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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Book Review: New Suns

new sunsNew Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color
Edited by Nisi Shawl
Short stories / Sci-Fi / Fantasy
279 pages
Published March 2019

This was quite the collection! I disagree with the cover description’s use of “unexpected brilliance” – I think that’s actually slightly insulting, and possibly racist. (Who wrote that line?!) I fully expected the brilliance I got, and was very pleased with it!

From the forward by Levar Burton, through stories by Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Indigenous authors, all the way to the Afterword from Nisi Shawl, this was an amazing, fascinating, mind-blowing book. Rebecca Roanhorse is probably the most well-known of the authors, thanks to Trail of Lightning, but Indrapramit Das wrote The Devourers, which I’ve heard about and have on my Kindle but have not yet read, and Steven Barnes is married to another author I’ve read, Tananarive Due. Silvia Moreno-Garcia wrote the recently released Gods of Jade and Shadow, which I picked up through Book of the Month in July but have again, not yet read. Library books keep taking priority over things I own!

Going through the biographies in the back of the book makes me want to add EVERYTHING to my TBR – with titles like The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, Will Do Magic For Small Change, and The Beast With Nine Billion Feet, how could I not?!

Back to the book itself, though! There are 17 stories in this book, ranging from 5 pages to 20-30 pages. I think my favorite was “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” by Jaymee Goh, about an Asian mermaid, but the one just before it, “Burn the Ships,” about indigenous South Americans fighting back with blood magic against Spaniards, was also amazing. (Written by Alberto Yáñez.) Really all of the stories are spell-binding, though. And the variety is VAST. From a story retelling The Emperor’s New Clothes, in three variations, to Earth becoming a tourist destination for galactics (aliens), to a story imagining what we would be like with computers in our heads to keep us from having destructive emotions, these are wildly imaginative and thought-provoking.

I love reading short story anthologies because they always introduce me to new authors I want to read more of, which this book unequivocally did. I also have more reason to read Gods of Jade and Shadow now!

This should be on the reading list of every spec fic fan. I’m going to leave you with the quote that begins the book and inspired the title, from one of the mothers of modern science fiction, Octavia Butler:

“There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.”

From the cover of New Suns:

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and cliches, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

Unexpected brilliance shines forth from every page.

Book Review: Warrior Women

warrior womenWarrior Women
Edited by Paula Guran
Anthology/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Military Fiction
375 pages
Published 2015

This is an older anthology, but I recognized a lot of the authors in it, and I was excited to see a sci-fi anthology centered on war but starring women. The book is divided into five sections; Swords (& Spears & Arrows & Axes) and Sorcery focuses on the more standard fantasy warriors – knights, and mages, and the like in fantasy worlds. The next section, Just Yesterday & Perhaps Just Beyond Tomorrow, is closer to contemporary fiction, with a story set during WWII, and a drone pilot, and then an alien invasion of Earth. Somewhere Between Myth & Possibility is like a combination of sci-fi and fantasy; there are space ships and alternate dimensions and witches. The fourth section is Space Aria, and it is what it sounds like – space opera. Pretty straight sci-fi. It’s the fifth section that has the most thought-provoking pieces. Will No War End All War? centers stories about the cost of war. And it’s a little depressing, to be honest. It’s a heavy topic, so that’s unsurprising, but it left me in a low emotional place when I shut the book.

Warrior Women is a really interesting book, with twenty-four different stories examining different aspects of war. Some stories are told by soldiers, some by scientists, some by commanders, some by the sisters and daughters of soldiers. The book does a really good job of examining the subject from all angles. I am eager to see what my husband, as a former Marine, thinks of the book. I can’t say that I enjoyed the book, exactly, but it gave me a LOT to think about. And books that do that are just as important as escapist fantasy.

From the cover of Warrior Women:

From fantastic legends and science fictional futures come compelling tales of powerful women – or those who discover strength they did not know they possessed – who fight because they must, for what they believe in, for those they love, to simply survive, or who glory in battle itself. Fierce or fearful, they are courageous and honorable – occasionally unscrupulous and tainted – but all warriors worthy of the name!

Book Review: All Out

all outAll Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages
Edited by Saundra Mitchell
Short Story Anthology/Young Adult/Historical Fiction
353 pages
Published 2018

I have no explanation for why young adult story anthologies are SO. GOOD. But they are. This particular one revolves around queer teens in historical times. That’s about the only commonality; the genres vary from normal fiction to fantasy to magical realism. There are gay, lesbian, transgender, and asexual teens represented. I am a little annoyed that there don’t seem to be any bisexual teens in the anthology; it could be argued that at least one if not more are bi simply because they had opposite-sex relationships before the same-sex romance in the story, but that’s also common before realizing your sexuality/coming out. No one is explicitly bisexual in this book. There were also two transmen but no transwomen.

There was a decent amount of cultural diversity while remaining mostly centered in the US; Chinatown in 1950s San Francisco, 1870s Mexico, Colonial New England, 1930s Hispanic New Mexico, Robin Hood-era Britain.

The stories were really good, I just wish they’d included a bisexual story and a transwoman. They did have an asexual girl, which is a sexuality often overlooked, so that was nice. (I posted an excerpt from her story on Friday.)

It’s a great collection of stories, just limited in scope. They could have cut a few F/F stories and added in bisexual, nonbinary, and transwomen, and lived up to the open umbrella of the “queer” label a bit more. I really enjoyed it, I think I’m just a little disappointed because I was expecting more of the spectrum.

From the cover of All Out:

Take a journey through time and genres and discover a past where queer figures live, love, and shape the world around them. Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens.

From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.

Book Review: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?

how long til black future monthHow Long ‘Til Black Future Month?
by N. K. Jemisin
Anthology of short stories/Science Fiction/Fantasy
397 pages
Published November 2018

I’ve only read one other N. K. Jemisin book – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which is the first book of her NOT Hugo-award-winning trilogy. I really ought to read the rest of her backlist, as she’s an amazing author. How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is a collection of short fiction – windows into futuristic or fantasy or even contemporary worlds, all centering black characters. I think my favorite was The City, Born Great, about New York City waking up. L’Alchimista, about a talented chef given an impossible challenge, appealed to my baker’s heart, as did Cuisine des Mémoires, about a magical restaurant that can recreate any meal from any time. The Narcomancer sounded like something that could happen in my D&D game, and The Evaluators was slowly horrifying. The Storyteller’s Replacement and Cloud Dragon Skies both have dragons, one of my favorite fantasy features, as does the story Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters.

Every story in this book was amazing. I’ve only specifically named a few, but every single one is excellent. Jemisin runs the gamut from sci-fi to cyberpunk to medieval fantasy to magical realism and contemporary fantasy. There are stories in parallel universes, purely online worlds, shattered universes, and worlds that seem to be our own with a touch of magic. Every one of them is brought to vivid life. Jemisin is an extraordinary writer, and her short fiction shows it.

These are intelligent stories, full of commentary on the current state of our world. From the Jim Crow South to the abandonment of New Orleans to floodwaters, to future apocalypses brought on by our negligence and space exploration spurred by climate destruction, Jemisin’s stories have footholds in reality that are hard to ignore.

Fantastic book. (And that cover is FIERCE.)

From the cover of How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?:

Three-time Hugo award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N. K. Jemisin sharply examines modern society in her first short story collection.

N. K. Jemisin is one of the most powerful and acclaimed speculative fiction authors of our time. In the first collection of her short fiction, which includes several never-before-seen stories, Jemisin equally challenges and delights with narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption.

Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo Award-nominated short story “The City, Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Book Review: Unbroken

unbrokenUnbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens
Edited by Marieke Nijkamp
Young Adult/Short Stories
310 pages
Published September 2018

I’ve read a few different Young Adult anthologies recently, and they’ve all been utterly fantastic. This belongs right up there with A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Toil & Trouble.

As someone who HAS a chronic illness that affects every aspect of my life, I identified with several of these stories quite a lot. There’s one in particular in which they’re putting on a play, and the narrator mentions how TIRED they are. That their doctor would tell them to back off, and not do so much, but they call that stagnation and they’re not willing to give up the highs that come with accomplishing something that takes so much effort – and I feel that intimately. I’m still coming to terms with my new limits. There are times when I do too much, and I pay for it, in pain and fatigue and days unable to function as a human being – but it’s usually worth it. I just have to plan for the aftermath. To see that in fiction was a really validating thing.

Other stories deal with other sorts of physical disabilities – a wheelchair user, people with canes, or blindness. Some of the characters have more mental disabilities – severe anxiety, depression, schizophrenia. This is a fantastic collection, spanning genres from contemporary fiction to magical realism to sci-fi to fantasy.

I’m going to be keeping an eye out for more Young Adult anthologies, as this is the third one that I’ve read recently and they’re SO. GOOD. I know there’s two more coming out in the near future; one centered on Jewish characters that Katherine Locke has another story in, and one centered on vampires that also has some familiar names in it. (Vampires Never Get Old, which is a super clever title for a Young Adult anthology of vampires!)

I love checking out short story anthologies to keep handy for days I don’t have time to sit down with an entire novel, and man there have been some great ones recently. This is definitely one of them.

From the cover of Unbroken:

WARRIOR. ACTOR. FRIEND. HEROINE. TRAVELER. SISTER. MAGICIAN. LOVER. BIKER.

In this stunning anthology, #1 New York Times-bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp teams up with fellow disabled authors to create a collection of fictional stories that dispense with the tired, broken stereotypes – and reclaim narratives and identities. 

By weaving together tales of interstellar war, an enchanted carnival, or a dating debacle, Unbroken celebrates the varied experiences of disabled teens, including teens of color and of diverse genders and orientations, without obscuring the realities of their disabilities.

At turns hilarious and heart-stopping, these short stories share a common thread – one that has bent over time but will never break.