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Wicked, Wonderful Witchery: Review of Hex Life

Book: Hex Life

Editors: Christopher Golden and Rachel Autumn Deering

Year Published: 2019

Overall Rating: 4 stars

Hex Life was an anthology of wicked and wonderful witchcraft. It played around with the stereotypes surrounding witches and each story was unique and magical. I liked some stories more than others but I think that there is something for everyone as it had a broad scope of styles and takes on the theme of witches..

(1) An Invitation to a Burning by Kat Howard, 4 stars: One of the shortest stories in the anthology that took the idea of witch burning and turned it into something powerful, uniting and about moving on from the past.

(2) Widows’ Walk by Angela Slatter, 4 stars: Completely inverts the usual tropes surrounding widows and had themes of domestic abuse. It was about a group of widows who try to help young girls with family problems.

(3) Black Magic Momma: An Otherworld Story by Kelley Armstrong, 4 stars: This one was about a witch who dealt in black market trading of magical objects while trying to keep her daughter safe. I liked the way that women supported each other in this story. It was a part of the Women of the Otherworld series, which I am not familiar with.

(4) The Night Nurse by Sarah Langan, 1 star: Dark, depressing, weird. I didn’t like it at all. It felt all over the place and I think the ending was supposed to be shocking but by then I just wanted it to be over.

(5) The Memories of Trees by Mary SanGiovanni, 3 stars: This was a dystopian with themes of nature retaliating against technology.

(6) Home: A Morganville Vampires Story by Rachel Caine, 4 stars: I found this story quite funny. It had some eccentric characters and vampires not knowing what to do with a baby. There a touch of madness and magic mixed in with the mundane and it was about the long-lasting effects of heartbreak and grief. It was a part of The Morganville Vampires series which I am also not familiar with.

(7) The Deer Wife by Jennifer McMahon, 3.5 stars: This was a sort of witchy romance story and it was quite sweet.

(8) The Dancer by Kristin Dearborn, 3.5 stars: It had people with superpowers, an extremely twisted and creepy family and a very obscure yet haunting ending.

(9) Bless Your Heart by Hillary Monahan, 4.5 stars: This was about a mother whose son was getting bullied because he was gay and who decided to put an end to it. It was very gruesome but I couldn’t help cheering on her revenge. Also the mother’s narration was quite humorous with a lot of ranting.

(10) The Debt by Ania Ahlborn, 5 stars: It had Baba Yaga in it so obviously it was amazing. The ending was unexpected in its cruelty and betrayal and I felt for the protagonist, a young girl called Karolin.

(11) Toil & Trouble: A Dark-hunter Hellchaser Story by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Madaug Kenyon, 2 stars: This one also felt quite random and all over the place, I didn’t feel like it had a strong sense of story. It started off catching my interest and went downhill from there.

(12)  Last Stop On Route Nine by Tananarive Due, 4.5 stars: This one was scary, like a horror movie. It also had themes of racism, a ghost and people getting lost.

(13) Where Relics Go To Dream and Die by Rachel Autumn Deering, 2 stars: I don’t know what this story was trying to achieve but I just found it disturbing and weird. I mean it was well written but that isn’t enough.

(14) This Skin by Amber Benson, 4.5 stars: This one was also disturbing but in more of a good way. It was a very creepy story about a young girl who murders and gets away with it.

(15) Haint Me Too by Chesya Burke, 3.5 stars: It was about a girl called Shea whose family was sharecropping and who resorts to more magical means to help her family. It was a bit confusing but also interesting.

(16) The Nekrolog by Helen Marshall, 3 stars: It was too long and rambling, it definitely should have been way shorter. Parts were intriguing but I was mainly bored.

(17)  Gold Among The Black by Alma Katsu, 3 stars: It was a bit like a fairy tale but it was also quite predictable and average.

(18) How To Become A Witch-Queen by Theodora Goss, 5 stars: My favourite story of the anthology. It was a retelling of Snow White about what happened to her years after the ending of the fairy tale. It had clever use of the second person and a gripping plot with themes of female empowerment. I want to read other works by this author now!

Overall, Hex Life had a range of stories for a range of tastes and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes stories about magic and witches.

Thank you to Titan Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Beware the Jabberwock! Review of Wonderland

Book: Wonderland

Editors: Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane

Year Published: 2019

Overall Rating: 3.75 stars

Wonderland was a magical anthology full of short stories inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. All the stories managed to capture the wondrous yet morbid whimsy of Wonderland as they were full of imagination and followed no rules. It was a mixed bag– some were amazing and some not so much. Here’s a brief summary of the stories and my thoughts on them:

Alice in Armour by Jane Yolen- 3 stars:

This was an amusing poem which I liked but it didn’t greatly impress me.

Wonders Never Cease by Robert Shearman- 2.5 stars:

“Just because love dies, it doesn’t mean you can’t go on.”

This story was about life, love and death and even though I understood it was trying to convey a deep message I thought the writing was confused and just generally muddled and I didn’t enjoy it.

There Were No Birds to Fly by M.R. Carey- 5 stars:

“If you follow the rules… you’ll live a whole lot longer”

This was so wonderfully creepy and mysterious and I did not see the ending coming. I liked how the narrator of the story was clearly hiding something and their intentions were gradually revealed. Also, it gave me very strong Birdbox vibes so if you liked that book/ movie you will probably like this.

The White Queen’s Pawn by Genevieve Cogman- 4 stars:

The White Queen’s Pawn was quite short and not much happened but it still had an impact. I loved how it slowly went from a seemingly normal situation to something scary and macabre!

Dream Girl by Cavan Scott- 5 stars:

This one started off in Wonderland, from the perspective of the Hatter, and ended on a very unexpected and refreshing plot twist. I loved it! Furthermore, I appreciated how the ‘Alice character’ didn’t fit the visual stereotypes surrounding her.

Good Dog, Alice! by Juliet Marillier- 4.5 stars:

When a girl called Dorothea calls her dog ‘Alice’, she doesn’t realise how useful her pet will become. This was another short story with an ending that came out of the blue but it was also quite satisfying.

The Hunting of the Jabberwock by Jonathan Green- 4 stars:

As the title suggests, this story was inspired by the ‘Jabberwocky’ poem and was about a young man trying to slay the Jabberwocky to earn his glory but comes to some unsettling realisations. I liked how the story included the whimsical nonsense language from the ‘Jabberwocky’ poem.

About Time by George Mann- 3.5 stars:

This story was about how our fears can affect our realities and the power of believing that something is real. It also had quite a sweet ending.

Smoke ’em if You Got ’em by Angela Slatter- 3 stars:

This one took Alice to the Wild West and while I liked the ideas behind it and the direct writing style it just didn’t create much of an impact on me.

Vanished Summer Glory by Rio Youers- 4 stars:

Vanished Summer Glory was a poignant story about grief, loss and love and it was really touching and quite saddening to read.

Black Kitty by Catriona Ward- 3 stars:

It was quite weird and I still don’t quite understand what on Earth went on in this one but I guess it gets credit for creativity!

The Night Parade by Laura Mauro- 4.5 stars:

This one was inspired by Japanese mythology which was intriguing and original. I also liked how the ending left me with so many theories and thoughts about all the implied things that could have caused the things that happened.

What Makes a Monster by L.L. McKinney- 3 stars:

What Makes a Monster was set in the author’s A Blade so Black universe and it was about some rather cool monster hunters. At the start I thought I was going to enjoy this story very much but it didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would although it was still good.

The White Queen’s Dictum by James Lovegrove- 4.5 stars:

This one had a lovely hint of supernatural and while I saw the plot twist coming I enjoyed the dramatic irony of it. It was based on the idea that ‘impossible things’ can sometimes be more real than you first think.

Temp Work by Lilith Saintcrow- 2.5 stars:

Temp Work was heavily based on sci-fi but I didn’t enjoy it because the plot didn’t interest me.

Eat Me, Drink Me by Alison Littlewood- 2 stars:

An utterly weird and confusing story and my least favourite in the anthology.

How I Comes to be the Treacle Queen by Cat Rambo- 3.5 stars:

This story was extremely imaginative with a strong narrative voice and I was satisfied with the way it ended. I also liked how it explored previously uncharted territory in Wonderland.

Six Impossible Things by Mark Chadbourn- 3 stars:

It was quite touching and nostalgic tale and I liked how it included the history behind the original ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ book.

Revolution in Wonder by Jane Yolen- 3.5 stars:

Another humorous, clever poem which concluded the anthology nicely!

Overall, this was a really interesting read and I liked reading all of the different takes on Wonderland. I’m not going to lie- I hate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the animated Disney adaptation gave me nightmares as a child. However, this anthology makes me feel like giving the books (and the movies) another chance!

Thank you to Titan Books for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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