Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy: A Review

Whether it’s secretly cheering them on or not-so-secretly waiting for them to meet a bad end, readers love villains. Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy capitalizes on that fascination while failing to explore the reasoning behind it in this unwieldy collection edited by Youtube sensation Ameriie.

Each author’s short story is inspired by a Booktuber-provided prompt ranging from vague like “A young Moriarty” for Susan Dennard’s “Shirley and Jim” which presents a modern (and female) Holmes meeting Moriarty for the first time at boarding school to bizarrely specific. Renée Ahdieh’s sci-fi story “The Blood of Imuriv” is inspired by the prompt “The grandson of an evil, matriarchal dictator who tried to rule over the universe wants to follow in her footsteps and accidentally loses his temper, killing his sibling in a game of chess.”

This wide range of prompts leads to stories of varying quality and makes this cross-genre collection less than cohesive. BookTuber contributions range from personality quizzes and literary criticism about the stories to personal essays related to the prompts.

Standout stories include Soman Chainani’s “Gwen and Art and Lance” (“A modern-day mash-up of the King Arthur legend and Persephone-Hades myth”) which is written entirely in texts and emails between the titular characters as Gwen tries to manipulate Art into taking her to prom amidst unwanted overtures from Lance and “Death Knell” by Victoria Schwab (“Hades wakes up after being unconscious at the bottom of a well in Ireland”) which offers a nuanced meditation on what it means to be Death–and what it means to try to run from it.

There are no redeeming qualities for most of the villains here and, for the most part, a lot of superficiality. One notable exception is Cindy Pon’s poignant story “Beautiful Venom” (prompt: “Medusa, go!”) which makes the Greek myth relevant to modern readers as they watch Mei Feng become Mei Du in Pon’s tragic retelling with a Chinese setting. Because You Love to Hate Me is a marketable if not entirely serviceable collection that will appeal to fans of the contributing authors.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in the July 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Advertisements

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic: A Review

Leigh Bardugo follows up her popular Grisha trilogy and its companion Six of Crows duology with The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, a collection of atmospheric short stories which serve as an excellent introduction to the Grishaverse for new readers while expanding the world for seasoned fans.

The six short stories (including three previously published by Tor.com) are inspired by the cultures found in the Grishaverse as well as traditional fairy tales, folk tales, and myths. In her author’s note Bardugo explains her thought process as she examined familiar fairy tales and pulled at the troubling threads found within.

Every story is accompanied by Sarah Kipin‘s border illustrations which grow around the pages as the tales unfolds culminating in a double page illustration at the end of each story. Two color printing enhances the collection and makes this a stunning addition to any bookshelf.

In “Ayama and the Thorn Wood,” a Zemeni tale with nods to Cinderella, The Thousand Nights and Beauty and the Beast, Ayama ventures into the Thorn Wood where she must speak truth while placating a fearsome beast with fanciful stories.

The Ravkan story “The Too-Clever Fox,” follows Koja–an ugly fox–as he learns that sometimes help from a friend outweighs mere cunning when he tries to stop a ruthless hunter.

Bardugo’s answer to Hansel and Gretel, “The Witch of Duva” follows Nadya into the woods where she finds a wondrous witch who can help her discover the truth about her new step-mother–but only for a steep cost.

Beautiful Yeva questions her father’s decision to follow the common fairy tale tradition of setting nearly impossible tasks to choose her future husband in “Little Knife” as Semyon uses his abilities as a Tidemaker to get help from a river to complete them.

The Kerch tale of “The Soldier Prince” explores themes of identity and desire when a demon named Droessen creates a nutcracker soldier who comes to life–but is being alive the same as being real?

The collection finishes with the Fjerdan story “When Water Sang Fire” about a sildroher mermaid named Ulla who dreams of being able to use her singing magic as she chooses, until her attempt to create a fire that will burn underwater ends in betrayal and heartbreak, suggesting a possible origin story for the Little Mermaid’s notorious sea witch.

Themes of feminism and empowerment color each story with heroes and heroines given the chance to choose their own fates and stir the pot, for better or worse. Strong writing, compelling stories, and gorgeous illustrations make this collection a must have for fans of the author and readers eager for new fairy tale retellings to devour.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the October 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Where Futures End: A Review

“All accidents are magic.”

One year from now in “When We Asked the Impossible” Dylan is desperate to believe that there is more out there and that he can be more himself if only he can get back to the tantalizing world that haunts his childhood memories.

Ten years from now in “When We Were TV” Brixney is positive she can get her brother, and by extension herself, out of a debtor’s colony. All she needs is more views on her social media feed. An unexpected visitor to Flavor Foam could be exactly what she needs.

Thirty years from now in “When We Went High-Concept” Epony is running out of ways to save her family when their town is flooded. Soon she’s forced into an impossible position, her entire online presence erased and her life inextricably altered in a bid to go high-concept.

Sixty years from now in “When We Could Hardly Contain Ourselves” Reef struggles to survive while finding distraction if not comfort in the virtual game playing out across the city’s streets. Until it all goes wrong.

One hundred years from now in “When We Ended it All” Quinn embarks on her coming-of-age quest to find a token to bring back for a husband she isn’t sure she wants. During her travels she meets a stranger. On the first day Quinn will tell her story. On the second day he will tell his story and things will begin to come together. On the third day, one of them will die. Quinn will choose who.

Five people. Five stories. Two worlds. One moment they have all been moving toward in Where Futures End (2016) by Parker Peevyhouse.

Where Futures End is Peevyhouse’s debut novel.

This ambitious novel is broken into five interconnected sections that work on their own as short stories and seamlessly come together to create a larger narrative of a world and its mutable future.

Where Futures End strikes a fine balance between science fiction and fantasy as readers and characters try to reconcile a changing world with basis in scientific fact with the wondrous consequences of those changes.

This eerily prescient book is filled with distinct and haunting characters as well as rich and intricate world building. Where Futures End is a smart and thoughtful book that is perfect for readers looking to completely immerse themselves in a story. Ideal for readers who enjoy tales of portal fantasies, parallel worlds or alternate universes, and short science fiction. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, The Magicians by Lev Grossman; All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis; The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff, Tessa Gratton; The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

To Hold the Bridge: A Review

To Hold the Bridge by Garth NixTo Hold the Bridge (2015) by Garth Nix is a collection of some of Nix’s previously published science fiction and fantasy short stories as well as a new Old Kingdom novella. Although To Hold the Bridge collects previously published stories, many of them were new to me and will likely be new to other readers as well. I was especially pleased that some of the stories included were ones not easily found in US editions.

Like most short story collections, this one had its strengths and its weaknesses. Instead of trying to review the entire collection in a few sentences, I decided to give smaller reviews of each story:

To Hold the Bridge: An Old Kingdom Story–Morghan has few prospects when he arrives at The Worshipful Company of the Greenwash Field and Market Bridge. His training as a new cadet is quickly tested when he has to hold the bridge against a necromancer’s Free Magic attack. I’m not sure if this story is circa Clariel, Sabriel, or Abhorsen but I hope we eventually see more of the Bridge and Morghan in a future book.

Vampire Weather–Amos lives in a secluded community that does not hold with modern technology or vaccinations. When Amos meets an alluring girl near the mailbox in the thick fog of vampire weather his life is irrevocably changed. An odd little story. A bit like the movie The Village.

Strange Fishing in the Western Highlands–A strange story about Malcolm MacAndrew’s first encounter with Hellboy (yes, that Hellboy). I love how Dark Horse does such weird things with their properties and it was kind of fun reading a prose story about a character usually seen in comics. I would like to see the anthology where this was originally published just for curiosity’s sake.

Old Friends–This story skewed on the older end (adult character, adult themes as it were) and was excellent. An alien is making a home on the coast of a small town when he realizes his enemies are coming for him. Fantastic narrative voice.

The Quiet Knight–Tony embrace his LARPing character’s heroism to find his voice in the real world. Few things amuse me as much as stories about Live Action Role Playing. This story was a bit short but entertaining.

The Highest Justice–Princess Jess summons Elibet, a unicorn to dispense high justice after her mother the Queen is murdered. Previously seen in Zombies vs. Unicorns. This is a short, dark story.

A Handful of Ashes–Mari and Francesca are students at a private boarding school for witches. Unlike most of the rich students, Mari and Francesca work in the kitchens to afford their tuition. When an old bylaw is established that threatens their position at the school–and the very safety of the school grounds–Mari and Francesca will have to take matters in their own hands to save the day. A delightful story about never accepting your lot and doing your part to make the world better. Possibly my favorite story in the collection. More of these two please!

The Big Question–Full circle story about a young man named Avel who leaves his village seeking wisdom and answers from a wise woman only to realize he doesn’t need to seek answers from someone else. This one was interesting but because the story covers such a large scope of time (most of Avel’s life), it is a bit hard to connect with the characters.

Stop!–Creepy and suspenseful story. When a mysterious figure shows up an atomic bomb test site in the desert he leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. There are hints here that the figure in question is an alien or even a dragon. It’s just really creepy. Trust.

Infestation–Wow. Judas as an alien and first ever vampire hunter. At least that’s my interpretation. I loved this story. It was incredibly cinematic and richly detailed. I would love to see this picked up for television.

The Heart of the City–A rather tedious story set in seventeenth century (or thereabouts) France where agents of the king work to corral and harness a dangerous angel’s power. It doesn’t go according to plan, of course.

Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West–Ambrose is recovering from a wartime (World War I) injury in the English countryside and hoping his days as an agent are far behind him. When supernatural creatures and old colleagues come knocking, Ambrose realizes leaving his past behind may not be an option anymore. It may never have been an option. This story is spooky and excellent. I hope Ambrose survives whatever comes next and I’d love to see more of him.

Holly and Iron–A story that borrows elements from the plot of Robin Hood and King Arthur blended with a world where natural magic and iron magic oppose each other. The world building here is very detailed but the characters felt under-developed in comparison.

The Curious Case of the Moon Dawn Daffodil Murder–A messy, madcap story about Sherlock Holmes’ brother. Not Mycroft. The other one.

An Unwelcome Guest–What happens when a girl runs away from home and decides to move in with the local witch? Nothing good for the witch, that’s for sure. This was a fine reinterpretation of Rapunzel and a well-done fractured fairy tale in the fine tradition of Vivian Vande Velde.

A Sidekick of Mars–Everyone knows about John Carter’s adventures on Mars but now Lam Jones is here to tell you how it really went. He should know having been with John a good eighteen percent of the time. This was a funny story but I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have if I actually knew anything about John Carter.

You Won’t Feel a Thing–Blaaaaaah. This story is set in the world of Shade’s Children but ten years before the events of that book. Shade’s Children is the only book by Garth Nix that I have read that was so horrendously upsetting I couldn’t finish it. This story was about the same.

Peace in Our Time--A very grim and unsatisfying steampunk story. I tend to think of steampunk as a sci-fi subgenre with a generally lighter tone which was not at all true for this story.

Master Haddad’s Holiday–When Haddad is sent on a mission to earn his Master Assassin status, he knows his chances of success are slim. Still, he endeavors to succeed where others would likely fail. This story is set in the same universe as A Confusion of Princes and it is as delightfully high-action as that book.

To Hold the Bridge is a solid anthology although it is not quite as consistent as Nix’s earlier collection Across the Wall.

My favorite stories were definitely “A Handful of Ashes,” “Infestation,” “Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West,” and “Master Haddad’s Holiday.” I could read about those characters all day.

Nix became a favorite author of mine because of his fantasy and the fantasy stories are the strongest ones here. Although not all of the stories were stellar, this collection demonstrates Nix’s range as an author. Recommended for fans of the author, readers who enjoy short stories, and fans of speculative fiction.

Summer Days and Summer Nights: A Review

Summer Days, Summer Nights edited by Stephanie PerkinsAfter My True Love Gave to Me was greeted with critical praise and success, it’s no surprise that Stephanie Perkins is back editing another anthology featuring popular YA authors. This time around the stories all center around summer romances in Summer Days and Summer Nights.

With the exception of Perkins herself, every author is a new contributor. There is more diversity among the authors and a better split between men and women which makes this a more balanced collection in that respect. With several noted fantasy authors, Summer Days and Summer Nights also boasts some excellent speculative fiction.

Summer Days, Summer Nights is a lot of fun, but it is also more of a mixed bag for me (but I am a winter person and Christmas is my favorite holiday so I suspect I was always more inclined to favor My True Love Gave to Me just a bit more). Because of that I’m including thoughts on each story below instead of a more cohesive/generalized review.

Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail by Leigh Bardugo: This is an intense story–something I’m realizing is Bardugo’s signature–and an interesting choice to start the anthology. The writing is very atmospheric and almost reads like magic realism (I say almost because at the end of the day it is just straight fantasy). An eerie story that is a bit creepy and a bit romantic which seems fitting when it’s centered around a mysterious lake monster.

The End of Love by Nina Lacour: My first encounter with Lacour’s writing. This is a sweet story with two girls as the romantic leads. There is not much here to give Flora presence as a main character or narrator (perhaps intentionally because so much of what she goes through in this story revolves around how she relates to others?). BUT the story does have great atmosphere and really strongly depicted emotions.

Last Stand at the Cinegore by Libba Bray: Libba’s story is one of my top three favorites in the entire collection. Reading it made me really want to read Beauty Queens which has been languishing on my shelves forever. This story follows Kevin at the end of his high school career on his last night working at the Cinegore theater. It’s his last chance to ask his dream girl, Dani, out. Which is great and totally doable. Except, you know, everything goes wrong when they start showing the last copy of a cult classic horror movie in the theater. This story also includes two of my favorite quotes from the entire book: “Dress codes are basically fascism.” and “Maybe sometimes the best thing you can do is to burn it all down and start over.”

Sick Pleasure by Francesca Lia Block: Block is not an author I would pick up for myself. Her style sometimes gets a bit too high-concept for my tastes. Such was the case here were all of the characters names are simply initials. Although this is not a fantasy it is still a bit . . . weird for reasons that are hard to explain in a paragraph. I will say that I really liked that that the main love here was self love in this story.

In Ninety Miles, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins: This story features Marigold and North (the characters from Stephanie’s Christmas story) and picks up the summer after they first meet. Of course this story was a lot of fun and super cute and I loved it. Why wouldn’t I when I already know and love Marigold and North? That said, I am not totally sure this story is as readable without knowing the background from their Christmas story.

Souvenirs by Tim Federle: I think it might just be Federle’s writing style (this is the first time I’ve read him) but this story is very frenetic. The prose took some getting used to before winning me over. This story follows Matty and Kieth who always knew their summer romance had an expiration day. Which is great. Except that on their self-selected breakup day, Matty is feeling decidedly ambivalent about the whole thing. Favorite quote: “But the thing about scars is that, as much as they knot you up, they make you stronger, too. Collect enough scars and you get a whole extra layer of skin, for free.”

Inertia by Veronica Roth: Full disclosure time: I’m not sure I’m really a fan of Roth’s writing style and I’m not sure it works for me. This story is okay but not a favorite and it is super melancholy (a recurring theme in the collection). Claire and Matthew were best friends until they grew apart months ago–largely due to Claire’s refusal to get help for her depression–so it’s strange and confusing when he chooses Claire as one of his last visits–a futuristic procedure that allows them to communicate in share memories before Matthew’s (highly probable) death. It’s a small nitpicky thing but the fact that a doctor in the story wears nail polish while getting ready for surgery and being a doctor really pulled me out of the story.

Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron: It has been a long time since I’ve read anything by Skovron and I’m sad to say this story did not bump him any higher on my mental to read list. This story is part romance and part comedy of errors as two jaded teens (who definitely, absolutely do not at all believe in love) work to bring two star-crossed couples together–and maybe change their own opinions on love in the process. While the narrator’s identity was a surprise, I don’t think I’ve ever rolled my eyes so much reading a short story. Obviously the style here is intentional but why????

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert: Another new to me author. Rashida’s cousin Audrey has been like a mother to her. So when Audrey announces she is moving across the country with her girlfriend, Rashida is understandably upset. She works through her conflicted feelings about the upcoming move with an unlikely confidante: The very cute younger brother of Audrey’s girlfriend. Although sad, this story is really well-written and engaging. Colbert also offers a thoughtful discussion about coping with depression (and why treatment is okay and not an admission of defeat) which is impressive for the relatively short length of the story. The story ends on a really nice, hopeful note and highlights a variety of relationships including inter-generational ones within a family.

Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare: Lulu Darke’s father has run the family’s Dark Carnival for years. When her father goes missing, Lulu is left to takeover and get to the bottom of her uncle’s seemingly spontaneous arrival and his insistence that the carnival needs a new–way more evil and scary–demon at its core.This story has nothing to do with Shadow Hunters which was actually a really nice surprise. Unlike a lot of the other stories, this one reads young (ironically since Lulu is one of the older heroines). While thin on character development and a bit messy, this story is atmospheric and quite fun–in a dark way what with the demons and all.

A Thousand Ways This Could Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith: Annie is happy to work with the younger kids at her summer camp job but she isn’t sure what to do to help the new boy, Noah, have a good time. He’s on the autism spectrum and everything she tries seems to end badly. When she gets to hang out with Griffin, her longtime crush, she is thrilled with his insights for helping Noah although she isn’t sure what to make of the varying levels of success on their dates. There are a thousand ways things could go wrong here. But, it turns out, sometimes that just means there are also a thousand ways for things to go right. This story is in my top three favorites of the entire collection (no surprise since I’m a longtime Jen E. Smith fan)! Now this is a summer story and more like what I wanted and expected from the rest of the collection.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman: When Mark realizes he’s been living through the exact same summer day for . . . quite a while . . . he starts to explore the limits of what he can do within a day. While there’s a lot of fun to be had, he’s incredibly relieved to find Margaret who is also aware of what’s happening. Although they don’t know how to fix the problem and get to a new day, at least not at first, they do embark on a project to find every tiny perfect moment that the day has to offer. This story is easily the best and my favorite of this collection. Perfect pacing. Perfect plot. Fantastic character development. I loved everything about this one and am hoping to read some of Grossman’s novels later this year.

As you can see, Summer Days and Summer Nights has some ups and downs for me in terms of quality and enjoyment (though again I think a lot of that is because I’m not a summer person per se). It’s funny seeing how much broader summer is in terms of genre and setting compared to the holiday stories collection which felt a bit more cohesive. Surprisingly (or maybe not?) a lot of these stories also revolved around breakups and had a generally melancholy tone.

Upon finishing Summer Day and Summer Nights I wanted to tear up my copy so that I could take each story and give it to the just-right reader for it. Recommended for readers who enjoy summer and short stories. A great introduction to some notable young adult authors and a fun way to explore a variety of genres for readers hoping to try something new.

You can also check out my Q & A with Stephanie Perkins to hear a little bit more about her experiences editing this anthology.

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

The Anatomy of Curiosity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna YovanoffIn an old walk up in Brooklyn, a young woman is hired as a reader and companion for a strange older woman. What starts a job quickly turns into something much more important as Petra learns about context, ladylike behavior, and speaking her mind all while finding an unusual kind of friendship in “Ladylike” by Maggie Stiefvater.

In a faraway land a young soldier works to disarm magical bombs left behind by rebels. The hum of the desert lulls him and the mysterious magician on his team enchants him, but sometimes loving something is hard until you know the truth about yourself in “Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton.

In a town where water is scarce, drowning is a rarity. There are a lot of ways to tell the you about the boy she found drowned in a half inch of water, but there’s only one right story for Jane and the drowning place in “Drowning Variations” by Brenna Yovanoff.

The Anatomy of Curiosity (2015) is the second anthology from authors (and critique partners) Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stievfater and Brenna Yovanoff. In this followup to The Curiosities the focus is more squarely on the mechanics of writing and how ideas can become stories.

For this collection each author wrote a new novella and details their writing process in a preface and margin comments. Between each story all three authors also discuss how they tackled finding critique partners, revision, and managing doubt.

Each author frames their margin comments and notes in the context of their focus when writing. Stiefvater discusses character (how she builds characters and conveys characterization through different aspects of the story), Gratton focuses on world-building (how worlds shape characters and how world-building choices shape the rest of the story), while Yovanoff talks about ideas (getting from the idea she has to the story she wants to tell with a particular project).

It’s worth noting that The Anatomy of Curiosity can be read, first and foremost, as a set of engaging fantasy novellas. As fans of these authors would expect, each novella is well-written and evocative in its own right. In reading the marginalia and supplemental materials, however, readers are treated to not only excellent fiction but also an insider’s view of the creative process from three incredibly talented writers.

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a must-read for aspiring authors and fantasy fans alike.

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2015*

The Rose and the Beast: A Review

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia BlockThe Rose and the Beast (2000) by Francesca Lia Block

In this collection of nine short stories, Block offers surprising retellings of fairy tales ranging from “Thumbelina” and “The Snow Queen” to “Cinderella” and “Snow White.”

Every story has an eerie, otherworldly quality thanks to Block’s unique writing style that reads more like free verse poetry than traditional prose. Although the interpretations vary, some with elements of fantasy and others grounded firmly in the modern world, each story in The Rose and the Beast is imbued with feminist discourse and strong characters.

It’s always difficult to give a short story collection a proper review, especially in this case when the stories are so similar in style yet also so different in their execution. There are not a lot of happily ever afters here. Princes don’t always come to rescue princesses. Magic isn’t always friendly. And the stories here are rarely kind.

Ideal for readers who enjoy short stories or reluctant readers looking for some quick reads. The Rose and the Beast is also sure to appeal to readers who like twisted fairy tales or fairy tale interpretations with more bite.

Possible Pairings: The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy, Poisoned Apples: Poems For You My Pretty by Christine Hepperman, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Curses, Inc. by Vivian Vande Velde