Book Review: What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Title: What Moves the Dead
Author: T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication date: July 12, 2022
Print length: 176 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the award-winning author of The Twisted Ones comes a gripping and atmospheric retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.

What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves.

Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.

I’m convinced that the coming apocalypse will be the work of killer fungi. There are certainly enough works of horror fiction to back me up! What Moves the Dead further cements my belief that fungi are the creepiest life form there is. Prove me wrong!

What Moves the Dead is a twisted retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. As in the original, the main character is summoned to a dark, disturbing, decrepit mansion located on the shores of a dark, scary tarn (lake), where a childhood friend cares for his dying sister and seeks companionship and support in their looming disaster.

In What Moves the Dead, Poe’s unnamed narrator is replaced by Lieutenant Alex Easton, a retired “sworn” soldier from the country of Gallacia, who once served as Roderick Usher’s officer during wartime, and who even earlier was close friends with Madeline Usher. Alex is shocked and horrified at the sight of the siblings, who appear gaunt, withered, and years older than their actual age. Madeline truly does seem to be on the verge of death, and Roderick appears unwell himself. The entire house and surrounding countryside (and that darned tarn) seem menacing, perhaps even poisonous.

Alex arrives at the house to find an American doctor already in residence, whose brashness eventually gives way to common cause. Dr. Denton doesn’t quite know what’s ailing Madeline either, but she does appear to be on the point of death.

Alex also meets Eugenia Potter, an Englishwoman whose chief passion in life is mycology (and who fumes against the stupid men-only rule of the English scientific societies of the time). Alex, Denton, and Potter all share the belief that something is wrong, not just with the Ushers but with the natural world too. What’s up with all the strangely-behaving hares in the area?

This short work is delightfully, deliciously creepy! The house is moldy, there are awful looking mushrooms all over the grounds, and the lake is stagnant and gross and seems too terrible to want to be anywhere near. I’ve read enough creepy fungi horror stories to have a pretty good sense of where the story would end up, but it was so much fun getting there, and the author still managed to surprise me time after time with all the crazy, strange, awful details.

Beyond the horror plotline, other delights await. Alex’s background in Gallacia is too good to reveal in a review, but trust me when I say that the explanations of how the Gallacian language adapts gender and pronoun formations based not just on biology but also on station in life, age, and other factors is absolutely wonderful and so fascinating. I’d read a whole book just about that!

Miss Potter is a secondary character, but she’s lots of fun, as is the reveal of who her one of her family members is. (I’m not telling!)

When I requested a review copy of What Moves the Dead, it was based on (a) how much I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by this amazing author and (b) the gorgeously creepy cover (*shudder*). I hadn’t realized at the time that this book would be a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher — I actually didn’t know that until I started What Moves the Dead and happened to finally read the Goodreads blurb.

At that point, I took a small detour to read Poe’s story, which isn’t very long (the edition I read was 36 pages). I’m glad I did. It gave me great context for What Moves the Dead, and made it really fun to compare and contrast the two versions of the story, especially the character portrayals, the explanations, and the outcomes.

Note: The Fall of the House of Usher is easy to find online at no cost! Here’s one resource, and there are free versions available for Kindle too.

What Moves the Dead is an excellent read, perhaps not for the squeamish — but if you enjoy creepy, understated horror, definitely check it out!

Book Review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Elder Race
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication date: November 16, 2021
Length: 201 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Elder Race, a junior anthropologist on a distant planet must help the locals he has sworn to study to save a planet from an unbeatable foe.

Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way.

But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) and although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it).

But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, for his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon… 

This stunning, inventive, beautifully crafted novella is a living, breathing embodiment of Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

In Elder Race, Lynesse Fourth Daughter, daughter of the queen of Lannesite, takes the forbidden trail up the mountain to the Tower of Nyrgoth Elder, the revered sorcerer who has not been seen for generations. Lynesse is not taken seriously by her mother or older sisters, all of whom prefer to focus on trade and diplomacy rather than indulge Lynesse’s flights of fancy. But Lynesse has heard refugees from outlying lands plea for help after their towns and forests were overrun by a demon, and she’s determined to take action, even if her mother won’t.

That’s the opening set-up of Elder Race. It feels like the start of an epic quest, and hurray for girl power too!

Stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers completely, because there’s a doozy coming…

Ready?

The next chapter is told from the perspective of Nyrgoth Elder… and it turns everything upside down. It turns out that his name is really Nyr Illim Tevitch, and he’s not a sorcerer. Nyr is an anthropologist with Earth’s Explorer Corps, and he’s there in his remote outpost to study and observe the local populations.

Thousands of years earlier, Earth sent out generation ships to colonize planets throughout the universe. And some thousands of years after that, groups of scientists followed to check on how the colonies turned out. Nyr was a part of one of these expeditions, and after his fellow scientists were recalled to Earth, he was left behind, the sole member of the expedition remaining to continue their studies.

The problem is, he hasn’t heard back from Earth in centuries. Nyr stays alive through advanced science, including long periods of sleeping in suspended animation. He last awoke a century earlier, and broke one of the cardinal rules of anthropologists by getting involved with the local people. His mission is to study and report; by mingling with the people, he’s potentially contaminating the study.

When Lynesse and her companion Esha show up at his tower, there begins a remarkable story of cultural differences and miscommunications. The early colonies on the planet were rudimentary, starting life over without technology. Their culture is agrarian and feudal and deeply superstitious. Anything unexplainable is attributed to magic and demons and sorcerers. And so even when Nyr tries to explain himself, the language gap between the cultures makes it literally impossible for him to translate the term scientist — every word he tries to use comes out as some form of magician or sorcerer or wizard.

“It’s not magic,” he insisted, against all reason. “I am just made this way. I am just of a people who understand how the world works.”

“Nyrgoth Elder,” Esha said slowly. “Is that not what magic is? Every wise man, every scholar I have met who pretended to the title of magician, that was their study. They sought to learn how the world worked, so that they could control and master it. That is magic.”

As their quest proceeds, Nyr goes against every principle of his training, as he realizes that he can actually serve a different purpose:

I am only now, at the wrong end of three centuries after loss of contact, beginning to realise just how broken my own superior culture actually was. They set us here to make exhaustive anthropological notes on the fall of every sparrow. But not to catch a single one of them. To know, but very emphatically not to care.

I can’t even begin to explain how gorgeously crafted this slim book is. Particularly mind-blowing is a chapter in which Nyr tells Lynesse and Esha the story of how his people came to the planet millennia ago. On the same page, in parallel columns, we read Nyr’s science-based story and right next to it, the same story as it’s heard by Lynesse in the context of her own culture and language. It’s a remarkable writing achievement, and just so fascinating to read.

Also fascinating is Elder Race‘s treatment of depression and mental health, which for Nyr is managed through the use of advanced technology that allows him to separate from his feelings — but not permanently. He can shut off feeling his feelings, but is still aware that they’re there, and can only go so long before he has to let down the wall and experience the emotions that have been walled away. The descriptions of dealing with depression are powerful, as is the way he explains knowing the depression is waiting for him, even in moments when he’s not living it.

I absolutely loved the depiction of a tech-free culture’s interpretation of advanced scientific materials and equipment, and the way the books chapters, alternating between Lynesse and Nyr’s perspectives, bring the cultural divide to life.

Elder Race is beautifully written and expertly constructed. The balancing act between science fiction and fantasy is just superb. This book should not be missed!

Shelf Control #298: Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Passing Strange
Author: Ellen Klages
Published: 2017
Length: 131 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where mystery, science, and art intersect.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition in 2018.

Why I want to read it:

I’d almost forgotten about this one! Luckily, I happened to be skimming through the books in my Kindle library and saw it there.

This is a novella published by Tor — and I tend to really like their selection of novellas. Always something new and different to enjoy!

I can’t quite get a grasp on what this story will turn out to be based on the synopsis — but appealing aspects include a) San Francisco b) 1940s setting and c) some sort of fantasy/magic element. I’m ready to be surprised, and look forward to reading it!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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Book Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Title: A Spindle Splintered
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication date: October 5, 2021
Length: 128 pages
Genre: Fairy tale/ fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story. 

THIS is the way to write a novella — short, sweet, spare, and totally on point.

In A Spindle Splintered, we meet Zinnia Gray on the cusp of what she’s sure will be her last birthday. Thanks to her rare genetic condition, her death is inescapable, and as she explains to people who ask her about future plans, she’s just running out the clock.

Because of her condition, Zinnia has tried to accelerate as much of her life as she can, finishing high school and then college early, getting a degree in folklore, never forgetting that for all her life, she’s been in the process of dying. And maybe because of that, fairy tales in general and Sleeping Beauty in particular are her obsessions.

Even among the other nerds who majored in folklore, Sleeping Beauty is nobody’s favorite. Romantic girls like Beauty and the Beast; vanilla girls like Cinderella; goth girls like Snow White.

Only dying girls like Sleeping Beauty.

In a moment of utter weirdness, Zinnia pricks her finger on the spinning wheel her best friend Charm (short for Charmaine) has set up for her birthday. Suddenly, Zinnia finds herself between worlds, finally landing in one in which an impossibly beautiful princess is calling for help. Primrose is a more traditional version of a Sleeping Beauty, cursed at birth to fall into a 100-year slumber on her 21st birthday — but thanks to Zinnia’s intervention, her doom seems to be avoided, yet she’s left to face a different sort of doom, getting married off to the perfect prince, much to her dismay.

Primrose and Zinnia set off on a quest to break both their curses, but nothing is really as it seems. The story culminates in a terrific action sequence and ends with plenty of surprises, while also leaving the door open for further tales.

I love the writing, the characters, the inventiveness of the storytelling, and the overall attitude and tone. I don’t always get along with novellas, often feeling like I’ve been left without the full picture and that I’ve read a synopsis rather than a full story. That’s not the case in A Spindle Splintered.

This novella reads just like a fairy tale, plus the modern elements make the characters relatable and bring humor even to totally grim (Grimm?) situations.

“Well, Harold,” I say gently. “They’re lesbians.”

(I’m not going to provide any context for that quote — just know that it’s perfect and made me laugh.)

The book has beautiful woodcut illustrations from the traditional Arthur Rackham versions of the story. You can see some of these here — scroll down to get to the woodcuts. These illustrations enhance the magical fairy tale elements of the story, and make the entire book feel classic, even in the more contemporary scenes.

I loved A Spindle Splintered, and can’t wait for the next book in the author’s Fracture Fables series,:

A Mirror Mended
To be released June 2022

A Spindle Splintered is a delight. Don’t miss it!

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Book Review: The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory

Title: The Album of Dr. Moreau
Author: Daryl Gregory
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication date: May 18, 2021
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Daryl Gregory’s The Album of Dr. Moreau combines the science fiction premise of the famous novel by H. G. Wells with the panache of a classic murder mystery and the spectacle of a beloved boy band.

It’s 2001, and the WyldBoyZ are the world’s hottest boy band, and definitely the world’s only genetically engineered human-animal hybrid vocal group. When their producer, Dr. M, is found murdered in his hotel room, the “boyz” become the prime suspects. Was it Bobby the ocelot (“the cute one”), Matt the megabat (“the funny one”), Tim the Pangolin (“the shy one”), Devin the bonobo (“the romantic one”), or Tusk the elephant (“the smart one”)?

Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has only twenty-four hours to solve a case that goes all the way back to the secret science barge where the WyldBoyZ’ journey first began—a place they used to call home.

This book is so weird… and I loved it.

In The Album of Dr. Moreau, we meet the WyldBoyZ — the world’s most adored boy band, who sing in perfect harmony, have killer dance moves, and have the physical appearance of very interesting animal/human mixes. These five pop stars are genetically engineered animal-human hybrids, and they’ve taken the world by storm.

As the book opens, their ethically-challenged, manipulative manager Dr. M. has been found brutally murdered in his Las Vegas suite after the Boyz’s final tour performance and blow-out afterparty. Who wanted Dr. M. dead, and who had opportunity? As Detective Luce Delgado quickly establishes, all of the Boyz had motive, and any one of them could have had access.

Meanwhile, the case is complicated by the WyldBoyZ’s wild celebrity, as well as by their rabid fan base, referred to as zoomies (which true fans consider offensive — they prefer zoomandos, thank you very much). Zoomies dress in elaborate animal costumes, so as Luce and her colleagues review the video footage from the party, it’s pretty much impossible to tell who’s who beneath the unicorn, gopher, chipmunk, and other furry costumes.

As Luce investigates, we get to know each of the Boyz, and learn more and more about their backstory, where they came from, and what they’ve had to endure. I absolutely loved her interviews with the band members, seeing their personalities, their habits, and their quirks… and how not weird she tries to make it as she’s sitting and having a conversation with a human-pangolin hybrid, as one example.

This book is short, but so jam-packed with goodness that there’s no wasted space. I was entertained and hooked from page one, and adored every moment. The wacky idea of a human-animal-hybrid boy band is so out there, and it’s perfect.

I happen to have read The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells last year, and that made reading The Album of Dr. Moreau extra amusing as a point of comparison — but don’t worry if you haven’t read the Wells classic. It’s not necessary for enjoying this book, since they don’t really have anything to do with one another except as a passing reference… but if you’re curious, it’s worth checking out.

The Album of Dr. Moreau is so much crazy fun. My only complaint: I really, REALLY, want to see a video of the WyldBoyZ in action. Please, someone, make it happen!!

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Buy now at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

Title: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower
Author: Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: November 30, 2020
Length: 216 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When the witch built the forty-flight tower, she made very sure to do the whole thing properly. Each flight contains a dreadful monster, ranging from a diamond-scaled dragon to a pack of slavering goblins. Should a prince battle his way to the top, he will be rewarded with a golden sword—and the lovely Princess Floralinda.

But no prince has managed to conquer the first flight yet, let alone get to the fortieth.

In fact, the supply of fresh princes seems to have quite dried up.

And winter is closing in on Floralinda… 

The idea of the princess rescuing herself isn’t exactly new anymore, thanks to the (incredibly welcome) surge in grrl-power fairy tale retellings. Still, in the hands of Tamsyn Muir, this princess story feels fresh and so, so entertaining.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a slim book (with a wonderful cover!), but it’s jam-packed with humor and adventure (and all sorts of guts and gore, but in a FUNNY gross way).

A witch has imprisoned the beautiful princess at the top of a tower. It’s a classic concept — princes will come, battle their way to the top, and win the lovely princess (and a rocking golden sword). The problem is, the very first flight is guarded by a fearsome diamond-coated dragon, and for the first several days, all Floralinda can hear from way up in her tower is the crunch-crunch-crunch of prince bones. Eventually, the princes stop coming, and Floralinda’s tower prison starts to feel dismal.

Joined by a wayward fairy named Cobweb, Floralinda is spurred into action. If the two of them don’t do something about it, she’ll be stuck in the tower forever — and the magically regenerating bread and oranges that felt like a treat at first are just not enough to sustain a princess forever.

Floralinda and Cobweb begin to battle their way down the flights of the tower, crafting weapons and poisons, using their wits and their muscles (Cobweb assigns Floralinda a workout regimen) to defeat sirens, goblins, giant rats, and sorts of other ghastly, deadly adversaries.

I love how Floralinda sheds her princessy exterior, becoming grimier and tougher, turning her silk gown into bandages and her curtain rods into spears, turning into a warrior without ever really meaning to. The relationship beween her and Cobweb is funny and sweet, even though Cobweb spends most of her time hating on Floralinda (even while making sure she’s got the weapons and training needed to kill all the monsters that stand between them and freedom).

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a funny delight, and I’m so glad I treated myself to a copy. I think I’m the last person on the planet who hasn’t read Gideon the Ninth yet, but now that I’ve read this short treat by Tamsyn Muir, I definitely want to read her full-length works too.

Shelf Control #217: The Blue Salt Road by Joanne M. Harris

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: The Blue Salt Road
Author: Joanne M. Harris
Published: 2019
Length: 215 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

An earthly nourris sits and sings
And aye she sings, “Ba lilly wean,
Little ken I my bairn’s father,
Far less the land that he staps in.
(Child Ballad, no. 113)

So begins a stunning tale of love, loss and revenge, against a powerful backdrop of adventure on the high seas, and drama on the land. The Blue Salt Road balances passion and loss, love and violence and draws on nature and folklore to weave a stunning modern mythology around a nameless, wild young man.

Passion drew him to a new world, and trickery has kept him there – without his memories, separated from his own people. But as he finds his way in this dangerous new way of life, so he learns that his notions of home, and your people, might not be as fixed as he believed.

Beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, this is a stunning and original modern fairytale.
 

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy last year.

Why I want to read it:

This is a slim little hardcover book, and on my copy, the cover design is in silver, not white. So eye-catching! I just happened to be at my favorite bookstore one weekend and saw this book in the window, and felt completely drawn to it. I love folk tales and fairy tales, and a story about a selkie sounds just about perfect.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

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  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
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Book Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

Title: If It Bleeds
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: April 21, 2020
Length: 447 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author, legendary storyteller, and master of short fiction Stephen King comes an extraordinary collection of four new and compelling novellas —Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story If It Bleeds— each pulling readers into intriguing and frightening places.

A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Call me crazy, but Stephen King books are my version of comfort food. When I need distraction from the drama of daily life, I know I can sink into a King book and get carried away from everything weighing me down.

So getting a library e-book download of If It Bleeds this week was just perfect timing! Also very surprising, as I’d expected to be on the hold list for months… so thank you, San Francisco Public Library!

I approached If It Bleeds a little hesitantly, as short stories are really not my thing. Still, there was the book, just waiting for me on my Kindle, so how could I resist?

I’m so glad I dove right in! If It Bleeds consists of four novella-length stories, all unrelated, and all very different in content and tone. And each was a treat!

The story that garnered the most pre-publication buzz is the title story, If It Bleeds (which appears 3rd in this collection). If It Bleeds stars Holly Gibney, whom even Stephen King refers to as a favorite character! Holly was first introduced in the Bill Hodges trilogy, and then was a key character in The Outsider (the adaptation of which aired on HBO recently).

Here, Holly is the lead in her own story. She is horrified by news of a terrible mass murder by bombing at an elementary school — and then is hooked by a discrepancy she notices in the appearance of the local newscaster who was first on the scene. Holly is never one to let go of details, and as she investigates, she becomes personally involved in tracking down and stopping a monster.

It’s a good story, very suspenseful, although I’m not sure how much sense it’ll make to someone not familiar with The Outsider. It’s not an exact sequel, but the earlier novel definitely informs the way Holly’s case unfolds and what she knows.

As for the other stories… well, I loved them!

In order of preference, my least favorite would be the final story in the book — although don’t get me wrong, I still really liked it! Rat is the story of a writer who’s never been able to finish a novel, although he has published some highly regarded short stories and is an English professor. When a new story idea appears to him, he’s sure it’s his novel at last, and decides to retreat to his family’s remote backwoods cabin to work on it in isolation before the inspiration disappears.

Rat is an interesting look at creativity, the writing process, a writer’s fear, and the superstitions and bargaining that may accompany a fickle gift. Stephen King does love to feature writers as main characters, and then put them in dangerous, awful situations. Is the writer here really experiencing the disturbing things he thinks are happening, or is he losing his grip on his sanity? Read the story and decide!

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the first story in the collection, and feels like classic Stephen King. It combines his patented nostalgic look back at childhood with a small-town setting, the loss of loved ones, and a piece of technology that changes everything. It’s a story about growing up and saying good-bye, but also just a good, spooky, odd ghost story. Very cool.

Finally, the 2nd story in the book, which was my favorite of the bunch. The Life of Chuck is weird and wonderful, and I adored it. Told in three sections that move backward chronologically, this story is surprising and captivating, and strangely moving too. I don’t want to give away a single thing about it! Definitely check it out!

All in all, a terrific collection! As I mentioned, I don’t typically seek out story collections, even from my favorite authors, so I’m really grateful that I happened to be able to get this from the library.

And true confession time: I loved it so much that I ended up using an Amazon gift card to treat myself to my very own hard copy!

If It Bleeds is a great addition to Stephen King’s huge body of work. If you thought he might possibly run out of original stories to tell… this book shows that that’s not at all likely to happen. A must-read for King fans!

Book Review: Defy or Defend by Gail Carriger

Title: Defy or Defend (Delightfully Deadly, #2)
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Gail Carriger LLC
Publication date: May 5, 2020
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A vampire hive descending into madness. A beautiful spy with a sparkly plan. The bodyguard who must keep them from killing each other.

New York Times bestselling romantic comedy author Gail Carriger brings you a charming story of love, espionage, and Gothic makeovers set in her popular Parasolverse.

SPY

Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, code name Honey Bee, is the War Office’s best and most decorative fixer. She’s sweet and chipper, but oddly stealthy, and surprisingly effective given the right incentives.

VERSUS KNIGHT

Sir Crispin Bontwee was knighted for his military service, but instead of retiring, he secretly went to work for the War Office. Mostly he enjoys his job, except when he must safeguard the Honey Bee.

Neither one is a vampire expert, but when the Nottingham Hive goes badly Goth, only Dimity can stop their darkness from turning bloody. And only Crispin can stop an enthusiastic Dimity from death by vampire.

In a battle for survival (and wallpaper), Dimity must learn that not all that sparkles is good, while Cris discovers he likes honey a lot more than he thought.

“This intoxicatingly witty parody will appeal to a wide cross-section of romance, fantasy and steampunk fans.” ~ Publishers Weekly, starred review (Soulless)

Spinning off from the Finishing School series, featuring deadly ladies of quality, this story stands alone, but chronologically follows Poison or Protect before the start of the Parasol Protectorate Series. It’s Cold Comfort Farm meets Queer Eye meets What We Do In The Shadows from the hilarious author of the Parasol Protectorate books, perfect for fans of Julia Quinn, Jodi Taylor, or Meljean Brook.

Hurray for Gail Carriger, the almighty parasol, and the ongoing legacy of the Finishing School!

In the Finishing School books (which are AMAZING and which you need to read RIGHT NOW), we meet a group of school girls who are trained in the fine arts of flirtation, social niceties, and assassination (among other important skills).

The author treated us to the 2016 novella Poison or Protect, the first in what I hope will be a long continuing series (Delightfully Deadly). Poison or Protect was all about Preshea, one of the Finishing School girls who as an adult has made a career out of her deadly skills.

Now, with Defy or Defend, we get Dimity’s story! Dimity was one of the quieter characters in the Finishing School books, a good and loyal friend, a fan of sparkling jewels and accessories, not entirely sure that a career in espionage was really what she was looking for.

Picking up her story several years later, Dimity is a young lady with a talent for unearthing all sorts of wonderful intelligence by way of her charm and flirting abilities. She’s a star performer when it comes to undercover work, but she doesn’t ordinarily deal with the supernatural set until she’s assigned a special new case.

The Nottingham vampire hive is in disarray, with their queen in seclusion, their drones all departed, the remaining few vampires in grave danger of going Goth — that is, becoming overly morose and tending toward wearing disturbing amounts of black velvet. This won’t do. A hive out of control is a menace, and if they can’t be fixed, the Bureau for Unnatural Registry may have to send an agent to end the hive and its vampires once and for all.

Dimity is on the job, along with Sir Crispin Bontwee, a former military man who works in intelligence as safety — that would be the muscle, basically. He’s assigned to protect Dimity while she does the more delicate work of infiltrating and saving the hive.

I could go on and on and tell you all the clever and adorable ways in which Dimity saves the day. (Wallpaper and bustles are involved, among other things. And lots of tea, of course.) But I won’t — I’ll leave you to discover the joys of this sweet, lovely story!

Defy or Defend is a completely wonderful and welcome addition to the larger world of the Parasol Protectorate. As always, the author gives up quippy dialogue, great fashion, silliness galore, and unexpected treats. (And there just might be a certain muscular man performing ballet in a tight bathing costume…)

The tone is sexy with just a little steam, nothing particularly graphic but certainly some sexual content described in non-explicit terms. Which is fine — the characters are warm and likable and we just want them to be happy!

As a bonus for fans of Carriger’s world, a few other familiar faces show up for fun cameos. I suppose that’s one of the perks of writing about immortal supernatural beings — you can set your story in whatever decade you’d like, and still have a favorite character make an appearance!

Defy or Defend is really a fun read, and will definitely lift your spirits. Here’s hoping for many, many more Delightfully Deadly books ahead!

Book Review: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Title: Upright Women Wanted
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: February 4, 2020
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In Upright Women Wanted, award-winning author Sarah Gailey reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

Are you a coward or are you a librarian?

Just from the tag line on the cover, not to mention the awesome cover art, I knew this would be a great read.

In a future society that seems like a totalitarian version of the Old West, Librarians work for the State, riding from outpost to outpost delivering Approved Materials.

Esther stows away in a Librarian’s wagon after watching her best friend hang. Beatriz was more than Esther’s friend, though — the two were lovers, although they recognized that what they were doing was wrong and needed fixing.

Esther comes to the Librarians seeking refuge and a chance to fix her life. She pleads with Bet, the Head Librarian:

“Please,” she whispered one mroe time, fear tart under her tongue because she knew this was it, this was her last worst hope and this woman who could turn her in to the reaper was looking at her with precisely zero mercy. “I know I’m not supposed to be like this. I want to be like you.”

The response is not what she expects:

“Well, Esther,” Bet said, that irrepressible laugh trying hard to shake her voice, her thumb tracing the back of Leda’s. “Well. I’ve got good new for you, and I’ve got bad news.”

The good news is that Esther will be allowed to stay and ride with the Librarians. The bad news is that she’s not going to get the “upright” life she anticipates. The librarians are queer freedom-fighters, using their sanctioned role for decidedly unsanctioned purposes, smuggling unapproved materials and people past sheriffs and posses looking for insurgents, helping rebels get to safety so they can fight back another day.

Upright Women Wanted is a terrific romp through the new Old West, with gun battles and pursuits on horseback and corpses left for the vultures… plus the moving journey of Esther, learning how to be herself and not feel shame for who and what she is.

It’s an exciting story, with memorable characters and entertaining action sequences. My only quibble is that the novella length left me wanting more. How did the world end up this way? How exactly does this State work? How are the librarians organized, and who is their mysterious leader?

I do hope there’s a follow-up, because I definitely want answers! But in all other respects, Upright Women Wanted is a sparkling read that definitely satisfies.

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Sarah Gailey, and can’t wait for whatever they write next!

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of:
American Hippo
Magic For Liars