The After Word: Isobel

Friends and readers it has been a while! Super Hubs here with my first book review in months! Game of Thrones and a very busy movie/Netflix season kept me from reading as much as I’d like but now it’s time to get back into the swing of things. It’s Halloween season ya’ll, the only season where I’m truly alive. And to kick the season off I have a very…interesting book to review. So sit back all you oiled up witches dancing a fierce bacchanal, today I’m reviewing Isobel! I have to warn you, this is going to be a long one. I mean, pretty much everything I write is long so you should be used to that by now.

To begin, no mention of this book can be made without first talking about Rowena Morrill. You may not recognize her name, but if you have even a passing interest in…well any kind of genre fiction then you definitely know who she is. Rowena Morrill more or less defined the look of sci-fi and fantasy covers in the 70s and 80s. She’s an incredibly prolific artist and she has done paperback covers for some of the biggest names in fiction. These include H.P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, Madeleine L’Engle, and Arthur C. Clarke. It’s only because of her that I ever even heard of Isobel.  Continue reading “The After Word: Isobel”

The After-Word: Grotesque

Hello Good Readers!

I was going to do three posts this month. But then I read Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino. I won’t lie – this one got to me. It made it hard to read anything else, both because it was so so good and because it was so so sad. For as much as I read, it’s actually pretty rare for a book to really affect me in the way that Grotesque did. In fact, I can only think of a few off the top of my head. Grotesque sticks with you; it stuck with me for weeks after I finished. Grotesque is a profoundly sad story filled with broken characters and the worst of human ugliness. It is unrelenting in its fatalism, ferocious in its criticism of male dominated society and classism, and it doesn’t shy away from showing humanity at its lowest. (In fact, the English translation had some sections removed because of this which I only just now found out about and am now very angry about – don’t censor my shit publishers!)

Continue reading “The After-Word: Grotesque”

The After-Word: The Vegetarian

Everyone, I have a confession to make. Try not to let what I’m about to tell you color your opinion of me. I know you all come here looking for a certain…refinement; a certain elegance of language and deep knowledge of all things literary. I know you think of us as experts, paragons of knowledge and thought. But I’m about to peel back the curtain a bit. You see, I’m not a connoisseur of horror fiction. In fact, I have to look up recommendation, just like you. So sometimes when I’m late making a post I’ll Google “top 10 horror novels [insert year]” and just pick whichever one has the most interesting cover. It may not be classy, but it’s effective at least 62% of the time.

This is how I found The Vegetarian, a Korean surrealist drama novel by celebrated author Han Kang about a woman who may or may not be becoming a plant. Continue reading “The After-Word: The Vegetarian”

The After Word: Three Dark Crowns (SPOILERS)

My, my, my. Look who we have here.

It’s me. Nikkie. Silent but watchful owner (let’s be real; Super Hubs is just along for the ride) of Married with Bookshelves. Emphasis on silent.
I could offer you a bunch of excuses, but you can come up with one on your own. Suffice it to say: We’re all adults here, and sometimes life gets in the way.

The point is that I’m back! Not only am I back, but I’ve brought SH with me! Say hi, Lawrence. Olo ya’ll! On a recent trip to Target—coincidentally, the same trip where SH picked up The MercilessI acquired Three Dark Crowns, written by Kendare Blake. The name rang a bell for me because she wrote one of the short stories that was in Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, and I felt like I’d seen some good things around the Internet about this book. So I figured, What the hell? Let’s see where this goes. I didn’t have high expectations . . . which meant I was lowkey blown away by how much I liked this book.

But let’s not spoil the meal by skipping to dessert (even though that’s its own kind of fun). Let’s get into it!

Continue reading “The After Word: Three Dark Crowns (SPOILERS)”

The After-Word: The Merciless

I’m going to say this upfront: were it not for the last 40 pages, this review would be much more positive.

The Merciless by Danielle Vega (actual name Danielle Rollins) is billed by several dozen reviewers as Mean Girls meets The Exorcist and while the Mean Girls comparison is more than deserved – the main character even drops a line about making a Burn Book at one point – the comparison to The Exorcist is a bit more spurious. Yes, there is an “exorcism” in the book but it’s not a professional one and it’s more violent than they’re supposed to be. A more appropriate description would be Mean Girls meets The Girl Next Door.

The story follows Army brat Sofia Flores after she moves to a new town in Mississippi and gets caught up in the weird schemes of a group of popular girls who want to ‘help’ the weird girl  stop being so weird with the power of Jesus. Also Sofia’s mom is an atheist and this annoys her because Sofia wants to be religious and go to church. Now I know I’m a godless heathen and everything but this seems just…so unrealistic to me. Even the religious teenagers I knew never wanted to go to church. It was around this time that I thought the book was going to wind up being religious propaganda under a thin veil of horror – sort of an anti-Footloose horror if you will. Having finished the book…I’m still not sure if this is the case. It sort of fluctuates wildly between the two extremes. I guess it’s possible that Danielle Vega was just writing a story with no agenda, but where’s the fun in that? Suffice it to say…Spoiler Alert. Continue reading “The After-Word: The Merciless”

A Bite-Sized Review for Christmas: NOS4A2

Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!

My favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard. I know a lot of people say that now and they tend to say it with a smug smile as if they’re the most clever boy to ever live even though pretty much everyone thinks of Die Hard as a Christmas movie now. But lemme tell ya, I’ve been doing this shit for probably 20 years now. So if anyone deserves to have a smug smile it’s me. I’m the trendsetter!

All of this is to say my holiday entertainment can be pretty non-traditional. I have my normal Christmas fare (Muppet Christmas Carol, Nightmare Before Christmas, Love Actually, those sorts of things) but my favorites are all more Christmas adjacent than Christmas themed. Die Hard, Gremlins, Batman Returns. I also tend to watch Lord of the Rings around Christmas because they were each released in December and I can’t help but associate them with the season. Continue reading “A Bite-Sized Review for Christmas: NOS4A2”

The After Word: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Howdy ya’ll! Super Hubs here with another short story anthology review. Today we’re talking Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, a YA collection edited by April Genevieve Tucholke. The stories in this one are of a darker variety, with many of them having an outright horror bent. Each of the stories is based on either a movie, a song, or another short story—though mostly they’re inspired by movies. Part of the fun, at least for me, was trying to figure out what each story was inspired by, so I won’t be spoiling that for you (and they list the influences at the end for your convenience)! We’ll be going through the stories one by one and giving a brief synopsis/review. S’gonna be fun!

“The Birds of Azalea Street” by Nova Ren Suma: A group of teen girls plots how to take revenge on a neighborhood pervert. Their parents don’t believe them when they try to tell them how uncomfortable the guy makes them, and when he all but molests one of their friends, they decide something has to be done. When the man comes home with a shockingly gorgeous woman, they think she’s been kidnapped or is a mail-order bride being held against their will. They break into the house to rescue her, but things take a supernatural turn. There’s a subplot about all the birds disappearing from the neighborhood and it’s heavily implied that the man has been killing them. The story is predictable but good, and the ending was interesting. I would give it a second read at least. It was one of the easiest to figure out the inspiration for. Continue reading “The After Word: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys”

The After Word: Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity

Bienvenidos, my lovelies. Nikkie here with another After Word, this time talking about a book that is coming out TODAY. That’s right, y’all: I got my hands on an ARC. I have my gig with the Barnes and Noble Teen blog to thank for that, so hooray for free books!

Since this is a new release, I will try to avoid as many spoilers as I can. This will be a little difficult because I didn’t actually care for the book, and some of my issues with it relate to plot. So it will be lightly spoiler-y.

You ready?

Continue reading “The After Word: Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity”

Halloween Month: How Have I not Read This #2 – The Halloween Tree

Howdy ya’ll! Super Hubs here again with another entry of How Have I Not Read This! Today we’re talking about something that I’m legitimately angry I’d never heard of. See, for the first ten or so years of my life I, like everyone else, was a stupid child with practically no say in what books were presented to me. I relied on my parents to make sure I experienced the best possible entertainment for my growing mind. I trusted them. They were all I had in life…and they betrayed me.

See, there’s a book, a wonderous, magical book written by one of the greatest authors of all time. A book that is a celebration of all things Halloween. And I had never heard of it until just a few months ago. It’s a book called The Halloween Tree written by Ray fucking Bradbury! Take that in. Read that sentence. Read it again. Read it eight times. Take in every single word and realize just how much of an outrage it is that I had never heard of this book or read it. Worse, it’s a children’s book which means my parents should have read it to me. They should have made it a yearly ritual. Instead they shoved the fucking Great Pumpkin down my throat and made me think THAT was the best Halloween had to offer. That notion was eventually destroyed when I saw Garfield’s Halloween Adventure but that special didn’t get much play in my home.

Written as a direct response to Great Pumpkin and it’s distinct lack of an actual Great Pumpkin, Ray Bradbury wrote this book to celebrate all its many flavors. It’s a magical time-travelling adventure that explores the origins of Halloween (some origins may be less factual than others) while a bunch of kids say weird things and hope their friend isn’t dead. It’s pretty weird.

This will, by necessity, be a pretty short little post since the book is a children’s book and very very short. I won’t call it a review because it’s a book called The Halloween Tree written by Ray fucking Bradbury. If that doesn’t sell you on the book, nothing will.

So the main character is a boy named Tom Skelton who is dressed as a Skeleton because of course he is. He’s meeting up with some friends to go trick ‘r’ treating. They’re waiting for their friend Pipkin who the book goes to great lengths to paint as the greatest little boy to ever live in all of time ever. He’s fun and smart and awesome and strong and cool and everyone loves being around him. Basically he’s a big hit at parties and he’s awesome at Halloween. So when he doesn’t show up to meet the rest of the group they’re all understandably distressed. They go to his house and he seems down in the dumps. He tells them to meet him later at the big ol’ haunted ass house that everyone knows is haunted. They do this – after trick ‘r’ treating of course – and they meet a weird old dude named Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud and he shows them his Halloween Tree which is just a big ass tree covered in thousands of jack o’ lanterns. He talks to them about Halloween and how awesome it is then they see Pipkin disappear.

Being a responsible adult, Moundshroud tells them to rip up the side of his house and make a kite out of it, also the side of his house might be made of dinosaurs. So they make a kite and Moundshroud uses it to take them through time and explore the dubious origins of Halloween. Each time period is relevant to one of the children’s costumes and it all basically boils down cavemen were scared when the sun went down and when it started to get cold and that fear stuck with us as we evolved. It gets pretty weird and I love every page of it.

In the end they find Pipkin in Mexico being held prisoner by a bunch of mummies and the only way they can save him is if each of the children gives up one year from the end of their life. This is…very troubling but they agree and Pipkin is saved! In the end, it turns out that Pipkin had appendicitis and was at the hospital getting an appendectomy. Which…makes me feel like Moundshroud didn’t need them to give up a year from their lives to save him but oh well Halloween is great and everyone loves it. Moundshroud communicates with Tom Skelton telepathically and is like “yo bro, I’m Death btw lol byeeeee!” All the people extinguish their jack o’ lanterns and the Halloween Tree goes dark and the story ends.

This book is amazing and I can’t wait to read it to my children every year. And possibly every day. Shut up and go read it. You have no excuse. It’s 144 pages and the font is big and it’s written by Ray fucking Bradbury. Shut up and read it!

Happy Halloween! Only 365 days to go before it comes around again. Go forth and be spooky my friends.

The After Word: Faces of Fear

Let’s talk about John Saul. John Saul is a horror author who’s…kinda popular but only really among horror fans. He doesn’t have the deep understanding of character that Stephen King does or a unique style like Anne Rice. He doesn’t have the name recognition of Dean Koontz or the brash attitude of Bentley Little. What John Saul had was consistency. I say “had” because he hasn’t released a book since 2009, but before that, he had one book out per year (or, in the case of 1997, five) and they were all…solid. They weren’t always good, but they were rarely bad—and almost all of them were bestsellers. Which is weird because I don’t think I’ve ever met a single other person who’s read a John Saul novel other than my mom.

I’ve read a few of his books, and my impressions of them have ranged from “Meh” to “That wasn’t bad.” Again, he’s not a bad writer by any means; just a safe one. He has bragged in the past that he wrote his first novel in 28 days, and everything I’ve read by him feels like they took about that amount of time. He’s competent, and he can be pretty good at building tension, but his books rarely dive very deep beneath surface level. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you just want some light reading. So, for my first review of Halloween month, I decided to talk about America’s 5th favorite horror author! I’ll…review some better stuff later. Promise.

(This is just gonna be a quick review, so I’ll spare you any overly long plot summaries and just stick to the basics. That being said . . .  if any of you are worried about spoilers for an 8-year-old John Saul novel: spoiler alert.)

Plot speed-run

Alison Shaw’s parents get divorced because her dad is gay (don’t worry; they remain friends). Conrad Dunn is an insanely successful plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills who changed his wife from a “normal woman” into the world’s most successful supermodel. A boating accident scars his wife’s face, and everyone in Beverly Hills can’t help but be total shits about it in all the ways you would expect. She kills herself. One year later, Conrad Dunn and Alison’s mom are getting married, and Alison is moving to Beverly Hills. Her friends joke with her about getting free plastic surgery. The kids she’s going to go to school with in Beverly Hills have all had work done, and they say she should get it too ‘cus her boobs are small. Her mom suggests she should. Conrad suggests she should. Eventually she does. She has a birthday party and invites her old friends; her best friend gets pissed off at her because she’s changing and got fake boobs. Meanwhile, someone is going around killing ladies and stealing their body parts and glands. Alison’s mom discovers a shrine in the basement to Conrad’s dead wife. And Alison, who originally found Conrad very creepy, is slowly coming to accept him and his profession. Guess where it goes wrong.

It turns out that the killer is somehow related to Conrad—it doesn’t really mention how, but I guess the killer was a plastic surgeon too. She mentions that she was always better than Conrad and Conrad was obsessed with proving he was the best and blah blah blah. Point is: the killer is a famous woman named Danielle who was once a man named Daniel. Conrad helped her transition to a woman, and she became a cosmetics creator. He’s blackmailing her into killing these women by threatening to out her as trans. She had developed a way of keeping body parts alive for years and years and uses glands to create her cosmetics and ointments, and now Conrad wants to use that to rebuild his dead wife. So Danielle has been searching for women who have the exact right body parts and killing them to harvest those parts (and I mean literally every part—eyebrows, breasts, cheeks, lips, etc…) and Conrad has been trying to find the woman with the exact right bone structure to remake his wife’s face. Guess what: that “woman” is Alison. He kills Alison’s mom and tries to perform surgery on Alison, but he’s stopped by her dad and his new husband.

The book is, once again, okay. It’s probably the best Saul book I’ve ever read but not because of its writing—because of its subtext. The whole book is about Alison slowly being seduced by Conrad and being made more comfortable with changing herself and her appearance. Alison starts out as a well-adjusted, intelligent girl who looks at Conrad and his profession with skepticism, but she slowly comes around to relying on his opinion about her appearance and life. In fact, the only reason he doesn’t get his way is because Alison’s mom finds out what he’s trying to do, so he has to move quicker than he had planned. It’s a story about a girl having her agency stripped away, and a look at how society (particularly a male-dominated society) makes that happen to lots of women. And it was actually pretty well done. The way Alison is changed and seduced legitimately disturbed me. It was just the rest of the book that wasn’t all that good.

The subplot about Danielle was really unnecessary but thankfully much less transphobic than I had originally anticipated. It was pretty obvious that she was the killer as the prologue is all about a man who wants to become a woman and is going to use the help of a talented plastic surgeon to do it and then that character never shows up again. So you know that she’s one of the characters we’re seeing, and there are only a few logical candidates. I guessed pretty early on that it was Danielle and wasn’t surprised by the revelation. I was surprised by the treatment of her character. We get one chapter of her POV after it’s revealed that she’s the killer . . . and she gets killed by Conrad in it. We get a look inside her head and how she had struggled her whole life to be happy with herself and how, when she finally got the body she wanted, Conrad used it to exploit her. Then he kills her. So it was nice that it wasn’t the unfortunate horror trope of “trans person is a killer because they’re trans” (see: Sleepaway Camp), but it was the unfortunate trope of “trans person exists only as murder fodder.” And really, she didn’t need to be in the book. Conrad could have been the killer himself. Danielle’s character really boils down to “created green fantasy goo that keeps organs alive for decades.”

The rest of the characters are completely throwaway, which is less a commentary on the superficial nature of wealth and fame in Beverly Hills and more just Saul padding out pages. Alison’s dad is nice, and his story with his new husband is fun. The most natural writing is when Alison is hanging out with her dad.

Overall, the book is okay. I read it in like five hours, so it wasn’t a huge time investment, and it was better than I expected. All in all, I don’t really recommend seeking it out. But I will point out that I got it for $5 at Office Max and, after it gathered dust for two years, it helped me pass the day at work. So if you’re in a bind and happen to come across it for a few bucks, it wouldn’t be the worst use of your money.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go carve a pumpkin.