Elliott and Kent’s plans for revolution.

I actually really enjoyed Glitter & Doom, even if it’s a bit overpriced at $2.99. (The story goes by very quickly.) I came to loathe the love triangle between Araby, Elliott, and Will, especially as it takes center stage in Dance of the Red Death; personally, I find this blossoming romance between April and Kent much more compelling. This one’s worth a read for fans of the series, especially if you’re curious about these supporting characters.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Dance of the Red Death, Bethany Griffin (2013)

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

In which Poe is Eclipsed by a Love Triangle

three out of five stars

Araby Worth’s world is on fire.

Set immediately after the events of Masque of the Red Death, Dance of the Red Death sees Araby and her allies – April, Elliott, Will, Henry, Elise, Kent, and Thom – fleeing from the city to regroup before trying to regain control of the city from the opposing armies of Prince Prospero and Reverend Malcontent. In a world already decimated by the Weeping Sickness, a new plague – the Red Death – threatens to wipe humanity off the map. Faced with this new danger, and fueled by Malcontent’s bombs, violence sweeps through the city – even as many citizens attempt to flee to the relative safety (emphasis on “relative”) of Prince Prospero’s castle.

Inspired by the Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name, Masque of the Red Death imagines a society crumbling under the weight of poverty, class warfare, and disease. In the first book, we saw as protagonist Araby Worth slowly transformed from a depressed – if privileged – teenager, wracked with grief over her brother’s death, into a budding revolutionary. In Dance of the Red Death this promise is fulfilled as Araby, Elliott, and Will travel back into the city in order to save it.

The story culminates with the masked ball first given life by Poe. Temporarily separated from her friends, Araby – now considered a hero among the people in light of her rescue of dozens of young orphans slated to be sacrificed by Prospero in the name of “entertainment” – is kidnapped by the Prince and imprisoned in his castle. The night of the ball, she’s to embark on a treasure hunt through the seven interconnected chambers, where the Prince has hidden objects (and people) important to her. The Red Death makes his appearance just as Araby reaches the black room with its imposing ebony clock. I hesitate to say anything more because spoilers.

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Mini-Review: Edgar Allan Poe’s the Masque of the Red Death, David Cutts (1982)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Poe for kids!

three out of five stars

This version of “The Masque of the Red Death” is an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story for Troll Associates, a publisher of children’s books. I guess it’s questionable whether this tale is even suitable for kids. (As I remember it, I cherished this book as a child, as evidenced by my name stamped in the front cover and surrounded by hearts; then again, some of my earliest memories are of my dad reading me bedtime stories by Stephen King. So there’s that.) Nevertheless, Cutts successfully captures the spirit of Poe’s story, relaying it in a style easily understood by younger readers.

Though many lines are either cut or altered, the general plot and tone remain the same. As the Red Death sweeps the country, Prince Prospero barricades himself and one thousand revelers inside his castle estate. For six months, the partygoers evade the plague; that is, until the night the Price throws an especially elaborate and gruesomely themed ball. One of the guests arrives dressed as the unthinkable: the Red Death. The Prince doesn’t know it yet – but by daybreak, everyone in the castle will be dead.

The three-star rating (well, 3.5 stars, rounded down on Amazon) is due mostly to the artwork, which really isn’t to my taste.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Masque of the Red Death, Bethany Griffin (2012)

Monday, April 14th, 2014

“In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think.”

five out of five stars

Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story of the same name, Bethany Griffin imagines a world decimated by the plague in Masque of the Red Death. Seventeen-year-old Araby Worth knows too well the horrors of the Weeping Sickness; she lost her twin brother Finn to the disease several years ago, and still blames herself for his death. Their father, the scientist Dr. Worth, designed a mask that filters out the disease; but Araby accidentally claimed the prototype, which was meant for the frail Finn. The masks acclimate to their owners, so that sharing or trading is impossible. Before his father could make a second mask, Finn contracted the plague and died. Dr. Worth saved humanity, but was unable to keep his own family safe.

Araby now spends her days sleeping and her nights getting high in the Debauchery District. She considered suicide, once, but was rescued by her neighbor April. Now best friends, the two belong to the privileged class. High up in the penthouses of the Akkadian Towers, the two are sheltered from much of the poverty and violence below. And while they’re lucky enough to afford masks – a whole collection of them, actually – no one in this world remains untouched by the Weeping Sickness.

While she has resigned herself to life, Araby has taken a vow to eschew those things her brother will never experience: a first kiss. Learning to swordfight. Traveling the world. As romance and political intrigue seep through the walls she’s built around herself, Araby finds her resolve tested: first by Will, the dark and mysterious tester at the Debauchery Club, and then by April’s brother Elliott, who has rebellion on the brain.

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