Month of Westerfeld Week Two: Polymorph

“Polymorph” is a HELL of a drug. You might even say it was a…transformative read…  This book is a thrill ride of erotica, post-apoc, and espionage. The story follows Lee, a person capable of changing her appearance at will based on anything she can imagine. These changes include superficial, musculoskeletal, and physiological. For the most part she uses her gift of anonymity to spice up her dating life, but this tale follows her having to utilize it to stop the only other polymorph she’s ever encountered. A villain who while they are not particularly villainous, is such a massive douche that you just want them to get their comeuppance. This review is laced with spoilers and talking points, so if you are considering tracking down this out of print treasure, please be aware. 

I will preface this particular essay with a warning that this book was written in the mid-nineties. The language used in the book is NOT a representation of the current character of the author Scott Westerfeld, and does not represent his feelings towards any particular marginalized groups or those that fall into them. The language wasn’t really seen as inappropriate at the time, especially by people on the edgier side of thinking. That being said, I will omit the language from my personal sentiments of the book, but will keep it in place if quoting the text. This is also your fair warning that this book contains several fairly detailed sex scenes, and at least one graphic depiction of rape. The rape is plot-relevant, however. There are also elements of gore and body horror in play. 

This book is a really cool specimen because not only is this Westerfeld’s first published work, it also scratched a very latent itch in my soul for the old-fashioned wordy sci-fi that our parents bought us by the milk crate at yard sales twenty years ago. It is equal parts futuristic and tired of the banality of the landscape the characters live in, and it really captures the essence of a feeling of embitterment about your home. I also found the handling of the gender fluidity of the protagonist and antagonist extremely progressive given this novel’s age. The author seamlessly switches between pronouns as Lee shifts into a male form during the second act of the story, and seamlessly back when he returns to Lee. 

The amount of research put into the tech of this story is also fascinating. Lee, tired of merely copying things on the streets has at some point found her way into college in order to steal data disks of anatomy and physiology in order to give herself strange and new mutations, as well as experiment with the absolute limits of human tissues. I’ll admit that this particular attribute of hers gave me extreme echoes of the popular Youtube series “Monster Factory”, which really helped me picture the mutations Lee comes up with. There is also fairly accurate handling of old BBS message boards integrated with the not too distant technologies of VR and AR. It was like a time capsule of things that I was just too young to interact with.

Westerfeld also does a stunning job with giving polymorphism rules. Rules that we are introduced to at the same rate the protagonist is, with Lee’s understanding deepening throughout the narrative and a lovely passive growth. In the beginning of the story, Lee uses her powers while on a one night stand with recurring character Freddie to integrate her nervous tissue with his, and completely erase his carpal tunnel syndrome. For no other reason than to see if she could do it. This whole scene is painted against the backdrop of particularly erotic descriptions of their tryst, yet another staple of those old, yellowed yard sale novels mentioned above. 

Lee lets on very early on that she enjoys picking body shapes and mutations that garner attention but just enough to cause someone to glance twice. She introduces her polymorphy to us by mutating her hands into a pair of gnarled claws which become her calling card of sorts. We are also treated to the gory details (literally) of Lee’s transformation into Milica, in which her entire physiology changes from female to male. The descriptions are equal parts scientific and something straight out of Hannibal. She also changes her skin color as well as giving herself the illusion of facial hair and scarification to match her character. 

Much later in the narrative as Lee is tracking Bonita/o, we learn that Polymorphs are also capable of rearranging their organs and using this talent to defy death. Through journals kept by Bonita/o we find out that as an adolescent he took great joy in rearranging himself and causing himself extreme trauma just to see if he could recover from it and beat death. Following their final scuffle where Lee absorbs part of Bonita/o’s tissue, Lee is also able to do this. 

The depictions of New York are also a staple of Westerfeld’s work. He seems particularly fond of the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, as it is referenced nearly a decade later in “So Yesterday” as well. He does a spectacular job of putting a face to a landscape ravaged by years of crumbling and being band-aided, something not usually done in the genre, and extremely welcome. Being able to pull up the neighborhoods on a map, or even a wiki about the places and events adds a tinge of relatability to the content and keeps you from forming your own mental holodeck. 

This book was actually kind of spectacular. It suffers greatly from pacing issues that were standard in the genre, but makes up for it in vivid detail and easy to imagine storytelling. Characters who were meant to be mysterious unfolded slowly before us, and I never once felt like the narrator was “keeping something” from me. The story had a meandering way of getting there, but it had a clearly defined beginning and ending. And Bonita/o still got what he deserved, because he was a raging douche canoe. 

The Month of Westerfeld | Week One: “So Yesterday”

“So Yesterday” was one of my favorite books of all time when I was in middle and high school. This was my first experience reading Westerfeld, and it was the first book I’d ever read that felt like something I could have written, that felt accessible and written from the same fast-wit and punchy disposition. It was edgy, but the fun edgy, like an adult writing cultural observations gleaned from twitter hashtags. I carried the same copy in my backpack from seventh grade through high school and read it until the cover fell off. The copy I read for this review was actually my original! Fun fact, I found a four leaf clover pressed into Chapter Fourteen. But more on that later. 

The story follows Hunter, a high-school aged guy who is a “cool hunter”; an underplayed way of saying he’s a precursor to an Instagram Influencer. While on a hunt, Hunter meets Jen, and adventure ensues. Hunter, seeking his missing boss Mandy, and Jen seeking adventure in the bleak landscape of early oughts New York. They meet a group of people determined to undermine the trends and bring down the trendsetters that make them big, thereby finding Mandy. Through twists and failures of everyone involved we return to the same park, and the same bleakness. Two people brought together by shoelaces. 

“So Yesterday” is written like a treatment for a movie which lends itself to being read in one sitting, something I’m guilty of even for this past read. The story is fast-paced and the reader is quite often smacked by new doors opening within the plot. The characters are all vaguely relatable, but also a really cool mixture of characters that I loved being able to project on when I was a kid. This book was also ahead of its time in a lot of ways, including very early on bringing up a problem that still persists today. Using Jen as his mouthpiece, he brings up the “Missing Black Woman Formation” (Westerfeld 14). This is described as a phenomenon where in any group of people, there is never a black woman, only black men. It is also eventually shrugged out of the room by other characters after a brief “hoo-ah” of agreement, much like it is in media today. 

Another interesting thing Westerfeld employs is a healthy smattering of well-researched and well-executed mental fuckery. At the magazine launch party Hunter experiences various types of manipulation, between being fed copious amounts of alcohol and the seizure-inducing promotional cameras, all designed to embarrass the trendsetters in attendance at the party. These things contribute to the unraveling of the mystery and cultivate a really neat sense of wonder at how we are subliminally advertised to or directed towards decisions. The characters were relatable in that “cool older kid” way to middle school me, and in that “oh kids these days” way to adult me. In all this is an excellent quick read that has aged really well. One of the greatest injustices is that the tv/film option didn’t pan out before the book became “unreal” to the target demographic. 

The four-leaf clover was a real treat though. It was pressed into Chapter Fourteen, which is sort of significant because the chapter opens with main character Hunter walking into the house in his new, improved, incognito look. His parents understandably overreact because he is seeing a new girl and coming home with new haircuts, but they also accept him and don’t chastise him, and that’s something I always wished for as a kid. It was a real treat, and at some point deserved the honor of pressing a four-leaf clover into.

Thank you so much for reading! I do apologize for the lack of substance in this initial essay, but it was the first selection of four, so I didn’t have much to work with yet. There will definitely be more said about this in the wrap-up following week four! How do you feel about this selection? Have you read it? Let me know in the comments below!

Announcement: The Month of Westerfeld

Good afternoon coven! 

Throughout this October I will be writing an analysis of four selections from Scott Westerfeld’s bibliography based on criteria I’ve set for them! Each of these books was chosen with equal parts nostalgia and yearning to squeeze something new out of them rereading them as an adult. 

Week One:  “So Yesterday” 

“So Yesterday” was one of my favorite books in middle and high school. I would read and reread my copy until the cover fell off, and it’s still full of post-it flags from years past. This book features a fast-paced thriller-y mystery encased in an exploration of trendsetting and trend-freaking. I chose this based on nostalgia, and it was the inspiration for this project.

Week Two: “Polymorph”

This selection was an interesting one. I wanted to give a shot to Westerfeld’s adult works, and I figured his first novel would be a great jumping off point. I am jumping into this one completely blind and hoping for the best.

Week Three: “Uglies”

This trilogy was frequently pitted against the “Hunger Games” trilogy as the quintessential YA Dystopian/Utopian story. I always stood for “Uglies” because it was helmed by a much stronger female character than THG. I am really hoping it holds up, because I remember loving it so much and constantly rereading it. 

Week Four: “Peeps”

I was hoping to round out the month with a book featuring a strong male protagonist, but outside of “there’s a boy in the lead part”, I know nothing about “Peeps”. I’m hoping this ends up being a good read, because it also has a sequel? That I may or may not attempt!

As I read each of these selections I will post an essay about them and the overlaps I find between them, culminating in a big wrap-up post the first week of November! See you Saturday for the first installment! 

Capsule Chix Toy Review

Capsule Chix are adorable figurines are produced by Moose Toys, who brought the American Market many genre-defining blind box toys including Shopkins and Treasure X. These seem to be their attempt at breaking into the 4” figure market and getting a piece of MGA’s LOLSurprise audience. These toys boast “billions” of combinations of torsos, legs, faces, hair, and accessories that you can put together to create dolls to fit any mood. If that mood involves a lot of cotton-candy colors and fashion that ranges from the mid-2000s Fashion Polly line and the more cutified Bratz dolls. 

Each package of Capsule Chix contains 5 capsules which hold enough parts to build one whole doll. These seem to be fairly coordinated into a matched doll right off the bat, but we did open one box that gave us legs that were a completely different color than the head or torso. 

We opened four boxes total, and this review is about the “Ram Rock” collection box specifically. 

Our first capsule was the torso, which sported an awesome armor-looking top and a piece of the supposedly rare fabric accessory, in the form of a pretty cool high-necked cape. The arms were printed with the same circuit pattern as the other dolls, and the hands pop on and off easily to aid in putting on accessories and bags. I’ll admit this part was a little terrifying, because I have a huuuge penchant for accidentally breaking dolls by yanking off hands without checking that they are supposed to come off. 

The second capsule contained the shoes, purse, and accessory. These were made of a soft rubber, reminiscent of the Fashion Polly clothes from the mid-2000s. The shoes have a slit in the back that makes them easy to put onto the dolls, and the bracelet has enough flex to it that you don’t have to remove the hands to put them on. 

Third was the legs, which I’ll admit I just about screeched when I opened. These were FLOCKED bell bottom jeans! They were so soft to touch, and I don’t know about you, but I love flocked things, they’re just so cool to me! I was a bit worried that the shoes wouldn’t fit under the creases of the hard molded plastic bell bottoms, but they slid right on and don’t look like they’re laying weird or anything. The legs also came with a rubber waist sash. 

The head for this doll has a very sassy expression on her face and beautiful green eyes. Her makeup is really subdued compared to the other dolls I’ve opened, but it works really well with the look the randomized parts created. The heads also sport holes on the sides of the heads for headphones and other ear accessories. 

This doll’s hair is BIG and a scrumptious raspberry color. The bangs and rest of the hair are in two separate pieces that snap on and frame the head. Some hair is accessorized with hats or other goodies. 

Having opened four of these dolls, I have to say I am absolutely in love. They are cute and a nice small size that lends itself to easy display. The included base/stand system is also awesome! The pricepoint also makes these a fun toy to collect casually, with each box retailing for $14.99. They are a great pick me up on a bad day. 

Thinking about trying one for yourself? Use our affiliate link here!

House of Salt and Sorrows Review

To quote “The Secret Garden”; “High on the hill sits a big, old house with something wrong inside it”. 

Spoilers abound, you have been warned. 

“House of Salt and Sorrows” is by far the best things I’ve read all year. The story follows Annaleigh who believes her family to be cursed from the day her mother died. Her sisters keep dying, often under mysterious circumstances that are so easily explained away by the town as the “curse” or the aftereffects of mourning. 

Meanwhile, the Thaumas family is upsot by their step-mother’s sudden announcement of a pregnancy. She calls for an end to the constant mourning that has been in place since the death of Ortun Thaumas’ first wife. The remaining daughters plead with their father, and are granted the permission to keep on living, rather than keep themselves shrouded. This culminates in a coming out party for the triplets, who have recently turned sixteen. Lavish dancing shoes and dresses are ordered, the estate is thrown from its shroud into vivid color and decoration. The ball does not go as planned, however, as no suitors wish to touch the “cursed” girls. They are reasonably disappointed in this and wish they could escape the small island chain’s whispers and hopefully find love above this curse nonsense. 

Throughout this time, the youngest  and supposed source of the curse, Verity is subject to terrible visions of how her sisters perished, including those who passed before she was even born. She is haunted by the ghosts of these girls and draws her visions in disturbing clarity in a sketchbook, which she shows to Annaleigh. Shortly after being exposed to this Annaleigh begins seeing the ghosts too, as well as other terrifying apparitions. 

Still longing to find love and leave the Estate, the sisters and their childhood friend Fisher hatch a plan to find a secret door within the shrine to Pontus, the island’s deity. Upon entering this door Fisher finds himself in a faraway land that he’d been thinking of as he stepped through. He comes back with invitations to a ball, an offer too bright for the girls to resist. 

The girls begin using this door to transport themselves to faraway lands and spend the nights dancing at parties so decadent that they believe none could outshine the last. Each morning they awaken exhausted, believing that they’d danced the night away. Their shoes, a whimsical delicate leather slipper made for the coming out party begin to deteriorate. Undeterred by this, they begin to wear out any shoes they can get their feet into, including shoes belonging to their mother. 

Annaleigh begins to feel uncomfortable with this evening practice, and begins abstaining from the dancing, leading to her being visited more than ever by the ghosts and other unpleasant visions. As the winter solstice and the Churning celebrations approach, only Camille, the oldest and heiress, continues attending. 

The Churning dawns and brings with it a slew of men eager to take a blessing for a kind winter. Enter Cassius. Cassius is this tale’s tall, dark, and handsome Prince Charming. Having met Cassius earlier in the story, and encountered him a few times in the interim, Annaleigh is surprised to see him attending. They fall in love over the course of the story, despite her wondering if this mysterious, beautiful man is the source of their family’s grief. 

During the Churning celebrations Cassius finds Annaleigh trapped in the solarium, chased there by her nightmares, and they vow to find out what’s haunting the family before any of the remaining sisters can be harmed. Annaleigh accompanies Camille to another ball, hoping to find the answers to the mystery there. Instead what she finds is that these glamorous parties and elaborate feasts are just farce. The glamor peels away as she stands there horrified, seeing a layered cake turn to a dead sea turtle, the punches turned to chum. 

But when she awakens from this nightmare, a new one begins. There was no door in the shrine, there were no parties, just girls possessed and dancing in their rooms. The mystery unravels and Annaleigh is thrust into a race against time to keep the curse from spreading and taking every last one of the family. Tragedy strikes leaving only Annaleigh and the remaining five sisters to start their lives anew on the island. 


All in all, this book was a fantastic read. Though it was a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, it read like a marriage of the YA of old, like Meg Cabot’s “Mediator” series, with touches of the darkness found in Holly Black’s “Modern Faerie” Trilogy and staple tales like “The Secret Garden”. 

The romance was believable and the love interest helped the protagonist towards her goal instead of impeding it, or stomping on her ideas in favor of his own. Despite his being a demigod, he is still limited in many ways by his mortality and I think it was done well up until the epilogue. But even then, while that is an element of YA fantasy that I am not fond of, others are. It was written for them, and I respect that. 

Each character is lovingly written in a way that allows you to imagine them interacting with each other outside of the narrative just the same. The storylines between them unfold so naturally that you are often just as shocked by plot developments as the characters themselves. The icy cold feeling of betrayal as Annaleigh realizes that Morella was the source of their nightmare from the beginning is just so visceral. The strength and restraint Annaleigh shows in not granting Morella a swift death, it just makes me shake my fist and go YESSS!

The landscapes of this book are all so well thought out, again, you could paint a mental picture of them so clearly that you could taste the salt and feel the sand. It is truly a wonderful book. It well exceeded any of my expectations, and I look forward to reading this author’s future works. 

If you’d like to purchase your own copy of this book, check your local indie, or use my affiliate link here.

To Subscribe to Owlcrate, where I received this lovely book from, click here!

August 2019 OwlCrate Review

For those who do not know, OwlCrate is a monthly curated YA book box. They bring you bookish goodies, one signed and often special edition copy of the book, and a slew of really cool extras like bookmarks and letters from the author. 

This month’s theme was “The Storms and Seas”, and both the book and the goods were well worth the $29.99 subscription fee. 

I went into this box really not knowing what to expect because I have conflicting thoughts about the state of YA at the moment. I figured I’d get stuck with things I didn’t want a la the Lootcrate Fiasco of 2014-2016. From the moment I opened the box, however, I was in LOVE.  Spoilers ahead for the August 2019 OwlCrate! You have been warned!

The box came packed so well that not a single bit of tissue was out of place and each and every thing in the box was gorgeous!

Let’s start with the enamel pin. This month’s enamel pin was sourced from Laserbrain Patch Co, a lovely company with a subscription service of their own, or a slew of purchasable goodies for those who don’t want to commit to surprises. The pin features the crest of the family in the theme’s book “House of Salt and Sorrows” as well as a glow in the dark lighthouse! This pin is absolutely stunning in-person and has a locking back, which is a perk for me because it will be adorning my partner’s nerdpunk vest. 

Next is a tin pencil case based on Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Scorpio Races”, which is just a lovely treat. It snaps really tightly closed and I think it will make an excellent addition to my travel crochet/cross stitch kit. 

The next item is a very cool engraved wooden bookmark that is almost too pretty to keep hidden in a book. I’m currently using it as a shelfminder when I take out books. The design on the bookmark is based on “Daughter of the Pirate King” by Tricia Levenseller

OwlCrate also included a really cool stamped metal lantern which can hold a single tealight. I am a bit of a mess when it comes to using those, so I’ll be opting to put a battery operated tealight in mine. 

This next inclusion was a bath salt mix that was straight out of my wildest dreams. I have always coveted things on The Soap Librarian’s website, and this was a perfect introduction to her product. It is an absolutely divine beachy mix of florals and savory notes that really make you want to soak in it for hours. 

Now you may notice something from the first picture is missing. That would be the absolutely amazing Sea Witch tea from Riddle’s Tea Shoppe. This tea was so fantastic that my partner and I polished it off on the first day. It was such a robust blend of spices and bergamot, which gave it so much body that it was almost like drinking a scone.

The real showstopper in this month’s crate is the book. This book is FANTASTIC. As of writing this I am only about 50% through it, but so far it is absolutely gripping. I was not familiar with the source fairytale, but that has not impeded my enjoyment of this story in the slightest. I will pen a proper review when I have completed it, because I do not believe I am far enough to give a constructive review that isn’t just blubbering about how much I love it. 

The book itself looks absolutely stunning. The exclusive cover is a shade brighter than the retail one, which to me adds a touch of whimsy. 

All in all I find myself completely satisfied with the contents of this month’s OwlCrate. Each item has a place in my home and my life that isn’t shoved aside or hastily gifted to a friend, and each piece adds to the mood and ambiance of the book. The accompanying pieces also gave me a few new recommendations for my TBR. 

If you’d like to get your hands on this month’s crate, head on over to OwlCrate

If you’d like to sign up, do your friendly neighborhood witch a favor and use my referral link here

Betrayal, Broth, and Baked Goods

It’s no secret that I have a bit of a “thing” when it comes to Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Cox. So when I found out they’d be appearing onstage together in a show I was absolutely thrilled. Until I checked and found it would only be showing in The West End. I’d sort of written it off and figured I could live it vicariously through posts on Tumblr and Instagram and that would be that, until a few weeks ago when a Telecharge mailer was nestled in the grocery circulars. Without much thought, I grabbed my laptop and mashed the codes into the site and within moments had fed it enough personal information and promises of currency that I had two tickets coming in the mail. 

This is the part where I tell you that after being shafted by “Burn This” I still have not learned to vet plays before I fling my wallet at them in an effort to be in the same room as an actor I admire. With “Betrayal” I at least gave a cursory glance at the Wikipedia article for it and found it interesting enough plot-wise that I wasn’t worried. You can see where this is going. 

The 14th came and it was rainy and sort of godawful all day. Not really the sort of day you want when your evening festivities include standing in queue outside of a theater for 45+ minutes waiting for doors, but I was already too far (and too monetarily) in to call it quits. The weather broke as we drove into the tunnel, and by the time we parked the only memory of the day’s rain was a soft cool breeze off the Hudson. 

This show was unlike anything I’d ever been to. For starters, it only had a 90 minute runtime with no interval. **Possible show Spoilers ahead!! For no spoilers ctrl+f and skip to the word DOUGHNUT!!**

The show itself felt like a victim of “Awful Taste But Great Execution”. It was a reverse-chronology of a love triangle between a man, his best friend, and his best friend’s wife. The show opens on a really awkward bar conversation that plays out like a Python sketch between Jerry (Cox) and his former affair partner, Emma (Ashton). They quip back and forth for a few minutes as Robert (Hiddleston) stands in the background eclipsed in shadow.  

The show continues to flow in this fashion, where two characters interact while the third is rotated to the back of the stage via a mechanism like a giant lazy susan. As they wind back time you watch the affair and its discovery play out via often completely frigid interactions between the cast, where in the same breath you can feel the absolutely off the charts amazing chemistry between them you can also feel how insincere and stilted the dialogue is. The culmination of this out-of-body weird experience is in the second-to-last scene, where a drunken Jerry privately proclaims his love to Emma during a party. They are interrupted by Robert, who embraces them both and expresses how much he loves his best friend and his wife, and how lucky he is that they all get along so well. The dialogue in this scene is by far the most awkward, with the chemistry between Jerry and Emma completely dissolving as she rebuffs him. The scene does nothing to set up the several-year long affair that it precedes. 

We ended up leaving the show feeling very “what the hell” about the whole thing, especially because throughout most of the audience laughed at things that were…not funny? Or even awkward? It seemed that I was missing some sort of universal “straight older couple” jokes, but I don’t know, the laughter just felt sitcom laugh-tracky. 


Onto better and more delicious things. Since the show let out so much earlier than we’d anticipated we had a bit more of a selection for dinner. Based on some quick searches in the immediate area for ramen, we came across EAK Ramen. Nestled on 46th Street between 9th & 8th Avenues, it is an incredibly cute restaurant. The menu is vast, and contains a myriad of delicious things to try. You definitely can’t eat here just once. The staff were incredibly friendly and attentive, and the overall vibe of the restaurant was very casual. My partner and I opted to order a bit of everything, which amounted to the gorgeous spread pictured above. The prices are really reasonable, with our entire meal coming to $75 after tip, including two beers and two lemonades. 

The gyoza were absolutely divine. The dumpling exterior had that soft delicate chew that only handmade dumplings have, and the pork filling was salty, savory, and packed with ginger. Their takoyaki were also similarly fantastic, with a generous coating of takoyaki sauce and hot mustard. 

For entrees, I got a Chashu Mini Bowl, while my other half had the Tokyo Chicken Ramen. The chashu bowl came with a perfectly cooked marinated egg, two caramelly wonderful slices of chashu, spicy pickled ginger, and spinach over steamed rice. It was absolutely heavenly. 

The ramen really stole the show though. The noodles were springy and velvety, almost eggy, and the broth was a multi-layered experience. A rich, savory chicken broth broken up by sharp freshness of the onion and added broccoli, made whole by a marinated egg that showered each bite in its delicious essence. 

After this lovely meal, we decided to indulge in a final caper that has become a part of trips to NYC; Milkbar. For those who don’t know, Milkbar is the brainchild of Christina Tosi, a baker with a knack for turning all the stuff we weren’t allowed to have as kids into delicious nostalgia bombs. From a photo-perfect birthday cake (which your not-so-humble blogger is currently devouring) to a myriad of cookies that push the boundaries of “can I put that in there?”, her shop is a wonderland of treats and flavor combinations. Where else could you get a cereal milk latte? It’s honestly the bees knees, and worth a trip. If you aren’t ready to eat, the cookies are always a good bet as they come individually wrapped and will easily survive a trip home. If you can’t take home cookies, they also now sell the cookie mixes in tins! 

For those who want to try things on hard-mode or want to make your favorite sweets at home anytime, there’s also the Milkbar cookbook. Aside from being instructions on how to replicate the various amazing treats available in store it also has the “why” of all of the techniques you’ll need to whip up your own Birthday Truffles or Compost Cookies. You can find it on Amazon at the link below! 

**Please note that purchase via affiliate links like the one above help keep us blogging! **