Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney

Rating: 4 of 5

A collection of five novellas, Bone Swans exceeded my expectations.

I’ll admit to not being the right reader for “Life on the Sun” and “Martyr’s Gem.” And “The Big Bah-Ha” had clowns, need I say more?

But I absolutely lost my mind when I finished “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One,” a fairy-tale retelling based on Rumpelstiltskin tales. It was SO good, an instant favorite — seriously, it’s worth buying this book for that story alone.

The other retelling, “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” a mash-up of “The Pied Piper” and “The Juniper Tree,” was more sinister than, yet as equally fulfilling as “Milkmaid.” That’s saying a lot coming from me because I’m not usually too impressed with the Pied Piper. (See “Some Wait” by Stephen Graham Jones in The Starlit Wood for another exception to my usual meh response to the Piper.) Maurice cracked me up! He reminded me of Templeton from Charlotte’s Web[spoiler]; although, Maurice does end up being more good than bad. Almost an anti-hero[/spoiler].

If you’re looking for stories with a fresh voice, I highly recommend this collection.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Halfway Down the Stairs by Gary A. Braunbeck

Rating: 4 of 5

Synopsis: “Climb halfway down the stairs with Bram Stoker Award-Winning author Gary A. Braunbeck, into worlds that occupy the spaces between “here” and “there,” where office workers become little more than scrolls of code and an ordinary man discovers that he has to help reassemble the missing face of God; from battle-scarred veterans who have to protect their village from encroaching spirits to a college experiment that may bring about the end of days, all of these stories feature Braunbeck’s trademark element: an unblinking eye for emotional detail that elevates the subject matter of each piece into the realm of the genuinely literary.” (source)

My thoughts: There’s truly something for everyone in this behemoth collection, Halfway Down The Stairs, that covers Braunbeck’s 30-plus year career. Genres range from horror to mystery to science fiction; there are short pieces and stories over 35 pages long. Where I think Braunbeck excels is the people who populate his stories and the ideas that permeate every layer. I’d only read Mr. Hands prior to this collection, but I’m now a die-hard fan and I cannot wait to read more of his novels. Next on the list: In Silent Graves.

This took me nearly six months to complete! Highly recommended to Braunbeck’s fans.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received paperback from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips

Rating: 4 of 5

Synopsis: “In a spine-tingling new collection, the “unique” (NPR) and “wickedly funny” (New York Times) Helen Phillips offers an idiosyncratic series of “what-ifs” about our fragile human condition…What if your perfect hermaphrodite match existed on another planet? What if you could suddenly see through everybody’s skin to their organs? What if you knew the exact date of your death? What if your city was filled with doppelgängers of you?” (source)

My thoughts: Helen Phillips explored these and other scenarios in the sometimes downright bizarre stories of this collection. Some Possible Solutions was my first time reading anything by Phillips and I was blown away by the techniques and language she used to tell her stories. I loved how pure imagination streamed through each one yet each felt like it was set in a real world, totally possible, that it could be ours at any moment, now or in the future.

My favorite story: “One of Us Will Be Happy; It’s Just a Matter of Which One.”

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Rating: 4.5 of 5

All the Birds in the Sky was the first 2016 release I absolutely did not want to put down until I was finished. It was so weird, in that brilliant way I always hope to find in a new-to-me author’s work. The seamless blending of magic and science, the absolutely believable relationship between Patricia and Laurence, the ethical dilemmas of their gifts and those effects on the world… How does one review a book that itself refuses to be crammed into one neat little “normal” box? Loved it!

Highly recommended if you’re looking for something different, something simultaneously imaginary and realistic.

One of my favorite quotes from the book, spoken by my absolute LEAST favorite character, Patricia’s sister:

You never learned the secret,” said Roberta. “How to be a crazy motherf***ker and get away with it. Everybody else does it. What, you didn’t think they were all sane, did you? Not a one of them. They’re all crazier than you and me put together. They just know how to fake it. You could too, but you’ve chosen to torture all of us instead. That’s the definition of evil right there: not faking it like everybody else. Because all of us crazy f***kers can’t stand it when someone else lets their crazy show. It’s like bugs under the skin. We have to destroy you. It’s nothing personal.

My only nitpick was that, once again, during childhood and young adulthood both characters had absolutely NO adults (including and especially their parents) who believed them, supported them, got them. I guess “us against the world” is a great way to bond two people, but it’s a pet peeve of mine with a lot of the fiction I read.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

The Well’s End by Seth Fishman

Rating: 3 of 5

The Well's EndFast-paced science fiction best suited for ages 11-17. I found the teens in this book rather boring and mostly interchangeable with one another. The virus was only moderately scary which might have to do with the fact that it’s not given much face time. But the weakest element of the story was the romance between Mia and Brayden. There was no chemistry and it just felt bleh. I would’ve rated the book 3.5 stars had the author left it out completely. On a high note, I enjoyed the “truth” behind the Well’s End plot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first in a trilogy or an ongoing series.

Read more on the author’s official website.

Received ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)