Short Fiction Review: Mr. Death

Banner image of Apex Magazine 121 cover superimposed on top of same cover zoomed in and blurred. With "Short Fiction Review" and "Off The TBR" text added.

I don’t normally review short fiction but I do hope to change that in 2021. Why? Well, because short fiction can be utterly amazing and move you to tears. Some of my new favorite authors are those I first came across because of their short fiction. One of those authors is Alix E. Harrow whose short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Short Compendium of Portal Fantasies” from issue 105 of Apex Magazine won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

Harrow has written a number of short stories the last few years and I eat them up. Her latest, “Mr. Death” comes in the recently relaunched Apex Magazine issue 121. For those who don’t know, Apex Magazine went on a hiatus in 2019 due to health issues experienced by its editor-in-chief. After a Kickstarter campaign in 2020 the zine has been relaunched with 6 new issues coming this year. The first issue (no. 121) dropped last week.

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Top Reads of 2020

It’s that time again…the time when all the book bloggers are posting their year end, best reads of the year. So yeah, I have to add my batch into the mix. 2020 sucked in so many ways, but for me it was a really good year for reading. I enjoyed the vast majority of the books I read, and there were only a very few I didn’t. I still feel like we are experiencing that new golden age of science fiction and fantasy with so many great books to choose from both in traditional publishing or from indie/self-published authors and I hope it never ends.

So here it is, my top reads of 2020. Note, this is my list of top reads of 2020, meaning it is a list of my favorite books I read during the year, not necessarily my favorite books published in 2020. I managed to read 42 books this year (exceeding my Goodreads Challenge) and this list comprises those I rated as 5 Stars. I’ve arranged them in order the they were read.

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Short Story Review: The Sycamore and the Sybil

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I really ought to review more short stories. I mean yeah, sure, that would mean I’d have to read more short stories but that’s not the point. Well, it is kinda the point. Anyway, I want to tell you about a short story in the March/April 2020 issue of Uncanny written by Alix E. Harrow called “The Sycamore and the Sybil.”

It’s a story about a woman who turned herself into a Sycamore tree along the banks of the Big Sandy River, and another young woman named Kat who is pursued by a “wolf,” a man who isn’t the best of men. It’s a story about fighting for yourself, and women who aren’t going to let themselves be mistreated and abused anymore. It’s a story about women helping women. And it’s a story about spells and witchcraft and…well…magic.

I read “The Sycamore and the Sybil” when it was first published as I tend to read anything by Harrow as soon as I can get my hands on it. I loved it at the time and tweeted about it

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So that’s basically my review…

“It is painful and stunning and powerful. Harrow wields magic in her stories gifted by the muses. Read, dance, and burn it all down.”

What I didn’t know at the time was “The Sycamore and the Sybil” is set in the same world as The Once and Future Witches. 

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Yep…Harrow snuck something by us back in March, a quick peak into the witchy setting she created in her most recent novel set to be released later this month.

In my review of The Once and Future Witches I noted how it,is more like some of her short stories, poetic at times and still very rich, but more pointed and focused on a mood or emotion.” When I wrote that I was thinking partly about this story! It was sitting there in the back of my mind as one of a few examples of Harrow’s short work and how tightly focused they can be in relation to mood and emotion and the way they just hit you in the gut. Harrow was casting a little spell months in advance and we didn’t have a clue.

“The Sycamore and the Sybil” is set in Crow County along the Big Sandy, one of the locations of The Once and Future Witches. In it you’ll find a number of references to things in the novel, some overt and others very subtle. If you read the short story first you’ll get a hint of what’s in store for you when you read the book…but just a hint. If you read the book first then turn to the story you’ll find all manner of things to make you smile and maybe even shed a tear as you remember events and characters from the novel. Either way I recommend you read both because they are fantastic.

Anyway, just wanted to pass that along. Hope you enjoy the read.

– Jason

Book Haul: May 2020 Part II

Off The TBR_ Book Haul Post

It’s time for another Book Haul post. One of my blogging goals for 2020 is to be to be more intentional about Book Haul posts. I’m aware that it’s possible nobody cares about the books I’ve bought or received, but I kinda like when bloggers post these because it not only puts new books in front of my eyeballs that I might not be aware of, but they also give me an idea of the blogger’s tastes. For my purposes a Book Haul post can include any book I’ve come to possess, not just those I buy, so arcs requested or just sent from publishers will be listed as well. Continue reading

Alix E. Harrow & Erin Morgenstern Book Signing

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This past Saturday my daughter and I went to a special book event at our local indie bookstore. Erin Morgenstern was kicking off the final wave of her U.S. book tour for The Starless Sea here in Lexington and the bookstore set up an event where Alix E. Harrow, the fabulous author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January would interview her and then they’d both have a book signing. I’ve never read anything by Morgenstern but I figured my daughter might like to try her books out, and truth be told so would I. As for Alix E. Harrow, if you follow this blog you’ll already know I’m a fan. This wasn’t my first time meeting Harrow, that was back in November at the Kentucky Book Fair where I had her sign a copy of her book for my daughter, but I still didn’t have a signed copy for myself. Continue reading

Off The TBR’s Best Reads of 2019

It’s the last day of the year which means it’s time for my Best Reads of 2019 post! I’d hoped to write one more review before the end of the year but that isn’t gonna happen. That’s fine though because I have what I need for this list already. And while I didn’t read as many books as I’d hoped this year I did read some really good ones!

2019 was another great year for speculative fiction. I’ve heard it said by many readers that we are in a new golden age of spec fic. I think that’s true. Much of that has to do with some great new authors being published by traditional publishing houses, but a lot of that has to do with the rise of really great books coming out of the self-published/indie publishing realm.

What follows below are those books I read this year (regardless of publication date) that I rated a 4.5 or 5 out of 5 stars. There were a total of eight books to make the list. Of this group there was one self-published title, and two formerly self-published titles that were picked up by a major publisher, one of which hasn’t actually been published yet but I read the ARC. I’ll start with the 4.5 group, move to the 5.0 group, and finish with my favorite book of the year. Apart from the final book there is no particular order to this list other than the two main groupings. Continue reading

The Ten Thousand Doors of January Book Review

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Author: Alix E. Harrow
Publisher: Redhook
Publication Date:  September 10, 2019
Format: Advanced Reader Copy
Pages: 384
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

I was sent an Advanced Reader Copy of this book by the publisher.

I don’t have words to convey how gorgeous this book is. The story, the writing, the imagery, the cover; every bit of it is a literary feast for the eyes and mind. Yet one metaphor isn’t enough to describe it, and any attempt to adequately do so on my part is bound to fail. It’s a tale of love and heartbreak, adventure and suspense, myth and legend. It’s a portal fantasy opening a door into ten thousand worlds. It’s a a love letter to lovers of stories. It’s a metaphor itself for what all stories really are, doors into another world, and heralds of change. Continue reading