Book Review: Ice Crypt (Mermaids of Eriana Kwai, #2), Tiana Warner (2016)

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

A solid sequel with a thrilling cliffhanger.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. This review contains spoilers for ICE MASSACRE, the first book in the series.)

“So you’re willing to send a girl out to fight for our people,” I said, “but you’re not willing to listen to what she has to say?”

“Start a family,” I muttered. “They’ve got a shock coming if that’s what they’re expecting.”

I fell head over heels (tail?) in love with the world and characters and subversive romance Tiana Warner created in Ice Massacre, and have been eagerly awaiting the sequel ever since. (1 year, 9 months, and 8 days, to be precise.) I had nearly given up when Ice Crypt hit my radar.

The story picks up a mere two weeks after the events in Ice Massacre. The crew of the Bloodhound has returned home to Eriana Kwai, battered and bloody and minus many girls – but triumphant, all things considered. (The men don’t typically come back at all.) With Lysi now King Adaro’s captive, Meela is hell-bent on finding the mysterious Host of Eriana. But, instead of turning it over to the power-hungry dictator, Meela plans to double-cross Adaro and maybe harness its power to destroy him? The plan’s pretty sketchy, seeing as she doesn’t know what the Host is or how to find it or whether it even exists.

And the Massacre Committee’s no help: in Meela’s month-long absence, her beloved mentor Anyo was ousted – in favor of Dani’s father Mujihi, no less. An abusive bully, it’s plain to see where Dani gets her mean streak. Rather than being jailed for her war crimes, Dani is made an instructor at the training camp. Now she yields power over a hundred girls instead of just twenty, and Dani (and her father) are loathe to give it up by ending the Massacres. Add the island’s speciesism towards the mermaids (“sea rats,” demons, vermin) and their skepticism of once-sacred creation myths to the mix, and the only ones interested in brokering a peace deal with the mermaids are Meela and her friends Tanuu, Annith, and Blacktail. But what match are four teenagers against the world – on land and in the sea?

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Mini-Review: The Mermaid Girl: A Story, Erika Swyler (2016)

Friday, May 27th, 2016

A short prequel story to The Book of Speculation.

four out of five stars

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

The problem with stealing the magician’s assistant from a carnival was that you were always waiting for her to disappear. […]

The problem with marrying the mermaid girl from the carnival was knowing that one day she’d swim away.

— 3.5 stars —

Simon and his younger sister Enola were just kids when their mother drowned. A former circus performer – a mermaid, in fact – Paulina bid her children farewell one day, walked the steps from their crumbling, 1700s colonial house down to the beach, and continued right on into the Atlantic Ocean.

Years later, Simon – now a librarian at Napawset library – comes into possession of a mysterious ledger dating back to the 1700s. His grandmother’s name, written all the way in the back, sets him on a journey through his family’s past – seemingly set on a collision course with Enola’s future. Simon makes a sinister discovery: all of the women in his matrilineal line die. They die young, but not before having a daughter; they die of drowning, even though all are mermaids; and they die of apparent suicides, even where no clear history of mental illness exists. Most shockingly of all, they all perish in the same way on the same day: July 24th.

The story begins in late June, and Enola has just announced that she’s returning home after a six-year absence.

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Book Review: The Merman, Carl-Johan Vallgren (2015)

Monday, December 7th, 2015

“Fairy tales with tragic endings.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including bullying, sexual violence, and animal abuse, as well as offensive language.)

There is no beginning, and no ending. I know that now. For others, perhaps, there are stories that lead somewhere, but not for me. It’s like they go round in circles, and sometimes not even that: they just stand still in one place. And I wonder: what are you supposed to do with a story that repeats itself?

“There’s not much that’s been written about mermaids, you see. Mainly fairy tales with tragic endings.”

Petronella’s life is a lot like a fairy tale. Not the ending, when the lowly peasant girl has found her prince, the heroine has slayed the dragon, and everyone is free to live happily ever after for the rest of their days. Rather, Nella is the beginning; the nightmare that comes before the daydream. The raw truth that lurks under the Disneyfied facade, fangs and claws bared.

Nella’s is a family of three, occasionally four. She and her younger brother Robert live with their mother Marika in a maisonette (apartment) on Liljevägen in Falkenberg, Sweden; her housing is largely regarded as “a sort of slum where social service cases live.” An unemployed alcoholic, Marika is a neglectful mother at best. Her mom is more likely to spend the family’s public assistance funds on booze than food, forcing Nella into shoplifting to make up the difference. Sometimes the free lunch at school is the only meal Nella and Robert will see in a day; oftentimes it’s the one and only reason they bother to show up at all. That, and to get out of the house: no matter how much Nella tidies up, it’s not long before hurricane Marika sweeps through, leaving mess of dishes and vomit in her wake.

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Book Review: The Weight of Feathers, Anna-Marie McLemore (2015)

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

A magical retelling of Romeo & Juliet – and with a much more satisfying ending, at that!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including domestic abuse, as well as rape.)

The rain on her dress and his shirt would stick them to each other, dissolve the skin between them, until their veins tangled like roots, and they breathed together, one scaled and dark-feathered thing.

Lace’s first encounter with Cluck is in the parking lot of a convenience store located on the outskirts of Almendro, California, a sleepy little town. Three of her cousins are attacking Cluck, pummeling him with their fists and feet, for no reason other than his perceived difference. Well-versed in the art of taking a beating – thanks to his older brother Dax – Cluck just lies there, taking it, hoping that his lack of participation will sap some of the fun out of their “game.” Lace chases his attackers away, and then offers Cluck ice cubes wrapped in her scarf to sooth his cuts and bruises. Both mistake the other for a local – when, in fact, they are members of two rival families of traveling performers.

The Palomas and Corbeaus travel all across North America, but always cross paths in Almendro; the crowd drawn there by the annual Blackberry Festival is just too good to pass up. For years, they were simply rivals, showpeople competing over the same sets of eyeballs. But one flooded lake and two dead performers – one from each family – turned them to enemies. Each blames the other for the “natural disaster,” with the stories and superstitions becoming more outlandish year after year. Each family can agree on one thing, however: the only acceptable way to touch a Paloma (or Corbeau) is in the pursuit of violence.

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Book Review: The Book of Speculation: A Novel, Erika Swyler (2015)

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

“Even Pandora’s Box had hope.”

five out of five stars

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

Churchwarry laughs, and I begin to understand some of his delight in passing books on. There’s a certain serendipity, a little light that’s settled in my sternum.

How could I have known that goodbye meant goodbye?

Simon Watson comes from a long and storied line of performers: travelers, carnies, circus folks. Divers and breath-holders (half-mermaid women!) as well as fortune tellers and tarot card readers (psychics and witches!). Like his predecessors, Simon is a master of reinvention. Rather than taking up the family business, as did his younger sister Enola – who bailed on him and joined the circus the moment she turned 18 – Simon has chosen a more practical vocation: he’s a librarian at the Napawset library. And unlike his distant, nomadic relatives, Simon seems rooted to a single spot: the crumbling, 1700s colonial house that he and Enola called home.

After Simon’s mother Paulina committed suicide – one day, she bid him and Enola farewell, walked into the ocean, and never came out; a mermaid who drowns? how does such a thing even work? – father Daniel became nearly comatose in his grief. It was Simon who looked after Enola; Simon who bandaged her cuts; Simon who taught her how to how to dive and swim and hold her breathe for ten minutes straight, just like his mom the mermaid showed him. And when Daniel finally dropped dead of a heart attack, it was Simon who worked several jobs at a time to put food on the table.

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Mini-Review: The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids, Ammi-Joan Paquette & Marie LeTourneau (2012)

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Rock that Conch Shell!

three out of five stars

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

I was six years old when Splash first came out; and, although I probably didn’t get to watch it for a few more years, once I did I was officially hooked on mermaids. I used to swim around the pool with my legs mentally fused together, pretending that I was diving to depths much greater than our paltry four feet. I didn’t get to go to the beach often – the nearest one prohibited swimming due to pollution – so on those rare occasions when I was able to visit, my mom practically had to drag me home. To this day, I still have a thing for mermaids (and Daryl Hannah).

I wish I had a copy of The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids twenty-five years ago.

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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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Book Review: Ice Massacre, Tiana Warner (2014)

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Killer Mermaids and Warrior Women of Color!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaway program. Also, there are clearly marked spoilers towards the end of this review.)

Meela can’t remember a time when her people – the inhabitants of Eriana Kwai, a small island situated off the coast of Alaska – weren’t at war. For all of her eighteen years, The Massacre has been a yearly ritual: every May, twenty young men set sail for the Aleutian Islands, where their adversaries’ nest is believed to be located. Their objective? To slaughter as many “sea rats” as possible, in hopes of decimating their population and returning peace and prosperity to Eriana Kwai.

For the past several decades, an influx of mermaids has dominated the Pacific Ocean, consuming its sea life, attacking ships bound to and from Eriana Kwai, and occasionally even invading the island’s beaches. As a result, this formerly prosperous island has become increasingly dependent on handouts from the mainland. Its four thousand inhabitants are poor, starving, and desperate. With each year’s Massacre less successful than the last, Anyo the training master makes a bold suggestion: send young women to battle the mermaids. Unlike men, they aren’t susceptible to their supernatural charms.

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Book Review: Project Unicorn, Volume 1: 30 Young Adult Short Stories Featuring Lesbian Heroines, Sarah Diemer & Jennifer Diemer (2012)

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Monstrously Beautiful

five out of five stars

Project Unicorn (“A Lesbian YA Extravaganza!”) is a ya fiction project created by the wife-wife writing team of Sarah Diemer (Love Devours; The Dark Wife) and Jennifer Diemer (Sappho’s Fables). Though the project is currently on hold, the idea is this: every week they post two free short stories on their website; these are gathered in a monthly zine, along with two previously-unpublished titles, which you can buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords. There’s also a quarterly edition that includes the contents of the previous three ‘zines, which is also available on etsy. As of this writing, there exist six zines and two volumes.

I first discovered Project Unicorn by way of “The Witch Sea,” an enchanting story about a witch named Meriel and the unexpected love she feels for a sea creature named Nor. A multi-generational feud has placed Meriel in the heartbreaking position of denying Nor that which she most desperately years for: the depths of the sea. I loved it so much that I promptly added all of Sarah Diemer’s titles to my wishlist.

The stories found in Project Unicorn, Volume 1 are every bit as magical as “The Witch Sea.” Beautiful, glorious, rainbow-hued magic. Accompanied by a menagerie of fantastical creatures – Kelpie unicorns, werecats, Victorian mermaids, kind-hearted witches, demons, even trees made human – the authors invite us to find and embrace the weirdness, the alienation, the darkness within ourselves. Those monsters staring at us through the glass of a magical compact? They are different from us, but…also the same. And that’s a wonderful thing. There’s light in the forest, yo.

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Consuming Women, No. 3

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Some time ago – we’re talking two years plus – I started a series on this blog called “Consuming Women.” My intention was to highlight examples of advertising campaigns in which the consumption of “meat” is likened to the consumption of women, usually by depicting women as obviously edible foodstuffs. My own personal Pornography of Meat, if you will.

Because I’m a scatterbrain and tend to bite off more than I can chew, I never got past post #2 in the series. Which is a shame – but, luckily, one that’s easily remedied!

For now, let’s start simple and return to the series’ roots: woman-as-fish. Classy.

The Seafood International Market and Restaurant - Mermaid

For those who can’t view the image, the ad depicts a woman – a mermaid – lounging seductively on a table in what appears to be a fancy restaurant. Our mermaiden is surrounded by spoons, forks and knives, all of which will presumably be used to murder, dismember and eat her. And did I mention that she’s totally succulent and mouth-watering, in more ways than one?

In addition to reducing both women and fish to consumable commodities, something to be bought, sold and eaten, this ad for The Seafood International Market and Restaurant also draws upon a fairly popular gendered insult, in which women’s lady bits are likened to fish.

To be fair, I should note that the restaurant in question is located in Singapore; perhaps their slang differs in this regard. Would any international readers care to weigh in?

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