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…

 

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

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Thursday Quotables: Final Girls

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

Final Girls by Mira Grant
(published 2017)

This novella is so scary and wonderful — it starts with what seems to be a straight-up, old-fashioned, horror story set-up, then morphs into something completely different, with devastatingly invasive technology and sociopathic corporate assassins. I’m in awe of Mira Grant!

Here are a few key selections:

On a horror note — the opening lines:

The wood is dark and the wood is deep and the trees claw at the sky with branches like bones, ripping holes in the canopy of clouds, revealing glimpses of a distant, rotting moon the color of dead flesh.

More:

A mother’s love is infinite. Shouldn’t her blood, unfairly spilled, be the same?

And later, on a much different note:

From there, it was a simple matter to roll the chair into the corner and replace it with a fresh one, unburdened by inconvenient corpses.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten short books that are perfect for a quick read

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is:

Read In One Sitting Theme: ten of the shortest books I’ve read, top ten books I read in one sitting, ten books to read when you are short on time, top ten books that will make you read the whole day away, etc.

Here are a bunch of great read, all under 200 pages, that I think are excellent ways to sneak in a quick read!

1) Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. 97 pages. An amazing sci-fi adventure with a remarkable African woman as its main character. (Also, the sequel — Binti: Home — is also a short and sweet 176 pages!)

2) Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (179 pages): Simply beautiful. (review)

3) Isis by Douglas Clegg (113 pages): A wonderful, spooky little ghost story.

4) The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (120 pages): A quirky little novel which imagines Queen Elizabeth suddenly becoming an avid fiction reader.

5) Blockade Billy by Stephen King (112 pages): My edition includes two separate stories, both memorable and worth reading. (review)

6) The Travelling Bag and other Ghostly Stories by Susan Hill (160 pages): A collection of four ghost stories in a pint-sized hardcover edition, easy to read and certain to chill.

7) We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (160 pages): Without meaning to, I seem to have picked some truly creepy books for this list. This book is a gothic horror delight — and I think it’s even better as an audiobook.

8) Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (163 pages): A quick, funny, quirky look at the ups and down of Carrie Fisher’s life.

9) The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan (211 pages): Okay, slightly over 200 pages, but it’s such a quick read, and so powerful, that it just must be on this list! (review)

10) What’s a TTT list without an Outlander mention? Yes, the Outlander books are HUGE — but the novellas that fit into and alongside the series are not. For quick, wonderful reads sure to delight Outlander fans, check out any of these:

What are your favorite short and quick reads?

Whatever your spin on this week’s topic, please share your link so I can check out your list!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

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Catching up on Gail Carriger’s short fiction

I don’t know exactly how or why, but for whatever reason, I ended up bingeing on Gail Carriger’s short fiction this week, and had a simply splendid time doing it.

I’m a big fan of the Parasol Protectorate series. (What? You haven’t read them? Stop right now and go get a copy of Soulless! Emergency reading intervention required!). I mean, steampunk plus supernatural plus Victorian society… with dirigibles, werewolves, and highly dangerous parasols… what’s not to love?

Still, I haven’t read much of Carriger’s shorter fictions — until now. This week, I started with a new novella, then went back and read some earlier short stories, and finished up with another novella.

So, here’s what I read. First, the short stories:

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The Curious Case of the Werewolf That Wasn’t (32 pages, published 2014): This tale centers on Alessandro Tarabotti, father of Alexia of the Parasol Protectorate. In the series, Alessandro is a shadowy figure, already deceased, leaving all sorts of mysteries as his legacy. In The Curious Case, we see Alessandro on an adventure in Egypt. It’s classic Carriger, with spies, action, waistcoats, and proper (and improper) behavior. I enjoyed the story, but still wish we had an entire novel about Alessandro’s life and deeds. The story doesn’t really shed further light on him, but it is quite fun.

Fairy Debt (18 pages, published 2007): Light and fluffy, this is a stand-alone unrelated to Carriger’s steampunk worlds. It’s a straight-up fairy tale, but cute and with a decidedly feminist world view.

My Sister’s Song (17 pages, published 1999): A brief tale of a warrior woman who defeats a Roman squadron thanks to her sister’s skill at charming bees.

I should note here that Gail Carriger has another published short piece, Marine Biology (43 pages, published 2010). Because I read it several years ago, I wasn’t going to include it in my reading wrap-up post… but what the heck — if you’re interested in the author’s short fiction, then it’s worth mentioning! Here’s what I wrote about Marine Biology in my Goodreads review way back when:

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“Marine Biology” was originally published in a paranormal romance collection, and has just been released as an ebook single. This is the first story of Gail Carriger’s that I’ve read that’s set in the modern world, rather than the Victorian era. It’s also – shocker! – set in the US. Not a single cup of tea throughout!

“Marine Biology” is a cute, light love story involving a reluctant werewolf hiding his sexuality and a few other key points from his he-man pack. When he and a gorgeous merman are thrown together to investigate some stolen money, sparks fly — and precipate a few important moments of truth.

The mystery is rather beside the point. The fun is in meeting and appreciating the main characters, reading about pack dynamics (and barbeque social mores), and encountering a few interesting marine animals along the way.

Gail Carriger’s humor and way with words shine through, as usual. Of course, if you really want to have fun, I’d highly recommend her Parasol Protectorate series. “Marine Biology” is a quick, diverting read, and would make a great dessert after a night of “serious” reading.

Moving on…

I also read the two newest novellas, both set in the universe of the author’s novels:

poison-or-protectPoison or Protect (143 pages, published 2016):

(Goodreads synopsis)

Can one gentle Highland soldier woo Victorian London’s most scandalous lady assassin, or will they both be destroyed in the attempt?

New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a stand-alone romance novella set in her popular steampunk universe full of manners, spies, and dainty sandwiches.

Lady Preshea Villentia, the Mourning Star, has four dead husbands and a nasty reputation. Fortunately, she looks fabulous in black. What society doesn’t know is that all her husbands were marked for death by Preshea’s employer. And Preshea has one final assignment.

It was supposed to be easy, a house party with minimal bloodshed. Preshea hadn’t anticipated Captain Gavin Ruthven – massive, Scottish, quietly irresistible, and… working for the enemy. In a battle of wits, Preshea may risk her own heart – a terrifying prospect, as she never knew she had one.

Buy Poison or Protect today to find out whether it’s heartbreak or haggis at this high tea.

Warning: Contains men pleasing women, and ladies who know what they want and ask for it, sometimes in detail. May also contain plaid, appearances from favorite characters, and the strategic application of leather gloves.

Ha. Gotta love that warning, right? Poison or Protect is fairly explicit, leading to great steaminess in the boudoir scenes. The plot itself is quite fun and engaging, so it’s not JUST about the sex (although there’s plenty of that). I loved Preshea and Gavin, and loved their dynamic together. I understand that Preshea appears as a young girl in the Finishing School series (which I haven’t finished yet — my bad), but not being familiar with her doesn’t have any impact on enjoyment of Poison or Protect. The novella can definitely be read as a stand-alone, and is loads of sexy fun.

Next:

romancing-the-inventorRomancing the Inventor (149 pages, published 2016):

(Goodreads synopsis)

Imogene Hale is a lowly parlourmaid with a soul-crushing secret. Seeking solace, she takes work at a local hive, only to fall desperately in love with the amazing lady inventor the vampires are keeping in the potting shed. Genevieve Lefoux is heartsick, lonely, and French. With culture, class, and the lady herself set against the match, can Imogene and her duster overcome all odds and win Genevieve’s heart, or will the vampires suck both of them dry?

This is a stand-alone LBGTQ sweet romance set in Gail Carriger’s Parasolverse, full of class prejudice, elusive equations, and paranormal creatures taking tea.

Delicate Sensibilities? This story contains women pleasing women and ladies who know what they want and pursue it, sometimes in exquisite detail.

Supernatural Society novellas can be read in any order.

Well, that was certainly different! Romancing the Inventor is set a few years after the events of the Parasol Protectorate books, and reading that series provides the context and backstory for this novella, although I suppose it could work as a stand-alone pretty well too.

Familiar faces from PP show up, some in lead roles (Madame Lefoux), and others in more of a support status (Alexia, Conall, Major Channing, Countess Nadasdy, etc).

Imogene’s journey and pursuit of love is sweet, romantic, and yes, sexy too. There are some steamy sexual encounters, but nothing overly graphic (in my opinion — I suppose it’s a matter of individual sensitivity, after all.) Carriger’s writing is wry and funny and spot-on, as always:

For a full two months, Imogene resumed the established daily pattern — potting shed, sums, dimples, tea, lab, dimples, luncheon, equations, more dimples, supper, and if she was luck, one last set of dimples before bed.

Wrapping it all up…

I’d say that fans of any of Gail Carriger’s novels or series really must read the novellas too. They have everything we fans love about her writing — the settings, the characters, the sense of playful fun, the Victorian manners and social expectations, the fashions — and the naughtiness too.

As for the short stories, well, I’d consider them nonessential, fluffy fun. There’s no reason not to take the short time needed to enjoy them. Of the four, I consider Marine Biology the best, and would make that one a priority over the other three.

Whew! It’s been a Carriger week for me, and I had lots of fun in my deep dive into her shorter works. And now, I’m thinking I really do need to give the Finishing School series another chance.

Audiobook mini-review: The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

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One day, not long from now, it becomes almost impossible to murder anyone – 999 times out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. How? We don’t know. But it changes everything: war, crime, daily life.

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher – a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death’s crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge a supposed wrong.

It’s a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it’s too late…before not even a Dispatcher can save him.

 

What a treat! This brand-new audiobook is currently available FREE from Audible. How can you resist?

Narrated by actor Zachary Quinto, The Dispatcher is a brief novella that has an immediate hook. The intrigue starts with the opening scene — why is the main character insisting on being allowed into an operating room, and why is the surgeon so angry about it?

As the story unfolds, we learn about the new normal, in which anyone who dies via murder comes back — so that someone deemed irreversibly ill or injured requires the services of a Dispatcher, someone who will intentionally kill the near-death person so they can resume their lives. It’s a totally legal and licensed profession, except when a Dispatcher pick up a little gray-area work on the side.

As the mystery of Tony’s missing friend unfolds, we follow his work with a detective to uncover the seamier side of Dispatching and their race against time to find the missing man before he dies a permanent death. Meanwhile, while the story has many of the tropes of a noir detective story, we’re treated to one odd scenario after another in which we learn just how much our world changes when death is no longer final.

I won’t give away anything further. The Dispatcher is an absolutely glorious audiobook experience. The pacing and plot are fabulous, and Quinto’s narration is pretty much spot on (although his voice for a goonish bodyguard is perhaps too goofy, and his women tend to the breathy end of the vocal spectrum). Still, his reading of the story is terrifically enjoyable, with just the right emphases and pauses and intonations to make it fun and suspenseful.

What are you waiting for? It’s FREE. And it’s great. If sci-fi/speculative fiction is at all your thing, you owe it to yourself to check out The Dispatcher.

And oh yeah.

FREE.

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The details:

Title: The Dispatcher
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator: Zachary Quinto
Publisher: Audible Studios
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Audiobook length: 2 hours, 19 minutes
Printed book length: n/a – not available in print format
Genre: Science fiction/speculative fiction
Source: Download via Audible