Audiobook Review: Gwendy’s Magic Feather by Richard Chizmar

 

Title: Gwendy’s Magic Feather
Author: Richard Chizmar (with a foreword by Stephen King)
Narrator: Maggie Siff
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: January 21, 2020
Print length: 223 pages
Audiobook length: 4 hours, 37 minutes
Genre: Thriller
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this thrilling sequel to the New York Times bestselling novella by Stephen King and award-winning author Richard Chizmar, an adult Gwendy is summoned back to Castle Rock after the mysterious reappearance of the button box.

Something evil has swept into the small Maine town of Castle Rock on the heels of the latest winter storm. Sheriff Norris Ridgewick and his team are desperately searching for two missing girls, but time is running out.

In Washington, DC, thirty-seven-year-old Gwendy Peterson couldn’t be more different from the self-conscious teenaged girl who once spent a summer running up Castle Rock’s Suicide Stairs. That same summer, she had been entrusted—or some might say cursed—with the extraordinary button box by Richard Farris, the mysterious stranger in the black suit. The seductive and powerful box offered Gwendy small gifts in exchange for its care and feeding until Farris eventually returned, promising the young girl she’d never see the box again.

One day, though, the button box suddenly reappears but this time, without Richard Farris to explain why, or what she’s supposed to do with it. Between this and the troubling disappearances back in Castle Rock, Gwendy decides to return home. She just might be able to help rescue the missing girls and stop a dangerous madman before he does something ghastly.

With breathtaking and lyrical prose, Gwendy’s Magic Feather explores whether our lives are controlled by fate or the choices we make and what price we sometimes have to pay. Prepare to return again to Stephen King’s Castle Rock, the sleepy little town built on a bedrock of deep, dark secrets, just as it’s about to awaken from its quiet slumber once more.

Gwendy is back!

In the 2017 novella Gwendy’s Button Box (reviewed here), we meet teen-aged Gwendy — a young girl whose life is forever changed by the mysterious box entrusted to her by a stranger. The box doles out treats and rewards, but also has the power to cause very, very bad things to happen.

In this 2nd book, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, Gwendy is all grown-up. After becoming a bestselling author, Gwendy became determined to make a change in the world, and is now a US Congresswoman. While her photojournalist husband flies around the world to cover developments in war zones, Gwendy works hard in her DC office. She’s had a successful life and has made real achievements, but always wonders: How much of what she’s accomplished did she do herself, and how much is thanks to the box?

She’s shocked and horrified when the box suddenly reappears in her life, right before her return to Castle Rock for Christmas with her parents. She has enough worries in her life already — her mother has recently finished cancer treatments, her husband is halfway around the world in the midst of a rebel uprising, it’s the eve of Y2K, and the hardliner new President seems to be blustering his way toward war. Tucking the box into her carry-on, Gwendy heads home, but the power and temptation of the box is never far from her mind.

While Gwendy’s Button Box was co-authored by Chizmar and King, in Gwendy’s Magic Feather, Chizmar is flying solo. And honestly, it still feels very King-like! There’s mounting tension, a small town with secrets and bizarre occurrences, weird happenings that may be supernatural, but also plenty of ordinary humans going about their business and having better or worse days than usual.

Gwendy is a terrific character, and it’s so interesting to see how her life developed after her eventful and traumatic teens. I’m glad I got around to this book, as #3 — Gwendy’s Final Task — will be published in May 2022. This new book will be the final in the Gwendy trilogy, and appears to be full novel-length, as well as co-written once again by Chizmar and King.

I listened to the audiobook of Gwendy’s Magic Feather, and loved it. Maggie Siff (Tara from Sons of Anarchy) is the narrator, and her voice is just perfect for Gwendy’s story.

This is a terrific 2nd book in a fascinating trilogy, and I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up!

Top Ten Tuesday: The long & the short of it

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is a freebie — so we all come up with whatever topic we feel like writing about.

My topic this week is the long & the short of it — the longest and shortest books I’ve read in the past year. Keeping it simple!

My five longest books were:

1. Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone (Outlander, #9) by Diana Gabaldon: 960 pages. Just finished this week!

2. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: 940 pages. My book group’s classic read — took us about a year, but we made it.

3. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander, #8) by Diana Gabaldon: 825 pages. This was a re-read, but so necessary in preparation for book #9.

4. Any Way the Wind Blows (Simon Snow, #3) by Rainbow Rowell: 579 pages. I really wish this wasn’t the end of the story — I want more!

5. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley: 544 pages. Another re-read, but it had been many years since the first time I read it, and I loved it all over again.

And the shortest:

1. The Wickeds (Faraway Collection) by Gayle Forman: 32 pages. This is really just a short story, but I’m including it anyway! This collection of fairy tales was fun, and I liked this one best of all.

2. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen: 122 pages. Another book group classic read, with such great discussions.

3. A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow: 128 pages. Wonderful fairy tale novella.

4. Rizzio by Denise Mina: 128 pages. Another novella, historical fiction this time, telling the story of a real-life murder in the court of Mary, Queen of Scots.

5. One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky: 144 pages. Great sci-fi novella.

What were your longest and shortest reads this year?

If you wrote a TTT this week, please share your links!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Novella review: Rizzio by Denise Mina

One more for Novella November!

 

Title: Rizzio
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: Pegasus Crime
Publication date: September 7, 2021
Length: 128 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the multi-award-winning master of crime, Denise Mina delivers a radical new take on one of the darkest episodes in Scottish history—the bloody assassination of David Rizzio  private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, in the queen’s chambers in Holyrood Palace.

On the evening of March 9th, 1566, David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was brutally murdered. Dragged from the chamber of the heavily pregnant Mary, Rizzio was stabbed fifty six times by a party of assassins. This breathtakingly tense novella dramatises the events that led up to that night, telling the infamous story as it has never been told before.

A dark tale of sex, secrets and lies, Rizzio looks at a shocking historical murder through a modern lens—and explores the lengths that men and women will go to in their search for love and power.

Rizzio is nothing less than a provocative and thrilling new literary masterpiece.

Who knew a crime story from 1566 could be so compelling?

In the skilled hands of Denise Mina, the story of the real-life murder of David Rizzio comes to life, full of political scheming, betrayals, and intricately choreographed action sequences.

From the very first paragraph, it’s clear that this will be a powerful, masterfully told story:

Lord Ruthven wanted him killed during this tennis match but Darnley said no. Lord Darnley wants it done tonight. He wants his wife to witness the murder because David Rizzio is her closest friend, her personal secretary, and she’s very pregnant and Darnley hopes that if she sees him being horribly brutalised she might miscarry and die in the process. She’s the Queen; they’ve been battling over Darnley’s demand for equal status since their wedding night and if she dies and the baby dies then Darnley’s own claim to the throne would be undeniable. They’re rivals for the crown. She knew that from the off. He wants it done in front of her.

How’s that for cold-hearted brutality? I love how this opening paragraph tells us so much about the situation, the motivations, and what’s at stake, with just just a few brief, stark sentences.

This tightly woven book traces the events immediately before and after Rizzio’s murder, exquisitely painting a picture of the precariousness of women’s power, the deadly nature of the battle between religious factions, and the inability of these scheming, devious men to recognize that women matter.

While the short length of this novella means that everything unfolds quickly, the writing is immersive and detailed enough to give us insight into the minds of the key players and to make the situation remarkably clear.

While I know the basics about Mary, Queen of Scots, I clearly don’t know enough, and reading this novella has piqued my interest all over again. One of my tasks in 2022 will be to find a good non-fiction book about her life and reign — I know there are plenty of novels and TV/movie depictions, but I also know that most, especially the on-screen versions, take a ton of liberties with the historical record.

I’d heard good things about Denise Mina previously, but this is my first time reading one of her books. Her writing and use of language is so on point and keen here, expressive but with nothing extraneous.

Rizzio is a quick, sharp tale of historical murder, and the terrific writing makes it sing. I came across this book after hearing two beloved authors, Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon, recommend it during an interview, and I’m so glad I followed their advice and gave it a try. Highly recommended, for crime fans as well as fans of historical fiction.

Novella review: One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Apparently, it’s Novella November! Who knew? Not me!

In any case, Novella November is a thing, and that means my timing is spot on, as I’ve been enjoying a few novellas this week.

Here’s a quick look at the first one I finished:

 

Title: One Day All This Will Be Yours
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Solaris
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Length: 144 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The bold new work from award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky  – a smart, funny tale of time-travel and paradox

Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.

Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.

I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.

Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.

A totally trippy take on time travel and the end of the world. Our unnamed narrator is the sole survivor of the Causality War, in which too many competing factions realized that the ultimate weapon isn’t a nuke — it’s a time machine.

And then they used them, because that’s what you always do with the ultimate weapons that you swear you’ll never, ever use. You get your retaliation in first. Sooner or later, you preemptively deploy your deterrent just in case the other side aren’t deterred by it.

Don’t trust your adversaries? Go back in time and wipe out the pieces of their history that made them a threat in the first place. And once one set of people with a time machine realize its potential and actually use it, so does everyone else. It’s all very circular and paradoxical and made my head spin round quite a bit, but this book is oh-so-much fun to read.

I don’t want to give away any of the delightful little surprises, but trust me — you’ll want to experience the main character’s pillaging of the past for entertainment and farming supplies, his ruthless yet “nothing personal” approach to dealing with unwanted visitors, and his training of trusty sidekick Miffly.

The story is mind-bending and funny and plausible in the weirdest of ways, and the writing absolutely cracked me up.

My main complaint? The hardcover version of this book was a limited release, now sold out, and copies are available on EBay and elsewhere for $80 and up. And yes, I could buy the Kindle edition, but I really, really would love to have a physical copy on my shelves. Ah well. A reader can dream, right?

Meanwhile… this is the first book I’ve read by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I have no idea if it’s at all typical of his works, but I’d love to explore further. If you’ve read any books by this author that you’d particularly recommend, please let me know!

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!

A novella two-fer: Heartwarming holiday tale and nuns in space

It’s time for another two-fer post — a quick wrap-up of two recent reads. In this case, I borrowed two novellas from the library this week, and while they’re quite different, I definitely enjoyed them both.

 

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman: Definitely not as Christmas-y as you might think from looking at the cover. This is a sweet (veering close to the edge of overly sentimental) tale of a man having to assess what makes a life valuable, and what it means to trade a life for a life. The prose is clear and simply stated, and there are illustrations throughout that emphasize the loveliness of the small moments that make a life. This is a quick read, and the little hardcover I borrowed from the library would make a really nice gift for fans of the author.

Length: 65 pages
Published: 2017
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather: This science fiction novella is set on board a living ship, the space-voyaging convent Our Lady of Impossible Constellations. The nuns on the ship travel to the outer reaches of the four systems, ministering to the sick and performing rites and rituals, largely independent of government and church politics. I was fascinated by the concept of the ship as a living creature — this novella would be worth reading just for the descriptions of the ship’s biology! The lives of the sisters hold more secrets than is immediately apparent, and their interactions with one isolated colony planet thrust them into the middle of an interstellar power play that is likely to result in devastation.

I really enjoyed the plot of Sisters of the Vast Black. I think I would have liked it even more as a full-length novel. Events seem somewhat rushed in this shorter form, and likewise, I would have preferred a little more time to get to know the characters as individuals. Still, despite these minor quibbles, I heartily recommend this sci-fi adventure. Nuns in space!! Really, what more do you need to know?

Length: 176
Published: 2019
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Two quick 4-star reads for the end-of-the-year rush! Check ’em out.

Shelf Control #192: Poison: A Wicked Snow White Tale by Sarah Pinborough

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.png

Title: Poison: A Wicked Snow White Tale
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Published: 2013
Length: 187 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A beautiful, sexy, contemporary retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale, illustrated by Les Edwards.

Poison is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Snow White story which takes all the elements of the classic fairy tale that we love (the handsome prince, the jealous queen, the beautiful girl and, of course, the poisoning) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. It’s fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of Once Upon a TimeGrimmSnow White and the Huntsman and more.

How and when I got it:

Who says brick and mortar bookstores can’t survive? I wandered into a local bookstore last year, saw this book on the shelf, and had to buy not just this one, but the two other volumes in the series (Tales From the Kingdoms) as well.

Why I want to read it:

It just checks all my boxes! I may be a little burned out from too many fairy tale retellings, but Poison and its companions (Charm and Beauty) sound different enough to make me want to read them. Plus, they’re short — and admitting my shallowness here — the editions are so pretty and look so nice together! No wonder I had to get all three.

Also, I’ve been meaning to check out this author for a while now, so these books appeal to me for that reason too.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten recent novellas that I really, really loved

TTT summer

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Favorite Novellas/Short Stories.

I’m not a huge short story fan, but I have read some amazing novellas lately. Here are some of the best:

1) The Wayward Children novellas by Seanan McGuire:

Every Heart a Doorway (review)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Beneath the Sugar Sky

2) The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (review)

3) Time Was by Ian McDonald (review)

4) The Binti novellas by Nnedi Okorafor

5) American Hippo novellas by Sarah Gailey (review)

6) The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (review)

7) Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (review)

8) How to Marry A Werewolf by Gail Carriger (review)

9) The Dispatcher by John Scalzi (review)

10) Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant (review)

 

What are the best novellas and short stories that you’ve read recently? Please share your TTT links!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant

Rise is a collection of eight novellas and short stories that are set within the world of the Newsflesh trilogy. (See my wrap-up post about Newsflesh here. Short version: Amazing.)

So what’s inside Rise? And should you read it? Read on for mini-reviews of each story… and as for whether you should read it, my answer is an unqualified YES… but only after you read the complete trilogy, or at least, enough to appreciate the context of these stories.

Onward…

The first few stories in the Rise collection are set at the very beginning of the Rising – and this is something we never see in the main books of the Newsflesh trilogy. Newsflesh is set decades after the onset of the initial Kellis-Amberlee outbreak, and while we learn through the characters’ conversations and memories what happened at that time, it’s something quite different to read the author’s stories set during the Rising. These stories are awful in their inevitability – we know what’s coming, and we know that nothing will stop it.

Countdown

It began nowhere. It began everywhere. It began without warning; it began with all the warning in the world. It could have been prevented a thousand times over. There was nothing that anyone could have done.

A chilling timeline of the end of the world, showing the last of the pre-Rising days and how the disaster came on step by step. In the Newsflesh novels, the events of 2014 are almost 30 years in the past. Here, in Countdown, we see first-hand what actually happened that awful summer, from the optimism of a potential cancer cure to an irreversible act of ecoterrorism, all leading to the mutation and spread of a pandemic that changed the world forever. We meet some familiar characters, and also see the people who are basically the founding fathers of the Kellis-Amberlee virus – the creators of the Kellis cure, meant to cure the common cold, and Marburg Amberlee, an engineered virus that can defeat even the most dire of terminal cancer cases. Countdown is scary and dramatic and gave me the biggest case of dread. We know what’s going to happen, but watching it unfold and knowing there’s no chance that it won’t end the way that it does is still somehow crazily fascinating and terrible.

Everglades 

The shortest piece in the collection, Everglades is a view of campus life in the first days after the reality of the zombie apocalypse has hit home, as seen through the eyes of a young grad student who recognizes the cruelty of the natural world. It’s a short, sad, and even beautiful story.

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats

As Mira Grant points out in her introduction to this story, San Diego Comic Con is almost a perfect place to stage an outbreak. You have thousands of people crammed into a confined space, many costumed or so heavily made-up that it’s impossible to gauge their actual condition. There’s little to no cell reception inside the convention hall, so once disaster strikes, communication between those trapped and the outside world effectively ceases. And as we know from countless zombie TV shows and movies, all it takes is one infected person locked inside with everyone else to start a chain reaction. This story shows how the very last Comic Con turned from geeky delight to bloody mayhem, and the bravery of the assorted fanboys and fangirls who made a last stand.

The stories from this point forward take place after the events in the Newsflesh trilogy, or at least, close enough to them that a knowledge of those events is needed – and people who haven’t read the trilogy will end up with massive spoilers. That said, the next batch of stories are:

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea

Before the Rising, guns were verboten on airplanes, carried only by government agents and representatives of local law enforcement. Now most passengers flew armed, and the flight attendants carried more weapons than your average Irwin. It’s funny how the world can change when no one’s looking.

In which our beloved head Newsie Mahir heads off to Australia to get a first-hand view of how that country and continent made it through the Rising. Australia is still Australia, meaning that it’s a country full of people who are used to living alongside deadly wildlife, and their approach to security in the post-Rising world is vastly different from the paranoid, fear-based approach adopted everywhere else.

“Why would someone who didn’t like the law live out here?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier to move into the city, where there’s less risk of surprise zombie kangaroos?”

The story is entertaining and presents a view of a very different mentality, in a land where animal conservation still matters, even when those animals may amplify, turn into zombies, and eat you. A story that includes zombie kangaroos and wombats can’t help being a blast to read.

The Day the Dead Came To Show and Tell

It was a small, claustrophobic space. The shelves were packed with basic school supplies: paper, crayons, extra ammunition, formalin, bleach.

This story was the hardest to read in the collection. It just hits way too close to home right now. This story is about an outbreak in an elementary school, and unfolds moment by moment as the infection spreads, the school goes into lockdown, and one first-grade teacher faces the unthinkable as she tries to save her children. It’s awful. Fascinating and so well written, but awful just the same. With the seemingly never-ending wave of school shootings in this country, reading this story is just heart-breaking and way too relevant.

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus

Dr. Shannon Abbey is one of the many great side characters in the Newsflesh trilogy, and in this story, we get to spend a little more time with her in her secret mad scientist lair. Dr. Abbey is smart, a little crazy, and lots of fun, and her story here collides with another character seen in an earlier piece in Rise. Plus, we get to see Joe the massive mastiff and Barney the octopus – two big plusses.

“I’m a mad scientist, aren’t I? We all have master plans. Without them, we’d just be faintly disgruntled scientists who think we really ought to form a committee to discuss our grievances.”

The next two (and final two) stories in Rise are new to this collection, the only two not to have been previously published either in anthologies or stand-alone versions.

All the Pretty Little Horses

All the Pretty Little Horses takes us back once again to the early days of the Rising. The year is 2018, and we’re back with Michael and Stacy Mason, who’ve become famous for their radio broadcasts giving survival tips and offering encouragement during the really bad years. Now that the world is starting to find a new normal, Stacy is plunged into depression, desperately mourning the young son lost  in the early days of the Rising. This story shows how the Masons became the people we meet in the Newsflesh trilogy, hardened stars of the blogosphere who’ll do anything for ratings. And while this story didn’t truly make me like them, at least it shows a bit more of the desperation that turned them into the people they became.

 

And finally…

Coming To You Live

This is it. The story we’ve all been waiting for. It’s about Shaun and Georgia, and… well, I’m just not going to say a word about it. No matter what I say, it’ll be spoilery. Let’s just say that it was a perfect end piece for the collection, and it left me just as in love with the characters and the overarching world of Newsflesh as before, or may just a smidge more.

And that’s all, folks!

Rise is essential reading for fans of Newsflesh – and if you’ve made it this far in my lengthy post, I’m assuming you’re a fan too! I’m a little bit heartbroken to have reached the end. Yes, I know there’s still the 2016 novel Feedback to read, but it’s not about the characters I know and love, and I’m just not ready to go there yet. I’ll read it eventually (or maybe even later this week), but for now I just want to bask in the glory of all things Newsflesh, and the amazing stories in Rise, just a little bit longer.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: June 21, 2016
Length: 816 pages (mass market paperback)
Genre: Horror/science fiction
Source: Purchased

Hippos Go Berserk! The weird and wonderful River of Teeth books by Sarah Gailey

FERAL. HIPPOS. IN THE MISSISSIPPI.

What more do you need to know?

In the two River of Teeth novellas, author Sarah Gailey takes us on a tour of the Wild South of an alternate United States, and it’s a crazy good time.

In River of Teeth, we learn that the United States Congress, in the mid-1850s, considered importing hippos as a solution to a national meat shortage. True story! In real life, the proposal never went anywhere, but in River of Teeth, the Hippo Act of 1857 is just the beginning of decades-long development of hippo ranches in the marshes and bayous of the South.

Hippo cowboys are called hoppers. Some hippos are bred for their meat, and others are bred to be fast and loyal mounts for their hoppers, who ride them on kneeling saddles, brush their teeth at night, and make sure they’re never too far from a body of water to swim in.

Meanwhile, a bunch of hippos that escaped from a ranch early on have reproduced and gotten fiercer than ever, and now form the great bunch of feral hippos who terrorize the Harriet, the dammed lake that once was a passage of the Mississippi.

Got all that? That’s really all just backstory to the main event. In River of Teeth, a hopper named Winslow Houndstooth brings together a gang of hired guns (and knives) — mostly outlaws — to carry out an operation (most definitely not a caper) aimed at restoring trade on the Mississippi. The group includes a pregnant Latina with a penchant for very sharp daggers, a large French woman who’s a skilled thief and tough in a fight, the nonbinary character Hero who’s an explosives expert, and slick/shady Cal, who just obviously shouldn’t be trusted. They go up against the riverboat gangster in chief who controls the Harriet and punishes card cheats by throwing them to the ferals, and there’s trickery and double-crossing galore.

Let’s just say that there are explosions and disasters, and things are left so up in the air that by the time Taste of Marrow begins, it’s no surprise that our gang is split up into two separate groups, each believing the other likely dead but unwilling to give up the search. Much of Taste of Marrow is devoted to looking for one another, but at the same time there’s a newborn baby, marshlands and rivers being overrun by the ferals now loose of their restrictions, and riverboats being chomped to shreds by said ferals. There’s also a romantic reunion worth the way, as well as a sensibility that’s fresh and in tune with women’s bodies in a way that’s utterly new in an adventure tale.

Okay, to be more specific, while on the hunt for her kidnapped infant, the tough-as-nails former assassin has to deal not only with the stress of evading the law and plotting her revenge, but with a raging breast infection that no doubt is due to clogged milk ducts after having her nursing baby taken from her. Egads, I cringed in sympathy whenever she accidentally brushed something against her painful breasts. Been there, done that, but not while riding a hippo. (Boy, don’t I feel wimpy now.)

These books are a delight, plain and simple. I mean, the premise is just crazy, right? How can you not love a “western” that features hippos? Where a popular song played on the saloon piano is “The Wild Pottamus Rag”? And these people take their hippos very, very seriously. They raise them from hops (baby hippos), talk to them, sing to them, and seem to practically mind-meld with their chosen hippos. The hippos are fast and dangerous, but also devoted and affectionate. And with names like Rosa and Ruby and Abigail and Betsy, how can you not adore them?

“It can’t be,” Hero breathed. They scrambled up, slipping in the wet clay, and ran to the edge of the paddock. They reached right through the half-rotted wood at the edge of the water and pressed both hands to the nose of the little Standard Grey hippo that was huffing bubbles into the water there.

“It had better be,” Adelia said, “or else you just grabbed a strange hippo by the face.”

The gender fluidity and lack of barriers in relationships is quite refreshing and delightful too. Hero’s preferred pronouns are they and them, and no one ever slips up or deviates or makes an issue of it. (As a reader, I did have to re-read a couple of paragraphs when there are group scenes, as I sometimes wasn’t sure on first pass whether the “they” was referring to the group or to Hero themselves. But all good — I sorted it out).

A recurring gag throughout both stories is that various character steel themselves to ask Hero a big question, or Hero braces themselves waiting for the inevitable question that they know is coming. We readers may assume the question will have something to do with gender — and it just never is, instead focusing on mundane matters or questions about explosives or the baby or really, anything else. It a fun moment to realize that we’re being set up over and over again, and it made me giggle.

Despite the relatively short lengths of the two novellas — each under 200 pages — the characters are quite distinct and well described, and it’s really a fun batch of personalities that we get to know and follow on their crazy adventures.

If you at all have a taste for alternate history, cowboy tales, or hippos — especially hippos! — read these novellas.

Meanwhile, since starting the stories, I simply haven’t been able to get this other book out of my mind — a children’s favorite that I must have read out loud to my kiddo at least 100 times or more.

I love these western hippos, who seem to fit the River of Teeth mood:

It’s a hippo party! Good times! Crazy fun!

Don’t believe me yet? Check out the whole book, here:

 

But enough with the kids’ book — you really do need to read River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow! Or I’ll sic this guy on you…

 

_____________________________________

River of Teeth, 121 pages
Taste of Marrow, 192 pages
Published by Tor, 2017

Save

Save

Save