Book Review: His Hideous Heart

his hideous heartHis Hideous Heart
Edited by Dahlia Adler
Young Adult / Retellings / Short Stories / Horror
468 pages
Published September 2019

The first of my spooky reads this month, His Hideous Heart is a collection of thirteen redone tales from Edgar Allan Poe. The timing for this review is perfect, because today is also the International Poe Festival here in Baltimore! I am heading down to the festival today, and should have photos to post tomorrow!

This book was incredibly well done – one of my favorite parts about it is the inclusion of the original versions of the eleven stories and two poems, in the second part of the book. A few of the tales chosen were ones I had never heard of – I’m much more familiar with Poe’s poetry than his prose. So having the originals to read made the experience much richer.

I think my favorite was the retelling of Annabel Lee, one of my favorite poems. Tessa Gratton turned it into a story of two young lesbians and called it Night-Tide, and it beautifully captures the yearning and loss from the poem. A Drop of Stolen Ink, inspired by The Purloined Letter, was another fantastic, futuristic piece. They are all fantastic pieces, though, who am I kidding? I think my least favorite was actually the one built from The Raven – it’s the original poem, but with most of it blacked out so the un-redacted words form a new poem. It’s novel, but just not as good as the rest, in my opinion.

Like much of young adult lit recently, the diversity was on point; The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay includes a trans character, and several of the tales star queer people. The viewpoint character in Happy Days, Sweetheart (The Tell-Tale Heart) is black and Mexican.

Overall, this is a beautifully done modern take on some of Poe’s best tales, and I definitely want to buy a copy for my own shelves. I actually need to re-buy a book of Poe’s tales – somehow, though my husband and I each had a copy when we married, somewhere through our moves we’ve lost both copies! I’ll have to keep an eye out today at the festival, though I think what I really want is one of Barnes & Noble’s pretty collector’s editions.

From the cover of His Hideous Heart:

Edgar Allan Poe may be 170 years beyond this world, but the themes of his terrifying works live on in modern fiction for young adults. And with this collection, a host of some of today’s most beloved authors come together to reimagine Poe’s most terrifying, thrilling tales in new and unexpected ways.

Whether Poe’s stories are already familiar or discovered here for the first time, readers will revel in the terrors and thrills of his classic tales and how they’ve been brought to life in thirteen utterly unforgettable ways.

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Series Review: The Hundredth Queen

The Fire QueenThe Fire Queen
The Rogue Queen
The Warrior Queen
by Emily R. King
Young Adult Fantasy / Myth Retelling
~300 pages each
Published 2017 / 2017 / 2018

I reviewed The Hundredth Queen a short time ago, and mentioned it was possibly a little culturally appropriative for a book written by a white woman, but I was invested enough in the characters to finish the series. While the culture resembles some time periods in India, the religion is inspired by ancient Sumeria, and much of the fourth book is reminiscent of the Inanna myth. I’ve only included the description of the second book, below, because the descriptions are full of spoilers for the series, as is often the problem for series reviews!

So I can’t really say how much the series is or is not appropriative; I’m not Indian. I don’t get to make that call. Regardless, it is something to be aware of before you read.

The Rogue QueenThat said, I enjoyed this series more than I expected to! Kalinda and Natesa are both awesome female fighters, and both of their love interests, while capable, are definitely cast in the “supporting character” role, to help show how badass the girls are.

One thing I did not like is how much they emphasize “sisterhood” and “sister warriors” yet turn around and fight each other – to the death! – to win a man or a position. Somehow Kalinda is the only woman to see how contradictory this is?

Kalinda’s nickname is also Kali, and, for a series with a disclaimer right up front basically saying “THIS IS NOT INDIA” maybe she should have picked a different name for the main character?

So I have a lot of questions about this series. There are contradictions, and plot holes, and improbable coincidences. I enjoyed the magic system. At its heart, it’s your basic elemental magic – earth, air, water, fire – but what the bhutas (magic wielders) can actually do with their elements is intriguing. In particular, the four directly-damaging uses – winnowing, leeching, grinding, and parching – are unique. Burners – fire-wielders – can parch people – literally burning their soul, basically. Tremblers – earth – can grind peoples’ bones together. Galers – air – can winnow, pulling oxygen out of the blood, tissues, and lungs of an enemy, and Aquifiers – water – can leech, pulling the liquid out of a person. All four magic wielders can control their element to do various tasks, but it’s the directly offensive uses that seem original.

The Warrior QueenOverall the plot is – fine – but it actually goes to the other end of the extreme that I complained about in Queen of Ruin. Obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. Ridiculous speedbumps, stupid mistakes, people acting out of character in order to throw another wrench in the works. I think the story could have been condensed down to three books and been far better for it.

A Spark of White Fire is a far better book with a similar feel to it, written by an Asian author. Read that instead.

From the cover of The Fire Queen:

WITH THE POWER OF FIRE, SHE WILL SPARK A REVOLUTION.

In the second book of the Hundredth Queen series, Emily R. King once again follows a young warrior queen’s rise to meet her destiny in a richly imagined world of sorcery and forbidden powers.

Though the tyrant rajah she was forced to marry is dead, Kalinda’s troubles are far from over. A warlord has invaded the imperial city, and now she’s in exile. But she isn’t alone. Kalinda has the allegiance of Captain Deven Naik, her guard and beloved, imprisoned for treason and stripped of command. With the empire at war, their best hope is to find Prince Ashwin, the rajah’s son, who has promised Deven’s freedom on one condition: that Kalinda will fight and defeat three formidable opponents.

But as Kalinda’s tournament strengths are once again challenged, so too is her relationship with Deven. While Deven fears her powers, Ashwin reveres them – as well as the courageous woman who wields them. Kalinda comes to regard Ashwin as the only man who can repair a warring world and finds herself torn between her allegiance to Deven and a newly found respect for the young prince.

With both the responsibility to protect her people and the fate of those she loves weighing heavily upon her, Kalinda is forced again to compete. She must test the limits of her fire powers and her hard-won wisdom. But will that be enough to unite the empire without sacrificing all she holds dear?

Book Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors

pride prejudice and other flavorsPride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors
by Sonali Dev
Contemporary Fiction / Retelling
481 pages
Published May 2019

This is yet another Pride and Prejudice retelling, as evidenced by the title. It seems to be a popular thing to do of late, but they’ve all been very good, so I’m not complaining! This one, more than the others, really deconstructed the story and put it all back together in a unique way.

Probably the biggest change here is that while Darcy is still a man with a younger sister and no other family, the roles of the two families have been switched. Darcy is the poor one, and Trisha (Lizzie Bennett) is the rich one. Wickham still plays the villain, though in a slightly different manner, and Darcy is not the friend of Trisha/Lizzie’s elder sister’s beau. (Though the elder sister does still have romantic problems!)

I really liked the swapped roles; it made for a radically different plotline than the story it’s based on. What I did not like is the lack of sparks between DJ/Darcy and Trisha. They butted heads like they should, but unlike the original and most of the retellings, I didn’t feel the underlying sexual tension. Trisha seemed more enamored of DJ’s cooking than of DJ, and I don’t know what DJ saw in Trisha at ALL.

The author also kept pulling me out of my immersion in the story with her repeated use of “XXXX” was what I WANTED to say, but of course I didn’t say it, instead I simply replied “YYYY.” Just – over and over, with multiple characters. I appreciate you’re trying to show us what they’re thinking vs. what they’re saying, but change it up.

I did enjoy the book overall; I love seeing other cultures take on this trope, from the Pakistani Unmarriageable to the Brooklyn African-American Pride, to this mix of Indian-American and British-Indian. I think Unmarriageable was my favorite of these three, but it really was excellent.

So this was good, but not outstanding.

From the cover of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes,  her influential immigrant family, who have achieved power by making their own nonnegotiable rules:

  • Never trust an outsider
  • Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
  • And never, ever defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat her old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and who place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer him, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before they can savor the future, they need to reckon with the past . . . .

A family trying to build a home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.

Book Review: Frankenstein in Baghdad

frankenstein in baghdadFrankenstein in Baghdad
by Ahmed Saadawi (Trans. Jonathan Wright)
Contemporary Fiction / Magical Realism
281 pages
Published in Arabic in 2013, in English 2018

This book won at least two awards; the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy, and the author had previously been named one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 39. I picked it up to read for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge, since the Middle East is all-too-often neglected in regional groupings like that. People don’t think of it as Europe or Asia. I also try to read translated books on occasion, in an effort to diversify my reading. So this hit a number of my interests – I  wish I had actually liked the book more!

It’s an interesting retelling of Frankenstein – which I haven’t actually read, and now feel like I really should. But it bounces around between several viewpoints. It’s not too many to keep straight, but it’s definitely too many to truly care about. And it suffers from an unreliable narrator – it’s written as several stories told to an author from multiple people that he’s woven together into a single narrative, and while he does that well, it suffers from contradictions between how different characters recall things, scenes that don’t play a part in furthering the plot but the characters thought they were important, and no authoritative “this is what REALLY happened” to draw it all together.

And I very much dislike unreliable narrators, so that alone is enough to make me dislike the book. If you like ambiguous narratives and vigilante stories, however, you might enjoy this, and the writing style itself was quite engrossing.

From the cover of Frankenstein in Baghdad:

From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi – a scavenger and an oddball fixture at the local cafe – collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive – first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. With white-knuckle horror and black humor, Frankenstein in Baghdad captures the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.

Book Review: Pride

pridePride
by Ibi Zoboi
Young Adult/Retelling/Romance
289 pages
Published September 2018

I have very mixed feelings about this one. I’ve read several retellings of Pride & Prejudice, but I think this is the first one that aged the characters down to teenagers. And I don’t think it works as well. In both The Lizzie Bennett Diaries and Unmarriageable, the main character and her older sister were in their twenties. They were still living at home, but they were graduating college, starting careers – a completely different stage of their lives from the characters in Pride. In Pride, Zuri is a senior in high school and Janae, her older sister, is home after her first year of college. Which makes their younger sister, Layla, thirteen. And if you know the plot of Pride & Prejudice, you know why that squicks me a little bit. (Zoboi did change that plot point slightly so it’s not quite as bad as it could be, but still. Ew.) This is a good example of what should be a New Adult story feeling forced into a Young Adult mold.

Age issues aside, I really liked the other changes made in this retelling; class differences are alive and well in the modern day, and I especially liked how it addressed neighborhood gentrification. Because yes, improving neighborhoods is a worthy goal; but when it raises rent without raising the income of the people living there, it forces people out who have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives. Gentrification is classist and, because our class system is racist, racist.

I enjoyed the Afro-Latino racial change; just like Unmarriageable‘s Pakistani setting, it brings a new cultural wrapping to the plot, and adds racial tension to the lessons on class that the story usually tells.

The book skims over a lot of the normal Pride & Prejudice plot, which I rather expected for a Young Adult book. Unmarriageable was much better in that regard, but Pride is still very enjoyable. It’s definitely a worthy addition to the Pride & Prejudice….pantheon? Shelf? Canon? I do think it would have been much better as a New Adult story, though. I’m still stuck on that.

From the cover of Pride:

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable. 

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding. 

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon – Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape or lose it all. 

In this timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic. 

Book Review: Once & Future

once and futureOnce & Future
by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy
Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Young Adult/Retelling
354 pages
Published March 2019

This was March’s Illumicrate book, and it’s fantastic! I’d had my eye on it prior to finding out it was the pick for March, and was super happy when that was announced. It’s an exclusive cover, so I’m including a picture of my book too! I actually like the pink better, so I’m slightly saddened by that, but the content is far more important.

20190419_104939790720406498931650.jpgAnd the content is a riot! Ari is our main character, and she’s King Arthur reborn, as these stories always go. Merlin is aging backwards, as he often is, and he wakes up this time as a teenager and groans. It’s pretty hilarious. Arthur’s knights are various characters, of various ethnicities and sexualities. This is a HELLA queer book, and it’s great. We get bi, lesbian, gay, pan, omni – honestly it seems that in this future, people have just accepted that you’ll love who you will love, gender be damned. One of the knights is even ace!

There is going to be a sequel, though I’m not sure when it’s scheduled to be released. Not soon enough, is the real answer, in my opinion!

I realize I haven’t said much about the actual plot, but – really. It’s King Arthur and her knights, as queer teenagers, in space, fighting a giant corporation. That’s really all you need to know. Go read it!

From the cover of Once & Future:

A NEW KING ARTHUR HAS RISEN AND SHE’S GOT A UNIVERSE TO SAVE.

Coming to terms with your identity is always difficult. But for Ari, as the reincarnation of King Arthur, it just got a lot more complicated. What on Earth (or anywhere in space) can she hope to achieve with a rusty spaceship and an adolescent wizard called Merlin?

Gender-bending royalty, caustic wit and a galaxy-wide fight for peace and equality all collide in this brilliant reinvention of the Arthurian legend.