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review 2019-10-12 19:16
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Mooncakes - Wendy Xu,Suzanne Walker

'Mooncakes' is a light, witchy romance celebrating family and friendship. It's super cute, which may be why I couldn't get into it as much as I should have.

 

Nova Huang lives with her grandmothers and helps run their café/magic bookshop. In her spare time she investigates mysterious goings-on that have a magical vibe. A report of a large white wolf in the woods and a horse-demon lead to an unexpected reunion with an old friend.

 

The dynamic between Nova and Tam is sweet and genuine and the added details of their lives - family dynamics, supernatural identities, struggles with handicaps - were very welcome. I could have used more with the bird-headed cousin. Maybe a sequel?

 

It was just very, very, cute. Even when it got serious. Other people are going to love this, but it wasn't for me.

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review 2019-10-09 19:58
The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman
The Remaking - Clay McLeod Chapman

'The Remaking' is a self-aware horror novel about an urban legend with supernatural inertia. The story of how Ella Louise and her daughter Jessica were labeled witches and burned in a small southern town in the 1920s is told again and again, a cult movie, a 90s remake, eventually a podcast comes knocking....

 

The story is inviting enough, but the air went out of the novel when I realized a hundred pages in that the back-cover copy was the entire novel. The novel isn't about the vindication of Amber and/or a quest to get to the heart of the curse of Jessica, the little witch girl. You follow each stage and it doesn't matter, because you know what's going to happen. I know old 40s movie trailers used to show the whole film in 30 seconds, and audiences were fine with that, but I thought we were past all that. This isn't like 'Moby-Dick' or something, where we all know the ending but the brick of a novel is still worth reading. I feel like in the last five years or so there is no effort made in making trailers that invite you in. They just say it all. Which is disappointing, because this isn't Moby-Dick, or even a decent horror film.

 

This knowing exactly where the story was going as I plodded through it was a little frustrating and took a lot of the appreciation out of the occasionally well-crafted atmosphere generated by the book. Even if I didn't know where the story was going, I don't know if the novel would have held up, as each section had trouble standing on its own. We didn't spend enough time with anybody but the understandably anxious and, later, damaged Amber for any real horror to creep in.

 

I read it through to the end to see if the author would pull a last-minute victory of an ending, but it was some vague, pseudo-feminist babble. I don't think an author can have characters rattling around and doing nothing for hundreds of pages and then pretend at the end it was all part of some sort of grand scheme. It's too bad, I loved the horror film references and would have liked some contemporary commentary on the genre.

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review 2019-09-28 22:31
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky
Imaginary Friend - Stephen Chbosky

This is the long-awaited second novel from the author of 'Perks of Being a Wallflower'. This is a completely different beast, however, so enough about that.

 

Christopher is seven and this is not the first time that his mother Kate has made them pack up what they can of their lives and escape in the middle of the night from a dangerous boyfriend. They end up in a remote town in Pennsylvania and hope for the best. Christopher then goes missing and is not seen for six days. When he comes back, things are different: he suddenly overcomes his dyslexia, Kate wins the lottery and buys a dream house, and Christopher continues to talk to the "Nice Man" that helped him out of the woods. The Nice Man has a warning for him, however, bad things won't be staying in the woods anymore, for Christopher to stop bad things from happening he has to build a treehouse before Christmas....

 

I feel like this might be a case of an author working too long on a manuscript. There was some great initial character development and I love the plot, but at over 700 pages the book is overlong and poorly paced. The treehouse was finished within a few hundred pages. 400 pages of impending apocalypse wears down the suspense. Character development and, frankly, many of the character's actions become redundant as the book goes on. Later additions to the 'Hellraiser' films come to mind. A story can sustain mounting, disgusting horror only for so long before I begin to glaze over. Speaking of that, I hate to make the unfavorable Stephen King comparisons, buuuut…this book needed an aggressive editor.

 

I was very disappointed. Don't believe the hype. I don't like writing poor reviews, but Chbosky is a writer that can do better.

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review 2019-09-10 20:34
Dead Voices, Small Spaces #2 by Katherine Arden
Dead Voices - Katherine Arden

 

Supernatural Square: Three friends find themselves snowed-in at a haunted ski lodge armed only with a Ouija board and a book of matches.

 

Ollie, Coco and Brian have tried to put what happened in the land beyond the mists behind them. When a free trip for five is won to a soon-to-be-open ski mountain it seems like a great opportunity to have fun and get away from reminders of the past.

 

A blizzard is hitting the Vermont mountains especially hard and the expected 8" overnight, heavy enough, becomes a big enough storm to prevent the other guests from arriving at Mount Hemlock, and traps them in the building without no power and only a single fireplace.

 

No one but Coco sees the man in the road warning them away from the lodge. When the car is stopped, he's disappeared. The taxidermy collection in the lobby seems to keep shifting positions on their wall-mounts and pedestals. The lodge itself has a dark past as an orphanage run by the stern 'Mother Hemlock' and not all the girls made it through the cold winters.

 

Snowbound, the trio, two parents, the lodge owners and a paranormal journalist, have to confront the ghosts in the dark halls armed only with a Ouija board, a book of matches, and a talent for chess. Ollie's wristwatch, through which her dead mother communicates to her, tells her to beware....

 

This was another good middle grade horror by Katherine Arden. In many ways this is Coco's book, as it showcases her talent for chess and logic, her mediating role and provides some outside perspective on Ollie's relationship with her dad.

 

The story skates on the edge of being too simple, but the puzzle was a good one, and the internal logic of the story and the world of 'Small Spaces' is respected. The characters are continuing to grow and with some unanswered questions, I see a lot of room for more sequels down the line.

 

Small Spaces

 

Previous: 'Small Spaces'

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review 2019-08-29 20:13
How Long 'Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
How Long 'Til Black Future Month? - N.K. Jemisin

This was a stunning collection of short fiction. I've never read Jemisin before, so I was astonished at the ideas and the characters here. My usual complaint with story collections is how they can be inconsistent and if one story is bad enough it can take down the whole collection.

 

There is nothing like that here. There are two or three that felt flat to me or felt like an under-developed idea, Jemisin in her introduction explains that she has used many of these stories as areas to test idea for longer fiction, but they never affected the many, many great stories here.

 

I really should go into these individually, but I'm lazy and I won't. I'll just say I was engaged by every story and easily, happily, went straight into the one following.

 

This is the best story collection I've read since 'Lot' and before that, I have to go to Ted Chiang. Those are smaller collections, however. The best comparison I can make as far as amount of stories and consistency is Flannery O'Connor.

 

I'll make a point to seek out her novels.

 

 

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