Today is release day for one of my favorite new YA novels by Liana Gardner: Speak No Evil. (If you missed my review, read it here.) To help celebrate the release of the book, I invited Liana to do a guest interview and tell us more about a story that reminds us all that silence does not equal consent, and that the truth, even (and perhaps especially) when it hurts, must be spoken. Speak No Evil is a powerful reminder to today's young women to speak up, speak out, and never lose their voice.
Dark, delicate, and masterfully written, Speak No Evil will make you cringe and cry in equal measure as it pulls your heart through the muck of humanity’s worst evils in every page before depositing you at the end feeling uplifted, empowered, and—most of all—grateful." - Seven Jane
Most authors would avoid such serious subject matter (such as abuse, abandonment, and sexual assault), but you've brought them front and center. What made you want to convey this story for a younger audience?
This is such a HUGE question. To be honest, my gut reaction is, “How can we not?”
So, I’m going to start by answering with some facts. Every 92 seconds another American experiences sexual assault. Every 9 minutes that person is a child. Over 60,000 cases of sexual child abuse are documented each year—and those are only the cases that have been reported. Of those cases, 67% of the victims are aged 12-18 and 34% under the age of 12. One in nine girls and one in 53 boys have experienced sexual assault. For every 1,000 cases reported, only 5 perpetrators will be incarcerated.
The majority of child sexual assault cases involve someone known to the victim; parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, teachers, etc. Most are authority figures. There are some commonalities to the occurrence:
By not talking about weighty topics such as abuse, abandonment, and sexual assault, we are perpetuating the isolation the perpetrators have created. We need books like Speak No Evil so those who have experienced or are experiencing these things know they are not alone. So they realize it is not their fault. And hopefully it gives them an opportunity to find their voice and speak out.
We need those who have not experienced the issues to know that they exist and can happen. And hopefully, they can be a better friend to those who have experienced, to be patient and listen to what the survivor has to say and to say those words the survivor most needs to hear--I believe you.
Because, bearing in mind the statistics, in a classroom of 30 students three or four have experienced or are experiencing sexual abuse. If we don’t provide a safe ground for talking about these matters, then who will?
There are those who will argue that the topics in this book will strip away some of the kids’ innocence. I’d rather provide a kid with the framework for awareness and a platform for discussing such heavy topics than have them find out their reality first hand. And please, let’s stop denying such things exist, negating the experience of so many, demeaning their self-worth.
Like Melody’s voice that could calm snakes, Gardner’s storytelling displays the same sort of sinister charm as she unravels Melody’s past to tell the story of her present. Speak No Evil is at once hypnotic, vaguely sinister, and decidedly beautiful, with sharp, poignant prose that handles the heaviest of issues with grace and delicacy." - Seven Jane
What gave you the idea to frame the story around a protagonist who won't speak?
Some stories come a little at a time, slowly building up the framework, while others burst into being almost fully formed. Speak No Evil was the latter kind. I didn’t decide to frame a story around a protagonist who doesn’t speak, it hit me like a lightning bolt.
On my way to work one morning, I had the radio on and an emotional song came on, and I had the idle thought, as I had many times before, that sometimes songs conveyed feelings better than we are able to say them. Then BAM! the story hit … I nearly had to pull over and probably would have if I had been able to. In the same moment, I felt very strongly the urge to speak, but knowing if I opened my mouth, nothing would come out. And more than anything, I knew I had to write this story and give Melody a voice.
How does the book's title relate to the deeper message?
The title immediately brings to mind the three wise monkeys and the message they convey of turning away from evil. But the underlying meaning is how society silences survivors. Do not speak of the evil that befell you because you will be blamed for allowing it to happen. We are so good at turning our heads away from evil, at pretending it doesn’t exist, that the automatic response is to wonder what the victim did to bring their fate crashing down around them.
We don’t want to face the truth; we don’t want to believe evil exists because if it does, and the victim did nothing wrong, then it could happen to me. Facing the truth means we all lose a little of our security—our feeling of safety.
What do you hope readers take away from your work?
Understanding. Empathy. Hope.
In many ways it depends on the reader. If the reader has not experienced the types of situations Melody has, then what I’d like them to take away is understanding and empathy for those who have. A recognition that it is not the fault of the victim, but that of the perpetrator.
For those who have experienced the abuse, I’d like them to recognize they are not to blame, it isn’t their fault, and they did nothing wrong. And if they have been rendered silent, my hope is that they can find a safe haven where they can find their voice and with it peace.
What was your biggest challenge when writing this piece?
Framing the story from the point of view of a main character who doesn’t speak. :) It would have been much easier to change point of views and give other characters a chance to share the story. But I wanted the reader to share in Melody’s experience right from the beginning, where the wall of silence is palpable. And if the character was non communicative, then I wanted to show that on the page, so felt that going into her thoughts was taking a liberty I shouldn’t. Of course, as she became comfortable and started opening up, I was able to go deeper into the skin of the character.
The other challenge I had to overcome is my deep and abiding fear of snakes. With her background of having been raised in a snake-handling church, the snakes were there throughout the story. So, I had to do my research and have watched more video than I’d care to say about snake-handling churches. One of the scenes deals with Melody caring for and nursing back to health a sick snake. It created an odd place in my head because I’m one of The only good snake is a dead snake. crowd, and the sympathetic feeling for the book snake was a weird thing.
Connect with Liana
Author Website: www.LianaGardner.com
Book Site: www.SpeakNoEvilNovel.com
Dark, delicate, and masterfully written, Speak No Evil will make you cringe and cry in equal measure as it pulls your heart through the muck of humanity’s worst evils in every page before depositing you at the end feeling uplifted, empowered, and—most of all—grateful.
Raised in a snake-handling church where indigenous belief systems mix with modern Christianity, Melody Fisher is a half Native American, quarter Scottish, and quarter black orphan. Before her parents’ deaths—one by accident and the other, arguably, by grief—her daddy caught and handled rattlers and other venomous serpents for the church where Melody sang with her parents. Melody’s voice is God’s gift and music is in her soul; she can even charm the snakes her father catches through her songs—a curious and seemingly divine feat considering snakes have no ears (at least not in the traditional sense). But Melody's voice is also her greatest burden, because when she asks her mama about the strange man she saw walking with her along the river, her mama is almost immediately struck down by one of her father's rattlers. From there, tragedy follows in the wake of Melody’s voice until, eventually, she stops speaking altogether.
After years in the system and a series of foster homes that have gone from bad to worse, Melody Fisher has lost her voice. At sixteen, she’s survived more trauma and tragedy that many people experience in a lifetime, and now she’s on trial for stabbing a classmate. But, even faced with losing her freedom, she cannot find the strength to speak after being silent for nearly two years. She can’t speak, because every time she has told the truth something terrible has happened. Now, Melody won't even use her voice to clear her name—or tell the truth about why she stuck a pair of scissors in Troy Alexander. Even so, music still lives in Melody’s soul, and with the help of her court-ordered therapist, she learns to communicate through a massive song library on a portable music player. Through the restorative power of song, Melody eventually finds her voice and speaks the truth that has weighed heavy in her heart.
Like Melody’s voice that could calm snakes, Gardner’s storytelling displays the same sort of sinister charm as she unravels Melody’s past to tell the story of her present. Speak No Evil is at once hypnotic, vaguely sinister, and decidedly beautiful, with sharp, poignant prose that handles the heaviest of issues with grace and delicacy.
The terrible tragedies and stifling trauma that Melody has experienced are enough to make the reader want to reach through the pages and gather the poor girl up in our collective arms. And, while younger readers should certainly be forewarned of weighty topics like grief, abuse, and rape that rear their rattles in this story, all are tactfully and mindfully done, proving Gardner’s ability to convey emotion and complexity without catering to shock and surprise. Likewise, Gardner’s technical execution is flawless as she alternates between multiple timelines to piece together Melody’s story, giving just enough information to keep the story moving without bogging itself down in exposition.
In fact, you might say that, like the music that lives in Melody, Speak No Evil is itself something of a song bound within the pages of a story. With powerful lyrics, perfectly paced prose, and artful cadence, Gardner gives voice to a character that has become disconnected from her own, while reminding us all that silence does not equal consent, and that the truth, even (and perhaps especially) when it hurts, must be spoken.
TRUTH IS THE HARBINGER OF HELL
What if every time you told the truth, evil followed?
My name is Melody Fisher. My daddy was a snake handler in Appalachia until Mama died. Though years have passed, I can still hear the rattle before the strike that took her from me.
And it’s all my fault.
Since then, I’ve been passed around from foster home to foster home. I didn’t think anything could be as bad as losing Mama.
I was wrong.
But I will not speak of things people have done to me. Every time I do, worse evil follows. Now, the only thing I trust is what saved me years ago. Back when I would sing the snakes calm ...
Inspired in part by true events, Death by the River by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor [Vesuvian Books, October 2018] is the kind of skin-crawling, queasy-feeling-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach story that needs to be told and demands to be read.
Twin sisters Leslie and Dawn might share the same dirty blonde hair and blue eyes, but that’s where their similarities end. Leslie is sharp-tongued and quick-witted, dating a sweet boy named Derek from the other side of the tracks that her mother doesn’t approve of. Meanwhile, Dawn is living every small town, Southern girl’s dream: she’s head of the cheer squad and the girlfriend of the high school’s star quarterback—who also happens to be rich, handsome, and with a pedigree that has the whole town eating out of its palm. Unfortunately, all of Dawn’s dreams are about to come crashing down, because Beau Deveraux is not the catch of the generation. He’s a misogynistic, sadistic psychopath with some serious anger issues and a deep hatred of women—but that’s just the sort of thing his father has spent a lot of good money on keeping quiet.
Beau might be Dawn’s boyfriend, but it’s Leslie that is the object of his infatuation. When his plan to woo Leslie by keeping her sister close doesn’t go according to plan, Beau’s frustration finds temporarily—and increasingly violent—reprieve in punishing other women as stand-ins for the one girl “crazy enough” to not be interested (eye roll). Beau’s progression from manipulator, to rapist, to murderer is a journey through psychosis that begins with terrorizing his own mother and ends with more than one dead body floating in the Bogue Falaya River near the ruins of the abandoned St. Francis Seminary where high school students like to party on the weekends and where wild dogs—and a spectral lady in white—are said to only appear when death is near.
This story is, admittedly, not for the faint of heart. It's violent and comes with a trigger warning on sexual assault with scenes in the book that range from subtle verbal abuse to full-on rape. Nevertheless, Weis and Astor capture Deveraux’s deplorable misogyny and psychotic tendencies with a delicate grace that makes the story captivating while still coating you in that icky feeling that doesn’t wash off in the shower. The guy doesn’t have a single redeemable bone in his body, but that doesn’t make him an unrealistic antagonist. In fact, it might be just what makes him feel so damn familiar. Every woman has known a man like Beau Devereaux, and if you haven’t…well, it’s probably because you didn’t know you did. This reviewer certainly has, and everything from Beau’s subtle exploitations to his overt sexism ring painfully true.
Readers may not appreciate Beau’s increasingly erratic descent into madness or the fickleness of teenage fidelity—and there’s nothing about this story that makes it a heartwarming read—but that doesn’t stop Death by the River from being a book that every teenage girl should read. As Weis states in her endnote: Beau’s victims keep quiet for the same reason many young women do today—fear of reprisals, humiliation, peer pressure, and lack of trust in a system that largely ignores or blames them. While this truth doesn’t make Death By the River a pleasant read, it does make it an important one--the type of cautionary tale that keeps you alive by reminding you that sometimes the biggest horrors aren’t the monsters hiding under the bed or the ones that exist somewhere else in the world, but the ones hiding in plain sight. And the best way to beat them? Bring them out in the light and expose them.
Note: Death by the River contains extreme sexual violence and may be triggering. Read with caution.
Some truths are better kept secret.
Some secrets are better off dead.
Along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, sits the abandoned St. Francis Seminary. Beneath a canopy of oaks, blocked from prying eyes, the teens of St. Benedict High gather here on Fridays. The rest of the week belongs to school and family—but weekends belong to the river.
And the river belongs to Beau Devereaux.
The only child of a powerful family, Beau can do no wrong. Handsome. Charming. Intelligent. The star quarterback of the football team. The “prince” of St. Benedict is the ultimate catch.
He is also a psychopath.
A dirty family secret buried for years, Beau’s evil grows unchecked. In the shadows of the ruined St. Francis Abbey, he commits unspeakable acts on his victims and ensures their silence with threats and intimidation. Senior year, Beau sets his sights on his girlfriend’s headstrong twin sister, Leslie, who hates him. Everything he wants but cannot have, she will be his ultimate prize.
As the victim toll mounts, it becomes crystal clear that someone has to stop Beau Devereaux.
And that someone will pay with their life.
For Sam Geisler, the titular character in Cassondra Windwalker’s new murder-mystery series, Sam Geisler: Murder Whisperer, the path to redemption is one forged through darkness. Preacher Sam, the first installment of Windwalker’s latest experiment in the beautiful, sometimes redeemable depravity of the human experience arrives from Black Spot Books in September 2019, and at one-part cozy murder mystery and one-part psychological thriller, well, the Preacher is ready to hear your confessions.
Sam Geisler used to be an upstanding member of his community—the town pastor, doting husband, supportive brother and uncle, and in possession of an ear you can’t help but whisper secrets into. But despite his good deeds, Sam was crippled by a seedy addiction that ultimately cost him the things he loved most, namely all the previous. Now, he’s starting over—jobless, on the verge of divorce from his estranged wife, and living an intentionally technology-free life as penance while he eeks out the days working in his sister Dan’s café/bookshop, being a stand-in for a father for his young nephew, and toiling away his--er—tensions in late-night gym sessions. But, out of all the punishments Sam is experiencing, perhaps the worst is that which he has imposed upon himself: a hefty dosing of guilt, both about what he cannot change and that which he failed to.
While Sam’s quest for redemption effectively and voluntarily ostracizes from his community, it nonetheless also pivots him into a critical—and somewhat blissfully removed from his previous obligations with the church—role when one of his former parishioners is suddenly arrested for the murder of another. Amanda has seemingly murdered her best friend, and she’s not interested in speaking to anyone about her role in Amy's death—not even her husband, her defense, her children, or even her new pastor. She is, however, willing to speak with Sam, though she even withholds the whole story from him, seeking not absolution but instead forgiveness for a crime it is obvious to everyone she didn’t commit. The only other person she's talked to from behind prison bars is, ironically, Clay, Amy's widowed husband, something that only fuels speculation about what really happened that night in the small fabric store that the two women had owned together. Amanda’s involvement in Amy’s murder is not the most scandalous part of the crime, though, it’s in the greater evil that she was trying to prevent—a ferreting out of darkness that, hopefully, will perhaps help Sam to find his own way to salvation, both in his eyes and everyone else’s.
If you’re ready for more Sam (and Dani, too) there’s a Geisler story called “Feeding the Dog” published in the Roanoke Review as well as another mention for Sam in Cassondra Windwalker’s contribution to the upcoming winter-themed Black Spot Books Anthology, A Midnight Clear (available November 5, 2019).
No one is more qualified to understand the blackest hearts than a disgraced, porn-addicted former preacher who is still in love with his estranged wife. Floundering for direction and beset by the needs of his well-meaning but aggravating atheist sister and her seven-year-old son, Sam Geisler is trying to put his past behind him when the murder of one of his former parishioners by another drags him back into the world he left behind.
Sam may not be Broadripple’s favorite son, but his peculiar gift for listening has earned him the moniker murderer-whisperer, and the police need his help on what should be an open-and-shut case. Fighting for his marriage, fighting with his sister, and fighting against his own demons, Sam may be the only one who hears what the real murderer is all but shouting—but will it be enough to drive back his own darkness?
When the end of the world is here, turn to a crow.
The Hollow Kingdom tells the story of a zombie apocalypse (think The Walking Dead, or, perhaps more aptly, 28 Days Later) from the perspective of those left behind—this time not of human survivors, but of animals—wild and domesticated alike—who once again have the chance to thrive…if they can survive the wake of what humanity has left behind. Narrated primary by S.T., a domesticated crow who’s simultaneously naïve about humans and in possession of a brutal sense of humor about them, in Kira Jane Buxton’s debut novel it is animals who are left to remind us about the beauty of a world without the (often disastrous) impact of mankind.
Set in Seattle, S.T. and his canine companion—a dosey bloodhound by the name of Dennis—must venture out into the wild unknown when their owner, Big Jim, succumbs to the technology-induced plague that has wiped out humans. Along the way, S.T. must accept and come to know the part of himself that he has long ignored—the fact that he is a wild-thing himself—and shake free the “clipped wings” of his life as a pet to find his place in a very different new world. Along the way, S.T., Dennis, and a series of pawed, clawed, and tentacled companions come to rediscover a much-changed Seattle, one where the natural order of things has broken free of humanity’s shackles: zoo animals bring the wild to pets who’ve escaped alive; the trees speak with renewed voices (“Life is not the same once you’ve learned just how deeply a tree can feel.”); and we witness firsthand both the glorious and the gory of what happens when Mother Nature is free to flourish without interference. “When the spirit of a species leaves us, it doesn’t go easily.” (The story is also speckled with Seattle landmarks, pop culture references, and some really interesting animal biases. Sorry, penguins.)
Buxton's story about the collapse of mankind—a consequence of our ongoing and generally unhealthy love affair with technology—though based around the extinction of man is not your average zombie story. It's less a story about the end of the world as we know it, as it is a call to liberate ourselves from our own domestication, much like that which S.T. and his companions face. It’s a critical look at the impact the human ego has had on the environment and the cost we’ll leave to future inhabitants, human or otherwise, to pay. And, it’s told from the perspective of a life force we’ve caged as wholly as we’ve caged ourselves, making it a poignant portrayal of the beauty we fail to see around us on an everyday basis as well as a stark glimpse of the future we are already carving out for ourselves.
For all its sharp edges and gritty no-punches-pulled humor, Hollow Kingdom is a remarkably tender story that manages to make you feel just a tiny jealous of the resilient cast of characters that have survived humanities apocalypse. It’s a magnum opus on environmental degradation, an expose on the impact of technological dependency, and—above all else—a testament to the bizarre and indelicate beauty of rewilding. (And, I would be remiss without adding, it is the single most beautiful ode to the infallible and unconditional companionship of dog I might have ever read.)
S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle's wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.
Then Big Jim's eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn't quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies--from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim's loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis--fail to cure Big Jim's debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity's extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.
Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.
Simultaneously refreshing and deeply unsettling, The Night Weaver weaves together small-town horror with an intricate otherworldly fairytale to deliver a blend of horror and fantasy that captures the essence of young adult terror seasoned with the stuff of grown-up nightmares.
Children in Shadow Grove are going missing—spirited away into the forest by an unknown presence as if lured into the darkness by the Pied Piper himself. But that’s not the worst part. Nobody is looking for them—in fact, nobody seems to even acknowledge they’re missing at all. There’s no missing posters, no search parties, no frantic parents. This isn’t the first time something tragic has happened in Shadow Grove, either. The town's history is peppered with the strange and the horrific, from poisoned school lunches to devastating factory fires—all events that have been glossed over in the town’s history with startlingly bland recall. The only people who seem concerned about the newest calamity are the kids that have not yet been taken.
Rachel Cleary’s family, along with her neighbors the Crenchaws, harbor a clandestine, multigenerational obligation: to guard the perimeter of the forest at the edge of Shadow Grove, maintaining an uneasy peace with the magical beings who live in the forest. It’s not so much a matter about keeping things out of the forest but keeping other naughty nighttime beasties in. And for years, it’s worked—a delicate, if tenuous, balance has been more-or-less kept, even if the occasional shadow does slip through the bounds. But now it seems like something nastier than usual has made its--her-- way through the cracks: “There’s something wrong with the forest. It’s waking up.”
In addition to the recent slew of missing children, the adults of Shadow Grove are acting….very Stepford…but Rachel suspects there’s a deeper link to the strange events in Shadow Grove—and this new darkness is not only far from over, but it may be deep enough to swallow the town whole. With the help of her eccentric, elderly neighbor, a Scottish hottie, a childhood friend turned handsome socialite, and a super hot fae prince, Rachel discovers that the dark presence lurking around the edges of the forest of Shadow Grove belongs to the Night Weaver. Modeled off the Black Annis, a blue-faced, iron-clawed, child-gobbling bogeyman in English folklore, the Night Weaver doesn’t only prey upon the flesh of children, but on grief, fear, and pain—making her both the monster under the bed in a scared child’s bedroom and a fitting personification of the dark shadow that lives in the back of the mind of anyone who has experienced tragedy. If Rachel wants to save the missing children and the adults of her Shadow Grove, she’ll have accept that the small town she’s grown up in is anything other than normal, and that sometimes nothing is as it seems—and that the only way to find your way out of the darkness is to move toward the light.
Though at times the story moves perhaps a little too quickly and is not entirely free of YA tropes, The Night Weaver is nonetheless a well-laid dark fantasy and a clear entrance into a new series that will invite in a new generation of horror readers.
SHADOW GROVE IS A PERFECTLY PLEASANT TOWN...
Shadow Grove isn't a typical town. Bad things happen here. Children disappear, one after the other, and nobody is doing anything about it. Parents don't grieve, missing posters don't line the streets, and the sheriff seems unconcerned.
Seventeen-year-old Rachel Cleary lives on the outskirts of Shadow Grove, next to the creepy forest everyone pretends doesn't exist. Usually the forest is filled with an eerie calm, an unmistakable graveyard solemnity. But the trees have started whispering, forgotten creatures are stirring, and the nights feel darker than ever.
Something is stalking the residents of Shadow Grove, changing them into brain-dead caricatures of themselves. It's up to Rachel to stop the devouring of her hometown before all is destroyed and everyone she loves is forever lost.
Hell hath no fury like Amanda Grey.
In the second installment of Shades of Hell by Bronx-native Alcy Leyva, Amanda Grey is back and better than ever. Well, sort of. She’s dead now, having died in the apocalypse that she accidentally started, and trapped in Hell. Much to her simmering, rage-filled disappointment disgust, Grey discovers that none of the promises made to her by the angel-ish beings Ada and Bill were honored, no one knows what happened to Donaldson, and Petty has been kidnapped by the devil (?). And, all of this Pales in Comparison to the fact that she just woke up to find none other than Gaffrey Palls—yeah, the guy who tried to kill her and roped her into this whole waking nightmare to begin with—waiting for her on the Other Side.
Oh, and she’s wearing a dress. Being dead really sucks for Amanda Grey.
Luckily, Grey isn’t the sort to let this kind of thing get her down, and waking up in Hell isn’t going to stop her from finishing what she started, either. Asserting her characteristic snark and unyielding pessimism, in And Then There Were Dragons Grey will traverse the Nine Circles of Hell to rescue her sister. Along the way, she'll be joined by unsettling newcomers and many of the characters we love…or hate…or love to hate (whatever): Cain, the sexy, sadistic former-Angel of Death; Palls; even D, the ex-roommate literal-demon boyfriend you never knew you wanted so badly. Grey will take a horrifying trip down Memory Lane, be forced to eat at the underworld version of Olive Garden, read--er—see “tweets” in the most obnoxious way possible, and be stretched far, far outside of her comfort zone, not that she ever had a particularly large one to begin with.
It’s not all fire and brimstone, though, in And Then There Were Dragons. Leyva’s twisted fairytale—and that’s exactly what it is: the most horrible version of Alice in Wonderland you’ve ever read (sorry, Mr. Carroll) with a healthy dose of Dante for good measure—digs back to its roots, providing snapping social commentary on everything from consumerism, social media addiction, and—of course--fake news. After all, a good fairytale is one that doesn’t shy too far away from being a cautionary tale, and Alcy’s version Hell (demons and devils and all other weirdness aside) doesn’t look too much different from the world we are living in today. It’s more Idiocracy meets Zombieland than Orwell’s 1984 and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s accurate and frightening AF just the same. Still, its no match for Amanda Grey—a ballsy, socially-anxious chick from Queens who would love nothing more than to be left the hell alone.
The penultimate entry in the series, Dragons is markedly shorter than its predecessor, which is probably a good thing for those readers who might need to take this mixture of gore-and-hilarity in small doses. But, if you thought Leyva outdid himself in bizarro horror and nightmarish versions of reality in And Then There Were Crows, then buckle up, Dollface, because it’s only going to get weirder here on out. After all, the only thing worse than Hell for Grey is what comes next: Heaven.
For Amanda Grey, stopping the all-encompassing Apocalypse fated to plunge our entire existence into never-ending darkness ... just kind of sucked. Sure, she had managed to capture every demon set loose on New York City. And yes, she ended up thwarting an evil angel's plans to destroy humanity. But she also lost her sister, her apartment, and—oh yeah—Amanda Grey totally died and got her soul banished to hell as a result.Luckily, she's not the type to take that kind of thing lying down.AND THEN THERE WERE DRAGONS thrusts Amanda Grey into a whole new world of weird as she ventures out into the fiery wastelands, decrepit cities, and Olive Gardens of the afterlife in search of her sister and her own redemption. As the penultimate entry in the Shades of Hell Series, Amanda will be coming face-to-face with the truth behind the demon Shades, as well as a destiny she sure as hell didn't ask for.
In the new Audible audio academy production Heads Will Roll, Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live, Ghostbusters) lends her voice as Queen Mortuana, a “psychopathic tyrant with a kingdom on her shoulders” who, along with her delightfully ditzy minion—a former princess named JoJo (voiced by Emily Lynne) who was cursed to become a raven on her sixteenth birthday—must try to preserve her kingdom, and her rule, from the threat of a peasant uprising.
It starts in much the way that many fairytales do: with the issuance of a deliciously mundane and vague prophecy that promises Mortuana’s eventual overthrow. Peasants are planning a revolt, and the evil queen must find the mystical “Shard of Acquiescence” that will subvert their plans so she can get back to things like enjoying her —er— boyfriends and lopping off anyone’s head who offends her (“No, and fuck you for asking. Off with your head….and put her heart in a box as well”). Of course, its not a fairytale without a quest. Mortuana and JoJo must not only find the shard, but must do so navigating bad romances, weird fetishes, sexual tension with unlikely gods, strange creatures, calls from mothers, and even managing fake news and a political uprising led by Bernabus Fanders (ahem), a “120-year-old tub of whitefish salad.” Fanders has, unlikely as it seems, risen up to lead a rebellion against Queen Mortuana on a platform of equality and basic human rights (“Like he’s ever seen the business end of a bathtub—strop trying to convince us that you’ve bathed”)—an outrageous and yet shockingly accurate look through the magic looking glass at today’s often-zany political climate. Naturally, Bernabus (and any resemblance of reason) is quickly dispatched as the ongoing rebellion descends into the kind of shenanigans and celebrity endorsements we’ve come to expect in media coverage today.
A fairytale for adults that is ripe with both quintessential storybook elements but with enough tongue-in-cheek social critique and witty punning (There are medieval infomercials! Bards! Probably virgins! Support groups for the recently cursed!) to make it distinctly modern, Heads Will Roll is an auditory masterpiece fit for (an evil) queen. But be warned: this isn’t a fairytale you want your kids to hear. Featuring a sketch comedy-vibe and an ensemble cast that includes the voice talents of Meryl Streep, Tim Gunn, Peter Dinklage, and Carol Kane, Heads Will Roll is an adult comedy. Not only is the subject matter itself mature, but the humor is also rather crude, running the gamut from what might be chuckle-worthy after a glass of wine to what will have you struggling to draw breath between guffaws around the bottom of the rum barrel. Still, above all else, this is a tale about sisterhood, about power and powerlessness, and about friendship—and, of course, with something of a happy ending.
Heads Will Roll is an Audible Original from Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon and her cocreator/costar (and real-life sister) Emily Lynne. Produced by Broadway Video, this is not an audiobook - it's a 10-episode, star-studded audio comedy that features performances from Meryl Streep, Tim Gunn, Peter Dinklage, Queer Eye's Fab Five, and so many more.
Queen Mortuana of the Night Realm (McKinnon) and her ditsy raven minion JoJo (Lynne) receive a prophecy about a peasant uprising. Together, they must journey to find the "Shard of Acquiescence", which will put down the rebellion and save the throne. Will their friendship survive sensitive generals, chatty sex slaves, whiny behemoths, princes with bird fetishes, and the notion of democracy?
This raunchy satire also includes the wicked talents of Andrea Martin, Carol Kane, Audra McDonald, Aidy Bryant, Alex Moffat, Heidi Gardner, Chris Redd, Steve Higgins, Bob the Drag Queen, Esther Perel, and more. So, hold on to your head, and let the bad times roll.
Please note: This content is not for kids. It is for mature audiences only. This audio comedy features sexual content, adult language and themes, and violence against peasants and hobgoblins alike. Discretion is advised.
Oh,A post-apocalyptic fairy tale featuring a biracial, bisexual, axe-toting kickass handicapped woman who’s not about to be a victim to any big bad wolf? Sign. Me. Up.
It all began with the Cough, an infectious, air-borne disease that could kill even the healthiest person in twenty-four hours flat. Like any good world-ending virus, the Cough spread quickly, decimating the modern world and quickly pivoting humanity’s few survivors—mostly those immune or who’d somehow managed to hide, literally, from the virus—into a new world where resources are scarce and survival is contingent on one’s ability to find enough food and shelter to stay alive, all the while avoiding both infection and the worst of all monsters: other humans. It’s a post-apocalyptic fairy tale set in the new future, though for Red the dangers lurking around the corner are ones that have plagued mankind for centuries: intolerance, fear, hubris, power-seeking, and various other destructively antisocial behaviors. (There’s a monster, too, but its existence somewhat pales in comparison.)
Cordelia—or as she prefers to be called, Red—is a biracial, bisexual survivalist with a penchant for science fiction and horror, and a prosthetic leg. She’s also the sole survivor of her family—her white father, black mother, and older brother all having been…lost…to various consequences of the Cough that hit a little too close to home to be entirely fiction. Come hell, high water, or copious amounts of treacherous hiking, Red is determined to make it to her grandmother’s house—which waits three hundred short miles away—without being gobbled up by any wolves, literal or figurative, along the way. She’s determined and resilient, without being unapproachable or unrelatable. In fact, quite the opposite, Red persists as the embodiment of all the better parts of humanity that have disappeared in the wake of the Curse. She’s fierce, but fair. Strong, but compassionate. And she’s always, always prepared. In fact, if there’s another woman I’d want to be traipsing through the apocalypse with, you bet your picnic basket it’s Henry’s Red Riding Hood.
An author with a special knack for refitting classic fairytales into modern tales, Christina Henry’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in The Girl in Red reads as dreamily as the fairytale it was inspired by, but takes a poignant look at some of today’s most pressing social issues—racism, women’s rights, and even the power of government in a world where the balance between control and protection is as razor thin as the sharp edge of Red’s axe. It’s a fable fit for the current age, when the space between science fiction and reality is often blurry, and the monsters we fear most are the ones waiting within ourselves for a chance to pounce. Oh, and it's badass as hell.
Releases June 18, 2019 from Berkley.
Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for the ARC.
When a Scottish businessman’s corpse is dredged from the bogs of the Thames, so begins the unfurling of the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, replete with all the depictions—both trope and true—of murder, corruption, and sexual fetishes that marked the period.
James Miller is dead, his body dumped in the river in an area of London which plays host to no respectable gentlemen and is the stomping ground of prostitutes, thieves, and other no-good types, all strung along the fishy quayside that is bordered in dark, dank water. When Miller’s untimely death is labeled a suicide, his daughter, Catriona, refuses to believe her father would have taken his own life and sets out instead to discover the truth about the true cause of his demise, as well as what he might have been doing in the London slums. Her investigation treks along two diverging and equally unsavory paths: one in which she discovers her father to be perhaps the most revolting of all the no-goods who she crosses on her journey further and further down the staircase of filth and despair of London’s darkest rabbit holes, and the other, which leads her to an even stranger and most ghostly end. Indeed, the story moves from murder mystery to ghost story when Catriona comes face to face with the Darkwater Bride herself, a woman who committed her soul to the murky water if she could live to exact vengeance on the men who’d put her there—men like Catriona’s father.
The narrative itself is somewhat stale and rambling, with a heroine that is often difficult to root for. Catriona spends a significant portion of her narrative trying to convince everyone—perhaps even herself—of her feminism, while her romantic interest (it’s almost unthinkable to imagine romantic interest in a story that bounces between child mutilation, sexual abuse, rape, and bizarre fetishes, but it’s there—as well it should be, as only when confronted with the worst evils of humanity might we crave the comfort of another), rookie detective Culley, mostly bumbles about, torn between his sense of duty to his commanding officer and the siren lure of the young woman he is driven to help. Unfortunately, even poor Culley’s good intentions don’t do him much good in the end. In fact, none of the characters are terribly likeable with the exception of the Darkwater Bride herself, which is a powerful device on its own: We turn our favor away from the innocent, stick our noses up at the obvious antagonists, and, in the end, pledge our loyalty to a woman with a fatal kiss and a drowning vengeance, because of all the darkness in this book, hers is perhaps the most recognizable—the most relatable to our own.
If you can overlook Catriona’s constant whinging and Culley’s cringe-worthy naivety, as well as moments of deep and utter grossness, there is a strangely astute depiction of the contrary nature of sexual empowerment and entrapment lurking between the lines of The Darkwater Bride. From brothel prostitutes and madams to the women who perform in the clubs, to even Catriona and the Darkwater Bride herself, theirs is the story more compelling than that of a hedonistic, repulsive man who meets his worthy end. Instead of a ghostly murder mystery, The Darkwater Bride might be better suited as a tiptoed traipse down the thin line women walk between being predator and prey when they are left with nothing other than their bodies to defend themselves. It’s not a story of death and decay, but one of survival.
At times distasteful and never for the faint at heart, The Darkwater Bride is a bit wobbly, though punctuated by passages of delicate prose so exceedingly beautiful and haunting that it makes a sharp juxtaposition against the rougher parts of the story. What truly elevates the tale, however, is the quality of the production. Dark, gritty, and atmospheric, this Audible production is filled with deviances the likes of which this reviewer hasn’t seen since Karen Moline’s Belladonna (1998). Regardless, the production is simultaneously so disturbing and oddly intriguing that at the end you’ll definitely need a shower, but you’ll listen eagerly for the full six hours before finding the will to pull yourself (somewhat guilty) away from the speaker. It’s horrifying and yet bizarrely invigorating—a story that is as powerful as it is visceral, so that in the end, the reader—like Catriona—might stand defiantly against the darkness and wait in the night like a single white flame against the dark, the very essence of The Darkwater Bride.
In this Audible Original, an epic audio drama fresh from the UK, a cast of skilled actors—including Adrian Scarborough (The King's Speech), Freya Mavor (Skins), Claire Corbett (Eastenders), and Jamie Glover (West End's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child)—bring to life a mystical, terrifying world that combines a classic Victorian mystery thriller with a spine-chilling supernatural twist.
In late Victorian London, James Miller, a respected Scottish businessman, is pulled, dead and cold, from the Thames. Heartbroken and perplexed by his sudden death, his daughter, Catriona, is drawn into a mystery that soon reveals a dark underworld of secrets and corruption. She pairs up with local detective Culley for an investigation that stems deep into the grim, ghostly legends of England—particularly, that of The Darkwater Bride...and the power of her fatal kiss.