Mini Reviews: Complicated Relationships

Today’s mini reviews are a very rough grouping under this “complicated relationships” heading. One book follows a friendship falling apart, one is filled with original fairytales with some very suspect (and killer) family members, and one is about a family who’s moved into a haunted house so they, and the ghost, have to figure out their new arrangement. It mostly works!

I felt mixed on these books but there is a lot to love in each and I think it really came down to my expectations before reading them. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what your thoughts were!

Book cover for Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne. Illustration of a Black teenage girl, her head poking up from a swimming pool. Her hair is up in a bun and the sky above her is orange with some clouds.

Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne
YA Poetry
Own Voices: Black MC

Thanks to Penguin Canada for an e-ARC of this one! This is a beautiful book and I’m going to share others’ reviews of this one below to give a different perspective than mine. I think it has a lot of great messages but I came into this one expecting such a different story that it really affected my reading. This is about a friendship falling apart but whereas I was expecting a general falling out and being able to relate as someone who’s grown out of friendships over the years, this is instead about an incredibly toxic friendship where the MC’s “friend” spreads rumours, critiques her, and laughs when others insult her.

It’s a short read and fairly quick because it’s written in verse. And while it wasn’t the story of friendship I expected, I loved the ultimate message of empowerment and finding yourself, the unapologetic attitude of the MC in carving out space for herself to exist in — space that she has had to fight for as a Black person and a girl. That last poem really hit me and I’m excited to read more of this author’s writing.

Here are reviews from folks who loved the book: Jess @ Jess Read It ; Cece @ Sheaf and Ink ; Sam @ Sam Reads It All ; Enobong @ Eno Books ; and Jessica @ Poetics

Book cover for Tales from the Hinterland by Melissa Albert. Green cover with yellow vines surrounding the title and small illustrations of a wind-up rabbit, bitten apple, half moon, and moth.

Tales from the Hinterland by Melissa Albert
YA Fairy Tales | Short Stories

I learned very quickly that this is not a great one to read before bed! So creepy! This collection serves as some context for Albert’s The Hazel Wood series but as someone who hasn’t read the series, there were no difficulties in reading it as a standalone (and this comes from someone who has no idea what the series is about). Some stories have overlapping characters or hints from previous stories, but for the most part they’re each standalone and only connected by their setting, the Hinterland.

If you’ve read any traditional fairytales, Albert follows the same, very creepy style here — many warnings and lessons, few happy endings. And while some stories feel reminiscent of old tales, the author still finds lots of ways to creatively spin familiar stories and imagine up entirely unique worlds to give us more fodder for nightmares. Many stories of families here but hopefully nothing resembling your own relationships with family members.

I did enjoy the collection but something was just a little off for me, perhaps too creepy for my liking. But I did love how Albert reimagined old tales with an outspoken feminist spin, giving voice to women in these tales who are often paired with harsh men or given away by their families. It’s a bit of a revenge tale in some ways for them, especially her story, “The Skinned Maiden” which is likely drawn from the Swan Maiden.

My least favourites, “Alice-Three-Times” and “Death and the Woodwife” felt like there was too little going on and far too much, respectively. One wasn’t informational enough for my liking and the other was information overload, feeling like it could’ve been several stories in one. But I did have favourites as well: “Hansa the Traveler”, the first story that gave me a sense happy endings were few and far between in this collection, “Isla Waits”, a back-and-forth contest between a stubborn girl and Death, “The Mother and the Dagger”, the most immersive of the stories with a 2nd-person perspective, and “Twice-Killed Katherine”, following a magician, his daughter, and a spell that backfires. Thanks to Raincoast Books for an e-ARC!

Book cover for The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde. A grey wallpaper with figures covers the background, and an illustration of a ghost and a young woman dancing are in the foreground.

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
Paranormal | Humour
Content warnings: past mentions of death and suicide, blood

Probably the book that least fits under today’s heading, but a ghost in the family is complicated, right? I’d been meaning to read this one for a while and it was picked as last month’s choice for my book club so finally got it off my TBR!

It is quite funny as an American family, living in England, move into a haunted house but the ghost finds it increasingly hard to haunt them. It plays on some British and American stereotypes in the characters’ attitudes, as the Americans at first don’t believe that the ghost exists but then try to “fix” it with different products — oil so his chains don’t squeak, a miracle cleaner to get the blood stain out of the carpet. The family also has two young twin boys who terrorize the ghost themselves, setting out pranks that impede his own haunting. And I loved all the ghost’s intricate and involved personas complete with costumes, he’s a true theatre person in his hauntings.

I think ultimately it was another case of not quite the book I expected. Several reviewers have commented on the tone of the book changing significantly and I felt the same with the second half of the book (which moves away from the humorous telling but I won’t give more details to avoid spoilers). I also didn’t much like the ghost — it was funny and sad to see how the twins’ pranks kept him confined in his own home and other circumstances that had happened in his life were quite horrible, but he directly caused so much death in his life and beyond that felt carelessly mentioned and mostly ignored in a story that seems set to honour him.

I am curious about a few things: the description of the ghost felt very unique – he’s described with skin, he can get bruised and wet! He’s the least ‘ghostly’ I’ve read before. And the bigger curiosity: the story is told from a first-person perspective but not from any one of the family members or the ghost. Who is this person who knows so much?

There were elements I loved in each of these but with some mismatched expectations, it just wasn’t quite what I was looking for. All make for some great reads depending on what you’re in the mood for, though, so I’d still recommend them!

What are your favourite books with “complicated relationships”?

ARCs received in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Own voices identification based on information made public by the author.

Cover images from Goodreads.

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