Stack of Catherynne M. Valente Books

Reading Railroad: October’s Reading

I’m late posting this because I’ve had a lot of grading to do! (SO MUCH. HELP ME.) I still have a lot of grading, but that’s probably going to be my entire November and at some point I need to stop and talk about books! Because books are more awesome than grading. Always.

Despite the grading black hole, I read a lot of books in October. 11 total! All fiction. This definitely helps me catch up on my end of the year reading goal of 100 books. I still may make it…

With so many books to review, this is a long post! I’ve tried to make it easier to find books you may want to read by labeling genre and my rating at the beginning of each review.

Novels

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. Published 2015. Adult Fantasy. Rating: 3/5

This novella has been on my kindle for a while, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. Wilson depicts a rich fantasy world with well-drawn characters and lyrical writing. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and would happily return to both the world and to Demane, the ‘sorcerer.’ While the story subtly centers on the romance between Demane and his Captain, it also explores themes of colonization, racism, and cultural dissonance. I could feel Demane’s frustration, anger, and empathy as the men he calls Brothers unknowingly mock his way of life. I loved the animal shape-shifting and the wilds vs. the road. Something about Wilson’s writing reminds me a bit of China Miéville.

If I were rating this just on the second half, it would easily be a 4 star rating. But the first half was slow, and I was sometimes annoyed and confused by how it skipped scenes, only to return to the skipped scene soon after.

Book cover of The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente. Published September 5th, 2017. Middle Grade Fantasy. Rating: 4/5

Much like her The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making series, Glass Town is full of whimsy. And there’s just the right amount of literary nose tapping for those of us who know our British lit, while still being approachable to middle graders not yet familiar with the Brontës, Lord Byron, or Jane Austen (all characters that appear). In Glass Town, the Brontës become sucked into their own recreation of the Napoleonic Wars, but now all their toy soldiers are real. When Anne and Branwell are kidnapped, it’s up to Charlotte and Emily to save them.

Does anyone really need anymore from a review than a synopsis of the book? If a middle grade about the young Brontë siblings transported to their created world of Glass Town doesn’t make you squeal, than this is probably a skip for you.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter. Published November 7th, 2017. Adult Apocalypse. Rating: 2.5/5

This is a unique take on the apocalypse genre. At first, I didn’t know what to do with it. Told in small segments from a single, first person perspective, with bits of poetry or quotes sprinkled regularly in, I wasn’t sure what I was reading. But the longer I read about the life of this first-time mother with her infant son, during some kind of catastrophic flood, the more engaged with the narrative I became.

This is what I came to realize: this isn’t an apocalypse novel; this is a novel (almost novel-in-verse) about motherhood. How obsessive and full of love you become when you give birth, even to the point where you forget your spouse. Or that it’s the end of the world. The apocalypse is a backdrop, easily forgotten.

And I did like that aspect of it. I mean, I’m soon to be a mother, so reading about motherhood always sucks me in! But, at the same time, I needed more depth. It only took an hour to an hour and a half to read. I’d recommend it if this review sounds interesting, but I’d also say it’s not a buy.

Thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Cover of Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia BlockPsyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block. Published in 2006. Young Adult Contemporary Myth Retelling. Rating: 4/5

I wouldn’t initially think a YA poetry novel that places Greek myth in a contemporary Hollywood setting could work, but it does. I especially enjoyed the ending chapters, when daughters become mothers. There’s some really lovely moments in this.

 

 

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang. Published November 14th, 2017. Adult Fabulism. Rating: 2/5

I love the premise of this novel, but the scattered perspectives and lack of character depth made it a 2 stars.

The premise: Weylyn was raised by wolves, can manipulate the weather, and his best friend is a unicorn pig.

That’s pretty much all I needed to hear to request it on Netgalley. I love weird stuff!

The novel is stronger in the beginning, when it focuses on a couple of pov characters. But as the novel continues, more and more characters are added until it seems there are 20 povs in the novel, and none of them feel or act like real people. And the worst is when it finally enters Weylyn’s head at the end. His perspective is shallow, and mere reiterations of what other people have said about him.

Overall, I’m disappointed I didn’t enjoy this more.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book cover for The Rules of Magic by Alice HoffmanThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. Published October 10th, 2017. Adult Contemporary Fantasy.

Confession: I have not read Practical Magic, nor do I remember the movie. However, that did not stop me from enjoying this book. 3 magical siblings learning about their magic together, struggling with a curse that means whoever they fall in love with will meet a dire end, in the 1960s, all make for great reading, particularly for October. Hoffman’s prose is engaging as always, I love the characters (especially Franny), and of course I loved the magic. Will I be reading Practical Magic now? Yes, definitely. I’m on the library’s wait list for it.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan. Published 2016. Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Rating: 3/5

This is a cute, middle grade graphic novel that retells Snow White during the Great Depression. The story isn’t particularly interesting to me, but I did enjoy it. Took me about 20 minutes to ‘read’ (it’s mostly visual).

Book cover for An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat HowardAn Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard. Published September 2017. Rating: 3.5/5

I loved Kat Howard’s first book — Roses and Rot — so when I heard she had a new novel coming out, I knew I was going to read it ASAP. And check out the cover! And the title!

But An Unkindness of Magicians is a different reading experience than Roses and Rot. It’s fast-paced, with an elaborate cast of characters and an elaborate plot that sometimes gets muddied. Taking place in New York City, the Turning has begun, where Houses of Magicians (which the mundanes know nothing about) duel to see who will become head house. Sydney is the main character in a large cast of povs. The potential House Laurent chose her to be his dueling magician. But Sydney’s unknown, traumatic past is about to wreck havoc on the Houses.

Sydney is definitely a character I can get behind, and I loved much of the magic, though sometimes the duels went a tad fast for my liking. If you’re a fan of A Darker Shade of Magic and/or The Magicians, you should check this out. For me, Roses and Rot is the more artistic, meaningful reading experience, but I suspect An Unkindness of Magicians will be more popular. I look forward to her next novel!

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Published 2014. Adult Fiction. Rating: 2/5

I don’t know quite what to think about this. The first half reads like a series of writing exercises based on a similar theme — the birth of the protagonist’s daughter and her marriage. Each paragraph gives short thoughts, sometimes seemingly random thoughts, though there are connections. As the novel progresses, the connections become more apparent, and the novel becomes more engaging to me, particularly when it switches from first person to third person. But, there’s still not a whole lot for me to grab onto. This sparse style probably works better for some people.

Book cover of Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose OlderShadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Published 2015. Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy. Rating: 3.5/5

Shadowshapers can merge spirits with art, a skill Sierra has but doesn’t know it. She’s painting a dragon mural on an abandoned development in her neighborhood when she sees another mural cry. Which shouldn’t happen, right?

I really loved the magic and voice in this YA urban fantasy. Sierra is a great character, and all the characters’ voices came across as real. The magic is something I haven’t seen before. I love when art and magic converge.

But…it was also a bit boring to me. It’s dense in dialog, without a lot of inner character development, so I found I didn’t really care about any of the characters except for Sierra, and there are a lot of other characters. The dialog is perfectly written, just not enough for me to engage with a story.

I would still recommend this novel for readers looking for unique and diverse YA.

Short Story Collections

Cover for Uncanny Magazine Issue 18Uncanny Magazine Issue 18. Published September 2017. Adult Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction. Rating: 4/5

If I had to pick a favorite from this issue, it would be Fran Wilde’s circus monster sideshow short story “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand.” Overall, it’s a good issue, with 2 of my favorite SFF writers contributing fiction (Catherynne M. Valente and N.K. Jemisin) though, oddly, those were not my favorite short stories! You can see my full review of each story on Goodreads.

What good books have you read lately?

Reading Railroad: January’s Reading


At the beginning of the year, I decided I would cut down on my reading so I could write more. And then I read 10 books in January — oops! Oh well. Professional writers are always saying writers needs to read a lot. 🙂

Novels

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. Published in 2012. Adult Urban Fantasy. Winner of the 2013 World Fantasy award, Alif the Unseen is a fun mix of tech and magic, hacking and djinn. I loved the setting — contemporary Middle East — and wish there were more fantasies set there published in English. The plot’s a little hand-wavy, and I didn’t always believe character arcs, but it was a solid read.  3.5/5

 

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. Published in 1996. Adult Fantasy. I read this during Christmas, though I finished it in January. Discworld is one of my favorite fantasy series, and I definitely recommend reading it if you haven’t before, but this isn’t the book I’d recommend starting with (check out Wyrd Sisters, Guards! Guards!, or The Wee Free Men instead). For those of you already familiar with Discworld, Death is the Hogfather — Discworld’s version of Santa Klaus. Awesome, right? And definitely my favorite scenes in Hogfather featured Death handing out presents to all the kiddos of Discworld. However, the numerous side stories weren’t as interesting or funny as Pratchett usually is. Still, it’s a good seasonal read, as those go. 3/5

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle. To be published February 14th, 2017. Adult Contemporary Fantasy. Another new book by the famous Peter S. Beagle, famous for writing The Last UnicornClaudio Bianchi owns a farm in the small Italian village of Calabria. He’s grumpy, likes his privacy, and writes poems he shares with no one. In his late forties, his only friend is a young postman who comes a few times a week to deliver the mail. Oh, and his goat. Two things converge to break his comforting privacy: a pregnant unicorn appears on his farm, and the postman’s younger sister starts delivering the mail on Friday. Suddenly, his comfortable, isolated existence crumbles. Word spreads of the unicorn on his property, and soon the media begins to hound him, and then a mafia-type group — the ‘Ndrangheta — shows up, wanting the farm. The unicorn scenes are the most powerful. It’s Bianchi’s romantic relationship with Giovanna, the young postmistress, that gives me pause. I read Summerlong last year (full review here), where a similar middle-aged man and a just out of teen years woman form a romantic relationship. I was more receptive to the relationship in Summerlong because the girl ends up being a goddess. But…another book with this relationship dynamic? Um. And Bianchi constantly bemoans how he doesn’t deserve such a young girl, how she should leave him, and how it’s her that instigates the relationship, not him. Uh huh. ‘Sure.’ I hear you. The ending also felt…wrong for the novel. It felt like the novel was trying to be longer than it was meant to be, so the ‘Ndrangheta were added to create length and a more thrilling plot. But I enjoyed the quiet moments, and for me, the main plot was about Bianchi trying to rediscover who he is, and how he can interact with the world and rejoin society. I would’ve loved to see him publish some of those poems! Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. 2.5/5

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Published in 2011. YA Contemporary Fantasy. Get the tissues ready, because you are going to cry a lot, unless you’re an unfeeling weirdo. Seriously, this book is so good. It’s a modern infusion of the green man (in the form of a yew tree), the power of stories, and modern pre-adolescence. I love this book.  I want to reread it just by writing up this synopsis. It’s the 2nd book I’ve read by Ness, and the 2nd one to make me cry (the first was The Crane Wife, though it did not make me cry as much as A Monster Calls). Guess I’m going to have to test a third. Will his power over my tear ducts hold???? P.S. The illustrations are great. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but even if it’s only half as good as the book, I’m going to need the tissues again. 5/5

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente. Published in 2015. Middle Grade Fantasy. This is book #4 of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series. For the first time, the main character isn’t September. Hawthorn the troll is whisked from Fairyland by a cheeky wind, and brought to Chicago and switched out for Thomas Rood, a very human child. Hawthorn eventually makes it back into Fairyland with the help of another changeling child and an adorable, magically-sentient yarn wombat. Though I love Fairyland, I actually enjoyed Hawthorn’s time struggling being human in Chicago over the Fairyland scenes. This is one of my favorites of the series. 4.5/5

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente. Published in 2016. Middle Grade Fantasy. This is book #5 and the final book in the Fairyland series. Valente returns to September, who is now Queen of Fairyland (well, she actually chooses the title of Engineer). But in order to hold on to her title, if she even wants to, she has to compete in a race with the previous rulers of Fairyland. It’s a fun close to the series, though not my favorite. I’ll miss September, but it ended perfectly. 4/5

 

Into That Forest by Louis Nowra. Published in 2013. Young Adult. After a boating accident in Tasmania, 2 young girls — Hannah and Becky — are stranded in the bush. But they’re soon rescued by tigers. For the next four years they live with two tigers, learning how to hunt and speak the tiger language. Meanwhile, they forget much of what it means to be human. Hannah narrates this experience of being raised by tigers from the future, in dialect. Overall, it’s a good read, though it just didn’t move me overmuch. Not for any particular reason, though. 3/5

Nonfiction

Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan by Richard Hittleman. Published in 1969. This was my first attempt at yoga. Exercises are sectioned into 4 day increments, with a review every 4th day. After each day is a section called “Thoughts for the Day,” which were often quite funny, as they assumed I was a housewife. Though the written sections are dated, this is a solid primer on yoga, it seemed to me. While I will not be continuing with yoga — it exacerbated my heart problem — I did learn some stretches that I’ll incorporate into my exercise routine. Overall, the moves were easy though enough of a stretch to feel it. A few of them I never could do, and I think would be better with a partner. 4/5

Short Story Collections

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien. Published in 2016. Speculative Fiction Short Stories. In the introduction, editors Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe express their desire to revisit the wonderful, strange, and alien of fairy tales. “In keeping with that original model of composite storytelling,” they say, “we decided to run fairy tales through a prism, to challenge our authors to look at stories from an unusual angle, to bring them back into different genres and traditions, to — if you will — return them to their cross-genre roots.” And they’ve certainly done that in this collection. Genres range from Western, to Science Fiction, to Romance, to Fantasy, to Postmodern, and each tale takes an unusual look at a single fairy tale. My favorite stories were “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar and “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik, with close runner-ups in “The Briar and the Rose” by Marjorie M. Liu and “Reflected” by Kat Howard. Three of these are perhaps the least innovative, since they use the fantasy genre for their fairy tale settings (the closest to the original settings); however, these stories are innovative in other ways, combining tales, reconstituting romance, and especially in reinterpreting happily-ever-afters. “Reflected” is the only non-fantasy of my favorites, and is a science fiction retelling of “The Snow Queen.” This is a great short story collection for fairytale and speculative fiction fans. I’d already read stories from every single one of these authors, so I knew I was likely to enjoy this collection, and I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed! You can see my review of each story on Goodreads. 4/5

Uncanny Magazine Issue 13: November/December 2016 edited by Lynne M. and Michael Damian Thomas. I think this is my favorite issue of Uncanny Magazine as a whole. All the pieces have strong social justice themes or center around voices that rarely have a chance to speak in fiction. That’s what makes this magazine so special. My favorites were “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander, a flash fiction piece about whose stories are told; “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El–Mohtar, which was also in A Starlit Wood; and “Rose Child” by Theodora Goss, a lovely fairytale poem. But there were no misses in this issue. You can read my review of each story on Goodreads. 4/5

Individual Short Stories

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. Published in 1890. During the Civil War, a man stands on a bridge about to be hanged. And that’s all I can say without spoilers. 🙂 This is the first time I’ve read Ambrose Bierce, and apparently I should amend that. This is a fantastically written short story. If I taught a creative writing class, I would use this story as an example of how to write thick, evocative descriptions that are still fast-paced and full of tension. So good! 5/5

“Fable” by Charles Yu. Published in The New Yorker, May 2016. A therapist asks a man to retell his life story as a fable. This short story explores how stories shape a life, and how if we’re able to tell our stories — allow ourselves to tell them — then we can find a path to living. 4/5

“See the Unseeable, Know the Unknowable” by Maria Dahvana Headley. Published in Lightspeed Magazine, September 2016. A woman and a cat live on the outskirts of society, escaping something. And then circus flyers fall from the sky, and her name’s on them. I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand what was happening in this one. Oh well, happens sometimes. I do enjoy the author’s fiction usually. 2.5/5

“Little Widow” by Maria Dahvana Headley. Published in Nightmare Magazine, September 2016. 3 sisters who were in a cult live in a small town after their cult commits suicide. And then a circus comes to town with a pterodactyl. I mean, this is weird, but I liked it. 3.5/5

“Hungry” by Shveta Thakrar. Published in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, 2016. After centuries of being a statue, a rakshasi awakens in the contemporary world, and she’s hungry. 3.5/5

Did you read anything good in January?

Happy reading in the month to come!

 

Book Gift Ideas for Reading Fiends


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Last week I wrote about non-book gift ideas for book lovers, so this week I’ll give some book ideas, because what else is there to want? But if they read a ton, it can be difficult to know which books to buy. Here are some ideas.

New Releases.

Do they buy most of their books used? Then it’s quite possible they’ve missed out on some of the great books 2016 has offered. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is a post-apocalyptic thriller about a girl who finds out her adopted father is a serial killer and sets out across the wilderness to escape him (reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie). This Census-Taker by China Miéville is another post-apocalyptic novel about a young boy who has witnessed a murder. All the Birds in the Sky (full review) by Charlie Jane Anders mixes witchcraft and AI in a quirky and, um, apocalyptic novel (I’ve apparently read a lot of good apocalypse novels this year). In the fantasy/magical realism department, I really enjoyed Roses and Rot (full review) by Kat Howard, about 2 sister artists at an exclusive artist’s retreat that turns out to be run by the fae. Peter S. Beagle also released a new novel this year, Summerlong (full review), about a middle-aged couple who takes in a young girl that’s something more than she seems. In the non-speculative department, Faithful (full review) by Alice Hoffman is about recovering from trauma by finding love in animals.

Under the Radar.

Not all great books get the attention they deserve. These are all books with less than a thousand ratings on Goodreads, but really deserve to be read. Bohemian Gospel by Dana Carpenter takes place in 13th century Bohemia about a girl who has special powers, but they may not be powers for the good. Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss is a lovely fairytale poetry collection. The Native American magical realism novel Sacred Wilderness by Susan Power switches between the modern day and the 17th century US in a mystical examination of what it means to be Native American (everything by Susan Power is amazing). Myths of Origin by Catherynne M. Valente collects her first four, mythic novels. The Poets’ Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales is another great fairytale poetry anthology by various authors.

Short Story Collections. 

A lot of readers mainly read novels and miss out on all the fantastic short story collections out there.  Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is a famous Russian author of absurdist fairy tales  who’s rarely read in the US. I recommend There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales. Bone Swans: Stories by C.S.E. Cooney collects fairy tale retellings and fantastical short stories. Roofwalker by Susan Power is a combination of short stories about the modern Native American experience and autobiographical essays. Of course Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman is great, but he’s one of the rare authors that can sell short story collections, so the reader on your list may have already read this one. Dreams of Distant Shores (full review) by Patricia McKillip is a lovely, fantastical collection released earlier this year. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu mixes sci-fi, fantasy, and magical realism in a literary, somber collection of stories.

Young Adult and Middle Grade.  

In MG, Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is so fantastic and cute, and I think the series is now complete (Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver). Catherynne M. Valente’s fantastical Fairyland series is also complete. Charles de Lint has 2 cute, connected middle grade novels–The Cats of Tanglewood Forest and Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale. All of these have great illustrations as well.

For YA, Maria Dahvana Headley’s Magonia has space pirates(!!), and she released the second and last in the series, Aerie, earlier this year, though I’ve yet to read it. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black is a stand-alone YA about two teen siblings who share a town with the Fae, and both have a crush on the soon-to-be-awakened horned boy that lies in a glass coffin. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire explores what happens to teens after they go through magical doors and are thrown back into the real world, and is the first in a trilogy (the others have yet to be released).

Collectible Books. 

Another possibility is to buy the reader on your list books you know they love in pretty editions. Folio Society has some really lovely books, as does Easton Press. You could also go with the fancy Barnes and Noble editions, which are a less expensive but still pretty option.

Books on My Christmas List

This is the book list I gave my husband: The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin (because she’s the best); The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (short story anthology); A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (YA, coming to theaters); The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente (because I still haven’t finished this series); Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram (I always put at least 1 nonfiction on my list and this one looks really interesting); and Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold edited by Paula Guran (another recent short story anthology. I try to read all fairytale short stories.).

I could honestly go on and on recommending books! But I’ll stop here.

 

Reading Railroad: September’s Reading


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Everything I read in September. I didn’t finish much this month!

Novels

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. To be published in March 2017. Tea discovers she’s a bone witch after raising her brother from the dead, but bone witches are both powerful and feared. Her life won’t be an easy one. While some teens will probably like this, for me, much of it became too obsessed with clothes and training and lost sight of plot. You can read my full review on Goodreads. Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. 2/5

 

Nonfiction

The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson. Published in 2001. Want to know more about hares? Well, this is the book for you. The study begins with a natural history of hares (did you know their young are called leverets? that they build ‘forms,’ or nests, on top of the ground as opposed to burrowing beneath the earth?), then it moves to human interaction with hares, and ends discussing myth and folk beliefs about hares. I originally believed it would mostly be a folklore collection, since I’d previously read one of the author’s works which was entirely folkloric (The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend). While that’s not what I found here, it’s even more useful for the current creative project I’m working on. 4/5

Short Story Collections

Uncanny Magazine Issue 12 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas. Published in September 2016. Collects 6 speculative fiction short stories, 4 essays, 3 poems, and 2 interviews. Read (free) fiction about creatures in the form of doppelgangers, fairies, and ghosts, witches, ogres and a brain. The essays pay homage to Star Trek, my favorite TV show (along with Dr. Who), and my favorite piece in the issue is a discussion of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. So interesting! Good issue overall. I’m going to go support the magazine by purchasing a subscription for next year now. You can read my review of the entire collection on Goodreads. 4/5

Individual Short Stories

All of these are free online, so click the links if you want to read them!

“The Second Bakery Attack” by Haruki Murakami. When newlyweds awake in the night starving, an unusual decision is made. Hilarious short story, and my first Murakami! Will have to read more. 4.5/5

“The Quidnunx” by Catherynne M. Valente in Apex Magazine (April 2016, reprint). Novelette. A forest and a meadow fall in love, one builds a village, the other builds forest creatures. The quidnunx is one of these forest creatures who just so happens to like the taste of humans. And, oh, the humans also like the taste of quidnunxes. As always with Valente, absolutely unique world, and prose with an ear toward sound. 4/5

 

 

“La beauté sans vertu” by Genevieve Valentine in Tor.com (April 2016). 19-year-old Maria is a model in an industry where model’s arms are replaced with looser, younger arms. She’s known as the Princess of Roses and Diamonds, and hints of the fairy tale Diamonds and Toads interplay with the hottest fashion show of the season. It’s an interesting read. 3.5/5

 

 

 

“Left Behind” by Cat Rambo in Clarkesworld Magazine (May 2016). A woman programs mind palaces for the elderly in a space ship, so their descendants don’t have to take care of them. A brother and sister bring in their elderly mother who isn’t exactly keen on the idea of living in a mind palace, and the programmer discovers the mother has a wonderful imagination and memory, far more complex than she’s ever experienced before. Interesting concept. 4/5

 

 

“Mine-wife” by Karin Tidbeck in Words without Borders (January 2015). Letters and artifacts are exchanged concerning an archaeological dig where dolls, or mine-wives, are placed at the entrances of mines. A village once disappeared there, and the archaeologists are investigating why. I like how this story is told in artifacts — letters and notes. Not sure I get the ending, but it’s still worth reading. 4/5

 

 

Recommendation List! Favorite Animal Transformation Fiction


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Metamorphosis by Christian Schloe. You can buy her work at Society 6.

Last week, I wrote about Beauty and the Beast and animal transformation fairy tales, so for this week I’ve gathered a list of my favorite fiction featuring animal transformations. These are in no particular order. Please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments.

 

Novels

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness: About half of the Goodreads group I read this with loved it, the other half hated it. I loved it. Inspired by the fairy tale The Grateful Crane, George is awakened one night by a keening, and discovers a crane that’s been shot by an arrow in his backyard. He helps free the arrow from the crane’s wing and watches it fly away. The next day, while cutting out shapes from old books in his graphic design shop, a woman, Kumiko, walks in and asks for help on her own art—feather cuttings. Guess who’s the crane wife? This is a really lovely, humane novel.

 

The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson: Some kitsune, the Japanese word for foxes, have magic and can shape-shift into human beings. But that choice has costs. The Fox Woman weaves three diaries into a story about a kitsune who falls in love with a human. First, there’s the fox woman herself, whose love of Yoshifuji drives her to become human. She forces her family to become human with her and creates an entirely magical world in order to seduce Yoshifuji. Yoshifuji’s diary entries describe his growing fascination with the foxes, and also the frustrations of his marriage to Shikujo. Shikujo is the ideal 11th century Japanese wife, but that ideal means she’s rarely free to act out her own desires, or to even know what those desires are. Shikujo’s entries show her perfection, but also how that perfection inhibits her relationships with everyone. A complex historical novel that makes me really glad I was born in the nineteen eighties.

 

The Brides of Rollrock Island  by Margo Lanagan: Another divisive read in my Goodreads group that depicts a small island’s history of capturing seal brides. I love selkie legends, and this one’s visceral and dark. The story haphazardly follows the life of Misskaella, the witch of Rollrock Island, though only the second chapter is in her perspective. The other chapters follow a family through the generations, and the personal toll the magic that causes seals to turn into brides takes on both the islanders and the selkies. It’s a psychologically intense novel, each chapter immediately dropping into a very close 1st person with little back story, which is jarring but also completely effective. I see this listed as a teen book on Amazon, but it’s adult to me. 

 

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier: First in a Celtic fantasy series based on “The Wild Swans” by Hans Christen Andersen. Sorcha is the 7th child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. He remarries an enchantress, who curses Sorcha’s brothers by turning them into swans. To turn them back into their human form, Sorcha must remain mute for seven years and weave the brothers shirts made from nettles. There’s no way a summary can do this novel justice. Fae, danger, magic, romance, it’s everything I want in a fantasy. Despite the main character remaining mute most of the novel, it’s detailed and surprisingly fast-paced. I’ve reread this several times, yet I’ve never read the rest of the series!

 

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle: This is a classic, and probably needs no introduction. Whenever I think of animal transformations, I think of this. Most animal transformation novels are tinged with sadness, and this is a perfect example. If you’ve only watched the movie, read the book. They’re both equally good, but Beagle’s prose reads like poetry.

 

Short Stories and Poems

“The Tiger’s Bride” by Angela Carter: A classic, chilling take on “Beauty and the Beast” that opens, “My father lost me to the Beast at cards.” You can find it in her excellent collection The Bloody Chamber.

“The Animal Women” by Alix E. Harrow: A little girl in the 1960s South makes friends with a group of mostly ‘colored’ women that live near her home—and occasionally she captures pictures that show them as something more than human. Examines both racial and gender discrimination. Powerful read.

“Ambergris, or The Sea-Sacrifice” by Rhonda Eikamp: A dolphin girl and colonization. Yep. Awesome story.

“The Bone Swans of Amandale” by C.S.E. Cooney: Novella. The shapeshifting swans of Amandale are being hunted and killed and their bones made into instruments beneath the juniper tree at the bidding of ogre mayor Ulia Gol. But shapeshifting rat Maurice has an idea to save his lady love Dora Rose, one of the swans, with the help of his good friend the pied piper Nicholas. Super creative.

“Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” by Kat Howard: Birds and madness and art. My cuppa tea. Also, deceptively simple and atmospheric writing.

“The Girls with Two Skins” by Catherynne M. Valente: A poem about what a fox will do for love.

Theodora Goss: Goss often explores animal transformations in her short stories and poetry, so instead of picking just one, I decided to pick my three favorites:

Happy reading!