Book Review: Carniepunk

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Carniepunk consists of 14 short stories in a steampunk anthology with the theme of…wait for it…surprise, surprise…carnivals! My opinion is somewhat scattered along the spectrum, since the stories were written by 14 different authors. To make things simpler, I’ll be rating each story separately.

Overall, I feel like the themes are disjointed — too loosely connected in terms of the type of reader they’d appeal to. I don’t know how the stories were chosen and I’m sure it’s a very tough process, but I feel like the styles and moods decline in quality until a belated spike at the very end. But that’s just my opinion.

Painted Love by Robyn Urman (4/5)

  • very lyrical, bitingly beautiful writing style
  • balance between the harshness of reality and the wonder of moments
  • very interesting characters
  • striking plot twist makes you double back and think
  • psychological references
  • surreal time and place

The Three Lives of Lydia by Delilah S. Dawson (4/5)

  • breathtakingly magical writing style: astounding word choices, heart-shattering imagery, descriptions interwoven with striking emotions
  • delightfully surreal mood
  • dark and wonderful setting — this is probably my favorite “carnival” of the whole anthology
  • also a nice slice of psychology
  • interesting and sad twist
  • my one complaint is the instalove — the instalove with Charlie just made the whole story shallower! It could have been a 5 but instalove peels back the story’s merits.

The Demon Barker of Wheat Street by Kevin Hearne (1/5)

  • I couldn’t get into it. Maybe because it’s part of a series
  • the conversations with the dog are amusing

The Sweeter the Juice by Mark Henry (2/5)

  • zombie apocalypse…typical stuff
  • nice and gory details
  • tries to be deep, somehow, but misses the point
  • redeeming try at being new — the main character is transsexual

The Werewife by Jaye Wells (2/5)

  • interesting, holds on to your attention till the end
  • entertaining with a hint of satire
  • not really extraordinary
  • lacking in thematic element
  • cliches

The Cold Girl by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad (1/5)

  • I remember reading about another reviewer describe it as  too “teenage”. Yes, it’s too typical. That annoying stock teenage girl voice, the abuse, the vampires…
  • It was trying too hard to be interesting
  • Cliches

A Duet with Darkness by Allison Pang (3/5)

  • interesting writing style, characters and premise
  • but just wasn’t presented in the right way; there was something off about the buildup and resolution
  • imbalance in climax

Recession of the Divine by Hillary Jacques (1/5)

  • could not get into it
  • confusing writing style

Parlor Tricks by Jennifer Estep (1/5)

  • could not get into it
  • feel like it was part of a story that already exists and if you haven’t read it, you won’t get it

Freak House by Kelly Meding (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • perhaps a bit too plot-heavy for a short story

The Inside Man by Nicole Peeler (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • might have a good plotline, but not for me

A Chance in Hell by Jackie Kessler (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • original, of sorts, I suppose, but not compelling for me

Hell’s Menagerie by Kelly Gay (1/5)

  • maybe it was a story meant for kids?
  • the emotions of it didn’t feel real for some reason, didn’t rise off the page and project themselves onto the reader

Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid and the Open, Lonely Sea (4/5) by Seanan McGuire

  • the writing was nice stuff, sprinkled with bits of striking imagery and the personality of the protagonist
  • intriguing premise
  • could have been something more mystical, more of the surreal, saltwater feel
  • emotions mixed in nicely
  • and the title is just wonderful

**eBook provided by Netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Cobweb Bride: Book One By Vera Nazarian (4.5/5)

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“He came to them in the heart of winter, asking for his Cobweb Bride. He arrived everywhere, all at once. In one singular moment, he was seen, heard, felt, remembered. Some inhaled his decaying scent. Others bitterly tasted him. And everyone recognized Death in one way or another, just before the world was suspended.” ~ Cobweb Bride, Chapter 1

Isn’t that one of the most beautifully written openings ever? As soon as I read it, I was enchanted. I hoped then, that I might be in the hands of a master storyteller…

A retelling of the myth of Persephone, Cobweb Bride is set in an alternate, mildly magical Renaissance Europe — I read about some site considering it “steampunk,” but it doesn’t quite give off that steampunk vibe for me. IT feels like dark fantasy, bare to the bloodless bone. Wild and imaginative and different.

The setup is this: Death ceases to exist. Yes, people stop dying! In the deathly cold of winter, everyone and everything can no longer die (until Death receives his Cobweb Bride). Beheaded knights rise up and continue to battle. The murdered Infanta, heir to the throne  survives her assassination. And Percy’s grandmother lies on her deathbed, suspended in a torturous and painful state. Of course, there are terrible implications…What if one particular Duke desires immortality, for instance?

Middle daughter Percy, whose real name is Persephone, comes off as an immediately likable character. Sandwiched between “her mother’s two favorites,” Percy believes she can never be as good as her beautiful older sister and lively younger sister. She’s clumsy, homely and can’t seen to say or do the right things. I felt so much empathy for Percy; her character development is the main highlight of the book.

The kingdom proclaims that one daughter of marriageable age from each family must journey North to become a potential Cobweb Bride. No one is really sure what Death wants, but girls start pouring into the Northern forests. Being the least loved in her family, Percy, of course, decides it must be her.

The pros:

  • Percy’s character and development
  • the Infanta’s character (she’s truly kind, even after death…in fact, one might say she starts living after death)
  • other characters
  • it’s a retelling!
  • dark fantasy
  • beautiful, poetic writing
  • wonderful world-building
  • the mystery surrounding Death
  • romantic lines are not annoying — they’re very different, actually, since both lines involve death

Cons

  • some may think the beginning feels slow (this is for character development room)
  • balance of plot feels skewed (probably since it’s a trilogy. I’m becoming less fond of trilogies and more admiring of stand-alones)
  • some of the storylines aren’t that interesting (there are many storylines), and I felt emotionally invested in only two: Percy’s and the Infanta’s
  • the writing style, gorgeous as it is, becomes unedited and perhaps too gaudy towards the middle and end (obviously not a liberal editor there)
  • the words “perfect” and “beautiful” were used too often
  • we can’t judge till the end of the trilogy…

It’s not a perfect book, but 4.5 stars because I’m a sucker for dark fantasy and beautiful writing. I will definitely read the 2nd and 3rd books.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review