Comfort Me With Apples: A Review

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. ValenteSophia was made for him. Her man. Her everything. She knows it in her bones every time she looks at him, every time she goes about her day making sure everything is perfect for him.

Because everything in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. He’s made sure of it–building steps and stools and adjustments so Sophia doesn’t feel dwarfed in their too-large house with their too-large things. And soon, she’ll have her own space; a basement he’s building out just for her.

Her husband is away quite a bit, leaving Sophia alone to get to know her neighbors, to keep up their home. But that’s just how marriage works, isn’t it? How can it be anything else when it’s all so perfect?

But perfection doesn’t mean that Sophia is without questions. It starts with the locked drawer and a strange hairbrush. It keeps going with a shard stuck in the knife block.

Everything is perfect. Surely the neighbors would tell her if they knew otherwise. Surely someone would say something. But there just isn’t any need when it’s all going so very well, right? in Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente.

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Comfort Me With Apples is a brief novella exploring suspense, horror, and retelling a story you might already know. To say more would be to give away the story’s biggest reveal.

Valente layers in a lot of interesting details from the chapter titles to the creepy excerpts from the Arcadia Gardens Homeowner’s Association agreement sprinkled throughout the story. Each layer expertly adds suspense and builds tension as Sophia–and the story–move toward one final revelation. While the payoff is satisfying, it is also clearly the entire point of this novella leaving little room for what came before or what might follow. Readers wanting more will be served well by Valente’s extensive (and often longer form) backlist of titles as well as The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey–a full length novel that explores similar themes in a more sci-fi setting.

At just over a hundred pages, Comfort With Apples is a quick, atmospheric jaunt perfect to read before bed–preferably with a glass of apple cider and all of the lights on.

Possible Pairings: Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders, And Again by Jessica Chiarella, The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link, Foe by Iain Reid, Among Others by Jo Walton

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Refrigerator Monologues: A Review

“Bad things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to okay people. Bad things happen to everyone.”

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Annie WuEveryone is dead in Deadtown. Sometimes there are second chances. Do-overs, if you know the right people. But sometimes, at the end of the day, you’re dead and you stay that way.

Paige Embry knows that. Knows she’s more famous now for being dead than she ever was for being alive, for being herself, or even for being Kid Mercury’s girlfriend. It’s just one of those things.

She isn’t the only one.

In fact, there are a lot of them down in Deadtown: The women the heroes had to lose so they could grow. The ones who named them, the ones who helped them understand their new powers, the ones who broke them out, their rivals, their lovers, their teammates.

In Deadtown they call themselves the Hell Hath Club. They’re mostly very beautiful, very well-read, and very angry. They meet every day at the Lethe Café.

There isn’t a lot to do when you’re dead, but everyone in Deadtown loves a good story and at the Hell Hath Club everyone is welcome. All you have to do is pull up a seat, grab your cup of nothing, and listen in The Refrigerator Monologues (2017) by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Annie Wu.

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Paige’s narration connects short stories following members of the Hell Hath Club as they share their version of origin stories–the stories of how they died and wound up in Deadtown. Wu’s illustrations break up the stories in The Refrigerator Monologues lending an even stronger comic book sensibility to the book.

Each story has Valente’s snappy, mesmerizing prose as the Hell Hath Club’s strange and melancholy stories unfold. Like the club members themselves, The Refrigerator Monologues is angry and unflinching–a searing collection tied together with feminist rage and both an abiding love for and deep frustration with popular superhero and comic book tropes.

Possible Pairings: The Supervillain and Me by Danielle Banas, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Renegades by Marissa Meyer, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

Space Opera: A Review

“Life is beautiful and life is stupid. As long as you keep that in mind, and never give more weight to one than the other, the history of the galaxy, the history of the planet, the history of a person is a simple tune with lyrics flashed on-screen and a helpful, friendly bouncing disco ball of glittering, occasionally peaceful light to help you follow along.”

When the end of the world arrives, no one expects it to be announced by a giant blue half-flamingo, half-anglerfish creature with the voice of an angel, or the person you love most in the world, or a non-threatening American waitress in Cleveland depending on who you ask.

Humanity is even less prepared to learn that Earth’s very last hope is the washed out, broken up, and decidedly no-longer-good former glam rock sensation Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.

But that’s jumping ahead. Really, it all started a hundred years ago when the Sentience Wars almost destroyed the galaxy.

While everyone is always pretty clear on if they, themselves, are sentient it turns out that’s a harder decision to make about your neighbors–especially neighbors who may or may not be parasitic zombie maggots, clouds of intelligence known collectively as Lola, or a race of beings who spend all of their time participating in a planetary Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game while building up their corner of the universe.

In the peace following the Sentience Wars, everyone involved felt like it was time to celebrate while also expressing their sentience. And, you know, also imposing a non-negotiable hierarchy on civilization while distributing galactic resources. Also there’s the matter of seeing if the continued existence of newcomers is a sure thing. Or . . . not.

Thus began the Metagalactic Grand Prix, a combination talent show, beauty pageant. fight for supremacy where all participating species can demonstrate their sentience along with as many special effects and as much stagecraft as they can manage.

Now all we have to do is put all of our faith in two thirds of what used to be the greatest glam rock band ever and hope that they can sing their hearts out to prove our entire species’ sentience, our ability to rock, and how very much we should not be summarily vaporized in Space Opera (2018) by Catherynne M. Valente.

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Have you ever asked yourself what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would have been like with ninety-nine percent more singing? If the answer is yes, then Space Opera is the Douglas Adams inspired homage to Eurovision that you’ve been waiting for.

Space Opera is so much better and funnier and crazier than I ever could have imagined. This is a story about friendship, hope, and what makes us human. But with singing, glitter, and time paradoxes aplenty.

Highly recommended for readers in need of funny, escapist sci-fi, fans of training montages, and anyone who is always ready to root for the underdog.

Possible Pairings: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Sci-Fu by Yuhi Mercado, Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo, The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World by Amy Reed, Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld