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?

Shelves of fairy tale books.

Reading Railroad: June’s Reading

I only read 5 books in June, wah wah wah. I read 11 in May, so maybe it evens out? I’ll have to do better in July.

Novels

Mama DayBook cover for Mama Day by Gloria Naylor by Gloria Naylor. Published 1989. A really mixed read for me. On the one hand, Naylor writes a wonderful, hilarious character in Mama Day, a 90-year-old respected healer in the small Georgia island she lives on. She and her sister Abigail carry a sorrowful history between them, but manage a productivity that rivals people half their age. And they’re very funny. And then there’s Cocoa/Ophelia, Abigail’s granddaughter, and her beau George. Cocoa and George live in New York City, and could not be more stereotyped and boring. I hated reading their chapters, and wish I could’ve just stayed with Mama Day, who had a much more interesting personality, and much more interesting things going on. Overall, I’m glad I read it for the Mama Day sections, and I enjoyed the small town island life and the unique characters that lived there. But I was truly bored and fed up with the Cocoa/George sections. I almost quit reading because of them. 2.5/5

BannerlessBook cover of Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn by Carrie Vaughn. Published July 11th, 2017. This is marketed as a dystopia, but I actually didn’t find the post-apocalyptic society particularly dystopian. In fact, it’s pretty stable and egalitarian. I would live in this future, except minus all the past deaths due to environmental collapse, of course. Enid is an investigator, and she and her friend and fellow investigator Tomas travel to what looks like an idyllic town to investigate a rare murder. The title comes from the banners awarded households who have contributed to their community enough to be able to support a child. The banners allow households to have children, but only the households who can contribute. So a household where no one works wouldn’t be awarded a banner. At the age of 12, girls are put on birth control. When a household receives a banner, an adult woman is chosen to have her birth control removed until she conceives. There are ways to spin that as dystopian, but in the world of the novel, it seems perfectly practical. The banners did make me wonder about the households with family members who are unable to contribute to earning a banner — those unable to work due to disability. However, disabled people apparently don’t exist in this world. The murder mystery was a bit unmysterious, but it still kept me reading. I enjoyed the setting and Enid’s character enough to want to know what happened next. The world building is clunky in the beginning, but once it settles into a story, it’s a fun read. Thanks to Netgalley and John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

Book cover of The Wood Wife by Terri WindlingThe Wood Wife by Terri Windling. Published in 2003. This is one of those wonderful, contemporary mythic novels that blurs the boundaries between reality and folklore. I went through a phase where I only wanted my folklore in vaguely historical realms — much like the stories themselves — but lately I’ve begun preferring them mixed into contemporary life and living. Maybe this mirrors my own self now, a folklore lover that also works 3 jobs, lives in a city, and wants to know there can still be some magic in my life. In The Wood Wife, writer Maggie inherits the remote Arizona home of her favorite poet Cooper, who she’s never met but has been corresponding with for a long time. She fell in love with his poetry collection The Wood Wife, and ever since the two have exchanged letters. And can I just say, I want to read all of this fictional poetry collection! Windling gives little snippets, but not enough for me. It reminded me of Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss, but with an underlying story to each poem. Maggie is a city-smart cosmopolitan traveler, yet she ends up falling in love with Arizona. In Cooper’s house, she finds snippets of poems, and also a room full of the magical paintings of Cooper’s long deceased wife, Anna Naverra (whose work is often compared to Leonora Carrington, one of my favorite artists). Anna’s paintings and Cooper’s poems hint at magical and folkloric creatures that haunt the Arizona wilderness. And a mystery that Maggie must solve. If you like art and folklore in your fiction, then you’re bound to enjoy this. It reminded me a lot of Charles de Lint, particularly Memory and Dream, as well as the newish novel Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. 4/5

Book cover for The Changeling by Victor LaValleThe Changeling by Victor LaValle. Published June 13, 2017. It’s difficult to review this book, because the action that propels the ‘horror’ in this novel occurs well into the plot. But you know changeling folklore, right? If you don’t, essentially, goblins steal a newborn child and leave a look-alike in the baby’s place. The parents then have to trick the baby-goblin into revealing itself. Apollo, the main character in The Changeling, knows this folklore from a book his absent father gave him before he disappeared, Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak. This is my favorite Maurice Sendak children’s book. Apollo lives in New York City, and works as a book dealer. He falls in love with Emma at a library. She’s a librarian. So lots of bookish references to enjoy! While marketed as a horror novel, it’s a light one. The tone is easy, Apollo funny and relatable, and while there’s a supernatural creature and bloody scenes, I never felt scared. Or alarmed. However, if you have issues with violence against children, you may want to skip this one. Oddly, I enjoyed reading the first half more than the second, even though the main action doesn’t start until well into the novel. I enjoyed Apollo’s voice and reading about his life and his relationship with Emma, and his experience being a ‘new father,’ aka dads who actually spend time with their kids. Maybe I enjoyed reading the first half since those are things I’m looking forward to experiencing soon! I recommend this to anyone who likes folklore mixed into modern settings, and who doesn’t mind a little bit of horror. Thanks to NetGalley and Spiegel & Grau for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 4/5

Short Story Collections

Magazine cover for Uncanny Magazine Issue 16Uncanny Magazine Issue 16. Published May 2, 2017. In this issue, stories shift between talking swords, vampires, and body enhancements, but all focus on self-identity and how others perceive us. I especially enjoyed Hiromi Goto’s “Notes from Liminal Spaces,” which is liminal in many ways. Extra nonfiction essays appear in this issue — 10 total! They range from political advice to SFF commentary. My favorite of these was the very last — “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat the Damn Eyeball” by DongWon Song, about food and colonization in SFF. Of the poems, Theodora Goss once again writes a lovely, perfect poem in “Seven Shoes,” a poem about the magical bargains we make, and how often life moves in such a way that we may forget them. I highly recommend these 3 in particular. My review of each story is posted on Goodreads. 4/5

What did you read in June?

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.

Reading Railroad: March’s Reading

Everything I read in March! 7 books total.

Novels

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson. Published in 2000. A Caribbean, carnival, multi-dimensional space travel science fiction novel that deals with abuse, rape, marginalization, colonization, and othering. Seem like a lot? It really is. A young Tan-Tan pretends she’s the Robber Queen — a carnival rogue — on a planet colonized by Caribbean immigrants. But when her father, the mayor, is arrested, both of them are forced into exile on a multidimensional ship that takes them to a place very different than the one Tan-Tan knows. I love the dialect and Caribbean culture, and I thoroughly enjoyed the last third or fourth of the novel. But it takes forever for the plot to get going. The first chunk could’ve been half as long. I did really like the end, though. This is my first Nalo Hopkinson, and despite the 3 stars, I will try more of her novels. I haven’t read anything like it before, and that’s reason enough to try out another. 3/5

Speak by Louisa Hall. Published in 2015. Multiple narrative threads rotate around contemplations of memory, love, loss, and the need for human communication and contact. Stephen Chinn writes a memoir about falling in love and building a true AI doll. Transcripts between Gaby and Mary3, an AI, are presented at Stephen’s trial. Ruth and Carl Dettman write letters to one another about memory and Carl’s computer Mary, without ever sending the letters. Ruth reads the diary of Mary, a 17th century US settler, to Mary the computer. Alan Turing writes to his dead best friend Chris’ mother as he struggles with Chris’ death and his own spirituality. Speak is a meditative novel, not one that gives closure to any of the characters. I liked that about it, but I also wanted to delve deeper into each character. Still, I would recommend it to people who enjoy AI and/or science-based novels. 3.5/5

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. Published March 14th, 2017.  Another science-based novel, this one dealing with space travel. It’s also quite introspective, though I liked this one more than Speak, primarily because it reached a depth of character development I tend to really enjoy. Read my full review here! Definitely recommend. 4/5

 

 

 

Nonfiction

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay. Published in 2014. A friend and I attempted to read this together, but she kept losing her book, so I read ahead. I just couldn’t leave it unfinished any longer! Obviously, I’m a bad feminist friend. 🙂 We did have a couple of meetups before she lost the book, and you can read our discussions on my Goodreads review. I finished the book mostly thinking about how much I like Roxane Gay. She seems like an awesome person to know, and I would love to be in one of her classes. I don’t always connect with all her pop culture examples (my pop culture knowledge tends to be exclusively SF based), but I love her meandering approach and the things she said even if I didn’t fully understand the context. I could easily apply her thoughts to my own experiences. Definitely a must-read for feminists, or anyone unsure if they’re a feminist. 4/5

Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States by Eleanor Flexner. First published in 1959. Century of Struggle chronicles the woman’s suffrage movement in the US from pre-Seneca Falls to when women finally won the vote, more than 70 years after the first woman’s suffrage convention at Seneca Falls. Just to illustrate why books like this need to be read, I mentioned Seneca Falls to three or four people who had asked what I was reading, and they had no idea why Seneca Falls was significant. They’d never heard of it. And it’s no surprise. I’ve spent twenty years in the education system and minored in history, but I don’t recall the woman’s suffrage movement being discussed in a single class. While I did know about Seneca Falls before reading this (I learned about it on my own), there was so much about the movement I didn’t know, far more than what I did. I mean, I learned A LOT. The history of how women won the vote in the US is fraught with struggle and amazing women. It’s absolutely fascinating, and people need to know this history! 5/5

Poetry

Black Zodiac: Poems by Charles Wright. Published in 1998. Continuing my poetry reading from February. As with Chickamauga: Poems (the only other collection by him I’ve read), Charles Wright explores connections between spirituality, landscape, and art. He’s a master at the long line; his poems sprawl across the page, full of ellipses and dashes, beginning left and then right, utilizing the entire page. I kind of have to work at his poems, which is a good thing. 4/5

 

 

Short Story Collections

Uncanny Magazine Issue 14. Published in January 2017. I feel like with every issue of Uncanny I begin my review with — Another strong issue — but here it is again: another strong issue. The story that stands out the most is Maria Dahvana Headley’s novelette The Thule Stowaway, a chronicle of the last days of Edgar Allen Poe as told by Mrs. McFarlane, who has a creature trapped in her body. It’s very atmospheric, and there’s also a fantastic interview with the author. The essays also stand out as being quite good, with my favorite being an analysis of the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You can read my review of all the stories on Goodreads. 4/5

Individual Short Stories

I did read 2 short stories this month — part of Tor.com’s Nevertheless She Persisted series — but I’m going to wait until I’ve read all of them before I give a review. So stay tuned to April’s Reading Railroad!

What did you read in March?

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!

 

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: 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