July 10, 2022

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #32 James Aquilone et al., Joshua Palmatier et al., Steven L. Peck


Intro


Hello beauties!

Welcome again to my own brand of mini reviews! I never thought I'd do minis, until I recapped a few of my long reviews in some digest post in 2014, and then guest-posted some shorties for a blogging event in 2015. And Karen from For What It's Worth started praising my short recs/recaps 😊. Just to be clear,  I'm NOT taking a break from writing long reviews - no such luck LOL (though for anthologies, shorter books or books that I didn't enjoy/I don't have enough to say about, I decided to stick to minis). But while I'm making up my mind about a new book I've read, I might as well give you the short version 😉. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random!

Note: all the mini blurbs (in italics) are of my own creation.

Classic Monsters Unleashed by James Aquilone et al. (ARC Review)

★★

From Dracula to The Wolfman, from The Mummy to Frankenstein's Monster and his Bride, from The Wicked Witch of the West to The Headless Horseman, a collection of stories about/inspired by seminal monsters/archetypes from books/movies, set in different centuries/decades.

***

Rated 2.5 really.

First off...DISCLAIMER:  this title was up for grabs on NetGalley (in the Read Now section). Thanks to Black Spot Books for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

When I saw Seanan McGuire's name in this anthology's line-up, and found out that the book was "Read Now" on NetGalley, I acted on impulse and downloaded it, no questions asked. I realised only later that 1) I don't have an extensive knowledge of "classic monsters" (besides the bones of their stories, that is, and that's not even true for all of them), and 2) these stories weren't all modernised versions of the old myths like I expected, which posed a problem, since I tend to get bored and impatient with narratives set in the long-gone past. So, I'll admit skimming/skipping a dozen of these stories (plus the introductory poem, because that's not the kind of poetry I like), and not being the right audience for this book like I thought I would. Add to it the ebb-and-flow of the writing's quality, and eh...on the whole, I wasn't impressed. But as I said, this was probably more a case of bad matching than anything, so I encourage you to read the other reviews if you think this can be your jam.
I have to point out, though, that I found the author roster a bit ill-assorted...you can't have women-empowering tales go hand in hand with Badly-Written-Woman-By-Male-Author examples ("Such a relief to be back to reality, back in my own body - young, lithe, smaller, smoother, with slim legs, dainty fingers, and firm, compact breasts". Seriously???).
Besides enjoying Seanan McGuire's story (a fresh reversal of the mad scientist trope - I wonder why she didn't use her Mira Grant alias for this one) and quite liking a few others, I LOVED LOVED LOVED Carlie St. George's feminist take on The Frankenstein's Monster's Bride. Both the content and the writing style are top-notch. She deserved better company IMO.

Note: definitive review (I don't have enough to say to justify writing a full-length one later, and of course I don't plan to reread this book; also, due to time commitments, I've decided not to write full-length reviews anymore for short stories, novellas and anthologies, except in special cases or unless they're part of a series).

Temporally Out of Order by Joshua Palmatier et al.

★★

17 stories dealing with time misplacement (more than with actual time travel), where everyday objects act as catalysts by bringing a piece of the past (or the future) with them...and sometimes change lives.

***

Rated 3.5 really.

As it often happens with anthologies, despite the unifying theme, the styles and genres are all over the place, and some of these didn't really work for me - though as a rule I love everything that's got to do with time travel or (in this case) time misplacement. (Then again, I'm probably more of a time-travel gal...🤔). Also, like other Goodreads reviewers have noted, there are a couple of series-tie-ins in here that don't quite belong with the theme itself (vampires??? seriously???). Lastly, I skipped two of these stories: The Passing Bell because I don't like historical fiction, and Alien Time Warp because - despite its being one of the most sci-fi-oriented of the bunch, which would make it my cup of tea  - the narrator got on my nerves from the start. 
On the whole, the quality is more than decent, and the worst thing I can say it's that some of these stories are twists on overused tropes, like the navigator that points you to the past or the camera/phone that takes photographs of/receives messages from it. Some are definitely wild and/or absurdist, but in a good way, like Dinosaur Stew (on the funny side) and Temporally Out of Odor (inventive premise, both sad and heartwarming in the end - it went in a direction that I didn't expect). Some deal with family (conventional and not - I appreciated their having gay and trans main characters) and maybe force the happy ending's hand a tiny bit...One goes in the totally opposite direction, but still in order to guarantee a happy ending of sorts (family reunion) that shouldn't have come at the cost of the main character's sacrifice. Ultimately, Seanan McGuire's Reading List (the reason why I read this book) steals the scene. It's a lovely variation on casuality and being in the right place at the right moment with the right person to help you make the right choice, and a love letter to libraries - seriously, you can't ask for more.

Note: definitive review (due to time commitments, I've decided not to write full-length reviews anymore for short stories, novellas and anthologies, except in special cases or unless they're part of a series).

A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck

★★★

Observant Mormon Soren finds himself in a very different afterlife than the one he used to believe in, and learns that "Hell" doesn't necessarily mean fire and brimstone. Can he find the book that recounts his "true" life story among the billions of gibberish ones contained in an endless library, and finally escape his personal hell?

***

I've been wanting to read this one since I got the chance to review the Windows into Hell anthology, which it inspired (the first short story was even loosely based on the first pages of this novella, and Peck himself contributed to WIH with a story of his own). I can't say I loved ASSIH - also because it's written in a strangely formal style - but it did provide me with some food for thought when it comes to the meaning of love, growth, morality and life itself in the absence of time (or, well, of a measurable one and its consequences) and of a cosmic structure (though the latter doesn't hold a religious meaning for me). Soren's adventures ultimately take on an absurdist tinge, and yet the story remains philosophical and sad. I wish I could have cared more about him - I felt for his predicament, but the whole thing came across a bit dry. The open ending won't sit well with everyone, but to me, it fit with the general tone and the message Peck wanted to convey. A nice, thought-provoking twist on Jorge Luis Borges' The Library of Babel, but not what I would call an exciting read.
(By the way, the title IS supposed to be ironic).

Note: definitive review (due to time commitments, I've decided not to write full-length reviews anymore for short stories, novellas and anthologies, except in special cases or unless they're part of a series).

So, have you read/are you planning to read any of the above? And if you have, what do you think of them? Do you post mini reviews? Do you like to read them?

26 comments:

  1. I admire you for taking on not one, but three short story collections. They are always hit or miss for me (though my greatest success came with a single author collection). At the McGuire story was good, right?

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    Replies
    1. Well, two - the last one is a novella. But I'm like you - anthologies are hit or miss for me, or better, mostly sit in the middle...I will always read them if there's an author I love in the line-up, but I rarely love them. Now single-author collection are a different thing altogether...

      Delete
  2. You know, it's funny- even as I love a lot of the classic monsters, in theory, I haven't always read all the source material or know them THAT well. I only realized that reading your review. Anyway, sorry this one didn't quite work for you. I'm not sure how I feel- do I want to maybe get it on sale or whatever? I'll have to mull that one lol. As an aside, I always love it when authors describe a woman as "lithe" lol.

    Temporally Out Of Order sounds pretty good, and your description of the McGuire story makes me want to get it.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "even as I love a lot of the classic monsters, in theory, I haven't always read all the source material or know them THAT well."
      I guess they're sort of...taken for granted? I mean, we grow up with them as icons, know them from derivative works, but not always delve into the source material....

      The McGuire story in Temporally O. O. O. is one of her best...then again, she has a good one in C. M. U. as well, plus there's the St. George story in the latter that really stands out.

      Delete
  3. I'm not familiar with any of these, I'm shocked! I often struggle with short story collections, it takes a really well edited one to work for me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh no, that badly-written-woman quote 😂 I'm glad at least the Seanan McGuire stories didn't let you down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right? "Compact breasts"? *groans*

      There can be stories/novels that I like a tad less than the others, but as a rule, McGuire never lets me down 👌.

      Delete
  5. I haven't read any of these nor have I heard of any of them. That sentence you shared about a woman's POV written by a male is hilarious and sad at the same time. I have to say that I didn't realize Mira Grant was an alias. Thanks for sharing that tidbit.

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    Replies
    1. LOL, books that fall under the radar are my specialty.

      Hilarious and sad...exactly.

      Delete
  6. Classic Monsters Unleashed would probably be more my speed since I love all those old classic type monster movies and stories. Somewhere packed in a box I have 50 mostly black and white dvd's of classic monster movies. I've watched all of them. lol I tried getting my daughter to watch them with me but she laughed.

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  7. Not gonna lie, Classic Monsters Unleashed sounds like my cup of tea. I actually really like old timey monster stories, so the lack of modern spin wouldn't really bug me. That being said, I'm sorry it didn't work for you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think my biggest problem was exactly that...so I'm sure it would work much better for you!

      Delete
  8. We women do love our compact breasts lol

    I don't know how much I know about the classic monsters but my mom and I used to watch all those cheesy Creature Double Feature movies that were on every Saturday. Like swamp monsters, snake people, giant lizards, Godzilla etc.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, we do. We can't stop thinking about them 🙄.

      I can't even remember all the monsters in this anthology LOL (and as I said, I skipped some of the stories). But I don't think there were lots of those...more like Frankenstein Monster(s), Dracula(s), werewolves and such. I wouldn't have picked you for a fan of those movies 😉. But it must be a nice memory of your time with your mom.

      Delete
  9. I have not heard of any of these books, but I really enjoyed reading your mini reviews of them! (I agree with Karen, they're delightful :))

    I also thought that I was not a mini-review writing person, but I dipped my toe into writing them once or twice and was surprised by how much I enjoyed them -- for me, they're most helpful for getting quick thoughts out when I've read several books in a row but haven't taken time to sit with writing reviews for them.

    claire @ clairefy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Those weren't even mini reviews, strictly speaking...sometimes I get wordy LOL.

      I've decided to only write full reviews for books from 3.5 stars up, but it was hard for me. I used to review every book in full, but it's not sustainable anymore. Then again, sometimes you can catch a book's mood beautifully with a few sentences...even more than with whole paragraphs!

      Delete
  10. Oof at the "badly written women" thing- we're still doing that in 2022, it seems? Ugh. Sorry that none of these were outright hits for you, but yay for a few good short stories at least! Anthologies are such mixed bags, though the thing I love most about them is even if you get a couple of stinkers, they'll be over sooner than later 😂 Great reviews!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "Oof at the "badly written women" thing- we're still doing that in 2022, it seems?"
      Men never learn...🙄

      Thank you!

      Delete
  11. I love that you create your own mini-blurbs for your mini-reviews. I never thought of doing that.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thanks! I started to do that when I realised that posting my mini reviews WITHOUT a blurb might confuse my readers. But I didn't want to use the official ones, because they were longer than my mini reviews LOL.

      Delete
  12. You: Lastly, I skipped two of these stories: The Passing Bell because...

    Me and my WW1 poetry brain, automatically: 'What passing bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns...'

    (Oops! Lol)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. WW1 poetry is a whole genre? Who would have thought. I'm so bad at history 😳 😂.

      Delete
    2. ...I don't want to scare you with my fervor, so I'm just gonna say 'yes' and leave this here: https://www.dorareads.co.uk/2019/11/NCWhyILoveWW1Poetry.html ;)

      Delete

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