Shelf Control #173: Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

Title: Kissing the Witch
Author: Emma Donoghue
Published: 1997
Length: 228 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Thirteen tales are unspun from the deeply familiar, and woven anew into a collection of fairy tales that wind back through time. Acclaimed Irish author Emma Donoghue reveals heroines young and old in unexpected alliances–sometimes treacherous, sometimes erotic, but always courageous. Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed. Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire. Acclaimed writer Emma Donoghue spins new tales out of old in a magical web of thirteen interconnected stories about power and transformation and choosing one’s own path in the world. In these fairy tales, women young and old tell their own stories of love and hate, honor and revenge, passion and deception. Using the intricate patterns and oral rhythms of traditional fairy tales, Emma Donoghue wraps age-old characters in a dazzling new skin.

How and when I got it:

Library sale! When? Oh, a few years ago…

Why I want to read it:

Funny, I picked this book up on a whim based on the cover and the description, and didn’t make the connection to the bestselling author! I believe this is one of her very early works, certainly published years before Room became such a phenomenon. I always love a good retelling, and I like the sound of this collection — certainly sounds as though the stories will be dark and different.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Roar by Cecelia Ahern

 

From the bestselling author of P.S., I Love You, a fiercely feminist story collection that illuminates–sometimes in fantastical ways–how women of all kinds navigate the world today.

In this singular and imaginative story collection, Cecelia Ahern explores the endless ways in which women blaze through adversity with wit, resourcefulness, and compassion. Ahern takes the familiar aspects of women’s lives–the routines, the embarrassments, the desires–and elevates these moments to the outlandish and hilarious with her astute blend of magical realism and social insight.

One woman is tortured by sinister bite marks that appear on her skin; another is swallowed up by the floor during a mortifying presentation; yet another resolves to return and exchange her boring husband at the store where she originally acquired him. The women at the center of this curious universe learn that their reality is shaped not only by how others perceive them, but also how they perceive the power within themselves.

By turns sly, whimsical, and affecting, these thirty short stories are a dynamic examination of what it means to be a woman in this very moment. Like women themselves, each story can stand alone; yet together, they have a combined power to shift consciousness, inspire others, and create a multi-voiced ROAR that will not be ignored.

Roar is a collection of fantastical stories, rooted in the real world, in which the unnamed women at the heart of the different tales experience life through a series of metaphors that have somehow become reality.

The titles of these 30 stories all begin with the words The Woman Who. Each focuses on a woman experiencing some sort of literal manifestation of the types of issues we all encounter more figuratively in our worlds.

The collection opens strong with The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared. The premise is very reminiscent of the season 1 Buffy episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight, about a high school girl whose peers never seem to notice her, and who ends up becoming invisible. In this story, the main character is a woman in her 50s who has gradually faded, becoming less seen over time as she ages, becoming unnoteworthy to the crowds of people around her:

On the worst days, she would go home feeling completely overwhelmed and desperate. She would look in the mirror just to make sure she was still there, to keep reminding herself of that fact; she even took to carrying a pocket mirror for those moments on the subway when she was sure she had vanished.

After fading away to just a glimmer, the woman finally finds hope in the care of a doctor who provides a diagnosis and treatment plan:

“Women need to see women, too,” Professor Montgomery says. “If we don’t see each other, if we don’t see ourselves, how can we expect anybody else to?”

In The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf, a woman’s husband builds her a shelf where he can display and admire her, but over the years of her marriage, she finds the shelf keeps her on the sidelines of the life around her.

She’s spent so many years sitting up here representing an extension of  Ronald, of his achievements, that she no longer has any idea what she represents to herself.

Other favorites of mine are the stories The Woman Who Walked in Her Husband’s Shoes, The Woman Who Was a Featherbrain, and the The Woman Who Was Pigeonholed. But really, they’re all terrific. The tales are simple. You might at first glance find the premise a little obvious, but really, taken as a whole, these fables illustrated different aspects of what it means to be a woman, how we are defined by society, ourselves, and each other, and how perception and awareness can change everything. There’s a lightness and humor in many stories, even as the situations, taken to their logical (or illogical) conclusion can be nightmarish.

In The Woman Who Wore Pink, there’s an actual Gender Police that issues warnings and fines as people step outside their prescribed gender roles, with all of one’s interactions — even down to the daily Starbucks order, being identified as either “penis” or “vagina”. It takes the woman’s six-year-old daughter’s angry argument, “If I”m not me, who else am I supposed to be?” for the woman to open her eyes and consider the pointlessness of separating all habits and options into either penis or vagina categories. There’s a particularly funny episode after the daughter is denied the “penis” Happy Meal that comes with a dinosaur, as the woman starts to question why dinosaurs are considered boy-appropriate only:

“I’m just saying. I mean, there were female dinosaurs, too, you know, and I don’t think any of them were pink.”

I ended up loving this entire collection. The thirty stories are a mix of far-fetched, grounded in the familiar, comedic, and painful. All are told in a straight-forward manner, where we take the fantastical elements as reality and are faced with considering how our world’s definitions of women’s lives and women’s roles might look if all the euphemisms and catchphrases for the assumptions and barriers facing women became literal parts of the everyday world.

Roar is a fun, thought-provoking set of stories with plenty to chew on. I think it would be a great choice for a book club to discuss. Reading this book made me wish for a group of friends with copies in their hands, so we could each pick a favorite story and compare notes — and imagine ourselves literally falling through the floor, unraveling, melting down, or discovering our very own strong suit.

Check it out!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Roar
Authors: Cecelia Ahern
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: April 16, 2018
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Short stories
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

What not to read before flying! Three shorts about airplane travel

It’s really not that bad…

I’m getting on a plane today, flying home from East Coast to West — so what did I read yesterday? Why, just three different short stories about air travel. And why did I choose to do that on the day before a flight? No idea, really… because they were there?

In any case, they didn’t all freak me out. They’re not all scary, but still — an odd choice, given the timing.

Here’s what I read:

 

Wingspan by Chris Bohjalian: This is a one-act play by an author who’s always terrific. The action centers on two flight attendants, one young and inexperienced, one closer to middle age and with enough years of flying and life to be both practical and somewhat jaded. As they prepare for takeoff, the younger woman’s fear of flying is obvious, and as they talk, she begins to reveal her long-held secrets that led her to this point. The dialogue is sharp and clever, showing the slow development of trust and support between the two characters. Wingspan is not frightening from a flying perspective, but it is disturbing in terms of what is revealed and what the younger woman has experienced. This is a great short read (32 pages), available as an e-book standlone. Definitely recommended.

 

Next, two shorts by the amazing Seanan McGuire, both originally Patreon stories:

Carry On: Published on Patreon in 2016, available to read online at Nightmare Magazine (https://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/carry-on/):

A creepy tale that’s not too implausible. Airlines charge for legroom, carry-on bags, food, earlier boarding, the privilege of choosing seats… what’s next? Carry On takes that question to an answer that’s not all that far-fetched. Instead of making larger people buy two seats while having skinnier folks get to sit in comfort by virtue of their smaller size, why not charge by total weight? You buy a ticket based on the combined weight of you and your carry-ons — and you’d better hope you pass the pre-flight weigh-in!

Emergency Landing: Seanan McGuire’s newest Patreon story (not available elsewhere at this point):

Wow, this is one creepy story! It’s not terrifying from the flying perspective — nothing bad happens to the engines or the rest of the plane. But what happens when you’re in the air on a routine flight and learn that the rest of the world has maybe just been wiped out? This story is horrifying and disturbing in all the best ways.

So, really, nothing to put me off flying too badly, and all great reads!

And hey, at least I didn’t dive into this collection, which keeps showing up in my recommendations list:

A collection of 17 horror stories about… yes… flying, edited by Stephen King, with this tasty hint in the description:

All the ways your trip into the friendly skies can turn into a nightmare, including some we’ll bet you’ve never thought of before… but now you will the next time you walk down the jetway and place your fate in the hands of a total stranger.

I actually wouldn’t mind reading this — but not today, thanks!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales by Tamora Pierce

My journey through Tortall continues! For the uninitiated, Tortall is the fantasy kingdom created by Tamora Pierce and explored through her terrific series, all of which focus on strong, determined young women who find a way to make their own mark in the world. I’ve been reading my way through Pierce’s Tortall books since the middle of last year, and now find myself approaching the end. *sniff*

Continuing onward by publication date, I now come to Tortall and Other Lands, a collection of stories set in and around Tortall. Actually, most are “around” rather than “in”, but that’s okay. In this set of eleven stories, we explore different times and places related to the world Pierce created in the Tortall books — and also get to read two contemporary stories, which really surprised me. More on that later.

Most of the stories in this collection have been published in other anthologies, with publication dates from 1986 up to 2011. I ended up listening to the audiobook, which was fun. The audiobook has different narrators for each story, with the final story read by Tamora Pierce herself, always a treat.

So what’s inside? Here’s a little overview of the stories in Tortall and Other Lands:

Student of Ostriches: A girl from a desert tribe learns to become a warrior by observing the animals in the wilderness surrounding her village and emulating their fighting styles. While the characters and places in this story are new, there’s an appearance by a Shang warrior, which is a nice connection to the Song of the Lioness books.

Elder Brother: A strange but moving story that connects to the Immortals books. This story shows the aftermath of a particular spell cast in The Immortals, and what happens to the unintended victim of that spell — a tree who is forced to become human.

The Hidden Girl: The Hidden Girl connects with Elder Brother, following up on the events in that story by showing what happens next to a girl located in the same strictly religious community, as she and her father begin to work against the traditions that keep women apart and uneducated.

Nawat: Weirdly enough, I really liked this story, even though it relates to my least favorite books in the Tortall universe, Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen. In those, a human girl falls in love with a crow-turned-man (weird, I know). Here, we find out what happens after the HEA. Nawat is the crow/man, whose human wife has now given birth to triplets. Nawat has to figure out how to be a father, how to remain connected to his crow flock, and when he must go against the crow way for the sake of his wife and babies. I didn’t expect to care all that much — but I really, really did.

The Dragon’s Tale: Oh, I loved this story! The dragon in The Dragon’s Tale is Kitten, the baby dragon (now more like an adolescent dragon) adopted by Daine and Numair in the Immortals series. Here, Kitten has accompanied her humans to travel through the land of Carthak, visiting different towns and villages with the Carthaki emperor, getting to know the locals and studying the magic they encounter. Because Kitten is bored, she sets out on her own to explore, and ends up discovering a woman with secrets and much, much more. It’s so much fun to see the world through Kitten’s eyes, and extra enjoyable because Daine and Numair feature in the story.

Lost: In the Aly books (the Trickster books, mentioned earlier), the most unusual of Aly’s spies and helpers are the Darkings, small creatures who are more or less animated inkblots that can connect telepathically with each other, change shape, grow and shrink at will, and act as sources of information and assistance to the people they interact with. They’re also awfully darn cute, and their voices in the audiobooks are adorable. Lost, in this story, is a darking who befriends a lonely young woman, Adria. Adria has a brilliant mind for mathematics, but she’s bullied by her father and demeaned by a new teacher. When she meets Lost, new worlds open up to her, including the chance to meet and study with an unusual woman working as an engineer in her town.

Time of Proving: A relatively short work, Again, a young woman meets an unusual creature and finds the door opening on a fresh new adventure.

Plain Magic: A girl whose village is ready to sacrifice her to a dragon, and the outsider who provides a new way of thinking about both dragons and girls.

Mimic: Ah, another really fun one! A girl who guards the sheep flocks of her village finds a strange injured reptile and nurses it back to health, against her family’s wishes. As the creature — called Mimic — grows, it exhibits all sorts of talents and magical gifts, and turns into something very unexpected.

Huntress: A mystical story set in contemporary New York — what a change of pace for a Tamora Pierce tale! In Huntress, a girl descended from a family of goddess-worshipping women gets the opportunity to attend a prestigious private school on scholarship. What she thinks is acceptance into an elite group of athletes becomes an initiation rite where she ends up at the mercy of a pack intent on hunting her. The story is entertaining, although it feels like it could be something out of Buffy or Charmed or any of a handful of other teen-centric supernatural tales. Still, a good listen/read.

Testing: The only non-fantasy story in the collection, Testing is the story of girls living in a group home, who manage to scare away every new housemother assigned to them — until finally one comes along who seems to be able to withstand the girls’ need to test her. On the audiobook, this story is read by Tamora Pierce, and there’s an introduction in which she talks about her own time working as a housemother in a group home. Really interesting — this is a good story, although it’s weird to read a Pierce story without the slightest shred of magic in it!

Tortall and Other Lands is a great read for fans of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall works. I think many of these stories would work on their own as well, for readers who aren’t familiar with Tortall… but if you want a taste of Tamora Pierce, I’d strongly suggest starting with the Song of the Lioness books. And if those grab you, keep going!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales
Author: Tamora Pierce
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: February 22, 2011
Length: 369 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Shelf Control #151: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

Title: 20th Century Ghosts
Author: Joe Hill
Published: 2007
Length: 316 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A collection of short stories.

Imogene is young and beautiful. She kisses like a movie star and knows everything about every film ever made. She’s also dead and waiting in the Rosebud Theater for Alec Sheldon one afternoon in 1945….

Arthur Roth is a lonely kid with big ideas and a gift for attracting abuse. It isn’t easy to make friends when you’re the only inflatable boy in town….

Francis is unhappy. Francis was human once, but that was then. Now he’s an eight-foot-tall locust and everyone in Calliphora will tremble when they hear him sing….

John Finney is locked in a basement that’s stained with the blood of half a dozen other murdered children. In the cellar with him is an antique telephone, long since disconnected, but which rings at night with calls from the dead….

The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past…

How and when I got it:

I bought it after reading Heart-Shaped Box, which scared the hell out of me.

Why I want to read it:

I’m a fan of Joe Hill’s novels, but haven’t read his short stories yet. Well, to be honest, when I bought this book soon after it came out, I read one story — and it was terrifying and horrible (as in, bloody and gory, not badly written), and I basically had to put the book down and run away. A friend later told me that I would have been fine if I’d skipped that one story, but oh well — the damage was already done! In any case, I still own a copy of this book, and because I do love Joe Hill’s writing, I’m determined to screw up my nerve and give it another try… one of these days. (All this is putting aside the fact that I don’t usually have the patience for short stories… this book will definitely be a stretch for me.)

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Shelf Control #99: The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

Title: The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present
Author: Wayne Mergler (editor)
Published: 1996
Length: 816 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

This mammoth, 816-page anthology tells a myriad of stories of Alaska in fiction, journalism, memoirs, folklore, and poetry. From Tlingit and Eskimo legends to the prose by Robert Service, Ernie Pyle, and Jack London to works by young contemporary writers, The Last New Land lays out a literary goldfield waiting to be discovered.

How and when I got it:

I found this book at a library sale a few years back and just had to have it.

Why I want to read it:

First of all, I’m madly in love with Alaska and love reading novels set there — so when I saw this story collection, there was no way I’d pass it up (even though I don’t usually read short stories). The anthology looks fascinating, including Tlingit and Eskimo legends, stories and excerpts about early Alaska history, all the way through to present-day fiction and articles, and even an excerpt from one of my very favorite series, the Kate Shugak novels by Dana Stabenow.

I doubt that I’ll ever sit down and read this book all the way through, but choosing The Last New Land for this week’s Shelf Control is a good reminder to myself to at least pull it off my shelf and dip my toes in!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Three new stories by Diana Gabaldon

Well, June was quite a month for fans of Diana Gabaldon, who has graced us with with not one, not two, but three new stories! Actually, that should probably be 2 1/2, since the 3rd is coauthored. No matter! We fans will take what we can get.

Most excitingly, for Outlander readers, is the publication of Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, a collection of stories set in the Outlander-verse. Five stories have been published previously in anthologies and as stand-alones:

  • The Custom of the Army (a Lord John story)
  • The Space Between (about Fraser relations, Master Raymond, and the infamous Comte St. Germain)
  • A Plague of Zombies (more Lord John)
  • A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (about Roger’s parents during WWII)
  • Virgins (about Jamie and Ian as young, virginal mercenaries in France, prior to the events of Outlander)

Having read all of these previously*, I’ll just focus on the two new pieces from Seven Stones:

A Fugitive Green: A 100+ page novella about Hal and Minnie — that would be Lord John’s distinguished older brother Harold, Duke of Pardloe, and his beloved wife Minnie. This is their origin story, of sorts. In A Fugitive Green, we get the tale of how Minnie, the daughter of a spymaster and book dealer, met and ended up married to a young, newly widowed British officer on the verge of utter disgrace. Minnie is sent by her father from Paris to London to carry out some book deals as well as some espionage, with the ulterior motive of getting her a rich and well-placed husband along the way. Meanwhile, Hal is dealing with the aftermath of a scandalous duel and his wife’s death, and Hal’s best friend is busy trying to get Hal cleared of any guilt related to the duel. When Minnie and Hal meet, sparks fly. We’ve certainly seen both of these characters as adults and gotten a taste of their fiery marriage, and their unusual meeting and marriage has been spoken of, but here we see it first-hand (and yes, the famous hearth rug too.) It’s all quite delicious, and I enjoyed seeing Hal in his 20s, with a certain amount of romance and vulnerability that his older, more hardened self rarely (if ever) displays. Hal has become a favorite of mine over the course of the main Outlander series as well as in the assortment of Lord John novels and novellas, and I appreciated getting this new view of Hal and Minnie and the start of their relationship.

 

Besieged: In which Lord John, wrapping up his governorship of Jamaica, is informed last minute that not only is his mother Benedicta unexpectedly in Havana, but that the British fleet is about to invade Cuba. What’s a devoted son to do but sail off with his trusted valet Tom Byrd and rush to the rescue? I’ll be honest — despite my love for John and my joy at another adventure with Tom Byrd, this story left me cold. It was mostly people (well, John) rushing from place to place, lots of military talk, and not a whole lot of character depth. The action felt a bit mind-numbing after a while — haciendas and forts and rushing around — and I just didn’t enjoy it. Sure, it’s wonderful to spend time with John, but I would have liked to see him interact more with his mother and Tom rather than being caught up in an action story the whole time. There’s also a very sad development, if you’ve read the Lord John novels and are familiar with John’s extended family, but other than that, I actually found Besieged rather skippable.

 

And finally, a Gabaldon story that’s only kind of a Gabaldon story. In the new anthology MatchUp, bestselling authors are paired up — one male, one female — to create stories together featuring some of their well-known characters. For those who are into these type of stories (crime thrillers), I’m sure there’s lots to enjoy from authors such as Sandra Brown, Charlaine Harris, etc etc etc. For me, I picked up MatchUp at the library strictly for the sake of Herself.

In MatchUp, Diana Gabaldon is paired up with Steve Berry, and together they’ve written a story — Past Prologue — centered around Berry’s lead character, Cotton Malone. In Past Prologue, Malone is in Scotland (to be clear, that’s modern-day, 21st century Scotland) for a private book sale. When he wanders away from Ardsmuir for a walk across the moors, he finds himself at a stone circle… and then, poof! finds himself in the year 1755. And for those who know their Outlander history, that means that Ardsmuir is a prison housing Scottish rebels, among them a tall red-haired man who stands out in a crowd. Malone ends up meeting the one and only Jamie Fraser (pausing here for hearts to melt). The plot of the story isn’t that important, but the Jamie moments are a lovely little treat, with a lot of heartbreak squeezed into one small conversation.

Past Prologue isn’t essential to the Outlander canon, but for fans, it’s a fun way to get a glimpse of familiar characters and settings. Not a bad way to pass the time!

 

*If you’re an Outlander reader but haven’t yet read the five already-published stories, I’ll just say that my two favorites are A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows and Virgins.

**Further note: As always, I’ll mention that the audiobooks are a great option for enjoying the Gabaldon novellas. Jeff Woodman is particularly wonderful narrating anything related to Lord John, and I really enjoyed the Virgins audiobook as well.

***I’ve written about a few of the these stories/novellas in other posts. Check them out:
A Trail of Fire
Virgins

Save

Save

Save

Stars Above: What’s Inside?

Stars AboveThe fantastic Lunar Chronicles series came to a close in 2015 with the publication of the final novel in the series, Winter. But wait! It’s not quite as finished as it seemed… because here we are in 2016 and we have a final FINAL volume in our hands.

Stars Above is a collection of stories that tie in and around the main characters and events of the novels, with most taking place in the years prior to the start of the series. The collection includes four previously published stories and five that are brand new.

So what’s inside Stars Above? Read on…

“The Keeper” (new): Ah, some backstory! “The Keeper” focuses on Michelle Benoit and her role in Cinder’s early years. As readers of the series know, Cinder was rescued from an almost successful murder attempt by her aunt Levana and hidden on Earth for years, while all of Luna believed her dead. In “The Keeper”, we see how Cinder was first entrusted to Michelle’s care and how she kept Cinder hidden and safe, all the while trying to provide a loving, secure home for her niece Scarlet. It’s a sweet story, and gives us a glimpse of events that we’ve heard reference to, but which we’d never learned many details about.

“Glitches” (previously published): “Glitches” follows “The Keeper” chronologically, as we see Cinder’s arrival in New Beijing and her introduction to the family of Linh Garan, her protector and adoptive father. Cinder is newly awakened and adjusts both to her new environment and her new status as a cyborg.

“The Queen’s Army” (previously published): This story shows Wolf’s transition from ordinary Lunar child to fierce, modified soldier serving the queen, showing his physical transformation and emotional struggles as well as his development into the pack Alpha.

“Carswell’s Guide To Being Lucky” (previously published): What was Carswell Thorne like as a teen-aged boy? Probably exactly what you’ve imagined — a total flirt, a guy who uses his charm to get his way, and a consummate swindler who seems to always know how to work the crowd. But even as a self-satisfied teen, Carswell still dreams of his future in space…

“After Sunshine Passes By” (new): Oh, so sweet and sad. This new tale introduces us to 9-year-old Cress, a Lunar shell kept alive with other outcasts like herself just for their value as scientific specimens. But Cress is a sweetie and a dreamer and imagines someday being of actual value, maybe even finally being accepted into society. What she gets instead is years of isolation in an orbiting jail… and this story shows how it all came about.

“The Princess and the Guard” (new): Lovely little Princess Winter’s early years are shown in this story, as we see her growing up in the palace and being trained to use her Lunar gift, until she begins to become aware of the danger and cruelty inherent in having such manipulative power. We see Winter’s decision to abandon her gift, even at the risk of madness, the cruelty of Levana, and how Jacin set his course in life with protecting Winter as his top priority.

“The Little Android” (previously published): I loved this story when I first read it, and I love it still. “The Little Android” is only tangentially connected to the characters of the Lunar Chronicles, as the android of the title has a brief meeting with the mechanic Linh Cinder. What this story truly is is an imaginative and moving retelling of the Little Mermaid fairy tale — not the pretty Disney version, but the tragic yet lovely story by Hans Christian Andersen. “The Little Android” makes a great stand-alone, but as part of this collection, shows yet another side of the Lunar Chronicles world.

“The Mechanic” (new): We’ve seen Kai and Cinder’s first meeting in the marketplace from Cinder’s perspective already. Here in “The Mechanic”, we get the same meeting as seen through Kai’s eyes. It’s fun to get the royal view, and to see the crown prince already struggling to fulfill his responsibilities to his people while at the same time being a teen boy who has just spotted a fascinating and surprising girl.

“Something Old, Something New” (new): As the title suggests, this final story in the collection is all about the Happily Ever After that our beloved characters have truly earned! The whole gang gathers for Scarlet and Wolf’s wedding, and there are romantic moments galore for all of the couples. This story really ties up the entire series with all the hearts and flowers and giddy joy we readers could possibly hope for.

Stars Above includes an excerpt from Heartless, the new stand-alone novel by Marissa Meyer scheduled for publication this coming fall. The blurb reads:

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Sounds good, right? I generally prefer not to read excerpts, so I skipped this one… but for those who can’t resist a sneak peek at the next book, it’s yet another reason to pick up a copy of Stars Above.

All in all, Stars Above is a must-read for fans of the Lunar Chronicles. It’s like Marissa Meyer has given a final gift to her readers…

present-307984_1280… and as a grateful reader, my response to Marissa Meyer is:

thank-you-907818_1920

 

Audiobook Review: Trigger Warning

Trigger WarningI’ve said it a bazillion times already on my blog: I suck at short stories. My attention wanders. I get impatient. I feel as though I’m just serving time until I can get back to my “real” reading… meaning reading a full-length novel.

And yet — after attending a talk by Neil Gaiman last spring and coming home with a signed copy of his latest book, I felt compelled to actually READ Trigger Warning, instead of just sticking in on a shelf to be admired for its prettiness.

Trigger Warning is a story collection (or, as the cover states, a collection of “Short Fictions and Disturbances”). While I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, pretty much always and no matter what, my dreaded aversion to short stories was keeping me from starting Trigger Warning, until I finally had the brilliant idea of listening to the audiobook.

Success!

I listened to (almost) the entire audiobook of Trigger Warning during the past week, and I must admit that I really enjoyed it.

Of course, the fact that Neil Himself is the narrator does not hurt. Nope, not one bit.

Neil Gaiman is in fact a terrific, animated, nuanced narrator, and his reading of the stories is never dull. I loved the tiny inflections and emphases, the slight accents for different characters, and the pacing and delivery. And there’s an odd sense of rightness in hearing the author read his own book. He, of all people, should know which parts are meant to be spoken boldly, which to trail off, when to be quiet, and when to practically chant. The eerie stories were read eerily; the funny bits had laughter hiding in the tone of his voice. Simply marvelous.

As for the stories themselves, this is really a very mixed assortment. Most (all?) appeared elsewhere originally, whether in other anthologies or written for special projects or events. I’d read two stories previously, “Orange” and “The Thing About Cassandra”, and enjoyed them immensely here in spoken format.

Other standouts for me are “Down to a Sunless Sea”, a short but entirely chilling tale told by a mysterious woman one rainy day along a wharf. “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains…” is a long, mythical-feeling piece involving a quest for gold, truth, and revenge, and I loved it. “A Calendar of Tales” grew out of a Twitter project, with a brief story for each month of the year. I especially loved the March tale, about the pirate Anne Bonny, and the wonderful October tale about a genie.

Weird, scary, funny, epic — the stories in Trigger Warning range from fairy tale to science fiction to horror, but all have a twist and a tone that make them surprising, entertaining, and captivating.

The only small irksome thing about the audiobook is that the description of the context for each story appears in the book’s introduction, and with an audiobook, there really isn’t a good, easy way to flip back and forth. I was glad I had the hard copy on hand so I could reference the intro again and again, and would suggest that if you’re going to listen to the audiobook, get your hands on a printed book or e-book so you can follow along.

Even if you’re — like me — not normally into story collections, it’s worth the time to give Trigger Warning a try, especially if you’re a Neil Gaiman fan. The audiobook definitely worked for me, and I’m so glad that I had the idea of listening to the stories rather than trying to force myself to concentrate on reading them in printed book form. An added bonus for me, based on my experience with Trigger Warning, is that I think I can use audiobook listening in the future to enjoy story collections that I might otherwise have skipped.

And even more than that, having now listened to Stardust and Trigger Warning, I’m super motivated to listen to even more by Neil Gaiman. I’ve been wanting to re-read The Graveyard Book for a while now, and I think audio might be just the ticket!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Trigger Warning
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: February 3, 2015
Audiobook length: 11 hours, 1 minute
Printed book length: 310 pages
Genre: Stories
Source: Purchased (hard copy)/Library (audio download)

Flashback Friday: Self-Help

ffbutton2Flashback Friday is a weekly tradition started here at Bookshelf Fantasies, focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. If you’d like to join in, just pick a book published at least five years ago, post your Flashback Friday pick on your blog, and let us all know about that special book from your reading past and why it matters to you. Don’t forget to link up!

Going back to those far-distant 1980s for this week’s Flashback Friday!

self help moore

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
(published 1985)

 Synopsis (Goodreads):

In these tales of loss and pleasure, lovers and family, a woman learns to conduct an affair, a child of divorce dances with her mother, and a woman with a terminal illness contemplates her exit. Filled with the sharp humor, emotional acuity, and joyful language Moore has become famous for, these nine glittering tales marked the introduction of an extravagantly gifted writer.

Full disclosure: I am not a short story person. I almost never read them. Okay, maybe grudgingly, once in a while, if they’re by an author I love — but before long, I can feel my eyes rolling back in my head and I have to grit my teeth in order to force myself to finish.

A major exception to the rule was Self-Help, accomplished author Lorrie Moore’s first published work. Not only did I read them all, I practically swallowed them whole. Many of the stories in Self-Help are written in the style of — you guessed it — a self-help guide, but each sparkles with wit and word play, even in the saddest of the lot. From the second I started reading the first story in the collection, “How to Be an Other Woman”, I knew I had stumbled onto something special. A random example:

When you were six you thought ‘mistress’ meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet. Now you are older and know it can mean many things, but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet.

Or how about this opening line from the story “How to Become a Writer”:

First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/ kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably.

The women in these stories struggle, find and lose connections, and take good, hard looks at themselves and their lives. The writing is delightful, especially to a word-freak like me — meanings and double meanings and puns galore, and all enhance the stories, rather than acting as distractions.

I’ve read several other books of stories by Lorrie Moore, and need to read her most recent novel, A Gate At The Stairs (2009). Still, Self-Help remains my favorite of her works — and remains one of the few books of short stories that I actually loved.

What flashback book is on your mind this week?

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join in the Flashback Friday fun:

  • Grab the Flashback Friday button
  • Post your own Flashback Friday entry on your blog (and mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the host of the meme, if you please!)
  • Leave your link in the comments below
  • Check out other FF posts… and discover some terrific hidden gems to add to your TBR piles!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!