Review: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

trigger warning by neil gaimanFormat read: eARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss and published hardcover provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: fantasy, horror
Length: 310 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: February 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction–stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013–as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In “Adventure Story”–a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane–Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience “A Calendar of Tales” are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year–stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale “The Case of Death and Honey”. And “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.

My Review:

Fair warning, if you have an eARC of this book, it probably does not include the last story, Black Dog. I’m lucky I had a published print copy too. (This warning probably does not apply to purchased ebooks.)

Speaking of warnings, there’s that title: Trigger Warning. As the author says in his introduction, the phrase “trigger warning” has taken on a specific meaning in social media. If a piece has been labeled with a trigger warning, the context of the warning usually follows. If a story or article concerns a subject that some people might be upset to read, that is listed under the trigger warnings. While many of those warnings involve either death or sex (sometimes both) there are also trigger warnings for assault, abuse as well as every kind of kink imaginable.

The concept of trigger warnings derives from a specific issue for sufferers of PTSD. Things that remind a person of their original trauma can literally trigger a re-experience of that trauma. (For more details, see the NIMH page on PTSD)

There has been some talk in social media regarding whether the author should have titled his collection with a term that has so much specific meaning for people. (To see an thoughtful example, take a look at Kameron Hurley’s post on SciFi Now) The author’s contentions are laid out in his introduction, which, unlike introductions in many books that are easily skippable, provides interesting context for both the individual stories and the collection as a whole.

There’s a question asked: Do adults need to be warned about the possible “triggers” in fiction? Or is part of being an adult the responsibility of choosing such things for one’s own self?

Trigger Warning is a collection of mostly short stories, with a few poems sprinkled in for spice. Or in context, possibly for body. Or bodies.

This is a collection of various kinds of speculative fiction. Some are fantasy, some are extensions of fairy tales. Many are horror of the Twilight Zone type, where the story seems to be heading in one direction, and then takes a sudden twist at the end into the macabre or at least the strange and lethal.

As a collection, it suffers from the issue common to almost all collections, every reader’s milage varies wildly. There are some stories I really liked, a couple did not work for me at all, and some just were just OK.

There were five stories that stood out for me: Black Dog, Nothing O’Clock, The Case of Death and Honey, The Thing About Cassandra and A Calendar of Tales, which is cheating in a way because Calendar itself is a short collection of extremely brief stories.

American Gods by Neil GaimanOnly Black Dog is original to this collection. In other circumstances, it would be slight, and slightly eerie, story, But the protagonist of this particular tale is Shadow Moon, whom we first met in American Gods. Because we know who and what Shadow is, the story has multiple layers, and like American Gods, makes you rethink the entire story at the end.

The Case of Death and Honey is a Sherlock Holmes story. It was previously published in A Study in Sherlock, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, and reviewed here. This is a story that I wish were true. It would explain much.

Nothing O’Clock is a Doctor Who story. Even though Matt Smith was not my favorite Doctor (they say you never forget your first Doctor, and mine was Tom Baker) this is still very much Who. The solution to the very creepy dilemma is something only the Doctor could do. And as is so often the case, while the baddies think they are playing him, he has been playing them all along.

The Thing About Cassandra is a story with a twist. I knew something bad was going to happen, but at the end of the story, all of the shoes are on other feet than the reader expected.

A Calendar of Tales is itself a mini-collection, with one story themed for each month. Some border on SF, but the ones I really enjoyed had a touch of romance to them.

Escape Rating B+: The stories I enjoyed, I liked a lot. It helped that three of them were linked to things that I was not just familiar with, but am a definite fan of. The ones that left me cold, like Orange, left me completely and utterly cold.

I will say as my very own trigger warning for this collection that it is probably not a good book to read just before bedtime. I had some interesting and downright scary dreams last night that I am grateful not to remember. Which says that either I am terribly susceptible, or that the stories did their job. Possibly both.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Olde School by Selah Janel

olde school by selah janelFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: fantasy
Series: Kingdom City Chronicles #1
Length: 428 pages
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Date Released: March 18, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.

Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.

Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians

My Review:

It’s not just that the hero of Olde School is a troll, but that he’s a troll caught on the cusp between traditional and modern that makes this story such an absolute hoot.

There’s a lot of marvelous commentary on the problems and perils of modernization, as well as a few digs at racism, sexism, luddite-ism and everything else under the sun.

The story as a whole is about the dangers of believing that you can get something for nothing. That magic is what we make it, and that wishing for the mythical “good old days” without knowing exactly what you are wishing for is a fast way to get dead. Or worse.

The snarky commentary about various fairy-tale princess cults was a hoot and a half all by itself.

But the story itself is a modern take on classic fairy tales. What makes it different is that all the characters are themselves fairy-tale creatures who have either stopped believing in magic or believe in it a little (a whole lot) much too much.

Paddlelump Stonemonger is a forward-thinking businesstroll in Kingdom City. His bridge over the Crescent Ravine has brought him a lot of well-earned gold, and the attention of the Mayor of Kingdom City. Mayor Addlelump is a conniving pixie who is running the city like it’s his own private business, lining the pockets of his highborn friends and taking away land and businesses from anyone who seems to be making lots of money.

Paddlelump is in the Mayor’s sights, but he seems to be everyone’s target.

His troll friends just tease him for not standing up and firing his new housemaid. Which he should, because she’s stealing from him and she’s set him up for murder. She wants his money, and she thinks she can get some prince from a tiny kingdom to kill him in order to free her from his supposed evil clutches. Which Padd doesn’t even have.

Flora,the barmaid at Padd’s favorite diner, wishes he did.

But there is much more clutching at Padd than just his lying, sneaky maidservant. There is old evil awake in the Thadd Forest, and Padd is the only one who can stop it. If someone can find a clue-by-four big enough to knock some sense into him before it is too late for him, for the kingdom, and possibly for the entire world.

The “Olde School” magic that has awakened in the forest wants flesh and blood sacrifices. And the princess cult members are totally programmed to believe that magic works. It just doesn’t work the way that they think it does, and certainly not for their benefit.

The moral of the story seems to be; “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it. Or someone might make you think you’ve gotten it, when they’ve really gotten you.”

Escape Rating B-: The world that the author has built is a marvelous work of invention. It’s not just that this is a fantasy confection, but everything hangs together really well.

On the other hand, the story takes about half the book to pull itself together and launch into the real action of the plot. The earlier build-up pays off in the second half, but the story takes a while to really get going.

The injected commentaries on our own modern world are funny but not overbearing. And it is an absolute scream when the pro-technology and pro-traditional voices both come from trolls. (Also that internet trolls are actually, well, trolls).

Unionized barmaids and maidservants just feels like an idea that needs to come to more fairy tale worlds.

At the same time, Olde School is very firmly in the tradition of contemporary fantasy, where everyone believes that the magic has gone out of the world, when in fact it hasn’t. So people have read all the wrong stories to have any knowledge of how to fight the evil that has reappeared out of the mythic past.

In some ways, Padd makes a great point-of-view character because he has so much self-doubt that he second-guesses everything, which means he mulls over a lot of stuff and we get introduced to the world through his mulling.

On the other hand, there are times when Padd seems thick as a brick, even for a troll, and we want to hit him with the proverbial clue-by-four. Hard, multiple times and with extreme prejudice.

His less modern troll friends are sometimes more on the ball than his supposedly forward-thinking self. But the way that they continually rib him about all his short-comings, yet stand with him with the chips are down is wonderful. Also snarky and funny.

As a fairy tale story that owes way more to the grimmer original versions of the Brothers Grimm than anything ever created through Disneyfication, Olde School is a lot of fun.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Interview with Author Suzanne Selfors + Chocolate Giveaway!

By now, everyone is salivating in anticipation of today’s interview with Suzanne Selfors. Her fairy-tale romance, The Sweetest Spell, is a marvelous re-telling of King Midas, Rumpelstiltskin and The Ugly Duckling all rolled into one delicious chocolate covered treat. (See my review for details). If you want a chance to win a copy of Suzanne’s fairy tale, head on over to Book Lovers Inc, there’s a contest to win a copy of her book going on until Sept. 29.

Now if you want a chance for some delicious, delectable chocolate, to celebrate Suzanne’s book about the magic of chocolate, read on!

Marlene: Suzanne, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Suzanne: I’m the mother of two—my son just left for his first year of college. I started writing my first novel when I was 39. I’m the fifth generation of my family to live on my little island. I love dogs. Oh, and chocolate.

Marlene: Most of your previous books have had at least one foot in contemporary life. What inspired you to slip all the way into the fantasy genre for The Sweetest Spell?

Suzanne: Well, I also write for younger kids and those books tend to be much more fantastical in nature. This idea was bouncing around in my head, to retell the King Midas story. I toyed with the idea of using a contemporary setting, but I’ve always wanted to write a fairy tale. So I took the leap.

Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing? Are you a planner or pantser?

Suzanne: Before I start a new novel, I always know the beginning of the story and the ending. But the journey between is the adventure. For me, trying to chart the story before it’s written is a waste of time and honestly, kills the joy.

I typically write at my favorite coffeehouse where there’s just enough white noise and great music to keep me going. Plus they provide great coffee and the dark chocolate sticks. I can’t write at home. I get distracted by all the stuff that needs to be done.

Marlene: What can we expect of The Sweetest Spell?

Suzanne: An entertaining, fast-paced, romantic tale. A girl to cheer for, a boy to fall in love with. And all the fairy-tale elements we’ve come to love—a faraway kingdom, a prince, a cruel queen, a hero who must grapple with her destiny.

And some deeper meaning, too. I wanted to explore the theme of greed. What a perfect time to do this, since we are surrounded by a culture of greed. I ask the question, what would you do if you had nothing and suddenly had everything, but at great cost to those you love?

Marlene: Would you like to share your favorite scene from the book with us?

Suzanne: I love the scene where we first meet the arrogant but dashing Griffin Boar. He’s the neighbor boy who’s spent his life ignoring our hero, Emmeline Thistle. He falls off his horse because he’s staring at himself in a mirror while riding.

Marlene: Why did you pick chocolate as the precious delicacy for the book? Why not something else? (Not that chocolate isn’t precious…)

Suzanne: So as I said earlier, I wanted to retell the King Midas story. Midas was the guy who touched everything and it turned to gold. He became very rich but in the end was miserable because he couldn’t touch those he loved without killing them. I started writing but soon discovered that I felt very little passion for the story. Gold wasn’t doing it for me. I was bored.

Then one night, when my daughter and I went on a rampage, searching every inch of our house for a morsel of chocolate and finding NOTHING!, I realized, chocolate is all about desire, longing, passion. So that’s when I decided to give Emmeline the magical gift of making chocolate.

Marlene: What’s your favorite food…?

Suzanne: Well, I eat dark chocolate most every day. It’s a true addiction. And I love blueberries. I pick them in the summer and keep bags of them in the freezer.

Marlene: What was the first moment you know you wanted to write?

Suzanne: I’ve been creating stories my whole life but I didn’t attempt a novel until the morning my daughter got onto the school bus to begin first grade. It was that morning, I was 39 and facing my 40th birthday, feeling my mortality and it struck me like a lightning bolt. I need to do this thing. I need to write and try to get published.

Marlene: What book do you recommend everyone should read and why?

Suzanne: My book? Well, of course I recommend The Sweetest Spell because it will appeal to all ages.

Someone else’s book? There’s this book called A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich. He turns history into story. I recommend it to everyone.

Marlene: What’s next on your schedule? Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?

Suzanne: I’m busy, that’s for sure. In November the 3rd book in the Smells Like Dog trilogy releases. It’s called Smells Like Pirates. Then in 2013, I have two new series releasing, one for Little,Brown, the other for Harper Collins. These are all for younger readers.

Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?

Suzanne: First and foremost, they are fun. Entertainment is my goal. Funny and filled with hope.

Marlene: Speaking of precious substances, coffee or tea?

Suzanne: Oh, coffee. Espresso. One shot with nonfat milk. Daily.


In celebration of the magic of chocolate in The Sweetest Spell, Suzanne is giving a chocolate gift to one lucky commenter (US only). All you have to do is fill in the rafflecopter form and answer Suzanne’s question:

What’s your favorite kind of chocolate? This can be your favorite chocolate dessert, or whether you like dark chocolate or milk chocolate better.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Review: The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors

Format read: print ARC provided by the Author
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Romance, Fairy Tale Romance
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Walker & Company
Date Released: August 21, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher’s daughter, has escaped death twice–first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability–she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.

Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all. But Emmeline only wants one–Owen Oak, a dairyman’s son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself. But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains–no matter what the cost to Emmeline.

Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all.

I dare you not to think about The Princess Bride when you read this. I mean it. Except that the roles are reversed. Griffin Boar is Buttercup and Emmeline is Westley, and theirs is NOT a love for the ages.  The love story comes later.

It’s just that The Sweetest Spell invokes that same “fairy tale told for adults” quality, which is not a bad thing.

On the surface, the story seems simple. Emmeline was born with a “curled” foot. In a village where everyone has to work physically hard to make enough to eat, disabled babies are routinely left out to die. But the cows saved her. And cows keep saving her throughout her life.

Emmeline is destined for greater things, as is obvious to the reader. But only if she survives all the adversities that life keeps throwing at her.

It’s all a part of the greater plan to give chocolate back to the world. Oh yes, the chocolate.

Imagine a world without chocolate. It hurts, doesn’t it?

There’s the simple story, that to bring the gift of chocolate, and is it ever a gift, back to the world, Emmeline has to be put through a lot of adventures to get to the right place at the right time.

But there’s also something very sly about the fact that in order for chocolate to come back, Emmeline has to share her gift. At first, only she can make chocolate. All of her adventures occur because she is the only person in the world who has the magic. But the magic went away because it was withheld. Emmeline figures out that the only way it will stay is if she shares it as widely as possible.

Providentially for her, it’s the only way she can be free from the evil queen who wants to imprison her for life. And the only way Emmeline can free her entire people.

Escape Rating B+: The Sweetest Spell is a contemporary-written fairy-tale. Which means that it has all of our knowledge of fairy tales to draw upon as we read it. So yes, I couldn’t help but think of The Princess Bride, even though it isn’t quite that. It had that flavor, pardon the pun.

But also a touch of Rumpelstiltskin, even though Emmeline was churning cream into chocolate, rather than spinning straw into gold. Along with a tiny bit of Shrek. The capital of the kingdom sounded way too much like the Kingdom of Duloc in the first Shrek movie. Maybe that was just me, or maybe it was the sense of the brittle facade over the corruption that made me think of Lord Farquaad.

One of the things I liked was that Emmeline doesn’t wait for anyone to rescue her. She gets depressed, she cries, she gets morose. In some of the situations she ends up in, those are logical responses. But she keeps on the lookout for the next chance to rescue herself.

With a little bovine assistance.

This was originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.