Kate’s Review: “Doctor Sleep”

16130549._sy475_-1Book: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2013

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky 12-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

Review: Around the time the trailer for Mike Flanagan’s film “Doctor Sleep” dropped, I was texting back and forth with the aforementioned Blake. He told me that he had never actually picked up “Doctor Sleep”, as he’d heard it was middling at best, but wanted to know what I thought. I told him how much I loved it, but admitted that I hadn’t read it for a long time. So when he later told me that he’d picked it up and was, so far, really liking it, I decided that I needed to go back and re-read it. One, so he and I could potentially have a mini-book club over the sequel to the book that started our friendship, and two because the movie was coming out and I wanted to have the novel fresh in my memory. So I picked up “Doctor Sleep”, figuring I’d meander through it at a lazy pace… But then I ended up binging the entire thing in a couple of days. The continuing story of Danny Torrance post-Overlook once again sucked me in. 

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Poor Danny can’t escape the past. (source)

What you need to know about “Doctor Sleep” is that while it’s a sequel to “The Shining”, the tone, feel, and approach are very different. While they both take a look at addiction (though in different ways, as King was in the middle of his during “The Shining” and in recovery during “Doctor Sleep”), “The Shining” is about ghosts, an evil place, and the slow violent spiral of a husband and father because of the influence of the two. “Doctor Sleep”, however, goes in a different direction. Instead of relying mostly on the ghosts and ghouls, at its heart is a story about trauma and coming to terms with your past while finding a hopeful future. And, of course, still dealing with supernatural themes like psychic abilities and monsters. Dan Torrance is now an adult, who has tried to escape his memories of The Overlook and his abilities by falling into a bottle. Seeing Danny all grown up is a very bleak, but realistic, look at what trauma can do to a person, and how sometimes people cope in ways that are incredibly destructive to others and to themselves. You are already invested in Dan because you know he was that little boy at the Overlook, and some of the best moments of dread in this book have less to do with the visions he still has, and more to do with whether or not he is going to fall off the wagon. It just so happens that around the time he decides to fully commit to recovery, he makes a psychic connection with a newborn girl named Abra, whose Shining abilities are above and beyond his own. Abra is a fantastic new character to bring into the story, as her childhood is a reversed mirror image of what Danny went through as a child. She comes from a loving family, she easily makes friends, and her powers are accepted (albeit hush hush and not totally understood) by her parents, while Danny’s powers were cultivated and nurtured in a dark, abusive setting and a lonely childhood. You definitely get the sense that their connection isn’t pure happenstance, but that doesn’t really matter; what matters is that they are both vital to each other’s survival. Abra needs someone who understands her and understands the dangers of her powers, and Dan needs a reason to keep going and to keep his addictions at bay. King captures an authentic and very likable, yet complex, voice in Abra, and her kindness and joy radiates off of the page, just as her own inner darkness rears in relatable and believable ways. Her friendship with Dan brings out the best in both of them, and as they learn from each other and protect each other from impending dangers, you get super invested in their connection, even if you aren’t completely sure as to why it’s happening.

And let’s talk about those dangers, too. King creates a malevolent and wholly original villain group as only he can with the True Knot, a nomadic group of vampirelike beings that feed on psychic energy. They target children with The Shining, as the True Knot can achieve eternal life by extracting their abilities in ‘steam’ form. The leader of the group is Rose the Hat, a charismatic and vicious woman who kills without remorse for the good of her group. Rose the Hat is a top three King villain for me, as she is intimidating, mysterious, and alluring in every sense of the word. You see this group stalk and murder other children, and once their sights set on Abra a slow burn game of cat and mouse begins, with some unexpected surprises for all parties thrown in along the way that up the ante even more. King doesn’t rush this prolonged confrontation, and he sets the pieces into place in very intentional ways that come together seamlessly. But I think that one of the best achievements that King does, at least for me, is that he makes you kind of care about The True Knot as well, at least in some ways. You get a deep dive into who they are and how they function, and by the time things start to go down you find yourself invested, even if you know that they are monstrous and terrible. He gives them, especially Rose, complexity and nuance, and I ended up loving her when all was said and done, even if it was because of what a horrible and terrifying villain she is. 

I think that a lot of people believed that there was no way that King could write a sequel to “The Shining”. And, in some ways, I think they are right. Because “Doctor Sleep” is its own story, its own identity, and while it may be the continuing story of Danny Torrance, it doesn’t feel like a direct sequel. It feels like King achieved a lot more than that, and has expanded a world and a story in ways that only time and experience could have aided. It’s not a perfect book; there are some hiccups, and moments of cloying coincidence or sappiness, but honestly, I love this story so much that I can easily forgive these stumbles. I have high hopes going into the movie, but even if I don’t care for the adaptation, I know that I can revisit this book and find deep, deep enjoyment. “Doctor Sleep” is probably my favorite of the recent King novels. You don’t have to be a fan of “The Shining” to enjoy it.

And with that, we end Horrorpalooza 2019! I hope that everyone has a Happy Halloween and that you get all the scares. And if you don’t want the scares, all the candy!

Rating 10: A deep, emotionally wrenching, and quite creepy follow up to a classic horror story, “Doctor Sleep” examines familiar characters and themes with an eye for trauma, redemption, and hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Doctor Sleep” is included on the Goodreads lists “Adult Books That Feature Powerful or Magic Children”, and “Creepy Halloween Reads”.

Find “Doctor Sleep” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “In the Woods”

46650269._sy475_Book: “In the Woods” by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, July 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: It should have been just another quiet night on the farm when Logan witnessed the attack, but it wasn’t.

Something is in the woods.
Something unexplainable.
Something deadly.

Hundreds of miles away, Chrystal’s plans for summer in Manhattan are abruptly upended when her dad reads tabloid coverage of some kind of grisly incident in Oklahoma. When they arrive to investigate, they find a witness: a surprisingly good-looking farm boy.

As townsfolk start disappearing and the attacks get ever closer, Logan and Chrystal will have to find out the truth about whatever’s hiding in the woods…before they become targets themselves. 

Review: This was kind of a whim request on my part. The description itself sounds more like the kind of book Kate would typically read than me. But I knew I’d need to have a few scary-ish stories lined up for October to at least pretend to be in the season of things, so here we are! However, it turned out that this book was more closely aligned to my reading habits than I had thought. Alas, that didn’t necessarily translate into increasing my enjoyment of it.

Something or someone is attacking things in Logan’s rural hometown. First it was cattle, but now people are beginning to be attacked as well. And the killer is only growing more bold, coming literally out of the shadows to attack in broad daylight. When Chrystal and her father, a man who chases adventure, arrive on the scene, they team up with Logan and his family to try and catch whomever or whatever is behind these mutilations. And as Logan and Chrystal grow steadily closer to each other romantically, and closer to the truth of the mystery, they soon find themselves no longer the hunters, but now the hunted.

So this was a tricky book for me. It’s so different than what I thought it would be that it’s hard to know how much of my experience was due to my expectations and how much was due to the book just not hitting the mark for me. It’s a strange twist, however, when the fact that I had thought I was intentionally reading out of my preferred genre somehow backfired when I found out I was actually reading more within it. I’m not quite sure what the marketing decisions were behind why this book was presented as it was, but I definitely went in thinking it was going to be some type of creepy, YA, serial killer story. Nope! Much more aligned with monster horror and cryptozoology stories. And yeah, on the face of it, those are my thing, but something about the way it was presented here just didn’t click for me.

Really, I don’t think it had anything to do with the monster angle. Yeah, I was looking for serial killer, but let’s face it, I’m not super dedicated to that or anything. My bigger problems had to do with the story itself and its two main character. There are hints of good characters here, but the writing itself let them down. The dialogue was almost laughable at times, and their relationship falls into the worst traps of instalove. They literally first meet and “feel a connection.” Not only is this not interesting, but it’s the laziest kind of romance building. No need to establish why two characters come together when they both “just know” instantly! Done, hard work finished. Now onto the mushy stuff! Ugh. My feelings about instalove have been well-established, so I’ll stop there.

The plot itself was rather lackluster. Sure, there were some fun, tense scenes sprinkled here and there, but there were too many moments where things happened that didn’t make sense or stretched my sense of plausibility beyond enjoyment. Much of the mystery is telegraphed to the reader pretty early in the story, so the reader is often ahead of the characters in terms of reveals. This is all made harder due to the writing which was just kind of banal. As I mentioned before, the dialogue was the real problem; didn’t read as natural which made it a constant distraction.

In the end I think it was six of one as to why this book didn’t click for me. On one hand, it wasn’t what I expected and contemporary stories featuring instalove have to be up there on my “most disliked” list. On the other hand, the strained writing and lackluster plot didn’t recommend it to me either. Readers who are more interested in contemporary YA and monster stories (notably NOT serial killers) might enjoy this. But I also think there are better options out there doing similar things.

Rating 5: Right down the middle of my rating system and largely forgettable.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“In the Woods” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Cryptofiction.”

Find “In the Woods” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “The Shining”

11588Book: “The Shining” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Doubleday, 1977

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

Review: Believe it or not, “The Shining” has a deep, personal meaning for me, and that is because it’s proof that Stephen King books can bring people together. I approached my best friend from high school (and still good friend today) Blake because of this book. He was reading it in the hallway, and as someone who had already read it seeing someone else experiencing it gave me the need to be like ‘I LOVE that book!’ It was the start of an enduring friendship. But on top of that, “The Shining” is a terrifying read that has gone down in literary history as one of the best horror novels of the 20th Century, and really solidified King’s place as a horror author. And the rest, as they say, is history. In anticipation of the film adaptation of “Doctor Sleep”, the sequel to “The Shining”, I decided to re-read both books to see how they held up. So, just in time for Halloween Week, the first up is the original, and I’m finally returning to The Overlook Hotel after all these years of being away.

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Outside of the time I went to the actual Overlook this past summer, aka The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado!

At the very heart of “The Shining” is a gothic ghost story, and while it may not take place on a moor in England, it has all the elements that make the genre great. You have an isolated hotel that cannot be escaped once the snows come. You have three people living in said hotel, and one of them is slowly being driven mad, be it because of the isolation, his own demons, or something else. And you have unique and incredibly scary ghosts and a twisted history that has made the location rotten to the core. King has a variety of bad things at The Overlook, from the decomposing Mrs. Massey in room 217 to visions of a Mafia murder in the Presidential Suite to topiaries that move and fire hoses that act like coiling snakes.  Mrs. Massey is by far the worst, a lurching a rotting corpse that reaches out for those who dare enter her room, but many others are lurking and effective in their own right. While it may seem like the idea of moving animal shaped plants is a little cheesy, it’s not cheesy when a character is being slowly stalked by them in a deranged game of red light, green light. King builds the dread and makes you wonder if what we are seeing is real, a vision (on Danny’s part), or a descent into madness (on Jack’s part), and boy does the tension pull you tight. Even the little things that could just as easily be placed in real life, like the boiler that ‘creeps’, set a scene on a knife’s edge. The Overlook is still one of King’s greatest villains, and the way that King made a place into a character with such malevolence and horror stands the test of time all these years later. 

Danny Torrance is one of the people who sees the Overlook’s horrors, his gift of ‘The Shining’ (or psychic powers) making him incredibly perceptive, but also susceptible, to it’s evils. Danny’s voice is so authentic, as King really harnesses the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a little boy. Danny is endearing, and strange, and as his visions get worse and his father Jack starts to become more and more corrupted, he becomes more vulnerable and yet resilient. Reading this book as a teen I liked Danny enough, but now revisiting it I just loved him. King captures childhood earnestness, captures the innocence that a little boy could still have even though he’s seen and experienced terrible things, and never makes Danny sound juvenile, nor too precocious either. And the things that he sees are filtered through a child’s eyes, which in some ways makes them all the more disturbing. Danny going into Room 217 is still one of the most horror filled moments of this novel, and perhaps of all of King’s bibliography.

But for me, the scariest part of “The Shining” has changed. As an adult, and a new mother to boot and therefore someone with a whole new perspective on parenthood, now the biggest scares come from Jack Torrance and his potential to be a family annihilator, be it due to the hotel’s influence or his own violent tendencies.

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I know King hates this movie, but honestly, it really got Jack right. (source)

Even before The Overlook, Jack’s alcoholism had him spiraling into addiction, emotional instability, and domestic abuse towards his wife and little boy. When we meet Jack he’s been sober for a little over a year, and while it seems that he is on the upswing with Wendy and Danny, there are still violent tendencies that come through and have serious consequences, consequences that make him take this isolating job in the first place, and more vulnerable to the malignant influence of The Overlook. It’s interesting to read this now, knowing that King himself was battling his own addictions as he wrote it, and how his insecurities about how he was as a father and husband come through off the page. Jack’s portrayal is both a villain who could potentially kill those he loves most, and yet a tragic figure who wants so badly to be better, even if he can’t quite achieve it. While The Overlook is certainly a bad influence and its ghosts are certainly helping drive Jack insane, you can’t help but get the feeling that perhaps, even without the ghostly interference, he might have ended up doing something horrible to Wendy and Danny, should he give in to his addictions at any time. It’s a deeply resonant characterization, and knowing that King was struggling as well it gives it even more dour weight and tragedy. I remember that around the time I read this book as a teen I asked my Dad why he hadn’t read it or even seen the movie. And he said that he couldn’t handle the idea of a husband and father murdering those he was supposed to love and care for. I didn’t really get it then. I absolutely get it now. King, once again, shows that some monsters in life don’t have to be supernatural.

“The Shining” isn’t without faults. Wendy, our one female (non ghost) character, isn’t terribly fleshed out or interesting. And as much as I love Dick Halloran, he sure fits into the ‘magical negro’ trope that King still tends to embrace with too much vigor. And, like many King stories, the ending has some flaws and doesn’t QUITE land, at least not completely. But there is a reason that it has endured for so long, and that it’s one of King’s most beloved works. It’s damned scary. I am so glad I went back to it after all these years. And given the influence this book, like all of King’s works, has had on my life, in some ways, like the ghosts at The Overlook, I never really left.

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(source)

On Thursday we’re going to dive in to the sequel, “Doctor Sleep”.

Rating 9: A haunting and deeply scary horror story that melds ghosts, evil, and emotional demons into one entity of terror. Stephen King’s classic is still effective and disturbing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Shining” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ghost Stories”, and “Modern Gothic”.

Find “The Shining” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: October 2019

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments! 

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmtjhm2vhzditmtk4os00mtrjltlmmdqtnzeyymm0nda0yjhjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_sy1000_sx670_al_TV Show: “Supernatural”

This is a bittersweet one. As always, it’s exciting to have the return of a favorite show for a new season. But, after so, soooo many years, it has been confirmed that this will be the last season for “Supernatural.” It’s been on since 2005! I was in college!! There hasn’t been another show that I have followed for as long or as faithfully as this one. There have been some highs and lows throughout the years. But what makes it stand out is that even during those lows, I never considered jumping off this bandwagon. Once a “Supernatural” fan, always a “Supernatural” fan, through thick and thin it seems. I am pleased that if it was going to end, at least the showrunners knew it an entire season in advance, leaving them plenty of time to craft a thoughtful conclusion to the story. It will probably be tragic, cuz that’s what this show does best. But I have hope that it will be the kind of tragedy that also comes with heroic, satisfying justice for our two monster-hunting brothers.

mv5bmziwm2fkmmetnjqyzc00ythmltg3zjqtzgiymwe3njqwytu4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_Amazon Prime Show: “Carnival Row”

It was kind of a given that I would immediately watch this new Amazon Prime show. Loving mysteries, fantasy, and period pieces, there was everything I could have asked for here. The simple version of the story is a classic monster mystery, with a side plot dealing with our two main characters’ romance. But it’s also pretty clear that, like “Zootopia,” “Carnival Row” is using its fantasy trappings and original world to comment on larger topics like immigration, refugees, and racism. Some of these moments are done quite well, others are land with a bit of a thud in their obviousness and lack of real heart.  One area where the show really shines is its general aesthetic. It’s simply beautiful to look at. The costuming, the detailed sets, the magical effects. It’s all seamless and gorgeous. It’s also fun to see Orlando Bloom again, so there’s that! Fans of fantasy and monster horror will likely enjoy this, though it can be a bit ham-fisted with its message at times.

mv5bmtk0mdqzntq5mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzy3njq3njm40._v1_sy1000_cr006661000_al_TV Show: “The Great British Baking Show”

This new season of this show was a battle of the wills. And the show won. Netflix changed the way it released this popular baking competition, moving it from a single, lovely, bingeable segment into weekly installments. I lasted about a month before I caved and watched all 5 episodes that were currently available in one day. And now I’m floundering around in the mostly forgotten realm of weekly TV watching. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I watched a TV show in regular installments once a week. It’s unfamiliar and I don’t like it! Mostly, again, because of my aforementioned lack of self-control and patience. So now that I’ve taken up the entire segment venting about that…heck, we all know what this show is about and why it’s lovely.

Kate’s Picks

220px-ahs1984_posterTV Show: “American Horror Story: 1984”

October means that the ridiculous and (kind of) scary horror series “American Horror Story” is back on television screens. I’ve had a real love/hate relationship with this show, but I contend that it is at its best when it doesn’t take itself at all seriously. This is why “Coven” is the best season, and no one will change my mind. I took a break last year because “Apocalypse” just looked too ridiculous, but when I found out that their new season, “1984”, was going to be a tribute to 80s slasher movies, oh boy. I was yanked right back in. A bunch of counselors at a summer camp think that they are in for a summer of goofing off and hooking up, but little do they know that a serial killer, who had killed at the camp in the past, is back to wreak some havoc. At least, that’s what it seems like. You never know what kind of curve balls this show will throw your way. With Billie Lourde and Angelica Ross included in the cast this time around (queens the both of them), it’s been quite the trip. Also, Richard Ramirez shows up. Like I said, it’s insane.

the-legend-of-zelda-links-awakeningVideo Game: “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)”

I’ve been a huge huge HUGE fan of the “Zelda” games since I was a kid. Hell, I’m such a big fan my husband and I used music from the games in our wedding ceremony. One of the first ones that I played in earnest was “Link’s Awakening” on my Gameboy, and my sister got it and we shared it. I never got too far in it, but along with “Ocarina of Time” I have the fondest memories playing that game. When I found out that it had been re-released on The Switch with all new graphics, I was beyond excited to get my hands on it! Like the original game, Link has washed up on Koholint Island after getting shipwrecked, and the only way for him to leave is to awaken the Windfish. This means you have to solve puzzles, defeat bad guys, collect items, and interact with lots of fun characters! The Switch version has updated the graphics and added some new features, but otherwise it’s a totally replicated adaptation of the game that I loved as a kid. It’s fun and cute and challenging enough to keep anyone entertained, and it’s been a treat to revisit it.

mv5bmjkxmdiyntatyjgwzc00ymiwlwfmztetztizowzhzjnizdqwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodk4otc3mty40._v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Film: “Little Monsters”

I, of course, have to round out the horror season with a horror movie! And when I decided to watch “Little Monsters” I didn’t know that much about it. I knew that it starred Lupita Nyong’o, and that it had to do with zombies. What I found was an adorable and really fun zombie comedy with a great cast and SUPER SWEET children (clearly my new foray into motherhood has made me very susceptible to cute children as of late). When slacker David’s relationship falls apart, he ends up on his sister’s couch and spending time with his five year old nephew Felix. It’s through Felix that he meets Miss Caroline, the sweet and caring Kindergarten teacher who catches his eye. Unfortunately, the timing isn’t great, as a zombie invasion breaks out during a class field trip. So David, Miss Caroline, and a group of children have to fend for themselves and work together to survive. It’s no surprise that Lupita Nyong’o is a treasure, but there are also great performances from Alexander England as David, and Josh Gad as the annoying children’s television personality Teddy McGiggle. If you’re looking for a zombie film with a little something more, definitely check out “Little Monsters”!

 

 

Serena’s Review: “The Throne of the Five Winds”

42283300 (2)Book: “The Throne of the Five Winds” by S. C. Emmett

Publishing Info: Orbit, October 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher

Book Description: The Emperor’s palace — full of ambitious royals, sly gossip, and unforeseen perils — is perhaps the most dangerous place in Zhaon. A hostage for her conquered people’s good behavior, the lady Komor Yala has only her wits and her hidden maiden’s blade to protect herself — and her childhood friend Princess Mahara, sacrificed in marriage to the enemy to secure a tenuous peace.

But the Emperor is aging, and the Khir princess and her lady-in-waiting soon find themselves pawns in the six princes’ deadly schemes for the throne — and a single spark could ignite fresh rebellion in Khir.

And then, the Emperor falls ill, and a far bloodier game begins…

Review: I always enjoy a good political fantasy. There’s something about the scheming and drama of courtly maneuverings that is always appealing. I think perhaps it has to do with the fact that one often enjoys reading about the heroic characters, but a good amount of page time is also given to the villains who are equally fun to read and hate. Add on top of that a fantasy setting in an Asian-inspired setting, and you’ve got a book I’m quick to request!

After a drawn out war, two young women find themselves cast adrift in the court of their former enemy. One has been sacrificed to a political marriage and the other is her friend and handmaiden, also a hostage of the tenuous peace. However, all is not well at court as a battle of succession is beginning to slowly play out behind the scenes, where everyone has their own agenda and no one knows who to trust.

First things first, this was a loooong book. And in this case, that is both a good and bad thing. On the good side of things, the extended length of the story allows the author to fully explore this complicated world and the many characters she has peopled it with. It is clear that character exploration is not only one of the author’s strength but the area in which most time is devoted. Given the sheer number of character presented and their complicated interwoven connections, loyalties, and rivalries, the length of the book is necessary for readers to fully gain a grasp on who is who in all of this.

I also appreciated the detail that went into the world itself and the varying cultures, languages, and traditions at play. In the beginning, I did feel quite lost trying to piece it all together, feeling almost as if I was missing some previous book that had explained it all more. But as the story progressed and I simply allowed myself to sink into it, things began to come together. This was made easier by the fact that the author’s style of writing was lush and beautiful to read, popping off the page in a way that felt both classical and poetic.

The downside of the length also has to do with characters and this world. While the characters are all very well drawn, it takes a long time to feel overly invested in any one of them. Mostly, again, because I was having a hard time keeping track of who was who in it all. Honestly, it probably wasn’t until halfway through the book at least that I felt very confident in any of this.

The story is also very slow moving. As I said, the author clearly enjoys spending a lot of time building up each of the many characters. This is then combined with a meticulous look into the court politics that can go on. These maneuverings range from very subtle turns of phrase that hide cruel insults within seeming banalities, to outright assassination attempts. This is the type of book where the action is very muted, mostly restricted to these smaller moments. But as the story goes on and the more invested you become into each character, these small moments are capable of being just as thrilling as a grand battle.

In the end, the length of this novel and one’s own preference with regard to pacing is likely what will determine your enjoyment of the story. I do wish that a bit more action had been included. And while I was eventually able to make better sense of who was who and become more pulled into the story, it still took quite a long time. Long enough that I fear many readers may not make it. If you enjoy slower-moving stories that revel in complicated worlds and large casts, than this is the book for you.

Rating 7: A bit long and slow to truly feel caught up in, but the author excels at world-building and character development.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Throne of the Five Winds” is on this Goodreads lists: “Upcoming 2019 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “The Throne of the Five Winds” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “His Hideous Heart”

39127647Book: “His Hideous Heart” by Dahlia Adler (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Thirteen of YA’s most celebrated names reimagine Edgar Allan Poe’s most surprising, unsettling, and popular tales for a new generation.

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Kendare Blake (reimagining “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morge”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

Review: I’ve been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe since grade school when I read “The Raven” and “The Tell Tale Heart” in my free time. It was truly the first indication that I was going to shift into full on Goth in high school. His melancholic writings and nerve wracking imagery is still very effective, and while it does have some dated elements it can’t be denied that he has had a huge influence on American Horror writing to this day.

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Super relatable in so many ways too. (source)

I still hold him and his works near and dear to my heart, even if I haven’t read as many as I thought I had. I came to this realization as I read “His Hideous Heart”, a collection of new YA interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works, edited by Dahlia Adler. I bought this book for my Kindle, as I was so excited to read it I really didn’t want to wait before I could get it in my hands. The group of YA authors selected was really the icing on the cake, as it includes some of my favorites like Stephanie Kuehn and Tiffany D. Jackson. A group of authors coming from lots of backgrounds and experiences to update some of the stories from the OG Creep Master of American Literature? It can’t get better than that! Like with most Short Story collections I am going to talk about my three favorite works, and then give a summation of the collection as a whole.

“Night-Tide” (based on “Annabel Lee”) by Tessa Gratton

The poem “Annabelle Lee” has made me cry many times in my life. It’s about the death of a young woman and her husband who has been left behind to mourn her, and is most likely based on Poe’s own wife Virginia who tied of tuberculosis. Tessa Gratton takes this always upsetting story theme and twists it up in many positive ways. She changes it into a prose narrative instead of a poem, sets in in a historical fiction timeline, and makes the two lovers two young women who are living in a time where gay romance and love is never going to be accepted. Annabel Lee and Jackie have spent summers at the resort of Kingdom by the Sea and became close friends. But the summer she’s sixteen Jackie arrives to find out that Annabel has passed away of illness, and that Annabel’s family blames Jackie because of their ‘close friendship’ and the sin it was. As Jackie tries to come to terms with her friend’s death, and to try to come to terms with the guilt that she is feeling because of it. Like the poem there are no happy endings here, but it makes the sadness of the poem all the more emotional, as Jackie has to live with the guilt that others and society has placed upon here merely because she and Annabel Lee were in love. And, like it’s inspiration, it made me cry as well.

“The Glittering Death” (based on “The Pit and the Pendulum”) by Caleb Roehrig

“The Pit and the Pendulum” is a tense and scary read where a prisoner is being psychologically and physically tortured during the Spanish Inquisition. Caleb Roehrig, however, subverts that into a modern retelling involving a serial killer, a teenage girl, and misogyny. Laura finds herself the newest victim of a murderer called The Judge, who kidnaps and tortures young women for the sins he’s perceived they’ve committed. Laura has to figure out how to survive the situation and escape. This was probably my favorite story in the collection, as Roehrig does a GREAT job of drawing comparisons between his zealous and woman hating serial killer and the forces that were behind The Spanish Inquisition, showing how repression, misogyny, and religious fundamentalism can instigate violence. Laura as a main character was spunky and tough, and the tension of her imprisonment and her plans for escape had me on the edge of my seat. It’s definitely the scariest story in this book, and I thought that it really found the heart of the source material and cleverly applied it.

“Happy Days, Sweetheart” (based on “The Tell-Tale Heart”) by Stephanie Kuehn

One of Poe’s most famous stories is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and it’s about jealousy pushing someone to murder, and the guilt that drives the murderer insane. Leave it to Stephanie Kuehn to take that and make something totally different, all while finding the deeper themes and applying them perfectly. An unnamed high school girl has been living in the shadow of Jonah, a charismatic but mediocre white guy at their boarding school. She has always worked hard to be the best, but being a bi-racial girl from outside their community has always kept her down. But now she has a plan to finally become number one, to finally get the praise and recognition she deserves. I LOVED how Kuehn took the idea of women (especially women of color) having to work harder and do more to get the same recognition that a white man gets just by existing, and how that frustration can turn into an all encompassing anger. While it’s true our narrator eventually takes it to extremes (as one would have to with the source material), I still felt that Kuehn drew out her motivations in a way that I found incredibly relatable in a lot of ways. Kuehn is one of my favorite authors, and her contribution to this collection knocked it out of the park to be sure.

And there were a lot of other really strong stories that I didn’t mention! “His Hideous Heart” covers a wide range of genres, and most of the segments were all very strong in their own ways. Even the ones that I didn’t end up caring for as much were more based on the genres they fell in as opposed to the content. There are so many strong authors here, and they all did their very best to do justice to Poe’s original works, with many of them succeeding. But wait, there’s even more to sing the praises of! “His Hideous Heart” not only has these thirteen original stories, it also includes the original works by Poe! So if you aren’t familiar with the source material, you have direct access to it. LOVED that!

“His Hideous Heart” was a great short stories collection. If you are a Poe fan you should read it, and if you aren’t familiar with Poe this is the perfect introduction to the original works AND the updates. And hey, it’s almost Halloween. This is just the book to read this time of year.

Rating 8: A well done and well updated collection of stories that pay homage to Poe, “His Hideous Heart” is an enjoyable read and the perfect book for the Halloween season.

Reader’s Advisory:

“His Hideous Heart” is included on the Goodreads lists “Edgar Allan Poe in YA & Middle Grade Fiction”, and “The Unlikable Female Characters Podcast”.

Find “His Hideous Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Angel Mage”

41951611Book: “Angel Mage” by Garth Nix

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, October 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.

Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.

But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else. . .

Review: I’m not caught up with all of the books in the “Sabriel” series (know that’s not really the name, but it might as well be), so it’s been quite a while since I’ve read a new book by Garth Nix. So when I saw this title pop up on Edelweiss+ it seemed like a perfect opportunity to revisit a past favorite.

Long ago, Ystara, the homeland of the patron archangel Pallenial, fell amidst horror and terror. It was suspected that a powerful angelic mage, Liliath had something to do with this fall, but no one knows the truth of it. After many years pass, however, Liliath miraculously returns, still young, still powerful, still driven to accomplish a plan only known to her. Caught up in her ambitions are not only the remnants of the Ystaraian people, now shunned by the countries they live in as refugees, but four specific young people. Not knowing why they are connected or what Liliath wants from them, a medical student, a scholar, a musketeer, and a scribe must work together to not only discover their own role, but help aid or thwart Liliath in her grand plans.

This is another great example of a lesser used source story (similar to “The Republic” and “The Lady and the Tiger” that we seen earlier). Here, Nix is clearly drawing from “The Three Musketeers,” and it’s pretty excellent. He perfectly finds the balancing point between making enough references to the original as to make it recognizable to most readers and layering so much new world-building and plot that the story remains feeling completely unique. In many ways, it seems that Nix had an original idea, world, and magic system teed up to go and then looked through some of his own fan favorites and discovered “The Three Musketeers.” This is in no way a criticism of the story. More so, it’s a testament to his skill that he can superimpose favored elements from another story in a way that makes it clear he is largely wanting to just play in that world while still ending up with a book that so completely stands on its own as unalike anything I’ve read before.

The “Mustketeer” elements are most evident in the style of writing, especially in the dialogue between the characters. It’s hard to put my finger on it for this review; it’s more a “know it when you read it” kind of thing. The culture is also heavily influenced by the France that we see in that book, with much of the style of dress, honor system, and conflicting political and religious powers ringing as familiar. These political/religious conflicts were particularly intriguing. Nix spends a good amount of time setting up the different power players in the story and their differing connections to the angelic magic that plays such a large role in society. And each of our four main characters has a unique connection to these divisions and their differing priorities.

All four of the characters were very well-drawn. There is excellent diversity between them all in most every way you can ask for. I enjoyed reading all of their sections equally pretty much, but I will say that I particularly enjoyed the portions that dealt with Agnez, our musketeer in the making. For those who read my Animorphs reviews, Agnez is a very “Rachel-like” character: she’s brave, a bit reckless, and has a clear view of right/wrong/and what should be done, regardless of others’ perceptions of it. She’s also the most clearly connected to the original Musketeers, with the same charming bravado.

The story is also blessedly free of a romance between any of these four members. I love a good romance at the heart of my story, but I must confess that I’m pretty burned out on these YA fantasy ensemble stories (usually heists), particularly with the romances at the heart of them. They’ve gotten incredibly predictable and almost farcical in their similarities to each other. And at the heart of each are yawn-inducing, lazy romances that are built completely on the fact that they are what readers expect to find in these stories. No work is done to make any couple/pairing particularly relatable or believable; it just is because they know that’s what readers expect. So it was a breath of fresh air to open this book and have the more sibling-like relationships between these group members laid out fairly early in the story, immediately putting to rest any mental predictions on romantic pairs that the reader may already be forming.

I also enjoyed how much time we got to spend with Liliath. In many ways, she’s just as much a main character as the four others. We learn her motivations, her strengths, as well as the ambitions and single-mindedness that drive her. We see her plans play out while the four main characters must piece things together, all while we, the reader, are still not clear on Liliath’s endgame. This makes for a nice mixture of mystery and tension as the story plays out.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s definitely different than anything I’ve read before, and anyone going into with expectations derived from what’s popular in YA fantasy right now may be disappointed. This a slower moving story with world-building at its heart. The connections to “The Three Musketeers” will also be appreciated depending on the reader’s familiarity with that story. Readers looking for a unique, fresh-feeling YA ensemble fantasy, this is a great place to start!

Rating 8: Enough hints of “The Three Musketeers” to add some extra fun, but stands on its own with an incredibly unique and fresh world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Angel Mage” is a new book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Angels & Demons.”

Find “Angel Mage” at your library using WorldCat!