Book Review: The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

All together a satisfying horror experience.

merry spinsters (cover)Short stories aren’t usually my cup of tea, but when I saw this slim little volume at my library I knew I had to take it home. The tradepaper edition is attractive, with its deckle edges and artwork that is both serene and just a shade grotesque.

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg is an odd little mash-up of twisted tales that inspire both horror and awe, featuring gender benders and other subversions for readers to delight in. Many of these stories will seem, at least on the surface, familiar… but won’t end the way you’ll expect. Ortberg’s collection, which can be read in a weekend, is captivating and amusing–its tone both dark and utterly impersonal in that matter-of-fact way that stories with horrific endings tend to be. All together it makes for a satisfying horror experience.

My dogeared favorites include:

  • The Six Boy-Coffins
  • The Rabbit
  • Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
Readers looking for bite-sized bits of thought-provoking horror will appreciate The Merry Spinster.

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Albert’s amazing use of language makes this a book you don’t just read, but feel. 

hazel wood (cover)Alice and her mother Ella have been on the run from something ominous yet indefinable for the entirety of Alice’s 17-year-old life. She doesn’t know what it is that’s after them, but knows it has something to do with her grandmother — the famous author and reculse, Althea Prosperpine, whom she’s never met. She’s right.

Alice and her mother Ella have been on the run from something ominous yet indefinable for the entirety of Alice’s 17-year-old life. She doesn’t know what it is that’s after them, but knows it has something to do with her grandmother — the famous author and reculse, Althea Prosperpine, whom she’s never met. She’s right.

I picked this book up around the time it came out because of all the positive word of mouth I’d been hearing on it. I started it twice and both times I didn’t get past the first 30 pages or so before something came up and I had to put the book down for a while. Three is a lucky number in fairy tales, though, and the THIRD TIME I picked up this book, it hooked me.

As a protagonist, Alice is prickly yet strangely likeable and her hot-and-cold relationship with bff/crush Ellery Finch is magic. But what really launches this book into five-star territory for me is Albert’s amazing use of language, and her descriptive text, spun like sugar throughout the narrative. This is a book you don’t just read, you feel.

Readers who love angry young women and original fairy tales with a dark twist will love Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood.

January’s Reading List

I have two reading-related goals this year: tackle my TBR pile, and read and review 100 books. I better get crackin’.

I have two reading-related goals this year. First, I’m going to read and review 100 books. Second, I am going to catch up on that towering stack of TBRs that’s been building up since grad school. This includes old classics I somehow missed, books like The House of Seven Gables and Lolita, as well as books that came out over the past five or so years that I just didn’t have time to read and have instead been pining over from across the bedroom, where they’ve been unceremoniously stacked.

So, with explanations out of the way, here’s my reading list for January–what I’m reading and why I chose it.

New Books!

Because buying new books keeps the industry (and my fellow authors) in business, I’m going to try and focus about half my reviews on new titles–those published within the past year. I’ll also throw a few upcoming titles in where I can, when I manage to get my hands on an ARC.

evelynhardcastleThe 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

A clue-style mystery that puts readers right in the perspective of each of the eight suspects…only, the reader’s not the only one renting space in their heads.

What draws me: A title like that is hard to pass by without at least reading the back cover copy: a man wakes up in eight different bodies, reliving the same day over again from each one’s perspective, as he tries to solve a murder. Sold.

fiercefairytalesFierce Fairytales: & Other Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill

An attractive yet slim volume of poetry and prose based on fairytales with a post-modern twist. And the LANGUAGE, oh!

What draws me: I mean, do you SEE this cover and did you READ the title? What’s not to love? Fairytales are a foundational part of my soul, as anyone who knows me or has read my stories will know.

daemonvoicesDaemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling by Philip Pullman

A series of short pieces that shed insight into both the writing processes generally and Pullman and his own writing evolution.

What draws me: BIG Pullman fan here and I admire the man’s craft deeply. Understanding the work and thoughts behind it is gratifying…and so much of what Pullman says resonates with me personally as a writer.

shadesofmagic4Shades of Magic #4: The Steel Princ by V. E. Schwab

If V writes a book, I’ll read it. And while I’ll admit to loving the books far more than the graphic novels, I’ve been impressed by this slowly unfolding mini-series that gives us a taste of the Maresh’s Red London as it develops.

What draws me: A new installment to the Shades of Magic world? Yes, please. And the artwork is incredible.

Reading Rewind

If you read my New Year’s post, you’ll know that my TBR pile has been giving me major anxiety for the past four or so years. This month I’m taking it a bit easy…I’m only going to tackle four from that pile.

hazel woodThe Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

I’ve picked this book up a couple of times and adored the first few chapters, but both times life got in the way of reading. However, SO MANY people have recommended it (and the reasons are obvious once you begin reading) that I knew it had to be my first Reading Rewind of 2019.

What draws me: Angry girls, fairy tales, and the dark, dark forest…

giftsofimperfectionThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

And now you learn my dirty secret…I am addicted to self-help books. (Leave a comment with title recommendations if you want to enable help me.)

What draws me: The idea behind this book is making yourself vulnerable and allowing yourself to be seen. As someone who spent that past 10+ years writing and not sharing (and yet wanting somehow to be a career writer) I think I need whatever lessons Ms. Brown has to offer.

caravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber

This book’s presence on this list is a lie! I say that because I actually have read Caraval, it’s one of the very few “new” books I managed to take in during grad school. BUT I missed Legendary when it was released last year and Finale is coming out this year and I’m going to be READY FOR IT. Plus, even though I read and loved Caraval, I never did write a review. (Sorry, Stephanie!) I’m fixing that now.

What draws me: First of all, you only need say the word “carnival” and I’m there. Add a little magic and darkness? I’m practically burning for it. Finally, while I love Love LOVE romance, a plot revolving around two sisters is a refreshing change of pace. I’m here for the girls.

merryspinstersThe Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

A slender, pro-femme volume of short stories that all contain a modern horror twist.

What draws me: I’m a huge horror buff and, while short stories are not my usual fare, I’m trying to read more of them and this seems like a fitting place for me to start because I have secret dreams of being a terrifying old spinster woman and this book seems full of tips.

What’s your New Year’s Reading Resolution? Planning on tackling missed titles, writing more reviews, or reading more broadly outside your usual zone? Leave a comment here or catch up with me on Goodreads to let me know!

Book Review: Fierce Fairytales: Poems & Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill

Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill
Published by Hachette (September 2018)

fierce fairytales (cover)Fierce Fairytales is an inspired volume of poems, short stories and vignettes with a strong feminist and multiethnic perspective that takes a critical look at the promises, lies, and misdirections of some of our most treasured tales.

The book flips familiar stories to illustrate the ways the cruel man-made world can damage the unwary, and delivers bold heros with enough hard-earned wisdom and fortitude to slay these dragons. In that way, Fierce Fairytales feels like a clapback to some of Western culture’s cautionary tales.

The number of pages I have dogeared in this book is ridiculous. Here they are, in the order in which they appear in the text:

  • Whispers from the Wicked Woods
  • The Miller’s Daughter
  • Beauty and Bravery
  • Three Times You Rebuilt Your House-Shaped Heart
  • Difficult Damsels
  • The Moral of Your Story
  • How to Save Yourself

Gill’s use of language is beautiful, brilliant and cutting. I recommend this book to anyone who likes fairy tales, human rights, and subversive poetry.

First Thoughts: 2019

I wrote my first novel in college…and it wasn’t very good. At that time, I didn’t know how to revise a novel-length work and I was too timid and shy about my work to get help.

Writing Resolutions

newyearswhiskeyThis morning, reading Dr. Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, I came across the term Life Paralysis for the first time. Life Paralysis “refers to all the opportunities we miss because we’re afraid to put anything out into the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all the dreams we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others” (Brown, 2010).

I wrote my first novel in college…and it wasn’t very good. At that time, I didn’t know how to revise a novel-length work and I was too timid and shy about my work to get help. So I spent a couple years writing another, and then another. It was a lot of work and progressively, they began to get better. Not great, mind you–I still won’t admit to those first three novels–but better.

But I didn’t have anyone in my life I could share them with, who was knowledgeable about writing (the craft or the business), who could help me take the next steps. And I was terrified to approach anyone, whether it be a fellow writer or someone in the publishing industry, with work I knew wasn’t the 100% best it could be. I was a perfectionist about my writing, and Dr. Brown has plenty to say about that, but what this ultimately gave me was a case of Writing Paralysis. I was too timid and fearful, and so I missed opportunities to share my work, collect feedback, and improve. I was too committed to ensuring others only saw what was perfect, and so I failed to follow my dreams and create the writing life I wanted. Hindsight is, of course, a bitch.

So this is my New Year’s Resolution: This year, I’m going to query my “first” novel.

It’s not my only goal–I’m also going to pursue skill-building opportunities, build more relationships with writers and other creatives, rebuild my website, and try and be as supportive as possible to the literary world in general (because the road is hard, folks).

Which brings me to my second “big” NYR…


Reading Resolutions

frame-3355028_1920I’m going to catch up on my TBR and use the opportunity to read and review 100 books this year. Yes, I just said I was going to “catch up” on my To-Be-Read pile.

I’ll wait for you all to stop laughing.

Basically, over the past five years I’ve fallen way behind on my reading (due to grad school and Other Issues)…so this year, I’m going to catch up on all the books I’ve been accruing.

To take things a step further, and as a service to the bookish community, I’m going to pledge to read and review 100 books. The reviews will be posted on Goodreads, Amazon, & Barnes and Noble, and scattered across social media and various blogs (my own and others). As a librarian, writer, and reader, I know reviews are important to both the industry and consumers. And it can be quick and easy to do–I won’t be offering any long-winded treatises, just a few thoughts on what I liked about each read.


Non-Literary Resolutions

freedom.jpgI have a few of these, too. First, I want to focus on learning the warning signs of my own Personal Brand of depression and spiraling anxiety. Having lived with both my whole life, I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing their catastrophic effects…after they happen. A few months, a few weeks, sometimes even a few days is too long to go without recognizing that dark pit for what it is so that you can start pulling yourself out of it.

And what would NYR list be without a shout out to weight loss? I lost 45 lbs. in the past two years, after an extremely sedentary job followed by three years of grad school + working full time (lots of sitting, eating out, no time to exercise or cook) enabled me to grow to the size of a small whale. Now, In part due to a small holiday slide, I’m about 20 lbs. away from where I’d like to be. Therefore, because perfection is unachievable, this year’s goal is to lose 15lbs so I’ll be in a good place to battle with those last 5 lbs. for the rest of my life.

And finally…

Have more fun. I mean, we all want this, right? Necessity has turned me into a work-oriented girl, but I love to play and I don’t do nearly enough of it. And as each day marches by I become more keenly aware that life won’t wait till I have my shit together—it’s happening now—so I’m damn well going to enjoy it, or at least try.