Summer Shorts: Fantasy Magazine: Catherynne M. Valente

Summer Shorts - Dead Book Darling - Puppy!
Summer Shorts is weekly feature of short story/novella reviews, posted every Saturday of July and August, 2011. Every week has a different theme – be it featuring a specific anthology, a particular genre, or a great author.

Last week I reviewed two stories from the special YA edition of Subterranean magazine, and this week I’m featuring another wonderful magazine… Fantasy Magazine, the sister publication to Lightspeed. Fantasy Magazine features some absolutely extraordinary authors and also has audio versions of their fiction available as podcasts. All the ones I’ve heard have been extremely well read, so if you are looking for some new audio fiction check out their itunes page!

The Wolves of Brooklyn by Catherynne M. Valente

(Available here – Valente is the author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and other novels.)

Favourite Quote:

I asked one of them once. She’d followed me home from the F train—what I mean is she’d been all the way down on the platform, and when I got off she trotted up after me and followed me—me, specifically. And I turned around in the snow, the fucking snow that never ends, and I yelled: Why? Why are you here? What are you doing? What do you want? I guess that sounds dumb, like a scene in a movie if this were happening in a movie and DiCaprio or whoever was having his big cathartic moment. But I wanted to know so badly. And she—I noticed it was a she. A bitch. She bent her head. God, they are so tall. So tall. Like statues. She bent her head and she licked my cheek. Like I was a baby. She did it just exactly like I was her puppy. Tender, kind. She pressed her forehead against mine and shut her eyes and then she ran off. Like it hadn’t even happened.

Thoughts: The Wolves of Brooklyn is an extraordinary story… there was something about it that I both loved and hated. I’m not sure what it was exactly but, like everyone else in this story, it had something to do with the wolves.

Valente’s tale is rather simple, in a way. One day, wolves turn up in Brooklyn. They don’t talk or heal diseases, but neither are they your Yellowstone variety canid. They are huge, magical wolves that control the city and everyone in it. They are simultaneously loved and feared… because, yes, they do eat people on occasion. It’s an extraordinary concept.

But the idea unnerved me. I love wolves and loathe stories that set them up as the villains. However, The Wolves of Brooklyn never really defines the wolves as good or evil… they just are. The wolves are a force of nature beyond everything else in the tale. It is unnerving and stunning all at once. And to have this amazing concept directed by such a talented writer… well, it completely transported me.

Bottom line? Valente delivers a true modern fairy tale. The Wolves of Brooklyn is a Grimm’s Fairy tale set in a twenty-first century world: gorgeous, unnerving, and utterly realistic.

Summer Shorts: YA stories from Subterranean Magazine

Summer Shorts is weekly feature of short story/novella reviews, posted every weekend of July and August, 2011. Every week has a different theme - be it featuring a specific anthology, a particular genre, or a great author.

Last week I reviewed a few tales from the Mammoth Book of PNR, and this week I'll be reviewing some YA stories by one of my favourite authors... Kelley Armstrong!

The following stories are all available online (free!) and are set in Kelley's Otherworld/Darkest Powers verse.  If you haven't read her Darkest Powers series yet, a) run out and buy it b) these might not be quite as meaningful to you.

Kat by Kelley Armstrong

(Read it here! Set in the Darkest Powers verse, following the story of another Edison Group subject.)

Favourite Quote:

As I strode into the alley, the driver leapt out, raising his gun.
“I come in peace,” I said, lifting my fingers in a V.
He paused, half out of the van, his broad face screwing up in confusion.
I raised my hands. “See? No pistol. No switchblade. Not even a ray gun.”

Thoughts: Kat is the story of another Edison group experiment, Katiana, and one of her (many) encounters with Edison group minions. I really liked Kat - she reminded me of Maya from The Gathering, and for a while in the story I actually thought she might be her long lost sister. She's tough and could no doubt kick my ass. She won't back away from a fight and, if the circumstances require it, she'll run straight into one. The story is only 20 pages long, but I would have been happy to have read an entire book in her POV.

As for the style of the story - well, it felt like it was straight out of the Darkest Powers novels. Lots and lots of action, a whole bunch of running-for-their-lives, and the occasional bit of snappy dialogue. While I can't say that I was blown away by it all, I certainly did enjoy the tale. I'm hoping Kat is a lead-up to a fuller story or, perhaps, her inclusion into some of Kelley's other YA novels.

Bottom line? Kat is an action-packed tale with the same feel as Kelley's Darkest Powers series.  But even if you haven't read her trilogy, you'll enjoy it!

Divided by Kelley Armstrong

(Read it here! Darkest Powers Story set between The Summoning and The Awakening.)

Favourite Quote:

"I do. I mean sure, I've liked a lot of girls and you probably think this is just the same thing. But it's not. I like being with her. Hanging out with her. Talking to her. Getting to know her. Not that I didn't want to get to know the other girls, but I really want to this time. I'm not just asking questions to make conversation. She's different and she's interesting, and she doesn't know she is and that's . . ." He glanced back at me. "I'm glad you two seem to get along." He grinned. "A nice change."

Thoughts: Spoilers for the DP trilogy! Divided follows Derek and Simon after they are separated from Chloe at the end of The Summoning.  Divided is the second short story I've read from Derek's POV (Dangerous, I read and loved last year), and I can now officially say that he is the best narrator ever. Love this guy.

While - of course - it was fantastic to revisit my beloved DP characters, Divided did more than just that.  It added to the canon of the trilogy.  Kelley gives us more details about Chloe's mother's death (that was a real shocker), some insight into how Derek started to take more notice of Chloe, and how he felt about "using" her to get Simon to go on the run; and even some insight into how much Simon was honest-to-God pining after Chloe (see the quote, friggin' adorable and yet so sad).

Bottom line? If you love the Darkest Powers trilogy, you'll love Divided. It's a story I hadn't even known I'd wanted, and I am so glad it's been told.

FYI - If you're looking for some more great Darkest Powers stories, Kelley had completed three that are available here.  She's currently in the middle of another story set post-The Reckoning, which you can follow on the Darkest Powers blog.  Oh, and apparently the Enthralled anthology (edited by Melissa Marr) coming out in September is also going to be post-The Reckoning, set 2-3 weeks after the end of the book and told from Chloe's POV.  Needless to say that that news got the book onto my wishlist!

Next week... Zombies vs. Unicorns!

 

Summer Shorts: Patricia Briggs!

Summer Shorts - Dead Book Darling - Puppy!
Summer Shorts is weekly feature of short story/novella reviews, posted every Saturday of July and August, 2011. Every week has a different theme – be it featuring a specific anthology, a particular genre, or a great author.

Last week I reviewed two stories from the fantastic on-line science fiction magazine Lightspeed. This week, I’m reviewing two fantastic tales – one novella, one short story – by one of my favourite authors: Patricia Briggs.

If you don’t know Ms. Briggs, you should remedy that immediately! She writes the fantastic Mercy Thompson series – which features werewolves, coyotes, the best vampires ever written, mechanics, trailers, and some scary, scary fey. Both of these stories are set in that verse.

Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs

(Novella featured in the On the Prowl anthology.)

Thoughts: So, I started reading Cry Wolf – the first novel in Briggs’ series about Anna and Charles – and remembered that there was a story that came before the novel: Alpha and Omega. I put the book aside at page 50, and picked up Alpha and Omega. And now? Now I am trying to work out new ways to say “wow”.

Patricia Briggs is an amazing writer. She writes stunning, character driven novels without having to go over-the-top with the style of her prose. This talent transcends into her short stories flawlessly. Alpha and Omega tells the story of the first meeting between werewolves Charles (Samuel’s brother, if you read the Mercy Thompson series) and Anna. Anna has been the victim of her alpha and her Chicago pack, who changed her against her will, raped her and kept her at the edge of starvation. Needless to say, she is not in a good place when we meet her.

Knowing that, how on earth could Briggs consider throwing her into a relationship with Charles, whose wolf immediately chooses Anna to be his mate? Instant mating for an abuse victim? How is that supposed to feel realistic? Well, Briggs manages. Aiding her in the plot development are the jumps between different points of view. Unlike her Mercy novels, Alpha and Omega is told by both Anna and Charles – so we see how uncomfortable they both are with the new connection. Knowing that Charles is truly a stand-up wolf makes it easy to root for him.

Bottom line? While Alpha and Omega is the first installment in Briggs’ Anna and Charles series, it wraps up well. There’s no need to read Cry Wolf afterwards but I am certain you’ll want to!

The Star of David by Patricia Briggs

(Featured in the Wolfsbane and Mistletoe anthology.)

Thoughts: Oh, Ms. Briggs. I absolutely love you and wish you didn’t have to eat or sleep so that you could spend dedicate more of your life to writing. *pines*

So, The Star of David. First off: it is (mostly) narrated by a man – a werewolf man. It’s the first time I’ve ever read anything by Briggs not narrated by a woman and it wasn’t until I’d finished that I realised that there might have been a difference. There isn’t. Briggs rocks any gender. Second thing you should know: while it is set in the Mercy/Alpha and Omega verse, it stars all new characters. If you’ve never read any Briggs, you can read The Star of David and not worry about a thing.

There’s a tonne of action, emotional drama, and character angst in The Star of David. It’s a much shorter tale than Alpha and Omega – a real short story. And yet Briggs still manages to get more than enough in. I’d love to meet David again in one of her other novels (although I might have and just don’t remember). He’s a mercenary, sure, but he is also such a delicate puppy under all that fur.

Bottom line? Another brilliant tale by Patricia Briggs. Her werewolf series is an absolute gem – short stories included!

Next week… stories from the special YA edition of Subterranean Magazine!

Summer Shorts: Lightspeed Stories: Carrie Vaughn and Kat Howard

Summer Shorts - Lightspeed Edition

Artwork from the cover of the Lightspeed: Year One anthology.

Summer Shorts is weekly feature of short story/novella reviews, posted every Saturday of July and August, 2011. Every week has a different theme – be it featuring a specific anthology, a particular genre, or a great author.

Last week I reviewed two stories from the infamous anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns, but this week I’m reviewing stories from the fantastic on-line science fiction magazine Lightspeed.

One of the really cool things that Lightspeed offers is a podcast version of their stories.  In other words, audio-stories!  I am not an audiobook fan, but I loved being able to listen to these tales.  They are very well read and really made the stories even more enjoyable.

 

Amaryllis by Carrie Vaughn

(Standalone science fiction tale that can be read or heard here.)

Thoughts: Amaryllis is simply stunning.  It is everything you could possibly want from a science fiction tale.  It deals with new governments, new ways of thinking, and in this case, new ways of considering the environment.  Amaryllis is set in a world where moderation is key; one where the world had suffered enough from our desire to expand.  And while the control mechanisms placed on people seem outrageous to 21st century eyes, they aren’t evil.  In fact, they are purely meant to help.

In terms of characters, Vaughn more than delivers.  The story is narrated by the captain of the Amaryllis ship, a woman who has suffered her whole life because of the thoughtlessness of her mother.  She’s strong yet terrified of the establishment… I really grew to care for her, which is more than I can say for a lot of narrators!  The rest of the Amaryllis crew were equally as endearing – especially the sweet, innocent Nina who starts off seeming rather childish but grew on me before the end.

Amaryllis is one of four finalists for Best Short Story in the 2011 Hugo Awards.  Congrats to Vaughn – it is fantastic to see such a deserving story get some official recognition!

Bottom line? Amaryllis is a striking story set in a realistic, somewhat-heart-wrenching universe.  Adoration will ensue.

 

Sweet Sixteen by Kat Howard

(Standalone science fiction tale that can be read or heard here.)

Thoughts: I can’t say I was over-the-moon about Sweet Sixteen, but it was fairly enjoyable.  The story is set in a world where girls are divided into Tiffanys and Rosalinds and Elizabeths, and given all the characteristics that go along with those names.  Literally given those characteristics, injected with new DNA to make them the ideal Rosalind.

I liked the premise, but I wasn’t too keen on the main character.  She was the type of teenager I loathe -whiny and self-centred.  I couldn’t see past her to fully sympathise with her situation.  Had Sweet Sixteen been narrated by a different girl, one not so easy to dislike, I might have loved this story.  Alas, we’ll never know.

Bottom line?  Kat Howard delivers an interesting universe narrated by a loathsome teenager.  Good but not great.

Check out Lightspeed Magazine for more great science fiction stories – and don’t forget to subscribe!

Summer Shorts: Zombies vs. Unicorns

Summer Shorts - zombies vs unicorns edition

Artwork from Zombies vs. Unicorns

Summer Shorts is weekly feature of short story/novella reviews, posted every weekend of July and August, 2011. Every week has a different theme – be it featuring a specific anthology, a particular genre, or a great author.

Last week I reviewed some great Kelley Armstrong stories, and this week I’m featuring two stories from the infamous anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix

Thoughts: I feel as though I got the “wrong” thing out of The Highest Justice.  Nix was probably aiming to impress upon the reader how unicorns represent a higher, well, justice. Their purity of form being the physical manifestation of righteousness – dispensing out justice even when it is rather gruesome.  I have no idea where he was going with his zombie so, needless to say,  I didn’t get it.

And while his unicorn idea is a great one, I can’t say it carried me through this particular tale.  No matter how many invisible, violent unicorns appeared – nor how many flesh-eating members of the royal family tried to take a bite out of people – my overwhelming impression of the plot was one of “meh”.

So what did I “get” out of The Highest Justice?  2,000 words of pure, unadulterated fantasy – complete with kings guards, royal betrayals and quite a bit of horseback riding.  Coming straight out of reading The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, I’d been wondering what high fantasy YA novelists were out there… apparently I need to start reading some Nix!

Bottom line? A refreshing bit of high fantasy – Garth Nix may be worth further investigation.

Favourite quotes:

Jess drew her sword and kicked her palfrey into a lurching charge. She caught the surviving bandit just before he managed to slip between two thorny bushes, and landed a solid blow on his head with the back of the blade. She hadn’t meant to be merciful, but the sword had turned in her sweaty grasp.

 

Purity Test by Naomi Novik

Thoughts: Oh my goodness, this was brilliant! Naomi Novik really needs to set up shop and teach other YA writers how to deliver a short story, because Purity Test?  It had everything I could possibly want from a tale!

First off, it was funny as hell. I was reminded of Shrek, only with unicorns instead of donkeys and, er, more awesomeness. If I had highlighted all the quotes I wanted to share, the entire story would have been life jacket-yellow.  As such, I managed to restrain myself:

“Where did you come from, anyway? Like, Fairyland or something?” The unicorn turned its head and gave her a blue-eyed glare. “Yes. Fairyland,” it said, dripping sarcasm. “Fairyland, where the fairies and the unicorns play, and never is heard a discouraging—”

The unicorn brightened, which Alison had to admit was something to see. “Are you a lesbian? I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count toward virginity.”

Don’t you just want to read it right now? I sure would have after that!

Second reason for Purity Test‘s awesomeness? Pacing and editing. Introducing new characters, a new universe and describing the plot? It’s a hard thing to do in only a few thousand words. A lot of novelists, quite frankly, can’t do it. It doesn’t make them bad writers, just bad story short writers. Naomi Novik, it turns out, is both a fantastic novelist AND an amazing short story writer. She throws us straight into the plot, a provides 3D characters and a hysterical universe to enjoy.  I was left wanting another story, but not a continuation of the one I’d just read.  Per-fect.

Bottom line? Novik had be at the first sentence and kept me enthralled until the very last line. Zombies vs. Unicorns is worth buying just for this story!

Summer Shorts: Kelley Armstrong!

Summer Shorts is weekly feature of short story/novella reviews, posted every weekend of July and August, 2011. Every week has a different theme - be it featuring a specific anthology, a particular genre, or a great author.

Last week I reviewed a few tales from the Mammoth Book of PNR, and this week I'll be reviewing some YA stories by one of my favourite authors... Kelley Armstrong!

The following stories are all available online (free!) and are set in Kelley's Otherworld/Darkest Powers verse.  If you haven't read her Darkest Powers series yet, a) run out and buy it b) these might not be quite as meaningful to you.

Kat by Kelley Armstrong

(Read it here! Set in the Darkest Powers verse, following the story of another Edison Group subject.)

Favourite Quote:

As I strode into the alley, the driver leapt out, raising his gun.
“I come in peace,” I said, lifting my fingers in a V.
He paused, half out of the van, his broad face screwing up in confusion.
I raised my hands. “See? No pistol. No switchblade. Not even a ray gun.”

Thoughts: Kat is the story of another Edison group experiment, Katiana, and one of her (many) encounters with Edison group minions. I really liked Kat - she reminded me of Maya from The Gathering, and for a while in the story I actually thought she might be her long lost sister. She's tough and could no doubt kick my ass. She won't back away from a fight and, if the circumstances require it, she'll run straight into one. The story is only 20 pages long, but I would have been happy to have read an entire book in her POV.

As for the style of the story - well, it felt like it was straight out of the Darkest Powers novels. Lots and lots of action, a whole bunch of running-for-their-lives, and the occasional bit of snappy dialogue. While I can't say that I was blown away by it all, I certainly did enjoy the tale. I'm hoping Kat is a lead-up to a fuller story or, perhaps, her inclusion into some of Kelley's other YA novels.

Bottom line? Kat is an action-packed tale with the same feel as Kelley's Darkest Powers series.  But even if you haven't read her trilogy, you'll enjoy it!

Divided by Kelley Armstrong

(Read it here! Darkest Powers Story set between The Summoning and The Awakening.)

Favourite Quote:

"I do. I mean sure, I've liked a lot of girls and you probably think this is just the same thing. But it's not. I like being with her. Hanging out with her. Talking to her. Getting to know her. Not that I didn't want to get to know the other girls, but I really want to this time. I'm not just asking questions to make conversation. She's different and she's interesting, and she doesn't know she is and that's . . ." He glanced back at me. "I'm glad you two seem to get along." He grinned. "A nice change."

Thoughts: Spoilers for the DP trilogy! Divided follows Derek and Simon after they are separated from Chloe at the end of The Summoning.  Divided is the second short story I've read from Derek's POV (Dangerous, I read and loved last year), and I can now officially say that he is the best narrator ever. Love this guy.

While - of course - it was fantastic to revisit my beloved DP characters, Divided did more than just that.  It added to the canon of the trilogy.  Kelley gives us more details about Chloe's mother's death (that was a real shocker), some insight into how Derek started to take more notice of Chloe, and how he felt about "using" her to get Simon to go on the run; and even some insight into how much Simon was honest-to-God pining after Chloe (see the quote, friggin' adorable and yet so sad).

Bottom line? If you love the Darkest Powers trilogy, you'll love Divided. It's a story I hadn't even known I'd wanted, and I am so glad it's been told.

FYI - If you're looking for some more great Darkest Powers stories, Kelley had completed three that are available here.  She's currently in the middle of another story set post-The Reckoning, which you can follow on the Darkest Powers blog.  Oh, and apparently the Enthralled anthology (edited by Melissa Marr) coming out in September is also going to be post-The Reckoning, set 2-3 weeks after the end of the book and told from Chloe's POV.  Needless to say that that news got the book onto my wishlist!

Next week... Zombies vs. Unicorns!

 

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