Fabulous short treats: A trio of mini-reviews!

These three books delighted me in different ways, so I thought I’d write up a quick post with thoughts on all three.

Title: The Beautifull Cassandra
Author: Jane Austen
Illustrated by: Leon Steinmetz
Release date for this edition: September 11, 2018
Length: 72 pages

Have you read any of Jane Austen’s early writings, collected as her Juvenilia? I hadn’t… but then my daughter sent me this gorgeous edition of The Beautifull Cassandra, a story Austen wrote when she was just twelve years old. It’s a total treat. The story itself is told in 12 chapters, each only a few lines long, with under 500 words in all. The illustrations here are lovely and perfect, and I adored this book so much!

If you’re looking for an unusual gift for an Austen lover, this would make a great choice!

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Title: Snow, Glass, Apples
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by: Colleen Doran
Release date: August 20, 2019
Length: 64 pages

I have loved the disturbing short story Snow, Glass, Apples every since reading it in Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors collection, so when I heard that an illustrated version was being released this year, I just had to have it.

Wow.

The story is as powerful as ever — taking the fairy tale of Snow White and turning it upside down and inside out. It’s gruesome and scary and disturbing, and gives me a chill right down to my bones.

Add to the power of the story the absolutely stunning illustrations by Colleen Doran… and you have a book that is both beautiful and deeply frightening from start to end.

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Title: Galatea
Author: Madeline Miller
Release date: 2013
Length: 37 pages

After reading and loving both The Song of Achilles and Circe, I knew I had to try this earlier short work by Madeline Miller. As with her other books, the author starts with a premise out of Greek mythology: The sculptor Pygmalion creates a sculpture of a woman so incredibly beautiful that he falls in love with her, and begs the goddess Aphrodite to bring her to life so he can marry her.

In Galatea, we learn what happens next. Sure, Pygmalion got the woman of his dreams — but how does she feel about it? What’s it like to be so completely beholden to your creator, a man who only wants you in still, silent perfection? This story is strange and disturbing, and not easy to put from your mind once you’re done reading. Highly recommended.

Catching up on Gail Carriger’s short fiction

I don’t know exactly how or why, but for whatever reason, I ended up bingeing on Gail Carriger’s short fiction this week, and had a simply splendid time doing it.

I’m a big fan of the Parasol Protectorate series. (What? You haven’t read them? Stop right now and go get a copy of Soulless! Emergency reading intervention required!). I mean, steampunk plus supernatural plus Victorian society… with dirigibles, werewolves, and highly dangerous parasols… what’s not to love?

Still, I haven’t read much of Carriger’s shorter fictions — until now. This week, I started with a new novella, then went back and read some earlier short stories, and finished up with another novella.

So, here’s what I read. First, the short stories:

curious-case fairy-debt my-sisters-song

The Curious Case of the Werewolf That Wasn’t (32 pages, published 2014): This tale centers on Alessandro Tarabotti, father of Alexia of the Parasol Protectorate. In the series, Alessandro is a shadowy figure, already deceased, leaving all sorts of mysteries as his legacy. In The Curious Case, we see Alessandro on an adventure in Egypt. It’s classic Carriger, with spies, action, waistcoats, and proper (and improper) behavior. I enjoyed the story, but still wish we had an entire novel about Alessandro’s life and deeds. The story doesn’t really shed further light on him, but it is quite fun.

Fairy Debt (18 pages, published 2007): Light and fluffy, this is a stand-alone unrelated to Carriger’s steampunk worlds. It’s a straight-up fairy tale, but cute and with a decidedly feminist world view.

My Sister’s Song (17 pages, published 1999): A brief tale of a warrior woman who defeats a Roman squadron thanks to her sister’s skill at charming bees.

I should note here that Gail Carriger has another published short piece, Marine Biology (43 pages, published 2010). Because I read it several years ago, I wasn’t going to include it in my reading wrap-up post… but what the heck — if you’re interested in the author’s short fiction, then it’s worth mentioning! Here’s what I wrote about Marine Biology in my Goodreads review way back when:

marine-biology

 

“Marine Biology” was originally published in a paranormal romance collection, and has just been released as an ebook single. This is the first story of Gail Carriger’s that I’ve read that’s set in the modern world, rather than the Victorian era. It’s also – shocker! – set in the US. Not a single cup of tea throughout!

“Marine Biology” is a cute, light love story involving a reluctant werewolf hiding his sexuality and a few other key points from his he-man pack. When he and a gorgeous merman are thrown together to investigate some stolen money, sparks fly — and precipate a few important moments of truth.

The mystery is rather beside the point. The fun is in meeting and appreciating the main characters, reading about pack dynamics (and barbeque social mores), and encountering a few interesting marine animals along the way.

Gail Carriger’s humor and way with words shine through, as usual. Of course, if you really want to have fun, I’d highly recommend her Parasol Protectorate series. “Marine Biology” is a quick, diverting read, and would make a great dessert after a night of “serious” reading.

Moving on…

I also read the two newest novellas, both set in the universe of the author’s novels:

poison-or-protectPoison or Protect (143 pages, published 2016):

(Goodreads synopsis)

Can one gentle Highland soldier woo Victorian London’s most scandalous lady assassin, or will they both be destroyed in the attempt?

New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a stand-alone romance novella set in her popular steampunk universe full of manners, spies, and dainty sandwiches.

Lady Preshea Villentia, the Mourning Star, has four dead husbands and a nasty reputation. Fortunately, she looks fabulous in black. What society doesn’t know is that all her husbands were marked for death by Preshea’s employer. And Preshea has one final assignment.

It was supposed to be easy, a house party with minimal bloodshed. Preshea hadn’t anticipated Captain Gavin Ruthven – massive, Scottish, quietly irresistible, and… working for the enemy. In a battle of wits, Preshea may risk her own heart – a terrifying prospect, as she never knew she had one.

Buy Poison or Protect today to find out whether it’s heartbreak or haggis at this high tea.

Warning: Contains men pleasing women, and ladies who know what they want and ask for it, sometimes in detail. May also contain plaid, appearances from favorite characters, and the strategic application of leather gloves.

Ha. Gotta love that warning, right? Poison or Protect is fairly explicit, leading to great steaminess in the boudoir scenes. The plot itself is quite fun and engaging, so it’s not JUST about the sex (although there’s plenty of that). I loved Preshea and Gavin, and loved their dynamic together. I understand that Preshea appears as a young girl in the Finishing School series (which I haven’t finished yet — my bad), but not being familiar with her doesn’t have any impact on enjoyment of Poison or Protect. The novella can definitely be read as a stand-alone, and is loads of sexy fun.

Next:

romancing-the-inventorRomancing the Inventor (149 pages, published 2016):

(Goodreads synopsis)

Imogene Hale is a lowly parlourmaid with a soul-crushing secret. Seeking solace, she takes work at a local hive, only to fall desperately in love with the amazing lady inventor the vampires are keeping in the potting shed. Genevieve Lefoux is heartsick, lonely, and French. With culture, class, and the lady herself set against the match, can Imogene and her duster overcome all odds and win Genevieve’s heart, or will the vampires suck both of them dry?

This is a stand-alone LBGTQ sweet romance set in Gail Carriger’s Parasolverse, full of class prejudice, elusive equations, and paranormal creatures taking tea.

Delicate Sensibilities? This story contains women pleasing women and ladies who know what they want and pursue it, sometimes in exquisite detail.

Supernatural Society novellas can be read in any order.

Well, that was certainly different! Romancing the Inventor is set a few years after the events of the Parasol Protectorate books, and reading that series provides the context and backstory for this novella, although I suppose it could work as a stand-alone pretty well too.

Familiar faces from PP show up, some in lead roles (Madame Lefoux), and others in more of a support status (Alexia, Conall, Major Channing, Countess Nadasdy, etc).

Imogene’s journey and pursuit of love is sweet, romantic, and yes, sexy too. There are some steamy sexual encounters, but nothing overly graphic (in my opinion — I suppose it’s a matter of individual sensitivity, after all.) Carriger’s writing is wry and funny and spot-on, as always:

For a full two months, Imogene resumed the established daily pattern — potting shed, sums, dimples, tea, lab, dimples, luncheon, equations, more dimples, supper, and if she was luck, one last set of dimples before bed.

Wrapping it all up…

I’d say that fans of any of Gail Carriger’s novels or series really must read the novellas too. They have everything we fans love about her writing — the settings, the characters, the sense of playful fun, the Victorian manners and social expectations, the fashions — and the naughtiness too.

As for the short stories, well, I’d consider them nonessential, fluffy fun. There’s no reason not to take the short time needed to enjoy them. Of the four, I consider Marine Biology the best, and would make that one a priority over the other three.

Whew! It’s been a Carriger week for me, and I had lots of fun in my deep dive into her shorter works. And now, I’m thinking I really do need to give the Finishing School series another chance.