Reviews: werewolf bites, hollow places, and a badass Final Girl

Kitty’s Mix-Tape by by Carrie Vaughn. 5/5
This is a fun collection of short stories set in the fabulous world of Kitty Neville, werewolf extraordinaire. Readers will enjoy stories of established characters like Rick, Kitty, and Ben, as well as stories involving new characters and settings. The stories are delicious small bites.

Call My Name, Clemson by Rhondda Robinson Thomas. 5/5
This is an outstanding work of scholarship, memoir, and call to action, documenting the enslaved persons on whose labor Clemson University was built and operated, the pervading institutional racism of the University, and the struggle of Black professors to hold the University accountable. Thomas’s Call My Name public history project is a groundbreaking collaborative work, and this is reflected in the essays and responses in this book. This is an essential read for anyone interested in social justice, racism, higher education, reparations, and grappling with American history.

The Girl Without a Name by Suzanne Goldring. 1/5
Dick–or Stevie (why does this man have two names?)–has a stroke, and in trying to help him recover by talking about his past, his daughter tries to figure out why he has a photo of an unknown young woman. She thinks she finds out, but she doesn’t. In flashbacks, the reader learns that her dad was, in fact, a dick, manipulating women and using them as a way to cope with PTSD. The mystery woman, we also learn in flashbacks, was an almost unbelievably naive and simple person who yearns after Dick/Stevie for most of her life, until he leaves her to die and she finally gets a clue. Told in very simple and bland language, this novel seems as though it was written specifically for an audience of new adult readers, but it’s not the kind of book to get anyone hooked on reading.

Unmarried Women of the Country Estate by Charlotte Furness. 1/5
This is a well-intentioned book that is also, unfortunately an object lesson in what happens when writers without training in history, gender studies, or related fields take on complex historical matters. Author Furness uses mostly primary sources, largely ignoring the vast and important body of scholarly literature already about this topic. Furness’s long quotes from the primary sources go uncontextualized; the author often simply sums these up by simply stating that they are important, but never delves into why they are important, leaving these claims unexplored and unsupported. The lives of these women are important–as many historians have written. I wish Furness had read their work before or while writing this.

All the Sonnets of Shakespeare by Edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells. 5/5
This is an excellent resource for educators and anyone interested in Shakespeare. The editors provide thoughtful and up-to-date commentary on the sonnets and their origins, and a carefully glossed presentation of each sonnet to assist readers.

The Cry of the Lake by Charlie Tyler. 2/5
Described in the blurb as a thriller, this novel is in truth a complicated revenge story in which a traumatized, manipulated girl creates an entirely fictitious identity for herself and her (also traumatized) sister, meticulously planning to frame a man for murder. The hand of the author as deus ex machina is a bit too obvious throughout, and there’s very little feeling of true tension as to whether the wrongdoers will be caught and punished, or the innocent vindicated and helped. The characters are out of melodrama, and those whose actions and behaviors are truly odd are never viewed as such by those around them, which detracts from any sense of reality.

Last Cast at a Baggage Auction by Eric J. Guignard. 2/5
Dear authors, you know, when you set a book in the past, a past when people often used homophobic and transphobic terms in everyday conversation, that doesn’t mean that YOU need to use those terms in your characters’ conversations. You can establish the setting in ways that don’t perpetuate harm. The protagonist in this novella is a crude, immature jerk, which is too bad because his being so has no real role or purpose in the overall premise, which is a pretty good one involving the intersection of technology and the supernatural.

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow. 3/5
This is a book that preaches to the choir. If you understand everything Doctorow writes about here in terms of cybersecurity and government ops and private industry-as government, then it’s a mostly fun ride through the chaos of modern warfare and political force while watching the narrator develop a conscience, or at least kind of a conscience. If you don’t know much about this, then you might find this hard going. It could be educational, which I think is one of Doctorow’s motives in publishing it, but you’ll still need other sources on ethical hacking and related topics.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong. 3/5
Former lovers who are the scions of their families’ gangs team up to fight a supernatural monster in 1920s Shanghai. Using Romeo and Juliet as inspiration, this novel is full of Shakespearean easter eggs for those in the know, and a fine creature-horror read for those who aren’t. The author does a nice job weaving together the supernatural, political, and personal strands of the story, and captures the complexity of the time period well. Many of the characters, though, are undeveloped sketches, and I could have done without the cliched ending of “but wait, there’s more,” especially I don’t think a continuation is necessary or even the best route to take with the premise.

The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson. 5/5
I read this in a blaze–not because it was bad, but because it is a fantastic ride of a horror story of the creature variety, with fights and twists and poignant moments and some very true high school student behaviors and a Final Girl to blow away all other Final Girls. In a small town in Oregon, the local med-tech company starts experimenting on high school students, and as you’d expect, things do not go well. Altered students rampage, killing and infecting the town, while adults fall into induced comas, only to be murdered by said students. Lucia, who has been a survivor all her life, leads a handful of friends though a harrowing pursuit as they seek shelter and safety. It’s a terrific race against attackers and time to the very last page. If you like horror, creatures, conspiracies, big business gone bad, people getting their comeuppances, and Strong Female Protagonists, you’re going to love this.

Machine by Elizabeth Bear. 5/5
A space opera the incorporates aliens, the Marie Celeste, hospital drama, disability, sabotage, and jumping through space–Machine has it all. Bear brings disability and physical otherness to the fore with her openly disabled protagonist, Dr. Jens, and the many different other forms of sapient life aboard the ambulance and hospital where they work in space. All of the various threads and themes of the novel are beautifully woven together, and the result is a thriller that is a blast to read.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher. 5/5
The Hollow Places is a wonderfully spooky delight. Kara and Simon show that you can be both from the American South and intelligent and SFF fans. I love that they have this experience together–that this isn’t one of those novels where only one character has a strange experience that can never be believed or understood by anyone else. I love that their relationship is one of growing friendship, and that romance is off the table. I love the realness and honesty of all of the characters’ voices I love the consideration of how things in one world or dimension have consequences in another, eve if it’s as seemingly small as missing work–no “and when we got back, only 5 minutes had passed!” tricks here. The atmospheres of the two worlds Kara and Simon experience are beautifully crafted and written, and the Hollow Places are scary as hell.

Body Talk by Kelly Jensen. 3/5
This is a collection of essays by people with bodily differences and disabilities for disabled or bodily different readers. The authors include writers and advocates and activists, musicians and actors and others, all of whom share their experiences with their bodies in a society where they are treated as Other. Topics range from body positivity and fat acceptance to gender identity, from using makeup to scoliosis, from eating dosorders to paralysis. Many of the essays are good–well-written and compelling. Others are weaker, and there is repetition among the essays that probably should have been avoided. But overall, this is an appropriate collection for readers who are unaware or only somewhat aware of how society treats bodily difference and how the different or disabled experience society.

The Conductors by Nicole Glover. 3/5
A nice historical mystery, with magic added in. Hattie and Benjy are former enslaved people who have worked as Conductors on the Underground Railroad–guides with magical powers who helped other enslaver people escape to the North. Now settled in Philadelphia in the aftermath of the Civil War, they are called on to help newly arrived freed people and solve mysteries. In this novel the couple is faced with a killer who marks their victims with magic commonly thought of as “cursed,” and find their own friends and relatives targeted for violence. An interesting concept, and the characters–who are initially somewhat unlikeable–develop and become more interesting and sympathetic as the story progresses.

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan. 1/5
In this mannered, 1950s-styled novel, a Bletchley Park alumna-turned-informal-spy and her husband, reunited after WWII, seek out a Soviet spy amidst the churches of London. The woman has poor communication skills, loves churches more than her husband, and is oblivious about many things, despite being called a person with great observation and pattern-finding skills; her husband is jealous, a chauvinist, and has poor communication skills; this is not a functional relationship and throughout I kept telling the woman to leave, but she didn’t. There is a lot of pressing of hands and bodies before dramatic turning away from each other, all very 1940s novels kinds of things. The spy hunt also lacks drama or much interest, and of course the spy is found to be close to home for the protagonists.

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