Mini-Reviews: upcoming short story collections (Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz, Kink ed. by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon, and The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes)

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz

Published by Grove Atlantic, February 2nd 2021

This is such a good debut collection of short stories. I especially liked the focus on girlhood and thought Moniz captures that particular time of life incredibly well – with all the inherent darkness a focus on girls can lead to. And dark these stories are – but I did not find them hopeless even if Moniz refuses to give her stories neat endings. I found this impeccably written, the metaphor heavy language a perfect fit for the format, and her characterization incredibly well-done. Some stories veered too much into darkness for me (I did not love “Tongues” and thought “Exotics” wasn’t half as clever as it should have been), but others were near pitch perfect (the collection starts incredibly strong with “Milk Blood Heat” which broke my heart but in a good way; “Thicker Than Water” with its examination of sibling relationships, guilt and grief was my favourite).

Content warning: rape, child sexual abuse, miscarriage, abortion, cannibalism, suicide, suicidal ideation, grief induced hallucinations

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Kink: Stories ed. by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon

Published by Simon & Schuster, February 9th 2021

The second I heard about this anthology, I knew I needed to read it. The subject matter is right up my alley and the list of contributors is just incredible. The book did not disappoint in the slightest. Of course, when it comes to anthologies there will always be stories that work better for me than others but I genuinely thought all of these stories did something interesting.

The biggest surprise was Trust by Larissa Pham which I found emotionally resonant and super well-written – by an author I had not heard of before and whose other work I cannot wait to check out. Not surprising in the least was that I liked Carmen Maria Machado’s story The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror – because I genuinely do not think she could write a bad story if she tried. That she made me enjoy a historical fiction story speaks for itself. My absolute favourite of the bunch, however, was Brandon Taylor’s Oh, Youth. This story was pitch-perfect and heart-breaking and impeccably paced. It made me even more excited for his upcoming collection if that is at all possible.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warning: death of a loved one, death of a pet, insomnia, suicidal idolation, divorce

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes

Published by Grove Press, January 12th 2021

I did not get on with this. I struggled from the first story on and liked the second even less. Most of the things that didn’t work for me are very much subjective: the stories that I read were all historical fiction with the accompanying trope and style choices and that is a genre I rarely enjoy. I also found the characters deeply unpleasant (and while I often enjoy that in novels, I prefer more readily sympathetic characters in short stories) and the stories felt cynical in a way that I am sure will be perfect for the right reader. There was also something about the sentence structure that made the prose feel more convoluted than I like.

I wish I had liked this more because I do love interconnected short stories, but I am just not in the mind set to be able to force myself to read things that I am only partly enjoying (for what it’s worth, this probably would have been a three star in the end, so it is definitely not a bad book!).

DNF

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wrap Up: September 2018 or that was a three star kind of month

I had a surprisingly good reading month, numbers-wise – normally September is not that brilliant for me, but this time around I actually read ten books. Most of them were middle of the road though.

Books read in September:

  1. The Fire This Time ed. by Jesmyn Ward: 3 out of 5 stars
  2. The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski: 3 out of 5 stars
  4. Red Sister by Mark Lawrence: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. Rosewater by Tade Thompson: 4 out of 5 stars
  6. Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  7. The Corset by Laura Purcell: 3 out of 5 stars
  8. River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey: 2 out of 5 stars
  9. Vanishing Twins: A Marriage by Leah Dieterich: 4,5 out of 5 stars
  10. March: Book 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Yadin & Nate Powell: 4 out of 5 stars

I also DNFed The Sisters of the Winter Wood because I could not get on board with the prose, the poems, or the structure of the story. The thought of having to pick that up and reading another 400 pages made me very unhappy; so I put it down.

Continue reading “Wrap Up: September 2018 or that was a three star kind of month”

Review: The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

40739734Verdict: Ambitious, impeccably written, frustrating plot.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Virago, September 6th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe’s Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.

The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most. who lose what they love most.

I have many thoughts about this book and I am very conflicted about my feelings and my rating. As is customary in such cases, here are my thoughts, first in list form than more elaborated:

Pros:

  • prose
  • the interesting way R. O. Kwon plays with perspective
  • the subversion of tropes

Cons:

  • plot
  • characters

This book is told from three perspectives: Will, who has lost his faith in god and his plan for his life, his girlfriend Phoebe, who lost her faith in her piano talent and her mother, and John, the enigmatic cult leader whose cult Phoebe starts following. Or, more exactly, the story is told from these perspectives as Will imagines them. I loved the way this worked out and I love the extra layer of interpretation this opened up. Phoebe is for all intents and purposes Will’s manic pixie dream girl – but R. O. Kwon never lets the reader forget that he construct her in a way that suits himself, without much regard to the person she really is. I cannot help but wonder if this construction of Phoebe and the subsequent unfolding of events isn’t a direct reaction to a plethora of novels who treat their female characters only as a foil for the male character to develop.

There is something mesmerizing in the way R. O. Kwon’s language flows. She has a way of structuring her sentences that enthralled me. I was hooked with her writing style from the very first chapters. Whatever problems I had with this book, her language is incredibly strong in a way that I found unique.

But even though the novels hits many high points for me and I am so very glad to have read it (and cannot wait for more people to read it so we can talk about my more spoilery thoughts), ultimately it did not quite work for me. I found the plot and the character development to be fairly weak as well as not that original. Especially the last part of the book made me mostly impatient with Will and made me question if his characterisation was all that successful. His obsession with Phoebe (obviously meant to be a replacement for his lost faith), while believable in the beginning, became less so as time went on.

I also think that the book would have worked better without the added perspective of John (or more, what Will imagined John to think like), for me these chapters, while short, always took me right out of the flow. But nevertheless, R. O. Kwon is a major talent and I cannot wait to see what she does next.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Virago (Little, Brown Book Group UK) in exchange for an honest review.