The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society – T. Kingfisher

Uncanny Magazine Issue 25: November/December 2018

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Short Story category.

Half a dozen faerie boys, a selkie and a horse are sitting around a fire. They’re trying to figure out why Rose MacGregor didn’t pine for them, instead marrying the blacksmith.

“Are we pining?” asked the green-eyed fae suddenly. “Is this what it’s like when they pine away after us?”

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this short story at all.

Once Upon a Nitpick: The spelling of Rose’s surname kept changing throughout the story. Sometimes it was MacGregor and other times it was McGregor. This has no bearing on my star rating but it really bugged me.

You can read this short story online here.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Soft Thorns – Bridgett Devoue

This collection of poems is divided into sections: bleed, love, scar, learn, heal. I was interested because a few of the themes interested me, especially when I learned the author has experienced chronic pain. I wanted to see how a poet would describe the experience of chronic pain but I never found out as, unless I missed something along the way, it was only mentioned in my letter to you.

I began to think this book wasn’t for me before I even read the first poem. During my letter to you I found

if i hadn’t hit my proverbial rock bottom, i would not have been able to plant my roots and grow upward.

Besides the lack of capitalisation, which is a huge turn off for me regardless of how incredible the writing is, I have a problem with the whole ‘rock bottom’ thing. I know it’s already reached maximum cliché level at this point but that’s not my concern. It’s the concept itself. Do we really need to fall as low as we possibly can in order to grow? Can’t we attempt to catch ourselves as we’re falling instead? Once I had my internal rant about that I moved on, hoping to be wowed by the poetry.

I wasn’t and I’m really disappointed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Poetry is such a personal experience; what you hate I may love and vice versa. Whenever I begin any book I fully intend to adore it and word vomit to everyone who will listen to me about why they should read it and hopefully love it too. I hate it when that doesn’t happen.

I want to acknowledge that this author has explored some really painful experiences in writing these poems. It takes courage and resilience to excavate these and then share them with the world. Just because I didn’t find a connection with these poems doesn’t mean you won’t.

I did connect a little to some of the first group of poems but as soon as the love story and ultimate heartbreak began it was all over for me. If you’re in the midst of your own devastating breakup you may find these poems resonate with you but my icy heart wasn’t warmed and I certainly wasn’t keen to go looking for love after reading so much about the devastation of its demise. I think if I was going through a breakup a lot of these poems would actually make me feel worse about my situation.

Some of the shorter poems read to me like sentences, not poetry. A significant amount felt like matter of fact statements. I don’t want to be able to read one poem after another without having to pause and take in the beauty of the specific combination of words I’ve just experienced. I want something revolutionary. I want to experience at least one ‘wow, I’ve never thought of it that way!’ moment.

Granted I probably want too much from poetry but ultimately it boils down to wanting poetry to make me feel. I want to feel the poet’s joy, heartache, rage, passion, hope. I want to take the experience (if not the specific words) of the poetry with me when I close the book. I read this book straight through and I hate to say it but the only thing I’m taking away from it is gratitude that I’m happily single.

Content warnings include sexual assault and anorexia.

Thank you to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this book. I need to research whether a book of poetry is really for me rather than getting excited and jumping straight in without doing my homework.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The poetry living within these pages tells stories of love, heartbreak, freedom, oppression, sexual assault, sexism, hope, and humanity.  Our darkest times are where we grow the most, so in this book, I share mine, and together we learn how to heal.

Soft Thorns is a poetry collection that takes the reader on a journey through a young woman’s life – from reckoning with her looks and sexuality to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault, and finally through the highs and lows of young love found and lost. Bridgett Devoue shares her raw, human story and the lessons learned from living a life fully.

The Kiddie Table – Colleen Madden

I’ve read this book so many times over the past couple of months, trying in vain to change my opinion about it. I’m sorry; I just don’t get it. Part of it may be that I come from a small family and everyone fit around one table when we had meals with extended family. We also don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia but I don’t think that has any relevance to the way I feel about this book.

This story recounts the tale of an eight year old girl who is relegated to sitting at the kiddie table during her family’s Thanksgiving meal. She’s surrounded by babies and toddlers. For some reason she’s given a bowl of food and a spoon to eat with, and she’s supposed to be drinking out of a sippy cup. I’m not sure what bright spark thought that was a good idea but possibly her parents as the meal is at their home. Throughout the meal our already cranky eight year old becomes increasingly angry until she explodes at the indignity she’s had to suffer.

During her tirade she makes the argument that she knows how to behave and winds up her tantrum with a defiant, “I DESERVE A SPOT AT THE ADULT TABLE!” Now this may well be an indication of why I should never be a parent but if this little brat was my kid I would quite cheerfully explain to her that her dummy spit had proven exactly why she’s not ready to sit at the adult table yet. Like it or not she’d be apologising to the other guests, including all of the kids she freaked out and we’d be having a long chat about her behaviour and acceptable ways to ask for what you want once the guests left.

This kid’s mother is not me. This kid’s mother empathises with her daughter about how she was feeling (that would have been part of my after dinner chat) but then she lets the tantrum kid sit at the adult table! This kid gets rewarded for her bad behaviour! I’m not okay with that.

I liked the illustrations. They’re colourful and make our tantrum thrower’s discontent very clear from the get go.

The rhymes didn’t work for me as the meter was off, so the rhythm would feel awkward if read out loud.

I’ve put off writing this review because I hate it when books and I don’t connect. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t though so please don’t just take my word for it. I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself or at least read some 4 or 5 star reviews before deciding if it’s the book for you or not.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Capstone for the opportunity to read this book. I really wanted to love it.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

At every Thanksgiving there are two tables — the kiddie table and the adult table. So why in the world would an 8-year-old girl be stuck at the kiddie table? She is NOT a baby. She is NOT a toddler. She is a grown-up! She can do two-digit multiplication and knows how to cut her own food. She deserves to be at the adult table! And after an empowered speech and mini-breakdown, the girl is moved to the adult table. Growing up is never easy, and author Colleen Madden brilliantly tackles that issue in this delightful picture book.

Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists? – Patrick O’Donnell

Illustrations – Erik Mehlen

Like many others I have a fairly significant case of dentophobia. My childhood dentist, in their infinite wisdom, told me that because I have deep crevasses in my teeth it was inevitable that I’d end up with a mouthful of fillings regardless of how well I brushed. This was after they’d already tortured treated me throughout my childhood, pulling all of my stubborn baby teeth that refused to leave me.

So, while this is a children’s book and I was reading it with that in mind, part of me was also keen to see if it had any wisdom to share with someone who hasn’t been to a dentist since their wisdom teeth were removed. I’m no closer to making a dental appointment now than I was before reading this book.

I liked the idea of applying dental fears to dinosaurs because dinosaurs make everything better, but overall the book just didn’t work for me. The rhyming worked sometimes and at other times it felt forced, for example, rhyming toothpick with picnic.

The pictures were cute and colourful. There’s a dinosaur with braces.

A family sit together munching on their lunch during a picnic with the sun smiling overhead. There’s even a dinosaur in need of dentures, wrinkly mouth and all.

There’s some facts about each dinosaur featured in the book at the end and also a glossary of toothy terms.

I thought it might be me being picky so I read it to my mother, who worked as a dental nurse before she retired. Naturally I pretended she was a child I was reading it to and showed her the illustrations as I read. It didn’t work for her either. Having said that, I haven’t read this book to a kid with dentophobia and a love of dinosaurs. If you want to check it out for yourself, here’s the link to the book on the publisher’s website.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Schiffer Kids, an imprint of Schiffer Publishing Ltd. for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What if a brachiosaurus needed braces? If a tyrannosaurus used toothpaste, would it squash the tube? A young child on the way to a dental checkup wonders if dinosaurs ever had cavities and if they had to brush their teeth, floss, get braces, and use fluoride or mouthwash. This whimsical picture book includes eleven common terms related to dental and oral health, along with a glossary of name pronunciations and fun, scientific facts about each of the eleven dinosaurs mentioned in the story. It takes an imaginative, humorous look at dinosaurs’ dental health and eases children’s fears about going to the dentist, while cleverly encouraging them to take care of their own teeth.

The Loose Ends Became Knots: An Illness Narrative – Austin M. Hopkins

I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. I feel weird judging someone’s experiences so I won’t be doing that. Instead my rating and review will be based on the way the book made me feel. I’ve read a lot of books, including memoirs, with the experience of and recovery from sexual assault as an overriding theme but unfortunately this book wasn’t a good fit for me.

Bouncing between journal entries, poetry, stories told in third person where the author refers to himself as ‘he’ or ‘the boy’, letters from teachers and comments about the author from his friends, the reading experience felt disjointed to me. I had this strange sense of feeling guilty for reading the journal entries. The scattered input from teachers and friends had the feel of testimonials or letters of recommendation and seemed to come out of nowhere.

The graphic descriptions of sexual assaults and Grindr hookups were prevalent for a lot of the first half of the book. The Grindr hookups were ultimately explained as part of trauma induced sex addiction and while I understand trauma impacts I couldn’t stop myself from internally screaming for the author to please don’t go into the home of the stranger he just met. I’m not victim blaming here; I just wanted the author to know at the time that they deserved better.

I applaud the author’s transparency and expect his story will be helpful for men in the LGBTQIA community, particularly those who have been sexually assaulted by men. However, because so much of this book is highly triggering and the first half in particular feels like one traumatic experience after another without any respite or hope (that comes later), I worry that the people who would potentially benefit the most from this book may not make it past the flashbacks and descriptions of traumatic events.

Personally I felt so drained and depressed by the trauma of the first half (maybe even as much as the first 60% or so) that my brain wasn’t as receptive to the message of healing. Had there been some sort of integration of the traumatic and recovery sections this may have helped. I think ultimately the style of writing didn’t make me want to keep reading and the trauma content felt so constant that I struggled to finish it.

So far all of the reviews on Amazon have been 5 stars but the majority appear (I could be wrong) to be friends of the author and have mostly only reviewed one or two books. One reviewer in particular had the same first name as one of the friends quoted in the book which raised my suspicions, although I admit I could be wrong about that too.

I don’t want to turn you off reading this book but if you have experienced sexual assault, please hear me when I tell you that there’s a high likelihood this book will trigger you. Please be safe while reading it.

Content warnings include sexual assault, an eating disorder, mental illness, self-harm and suicide.

Thank you to NetGalley and BookBuzz.net for the opportunity to read this book. I’m sorry but after high hopes, this one just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In his debut book, Austin tells his story of emerging into young adulthood while surviving sexual violence and living with mental illness. His story is narrated through journal entries, poetry, and short stories.

Dory Fantasmagory – Abby Hanlon

I wanted to love this book and feel like I should’ve, with the main character a young girl with an imagination bigger than she is. She annoyed me so much though! I liked her imaginary monsters but I’m siding with her older siblings here.

RASCAL IS DRIVING ME CRAZY!

I did like the illustrations, especially of the monsters. The product placement of the Nuggyo’s and Gobble Crackers were clever as they showed where the kids got the names for evil Mrs Gobble Gracker and Mr Nuggy, Rascal’s fairy godmother.

Perhaps it would’ve helped if I wasn’t an only child but the desperate need for Rascal to hang out with her older siblings bugged me. She’s got so much of an imagination she doesn’t even need anyone else in the room to entertain herself. I got the feeling she did most of her irritating behaviour simply because she knew it would drive everyone nuts.

Also, if I had a six year old daughter I would be asking some pretty big questions if she pretended to be a dog in a doctor’s office then proceeded to stab the nice doctor with a lollypop stick and who chucks tantrums like Rascal does. Maybe things are different these days but I knew how to behave well before I was six.

May I put this kid in time out until she wakes up to herself please? I guess this book is just another example of why I should never become a parent.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

As the youngest in her family, Dory really wants attention, and more than anything she wants her brother and sister to play with her. But she’s too much of a baby for them, so she’s left to her own devices – including her wild imagination and untiring energy. Her siblings may roll their eyes at her childish games, but Dory has lots of things to do: outsmarting the monsters all over the house, escaping from prison (A.K.A. time-out), and exacting revenge on her sister’s favorite doll. And when they really need her, daring Dory will prove her bravery, and finally get exactly what she has been looking for.

With plenty of pictures bursting with charm and character, this hilarious book about an irresistible rascal is the new must-read for the chapter book set.

Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur

By now it seems as though this collection of poems are so popular that I don’t need to introduce them. You’ve likely either read them yourself, read multiple reviews already or at least have enough of an idea of its content. I kept hearing about this book and figured I’d catch up to the bandwagon and see what all of the fuss was about.

I appreciate the openness of this poet and the rawness of her work. A lot of the poems in the first of the four sections resonated with me and I liked some of the positivity of the final section, although some of the final section read like pop psychology to me. The middle sections didn’t speak to me at all but I expect that’s partly because I don’t do relationships and don’t particularly want to spend my time hearing about the drama of them or about people having sex. A lot of people love stuff like that but I’m just not one of them.

I really didn’t like most of the illustrations, probably because I didn’t like that one of the early ones featured a poem between a naked woman’s spread legs and wondered whether the poet considered this necessary to make their point. I also really, really don’t like it when people don’t use capital letters, especially for I and I’m. The lack of capitalisation bugged the hell out of me.

The ratings for this book clearly show that I’m in the minority here and that’s okay with me. I love that people experience the same book differently and I love reading reviews that show perspectives that I don’t share or wouldn’t have thought of myself. While I really connected to the poems that spoke to me of my own experiences there weren’t enough of them to make this book one I’d want to reread. I hope you get more out of it than I did.

Content warnings include sexual assault.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Milk and Honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. Milk and Honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look. 

Noble Volume 1: God Shots – Brandon Thomas

Illustrations – Roger Robinson

Colours – Juan Fernández

The blurb for this graphic novel sounded like a mash up of lots of movies I’ve enjoyed and while it’s not an especially original concept, it sounded like it would be fun. We have astronauts on a suicide mission to save Earth from an asteroid (Hi, Armageddon, etc). Somehow while saving the world one of the astronauts learns a new trick. David now has telekinesis (Hello, Carrie and Matilda).

For some reason David can’t remember much of anything at all (Hiya, Dory). There’s a villain (Hey, every action film ever!) and a wife that’s fighting to get her husband back (take your pick!). Astrid, David’s wife, is a real badass and I would’ve liked to have seen her in action some more because she had potential to wreak havoc.

Unfortunately there was so much jumping around that if I hadn’t already read the blurb I would have been completely lost and even with that information I still couldn’t really connect the dots with any consistency until around the halfway mark. There were so many time shifts, back and forth to different time periods both before and after the ‘event’.

The main character has no idea who they are so they’re no help to the reader but they do get flashbacks, oftentimes in the middle of a fight scene. There’s a lot of action, with people fighting all over the place as David’s powers continue to grow stronger for some reason.

Had there been smoother transitions and some more information early on to help readers get into the story and get to know the characters this could have been a winner. As it stands I really struggled to make it to the point where the story was starting to make sense and I never really connected to the characters.

While the story will be continuing I won’t be following along, which is a shame because the illustrations were really well done and the story itself had a lot of potential. There are some explanations given along the way but not enough to balance out the frustration I felt at the frenetic time shifts.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Astronaut David Powell was one of the team of five astronauts who took on the suicide mission of destroying the Icarus2 asteroid before it could collide with Earth and annihilate all life on the planet. The team succeeded, but as a result of the explosion, David gained the ability of telekinesis, the means of moving matter with one’s mind. David also lost his memories.

Now, back on Earth, David is travelling throughout the world, taking on different identities and jobs, helping people while his powers grow. Fighting to stay alive and out of the reach of the Foresight Corporation and its CEO, Lorena Payan. Hoping to one day remember his life, his name, and the mysterious woman and young boy in his memory flashes. His wife and son.

David’s wife, Astrid Allen-Powell, has been receiving secret messages from an informant within Foresight, confirming David is alive and his movements. Astrid is now on a mission: to get her husband back. To put her family back together. Astrid Allen-Powell is much more than most people realise, and she will use every skill and weapon in her arsenal to get back the man she loves. 

The Scarecrow Princess – Federico Rossi Edrig

”You know what, Morrigan Moore? Your endless whingeing is wearing a bit thin.”

I couldn’t say it better, Mr King of the Crows. Morrigan Moore is a fairly impressive tantrum thrower. Throughout the story she winds up yelling at pretty much everyone.

Morrigan is fourteen and isn’t happy about moving (again!) to the middle of nowhere. Edgar, her older brother and Sophie, her mother are gathering information about the King of the Crows and the Scarecrow Prince for their next book in the Myths of Albion series.

After a crow steals her hair pin and she gets cranky (again!), Morrigan winds up meeting Alma, a potential friend if she can put up with Morrigan’s anger issues, and Dandelion, one of the dogs Alma is paid to walk by rich people.

When Dandelion pulls hard on her leash to chase a crow (yes, they’re everywhere in this story) Alma’s bracelet breaks and ends up in Widow Abbott’s yard, a recluse and the oldest woman in town. Although Alma tells her not to, Morrigan decides to find the broken bracelet.

As soon as she retrieves it, Widow Abbott appears, warns Morrigan that she’s exposed, that shiny objects attract him and he has eyes and ears everywhere, before hustling the new girl inside. Who has eyes everywhere? The King of the Crows and apparently underestimating his threat only makes him more dangerous, so pay attention! Arming Morrigan with a button for protection, Widow Abbott sends her on her way. Yeah, that’ll help! Thanks, scary old lady!

Then there are some action scenes and kidnapping, followed by watching Morrigan masturbate before she has a suggestive conversation with the creepy Crow Man, who incidentally is not just her senior but at least several hundred years older than her. That’s if he’s not immortal. I don’t know. I’m pretty sketchy on some of the details. Maybe I missed some of the really important links but some of the scenes appeared jumpy, without the connection needed to get the full picture.

Morrigan has some wicked eyebrows and one of the best angry faces I’ve ever seen,

but I don’t know why a fourteen year old is wandering around preparing for battle yet forgets to put on her underwear. Seriously! Why did we need a naked fourteen year old girl facing off against a naked man of indeterminate age but somewhere in the ‘why aren’t you dead already?’ range?!

While I’m asking questions, why are Morrigan’s older brother and her mother consistently referred to as her folks? Was something lost in the translation? Why does Morrigan’s brother look positively evil in some of the panels where he’s smiling?

While I was really interested in this graphic novel based on the blurb and cover image I found a lot of the scenes with Crow Guy really hard to decipher. There’s plenty of black swooshing around the pages but it’s hiding the detail of what’s actually happening a fair amount of the time.

While I was initially hooked because we were setting off to investigate a local legend and that should be awesome, I wound up disappointed. I guess I should’ve listened when Morrigan’s mother said at the beginning:

”It’s not the job of an author to give the reader what they want … It is the job of an author to give the reader what they need.”

I didn’t get what I wanted or hoped for. Did I get what I needed? I guess the author thinks so. Unfortunately I won’t be recommending this one.

Thank you to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Morrigan Moore has always been moody, but her new home is the worst. Her novelist mother has dragged her to the countryside, drawn by the lost myth of the King of Crows, a dark figure of theft and deceit, and the Scarecrow Prince, the only one who can stand against him. When Morrigan finds herself swept up in the legend, she’ll have no choice but to take on the Scarecrow Prince’s mantel, and to stand and fight. For her town, her family, and her own future. This lushly drawn graphic novel will pull you into its sinister secrets and not let go till the final page. For fans of Coraline and Over the Garden Wall.

Disney Manga: Descendants – The Rotten to the Core – Jason Muell

Illustrations – Natsuki Minami

Let me begin by telling you I’ve never seen the movie and haven’t read volumes 1 or 3 of this Disney Manga trilogy. Based on the blurb and cover illustration, we’ve got some kids who spend a considerable amount of time at the hairdressers and who usually live on the Isle of the Lost with their Disney baddie parents – Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar and Cruella De Vil.

I don’t know how or why but these baddies in training have been invited to attend a yuppie prep school in Auradon alongside the goody two-shoes Disney hero kids. Our baddie Descendants are Mal (purple hair), Evie (blue hair), Jay (really long hair and probably brushes it a hundred times a day to keep it silky smooth), and Carlos (likely to be bleached, extremely likely to be highly styled, spiky hair).

Baddie parents are counting on baddie kids to act the part in their evil scheme to overthrow the goody two-shoes and take over the kingdom (or maybe just the Auradon part or is Auradon the kingdom?!). Will baddie kids be bad or will they save the kingdom by “embracing their innate goodness”. Hmm… “embracing their innate goodness”. I suppose we are in the Wonderful World of Disney. 🧚‍♂️

I’m not overly sure what happened in this volume other than it being a set up for the grand finale where our baddie heroes decide if they’re more baddie or hero. Other than that there were enough “I need a boyfriend” conversations, makeovers, cheerleaders and insta-love magic style to make me extremely grateful I’m done with high school.

If you loved the movie then you should like this trilogy because, from what I’ve read, it’s a play by play of the movie’s highlight reel. Personally I think I’ll give the rest of this trilogy a miss and will give the movie a very wide berth.

I like my villains to be of the sarcastic, funny, evil variety that is destined to die but they’re going to entertain you until then, like Hans Gruber from Die Hard or Peter Krieg, A.K.A., Simon Gruber (Hans’ brother) from Die Hard with a Vengeance. I want to love my villains, not watch them magically transform into someone we can all look to for moral guidance. If you want your villains to have a lightbulb moment and turn syrupy sweet this may be the story for you.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, TokyoPop and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read Volume 2 of this Disney Manga trilogy.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The children of Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar and Cruella De Vil have never ventured off the Isle of the Lost … until now. Invited to pristine Auradon to attend prep school alongside the children of beloved Disney heroes, Mal, Evie, Jay and Carlos must carryout their villain parents evil plot to rule once again. Will the rebel teens follow in their rotten parents’ footsteps or will they choose to embrace their innate goodness and save the kingdom?

This is volume 2 of the Descendants Manga Trilogy.