BOOK REVIEW: Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, by Cassandra Peterson

BOOK REVIEW: Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, by Cassandra PetersonTitle: Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark by Cassandra Peterson
Published by Hachette Books
Published: September 21st 2021
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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The woman behind the icon known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the undisputed Queen of Halloween, reveals her full story, filled with intimate bombshells, told by the bombshell herself.

On Good Friday in 1953, at only 18 months old, 25 miles from the nearest hospital in Manhattan, Kansas, Cassandra Peterson reached for a pot on the stove and doused herself in boiling water. Third-degree burns covered 35% of her body, and the prognosis wasn't good. But she survived. Burned and scarred, the impact stayed with her and became an obstacle she was determined to overcome. Feeling like a misfit led to her love of horror. While her sisters played with Barbie dolls, Cassandra built model kits of Frankenstein and Dracula, and idolized Vincent Price.

Due to a complicated relationship with her mother, Cassandra left home at 14, and by age 17 she was performing at the famed Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. Run-ins with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tom Jones helped her grow up fast. Then a chance encounter with her idol Elvis Presley, changed the course of her life forever, and led her to Europe where she worked in film and traveled Italy as lead singer of an Italian pop band. She eventually made her way to Los Angeles, where she joined the famed comedy improv group, The Groundlings, and worked alongside Phil Hartman and Paul "Pee-wee" Reubens, honing her comedic skills.
Nearing age 30, a struggling actress considered past her prime, she auditioned at local LA channel KHJ as hostess for the late night vintage horror movies. Cassandra improvised, made the role her own, and got the job on the spot. Yours Cruelly, Elvira is an unforgettably wild memoir. Cassandra doesn't shy away from revealing exactly who she is and how she overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. Always original and sometimes outrageous, her story is loaded with twists, travails, revelry, and downright shocking experiences. It is the candid, often funny, and sometimes heart-breaking tale of a Midwest farm girl's long strange trip to become the world's sexiest, sassiest Halloween icon.

We all have our own scars. Let them be a blessing and not a curse.

Elvira is a horror/Halloween/spooky season icon, so as soon as I heard about this book, I immediately put it on my wishlist. I only knew of Elvira as the iconic character, and I knew nothing about Cassandra Peterson or about the creation of that character. Peterson’s memoir is conversational in tone, lending to the quality like you were sitting next to her while she told you about herself and her career.

I tend to go into reading Hollywood memoirs expecting a little gossip, a little scandal, and insights about the industry – especially after the Golden Age of Hollywood – and this one particularly delivers. Sometimes celebrity memoirs can feel superficial, but this one has a lot of depth and introspection about the highs and lows with a sense of vulnerability and humor that I appreciated. And it has an undercurrent of empowerment running through it, as surviving in Hollywood as a woman is no easy feat.

As far as celebrity/Hollywood memoirs go, this one felt authentic in the sense that you know Peterson wrote it herself. It is her story, unfiltered, and her voice shines throughout. If you’re interested in the Hollywood/entertainment scene in the 1970s and 1980s, enjoy horror, and enjoy celebrity memoirs, this might be something you’d enjoy!

Content warnings include: drugs, sex, sexual assault, emotional abuse, fatphobia.

Many thanks to Hachette Books for sending a complimentary review copy my way!

BOOK REVIEW: Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses)

BOOK REVIEW: Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses)Title: Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, Sarah Moses
Published by Scribner
Published: August 4th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Horror
Pages: 211
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans —though no one calls them that anymore. His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.

Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.

I finished this book almost two months ago, and I still think about it at least once a week. I read a lot, so it’s rare that a book will stick with me for so long because my brain just jumps to the next thing because yay distractibility, but Tender is the Flesh is going to stick with me for a while.

Essentially, animal flesh becomes inedible, and the government enters the “Transition” in which “special meat” is processed for consumption. “Special meat” is human meat, and Bazterrica holds nothing back in the description of that transition. Marcos, the main character, is a processor at one of these processing plants, and the first third of the novel is him methodically trying to distance himself from what he is participating in.

When he’s given a live female specimen, though… that’s when everything turns upside down. While he begins to treat this female specimen with a sort of kindness and gentleness, the violence of everything else, including of Marcos’ own doing, amplifies, and the novel turns more gruesome and brutal as it devolves into how brutal people (especially men) can be to one another when it comes to power and control.

This was a book I could not put down because I needed to know what happened next, how this would all resolve, and the last page of this novel is one of the most chilling conclusions I have ever read.

BOOK REVIEW: A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow

BOOK REVIEW: A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. HarrowTitle: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
Series: Fractured Fables #1
Published by Tordotcom
Published: October 5th 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 128
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher, Work
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow's A Spindle Splintered brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story.

It's Zinnia Gray's twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it's the last birthday she'll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia's last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered has been touted as fairy tales meets Into the Spider-Verse, and I can’t agree more with the comps. For all its historical and narrative weirdness, Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite fairy tales. I love the Disney animated version, I fell in love with Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End, and I got my hands on as many retellings of Sleeping Beauty in any length and form.

The first of a novella duology, A Spindle Splintered follows Zinnia Gray, a young woman born with a fatal condition due to an industrial accident, who finds comfort in the stories of Sleeping Beauty. She, too, thinks of herself as cursed, and falling asleep, only to wake to true love, is just the sort of comfort she needs at a time where her own world is figuratively and literally breaking down

Charm, Zinnia’s best friend, throws a Sleeping Beauty-themed party on her twenty-first birthday, and Zinnia touches a spindle that sends her to a medieval fairy tale world in which she meets Briar Rose, the traditional titular character in a Sleeping Beauty story with which we’re all familiar. From there, the story takes off on its multiverse bent, exploring and shattering tropes and genre expectations that turns the entire concept of a multiverse fairy tale world into a page-turning read. I loved the nods to the fairy tale retelling writers I grew up with, and all of the nods to fairy tale tropes in general.

If you enjoy fairy tales and their retellings, A Spindle Splintered needs to be on your TBRs.

BOOK REVIEW: Malice, by Heather Walter

BOOK REVIEW: Malice, by Heather WalterTitle: Malice by Heather Walter
Series: Malice Duology #1
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: April 13th 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 470
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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A princess isn’t supposed to fall for an evil sorceress. But in this darkly magical retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” true love is more than a simple fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.

Utter nonsense.

Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.

Nonsense again.

Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.

Sleeping Beauty is probably one of my favorite fairy tales, especially when the tropes are explored and subverted, and the second I heard about Malice I knew I needed to read this. It was everything I hoped for!

Malice deftly weaves the familiar and the new, setting up the familiar Sleeping Beauty tropes while fleshing out the fantasy world in which Alyce and Aurora live because the history, politics, and landscape add so much to the story. Alyce is a Dark Grace, assisting the palace and its courtiers with her skills, when she meets Aurora and her world begins to shift. Alyce’s struggle with her true self and wanting to fit in add so much depth, and I loved that her identity scared even herself. It ties in so much with the feeling of being queer, that society tends to tell us we’re wrong for being who we are or that it’s evil. This is the first half of a duology, so there’s a lot left to be discovered in Alyce’s true self and how much of a villain she becomes later on, but I hope that it’s explored more and that she learns more about her own history.

The romance between Alyce and Aurora is so layered, and I hope there’s a lot more buildup and exploration of their romance in the second book. So much of this first one felt like an introduction to the world and these characters that the last third of the book felt rushed, so I hope the second one develops more specifically with the characters now that we have this world set up for us to explore. Aurora is nothing like what we often expect from Sleeping Beauty retellings – a quiet, almost simple girl who has one set of desires and nothing else – because this Aurora is feisty, willing to fight for what she believes in, and questions everything. She also surprises Alyce by saying that she wants to be just like her, something Alyce never thought she’d hear anyone say. The romance in this feels natural and right, never forced (though sometimes a little insta-love, but it is a fairy tale after all), and it’s all I want out of a sapphic romance – fantasy with both fluff and depth.

Overall, I enjoyed this so much, from the characters to the worldbuilding, and I’m looking forward to the sequel and anything else Walter releases in the future!

BOOK REVIEW: I’m Waiting For You and Other Stories, by Kim Bo-Young

BOOK REVIEW: I’m Waiting For You and Other Stories, by Kim Bo-YoungTitle: I'm Waiting for You and Other Stories by Kim Bo-young, Sophie Bowman, Sung Ryu
Published by Harper Voyager
Published: April 6th 2021
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher, Work
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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“Her fiction is a breath-taking piece of a cinematic art itself. Reminiscent of the world we experienced in Matrix, Inception, and Dark City, still it leads us to this entirely original structure, which is a ground-breaking, mystic literary and cinematic experience. Indeed, powerful and graceful.”—Bong Joon-ho, Oscar-winning director of Parasite

Two worlds, four stories, infinite possibilities 
In this mind-expanding work of speculative fiction, available in English for the first time, one of South Korea’s most treasured writers explores the driving forces of humanity—love, hope, creation, destruction, and the very meaning of existence—in two pairs of thematically interconnected stories.
In “I’m Waiting for You” and “On My Way,” an engaged couple coordinate their separate missions to distant corners of the galaxy to ensure—through relativity—they can arrive back on Earth simultaneously to make it down the aisle. But small incidents wreak havoc on space and time, driving their wedding date further away. As centuries on Earth pass and the land and climate change, one thing is constant: the desire of the lovers to be together. In two separate yet linked stories, Kim Bo-Young cleverly demonstrate the idea love that is timeless and hope springs eternal, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and the deepest despair.

In “The Prophet of Corruption” and “That One Life,” humanity is viewed through the eyes of its creators: godlike beings for which everything on Earth—from the richest woman to a speck of dirt—is an extension of their will. When one of the creations questions the righteousness of this arrangement, it is deemed a perversion—a disease—that must be excised and cured. Yet the Prophet Naban, whose “child” is rebelling, isn’t sure the rebellion is bad. What if that which is considered criminal is instead the natural order—and those who condemn it corrupt? Exploring the dichotomy between the philosophical and the corporeal, Kim ponders the fate of free-will, as she considers the most basic of questions: who am I?

This collection of intertwined short stories is so meticulously well done that I need to read everything else by Bo-Young. It’s not apparent from the get-go that these stories are connected because it starts out small, goes to the outer limits of the universe, and comes back around, but the way in which these are connected are so human at times in a way that only science fiction seems to be able to do.

Kim Bo-Young’s collection is something I’d recommend to you if you read and enjoyed Ted Chiang’s or Ken Liu’s writing as it has the very human, philosophical quality found in their works because no matter how far we as humans remove ourselves from the planet Earth – physically, emotionally, or spatially – there is always something calling us back.

From the letters and communication between two lovers trying to coordinate their paths through space and time to the overwatch of celestial beings on humanity, each of these stories makes you believe in something considered both small and big in the grand scheme of the universe – love, life, and hope. And those three things are often what truly matter in the grand scheme of things. The day-to-day choices that bring us closer together, no matter what the universe has in store for us all.

This comes highly recommended from me, and it’s definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.

Many thanks to Harper Voyager for a review copy! All opinions are my own.