Malus Domestica #2: I Come With Knives – S.A. Hunt

DNF @ 24%

I enjoyed the first book in this series so I’m disappointed that I can’t get into this one. Other reviewers have loved it so I feel like I’m missing out on something potentially wonderful.

I think this is either a case of it’s not you, it’s me, or it’s not the right book for me at the moment. Rather than continuing to struggle I’m going to set it aside for now.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Once Upon a Blurb

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets Joe Hill in S. A. Hunt’s I Come with Knives, a horror-tinged action-adventure about a punk YouTuber on a mission to hunt witches, one vid at a time.

Robin – now armed with new knowledge about mysterious demon terrorising her around town, the support of her friends, and the assistance of her old witch-hunter mentor – plots to confront the Lazenbury coven and destroy them once and for all.

Meanwhile, a dangerous serial killer only known as The Serpent is abducting and killing Blackfield residents. An elusive order of magicians known as the Dogs of Odysseus also show up with Robin in their sights.

Robin must handle these new threats on top of the menace from the Lazenbury coven, but a secret about Robin’s past may throw all of her plans into jeopardy.

Nevertheless She Persisted: Flash Fiction Project – A Tor.com Original

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

This book was my introduction to flash fiction. While I probably would have read this collection anyway, especially since it’s currently free to download here, it was the inclusion of a Seanan McGuire story that sealed the deal for me.

I usually find short story collections a bit hit and miss, and this quick read was at various times, ‘I love it!’, ‘It was okay’, and ‘What did I just read?!’ I’ve marked the ones I loved with 💜 and have included a short quote from each.

Our Faces, Radiant Sisters, Our Faces Full of Light! by Kameron Hurley 💜

They came to extinguish light, and hope. She was here to remind them they wouldn’t do it unchallenged.

God Product by Alyssa Wong

Caroline hated having been chosen by a small god, whose presence was so quiet that most people forgot she was there.

Alchemy by Carrie Vaughn 💜

(“You’ll never find what you’re looking for,” they told her. “Nevertheless,” she replied.)

Persephone by Seanan McGuire 💜

I wasn’t supposed to see that. I don’t believe anyone was supposed to see that.

Margot and Rosalind by Charlie Jane Anders

“Plus you start to ask questions, and the worst thing about questions is that sometimes, they have answers.”

Astronaut by Maria Dahvana Headley 💜

Miss Baker was on a mission to defy gravity.

More Than Nothing by Nisi Shawl

“But you ain’t gonna lemme keep you from doin magic. Is you?”

The Last of the Minotaur Wives by Brooke Bolander

Once you’ve been in the light for awhile, Blue finds, it’s hard as hell to willingly walk back into darkness.

The Jump Rope Rhyme by Jo Walton

She was warned, and explained at, and patronized But persisted still, against their lies, For you, the future, she in the past Persisted, to make things good at last.

Anabasis by Amal El-Mohtar

A warning is the same as a threat. Television teaches this. Is that a threat / call it a warning. Call it by a different name, and it changes.

The Ordinary Woman and the Unquiet Emperor by Catherynne M. Valente

When he was a young man, the Unquiet Emperor had banned questions, inquiries, curiosities, rhetoric, and finally question marks entirely, for such things were surely the source of all the mistrust and isolation in modern society.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Three short lines, fired over social media in response to questions of why Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the floor of the United States Senate, for daring to read aloud the words of Coretta Scott King. As this message was transmitted across the globe, it has become a galvanising cry for people of all genders in recognition of the struggles that women have faced throughout history.

Three short lines, which read as if they are the opening passage to an epic and ageless tale.

We have assembled this flash fiction collection featuring several of the best writers in SF/F today, including Seanan McGuire, Charlie Jane Anders, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jo Walton, Amal El-Mohtar, Catherynne M. Valente, Brooke Bolander, Alyssa Wong, Kameron Hurley, Nisi Shawl and Carrie Vaughn. Together these authors share unique visions of women inventing, playing, loving, surviving, and – of course – dreaming of themselves beyond their circumstances.

Wayward Children #5: Come Tumbling Down – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

Spoilers Ahead!

“Once a wayward child, always a wayward child.”

I’ve been waiting as patiently as possible for my next quest –

No quests.

Right. So I’ve been counting the days until I was finally able to spend more quality time with my fellow Waywards and today we went to the Moors! Who’s ‘we’? I travelled with the girl with the “perpetual sugar buzz”, the “Goblin Prince in Waiting”, the girl “with the ocean in her hair”, a mad scientist, the boy with the bone flute and the girl “with the lightning-powered heart”.

Travelling by lightning hasn’t been this much fun since I hitched a ride in a Delorean!

Having completed my most anticipated read of 2020 less than a fortnight into the year I now feel like I’ve wandered into a bittersweet limbo. I’m absolutely elated that, after a year of anticipation, my expectations (which were skyscraper looking down on clouds high) didn’t overshadow my enjoyment.

I’m proud of myself for savouring the experience, appreciating every sentence rather than bingeing the entire book in one sitting. I’m sad that I can never read this book for the first time ever again. I want to gush to anyone who will listen to me about every sentence I highlighted, every character, plot point, what I hope will happen next, what I fear will happen next … but spoilers.

“But I warn you, this isn’t a tale for the faint of heart. It is a story of murder, and betrayal, and sisterly love turned sour.”

I will tell you though, although this was not her story, Sumi was the standout wayward for me in this book. She somehow kept managing to snag the best lines and I don’t know which one of us this says more about but I understood every piece of Nonsense she uttered. I love that she gets to the heart of the issue and asks the truly important questions, like

“Why is the village of scary fish-people where you get your chocolate biscuits?”

One of the first things I tell anyone about me is that Every Heart a Doorway is my all time favourite book. I don’t care that I’m an adult; I will be searching for my door for the rest of my life and if you are also seeking admittance to your door, regardless of how different our true worlds look, I will consider you a kindred spirit.

Usually when I read a new addition to a beloved series there’s an anxiety that accompanies me. I’ve often found that the shine of the first book can be smudged when follow up books don’t meet my expectations. I’m aware that the pedestals I place books I love on can be difficult to reach and that’s part of the problem. So you’d think I’d be especially nervous whenever I begin a new Wayward Children book but I have absolute faith that my hopes, no matter how seemingly unrealistic they are, are safe with Seanan and she’s never let me down.

“New things are the best kind of magic there is.”

I don’t want this series to ever end. I want to visit every world. I want to secure a room at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children while I wait for my own door to open. So far, none of the worlds I’ve visited with my fellow waywards have been my own, although I’ve caught glimpses of it in several. I fully expect that one day Seanan will write about my world and while I’m reading that story my book will magically transform into my very own door. I’m sure!

If you haven’t already read the first four books of this series, please remedy that ASAP before reading this one. Then you can join me as I begin the interminable wait for January 2021.

If you’ve read the first four books and are seeking a recap, check out the brilliance that is Seanan Twitter. If you haven’t read them, beware! Spoilers!

Also, if you want a more extensive catch up, read this. Beware! Much bigger spoilers!

As usual I couldn’t wait to get to the next Rovina Cai illustration. I was only going to include my favourite one here but I can’t decide so here they all are! I’m hiding them as spoilers in case you don’t want to see them before you get to that part of the story yourself.

Since I highlighted so much of this book that I probably should have just gone ahead and highlighted it all, it’s practically impossible to choose a favourite sentence. This is the one that spoke the loudest to me when I reread all of my highlights:

“No one should have to sit and suffer and pretend to be someone they’re not because it’s easier, or because no one wants to help them fix it.”

If anyone needs me I’ll be reading the sixth book in the series.

[But it’s not released yet.]

“Hey! Don’t you go getting logical rules on my illogical life plans”

[I’m serious. You must wait for another excruciatingly long year before you are allowed to continue this journey.]

“This is the awful sprinkles on the sundae of doom.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Jack left Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children she was carrying the body of her deliciously deranged sister – whom she had recently murdered in a fit of righteous justice – back to their home on the Moors.

But death in their adopted world isn’t always as permanent as it is here, and when Jack is herself carried back into the school, it becomes clear that something has happened to her. Something terrible. Something of which only the maddest of scientists could conceive. Something only her friends are equipped to help her overcome.

Eleanor West’s “No Quests” rule is about to be broken.

Again.

Malus Domestica #1: Burn the Dark – S.A. Hunt

Spoilers Ahead!

“The Red Lord will find you.”

Robin has a mohawk, a cherished fifteen year old stuffed mosquito called Mr. Nosy and a popular YouTube channel called ‘MalusDomestica’. Her subscribers think what they’re watching is fake, but it’s anything but. [If you’re wondering, ‘malus domestica’ is Latin for “the common apple tree”. You’ll learn the significance of this name during the book.]

Robin travels around the country in her van hunting witches. Robin’s father was convicted of killing her mother but Robin knows the witches were responsible. Now, after spending time in a psychiatric facility and subsequently honing her witch slaying skills, she’s returned home to Blackfield to face off with the local coven.

“You witches killed my mama!”

Witches. Demons. Ancient sigils. The quest for immortality. Cats that aren’t just cats. Murder. A pizza guy. A “big blond Viking dude”. Sound effects – “grum-grum-grum-grum”.

Before I began reading I saw several comparisons made between this book and Buffy, so I expected to witness a lot more slaying. Witches are dispatched of in flashbacks but I don’t recall any scenes where a witch meets their maker taking place in the present. I expect the sequel to well and truly make up for this.

A fair amount of time is spent on characters’ backstories and explanations of the supernatural aspects of the story. While it is well written I did spend a lot of the first half of the book anxious for some present day action scenes.

There were plenty of pop culture references in this book, from Batman to Indiana Jones and The Simpsons. Had I realised there would be so many of these references I would have made a list and asked other readers to let me know which ones I’d missed.

I liked most of the characters but the one that I was most interested in, Heinrich Hammer, Robin’s mentor, didn’t appear in person until the very end of the book. I’m looking forward to seeing them in action in the sequel.

Content warnings include mention of domestic violence, racism, death by suicide and mental illness.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Robin is a YouTube celebrity gone-viral with her intensely-realistic witch hunter series. But even her millions of followers don’t know the truth: her series isn’t fiction.

Her ultimate goal is to seek revenge against the coven of witches who wronged her mother long ago. Returning home to the rural town of Blackfield, Robin meets friends new and old on her quest for justice. But then, a mysterious threat known as the Red Lord interferes with her plans …

Wayward Children #4: In an Absent Dream – Seanan McGuire

BE SURE.

I’m convinced the Wayward Children series are fairy tales for adults whose door never opened for them as children, who are holding out hope against hope that some day their door will finally appear.

Alas, that this is not a fairy tale.

Okay, Seanan, I hear you. So it’s not a fairy tale, but it’s a cautionary tale, right?

this is Lundy’s story, Lundy’s cautionary tale

This cautionary tale’s doorway leads to the Goblin Market which, despite the fact that I would never make it a day there, still made me yearn for my own doorway to appear. It also made me want to reread Every Heart a Doorway to revisit Lundy’s journey after the conclusion of this book.

Lundy is this tale’s Wayward and she’s a reader!

Everything was a story, if studied in the right fashion.

She won my heart before I knew anything else about this precious soul. Lundy is also a strict keeper of rules, which is exactly why her doorway would never even consider me a possibility.

Following the rules didn’t make you a good person, just like breaking them didn’t make you a bad one, but it could make you an invisible person, and invisible people got to do as they liked.

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This is a book of friendship and loyalty, of being torn between what you want and what you need, and of pies. Oh, the pies! I need to eat all of the pies.

I adored the Archivist, had a soft spot for Moon and wish I had gotten to know Mockery. I loved learning about how the Goblin Market’s rules work and especially loved the idea, foreign in our own, that unfair things always come with consequences.

I’m also entirely in love with that cover artwork and the gorgeous illustrations. I need a print of that doorway in the tree that’s large enough to span an entire wall so I can gaze at it all day, waiting for it to magically transform into the doorway to my world.

I was disappointed that some of the most exciting scenes happened off the page. I wanted to witness firsthand the battles that had been fought and won by characters when I wasn’t looking, and to be told of their conclusion rather than being shown them was frustrating for me.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking but I keep hoping there will be a Wayward Children book that explores the world I should be living in and that the simple act of opening the pages will open its doorway for me.

“It is a place where dreamers go when they don’t fit in with the dreams their homes think worth dreaming. Doors lead here. Perhaps you found one.”

How am I supposed to wait an entire year for Come Tumbling Down?!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.

Wayward Children #3: Beneath the Sugar Sky – Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar Sky is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Novella category.

This will always be the Wayward Children Road Trip book to me. As soon as this disparate bunch of kids piled into the school minivan and set off on their journey I rejoiced, and their adventure just kept getting better and better, venturing through different worlds on their quest to help Rini, who fell from the sky near the beginning of the book.

This book took me an embarrassingly loooong time to read and I take full responsibility because I loved it! It unfortunately became one of those reads where life happened in between. I only wanted to read it whenever I could fully appreciate the brilliance that is Seanan McGuire, and let’s just say that 2018 sucked for me.

Recharged by the impending release of In an Absent Dream 💜 I knew I had to finish this one and, even after months of not having read a single page, I slipped straight back into the story. I hope to do a review that does some sort of justice to this book after a reread but for now please enjoy a sample of my favourite quotes:

“It’s never a good idea to eat the ground,” she said blithely, cake between her teeth and frosting on her lips. “People walk on it.”

Chandeliers of sugar crystals hung from the vaulted, painted chocolate ceiling. Stained sugar glass windows filtered and shattered the light, turning everything into an explosion of rainbows.

“It’s going to be okay. You’ll see. Just hang on. This would be a stupid way to die.”

“Sometimes that’s all you can do. Just keep getting through until you don’t have to do it anymore, however much time that takes, however difficult it is.”

“Every world gets to make its own rules. Sometimes those rules are going to be impossible. That doesn’t make them any less enforceable.”

Everyone who wound up at Eleanor West’s School – everyone who found a door – understood what it was to spend a lifetime waiting for something that other people wouldn’t necessarily understand. Not because they were better than other people and not because they were worse, but because they had a need trapped somewhere in their bones, gnawing constantly, trying to get out.

There is kindness in the world, if we know how to look for it. If we never start denying it the door.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest – not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)

If she can’t find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests …

A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do.

Warning: May contain nuts.

The Atrocities – Jeremy Shipp

How can a novella with such a brilliant concept and deliciously creepy execution wind up with such a blah ending?! I feel like I was taken on a trek up a treacherous mountain with the promise of an incredible view at the summit only to find out that someone built a wall blocking the view.

I was hooked from the first two sentences:

Turn left at the screaming woman with a collapsing face. Turn right at the kneeling man with bleeding sore the size of teacups.

What a wonderful hedge maze! What an amazing house, with its artwork of silent screams, wings of human fingers, headless figures on stained-glass windows, faces distorted and malformed.

What an intriguing story! A governess who is hired to teach a young girl who “isn’t coping well with this new phase of her existence.” A governess who comes with her own baggage.

I came to this house to escape empty rooms.

A generous employer who ensures their employees’ comfort with luxuries including eighty-four-inch high definition televisions in their rooms. Parents who catered to their daughter’s every whim.

There was such a foreboding atmosphere permeating this novella. There’s something not quite right with the characters and with the information the governess is given. There’s a sort of queasy uncertainty throughout the story, where the line between what’s real and what isn’t blurs for the governess and the reader alike, exacerbated by the unsettling dream sequences.

I was captivated by this story until the very end when I realised that not one of my bazillion outstanding questions were going to be answered for me. I know there are authors that don’t like to spoon feed their readers, preferring them to actually use their brain and imagination to reach their own conclusions, and I’m okay with that up to a point. This didn’t feel like that sort of ending. This felt like there was a strict deadline and about ten minutes before the deadline, realising that there was no way all of the questions could possibly be answered satisfactorily, the author just said, “Yeah, that’ll do.”

I wanted to learn more of the backstories for each character. I wanted more emotion when outrageously weird things happened rather than a ho-hum response. I wanted to know minor, possibly insignificant things like why Mr and Mrs Evers shouldn’t be phoned after 7pm. I wanted to know the details of the ‘accident’. I wanted to know what it was that Mrs Evers was really experiencing throughout the story. I wanted to know the significance of some of the details of the dreams. I want to know which characters are currently alive. I wanted to know what happened after the final sentence! And so much more.

I can’t remember the last book that had me so psyched and then stole the hope of a satisfying resolution from me. Based on the ending alone I’d be giving this novella 2 stars because I was so disappointed. Based on everything that lead up to it I’d be inclined to give it 5 stars but that was when I thought the questions I had would wind up with weird and wonderful answers. So I’m splitting the difference and rounding up to 4 stars with the hope that at some point the author will do a Q&A session to fill in some blanks. I came really close to giving it 3 stars but I loved too much of the story to able to go through with it.

I also have to say that the creepy hedge maze and that amazing house were so extraordinary that I need to move in immediately (after evicting the current tenants, of course). I would also buy and read an extended version of this story if it ever became available and I am keen to read about more of the weird and wonderful things living in this author’s imagination.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Isabella died, her parents were determined to ensure her education wouldn’t suffer.

But Isabella’s parents had not informed her new governess of Isabella’s … condition, and when Ms Valdez arrives at the estate, having forced herself through a surreal nightmare maze of twisted human-like statues, she discovers that there is no girl to tutor.

Or is there … ?

The Murders of Molly Southbourne – Tade Thompson

Spoilers Ahead!

💉 Halloween Haemorrhage Book! 💉

Molly Southbourne’s parents teach her four very important rules:

If you see yourself, run. Don’t bleed. Blot, burn, bleach. Find a hole, find your parents.

Sorry, but that’s about all you’re getting from me about The Murders of Molly Southbourne. If I tell you any more than what you read in the book’s blurb I’m going to spoil the story for you.

This novella is a quick read and I needed to keep reading to find out how it was all going to be resolved. There’s a nice twist and potential for another book. I’m usually a fan of endings that don’t form question marks above my head but for Molly I really feel the ambiguity of what happens after the final sentence works in its favour. Having said that, should there be another Molly/molly book I would be interested.

Despite rule #2, there is a fair bit of bloodshed in this book so if you’ve got a case of haemophobia and an overactive imagination, buyer beware. It’s in context with the storyline and I didn’t feel it was gratuitous at all.

There was one section that really annoyed me because it didn’t feel like it belonged in or added any value to the story. I didn’t see why there had to be a threesome with Molly, the professor and a molly. Call me a prude if you want but I just don’t see why you’d be interested in having sex with your doppelgänger and if for some reason you were, why you would when you know you’re going to kill them in a few hours time.

Content warnings include self harm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The rule is simple: don’t bleed.

For as long as Molly Southbourne can remember, she’s been watching herself die. Whenever she bleeds, another molly is born, identical to her in every way and intent on her destruction.

Molly knows every way to kill herself, but she also knows that as long as she survives she’ll be hunted. No matter how well she follows the rules, eventually the mollys will find her. Can Molly find a way to stop the tide of blood, or will she meet her end at the hand of a girl who looks just like her?