Tag Archives: review

Short Tuesday #31: “Glove Box” by Annie Neugebauer

This week I again happened to be looking up short fiction by Stoker nominees and found myself reading “Glove Box” by Annie Neugebauer, published in Dark City Magazine. You can read the story for free here…

I really enjoyed this short story! I don’t want to give much away, but it details a woman in a convenience store who is frightened of one of her customers, due to a string of violent events that have happened recently. The author manages to maintain a level of dread all while concealing background information from the audience until the very last moment. The story feels very grounded in the real world, without a hint of anything supernatural, but somehow you get the sense that there might be eerie forces lurking, ready to spring.

The prose is simple and fits the story well, and the MC, Rose, is very relatable; you can easily imagine yourself in her position, on high alert all while doubting her paranoia. If you want a quick, eerie story, “Glove Box” is definitely one to check out.

ARC: The Speed of Falling Objects by Nancy Richardson Fischer

Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Speed of Falling Objects debuted October 1st.

If there ever was a book to convince me that I don’t want to visit the Amazon rain forest, this is it. The book progresses from a page one plane crash to poison dart frogs, killer snakes, leeches, and all the creepy crawlies you could ever want. MC Danny, short for Danielle, must confront all these and more as she and her survival TV star father, along with a reality television crew and a teen heartthrob movie star, endeavor to make their way to safety.

But this book isn’t just about the perils of the Amazon. Danny’s mission is to use the time in the jungle to get closer to her dad, who, to put it bluntly, is a total dick. She hardly knows him, but has spent most of her life obsessed with his wilderness survival television show. Much of the book revolves around her hopes and expectations about her father being summarily dashed; she has to learn who her father really is and whether she can accept that reality or not. The book was a bit introspective for my taste, but that’s a personal preference thing.

The writing is strong, and Fischer holds no punches. The inclusion of the teen heartthrob character made me think at the outset that this would be a bit of a fluffier read, but it’s definitely not. People die in this book, permanently, and not just the ones you’re kind of hoping might. If you’re looking for a wilderness-themed page-turner, this is definitely a book to pick up!

Short Tuesday #29: “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

This past weekend I happened to be looking up Stoker Award nominees and finalists for the past few years and noticed that one of the award winners for short fiction was published in Nightmare Magazine! So you know me and my love of good old NM; I plowed through Alyssa Wong’s story in no time. You can read the short story here…

Kirkus called “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” a take on a vampire story, but as I was reading I was feeling succubus vibes all the way; the MC literally sucks evil thoughts from her (usually male) victims. She normally meets her victims through Tindr, a touch that I just loved for whatever reason, maybe for the subverting of the common wisdom that it’s normally dangerous men you have to watch out for when it comes to online dating, rather than women.

Other things I enjoyed about this story included the touches of Chinese culture throughout the piece and especially the opening scene, which was just so unexpected in the best way possible. I will say, though, that this story did go a little off the rails for me in the final act. There’s a turn of events that felt a bit too much “betcha didn’t expect that” for my tastes. Nevertheless, I can see why this piece garnered attention for literary awards, and it’s definitely worth a read.

Short Tuesday #28: “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to take a look at “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent. You can read it for free here…

I had a lot of fun with this short story! It concerns a group of people waiting for a delayed flight in a small airport who become increasingly concerned that dire secrets are being kept from them by the airport staff. The main character is traveling alone, is feeling sick, and gives off aloof vibes, which introduces a wedge between her and the other passengers. If you’re a fan of fiction with a paranoia/mob mentality focus (The Mist comes to mind), then this is probably a good read.

One thing I thought was interesting was the author’s decision to not employ quotation marks for any of the dialogue—perhaps to keep everything happening around the MC feel a bit more distant to her? Her character is of an observer, and I think that not using quotation marks perhaps gives readers a stronger feeling of being fully in the MC’s head. It’s a writing technique I might think about using myself in the future.

I do wish there had been more of an ending to the piece; like a lot of other short stories, “Wilderness” ends abruptly, and I didn’t find the conclusion satisfying. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the author’s voice and all the character details.

ARC: Seduction on a Snowy Night by Madeline Hunter, Sabrina Jeffries, and Mary Jo Putney

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Seduction on a Snowy Night debuted September 24th.

Well, here we are; it’s not yet October and my Christmas ARC reviews are starting to go up. And from the publisher’s side of things, I get it, I get it, but I don’t necessarily have to like it. 😛

So Seduction on a Snowy Night caught my eye because it seemed like a great way to become acquainted with some more regency romance authors; I have not read anything by these authors prior to this. The book includes a novella by each author, with each story taking place during the Christmas season.

A Christmas Abduction by Madeline Hunter

The first novella revolves around a baron making his way home on the holidays who finds himself kidnapped at gunpoint by a woman who harbors a mysterious grudge against him. She brings him to her estate, where the baron must figure out the reason he’s been kidnapped and what to do about it. Of course, the chemistry between him and his captor is fierce, grudge notwithstanding, and even once the baron is allowed a bit more freedom, he finds that he might not want to return home.

I enjoyed this story, especially the baron’s POV sections. Hunter’s prose gets out of the way of the story, which is a quality I find absolutely crucial for romance in particular. I did feel that readers weren’t allowed to get to know the female MC as well as the baron, so it was a bit more difficult to identify with her. All in all, though, this was a great start to the book.

A Perfect Match by Sabrina Jeffries

Jeffries’s novel also involves a kidnapping, though this one is a bit more voluntary. Female lead Cass and her cousin Kitty are spirited away from Kitty’s dangerous suitor in the nick of time by the handsome Colonel Lord Heywood. Cass is an heiress who pretends at future poverty so that whoever is wooing her is only doing so out of true love. Heywood is swiftly falling in love with Cass, but knows he can only marry someone with a substantial dowry, for his own funding is meager.

This was probably my favorite story of the bunch by a hair. The chemistry between the two MCs is great, and we get to know each of them well. Jeffries’s writing wasn’t distracting from the story either. My only wish is that there weren’t so many family members introduced in the latter half; I have a feeling that most of them are characters from other books. I know this is a thing in romance, but it personally irritates me; I’d rather focus on the story than suddenly have all these inside jokes and call-backs to other books foisted on me as a reader. Just my two cents.

One Wicked Winter Night by Mary Jo Putney

This was the one novella of the three that I did not get on with. The premise is that a woman who has been in India for the past long while returns to England and immediately encounters the man who she was previously in love with, even sharing a kiss with him at a masked ball. Despite loving the male MC back in the day, she rejected his advances, but now in the present they find that they are both tempted to rekindle their relationship.

A good part of my grievances with this third novella came down to Putney’s voice; it’s not a close enough 3rd POV for my taste, so there was a lot of “she realized/thought/wondered/etc,” which is mega-distracting to me. Different strokes for different folks, of course, but the writing style to me just felt a bit dated. I was also annoyed by the focus on cats in this book; it was too cutesy for my taste, even though I have nothing against cats.


So there we go! This collection didn’t bowl me over the head with awesomeness, but I enjoyed two of the three. I’d say if you’re interested in trying out these authors without committing to a full book for each one, this is a solid pick. And if you’re a fan of them already and looking to get into the Christmas spirit, then this collection is an obvious no-brainer.

ARC: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Harp of Kings debuted September 3rd.

I have a lot of respect for Juliet Marillier for writing the Sevenwaters trilogy. It’s been years since I read the first Sevenwaters book, but I remember it being absolutely fantastic. I also read Wildwood Dancing last year, which I loved, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

So knowing that Marillier is an industry heavyweight and a fantastic writer, I couldn’t request an ARC of The Harp of Kings fast enough. This is the start of a new series, with three books already listed on Goodreads, and the premise seemed great: a shadowy fantasy organization that gets contracted for missions (basically a fantasy CIA), whose latest quest is to recover a stolen harp that is crucial to a coronation ceremony. The three young main characters on the mission are vying to be fully inducted into the organization; this mission will be their proving ground. Cool, right?

So with all this said, you can’t imagine how disappointed I was to read this book and have a difficult time connecting with it. Many of the characters, and especially the dialogue, felt wooden, like it was missing some spark of life. Much of the action also felt too unrealistic for my taste. To give an example, the female MC has an encounter with the detestable heir-to-throne, where he tries to rape her and she shoves him, causing him to fall and hit his head hard. Through the eyes of characters in a medieval setting, this is understandably seen as her attacking the heir. The fall-out from the incident, however, was less than serious; after a bit of politicking, all she needs to do is give him a formal apology and the incident is more or less in the past. This punishment-not-punishment is meted out by the heir’s advisors; despite the fact that he is a man about to take the throne, he’s essentially not able to follow through on his now hatred for the female MC. The whole thing just felt extremely unrealistic to me; I have a very tough time believing that there weren’t more serious consequences for the female MC. (Please understand that I’m not taking the side of the heir, but just questioning the logic of the narrative choices.)

I also had a very tough time with the ending. Spoiler incoming in:

3…

2…

1…

There is a literal hand-of-God moment where the question about who should be the true king is decided by a celestial presence on high shining a light on the one they favor. It was a textbook definition of a deus ex machina.

This then followed by a denouement that featured more wooden dialogue, with all the flair of an HR exit interview.

“What part of this mission gave you the most satisfaction?” This surprising question comes from Illann.

Dau catches my eye and we both grin. Neither of us is going to mention that escapade at the wall. “To be honest,” he says, “I spent most of our stay at Breifne feeling anything but satisfaction. I was pleased when Liobhan got Brocc out of that place. And I was pleased when the harp ended up in the right hands.”

“And you, Liobhan?”

“Working as a team. We got better at that. We learned as we went along. Only… without Brocc we’re not so much of a team. Sorry.”

Do you see what I mean? This is a book that has a great, interesting premise, but fell short in the execution. If you are a diehard Marillier fan then by all means check it out (I’m pretty sure it has some Easter eggs in there for her fans), but sadly I won’t be continuing with this series unless I hear very different things about the second book.

Short Tuesday #27: “Sweet Dreams Are Made of You” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to take a look at “Sweet Dreams Are Made of You” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (which, by the way, has to be the coolest author name of all time). You can read it for free here…

I thoroughly enjoyed this short story! It takes the form of media paraphernalia (Wikipedia articles, news reports, TIME articles), interspersed with second person narration. The story centers around a mysterious VR video game called Vore. Me being the creepster I am, I knew that I recognized the word “vore” as having some kind of insidious definition, and how right I was: as per the all-knowing Internet, it’s a fetish involving eating others alive or being eaten alive yourself.

Yup.

As is the tradition with literature about video games, Vore doesn’t stay neatly contained within its code, but haunts players’ dreams. People are going missing, the game’s website and developers have gone dark on the world, and it’s just a fun, scary time all around. It’s been a while since I read any of the Ring books, but I was really reminded of those; they are much more sci-fi horror than the famous movie adaptation.

Anyway, “Sweet Dreams Are Made of You” is a great read for Halloween, and I highly recommend it.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Book Tag

I saw Ren Strange’s take on the Pumpkin Spice Latte book tag and thought it was so cute and fall-ey that I had to do it myself. Normally I’m not a book tag person (not against them, I just don’t think to do them), but this one hit me in just the right way. I think that might be because my reading selection changes a lot in the fall; I feel much more in the mood for spooky and paranormal reads, obviously, as well as fantasy for some reason.

So if you’re looking for a little fall reading inspiration, keep scrolling!

Pumpkin Spice Latte: A book everyone likes to shit on but is delicious

It makes me so sad that this book has poor reviews, which I chalk up to an unlikable MC. This book was a total binge-read, and the atmosphere, writing, and magical ambiguity were right up my alley. I received it as an ARC, but I’ve considered buying a physical copy—that’s how much I liked this.

Fall is My Favorite Season: A cliché you can’t get enough of

Slow burn. Arghhhhh I love this trope so much.

Sweater Weather in the AM and T-Shirt Weather by the Time You Get Out of Work/School: A book you thought was one thing but was completely different by the end

I was promised aliens by the cover, and this book did not deliver. What it did provide was too many characters and a lot of navel-gazing. Sad pass on this one. 😦

Spoops: Spooky books on your TBR

Um, I feel like half of my TBR is spooky; this girl looooves her horror. So I’ll pick three.

I love Daniel Kraus’s voice (he’s the author of The Shape of Water), and I’m all about aliens at the moment due to my WIP, so I’m super excited for his YA thriller with aliens which releases next year. I’m praying that I’m picked off the ARC list.

I’ve heard a lot about this author, and I love the retro cover. Very excited to dive into this book now that Halloween season is almost upon us.

I still haven’t read anything by Nevill (he wrote the book behind the awesome movie The Ritual), but I am always here for a cult story.

Tarot Reading: A five-star prediction

My Beauty and the Beast research continues, and this retelling just sounds so good, and I’m just so certain it will be great.

Sephora Sage & Crystal Set: A book that means well but missed the mark by a landslide

Like When the Sky Fell on Splendor up above, I desperately wanted to like this book, but clunky sentences, too many characters, and not much plot made for a very rocky read.


What’s on your TBR for fall? Any spooky or autumnal-feeling reads that you recommend?

Short Tuesday #27: “The Hundredth House Had No Walls” by Laurie Penny

This week I returned to Tor to take a look at “The Hundredth House Had No Walls” by Laurie Penny. You can read it for free here…

This was a fun and cute read about a bored king of the Country of Myth and Shadow who can summon anything into being with his magical storytelling abilities. As it turns out, having godlike powers with no limit make life quite boring for the king, as there’s no challenge or excitement to life, so he takes a trip to New York and falls in love with a woman there.

This story unexpectedly ended up being about character agency. Voice-wise, there is a lot of fourth-wall breaking and on-the-nose remarks about literary expectations both big and small.

So the King decided to do what kings do in these situations and go and wander the world in disguise as a normal, non-royal person. He took only a small entourage—just twenty Knights of Wild Notion, plus their ostlers, servants and squires most of whom, as is traditional, were actually girls dressed as boys.

If you like a bit of self-referential cheekiness in your fiction, this will probably be your jam; for others it will be a turn-off. I generally don’t like commentary like this (I’m not a fan of Good Omens or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for example), but this is a shorter work and the details were cute, so I found myself along for the ride. The combination of a fairy tale feel mixed with modern details was fun as well. Basically, I had a good time reading, but I have the inkling that this is the kind of story that’s love-it-or-hate-it.

Short Tuesday #26: “The Bleeding Maze: A Visitor’s Guide” by Kurt Fawver

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read the short story “The Bleeding Maze: A Visitor’s Guide.” You can read it for free here…

True to its name, this story is written in an informal, guidebook style. The narrator never names themselves or gives personal details; really they just detail a mysterious maze that resides in the middle of the narrator’s small town which grows by the year. The maze features bleeding walls and presents those who enter it with off-kilter characters and eerie tasks. And of course, not all who enter the maze find an exit. Why enter at all? you might ask. As only suits a magical maze, this labyrinth has a mysterious pull on the townsfolk, tempting all resident teens to enter in what essentially becomes a local coming-of-age ritual.

This is the kind of story where suspension of disbelief only gets you so far. You can feel the author trying to pull us along towards believing, throwing in lines here and there to quell questions and preserve the mystery. One example: drone technology to fly over the maze for observation doesn’t work, for reasons. There are a lot of explanations like this to keep the story going.

You might be thinking, “Why don’t you go searching for those kids? Why don’t you run into that maze in parties and pull them out?” In the past, adults tried this, or so we’re told. They went in packing compasses and lights and maps and weapons—all the accoutrements of proper search and rescues. Despite their best efforts at navigation, however, the maze led them in endless circles and forced them to backtrack to its entrances when they used up their supplies. No matter how many times they subsequently resupplied and reentered and tried to solve the maze, they failed.

Nevertheless, it’s a fun read, and I did enjoy the accounts from the townsfolk who entered the maze. Some extended anecdotes from the local townspeople weren’t very convincing in terms of realistic dialogue… but frankly speaking, extended dialogue for the purposes of storytelling is a difficult thing to pull off if your aim is realism in how people actually talk. I’d say if you’re up for a short story that kind of feels like a hokey House of Leaves, then give this one a chance.