Thursday, December 22, 2022

Book Review: The Twig Man

The Twig Man
by Sana Rasoul
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars.
While not super scary or creepy to me (an adult), as The Twig Man lacks the atmosphere that gives me shivers, I could definitely see this being quite scary for a 9-11 child. Great story of friendship (had me choking up in the end) and some good morales for younger ones.
Overall not my favourite horror middle grade of the year; but certainly one I would buy and gift to the right child. I am currently thinking a little boy that loves Vecna (yes from Stranger Things) would love the physically described horror of our Twig Man. Most importantly be sure the kid you recommend this one for is pretty tough and maybe doesn’t live next to a deep, dense forest.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Book Review: Across the Green Grass Fields

Across the Green Grass Fields
by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It pains me to give an instalment of this series, and a Seanan McGuire book, such a low rating. Unfortunately I cannot (or will not) lie to myself. Across the Green Grass Grows is by far the weakest of the novellas to date. It feels like McGuire was asked to write another entry point into the series (I get that for marketing purposes) and then not given enough time, or page count, or something to actually flesh the story out. Especially given the ending is abrupt, inconclusive both in the Hooflands and on Earth; and feels like it has achieved nothing.

The best part is that our leading girl was born with XY chromosome and her parents don’t tell her until puberty (thus the catalyst in finding her door). However that is about where that point ends as she has no one to truly compare herself to inside the Hooflands (her door world). One could argue that is good or bad; but either way it’s just (again) very inconclusive in terms of how our leading girl feels about herself, her gender assignment, and/or sexuality. We get a brief paragraph about how she is happy and content with herself at one point but it’s so downplayed it felt like an afterthought adding in because someone realized they should refer back to it.

Overall I am left feeling very meh about this one. I loved the beginning, and the concept of unicorns as dumb and just like cows was sooo cute, but the overall delivery, plot, and character development were very weak. Even the socio-political commentary on the hierarchy of the Hooflands feels diminished compared to what I know McGuire is capable of. I really hope this is a rare, one-off instance and that TOR isn’t messing too much in McGuire’s creative process by giving too much direction or short timelines for publication. I’ve seen it kill other series and writers which is always sad; but I love McGuire (writing in all her aliases) and this series (in particular) so much that I’d be devastated to learn that anyone was mucking around in it besides McGuire herself.

If you are looking for a jumping in point to Wayward Children series you could start here; but I think you’d br much better served to start at book one. Depending on if this world of girl comes back in future books will determine if this is even an instalment that could be skipped over if desired. I won’t be sad if that turns out to be the case. It would be good to just move on and branch out away from Across the Green Grass Grows.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Book Review: His Hideous Heart

His Hideous Heart
by Dahlia Adler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most of the stories in this are amazing!
I read the original Poe story (included in this collection) each time before reading the re-telling. It was an excellent way to experience and evaluate both Poe’s story and the new one.
The story that stuck with me the most is the retelling that takes place at Mardi Gras/Carnival. It felt like revenge/justice in an ironic way that I think Poe would have also loved.

This book includes both the retelling and the Poe originals.
I’ve decided to read the original story/poem first before the retelling and therefore listed them below in the order I read them (not the order they are listed in the book). 

Metzengeragein by Poe
I remember now why Poe and I are rarely friends. While gothic and awesome; his inability to show a story or even tell it without muddling it all up in wording makes me crazy. I know it’s ‘another time periods English’ but I can read Shakespeare better than his stuff somedays.
Here’s hoping Kendare Blake’s retelling brings me some semblance of the real story to light.

She Rode a Horse of Fire by Kendare Blake
inspired by Poe’s story Metzengerstein
Without a doubt Blake’s take on this story is by far more readable, and the use of the tapestry is clever.
Overall I still say meh to this story. I know what Poe was going for in terms of karma coming back to bite you; but just didn’t find either version all that compelling.

Cask of Amontillo by Poe AND
Carnival by Tiffany D. Jackson
inspired by Cask of Amontillo by Poe
I’m confident I’m going to hell. As I took great pleasure (and even kind of laughed) at the cleverness of each character that walls in the other in each story. Jackson uses the cover of the noise of Carnival in a very clever way; and gives satisfaction to anyone bullied in a mere 10 pages.
Enjoyed both these stories immensely.
*After reading all of the Poe and retellings in this anthology I can confidently say this is the best set of stories of them all. I love the revenge being so dark and despicable; while also clever and concise.

The Glittering Death by Caleb Roehrig
inspired by 
The Pit and the Pendulum by Poe
Just wow. I’m slightly shivering after reading this. In my house, safe, my husband and 80lb pit-bull terrier in the room with me, it’s night which might add a bit of creep factor. It’s only as I finish this story I realize how rapt it had my attention.
Certainly as a teen I did not understand the true impossibility of the decision between the pit and the pendulum. I thought that the pit was always the better choice back then. Today i would merely say that both suck equally and as they both end in death then what real difference is there?

The Purloined Letter by Poe
Sure… nothing nefarious or horrific here. Just the argument that hiding in plain site is clever. I’d like to think in todays world our investigators, officers, military, etc. are trained to ensure this doesn’t happen. But people tend to work based on pre-conceived notions far too often…

A Drop of Stolen Ink by Emily Lloyd-Jones
inspired by The Purloined Letter
Really liked the science fiction element of IDs being integrated into your skin. Overall this story suffers from the same thing as Poe’s original; it’s a bit boring. Maybe in its day this story was unique; but now the ‘hidden in plain sight’ concept has been done to death. Just no real pizazz here for me.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Poe
One Poe’s most famous short stories. In a mere 7 pages Poe manages to convince you that the killer was right. Perhaps I’m too jaded by todays media consumption but this feels tame compared with shows like GoT, Witcher, and other fantasy gothic movies like ‘Crimson Peak’.
And of course the last line of this story inspired the title of this anthology.

Happy Days Sweetheart by Stephanie Luehn
inspired by The Tell-Tale Heart
Not a lot to say here; but the complete 360 twist in the end is great. Loved it!

The Raven by Poe
I have no doubt the best part of this poem is the cadence with which Poe constructs his rhymes. It flows off the tongue (even when said in your mind and out loud) and makes you want to continue; even if the Nevermore has you wanting to end.
A classic and truly deserved of being loved, nevermore.

The Raven (remix) by Amanda Lovelace
inspired by The Raven by Poe
Very very clever. Right up the last word. Redacted to select only certain words or letters. Lovelace brilliantly changes the tone of the story using only Poe’s words that were already on the page.

Hop-Frog by Poe
I can’t help but wonder how bullied, belittled, or abused Poe was in his relatively short life. Whether for being: unattractive, often poor or unintelligent remains to be seen. But I surmise as so many of his stories enact revenge.
It may also be he saw injustices of the world and felt empathy and rage because of them. Either way he clearly understood the need to get even.

Channeling by Marilee Nijkamp
inspired by Hop-frog by Poe
Excellent use of the fae and their history of ‘stealing’ or saving unwanted deformed children.

The Oval Portrait by Poe
Feels like a bit of a Dorian Grey homage with the use of the painting. I don’t even know which came first! How embarrassing. Lol.
I gotta say paintings can be both beautiful and haunting. Really liked this one.

The Oval Filter by Lamar Giles 
inspired by Poe’s Oval Portrait
Very clever to incorporate the Poe story into an Instagram modern day based one. Enjoyed how the death of the girlfriend felt very Poe on it own; even without the creepy Instagram/phone activity added in. The creepiness of the phone doing things just heightened the overall gothic, supernatural, and disturbing feel.

The Masque of Red Death by Poe
A bit too flowery and lengthy in its descriptions for me; but the overall message to avoid greed is powerful.

Red by Hillary Monahan
inspired by Poe’s Masque of Red Death
Pretty much the exact same story. The setting is changed; but the descriptions of the rooms, the chimes of the clock, almost all the details are identical. It didn’t feel different enough for me.

Ligeia by Poe
OMG boring. Overly descriptive, takes too long for something interesting to happen, and just not that shocking or big a reveal. The worst Poe one in the collection so far for me.

Lygia by Dahlia Adler
inspired by Ligeia by Poe
Love the lesbians; but just as the original story is too romantic and overdone for my tastes; so is this one. I can’t fault the author as what they had to work with was already brutal. Proof that I love gothic works but without the horror, historical setting, etc; only the romance, it’s not for me.

The Fall of the House of Usher by Poe
A little bit anticlimactic as I’ve read many retellings including Silvia Morena-Garcia’s amazing novel, Mexican Gothic. That said, it is a clever story and adaptable in many ways. I love the biology used. Be it the mess incest makes of lineage, or the fungus that ultimately shadows everyone and thing in the House of Usher. I’m glad to have finally read the original.

The Fall of the Bank of Usher by Fran Wilde
inspired by The Fall of the House of Usher by Poe
Wow!! Brilliant!!
There is no doubt in my mind that Mexican Gothic is still the penultimate retelling of House of Usher. However, Wilde’s short story treatment is just as smart and sharp; and in a totally different way. I can’t say anymore for fear of giving away the idea; but let’s just say it’s a doozy!"

The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Poe
Poe wrote an entire story basically about statistical probability with large numbers (aka: mathematical/scientific proof coincidences don’t exist).
The beginning was painful but the last half flew by as the murders motive, perpetrator, etc. were being revealed. It’s absurd and yet falls into place eloquently. Poe really was a very sharp, astute man.

The Murders in the Rue Apartwlle, Boracay by Rin Chupeco
inspired by The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Poe
One of my most anticipated stories of the book! The trans representation is excellent here (as I would expect from Chupeco); however the overall story doesn’t quite follow Poe’s story the way most of our others have. I don’t mind a different ending; but it just didn’t feel quite right. Super disappointing as I usually enjoy Chupeco's works.

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Book Review: Words in my Hands

The Words in My Hands
by Asphyxia
5 out of 5 stars 

I’m at a loss for words to describe this book. Which is perhaps the truest irony and beauty, all at once, given that The Words in my Hands leading gal is Deaf.
During this book I have learned so many new things! And while knowing a tiny bit of ASL (American Sign Language) I definitely didn’t really appreciate the isolation of being deaf and left out of… well everything. Author Asphyxia describes living Deaf as only someone who has experienced it can. She herself is Deaf.

My husband knows some ASL as he used it as a toddler/child before he could speak, and worked with a lovely Deaf gal who he translated for as often and best as he could. He continues to have interest in sign language. After reading this book we are talking about learning more of it together. This could be helpful for me if I get anxious and need to suddenly leave. I could tell him from afar that I’m either okay and need space; or that I want to leave. In the past we have used signals or code words; but I love the idea of using a real language to do this in the future. And with any luck someone Deaf will see us use ASL and know they can approach us.

The learnings in this story are complex and interwoven. From the Deaf experience and community lessons, to how to build a garden and create compost, to an extremely food scarce future; Asphyxia takes the reader on a journey unlike any other I’ve ever read. A huge part of this is the amazingly beautiful pages in the print novel. This is one of those rare instances where you MUST READ THE BOOK IN PRINT. On an e-reader (I did see what it looks like) or as an audiobook an entire facet of communicating how our lead gal feels and emotes is lost. Without the dark pages of her despair and frustration, the sunny delight of flowery pages, or the intensity of her protest drawings; I truly believe you would miss an entire component of the story, and most importantly, the character progression of our leading gal.

There is a cute little romance in this. While often not my favourite part of most teen novels this one is less annoying and more realistic than most. Asphyxia does a good job of not exaggerating or over doing the romance, despair, lust and possible love at any given time.

I could go on and on about the friendships, other relationships (Deaf and oral), adults to teens, kids to teens, etc that are so well portrayed in The Words in my Hands; but honestly I’ll never do Justice to the beauty and complexity of emotions Asphyxia shares with us as the readers.

Pick this book up. Be amazed and intrigued by it. Learn from it. Consider your own green footprint on the world (and where your food comes from). Consider your methods of communication and what they mean to you. Consider how important community and inclusivity are. Above all else consider that every one of us, regardless of disability, race, sexuality, age, or other minority distinguishing aspects are all people. And people all want to be loved and included every day.

Thank you Asphyxia for sharing this story, your experiences, and pieces of you from within the novel with us, the readers. This is a book I will never be able to forget. A true gem.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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