Book Review: Fellside, M.R. Carey (2016)

Friday, April 8th, 2016

Disappointing

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Jess Moulton wakes up in a hospital bed with few memories of the previous eight months. A heroin addict, she and her boyfriend John Street shot up in her flat; when a fire broke out later that night (started, according to the police, by Jess herself), John was able to escape with third degree burns on his hands and arms, but Jess wasn’t so lucky. Passed out cold, the fire melted half her face before first responders pulled her from the inferno. Alex Beech, the little boy who lived in the upstairs apartment, wasn’t so lucky; left home alone that night by his parents, Alex died of smoke inhalation.

After multiple skin grafts and extensive cosmetic surgery to repair her face, Jess is swiftly tried and convicted of murder. The Crown insists that Jess set the fire on purpose, to kill John and herself; the fact that someone else died instead does not manslaughter make. Left with no memories of the event – and a pretty low opinion of herself, college dropout and relapsed “junkie” – Jess does little to assist in her own defense. After the verdict comes down, she’s sent to Fellside, a women’s prison near the Yorkshire Moors. Convinced that she is indeed a “murderess,” Jess tries to kill herself by the only means at her disposal – a hunger strike.

Just as she’s on the precipice, Jess is visited by the ghost of Alex Beech – who enlists her help in finding the real killer. Fellside is fraught with danger: a drug smuggling ring led by Harriet Grace of “State of Grace” fame; corrupt wardens; incompetent management; damaged women with little left to lose – yet the greatest risk lies in that other world, the spirit world inhabited by dreamers and ghosts. A world that Jess has been able to traverse since she was a child.

Spooky, right?

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Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway (Every Heart A Doorway #1), Seanan McGuire (2016)

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

Wonderfully Weird & Achingly Beautiful (But I Want More!)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

“Going back” had two distinct meanings at the school, depending on how it was said. It was the best thing in the world. It was also the worst thing that could happen to anybody. It was returning to a place that understood you so well that it had reached across realities to find you, claiming you as its own and only; it was being sent to a family that wanted to love you, wanted to keep you safe and sound, but didn’t know you well enough to do anything but hurt you. The duality of the phrase was like the duality of the doors: they changed lives, and they destroyed them, all with the same, simple invitation. Come through, and see.

She was a story, not an epilogue.

Have you ever wondered what happens once the story ends and the fantasy is over? After Will seals up the last window, only to return to a life of drudgery and anonymity in Oxford – without Lyra? Or when Alice, having barely escaped Wonderland with her head intact, has to face a “real” world that misinterprets her trauma as psychosis? Once the door has slammed shut and you’re not quite sure you ended up on the right side of it?

In Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire explores this unusual concept to great effect. Seventeen-year-old Nancy Whitman returned from the Halls of the Dead two months ago. To her parents, she was missing for six months. But time passed differently for Nancy, and she spent years serving the Lord of the Dead and the Lady of Shadows. She lived in shades of black and white and pomegranate, and moved with the stillness of a statue. Unlike many of her fellow refugees, Nancy wasn’t cast out, not exactly; the Lord sent her back so that she could be sure that she wanted to stay there forever. Only now she can’t find the doorway back, and this life – fast, colorful, frenetic – is slowly killing her.

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Book Review: Burning, Danielle Rollins (2016)

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Entertaining enough, but not without some issues.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

If my dad taught me anything it was what it felt like to want something, whether it was a book in a faded folder, or him, or whatever was on the other side of a tiny silver lock. But my dad taught me something else too, something that stayed hidden in my memories until years later, when a little girl with black eyes knocked it loose. Monsters are more interesting than heroes, he’d said. I had no way of knowing then, as I lay awake through the night with stories echoing in my head, that he was talking about us. He was talking about me.

In the nearly two years since I started coming up with four letter words to write on Issie’s hand, I had never once thought of “hope.”

Located near Syracuse, New York (the fictional) Brunesfield Correctional Facility is home to one hundred-odd girls between the ages of ten and eighteen. A large minority are considered low-security: runaways and unwanted teens whose parents dumped them in the system. Roughly half are in for drug offenses; along with the dozen girls convicted of theft and destruction of property, these inmates are considered medium-security. And then there are the high-risk inmates, the violent offenders, the so-called “monsters” of the group, one step above Seg in the prison hierarchy: Seventeen-year-old Angela “Angie” Davis and her dorm mates, Cara and Issie.

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Book Review: Shallow Graves, Kali Wallace (2016)

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Horror With a Heart

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including rape culture.)

Mom and Dad would be so disappointed. They had always told us there was no such thing as ghosts.

There’s something Karen Garrow once said about the fate of the universe. It was on one of her television shows, an episode I watched a dozen times on the basement TV. All of us, she said, all of us and all of everything that had ever existed and ever would exist, it was all made up of matter that formed in the very first moments of the universe, and it would all last until the very end. The atoms would decay, the particles would break apart, everything would disintegrate and shatter until it was unrecognizable – too degraded – but that would take so many billions and billions of years we didn’t even have words for time scales that large. Everything had come from the same hot explosion and everything would end in the same empty darkness. It had nothing to do with what we believed or what we wanted or how desperately we needed to reassure ourselves that the brief moment in which we lived meant anything at all. None of it would matter in the end.

And Karen smiled her playful smile, and she said, “But it isn’t the end yet. It matters now, everything we have, for as long as we can hold onto it.”

I was so fucking tired of men deciding whether or not I got to go on existing for another day.

One minute, seventeen-year-old Breezy Lin is at a high school party; the next, she wakes up in a shallow grave, in a vacant house just a few blocks from her house, a creepy man haunted by a creepier shadow eagerly digging her free. She reaches for him, pulls…and something in him snaps. The coroner’s report will list the cause of death as a heart attack, but Breezy killed him. Just like he killed that family of four, gathered around a dinner table, so many years ago.

A year has passed since her death, and during this time Breezy has morphed into something unnatural. Raised by magic – and the deaths of thousands of birds, every single one within a two-mile radius of her grave – Breezy is a revenant. An animated corpse, resurrected from death to hunt the living. Breezy can spot killers, who wear their guilt like a cloak; their sin calls to hear, awakens her hunger, and after she eats, she will carry their ghoulish memories with her, always. Unable to go home, Breezy starts hitchhiking across the country, seeking vengeance for other murdered souls.

But not for her. Never for her, because Breezy has no memories of her death. Her murder remains a mystery.

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Book Review: The Gods of HP Lovecraft, edited by Aaron J. French (2015)

Friday, January 15th, 2016

A Solid Collection of Stories Rooted in the Lovecraft Mythos

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

Confession time: I’m not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m not not a fan, I just know very little about his work. Most of my limited knowledge comes from the recent World Fantasy Awards controversy (which, I must admit, doesn’t exactly make me want to run out and buy copy of The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft), and that one episode of Supernatural (which, as it just so happened, TNT reran this morning. Serendipity!)

I am, however, I huge Seanan McGuire fangirl, and it’s her contribution that sold me on this anthology. (Her short stories in particular are phenomenal, and “Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves” is no exception.) I’m glad, too, because The Gods of HP Lovecraft is a pretty solid collection of science fiction stories. As you can see, I rated everything a 4 or 5, which is pretty impressive; usually anthologies are more of a mixed bag for me. The individual summaries are relatively vague and un-spoilery, but please skip them if you’d rather read this book with fresh eyes.

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Mini-Review: Another Little Piece, Kate Karyus Quinn (2013)

Monday, November 16th, 2015

 

On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese’s fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

four out of five stars

The synopsis for Another Little Piece sounds a lot like a typical woman in peril story, featuring a misogynistic kidnapper/rapist/murderer, or perhaps a sinister cult. And when we first meet Annaliese, wandering through a field, dazed, disoriented, and with no memory of the past year (or the sixteen before it), clad in a garbage bag, it sure looks as though the plot will bend this way. But things get really weird, really fast, as Quinn injects an unexpected supernatural element into Annaliese’s story. The result is an odd, sometimes disjointed, very creepy tale that kept me glued to my Kindle.

Quinn’s prose is both lovely and eerie, and she does a masterful job of depicting and then deconstructing adolescence and the high school experience: slut shaming, unrequited love, alienation and ostracization, you name it. Quinn avoids stereotypes; all of her characters are filled with depth and nuance. I especially love Annaliese – the original as well as the reboot – or rather, how Quinn twists and transforms our perception of her as the story unfolds. (The real Annaliese? Kind of a tool.)

Annaliese and Dex are adorable; Franky is creepy as fuck; and I loved the “spitball poems” used to introduce each chapter. There’s also a great sub-plot with Annaliese’s best friend, Gwen.

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DNF Review: Bird Box, Josh Malerman (2014)

Monday, November 9th, 2015

 

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

DNF at 48%.

The story’s premise is intriguing, but it never really takes flight. The characters are one-dimensional; the dialogue, flat; and many of the plot points and character decisions defy common sense.

Take George’s classified ad, for example. He would have had to place it before the world fell apart, when people were still showing up to work and the phone and internet were up and running. So why invite strangers into your home in lieu of friends, family, neighbors, etc.? People whose temperaments and personalities you’re at least somewhat familiar with? (Don, I’m looking at you.) And what’s so special about George’s house that it should attract people from miles away? The hydro power is a handy advantage (not mentioned in said ad, mind you), but in terms of safety, it’s not like his little slice of suburbia is any more fortified than the surrounding homes and neighborhoods. There’s no fence keeping the creatures (and marauders) out. Terminus it ain’t.

Also, during all their raids, the group has yet to find a single phone book? Really? I have asked, demanded, and begged to be removed from phone book deliveries, and yet I still have at least half a dozen of the suckers gathering dust on my bookshelves.

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Book Review: The Dead House, Dawn Kurtagich (2015)

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

I’m the thing in the dark”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley, and a physical ARC from NOVL. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence.)

Could I pretend to be a regular girl who sleeps, who dreams, who has a life ahead of her instead of an existence in which she’s dragged around like an appendage by the one she loves most?

I curse anyone who reads this book.
If you touch it, hell will be waiting.
Screw you. Happy reading.

Carly and Kaitlyn Johnson are sisters – in a sense. The girls share a single body: Carly inhabits it during the day, and at night, she is “discarded” and Kaitlyn assumes control. Their psychiatrist, Dr. Lansing, believes that they have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, more commonly known as multiple personality disorder), brought on by the deaths of Carly’s parents – while Carly’s best friend Naida is convinced that they are two souls trapped in one body; a source of immense power that could make them a target for malevolent spirits and dark witches.

When Carly/Kaitlyn’s parents die in car accident, the girls are committed to Claydon Mental Hospital, where they come under the care of Dr. Lansing. She’s convinced that the trauma gave birth to the Kaitlyn “alter” – even though both girls insist that their condition predates the accident; that they’ve always been two. Yet two of the three people who could corroborate their story are dead; the third, their younger sister Jaime, is just a child, easily dismissed. And so they stay at Claydon, while Lansing tries to “reintegrate” their personalities. Once they’ve been deemed stable enough, the girls are sent to live at nearby Elmbridge High School in Somerset, a boarding school accustomed to taking in Claydon graduates.

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The Suffering by Rin Chupeco – Excerpt & Giveaway!

Friday, August 21st, 2015

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The Suffering

By Rin Chupeco

September 1, 2015; Hardcover ISBN 9781492629832; Trade Paper ISBN 9781492629849

Book Info:

Title: The Suffering

Author: Rin Chupeco

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Praise for the Suffering:

"Rin Chupeco's
The Suffering is a horror lover's dream: murders, possessed dolls, and desiccated corpses. I cringed. I grimaced. You won't soon forget this exorcist and his vengeful water ghost."

–Kendare Blake, author of
Anna Dressed in Blood

“Chupeco deftly combines ancient mysticism with contemporary dilemmas that teens face, immersing readers in horrors both supernatural
and manmade. The Suffering is a chilling swim through the murky waters of morality.”

–Carly Anne West, author of
The Bargaining and The Murmuring

Summary:

Breathtaking and haunting, Rin Chupeco’s second novel is a chilling companion to her debut, The Girl from the Well.

The darkness will find you.

Seventeen-year-old Tark knows what it is to be powerless. But Okiku changed that. A restless spirit who ended life as a victim and
started death as an avenger, she’s groomed Tark to destroy the wicked. But when darkness pulls them deep into Aokigahara, known as Japan’s suicide forest, Okiku’s justice becomes blurred, and Tark is the one who will pay the price…

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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: The Girl from the Well, Rin Chupeco (2014)

Friday, June 12th, 2015

“An onryuu with a conscience, kami help us.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through NetGalley.)

I have always striven for detachment, a disinterest in the living. Their preoccupation with each breath of air, the brevity of their lifetimes, and their numerous flaws do not inspire sympathy in me. I can plumb their minds and wander the places they frequent, but they hold little significance.

I do not care to remember names. I do not care to recognize faces.

But this one is called Tarquin Holloway.

He has a cousin named Callie Starr.

His eyes are very bright blue.

He is lonely.

It is not in my nature to be interested in the living.

But there are many things, I have found, that defy nature.

“An onryuu with a conscience, kami help us.”

Should a person experience a brutal and unwarranted death at the hands of another, she does do not go gentle into that good night. Rather than continue on to the afterlife – whatever that may entail; it’s not for the narrator to say – she remains in a sort of purgatory, her spirit tethered to her murderer. Only when her death is avenged, and her killer brought to justice, is her soul free to move on. If she still wants to, that is.

Okiku is a yuurei – a spirit that cannot rest. Three hundred years ago, the 16-year-old girl was tortured and murdered, her body tossed down a well like so much trash, at the hands of a retainer – and with her beloved Lord’s permission. In the centuries since, Okiku has roamed the world, hunting down those who prey on children: murderers, rapists, and pedophiles. Fueled by vengeance, Okiku is an especially powerful yuurei: an onryuu, able to harm the living.

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Book Review: The Ice Twins: A Novel, S.K. Tremayne (2015)

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

This Book is Bonkers

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and violence, including rough sex.)

“Mummy, why do you keep calling me Kirstie?”

I say nothing. The silence is ringing. I speak:

“Sorry, sweetheart. What?”

“Why do you keep calling me Kirstie, Mummy? Kirstie is dead. It was Kirstie that died. I’m Lydia.”

It’s been thirteen months since Sarah’s six-year-old daughter Lydia – one half of the “Ice Twins” – died in a tragic fall from her parents’ first-floor balcony in Devon. In the wake of the accident, the family all but fell apart: Sarah spiraled into a morass of grief and guilt – for it was she who was supposed to be watching the girls that fateful night – while her husband Angus found solace in the bottom of a whiskey bottle. An angry, sometimes-violent drunk like his father, Angus eventually was fired from his architecture job after assaulting his boss in an alcohol-fueled rage.

And the remaining daughter Kirstie? Well, she’s adrift without her other half. Best friends and then some, Kirstie and Lydia lived in their own little world. They had their own secret language and elaborate in-jokes, and in the months leading up to the accident, their identities had become so intertwined that they often dressed alike, swapped personas, and referred to themselves as a single entity, e.g., “Mummy, come and sit between me so you can read to us.” Now that Lydia’s gone, Kirstie is an island: alone, apart, desolate.

So what could be better than relocating Kirstie to an actual island? (Yes, that was sarcasm. Sarah and Angus are the worst.)

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Book Review: The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma (2015)

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Dark, Haunting, Beautiful – One of My Favorites of 2015

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC for review from book blogger Miss Print. Also, trigger warning for sexual harassment and allusions to rape.)

Home is where the heart is, and where the hell is, and where the hate is, and where the hopelessness is. Which made Aurora Hills pretty much like home.

Amber Smith is a little more than three years into four-year sentence at Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center for manslaughter. After she ages out, she’ll be transferred to an adult prison for killing her abusive stepfather, a crime she may or may not have committed at the tender age of thirteen.

Then one hot, humid August night, the cell doors come open – and for a few glorious hours (no one quite knows how long the power was out and the COs caught unawares; it’s as though time has stopped, or lost all meaning), the forty-one girls housed at Aurora Hills get a taste of the freedom long denied them. Some, like Amber’s cellmate D’amour, make a run for it – only to be carved open by the barbed wire atop the first fence, and then burned to a crisp by the middle, electrified fence. Others overtake the various wings – A, B, C, even D, which houses the suicides – ransacking the canteen and causing general mayhem.

But Amber? Despite her protestations that none of them are special (“…the exact opposite of special. We were bad. Broken. It was up to the state to rehabilitate us into something worthy, if it even could.”), that night Amber is afforded something very special indeed: a glimpse of their future.

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Book Review: A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre, DeAnna Knippling (2014)

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Stories within Stories

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review though Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

It was we crows who took your daughter, in case you were wondering. She didn’t run away. We had–I had–been watching her for some time, listening to her tell stories in the grass behind the house. She would sit near the chicken coop and watch the white chickens pick at the dirt, pulling up fat worms and clipping grasshoppers out of the air as they jumped toward the fields.

Some of them were good stories. Some of them were bad. But that’s what decided it, even more than any issue of mercy or salvation or anything else. Crows are, for one, possessive of stories. And also by then I had pecked almost all the elders into coming to listen to her at least once, except Facunde, who was then mad and responded to nobody’s pecking, not that I had had the courage to exactly take my beak to her. “She is like a daughter to me,” I had pled with the others. “She listens.” They laughed at me, they rattled their beaks, they came and heard her and were convinced, or at least bullied into pretending they were convinced.

We took her on the same cold winter day that you traded your son to the fairies, the wind blowing in cold gray threads, ruffling our feathers. It had snowed a few days before that, a storm that had killed your husband, or so it was said. The wind had snatched the snow out onto the prairie, hiding it in crevices. It had been a dry year, and even though it was still too cold to melt the snow, the thirsty dirt still found places to tuck it away in case of a thaw.

I stamped my feet on a sleeping branch while the others argued. Some argued that we should wait for spring. So many things are different, in the spring. But old Loyolo insisted: no, if we were to take the child, we would have to take her then and there: there had been at least one death already, and no one had heard the babe’s cry for hours.

We covered the oak trees, thousands of us, so many that the branches creaked and swayed under our weight. I don’t know if you noticed us, before it was too late. You were, it is to be admitted, busy.

The girl played on the swings, rocking herself back and forth in long, mournful creaks. She wore a too-small padded jacket and a dress decorated in small flowers. She was so clean that she still smelled of soap. Her feet were bare under their shoes, the skin scabbed and dry, almost scaly. Her wrists were pricked with gooseflesh, and her hair whipped in thin, colorless threads across her face as the wind caught it. The house had the smell of fresh death, under the peeling paint and the dusty windows, and seemed to murmur with forgotten languages, none of which were languages of love or tenderness. Afternoon was sinking into evening. The girl’s breath smelled like hunger.

“Now!” called old Loyolo, at some signal that not even I could have told you. And thousands of birds swept out of the trees toward her. From the middle of it, I can tell you, it seemed a kind of nightmare. Wings in my face, claws in my feathers. The sun was temporarily snuffed out, it was a myriad of bright slices reflected off black wings…

DeAnna Knippling’s A Murder of Crows is, at its heart, a love letter to the art of storytelling. A collection of short stories which forms the backbone of a larger narrative, the sixteen tales here – macabre, horrific, sometimes surreal – are shared with a grieving young girl by the murder (flock) of crows who rescued her from her wicked, murderous mother. (Crows being both connoisseurs and collectors of the oral tradition, natch.) Their story, told between the lines and in the margins of the other sixteen tales, is the seventeenth piece in this delightfully dark anthology.

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Book Review: Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire, Amber Dawn, ed. (2009)

Monday, January 12th, 2015

“My terror is terror’s ubiquity.”

three out of five stars

(Trigger warning for rape. Also, some of the individual story descriptions may contain vague spoilers. Read at your own risk!)

In Fist of the Spider Woman, fifteen daring authors frankly ask themselves, “What am I afraid of?” The aim is not to quell our fears, but to embrace them. In doing so, their work takes on an entirely different form than the familiar thrills of contemporary Hollywood horror films.

Between the blurbs on the back cover and the wonderfully creepy artwork (by Julie Morstad) gracing its front, Fist of the Spider Woman is not at all what I expected. For starters, most of the stories aren’t particularly scary. With a few notable exceptions, you won’t find many supernatural baddies or serial slashers here. The fears explored within these pages tend towards the mundane as opposed to the otherworldly: Carrying on after the death of a loved one. Embracing vulnerability by learning to trust others. Accepting help. Being caught by karma. Our culture of fear. All of which is sprinkled with a liberal helping of sex. In fact, many of the stories in Fist read like erotica over horror (e.g., “Every Dark Desire” – vampire dominatrix porn; “Slug” – worm porn; “In Your Arms Forever” – ghost porn).

Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not what I thought I was getting when I picked this anthology up. (Though I must admit that many of the rape scenes turned my stomach; not for the mere presence of rape, which is disturbing enough on its own, but because the victims often come to enjoy their non-consensual abuse.)

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Mini-Review: Wolverton Station, Joe Hill (2014)

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Cheeseburgers and Entitlement

five out of five stars

“I knew by the smell of you. You Americans have different accents – your southern accent, your California-surfer accent, your Noo Yawk accent.” Affecting an atrocious faux-Queens accent as he said it. “But you all smell the same.” […]

“What do we smell like?” Saunders asked.

“Like cheeseburgers,” said the wolf, and he barked with laughter. “And entitlement.”

When Saunders, aka “The Woodcutter” – a hatchet man for global coffee company Jimi Coffee – spots a wolf on the platform as his train pulls into Wolverton Station, he’s hardly surprised: his London trip has been plagued by protestors angered by the expansion of Jimi Coffee into British borders. Saunders’ M.O. is as ruthless as it is simple: find a quaint mom-n-pop store, set up shop nearby, and slowly but surely drive them out of business, even if it means running at a loss for months or even years. First Main Street, then the world. For this he earns a seven-figure salary, even as black and brown children labor in Jimi Coffee’s factories for mere pennies. The giant Uncle Sam effigy, complete with a larger-than-life, pink-as-a-baby’s-bottom penis? It comes with the ribbon cutting.

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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: Thumprint: A Story, Joe Hill (2012)

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Cliffhanger ending is cliffhangery.

four out of five stars

You received a two-hundred-dollar-a-month bonus for every month you spent in the combat zone, and a part of her had relished the fact that her own life was valued so cheap. Mal would not have expected more.

But it didn’t occur to her, when she first learned she was going to Iraq, that they paid you that money for more than just the risk to your own life. It wasn’t a question of what could happen to you, but also a matter of what you might be asked to do to others. […]

Two hundred dollars a month was what it cost to make a torturer out of her.

After her tour in Iraq, PFC Mallory Grennan returned to her childhood home in Hammett, New York – newly empty since the death of her father, also a war veteran, just ten hours before she set foot back on US soil. Whereas her father had saved lives as a medic, Mal denigrated them: you wouldn’t know it from the photographs, but she was part of the naked pyramid fiasco at Abu Ghraib. And that appears to be the least of it: as a cop in the army, she regularly humiliated and assaulted suspected insurgents.

Now her past has followed her home, in the form of mysterious thumbprints, blank ink standing out starkly against white paper, left in her mailbox, under her door, on her windshield. Mal’s wronged so many people, both in the Middle East and right here at home; which one of them hates her so much that he wishes her dead?

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Book Review: Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes (2014)

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

The Shining Girls just got bumped to the top of my TBR pile!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program. Also, trigger warning for sexual assault.)

There’s a monster loose in Detroit. A whole lot of them, actually.

First and foremost is the so-called “Detroit Monster,” whose story forms the backbone of Broken Monsters: The sick you-know-what leaving a trail of dead bodies disguised as art installations across the city, starting with an eleven-year-old boy named Daveyton Lafonte. From the navel up, the killer fused his mutilated body onto the lower portion of a deer’s using meat glue. (Google it.)

But there’s also Philip Low, the middle-aged electrical engineer with the undeservedly kind face, who trolls the ‘net for young girls using the pseudonym “VelvetBoy”; Jonno, a “citizen journalist” from New York City, who exploits tragedy for page hits under the guise of journalistic integrity; and the adolescent boys of Hines High School, who think nothing of sharing a video of their classmate’s sexual assault – and then re-enacting the trauma for laughs.

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Book Review: The Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland, Joe Hill & Charles P. Wilson III (2014)

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Christmas in August!

five out of five stars

NOS4A2 was one of my favorite new releases last year; I devoured it in a matter of days and then promptly added all of Joe Hill’s titles to my wishlist. (Too late for Christmas, but that’s the way the gingerbread crumbles.) So you can only imagine how excited I was when I heard that Hill was resurrecting the twisted innerscape of Charles Manx III in graphic novel format. I pre-ordered The Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland as soon as it became available on Amazon, and have spent the last six months eagerly awaiting its arrival.

The Wraith is everything I wanted and more. It collects issues 1-6 of Welcome to Christmasland in a lovely (wait, did I say lovely? I meant nightmarish!) hardcover book, supplemented with oodles and oodles of extra artwork. The storyline briefly explores Charlie Manx’s childhood in the Wild West (we’re talking late 1800s here); after being violently assaulted and raped by one of his mother’s johns, Charles taps into the mysterious and unexpected power of his Fleet Fantom sled to exact his revenge.

Fast-forward to 1988, when a trio of escaped cons – including Dewey Hansom, a sleazy, child-raping music agent who also just so happens to be Manx’s current accomplice – calls on Manx for help. Manx promises to make them disappear so that the authorities will never find them; naturally, he loads them into the Wraith and takes them to Christmasland to meet his kids (and by “meet” I mean at the end of a very long sword). But Chess Llewellyn has an ace up his sleeve: balloons filled with delirium-101, sent to him by his dead son Adam, whose untimely death Chess was about to serve seven years for avenging.

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