Reading Wrap-Up: March 2017

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Over the Edge by Harlan Ellison (My Rating: 3.5/5) I could point new readers to specific collections that are best to start with for Ellison (Angry Candy or Slippage would both be great), but this is not one. This is for the people, like myself, who are established fans and determined to read as much of his work as possible. In part, I say that because this collection was fairly up and down. “Xenogenesis” and “Blind Lightning” are both worth owning the book for, but the rest were either featured in other collections that are better or not that impressive. This collection also didn’t have a unifying theme of any kind. There was science fiction and fantasy and non-fiction and crime thrillers, and at some point it started to feel scattered to me. There’s also the non-fiction essay “3 Faces of Fear” that was long-winded, repetitive, and full of harsher in hindsight moments that made me cringe. For hardcore fans only.

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris (My Rating: 4/5) I’m very much in a fairy-tale-and-myth retelling kind of mood, so this was the perfect book to tackle right now. In a way. It’s Loki retelling Norse myth from his perspective. I had very recently read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and the unfortunate side effect of that was… this book felt redundant in some ways. That is entirely not the fault of Harris or Gaiman. They were both pulling from the same stories, so of course they end up feeling very similar. But I do think I would’ve given this one the higher rating if I’d read it first. Just a warning not to read these two a month apart. Definitely give them more time between.

That aside, this was wonderful. Loki’s voice was funny, flippant, and uniquely himself. In making the storyline linear with Loki’s own thoughts as part of the narrative, it gives him motive and intent that I felt he lacked in Gaiman’s telling. Even though Loki is an agent of Chaos, his actions have meaning, and it strengthens the story overall. This is definitely for retelling fans, Loki fans, and villain protagonist fans.

Beast by Donna Jo Napoli (My Rating: 4/5) Another retelling! This one of Beauty and the Beast with a very original twist. The Beast is a Persian prince (working really hard not to type Prince of Persia right now) who is cursed due to a religious misstep. When he’s transformed, it’s into a full-on lion. No hybrids here. His meeting Belle comes much later in the story, and most of the plot is concerned with following him as he clings to his humanity.

This book doesn’t pull punches when it comes to him being a lion. He hunts animals much weaker than him and eats them. His already princely pride comes out in occasional, bestial violence. He mates with a lioness. He has instincts and urges he must battle. I saw a lot of reviews that expressed discomfort with these aspects of the story, whereas I thought that was why it was so strong. We explore Orasmyn’s religion, culture, and transformation and how those things clash. We see that, yes, he’s an animal now and wonder how in hell he’s going to turn this thing around. It made the last third of the story feel even more tense and compelling. Highly recommended for the fairy tale crowd.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (My Rating: 5/5) Sometimes a book is candy to you. It’s fun and delicious, and you truly don’t care about anything else. Sometimes it’s even better than that. It’s your candy. It feels as if the author tailor-made this particular candy to suit your palette. The characters, the writing style, the story itself and its incredible heart, they all feel like they were made for you. This is what Wintersong was for me.

It’s a Labyrinth retelling that takes the story to every point I could’ve possibly wanted as a fan. And further even than that as Jae-Jones shapes these characters into real people rather than simple archetypes. As this story unfolded, more and more things I loved about it kept appearing until it was clear this couldn’t be less than five stars for me. To be more specific about that, if you love things like The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, and Hades and Persephone, this is probably for you. I do recommend it but with the caveat that this book was so me, and I can’t promise it’ll be that for everyone. Also, allow me a moment, because she is writing a sequel. Squee!

Legenda Maris by Tanith Lee (Rating: 5/5) This comes with a severely bittersweet tinge. Legenda Maris is an absolutely beautiful short story collection wherein all the stories are about the sea in some fashion, which includes mermaids and selkies and shipwreaks and beyond. It’s also the last thing Tanith Lee collected together and wrote before she passed away. There’s a very touching introduction from Storm Constantine that begins the book. Lee speaks often and fondly of her husband, who survived her, as inspiring several stories within. Like all her work, it was beautifully inspired. I can’t even properly pick a favorite, because I really did love everything about it. Please seek this one out, especially if you’re looking for mermaid stories.

By Light We Knew Our Names by Anne Valente (Rating: 5/5) Another short story collection, this one with a mix of contemporary literature and magical realism. Meaning not every story is fantastical. Usually when I’m reading a collection like this, and not every story has some weird, magical element, I find myself disappointed. This book made me realize something very important about that. If I’m not enjoying a story because it’s not strange enough or doesn’t contain enough fantasy elements, then that’s bad writing. With Valente’s work, I was simply absorbed. She wrote about some incredibly heavy topics here and didn’t flinch away for a second. Everything she covers, which includes a lot about loss and grief of all shapes and sizes, feels raw and realistic, even in the stories that do indeed have an odd twist to them.

I loved every, single story in this collection, but the one that left me breathless was “Until Our Shadows Claim Us”. If you’ve been following me at all, you know I love horror, and this was one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. Not because it was gory or shocking or had the most horrifying monster. Because it was about guilt and how haunting that feeling is. All horror should strive to heights like this story reached.

Blood 20: Tales of Vampire Horror by Tanith Lee (Rating: 5/5) If you followed all those posts I was writing in March, you know I wrote at length about vampires. The things I’d read and the things I wish to read. It put a spark in me, and here I tackled one of my most anticipated vampire reads. This is a short story collection of twenty different takes on the vampire. Only Tanith Lee could achieve this. Any other writer would have been hard-pressed to create two, differing scenarios, whereas Lee spent her career finding varied ways to explore this creature. If you’re a vampire fan, this book will quickly become a favorite. And you’ll have at least one favorite story, if not several. The one I have to mention first is “Bite-Me-Not”, a story that turned the monstrous, bestial vampire right on its head. Also, “The Isle Is Full Of Noises”, the longest story in the bunch. Not only did it do some wonderful meta things regarding the writing process, but it simply told a bizarre and gripping story.

I have to say, this reading month was phenomenal. I discovered a lot of new favorites, and so little of what I read was even remotely disappointing. I hope I can keep up this momentum. As always, happy geeking!

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