Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories [review]

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Published by Gallery/Saga Press on February 25, 2020
my rating: DNF
Goodreads avg:
3.94 (as of 2020-05-09)
Spoiler-free review
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

From award-winning author Ken Liu comes his much anticipated second volume of short stories.

Ken Liu is one of the most lauded short story writers of our time. This collection includes a selection of his science fiction and fantasy stories from the last five years — sixteen of his best — plus a new novelette.


I made it soo far into this, but unfortunately had to put it down. I found some of the stories really compelling but found they didn’t outweigh the ones I didn’t enjoy. At around the halfway mark, this morphed into a lot of interconnected stories that I was kind of struggling with, so it seemed best not to finish.

The stories I read, and the ratings I gave them:

Ghost Days, 2 stars
Maxwell’s Demon, 3.5 stars
The Reborn, 4 stars
Thoughts and Prayers, 4 stars
Byzantine Empathy, 4.5 stars
The Gods Will Not Be Chained, 2 stars
Staying Behind, 2.5 stars
Real Artists, 3 stars
The Gods Will Not Be Slain, 2 stars
Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer, 2 stars

Average: 2.95 stars

I think there are a lot of people who will really like these! They just weren’t for me. So if this seems like something that’s up your alley, I definitely recommend giving it a shot.


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And I Do Not Forgive You [review]

And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks
To be published by Liveright on February 11, 2020
my rating: DNF
Goodreads avg:
3.7 (as of 2020-01-27)
Spoiler-free Review
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website


I unfortunately only made it through 50% of this before DNFing. I think the title and cover art made me think this would be more about revenge than it was. The stories here felt largely unrelated to that and were also so frustrating to read. Either a story would feel unfinished altogether, cutting off where it felt like it was just starting, or I would feel completely uninvested until the last paragraph, having it end just as I was getting excited. I hadn’t realized going in that I had tried to read another of Amber Sparks’ collections and DNFed that as well for similar reasons, so I think her work just isn’t for me. Below are my ratings and minor comments for the stories I did end up reading:

Mildly Unhappy, with Moments of Joy, ⅘. thought i would cry at the end.
You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women, 2.5/5.
A Place for Hiding Precious Things, ⅗.
Everyone’s a Winner in Meadow Park, 2.5/5. felt unfinished, didn’t get invested until the very last page and then wanted more.
A Short and Slightly Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife, ⅕.
We Destroy the Moon, ⅖.
In Which Athena Designs a Video Game with the Express Purpose of Trolling Her Father, ⅖.
Is the Future a Nice Place for Girls, ⅖.


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Vampires in the Lemon Grove [review; reread]

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Published by Vintage on January 14, 2014 (originally 2013)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.68 (as of 2020-02-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Within these pages, a community of girls held captive in a Japanese silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms and plot revolution; a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow that bears an uncanny resemblance to a missing classmate that they used to torment; a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West has grave consequences; and in the marvelous title story, two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try to slake their thirst for blood and come to terms with their immortal relationship.


I’m honestly devastated that I didn’t enjoy this more, considering I had originally given it five stars. This is one of those rare (for me) instances where re-reading is not necessarily a good idea. Interestingly, the stories I don’t remember liking much were my favorites on this readthrough, and vice-versa. It’s interesting to see how my reading tastes have changed over time, and this is very indicative of that. I wish I had read the rest of Russell’s bibliography around the first time I read this, as I think her writing isn’t really for me anymore and it would have been nice to experience it when it was.

By this time we’d found a dirt cellar in which to live in Western Australia, where the sun burned through the clouds like dining lace. That sun ate lakes, rising out of dead volcanoes at dawn, triple the size of a harvest moon and skull-white, a grass-scorcher. Go ahead, try to walk into that sun when you’ve been told your bones are tinder.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

Vampires in the Lemon Grove 4/5
Reeling for the Empire 5/5
The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 3/5
Proving Up 2.5/5
The Barn at the End of Our Term 2/5
Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating 2/5
The New Veterans 3/5
The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis 4/5

He couldn’t remember the last time he had acted without reservation on a single desire.

The average rating for these is 3.19, which I rounded down to 3. While there were a couple strong stories in here, the ones that didn’t work for me really stood out. I will mention that Reeling for the Empire is an incredible read. I think before I had even read this collection the first time, I had heard an audio version of the story — meaning this is my third time “reading” it and I still loved it. It becomes more meaningful to me each time.

I was glad he was afraid–I hadn’t known that you could feel so grateful to a friend, for living in fear with you. Fear was otherwise a very lonely place.

There is nothing wrong per se with the stories I didn’t like, and it’s certainly all personal preference. I found the stories I rated on the lower end either needlessly goofy or uncompelling. Proving Up in particular has a lot of promise but unfortunately fell flat for me. I’d definitely recommend this collection to people who like “weird” short fiction, though. There are a lot of fantastic elements that I would say could be categorized as magical realism. If you’ve enjoyed more of Russell’s work, you’ll probably like this and if not, then I doubt you will.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #19

Ella Enchanted
Spoilers!

I haven’t read this in I don’t know how many years, but it holds up! I’ve been in a mini-slump recently but was able to slam through this old favorite. There were parts where I actually found myself laughing out loud. Ella’s humor is so great. Really my only complaint is that Ella is canonically unable to save herself but can save… a dude she’s in love with. Not my favorite trope, and not my favorite message to send (that a man is more important than you, even though I’m sure it wasn’t intended to come across that way).

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (reread)

Far From You
Minor spoilers!

Me during the first 95% of this book: Yeah this is good I guess
Me during the last 5%: [sobbing, but make it queer]

Anyway, this was pretty much your typical YA thriller. The writing was a little hit-or-miss at times but it was a mostly entertaining read. It went a little hard on the internalized homophobia and I kind of hated the deceased best friend because of how she treated the main character. Their relationship was way more toxic than it was cute. She was redeemed somewhat toward the end, but that didn’t really undo all the time she spent treating people poorly? Feel free to pick this up if you’re interested, but I’d keep expectations low.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Grownup

Not perfect, but definitely a pretty great short story! It was just lengthy enough to get me invested, and the twist did take me by surprise. This is probably my favorite piece by Gillian Flynn so far. My only complaint is that the ending seemed a bit silly and abrupt, but I have no regrets reading this.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Dead of Winter [review]

Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke
Self-published on December 11, 2018 (originally 2010)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.20 (as of 2019-12-24)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Winter it’s coming… it’s already here, and with it comes a horror no door can keep out. It’s there in the yard, in the faces of the snowmen a young boy doesn’t remember building. It’s in the oddly empty streets below Santa Claus’s crumbling sleigh. It’s in the unnatural movement of the snow that suffocates a widower’s town, and in the cold eyes of a lonely man’s estranged children.

Here, there is no holiday cheer, only spine-chilling fear, in the DEAD OF WINTER.


This was my first time reading Kealan Patrick Burke and in all honesty, I was pretty disappointed. This collection had an average of 4.2 on Goodreads, so I was expecting something rather spectacular. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it certainly fell short of what I was hoping for. This is a rather short book (only 96 pages!) containing 7 short stories. I think that part of the issue for me is that it’s difficult to fully develop a story in so few pages. Some stories did remarkably well considering their length, but others just didn’t do much for me.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

  • Snowmen 3.5/5
  • Doomsday Father Christmas 2/5 
  • Black Static 2/5 
  • Visitation Rights 4/5
  • Home 4.5/5
  • The Quiet 3/5 
  • They Know 4/5 

Which comes to an average of 3.29. Like I said, not a bad rating by any means. My favorites, as you can probably tell, were Visitation Rights, Home, and They Know. In particular, Home went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and really hit me in the gut, as did Visitation Rights. They Know was the longest story in the collection and its length allowed for a lot more development of the story and the characters. A couple of the stories have tugged at the back of my brain in the couple days since I’ve finished the book, which I always take to be a good sign as well.

I have to wonder if this was just a poor introduction to Burke’s work for me, and think that may be the case. When I love short story collections, I really love them, but others can fall flat easily. This unfortunately settled into the latter category. I had a similar reaction to Paul Tremblay’s book of short stories recently, but I love his novels from what I’ve read. So I’ll definitely be picking up more of Burke’s work, even if this set of stories didn’t work very well for me personally.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover [review]

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The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen
Expected publication by Dutton Books on February 27, 2018
240 pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
goodreads avg: 
3.95
cw: see review

Spoiler-free Review of an eARC provided by NetGalley.

35749439

GoodreadsIndieBound 

Bewitching and playful, with its feet only slightly tethered to the world we know, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover explores hope, love, and loss across a series of surreal landscapes and wild metamorphoses. Just because Jenny was born without a head doesn’t mean she isn’t still annoying to her older brother, and just because the Man of the Future’s carefully planned extramarital affair ends in alien abduction and network fame doesn’t mean he can’t still pine for his absent wife. Romping through the fantastic with big-hearted ease, these stories cut to the core of what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing, whether in the form of a lovesick kraken slowly dragging a ship of sailors into the sea, a small town euthanizing its grandfathers in a time-honored ritual, or a third-grade field trip learning that time travel is even more wondrous–and more perilous–than they might imagine.

Andreasen’s stories are simultaneously daring and deeply familiar, unfolding in wildly inventive worlds that convey our common yearning for connection and understanding. With a captivating new voice from an incredible author, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover uses the supernatural and extraordinary to expose us at our most human.

From the instant I saw the cover, I knew I just HAD to read this book. It had already been on my TBR when I stumbled across it on Netgalley and slammed the request button reflexively. I love bizarro short stories, I love cephalopods, and I love anything with an octopus on the cover.

Unfortunately, these stories just didn’t mesh well with me. It wasn’t a bad read, it just wasn’t anything over-the-top outstanding. If you’re interested, I’d say give it a shot regardless. Michael Andreasen is a talented writer and I’m intrigued to see what else he comes out with!

Below I’ve rated and provided content warnings for each of the individual stories.

Our Fathers at Sea ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Bodies in Space ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Sea Beast Takes a Lover ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The King’s Teacups at Rest ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
He is the Rainstorm and the Sandstorm, Hallelujah, Hallelujah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Rockabye, Rocketboy ⭐️⭐️ 
(cw porn, pedophilia, stalking)
The Saints in the Parlor ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Andy, Lord of Ruin ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
(cw animal abuse/animal death)
Jenny ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
(cw assault)
Rite of Baptism ⭐️⭐️
Blunderbuss ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Avg: 3.36 rounded down to 3

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(Covers and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)