Reading Railroad: April’s Reading

Everything I read in April! 6 books total.

Novels

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Published in 2012. A childless couple, Mable and Jack, move to Alaska after a terrible heartache, hoping to make a new life for themselves. On one wintry evening they build a snow child, and the next day a real child appears. Is this the daughter they’ve longed for? The Snow Child is a lovely fairytale retelling, and an amazing first novel. There are many variations of this fairy tale, which you can read here. I especially like the first one. Ivey writes lyrical, simple prose that sets exactly the right tone for the novel. “November was here, and it frightened her because she knew what it brought — cold upon the valley like a coming death, glacial wind through the cracks between cabin logs. But most of all, darkness. Darkness so complete even the pale-lit hours would be choked.” Shiver. Though set in the 1920s, the writing style is modern. There’s only a little bit of magic thrown in off and on, but despite that, the novel feels perfectly magical. 4.5/5

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Published in 2016. This book, I assume, hardly needs a summary at this point. It was next on my stack when it won the Pulitzer Prize. In case you don’t know, The Underground Railroad traces the path of escaped slave Cora as she flees across the South. Each state has unique ways of treating blacks — from Georgia’s cotton-picking violence to South Carolina’s weird eugenics to North Carolina’s lynching to Tennessee’s remnants of the Trail of Tears to Indiana’s supposed utopia. And yes, Cora uses the underground railroad, but in this novel, it’s literally a railroad. Whitehead weaves hints of magical realism and absurdist horror into Cora’s narrative, and also gives other stories between each of Cora’s sections: Ridgeway, a runaway slave hunter; Ethel, a white woman with a hypocritical ‘savior’ complex; and many others. What makes this novel unique compared to other fiction about slavery is the use of the horror genre and bits of magical realism. He doesn’t go over the top with either; it’s very subtle. I had a weird reading comprehension issue with it. A ton of character names begin with C or R. I found myself struggling to keep track of all the characters, which did improve the last third of the novel. Also, sometimes the characters were introduced in weird ways, so it would take me a while to realize ‘that person’ or ‘someone’ was a named character in the next paragraph. I would then have to reread the first few pages. Keeping track of characters isn’t something I normally struggle with. It’s also more emotionally distant than I expected, but I think that was on purpose. Even as I was disgusted by some of the events unfolding in the novel, it was more an intellectual disgust versus a physical one. It’s almost like a list is being ticked off of all the horrific ways the US has treated black Americans, though if that were true the novel would be much longer. It’s definitely worth reading. 4/5

Nonfiction

The Rise of the New Woman: The Women’s Movement in America, 1875-1930 by Jean Matthews. Published in 2004. I’m continuing my research of the suffrage movement for a writing in progress. This book gives a broad introduction to the movement. I appreciate Jean Matthew’s attention to the disenfranchisement of black women in the movement while also highlighting important black women figures. The scope of the book is much broader than that and covers the entire movement, but every chapter highlighted black women to some extent, and in a movement that was often racist, addressing the accomplishments of POC was refreshing. It’s also very readable. 4/5

 

Myth Collections

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Published February 7th, 2017. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman collects a selection of Norse myths, adding a modern tone and some of his sense of humor to the dialogue. These are not fictionalized variations of the tales. Do not read this expecting American Gods or Odd and the Frost Giants. It’s more along the lines of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version selected by Philip Pullman. I like Myths of the Norsemen: From the Eddas and Sagas a bit better, but Gaiman’s collection would still make a good entry point into Norse myths. Ultimately, I’m just not a fan of Thor and Loki. They seem like college frat boys in a bad comedy movie. Who also like to kill things. It’s probably not fair to judge an entire mythology on two characters. Eventually, I need to read The Prose Edda so I have a better idea of the mythology. I do really love the tree Yggdrasil, though. 3/5

Short Story Collections

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Published in 2002. The movie Arrival is based on the title story, “Story of Your Life,” which is the best piece in this collection. Better than the movie. In most of these short stories, Ted Chiang combines hard science with complicated, questing characters. Not questing in the usual fantasy sense, but questing as in lonely souls trying to find meaning in the world while struggling with a scientific concept that changes everything. The stories are weakest when they rely too heavily on a scientific concept and lack the character and plot building to support the story. But there were only a few of those. Most were complex and interesting. Oh, and Ted Chiang describes his writing process for each story at the end. I wish every author included these in their short story collections! You can read my review of each story on Goodreads. 3.5/5

Uncanny Magazine Issue 15: March/April 2017 edited by Lynn M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas. A wide range of stories. My favorite by far is “And Then There Were (N – One)” by Sarah Pinsker, in which Sarah Pinsker goes to a multidimensional conference of Sarah Pinskers, and then there’s a murder to solve. Very fun. All of the essays are quite good, and for the most part concern surviving and resisting in an oppressive political climate. Very timely. My individual reviews of each story, poem, and essay can be found here. 3.5/5

Several of these reviews originally appeared on Book Riot, on my Inbox/Outbox Post.

Favorite Short Stories of 2016


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This almost seems impossible, but I read around 150 short stories in 2016. It’s my first year keeping track, and I was really surprised by how many I read! I read short stories in a variety of formats: in collections by individual authors; in edited collections with multiple authors; I have a subscription to Uncanny Magazine; and I read random stories recommended on Twitter published in a variety of free, online platforms. I switch back and forth between recently released short stories and older stories, and keep two separate folders to keep track of the ones I want to read.

So here are the top 10 short stories I read in 2016. Just like last week in my best novels of 2016 post, these are in no particular order. I’ve linked to the stories whenever they’re free to read online, so happy reading!

  1. “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. Published in 1998 in Stories of Your Life and Others. This novelette asks, In what ways can language shape cognitive functions? Oh, the tears snuck up on me in this one. This is what the movie Arrival is based on, which I will eventually see, especially after loving the story so much.

 

 

  1. The Sleeper and the Spindle” by Neil Gaiman. The illustrated edition I read first was published in 2014, but it’s been published multiple times. It’s a wonderful novelette that turns the passive Snow White and Sleeping Beauty princesses into not so passive agents of their own futures. And the illustrations are so lovely — definitely worth buying the special edition.

 

  1. “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman. Okay, so I really love Gaiman’s short stories, so he has 2 on this list. The edition I read of this one is in Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (full review) published in 2015 (“Sleeper in the Spindle” appears in this collection as well), but it’s also been published multiple times. In this novelette, a dwarf asks a farmer to show him the way to a cave in the mountains that holds gold, gold that comes at a price. I broke out in goosebumps when I realized what was going on.

 

  1. “Midnight Hour” by Mary Robinette Kowal. Published in 2015 in Uncanny Magazine Issue 5. The kingdom is cursed, but some curses are ultimately good. Can a nameless queen distract a questing prince in order to keep her kingdom’s curse? Mary Robinette Kowal always writes great short stories, and this is my favorite of hers (so far).

 

 

  1. “The Gorgon in the Cupboard” by Patricia McKillip. Read in Dreams of Distant Shores (full review), published in 2016 though the novelette is a reprint. A painter struggles with his craft and obsesses over another painter’s model when one day he paints the model’s lips on an unfinished painting of another model, a model who earlier disappeared and he’s been searching for ever since. And the painted lips speak. A lovely story reminiscent of Charles De Lint.

 

  1. “Tear Tracks” Malka Older. Published on Tor.com in 2015. Flur is chosen as an ambassador to Earth’s first alien contact on another planet. She has only a few hours to convince the aliens to sign a treaty, but the lack of similar social cues throws her off. Yep, you guessed it, I cried. This was the first thing I’d ever read by this author, but since then she’s published her first novel — Infomocracy — which I hope to read soon.

 

  1. The Creeping Women” by Christopher Barzak. Published in Uncanny Magazine Issue 8 in 2016. A retelling of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman! I’m pretty sure I don’t need to say anything else.

 

 

 

  1. “Red as Blood and White as Bone” by Theodora Goss. Published on Tor.com in 2016. A kitchen maid dreams of being in a fairy tale, and when one night a woman collapses at the kitchen door, she knows a princess has come in disguise. Such a perfect short story.

 

 

  1. “The Animal Women” by Alix E. Harrow. Published in Strange Horizons in 2015. 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 of them that show something more than human about them. Also a lovely novelette.

 

  1. “Cookie Jar” by Stephen King. Published in VQR in 2016. A 13-year-old goes to interview his 90-year-old great grandfather, who tells him a strange story about another dimension and an endless supply of cookies. While I no longer keep up with Stephen King’s books, I still read his short stories periodically. He really is an excellent writer.

Runners up

What were your favorite short stories?

Reading Railroad: November’s Reading


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Everything I read in November. I’m a week late posting this, but I wanted to post about holiday gift ideas first (which you can find here and here).

Novels

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Published in 2008. Epic Fantasy. This novel probably needs no introduction, and is easily the book that’s been recommended to me more than any other. An innkeeper, Kvothe, who’s not really an innkeeper but a powerful magician who’s done…something…agrees to tell his story for the chronicler to write down. The Name of the Wind is day one of his life story, where you find out about his parents, his time as a beggar, and his admittance in the university where he starts learning magic. At the university he makes friends, enemies, and there’s one lady that haunts him. Overall, a well-written fantasy. I’ll be reading the rest of the series. My full review is on Goodreads. 4/5

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Will be published in January 2017. Adult historical fairytale fantasy. From the day Vasilisa Petrovna is born, in the heart of winter, her family knows she’s different, though they still love her with a fierce devotion. Her mother dies during childbirth, and her father travels to Moscow where he finds a new wife, Anna, a relation of his previous wife, who like Vasilisa has the sight. Both can see chyerti and domovoi — guardian spirits and creatures from Russian folklore — though when Anna sees them she sees demons, while Vasya sees them for what they truly are. A fun novel given to me to read by Netgalley for an honest review. The full review will be posted here in January. 4/5

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Published in April 2016. YA fantasy. A door appears — a tiny door tucked into the porch railing that shrinks you when you open it, a rainbow door that leads you to a nonsense, rainbow world, a door that leads you to the land where Death is lord. But this isn’t a story about those portal worlds, rather about what happens after the portal world becomes your home and then spits you back out into reality, where your parents think you’ve been kidnapped for months or years, and their home can never be yours again. These teens are sent to Eleanor’s Home for Wayward Children. Everyone in the home has been through a portal world, and everyone wishes to find their door again and return. Nancy is a new student whose portal world was where Death reigned. This could be a new home for Nancy, but when a student dies, and then another, her new home is threatened, unless the students can figure out what’s happening. A fun read, and first in a series. I’ll be reading the others. I posted a slightly longer review on Goodreads. 4/5

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Published in 2012. YA science fiction and fairytale retelling of “Cinderella.” Cinder is a cyborg in New Beijing, but cyborgs aren’t considered ‘humans’ by many. An incurable plague is killing many in New Beijing and around the world, and cyborgs are often taken to be tested on. But so far Cinder’s managed to stay out of the way of the doctors. Cinder’s stepmother treats her cruelly, as does one of her stepsisters, but the other stepsister is kind, and Cinder has an android who’s her friend. She works as a mechanic, and when the handsome Prince Kai brings his broken android to her to fix, and the evil Lunar Queen comes to try to manipulate Kai into marriage, everything starts to change for Cinder. A fun though predictable YA. First in a series. My full review is on Goodreads. 3.5/5

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher. Published in 2014. YA fantasy and fairytale retelling of “Bluebeard.” When a wealthy magician proposes to 15-yr-old Rhea, a poor miller’s daughter, her family has no recourse but to accept. But she’s not his first wife. How will Rhea free herself from the marriage? How about the other wives? A fun, quick read. 4/5

 

 

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis. Published in June 2016. Adult post-apocalyptic thriller. When Elka’s seven, a super storm hits and kills her grandmother. Years earlier her parents left to search for gold, so now Elka’s in the woods by herself. She sets out on her own and is eventually found by a man she calls Trapper, and Daddy in her head. He raises her, teaches her wood lore and how to hunt. She loves him and he seems to love her in his own way. The one rule is she’s never to speak of him to anyone else. When she’s seventeen, she goes to the closest town to pick up some supplies, and sees a wanted poster with the face of Trapper on it. He’s wanted for multiple murders, and it’s not until then that she realizes he’s a serial killer. Magistrate Lyon is after him for killing her son, and when she sees Elka’s reaction to the wanted poster, she realizes Elka knows the man. Elka escapes into the woods on a mission to find her long lost parents, but two hunt her — Magistrate Lyon and Trapper. Very exciting read. You can read my Goodreads review here, but I may post a review of it on this blog soon. 4/5

Short Stories

I link to the free stories when they’re available.

The Contemporary Foxwife by Yoon Ha Lee. Published in 2014 in Clarkesworld Magazine. On a faraway planet, there’s a knock at the door, and it’s a foxwife. Great use of folklore in a sci-fi setting. 4/5

 

 

 

“Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, read in Stories of Your Life and Others. Originally published in 1998. This is the short story the film Arrival is based on. I originally read this in preparation for watching the movie, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to see it yet. However, the story is fantastic. It asks, In what ways can language shape cognitive functions? When aliens come to earth, linguist Louise Banks is asked to join a team of researchers to decipher their language, but as she learns their language, the way she perceives the world around her changes too. This one really snuck up on me. One moment I was casually reading, the next I had tears in my eyes. I can’t wait to see the movie! 5/5

Let the Century to Sit Unmoved by Sarah Pinsker. Published in Strange Horizons in May 2016. There’s a pond in a small town and sometimes the people who jump in don’t come out. Yet the main character jumps anyway, as many teens do. I liked the concept and voice, but it was more like world building than an actual story. 3/5

No Matter Which Way We Turned by Brian Evenson. Published in People Holding in May 2016. An evocative flash fiction piece about a girl with no front. 4/5

 

Happy reading in the month to come!