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INTO SHADOW series by Adeyemi, Grossman, Harrow, Vo, Muir, Henry, Nix

Hi readers, here’s another little review round-up for you, this time packaged together because it’s a collection of short stories and a) my thoughts will be brief as befits a review for a novella, and b) you can read these as standalones because nothing actually connects.

Fifteen years ago, Lęina’s mother, Yuliana, went searching for a mythical place called the Garden and never returned. Determined to learn the truth about what happened, Lęina travels to Brazil to search for the hidden realm, with Yuliana’s journal and a local tour guide leading the way. But Lęina soon begins to wonder if she’s looking for answers—or if what she truly wants to find is herself.

Title The Garden
Author : Tomi Champion-Adeyemi
Series : Into Shadows (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 44
Genre : contemporary / fantasy?
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 1.5 star review

This is part verse, part story, about a woman’s journey to follow her mother’s footsteps to a mythical or legendary garden and I sadly didn’t like the poetry elements (which just read like bad poetry as opposed to evoking any kind of feeling or visual) or the story.

I felt nothing for the character or the journey and was glad this was one of the shortest of the set. Also very glad I didn’t actually start with this and know there is good to be found in this collection. Though I wonder if I’ve already experienced the best there is? Guess we’ll see!

Ever since her dad disappeared five years ago, Persephone has quietly walled off the feelings she’d rather not feel. There’s no room for pain or anger when you’re just trying to get through the hell that is high school. But one day, the crush of taunts and disappointments is finally too much—and a power breaks loose inside her that she never knew was there. 

Title Persephone
Author : Lev Grossman
Series : Into Shadows (book two)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 31
Genre : YA sci-fi
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 1.5 star review

I’m not sure this one had enough time to really evoke the sense of crushing disappointments that would cause the main character’s power to break loose. Instead things happen very quickly, via a rather whiny or maybe just poorly written female YA POV, and boom, it’s like the X-Men or something — but for only a hot second because then it ends. Which is definitely not the vibe I was expecting from the title or the cover. But I guess that aesthetic is for the whole and not the part? I just wish it vibed, like, at all.

If you’re wanting an actual Persephone retelling or homage set aside those wants or.. actually just pass this one right on by.

Overall I didn’t struggle with the writing of this one the way I did with the first instalment, which was just trying too hard, but conversely I wish this one had actually tried to do something. Anything.

Always mindful of the debt she owes, the girl finds her worth as a weapon in the hand of the Prince. Her victories make him a king, then an emperor. The bards sing her name and her enemies fear it. But the war never ends and the cost keeps rising—how many times will she repeat her own story?

Title The Six Deaths of the Saint
Author : Alix. E. Harrow
Series : Into Shadows (book three)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 30
Genre : fantasy / historical
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 5 star review

Now this is how you do a story in novella form, wow. I don’t know what I want more, a full length story about this or for it to be encased in amber, untouched and preserved, so it can stay exactly the way it is.

I absolutely loved everything about this. The title, the concept, the evolution of the story, everything. No notes, this is chefs kiss.

I was trying to talk myself out of giving this five stars but listen — life is short and my slump has been long, so let’s just do the damn thing.

Also, I enjoyed this so much I bought it! Just incase it ever disappears off KU or amazon as a whole.

The Fogg River Seminary, a girls’ school in a small Illinois town, is supposed to be just another stop on Maryse and Vasyl’s endless travels. They’ve made lucrative use of Maryse’s “foreign” looks in their melodramatic séance act—and an act is all it is. Then, during their performance, a blizzard sweeps in and cuts them off from town completely. In the freezing halls, there’s a voice speaking the secrets of the dead, and Maryse has no choice but to listen…because this time, the voice is real.

Title What the Dead Know
Author : Nghi Vo
Series : Into Shadows (book four)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 31
Genre : historical / paranormal / horror
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 4 star review

The vibes that were missing from book two were very very present here.

Not only was this a cohesive story, it was very well written, it had excellent atmosphere, and it felt like a perfect slice of life from the time period. I also really enjoyed the characters, both in who they were and the roles they both had to play.

This might actually only be a 3.5 as I do think it would do a bit better as a longer story, particularly with the plot elements near the end as it related to a crime and mystery. But considering the massive disappointments that were the first two instalments, which I’ve just finished as I read some of these out of order, I’m feeling generous. Additionally, the call back to the title was really great.

Also, side note, I really need to read more by this author because this was my first go at her writing and I want more of this.

A fresh-faced newcomer arrives in an isolated, gang-run town and soon finds herself taking a job nobody else wants: bodyguard to a ghoul. Not just your average mindless, half-rotted shuffler, though. Lucille is a dancer who can still put on her own lipstick and whose shows are half burlesque, half gladiator match. But the stranger is no stranger to this particular ghoul. Both women are undercover in their own way. And both have something to lose if their connection comes to light.

Title Undercover
Author : Tamsyn Muir
Series : Into Shadows (book five)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 59
Genre : paranormal / sci-fi
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 3 star review

This is the fifth of the set but it was actually the first one I read because, duh, Muir. I also thought it would be the only one I would actually read but I was inspired to give the rest of these a go because it was a low stakes venture without any real commitment required. Also, I’m in (was in?) a slump. Now, onto the review..

This almost almost works. But it’s maybe trying to do too much for the page length — though it’s longest of the bunch! — and things are (per Muir’s usual way) confusing and complex; and even when it’s all revealed you still don’t maybe quite get it (or maybe that’s just me). I’m definitely an outlier on this though because it seems most people enjoyed it whether they understood it or not and that has definitely been my experience with the author’s other works. But this one was just missing.. something to seal the deal; at least for me.

The end was good though.

When her husband dies unexpectedly, Maggie Royal is struck with sinister visions that foretell danger for her and for her five-year-old daughter. Her mother and grandmother were said to have “the sight,” but it was never like this. With no one alive to turn to, Maggie must move quickly to uncover the meaning of her visions before her candle is snuffed out.

Title The Candles Are Burning
Author : Veronica G. Henry
Series : Into Shadows (book six)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 37
Genre : historical / paranormal
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 2 star review

This one was mostly failed by the ending, I think. An extra ten pages to flesh things out, instead of rushing through the big reveal (which, to be honest, I don’t think things really work in a way that makes a whole lot of sense..), not to mention maybe beefing up the final few pages to flesh out why this was an acceptable bargain, would’ve done this a lot of good.

The setting may have been the most interesting part and the writing wasn’t bad. But some bits felt a little rougher than others and this could’ve maybe been more successful with a little more care (in the sense that it felt a bit like a draft) and explanation.

It’s business as usual on the set of another cheap sword-and-sandal production by Pharos Pictures—until the lead actress suddenly falls into a deep, mysterious sleep. Jordan Harper can talk down high-strung starlets and knock sense into stuntmen, but this…this is the kind of uncanny problem that he’d usually bring to Mrs. Hope. Unfortunately, the preternaturally capable secretary is on a business trip with the studio head. Harper must get to the bottom of the mystery on his own before another cast member succumbs—or worse, they blow the budget. 

Title Out of the Mirror, Darkness
Author : Garth Nix
Series : Into Shadows (book seven)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 38
Genre : historical / paranormal
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I’m so glad we ended on something of a high note because this has been a rollercoaster of a ride!

While I can’t say I found myself invested in the characters, the story itself was really good. I enjoyed both the time period and the setting, the paranormal element (it felt a little Indiana Jones to me but gender bent), and the writing kept me glued to the page.

Infact, this is one of the few stories in this collection that actually, start to finish, felt like a fully fleshed out read without that sense that something was missing or rushed. If not for the fact that none of the characters will have any staying power in my mind, this would’ve received a higher rating. But if Nix ever decided to make this into a series, I would definitely read more from them.

In conclusion, my overall thoughts as to this series — or, more accurately, this collection of stories? As a whole, it’s good they are on KU because I could definitely see some people getting bamboozled into buying up the lot because of all the star power in the line-up, when really the standouts are few; though they do standout. You don’t need to take my word for which those might be but I highly recommend you pick through what interests you and start there.

Is this a series you’re interested in or is this the first you’re hearing of it? Do collections like this, whether longform or short, interest you in general? Let us know!

LIVING BEYOND BORDERS edited by Margarita Longoria – double review!

Twenty stand-alone short stories, essays, poems, and more from celebrated and award-winning authors make up this YA anthology that explores the Mexican American experience. With works by Francisco X. Stork, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, David Bowles, Rubén Degollado, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Diana López, Xavier Garza, Trinidad Gonzales, Alex Temblador, Aida Salazar, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Sylvia Sanchez Garza, Dominic Carrillo, Angela Cervantes, Carolyn Dee Flores, René Saldaña Jr., Laura Perez, Justine Narro, Daniel García Ordáz, and Anna Meriano.

In this mixed-media collection of short stories, personal essays, poetry, and comics, this celebrated group of authors share the borders they have crossed, the struggles they have pushed through, and the two cultures they continue to navigate as Mexican American. Living Beyond Borders is at once an eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and hopeful love letter from the Mexican American community to today’s young readers. 

Title : Living Beyond Borders : Stories About Growing Up Mexican in America
Author : edited by Margarita Longoria
Format : eARC
Page Count : 224
Genre : YA contemporary/mixed media anthology/short stories
Publisher : Philomel Books
Release Date : August 17, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★/ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Hollis’ 4 star review

Who made the rules on what being Mexican was or wasn’t? I’d always been told to check a box — to fit in one category or the other. But it wasn’t ever that easy. And why did it matter?

I wasn’t sure I was going to rate this, as I don’t tend to award stars to non-fiction (not that I read much of it, to be fair, despite my best intentions!), but as I think most of what is comprised of this anthology is fiction (though I could of course be wrong..), I felt it deserved to be rated. Particularly in the hopes that people see the stars and feel inspired to look a little closer at this and maybe, even, hopefully, pick it up.

Mom and Dad used to love taking me to all the Mexican and Chicanx pride events, and I used to like it too until I got older and couldn’t wrap my head around how it’s possible to dance with such fierce colourful joy while shouldering a legacy of so much pain.

Though there are twenty different offerings within this collection this is not a long read and, in the case of some of the specific ones I’ll shoutout below, I wish it had been longer. I can’t possibly know the impact of what this collection will do for readers who see themselves, or their parents, or their loved ones, in these stories but I have a feeling this’ll mean a lot for a lot of people.

I understand that for many Americans — including my own parents — being seen as American is a struggle that can be tiring and long.

As for those standouts? These were mine.

Coco Chamoy y Chango by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo was the first one to make me wish there had been more to it. I wanted to keep reading, I wanted to learn more about these characters, and where they were going. It was such a casual little snapshot in time but it made an impression.

Next was My Name is Dolores by Guadalupe Ruiz-Flores and, to quickly sum up, it broke my heart. The image of that little girl.. well, I won’t spoil. But it was one of those little big moments that leaves quiet devastation in its wake.

An Ode to My Papi by Guadalupe García McCall might have been the shortest of the bunch but.. I don’t want to call it lovely, because it was also so sad, but it was a bittersweet, heartwarming, heartaching little tribute. Though there’s nothing little about the message.

Finally, there was La Princesa Mileidy Dominguez by Rubén Degollado which snuck up on me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t invested in the story as it unfolded but it wasn’t until the final paragraph or two when I realized how much I had softened as the story went on until I found myself brushing away tears. Partially it was the importance of the celebration described, the moment of transition from child to young adult, but it was more how this group of strangers, this community, came together without hesitation. It was incredibly moving.

There was one more quote I really wanted to share so I’ll use it to sign off this review but suffice it to say yes, I had some favourites, but most of the quotes I’ve pulled didn’t even come from those stories I’ve mentioned. There was something different, something important, something moving, in everything offered in this collection. And also something for everyone.

I’m so tired of these trying political times, and I’m tired of trying to care about the newest protests and the hashtags and the kids who die or almost die and get fifteen minutes of fame from the adults who have all the money and the clout and the thoughts and prayers but don’t actually do anything.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

Micky’s 5 star review

Here’s a collection of short stories to push you right into your emotions and some of them are going to be discomforting ones. From the first story of this anthology of stories/poems/letters from people who have straddled the Mexican/American borders, I was absorbed. These stories made me angry and hopeful, sad and in awe.

While I appreciated them all, here’s a flavour of some of the ones that either hit me in the gut, educated me or transported me to someone else’s experience (sometimes all of these things).

Ghetto Is Not An Adjective by Dominic Carrillo took a chance encounter and made an impact through poetry, ignorance felt like it was the theme for this story.

“There Are Mexicans In Texas?” by Trinidad Gonzales really conveyed the importance of family history to how he’s navigated peoples’ ignorance and racism at various junctures. These familial stories seemed to ground the author’s sense of self. I could have read his experiences and anecdotes for much longer. This quote really hit home and has relevance to other countries too:

The struggle to belong is found not only in the politics of the street, but in official institutions that are supposed to be inclusive of all Americans.

Ode to My Papi by Guadalupe García McCall squeezed my heart in a mere moment on the paper. So much was conveyed in a short space.

There were so many others to mention, but I wanted to give a dynamic snapshot of what’s on offer here.

I live overseas but I read and watch these issues, wanting to know more, especially when tensions were heightened under the 45th POTUS’ control. This book afforded me a deeper dive into individual experiences both fictionalised and non-fiction. I recommend this to all and it is definitely suitable from teenage upwards.

The editor/author provided me with a early copy through netgalley but this has not influenced by review.