The Splendid City – Karen Heuler

Eleanor was in the process of learning witchcraft when she turned her coworker into a cat. It doesn’t matter that her reasons were valid; she behaved in a manner most uncovenly and now she’s living with the consequences. This means she’s stuck living with said cat, whose metamorphosis didn’t magically improve his personality.

Eleanor and Stan are now in Liberty, which once upon a time was Texas. Before it seceded, that is. Now it has animatronic presidential heads and people are whisked off in vans, presumably never to be seen again. There’s nougat, which is nice, but there’s also a water shortage, which isn’t.

Eleanor has been tasked with finding a missing witch. Stan, when he’s not scrounging up fish tacos and beer, is on a treasure hunt.

I was keen to find out how a story with a witch who turns a detestable coworker into a cat would play out. I’m now wondering if I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this read.

I appreciated the political commentary and satire. I was interested in learning how witchcraft worked in this dystopia, but didn’t connect with any of the witches.

I thought I’d be amused by insufferable, newly feline Stan as he tried to make his way in the world but I hated him. It wasn’t the fun type of hate, though, where you love to hate someone. I love villains when they’re complex and especially when they’re accidentally good some of the time, but if Stan had any redeeming qualities, I didn’t find them. In the end, I didn’t want to spend any time with him.

The story is told in three parts. The second, which addresses how Eleanor became a witch and Stan became a cat, felt like one big info dump.

I’d encourage you to read the five star reviews because there are people that absolutely love this book. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the book for me.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A genre-blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and unique characters, for fans of Alice Hoffman and Madeline Miller.

In the state of Liberty, water is rationed, free speech comes at a price, and paranoia runs deep. Eleanor, a rebellious young witch, has been put under house arrest with her lecherous co-worker Stan, who loves craft beer, fish tacos, and… shooting people.

Eleanor has little time for Stan. That’s why she turned him into a talking cat. Besides, she’s got a job to do: locate a missing witch who seems to be mysteriously linked to the water shortages. But she might want to keep an eye on Stan – he’s caught the scent of a treasure hunt, and won’t hesitate to give up Eleanor to get his paws on the prize. 

Stringers – Chris Panatier

Horny insects and tick tocks1. Are they both now wandering aimlessly around your brain? Welcome to Ben Sullivan’s world2.

Ben’s brain is chock-a-block with super helpful fun facts that are entirely appropriate to discuss with any audience, like hermaphroditic traumatic insemination3.

So, our Ben. Is he one of those people with an obsession that’s laser focused on very specific, not so mainstream topics? Sort of, but his obsession isn’t about bug sex or timepieces, although to hear him talk, you may beg to differ. No, our Ben’s obsession is about how the hell he knows so much detailed information about topics he’s never actually researched. He has no idea how he knows what he knows and it’s not for lack of trying to figure it out. 

Every waking moment is a constant barrage of intrusive thoughts with even the most innocuous stimuli churning up commentary from deep within the folds of my brain. 

Sounds exhausting, right? 

And it’s exhausting. 

Good thing Ben has quite possibly the most understanding best friend in all the worlds, Patton4.

This is the story of the Shopkeeper and the Pipefitter. There’s also Insectoid Boba Fett and some other folk that are out of this world. Then you’ve got some VIP’s5, expert level LEGO and the Fray6 to look forward to7.

Ben is a man after my own heart. 

I subscribed to the canceling-out method of eating, where you eat as much junk as you want, so long as you cancel it out with something healthy. 

And, let’s be honest. Doesn’t knowing that the water boatman has been certified by Guinness as having the World’s Loudest Penis enrich your life?

This read was so much fun. It gave me the action and the humour I was hoping for but then it went above and beyond, granting me a new favourite swear combo8.

The best advice I can give you as you prepare to spend some quality time with Ben? Whatever you do, don’t cross the tubes.

The other best advice I can give you? Stay tuned after the book for the acknowledgements. Included are a list of bands the author listened to as this story journeyed from their brain to the page. If you need me I’ll be hanging out in the forest with Jonathan Hultén. When I return I’ll be making my way through the rest of the list.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to read9 this book10.

  1. The telling time variety.
  2. It’s a world with lots of swearing so if you’re not a fan, perhaps this isn’t the book for you. And you may want to avoid the rest of this review while you’re at it.
  3. Which give the term fucked in the head a whole new meaning. 
  4. Handy hint: We love Patton.
  5. Very Important Pickles.
  6. Not the band.
  7. This book should also probably come with a warning for people who have emetophobia. If that’s you, look away. Now. 
  8. Shitfuck. One word. Use it in a sentence today. I have.
  9. Did I mention this book has footnotes?
  10. So many footnotes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Knowledge can get you killed. Especially if you have no idea what it means.

Ben is NOT a genius, but he can spout facts about animals and wristwatches with the best of experts. He just can’t explain how he knows any of it.

He also knows about the Chime. What it is or why it’s important he couldn’t say. But this knowledge is about to get him in a whole heap of trouble.

After he and his best friend Patton are abducted by a trash-talking, flesh-construct alien bounty hunter, Ben finds out just how much he is worth… and how dangerous he can be. Hopefully Patton and a stubborn jar of pickles will be enough to help him through. Because being able to describe the mating habits of Brazilian bark lice isn’t going to save them.

Swashbucklers – Dan Hanks

Nostalgia for the win! When they were kids, Cisco and his friends fought an 8-bit war against an evil pirate and saved the world. Cisco is the only one who remembers what really happened; for everyone else, a gas leak was responsible for the Halloween ‘89 mayhem. 

“Look, honey, that’s the bloke from the bedtime stories your mum tells you. The gas leak boy, I told you he was real!” 

Supernatural fans know ‘gas leak’ is code for ‘whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t a gas leak’.

Now all grown up with children of their own, it’s time for the sequel because, as I’m sure you’re very well aware, sometimes the Big Bad doesn’t stay dead. Except it’s not quite as easy saving the world when your joints creak and you’re having to navigate the joys of parenthood while you’re dusting off your custom made game console weapons. It turns out that nostalgia can be deadly. 

“Why the hell did you decide that us four, ordinary, slightly unfit, middle-aged human nobodies could take on this momentous challenge again and get it right this time?” 

This is one of my favourite reads of the year and the perfect way to get you into the spirit for so many important holidays: Halloween, Christmas, Talk Like a Pirate Day… It’s also the movie I need to see. Outside of my head, that is. There’s a talking fox, a secret room behind a bookcase (be still my beating heart), enchanted forest (“Technically, all forests are enchanted-”), faeries that are bitey and priceless news headlines. 

Bizarre attack in Manchester as costumed cannibal snowman partially EATS homeowner. 

It was the Ghostbusters/Goonies mashup I never knew I needed and I loved every minute. I could almost hear the soundtrack playing during the action sequences. This may have been Cisco’s trip down memory lane but I felt like I grew up there too. 

“Bloody nostalgia” 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to relive my childhood through this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn’t like it was in the movies.

Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him.

Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn’t really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that’s made worse by the tendrils of the pirate’s powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways. 

With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don’t have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes…