Review: Song of the Dead by Sarah Glenn Marsh

song of the dead coverSong of the Dead by Sarah Glenn Marsh

My Rating: 4.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Reign of the Fallen #2

Date Published: January 22nd, 2019

Publisher: Razorbill

Pages: 416 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: The Dead must stay buried.

Karthia is nothing like it used to be. The kingdom’s borders are open for the first time in nearly three hundred years, and raising the dead has been outlawed. Odessa is determined to explore the world beyond Karthia’s waters, hoping to heal a heart broken in more ways than she can count. But with Meredy joining the ocean voyage, vanquishing her sorrow will be a difficult task.

Despite the daily reminder of the history they share, Odessa and Meredy are fascinated when their journey takes them to a land where the Dead rule the night and dragons roam the streets. Odessa can’t help being mesmerized by the new magic–and by the girl at her side. But just as she and Meredy are beginning to explore the new world, a terrifying development in Karthia summons them home at once.

Growing political unrest on top of threats from foreign invaders means Odessa and Meredy are thrust back into the lives they tried to leave behind while specters from their past haunt their tenuous relationship. Gathering a force big enough to ward off enemies seems impossible, until one of Queen Valoria’s mages creates a weapon that could make them invincible. As danger continues to mount inside the palace, Odessa fears that without the Dead, even the greatest invention won’t be enough to save their fates.

In this enthralling, heartrending sequel to Reign of the Fallen, Odessa faces the fight of her life as the boundaries between the Dead and the living are challenged in a way more gruesome than ever before.

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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, however, it may contain spoilers for the previous novel, Reign of the Fallen.

Song of the Dead was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it definitely did not disappoint. I read the first novel in this series at the beginning of last year and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I adored it—though fantasy is by far my favorite genre, certain aspects of the story are a bit out of my usual comfort zone. However, I was hooked right from the start and fell in love with every aspect. It proved to be incredibly refreshing in a genre that can sometimes get to be a bit repetitive, and it truly distinguished itself from the rest. These books are such addicting reads.

This sequel continued to be more of the same and Marsh constantly impressed me with her talent and creativity. It is a journey both physically and emotionally and it carried the reader right along with it. The themes of strength and courage, sadness and resilience, and the tremendous power of love run through this narrative once again. From the beautifully detailed world to the extremely lovable and diverse cast of characters, it is a tale that is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming and is sure to stick with you well after turning the final page.

Returning to this world was such a joy and getting to see these characters and their relationships continue to evolve from the last novel was great. So much more dimension is added to an already multifaceted plot. We reconnect with the familiar, but the plot is entirely new and absorbing. Every moment is full of a certain magic with darker and more sinister undercurrents woven throughout. Marsh’s interpretation of necromancy is unique in many ways, which only adds to the intrigue of the narrative. And of course, the animal companions—by far one of the best parts of the story!

Again, the characters ended up being my favorite part of the novel. Marsh approaches diversity in the best way. There is a great deal of representation—particularly LGBT representation—and it makes this novel a fantastic addition to the ever-expanding collection of literature involving these important topics. These elements are not dwelled on or magnified in a way that draws a huge amount of attention. The characters just are who they are, no matter their gender, race, or sexuality. And, as they should be, their differences are completely natural and accepted, both by each other and the reader.

Odessa is an even stronger heroine than in the previous installment and her growth as a character is huge. We see her confronting the painful events in her life, learning and maturing. Her strengths, as well as her flaws, are clearly depicted, which in turn causes her to become an even more multi-dimensional character who is easy to understand and connect with. In fact, this is true of every character. Marsh devotes plenty of time and effort to fleshing them out, making them and their stories incredibly compelling. The romance between Odessa and Meredy begins to really play out and I felt it was executed well—I enjoyed it, and that’s not something I say very often! I thought I would never love anyone quite as much as Evander, who will always be one of my biggest book crushes, but I ended up liking where things went.

Overall, I absolutely love Marsh’s writing and she has quickly become one of my favorite authors. She is always so descriptive and vivid, pulling you into the unique world she has created and building it up around you. Her storytelling style is action-packed and fast-paced but never lacking in detail. She is also an absolute master at creating realistic and relatable characters. I will genuinely read anything and everything she writes. Part of me hates to see this series end, but it concluded in an extremely satisfying way. Once again, my reading coincided with some experiences of great loss in my personal life and again it turned out to be very cathartic, the themes of hurting and healing being especially relatable. This story and these characters will stay with me for a very long time.

4.5 TARDISes

Author Bio:

sarahglennmarshSarah Glenn Marsh has been an avid fantasy reader from the day her dad handed her a copy of The Hobbit and promised it would change her life; she’s been making up words and worlds ever since. When she’s not writing, Sarah enjoys painting, ghost hunting, traveling, and all things nerdy.

She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and their menagerie: four rescued greyhounds, a bird, and many fish. She is the author of Fear the Drowning Deep and Reign of the Fallen.

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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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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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An Interview with Author Amy Rose Capetta

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Huge thanks to Amy Rose Capetta for putting together this fantastic post for us today! Her forthcoming novel, The Brilliant Death (October 30th, 2018), is a captivating and unique fantasy story filled with magic, the love and loyalty of family, a beautiful and irresistible queer romance, and a powerful reminder of the importance of being true to ourselves no matter what. In anticipation of its release, Amy has graciously agreed to join me for a Q&A about the novel and her career as a writer. Please make sure to check Amy out on her website, Twitter, and Goodreads!

Click here to check out my full review of The Brilliant Death!

Echo After Echo | Entangled | Unmade | The Brilliant DeathOnce & Future | The Lost Coast

How did you get into writing, and when did you decide to pursue it as a career?

WritingWriting-768x768I don’t remember a time before I was reading voraciously, and for me reading flowed naturally into writing. I was always story-obsessed. When I was eight years old, I went to writing camp (which, when I say out loud, people confuse with “riding camp”—but I’m not much a horseperson and I have the stories to prove it.) At writing camp, I wrote stories about opera singing yaks and sentient grocery stores. My best friend there wrote exclusively about magical pandas. I think everyone at the time thought it was a cute kid hobby, but she and I both grew up to be authors.

I decided to pursue writing as a career towards the end of college, but it took a while to figure out exactly what kind of stories to focus on. When I found YA genre fiction, I felt like I’d found my home. And when I started writing queer main characters, the stories started pouring out of me at a startling rate. Learning writing craft was important but putting my true heart in my stories was the missing piece.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of the writing process?

Feelings! I always have to go back and layer them in as I draft, because I’m usually discovering and working through my own feelings as I go. For The Brilliant Death, I had to get even more in touch with feelings about power and family and fate and gender and carving a new way forward in a patriarchal world.

I know some writers whose emotional truth pours out of them in torrents. I’m awed by those folks. I have to enter the world first, and find the cast of characters, and work my way in.

But now that I’ve written several books, it’s getting easier to cut straight to that honest place.

What inspired you to write The Brilliant Death?

Since I was young, I’ve wanted to write about my family’s history and stories of the small town they came from in Italy. Those tales always felt magical and epic in scale, so it wasn’t hard to take it a step further and add strega magic and some mafia scheming.

The other truth is that I wanted to write a story that gets underneath the idea of a “girl disguised as a boy.” I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with “pants” roles. Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is the original Italian femme in slacks, and I both loved her and always felt so frustrated by the need to bring these stories back to an ending where girls are girls and boys are boys and there has to be one of each in love with each other for a happy ending. I wanted a character who goes a lot farther in terms of exploring the wide world of gender and sexuality and coming to a new understanding. It always felt like a missed opportunity to me!

When writing The Brilliant Death, who was your favorite character to create and why?

I hope anyone who reads the book will be able to see the joy that went into writing Cielo. I can’t exactly claim to have created the character—Cielo is very much inspired by my own real-life love interest (and sometimes co-author!) Cori McCarthy. There are differences of course! Cielo’s enchanted book was born when I read the Italian folktale “The Canary Prince.” And there’s a touch of an homage to Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle in Cielo as well…

What books and/or authors have inspired you the most?

onceandfutureI am endlessly inspired by the work of writers in YA fantasy, who are pushing at the boundaries of all of our maps.

Leigh Bardugo, Melina Marchetta, and Kristin Cashore are pillars of my collection. Libba Bray is like no other. Kiersten White and Heidi Heilig are writers I turn to for inventive stories with historical roots. In contemporary worlds, Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper series is radically good and Zoraida Córdova’s brujas are my favorite witchy girls. Nova Ren Suma and Melissa Albert take fantasy to deliciously dark places. Nnedi Okorafor writes across all age groups, and everything she does is glorious. Malinda Lo is the first queen of YA queer girl genre fiction. Sarah McCarry has written mythical punk tales in the most beautiful prose. Alex London’s new (gay!) falconry epic, Black Wings Beating, is beyond exciting to me.

I have five queer YA fantasy novels coming out, starting with The Brilliant Death, and it wouldn’t be possible without the authors who paved that route.

I’m also a lifelong fan of Italo Calvino, whose Italian Folktales collection gave me solid ground for the magic in this series. When I was reading through hundreds of pages of old stories, I saw a thread that ties them all together: transformation. (Which is about the queerest theme out there, and one of my favorites. Maybe it’s why I was drawn to stories of magic all along.) Transformation is what breaks us out of a single, set way of seeing things and paints the world in every shade of possibility.

And I’m inspired the most, every day, by Cori McCarthy. I was a fan of their writing before we even spoke to each other. We talk craft constantly and chase stories together—but our love is my favorite story.

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Author Bio:

Amy Rose Capetta c. Cori McCarthyAmy Rose Capetta [she/her] is an author of YA fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery. Her first novel, Entangled, was a BEA Buzz Book. Her latest, Echo After Echo, is a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway. It received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Upcoming: The Brilliant Death (Viking 2018), The Lost Coast (Candlewick 2019), Once & Future (co-written with Cori McCarthy, from Little, Brown’s Jimmy Imprint in 2019). She holds a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. Amy Rose is the co-founder of the Rainbow Writers Workshop, the first-ever LGBTQIAP workshop for YA and middle grade. She lives in Vermont with her partner and their young son.

Check Out The Book:

thebrilliantdeathThe Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.

All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.

Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.

Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.

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