Review: In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

inanabsentdreamIn an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Wayward Children #4

Date Published: January 8th, 2019

Publisher: Tor

Pages: 208 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: This is the story of a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well. 

For anyone . . .

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Just when I think this series cannot possibly get any better, Seanan McGuire does it again. In an Absent Dream is most definitely my favorite installment in the series thus far. Like the other novels in this series, it has taken me months to write a review for it as it is so difficult to find the rights words to do justice to this beautiful piece of literature. This is once again a modern fairytale—a fractured fairytale—that transports the reader into a vividly depicted and enrapturing world. The very exquisite yet bittersweet plot line is filled with a perfect blend of relatable reality and the peculiar, dark, and bizarre elements that make up this unique and captivating series.

This novel is quite reminiscent of the second novel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, in that it is a prequel following one of the main characters of the series through their door. We follow Katherine Lundy—later a therapist at Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children—beginning when, as a young child, she finds her door. Lundy finds difficulty fitting in and lacks friends in the real world. With books as her only company, she enjoys becoming lost in her imagination, though this comes with the disappointment of knowing any life she could have would never match up. Then, her door appears and she is swept up into the world of the Goblin Market.

The Goblin Market has only three rules: ask for nothing, names have power, and always give fair value. It is a world that revolves around fairness and respect for others. One must always provide fair value for all goods and services or face punishment until all debts are repaid. Here, Lundy discovers herself, what she wants out of life, and a place where she truly fits, something with which she struggles in the real world. However, things are not as straightforward as they seem and she is faced with making a seemingly impossible choice that approaches faster each day.

The world McGuire creates in this novel is easily one of her best. The world she constructs is so rich in detail and she builds it up around the reader. It is as if we could actually step through that door and wander through the Goblin Market. The characters were wonderful—well-constructed and multidimensional—and so easy to fall in love with. Despite the fantastical elements of the plot, McGuire always manages to build characters that are extremely easy to relate to. Lundy is portrayed so well and getting to know her over the course of the book is a unique and enjoyable experience. And Lundy’s relationships with Moon and the Archivist are so beautiful.

As always, the writing is magnificent. I feel that McGuire’s narrative voice and writing style hit the mark particularly well for the type of story she is telling here. It is warm and inviting with a poignant undercurrent of sadness, longing, and even a bit of danger and foreboding. Her words not only convey the tone of the novel, but they also weave an intricate tale that feels seasoned as if it has been passed down through generations. Every emotion is so tangible and it is incredibly easy to connect with the characters—their triumphs, their struggles, everything roots the reader in their lives.

The narrative jumps around quite a bit, with gaps in time that we do not get to see as readers and I was unsure at first how I felt about this. There are intriguing adventures that are only vaguely referenced and part of me longed to experience them. However, this style grew on me quite a lot and I learned to appreciate how this type of progression contributed to the overall message of the story. In this way, the relentless march of time becomes one of the primary themes and it is an absolutely crucial element of the plot.

Refraining from portraying certain major events in Lundy’s life at the Goblin Market further highlights the struggle she goes through and the huge choice that looms over her. She essentially leads a double life, in conflict over her loyalties to her newfound friends and her family—the comforts of home and the excitement and possibility that lies before her behind her door. Getting to see her connection to both environments and the stark contrast between them highlights her inner turmoil.

I am sure it is quite clear by now that I absolutely adored this novel. I still feel that there is so much more to say, but that I have done my best to put my thoughts into words that capture the beauty of this work. McGuire knows all the right ways to anchor her readers in her unique worlds and tell a story that inspires, enchants, and pulls at one’s heartstrings. Each one is even more impactful than the previous. Every novel McGuire writes is truly a piece of art, and this fourth installment once again proves to be an absolute masterpiece. I never want this series to end.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

beneaththesugarskyBeneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Wayward Children #3

Date Published: January 9th, 2018

Publisher: Tor

Pages: 174 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

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This is a spoiler-free review, but may contain some spoilers for Every Heart a Doorway.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is yet another novel that is pure magic and further cements this series into my all-time favorites list. McGuire presents readers with an exquisitely crafted tale that dabbles in friendship, darkness, and nonsense and takes us on a captivating and powerful journey. Though the worlds are as fantastical as always, the multi-dimensional characters and relatable themes make this story incredibly easy to become absorbed in. McGuire expertly creates something that readers can easily relate to and builds up the world around them so that one is fully immersed in the enchantment of this fractured fairytale.

While this novel does return to the setting of the first, the story is structured in a much different way. We are taken from Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children and travel through a variety of portal worlds that we have only heard of thus far. It is an adventure unlike any other with a beautiful and diverse cast of characters—both old and new. It is a wholly unique tale that combines fantasy with reality and celebrates our differences and the qualities that make us human. And, above all, it is about love, belonging, and the camaraderie that can form between an unlikely group of young heroes.

In this novel, we follow four kids from the School for Wayward Children—Cora, Nadya, Christopher, and Kade—and their unexpected guest, Rini. Every single character in this novel is absolutely brilliant and the friendship that binds them together, even more so. They fully accept each other for who they are and treat each other with equal amounts of respect. McGuire’s characters are always so lovable and I adore every second I get to spend with them. Time and time again, she is able to create fully fleshed out characters very quickly and fluidly, as these stories are quite short.

All of the novels in this series feature a huge amount of diversity and this one, in particular, demonstrates this extremely well. McGuire takes things such as sexuality, race, disabilities, gender identity, and size and folds them into the story. She does not highlight these qualities in a way where they clearly stand out compared to the rest of the plot. Instead, she treats them as pure, natural facts about her characters—it is just a part of who they are and that is all that matters. She does not make a big deal out of it, instead, showing how important it is to see people for who they are. We are all exactly who we were meant to be and nothing that makes us who we are is abnormal or should be a cause for discrimination. We are all equal. That is how she treats her characters and this is one of the many reasons why I love this series.

Through all the magic and nonsense and impossibilities, the humanity radiates from behind it all. It ties us so closely to the characters—the struggles and environments—despite the fantastical nature of the storyline. Adding in issues that run rampant in our society and take a toll on people—particularly younger people—allows readers to relate to each character and the obstacles they face. This also provides insight into the many problems that plague us and how everyone’s story is different. Every moment, this novel reminds us how important it is to be open-minded and, above all, that even though life carries each and everyone one of us through a unique journey, we all share one similarity that links us. We are still human.

The worlds that McGuire creates are utterly enchanting and easy to become a part of. They are so vividly described and I could always form a clear picture in my mind. For the first time, we are taken into multiple worlds, which was absolutely fascinating. In such a short period of time, she meticulously constructs them and seamlessly fits them into the adventure of the characters. These glimpses have left me dying to see more of each character’s individual world and hear their full backstories.

As always, McGuire’s writing is skillful and beautiful. The emotions that she evokes throughout the novel are palpable and her worlds are painstakingly created to the point of absolute solidity. She has the perfect voice for telling these types of narratives that are styled very much like modern fairytales. This voice of hers breathes life into every page, every element of the narrative itself.

The novel is imaginative—sugary sweet as the cover of the book with an undercurrent of sadness and longing. She fills it with adventure and magic while also weaving in the struggles people face in reality. Insecurities, fears, desire for acceptance—these and many more topics can be seen as the base for this story. This is what makes her stories feel so real—like we as readers could simply step through a door and instantly find ourselves exploring these breathtakingly beautiful worlds. They are each built up around us in such a detailed, multi-dimensional way that it is almost impossible for them and the characters to not take up residence in one’s mind. McGuire truly is an artist. If you have not begun this series yet, I highly urge you to give it a try.

5.0 TARDISes

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Top 20 Book Quotes of 2018

20quotesof2018

Hi Everyone!

Since we are nearing the end of the year, it is time to start reflecting back on the reading that we did in 2018. I plan to have some more posts on the topic but for now, I thought I would start off with a short and simple one. Today’s post is my top twenty favorite quotes from books that I read this year!

The sun still rises and sets, like it always has. It seems cruel that it wouldn’t stop, just for a little while, to show how much darker the world is without them in it.” 

― Sarah Glenn Marsh, Reign of the Fallen

But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.” 

― Madeline Miller, Circe

There is kindness in the world, if we know how to look for it. If we never start denying it the door.” 

― Seanan McGuire, Beneath the Sugar Sky

Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.” 

― Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Perhaps bravery is simply the face humanity wraps around its collective madness.” 

― Amie Kaufman, Illuminae

That’s why people shouldn’t get too hung up on labels. Sometimes I think that’s part of what we do wrong. We try to make things make sense, even when they’re never going to.” 

― Seanan McGuire, Beneath the Sugar Sky

My behavior is nonetheless, deplorable. Unfortunately, I’m quite prone to such bouts of deplorability–take for instance, my fondness for reading books at the dinner table.

― Brandon Sanderson, The Final Empire

They are beyond me.These humans.With their brief lives and their tiny dreams and their hopes that seem as fragile as glass.Until you see them by starlight, that is.” 

― Amie Kaufman, Illuminae

 Ah, life—the thing that happens to us while we’re off somewhere else blowing on dandelions & wishing ourselves into the pages of our favorite fairy tales.” 

― Amanda Lovelace, The Princess Saves Herself in This One

Adults can still tumble down rabbit holes and into enchanted wardrobes, but it happens less and less with every year they live. Maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a world where being careful is a necessary survival trait, where logic wears away the potential for something bigger and better than the obvious.” 

― Seanan McGuire, Beneath the Sugar Sky

Almost all grown adults walk around full of regret over a good-bye they wish they’d been able to go back and say better.” 

― Fredrik Backman, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

― Madeline Miller, Circe

Humans, Amelia knew, would do anything for belief. They would proselytize from the highest mountain for belief. They would collect like-minded people and form mobs for belief. They would kill one another for belief.” 

― Christina Henry, The Mermaid

Our belief is often strongest when it should be weakest. That is the nature of hope.

― Brandon Sanderson, The Final Empire

There are many good things in the world, and each of them happens for the first time only once, and never again.

― Seanan McGuire, In an Absent Dream

She had been able to find a doorway and disappear into an adventure, instead of living in a world that told her, day after day after grinding, demoralizing day, that adventures were only for boys; that girls had better things to worry about, like making sure those same boys had a safe harbor to come home to.

― Seanan McGuire, In an Absent Dream

When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more, nor less.” 

― Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Let’s build bookshelves together and fill them with our story.

― Cyrus Parker, DROPKICKromance

Chemistry between people is the strangest science of all.” 

― Bridgett Devoue, Soft Thorns

The truth is, men make terrible pigs.” 

― Madeline Miller, Circe

What are some of your favorite book quotes from your 2018 reading? Share them with me down in the comments!

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Mini Review: Helium by Rudy Francisco

heliumHelium by Rudy Francisco

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: November 28th, 2017

Publisher: Button Poetry

Pages: 98 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Helium is the debut poetry collection by internet phenom Rudy Francisco, whose work has defined poetry for a generation of new readers. Rudy’s poems and quotes have been viewed and shared millions of times as he has traveled the country and the world performing for sell-out crowds. Helium is filled with work that is simultaneously personal and political, blending love poems, self-reflection, and biting cultural critique on class, race and gender into an unforgettable whole. Ultimately, Rudy’s work rises above the chaos to offer a fresh and positive perspective of shared humanity and beauty.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

I absolutely loved this collection of poetry. Short but sweet, Francisco’s words are beautiful and evoke a myriad of emotions. His writing flows beautifully and depicts each poem’s deepest meanings in vivid detail. It is impossible not to become wrapped up by each phrase and carried through each and every page. He uses his great talent for words—for memorably phrasing his thoughts—to raise awareness about elements of conflict and trouble we currently deal with in society. It is wonderful to see writers attacking these issues and trying to reach a wider audience in such a creative way.

This is one of those collections that truly stands out to me because, while it fits very well with the work we see in the poetry genre these days, it has a little something extra to it. It does focus on common topics such as love and heartbreak, but it defines itself as even more unique and different than that. Francisco does not shy away from discussing social issues and these are the poems where we as readers will feel the most. His words are raw and fearless, upfront and honest, meaningful and utterly powerful. They spoke to me greatly, as I am sure they will to many other readers.

Every poem contains a strong and important message that truly packs a punch and is sure to stick with the reader long after completing the collection. Francisco speaks on topical and significant subjects, such as racism, sexism, and mental health—subjects for which constant discussion is crucial. He brings attention to these things through lyrical and absorbing prose that activates the mind and envelopes the soul. I found these poems to be incredibly impactful, thought-provoking, and a fantastic use of this literary platform. I very highly recommend giving this collection a read and I am personally beyond eager to read more of Francisco’s work in the future.

5.0 TARDISes

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Top 5 Wednesday – November 7th, 2018

topfivewednesday

Top 5 Wednesday was created by Lainey at Gingerreadslainey and is now hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Every week, book reviewers all over the world are given a bookish topic and respond with their top 5 books (or elements of books) that relate to that topic. Click here for the Goodreads group if you would like to learn more about Top 5 Wednesday and join in!

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday topic is the top five largest books on your TBR, in honor of the upcoming #TomeToppleReadathon (which I might just have to participate in!). I have built up quite a plethora of tomes on my TBR over the last few years—specifically, a lot of massive fantasy and science fiction novels. Essentially, I always feel ambitious and optimistic in the moment I add them…then freak out about the length later.

However, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing them is so wonderful, so I’ve really been wanting to pick up some larger books lately. I recently—with the help of my blogger and buddy reading bestie Heather from The Sassy Book Geek—completed one of my goals when we buddy read The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson! *

*(Side note: I’ve been a terrible reading buddy the last few months due to many very difficult and unexpected life changes, but Heather has been the sweetest, most supportive, and incredibly patient reading buddy on the planet and I love her to bits! ❤ I promise we will have some posts coming on The Final Empire very soon!)

Anyway, let’s take a look at some of the tomes I still have left on my TBR!

5. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (1,006 pages)

jonathanstrangeandmrnorrell

Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke’s magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.
English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.
But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England’s magical past and regained some of the powers of England’s magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.
All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington’s army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange’s heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

4. Under the Dome by Stephen King (1,092 pages)

underthedome

King’s return to supernatural horror is uncomfortably bulky, formidably complex and irresistibly compelling. When the smalltown of Chester’s Mill, Maine, is surrounded by an invisible force field, the people inside must exert themselves to survive. The situation deteriorates rapidly due to the dome’s ecological effects and the machinations of Big Jim Rennie, an obscenely sanctimonious local politician and drug lord who likes the idea of having an isolated populace to dominate. Opposing him are footloose Iraq veteran Dale “Barbie” Barbara, newspaper editor Julia Shumway, a gaggle of teen skateboarders and others who want to solve the riddle of the dome. King handles the huge cast of characters masterfully but ruthlessly, forcing them to live (or not) with the consequences of hasty decisions. Readers will recognize themes and images from King’s earlier fiction, and while this novel doesn’t have the moral weight of, say, The Stand, nevertheless, it’s a nonstop thrill ride as well as a disturbing, moving meditation on our capacity for good and evil.

3. It by Stephen King (1,156 pages)

it

To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered, a good place to live. It was the children who saw – and felt – what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, It lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each person’s deepest dread. Sometimes It reached up, seizing, tearing, killing…
The adults, knowing better, knew nothing. Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of It was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until the grown-up children were called back, once more to confront It as It stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.
Frightening, epic, and brilliant, Stephen King’s It is one of the greatest works of a true storytelling master.

2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1,276 pages)

thecountofmontecristo

In 1815 Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor who has just recently been granted the succession of his erstwhile captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his Catalan fiancée Mercédès. Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.

1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1,463 pages)

lesmiserables

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérablesranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérablesgave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

Wow so, not gonna lie, that’s a bit intimidating to look at. But this is also reminding me of how much I want to dive into these novels and I’m feeling a bit more motivated about working on them! How about you guys? What tomes do you guys have on your TBR? Which ones are you most looking forward to reading? Let me know in the comments!

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Top 10 Tuesday – November 6th, 2018

toptentuesday

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another Top 10 Tuesday list. This is an original weekly blog meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish, and it is now hosted by Jana from That Artsy Reader Girl. Each week, there is a new bookish topic for bloggers to create a list about. If you want to know more about Top 10 Tuesday, click here!

This week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic is the top ten backlist books I want to read. So…yeah…I sort of had quite the large pile to sort through for today’s topic. But finally, I have actually narrowed it down to ten (somehow)! I attempted to go for some of my backlist reads that have been calling to me quite a bit lately—ones that actually might have a chance of being read quite soon! So without further ado, on to the TBR guilt trip!

Please let me know in the comments if you think I should prioritize any of these books. I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts! And also feel free to share some of your backlist books with me as well!

agameofthronesillustrated daughterofsmokeandbone amancalledove readyplayerone

1. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
2. Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
3. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

thegentlemansguidetoviceandvirtue athousandsplendidsuns nevernight flowersforalgernon

5. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
6. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
7. Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
8. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

you throneofglass

9. You by Caroline Kepnes
10. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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Review: Knee Deep in Little Devils by Various

kneedeepinlittledevilsKnee Deep in Little Devils by Various

My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: October 20th, 2018

Publisher: WorD Publishing-pgh

Pages: 84 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: In a restless suburb of Pittsburgh PA, there dwells an odd writing and critique group called Write or Die. Celebrating a mysterious annual rite, the authors disclose secret and sometimes tragic circumstances; evident only to those who have experienced the incidents . . . until now.

The stories in this collection will take you for perilous jaunts on All Hallows Eve, send you sprinting down a beach at midnight, drown your soul in inky waters, soak you in the blood of wizards and dump you down the rabbit hole of insanity.

Whether these are parables that predict or tales to instruct, prepare yourself to be,  

This is the first WorD (Write or Die) Halloween-themed anthology. The short stories contained herein were all written for, and read, during the first three annual Halloween reading events. 

These stories range from wonderfully frightening to frightfully preposterous. Sometimes shocking and unpredictable, this disquieting collection will keep you guessing at the sanity of the authors who write these tales.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I absolutely love short story collections and I have just recently begun to journey into the flash fiction category. Flash fiction is quite new to me, but I can tell how incredibly difficult it must be to write and I have a tremendous amount of respect for authors who can accomplish this well. This particular collection is quite mixed, as were my opinions on the stories. While these writers have a great deal of talent and that remains clear throughout, I personally felt that not all of these stories worked well in this abbreviated format. Topic-wise, each one was unique and creative but definitely quite hit-or-miss.

This collection begins with an extremely inventive forward which is a fantastic hook. It is a humorous and entertaining take on the creation of the Write or Die (WorD) writing group—the writing group that has brought us this work. This story combines fictional events with background information on the origins of WorD. All the other stories are interspersed with creepy haikus written by author Vincent Baverso as well as darkly stylized pen drawings. Both are wonderfully imaginative and fit extremely well with the overall theme of the collection.

For the rest of this review, I will go into some more specific—and still spoiler-free—details about each of the individual stories themselves as well as my thoughts on them.

A Check-Up for Mr. Bangles by Michael A. Amzen (4.5/5)

In this first story, a daughter asks her father to check on her doll because she believes it is dying. The father, of course, plays along and begins the check-up, finding most things normal—until he begins to feel around the stomach. This story was definitely one of my favorites from the collection. Amzen’s characterization was fantastic and he used a great amount of detail that truly carried the tone of the story. He established solid characters with a realistic child-parent relationship as well as a convincing setup to the story. It was very short but was still extremely creepy, and Amzen builds suspense well within such a small period of time.

A Walk in the Park by Frank Oreto (3.5/5)

In this story, we follow a middle-aged man who decides to take a walk down a dark path through a seemingly empty park one night. It is near Halloween and he wants to feel scared in a way he has not since he was a teenager. Initially, he is met with disappointment as his plan does not produce the desired reaction. Then, he passes parents and a child who all seem normal at first—that is, until he notices the overly large heads and sharp teeth.

I found Oreto’s detail and world-building to be absolutely fantastic. The story had a very distinctively eerie tone and atmosphere. It was very short of course and was somewhat predictable. There was not much time to build up too much suspense, but it was still quite enjoyable overall.

A Storybook Halloween by Kevin M. Hayes (3/5)

A man named Dimitri is out volunteering for the Neighborhood Watch on Halloween and finds a young girl named Lucy standing in front of one of the houses on his street. Lucy is dressed as Little Red-Riding-Hood and appears to be lost. She tells him she has been followed by a wolf all night, and soon one appears from the bushes and begins chasing them down.

Like all the other stories so far, the writing and descriptions were great. The atmosphere of being out trick-or-treating was present at the start, but I felt that it was lost by the end. It was as if the entire neighborhood ceased to exist when the wolf entered into the story. Nonetheless, the wolf’s pursuit itself was still intense and harrowing. In my opinion, the ending was a bit too full of twists that took place within a few sentences of each other. It was unexpected but maybe a bit much and too confusing for the story’s length.

From the Deep by Larry Ivkovich (1/5)

It is All Hallows’ Eve and Alanalla Steadman tells us that she has experienced a dream state that has allowed her to realize what she truly is and where she comes from. She grew up in a normal human family, adopted when she was young, but her life has been built completely on lies. Now, she sees images of treasures, ship-wrecks, an undersea civilization, and the race that she belongs to. This night, Alanalla is going to embrace her destiny and rejoin her people.

This was definitely my least favorite story within the collection. The writing is detailed but incredibly flowery and a bit over-the-top. I could see this potentially fitting the character’s voice and personality to some extent, but it is taken a little too far and sounds too pompous. Personally, I was just not a fan of the plot itself. The length was definitely not sufficient enough to tell it and it felt far too rushed. It also was not overly creepy or spooky and it did not feel like a horror or Halloween story in any way.

Dead Dog Gone by Katie Pugh (5/5)

Nancy is really good at three things: making pancakes, necromancy, and getting rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She loves Halloween and always prepares early in the month. On Halloween, she leaves one of her cleaned-out cauldrons outside her door filled candy for the kids and then sits inside to wait for Death. Death is one of few people who she ever lets into her house, mainly due to her collection of curious wares and potions.

Nancy dresses up as if for a date night since it is their tradition to get together on Halloween. However, this year things change when a small puppy with two horns appears in her cauldron among the candy, frightening all the trick-or-treating kids away. She takes an immediate liking to it and decides to keep the puppy despite the dangers brewing as Death tells her that hellhounds have escaped into the world.

I would have to say that this was one of my absolute favorite stories from the collection. The start is very strong and extremely attention-grabbing—it definitely pulled me right in. I loved the character of Nancy and the way Death was depicted. The characterization was phenomenal. The writing was quirky and charming, and Pugh created the perfect atmosphere and tone for the story that she told. This one was more light-hearted and silly and I loved it.

The Author by Karen Yun-Lurz (4/5)

This story was written in verse, which was a unique and interesting change to mix in with the regular short stories. It was a rewriting of “The Raven” and focused on this author’s experience trying to come up with a new piece of work for the Write or Die (WorD) group. It tells of the struggles to begin a piece of writing and the process as ideas form in one’s mind. Then, she moves on to the editing, rewording, and perfectionism that inevitably follows.

This was such a creative take on the original poem and matched up with it very well. This poem was humorous and over-dramatized, which I loved. Yun-Lurz did a great job of blending in the theme of being a writer at work while staying faithful to the classic. The way she personified aspects of the writing process—like writer’s block into an imp that came to pester her—was very clever.

Coney Hijinx by Joe Coluccio (3.5/5)

A man named Rufus sees someone dressed as a rabbit walk into his local tavern and, as this is, of course, a very curious sight, he decides to follow and talk with him. The rabbit-man insists that he is not in a costume and Rufus notes that he speaks with a cartoonish voice. When Rufus asks what he is, the rabbit-man’s name sounds like a bunch of odd letters and clicking sounds, but he then says he just goes by Claude. Rufus follows Claude and gets in a car with him for a very strange journey down a rabbit hole and into another civilization entirely.

This was yet another extremely quirky story which I definitely liked. I will say, it felt very random and left me with quite a lot of questions. I would have liked a little more detail and set up but, as this is flash fiction, I understand why it was not in the story. The writing was light and clear and the characterization was solid. The author did a decent job creating this story in the constrictions of the short length. Overall, it was really weird and I enjoyed it.

Halloween Haiku by Douglas Gwilym (5/5)

The format changes here from short stories/flash fiction to haikus, which I absolutely loved. Having this poetry interspersed with the full stories worked extremely well in this collection. The work found here is a series of creepy and dark haikus that are perfect for Halloween. Gwilym conveys an eerie atmosphere and conjures up detailed images in such a small number of words. This section was a nice change of pace and served to enhance the atmosphere of the book as a whole.

In His Own Blood by Jon Carroll Thomas (3/5)

In this story, our narrator is summoned through a book and into an ancient artifact. He is arriving to meet his new master—a necromancer—but things do not go as planned. This is about all I can give in terms of a synopsis for this one. It is by far the shortest of the stories as it is only a few paragraphs in length. However, the author does a great job of establishing the tone and voice of the narrator very quickly. The writing is very strong and uses a lot of detail. It is hard to judge something this short, but it definitely left me wishing there was more. And the last few sentences were gruesome and really packed a punch.

To Bridge the Night by Brandon Ketchum (3.5/5)

While stumbling drunkenly along Betsy Ross Bridge, Tyler comes across a woman dressed in a Victorian outfit. He starts to talk with her and finds that her manner of speaking is very old-fashioned and out-of-place. The lady asks where he goes to university and their talk turns quickly to the bridge they are standing on, as well as the new parking lot of the school, both of which have recently been completed. They were both built on land that previously consisted of cemeteries and, mid-conversation, Tyler finds the woman suddenly becoming quite angry.

I personally thought that the characterization was very good, particularly with Tyler. Ketchum definitely captured his drunken attempts at flirting and generally how a guy Tyler’s age might act decently well. I also quite liked his writing and storytelling style. The story was a bit predictable but still engrossing and I think that Ketchum did a good job making a complete story within the small amount of space he had. It still felt rushed, but it was a solid story overall.

A Sandbox Singular by Thomas Sweterlisch (2/5)

This story begins with a guy named Reggie who has just woken up and is stretching in preparation for a run along with a number of other runners. Immediately we get the sense that this is not the world we know, as Reggie refers to other people as “organics” and speaks about how everyone is not only running naked but that they all have visible burns on their skin from acid rain. It is established that runners who accumulate the most laps win the day and that this is some sort of task he and the others have been assigned to do. The curiousness of the situation hits its peak when the point-of-view of “the Mother” is worked in—a mysterious, omniscient being that wipes away all motivations and pleasures from those she watches over.

The descriptions of the characters and most of the environment were very detailed, but I was not a huge fan of this story. There were way too many questions left in the end and not in a good way. Rather than leave me imagining the possibilities, it felt incomplete. I understood parts but, since it was so short, there were a lot of things that never made sense and never got explained. It was mysterious, but some aspects of it did not seem to fit with others. I could comprehend what was literally happening within each moment. However, it really did not make much sense overall and I lost interest. I love weird stories, but this was a bit much for the short length.

Etymology of WorD by Diane Turnshek (3/5)

In this final story, one of the founders of the Write or Die group describes how all the participants came together and helped each other for many years with writing critiques. She speaks about how it began with her hosting a gathering for anyone interested in joining a critique group and that many more people showed up than she had expected. They remained a group that was open to the public and had very few but strict rules to focus themselves.

They welcomed all writers and supported each other through everything, whether it was the publishing process or work just written for fun. By 2011, many members had left due to moving from the area or because of various other commitments and it was disbanded in June of that year. It sounds like it was an absolutely wonderful group that did so much to bring like-minded individuals together and provide the strength and support that they all truly needed.

Overall, I had some varied feelings about this collection, but it made for a fun, quick read that I did enjoy for the most part, especially as a pre-Halloween read. Short stories are always nice to have around to mix in amongst a long list of full-length novels. As I said before, I believe these particular stories would be classified as flash fiction, so the collection as a whole is extremely short. While I do not think that all of the ideas present here worked as well as they could have if they had been fleshed out into longer stories, the great amount of talent and creativity housed within these pages is very recognizable.

3.0 TARDISes

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