A Bookshelf of Writing Books

Reading Railroad: August’s Reading

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting as much lately. With 3 jobs, a baby on the way, and wanting to finish up my novel by the end of the year, I’ve had to cut down on my blogging. But I do hope to blog more in the future, and I’ll keep posting my monthly reading updates. And of course I still write at least two posts a month for Book Riot.

I also haven’t had as much time for reading. I’ve only read 5 books this month, which isn’t bad, but it also means I’m running behind on my goal to read 100 books this year, a goal I’ve met since I started keeping track a few years ago. But I’m not so behind it’s hopeless, so I’m considering reading shorter books, and more young adult and middle grade. Maybe. Sometimes the books I crave aren’t short, and I want to read the things that make me happy! And do numbers really matter that much? What do you think?

In August, I read two books in particular that I really enjoyed, and I’ll review those first. And all but one are new releases (and the only one that isn’t was published just last year).

Novels

Book cover for The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora GossThe Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. Published August 10th, 2017. Rating: 4/5

This is such a fun romp through classic horror fiction. I couldn’t wait to read it, and put it on hold months ago with the library so that I could have a copy as soon as it came out. The central cast includes: Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Justine Frankenstein, Catherine Moreau, and Beatrice Rappaccini (though I should not forget Mrs. Poole — the housekeeper — and Alice — a house maid). These monstrous daughters team up, with the occasional help from Sherlock Homes and Watson, to solve a series of murders that may or may not be wrapped up in their own past.

This first in what I can only hope will be a series sets up all the characters and their stories. These women are unique, outspoken, smart. Exactly my kind of mystery. Despite the grizzly theme, it maintains a lighthearted Victorian-era tone that made it a fast read. I look forward to more such books! Maybe I need to be reading more light-hearted mysteries (not typically my genre).

Book cover of When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace LinWhen the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin. Published in 2016. Rating: 4/5

Another charming middle grade novel by Grace Lin. Influenced by Chinese folklore and mythology, it’s full of fairy tales, magical creatures, and amazing characters. Pinmei, the storyteller’s grand daughter, must learn confidence in her quest to save her grandmother from an evil overlord. Stories have power, and as Pinmei retells the stories her grandmother has taught her, she starts putting pieces together of a larger story. The illustrations are lovely (Grace Lin does those as well). I’ve already read the companion novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and am looking forward to reading Starry River of the Sky. While Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the first chronologically, they can be read in any order. I did pick up connections that I otherwise would’ve missed, but then, you would pick up the same connections by reading the series backward. 🙂 I will definitely be buying these for my own shelves, and I’m looking forward to reading them to Marian! (Well, I did read bits of it to her, but I doubt she grasped all the complexities of the story.)

Book cover of A Secret History of Witches by Louisa MorganA Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan. Published September 5th, 2017. Rating: 3/5

An entertaining, generational family history of witches. Each section features one of five Orchiére daughters and their story of how their magic develops, and how they find love in their lives (or not). But witches must always hide their powers from everyone else, for a woman with that kind of power is a danger to society. The novel begins in Brittany and ends in London, and moves from early 19th century all the way to WWII. It’s at its strongest when the history comes alive and plays an integral part in the women’s lives. This happens at the beginning and the end. The middle fails to utilize the rich history of the time periods they take place in, but it’s still fun, especially if you’re looking for a light read with romance and witchcraft, and nothing too heavy. I enjoyed it overall, even if it left me craving a little more substance.

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

Book cover of The History of Bees by Maja LundeThe History of Bees: A Novel by Maja Lunde. Published August 22nd, 2017. Rating: 3/5

In The History of Bees, Maja Lunde traces the eventual extinction of bees through three story lines. William, a myopic, British biologist who eventually begins building bee hives, set in 1852; George, an American myopic (this is a general theme) beekeeper in 2007 who experiences Colony Collapse Disorder; and Tao, a Chinese pollinator in 2098, on a desperate search to find her young son.

What all three of these characters have in common is the inability to communicate basic human emotions, and seeing their children not as human beings, but as ideal versions of themselves. Tao is the most sympathetic of these characters, since she’s only allowed an hour a day with her son. With such a short amount of time, it’s impossible to really get to know your child. But George and William have no excuse, and come across as idiots much of the time. And of course they have bees in common, but the bees end up more of a set piece to these characters.

I originally picked this up expecting something more along the lines of The Bees by Laline Paull, especially with it being compared to Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go. What I found instead read more like a family drama. Which is fine, it just didn’t meet my expectations.

I also feel like the translation might have made it a clunkier read. Here’s an example: “The yellow color was completely real, nothing I was imagining. It came from the brocade tapestry my wife, Thilda, had stuck up on the walls when we moved in a few years ago. We’d had a lot of space at that time.”

Okay, there’s nothing wrong here, but it’s not very engaging or inspiring prose.

Despite these reservations, I did like the concept of weaving three stories together to tell the history of bees.

Thanks to Touchstone and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Short Story Collections

Issue cover of Uncanny Magazine Issue 17Uncanny Magazine Issue 17: July/August 2017. Published July 4th, 2017. Rating: 3/5

The two stand out stories from this edition were Children of Thorns, Children of Water by Aliette de Bodard and The Worshipful Society of Glovers by Mary Robinette Kowal. Both were rich in context, with complex characters. And if you like birds, then you should read A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds by Kat Howard. There were also 2 poems I would recommend: Starskin, Sealskin by Shveta Thakrar and Sara Cleto and Questions We Asked for the Girls Turned to Limbs by Chloe N. Clark. You can also read my review of every story, essay, and poem in this edition.

What have you been reading lately?

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!