Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives. (taken from Amazon)

The funny thing about The Hazel Wood (and its sequel) by Melissa Albert is that, for me, the best parts weren’t the main storyline. Nope. The best parts were the undeniably eerie fairy tales come-to-life that bled through into the pages of the books. I told my husband that if a collection of Hinterland tales was every published, I’d be super excited to read it. So, of course I had to snag a copy of Tales from the Hinterland!

These completely original fairy tales were about characters that crossed over from the fictional world into the real one in The Hazel Wood books. And they were as creepy as it gets without descending into full-on horror. Let’s just say that the majority of them did not end well for the “hero”. In fact, most of them didn’t have a hero per se. What they did have was a ton of creativity and a darker tone that sent shivers down the spine.

One thing that stood out to me was that the main characters were all female. There were naïve females, clever ones, even evil ones. But males were always in a supporting role. It was an interesting choice. It didn’t change my enjoyment of the book, either positively or negatively; it was just something I noticed.

Another thing that I really liked was that not a single tale seemed even remotely like an existing fairy tale. There were no Beauty and the Beast retellings, and Little Red Riding Hood didn’t make an appearance. The stories were 100% original. It was refreshing to see entirely new ideas (not that I mind a good fairy tale reimagining).

There wasn’t a single story that felt lesser than or out of place. My main complaint, in fact, is that the tone was similar in several tales. I am not even sure if that should be a complaint: that the stories fit well together. Hmm…something to think about.

There were three stories that stood out to me. One was The Door that Wasn’t There, which was equal parts creepy and sad. It’s about two sisters who were locked in a room to starve and what one of them does to survive (no, there’s no cannibalism. Ew!). The feeling that Melissa Albert created in this story was a little bit gothic and a whole lot of unearthly.

The second story that kept me enthralled was The Mother and the Dagger. This felt like your usual tale told to scare kids into coming home before dark- but with a twist that was uncanny and creeptastic. The way this one was written, like someone is talking to you, stood out from the other stories and drew me in. I loved the ending, which had an abrupt finality to it.

Finally, was Twice-Killed Katherine. That character was one of the bits of fairy tales that showed up in The Hazel Wood, and the one that I found the most intriguing. While the story didn’t go the way I expected, it was nonetheless fascinating and really cool to see the backstory the author had for her. That one also felt different in that what was left unsaid could have been stretched and expanded on to create an entirely separate novel in its own right.

Tales from the Hinterland was by far my favorite book that takes place in the Hazel Wood universe (so to speak), even though it’s not a straight-through narrative. It was eerie and intelligent, and definitely not a book to read alone at night. I wouldn’t necessarily call it horror- maybe horror-adjacent. Either way, it was really stinking good.

Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 by Terry Brooks

Escape to worlds full of adventure and magic in the first-ever Terry Brooks short-story collection, featuring both new and fan-favorite stories from all three of his major literary worlds: Shannara, Magic Kingdom, and The Word and the Void.

Here are heroes fighting new battles and struggling to conquer the ghosts of the past. Here are quests both small and far reaching; heroism both intimate and vast. Here we learn of Garet Jax’s childhood, see how Allanon first located Shea Ohmsford, and follow an old wing-rider at the end of his life. Here we see Knights of the Word fighting demons within and without, and witness Ben Holiday and his daughter each trying to overcome the unique challenges that Landover offers.

This collection of eleven tales is a must-have addition to the Terry Brooks canon—a delightful way to spend time with favorite characters, and a wonderful reminder of what makes a Brooks story such a timeless classic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 will be available on March second.

Terry Brooks is a giant among fantasy authors. Even if you haven’t read any of his works, chances are you recognize the name. He’s most well known for his Shannara books, although I personally like Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! the best. When I was given the opportunity to check out his short fiction collection, I jumped at the chance.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s Terry Brooks! Some of these stories add a new level to already established worlds and characters. His writing skill is on full display and is fantastic, as usual. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of his works, and it was fun to catch up.

On the other hand, some of the story additions were just odd. For example, the very first story was written for an anthology by Poul Anderson called Multiverse. It did not really make a lot of sense to make that the very first story, seeing as it was written for someone else’s anthology collection, and it alienated me a bit. If it was going to be in Small Magic, I personally would have preferred to see it pop up later on, after there had been some short stories that took place in worlds created by Terry Brooks.

My favorite story of the collection featured a cantankerous dragon. While I definitely felt that some stories were much better than others, I feel that most Terry Brooks fans will enjoy the collection, even if only for the sense of nostalgia it provides.

I personally didn’t love it as much as I was expecting, but it wasn’t awful. While Small Magic is worth checking out, I strongly suggest reading some of Terry Brooks’ full length fiction first.

Around the Dark Dial by J.D. Sanderson

Take a trip around the dark dial with eleven original and thought-provoking short stories that invoke the wonder and mystery of old-time radio dramas. Forget all that you know about modern sci-fi. In Around the Dark Dial, it’s all about the unexpected. (taken from Goodreads)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is a short story collection unlike any other I’ve read. Evoking a sense of the mysterious, each story had an underlying tension that kept me fascinated. Short story collections can be hit or miss for me; this was a definite hit.

Each story provided a unique take on the sci-fi genre. While there were stories featuring common sci-fi features, they were uniquely done in ways that felt fresh and new. There were what seemed to be hidden connections between some of the stories, more common themes than anything else. I enjoyed the thrill I got from seeing how one might be connected to another. Even the way the stories were ordered added to my enjoyment of the collection.

I particularly liked The Simulant for its take on AI. The humanity that author J.D. Sanderson gave to his Simulant was actually very thought-provoking. The ending gave off a sense of paranoia, much like a good thriller can. In fact, Sanderson knows just when to end a tale, leaving plenty of room for the reader to think and wonder, without suddenly dropping the plot. I don’t like books that stop abruptly, but I also am not a huge fan of things being overexplained. Sanderson tread the fine line between the two with skill.

My absolute favorite of the stories, though, was Caller Four. This one revolved around a radio show that covered the topic of alien abductions. The late-night scene, combined with the question of whether the alien encounter was really happening, made for an engrossing read. I loved how the ending brought the story full-circle. This one will definitely stick with me.

If you’re a fan of creative fiction, or if you enjoyed The Twilight Zone, Around the Dark Dial will be right up your alley. I highly suggest giving this one a go!

You can find Around the Dark Dial on bookshop.org (among other places). If you order through my link I’ll get a small kickback. More importantly, you’ll be supporting local bookstores.

The Serpent Slayer: And Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

This volume is an anthology of 18 stories about heroines with as much courage, wit and intelligence as their more familiar male counterparts. It includes Li Chi, the serpent slayer, and the old woman sly enough to outsmart the devil. (taken from Amazon)

I love a good fairy tale collection, and The Serpent Slayer delivers! As the title suggests, this book highlights female heroes. There are no heroic knights or true love’s kisses. Rather, these women kick butt all on their own.

One of the many things I love about this collection is that the stories come from all over the world. There are tales from Indonesia, China, and India, to name a few. Each one is so original, and very different from the average fairy tale fare. Let me tell you-this book has it all! There are dragons, devils, fey folk, and more.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the illustrations. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators anyway, and she outdoes herself in this book. Everything comes to life and a beautiful and fantastical way. The colors are bright and beautiful, and each illustration strives to capture the place of the story’s origin. The pictures elevate the book from good to freaking amazing!

Obviously, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fairy tales, especially lesser-known ones. Go ahead and buy it; you’ll want to be able to read this one again and again.

American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum

American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum, Fiction, Fantasy, Fairy ...

From the vivid imagination of L. Frank Baum, the visionary who created the legendary Wizard of Oz series, comes American Fairy Tales, a collection of 12 modern fables and fantasies. These magnificent stories are doorways into fantastic settings beyond the dreams of most. Baum took us over the rainbow into the wonderful land of Oz; now join him on other fantastic adventures including The Box of Robbers, The Glass Dog, The Queen of Quok, The Girl Who Owned A Bear, The Enchanted Types, The Laughing Hippopotamus, The Magic Bon Bons, The Capture of Father Time, The Wonderful Pump, The Dummy that Lived, The King of The Polar Bears, and The Mandarin and The Butterfly. They are fantastic, one-of-a-kind fairy tales that could only come from the mind of this renowned storyteller. (taken from Amazon)

Confession time! I don’t like the Oz books, and I hate the Wizard of Oz movie. I’ve never had any desire to read anything else by Baum at all. I wouldn’t have even considered picking this collection up, except that it was assigned for my Children’s Literature class. I am so, so glad that it was!

This book is chock full of odd, fun little stories. Each tale has a little “moral” added to the end, which made it so very charming. The stories are short, with just enough detail to leave room for the reader to fill in the gaps. Baum did a wonderful job of writing about the fantastical as if it were everyday experiences he was recounting.

I loved all of the short stories, but my favorite was The King of the Polar Bears. I loved the cross between natural animalistic behavior, and the behavior of a monarch. The way the story ended was perfect. I also really enjoyed The Capture of Father Time. I’ve read several books over the years that involved the capture of Death, but this is the first I’ve read that discussed the ramifications of time standing still. It was such a cool idea!

I was pleasantly surprised by this book and plan to read it again in the future. I recommend this story collection for the young and the young-at-heart.

 

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights: Weekes: 9780765337221: Amazon.com: Books

An anthology of original stories based on the dark fantasy, role-playing video game series from Bioware.

Ancient horrors. Marauding invaders. Powerful mages. And a world that refuses to stay fixed. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a fun, slash ’em and bash ’em fantasy. This collection of stories certainly fit the bill. As is the case with most short story collections, I enjoyed some of the stories more than others. However, this is a strong book and even the stories I didn’t love were fun.

I’ll admit that I don’t know a ton of the lore surrounding Dragon Age. I don’t get much chance to play video games and I prefer multi-players, so I only know what I’ve been able to garner here and there. It didn’t matter, though: everything that is important to the book is explained throughout. Kudos to the authors for making this a book anyone can follow.

Even though all the stories are fun, there were two that really stood out to me. The first one is “Three Trees to Midnight” by Patrick Weekes. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that I loved the development of the relationship between the two main characters. The condescension that built to a grudging respect moved the story along wonderfully.

The other story that I loved is “Luck in the Gardens” by Sylive Feketekuty. The narration in this story was excellent and made it easily the most memorable of the tales. The opening immediately hooked me.

If you’re looking for a book to take you out of the stress of everything going on, one to escape into, this book is for you.

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander

47880743. sy475

Have you ever read a fairy tale about three raptors? Yeah, me neither. I must say, I was missing out. This short story was fantastic.

This is the story of three raptors, an intelligent princess, and an incredibly stupid prince. One day, the prince stumbles across a raptor. The rest of the village knows to avoid these beasts, since they don’t much fancy being eaten. The prince seems to think he’s come across a horse, and decides to ride it back to his castle. The raptor, hoping to gather more information about the fearless man, goes along with it. That ends up being a mistake, as the prince soon holds the raptor captive. This story continues from there.

While decidedly odd, this short story was also a ton of fun. It was well-written, full of humor and heart (and a wee bit of viscera). As with most fairy tales, it ends with a “happily ever after.” The question is: who gets the happy ending?

I loved the way the raptors thought, and the princess was awesome. Yes, this is a weird concept, but I recommend you give it a go. It is very short; it only took me fifteen minutes or so to finish it. You can easily read it in that amount of time but, if you’re like me, you’ll read it more than once.

The Unicorn Anthology by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman- Buddy Read

Image result for unicorn anthology
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

When I was in second grade, my school class would go to the school library once a week. There was collection of short stories about unicorns that myself and another girl would race to check out first. If she got to it before me, I’d give her a good -natured scowl. But if someone from another class checked the collection out before either of us, we were both united in our thirst for revenge.

So, I was waxing nostalgic when I started this anthology, full of hope that it would be as enjoyable as the other one was. Sadly, it was not. It was ten types of terrible. The stories ranged from forgettable and a bit disappointing, to flat-out disturbing. There was one in particular that had an icky Stockholm Syndrome story line, which was incredibly upsetting.

I felt that these stories were all written with the intent to be edgy and dark. Gone was the sense of wonder and fun that I expect in anything involving unicorns. It was all death, doom, and destruction, with a bit of boredom thrown in for good measure.

While the mechanics of the stories were all solid, I was ultimately very disappointed by what the authors chose to write. I read this book and discussed it with Beth from Before We Go. Check her post out! And, maybe skip this book and look for something less disappointing.

The Whispered Tales of Graves Grove by J.S. Bailey, Mackenzie Flohr, Elise Manion, D.M. Kilgore, et al- ARC Review

Image result for the whispered tales of grave grove
Graves Grove isn’t your ordinary town…

Nestled within the folds of the Canadian Rockies, Graves Grove probably isn’t the picturesque place you’d like to stay for long. Peculiar things happen here. The citizens seem normal superficially—they function well enough. But each one is deeply disturbed, wrapped in secrets and neuroses which drive them to strange behaviors.

And then there are all the missing children. And why is everyone afraid of that sycamore tree?

The Whispered Tales of Graves Grove is an anthology of stories taking place throughout the history of this mysterious town, from its founding to its future. Read them…if you dare. (taken from Amazon)

This book was provided by Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion.

If Twin Peaks had a more horror-based neighboring town, Graves Grove would be it. Bizarre and creeptastic, this shiver-inducing collection of short stories is a blast to read. I love reading stories that have a common thread, but still showcase each author’s individual style. That’s what this collection did: while all the tales were part of a larger narrative, each one was individualistic and creative.

There were many stories that I loved, and just a few that were “meh”. A couple of them mentioned fairies which didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the book, but they were still interesting even though they felt a bit disjointed.

I loved Where’s Matheson Lam and The Flash in particular. The both left me with that feeling of what if?, which is so much fun in supernatural and horror books. I also loved that there’s a distinct lack of over-the-top gore.

This book collection was a lot of fun. I highly recommend it.

A Midnight Clear by Sam Hooker; Seven Jane; Alcy Levya; Laura Morrison; Dalena Storm; Cassondra Windwalker- ARC Review

Image result for a midnight clear book by sam hooker

Six stories of not-so-merry Yuletide whimsy from the authors of Black Spot Books.A woman so cold she hardens to ice on a winter’s eve. Risen from his grave before his time, a winter god alters the balance between seasons. A wolf’s holiday season is interrupted by a strange curse. From a murder at the Stanley Hotel to demons of Christmas past, present, and future, and a mad elf and Santa’s Candy Court, the authors of Black Spot Books share their love for winter holidays in this collection of dark winter tales, destined to chill your bones and warm your heart for the Yuletide season. (taken from Amazon)

            This book was provided by Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on November fifth.

This collection of stories was full of dark humor, and more than a bit of creepiness, taking the usual Christmas cheer and turning it upside down. This collection would be as easily at home during Halloween as Christmas. Some of the stories hit the mark better than others, in my opinion. It’s a solid collection, but nothing to write home about.

There were two that stood out to me: The Dauntless, in which Snickerdoodle the elf has to defend Gumdrop (another elf) from murder charges. Yep, you read that right. It was odd and funny, and I couldn’t stop snickering every time I thought of a lawyer named “Snickerdoodle”.

My favorite story was The Poetry of Snow and Stars. I thought it highly entertaining that it takes place at the hotel from The Shining. The writing in this one was strong, and it was quite evident that the author, Cassondra Windwalker, was fully confident in her writing ability. There wasn’t a false step in her writing.

While obviously not written for everyone, this book would be a great Christmas gift for anyone who likes their holiday with a hint of the macabre.