Trigger Warning

“I firmly believe that short-story collections should be the same sort of thing all the way through. They should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same overs. They should not in short, contain horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry, all in the same place. They should be respectable.

This collection fails this test.”

-Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning, xvi

Short story collections are one category of book that I wish I read more often. I always enjoy them, but never pick them up. Since I’m obsessed with Neil Gaiman, however, this short story collection has been on my radar for a while. These stories did not disappoint.

The best story in this collection is “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains…” but I know I will be thinking about a lot of these stories for a long time. Black Dog even includes Shadow, the protagonist from American Gods. I really appreciated the foreword where Neil describes the process of creating each of the stories. “The Truth is a Cafe in the Black Mountains” came about as part of an anthology of stories with a science-fiction or fantasy edge. Gaiman got the idea surrounding this story in a story by Otta F. Swire about a cave near the Isle of Skye that was filled with gold. If you were brave enough to enter, you could take all the gold you could carry, but each time you enter the cave, you lose a bit of your soul. Gaiman says “that cave, and its promise, began to haunt me.”

“The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains…” tells the story of a man brave enough to enter the cave and what he discovers inside. There is even a great surprising twist in the end. I also loved the story about Doctor Who, titled “Nothing O’Clock” and the story about a missing sailor titled “Down to a Sunless Sea.” “Down to a Sunless Sea” is literally two pages but Gaiman somehow creates a realistic, haunting world in those two pages.

I would highly recommend this collection to any Gaiman fans, any fans of science fiction, any horror fans and any fantasy fans.

-A

 

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Quick Review: Cold Sassy Tree

Title: Cold Sassy Tree

Author: Olive Ann Burns

Published: 1984

The down low: One of those random books that kept popping up on my Goodreads as a book I would enjoy based on my previous reading selections. They were wrong (sort of).

Summary in two sentences: When Will Tweedy is fourteen, his grandfather creates a scandal in their small Southern town of Cold Sassy in 1904 by eloping with a much younger woman only three weeks after the death of his first wife, Will’s grandmother. The book follows Will and his family through the next year of dealing with the aftermath of the wedding.

Why you should read it: I am not sold on what type of reader would enjoy this novel, but Olive does create very believable characters. I was turned off considerably by the heavy usage of dialect, which I never enjoy.

How B&B categorizes this book: coming-of-age

-A

Quick Review: The Royal We

Title: The Royal We

Author: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Published: 2015

The down low: William and Kate fan fiction

Summary in 2 sentences: Spunky, sporty American Bex Porter goes to Oxford for a semester abroad and wouldn’t you know it – the future King of England is her house mate! She falls in love with the person behind the prince, and the rest is history.

Why you should read it: This is 100% Kate Middleton fan fiction, but it’s really decent. This is just about the last thing I would’ve expected myself to enjoy, but I was completely sucked in. I spent a little too much time googling pics of Kate Middleton while I was reading this.

How Books & Bachelorettes categorizes this book: Princess Diaries 2.0

-M

Delicate Edible Birds

Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff; 2009

Delicate Edible Birds is a tidy collection of short stories by Lauren Groff. There is no question that Groff is a talented writer and – at least from my perspective – the Beyonce of contemporary lit. Groff has such precise word choice that every time I’m reading something by her I’m just like YAS.

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“L. DeBard and Ailette” gutted me, “Delicate Edible Birds” and “Lucky Chow Fun” haunted me; “Blythe” was my favorite. Not each of the nine stories was my favorite all the way around, but as a whole, the collection truly slays. The stories cover themes like true female independence v. love and marriage; coming of age; female friendships; and the freedom of sex – or lack thereof – for a woman v. a man. All are loosely connected by themes of metamorphosis, where women usually find unexpected happiness (though these stories are not overtly “happy” by any means).

The collection takes us across decades and continents: New York City during the Spanish influenza, modern day Philadelphia Main Line, the French countryside in WWII, upstate New York in the early eighties. A woman seeking something more is at the center of each story. In “Lucky Chow Fun,” a lonely swimmer comes of age while her small town is rocked with scandal. Harriet struggles to balance her own ambitions and identity with an all-consuming friendship in “Blythe.” In “Delicate Edible Birds,” Bern is a lone female war correspondent amongst men traveling across the French countryside in WWII. We learn about Bern through the varying perspectives of her male companions:

In her every small movement she was the woman of the future, a type that would swagger and curse, fall headlong, flaming into the hell of war, be as brave and tough as men, speak loudly and devastatingly, kick brain matter off their shoes and go unhurriedly on.

SLAY!!!

Anyway, Groff can do no wrong in my eyes. This is now the era of nasty women, and Delicate Edible Birds should be required reading for it.

-M

The Luminaries

“On the day of his departure his father advised him to come home once he had seen enough of the world to know his place in it.”

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton was one of the best books I have read this year. I have had a hard time sitting down to write this review because I can’t organize my thoughts on this book into discernable paragraphs or even subjects.

First of all, the plot. Walter Moody lands in New Zealand having witnessed a horrifying scene at sea in an attempt to escape his past and get rich on the goldmines. It is 1866. He becomes the thirteen man to assemble at the lobby of a local hotel his first night in Hokitika. As the night progresses, the twelve men around Moody describe to him a story of murder, greed, and lust. A story in which each of the men assembled, excluding Moody, is implicated. The men set above to solve the mystery of a missing magnate, a found bonanza, and an almost-dead hooker. Intrigued?

While I understood that I wasn’t fully comprehending the use of the astrological signs (each chapter had a weird pictogram at the front of it, see below for an example), I didn’t even catch on to the fact that each chapter halved in length from the chapter before it. I don’t really know if this served any purpose besides picking up the speed of the novel as you progress through it. I hope not, because otherwise I missed the significance.

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I loved this book so much that I have (rather recklessly) decided to read every Man Booker Prize Winner in the coming year. This shouldn’t be too much of a commitment, since the Prize starting getting awarded in 1969. To see the full list, check out the Man Booker Website, here.

-A

The After Party

The After Party by Anton DisClafani; 2016

The year is 1957; Houston, Texas. Cece Buchanan and Joan Fortier are twenty-five, wealthy, and socialites at the center of Houston’s social scene. They grew up together, practically sisters, and their friendship binds them in a way that is more intimate than any marriage. Joan is blonde, beautiful, independent and every woman wants to be her. Cece is her devoted keeper: responsible, the wife of a steadfast husband and a young son. In the summer of 1957, Joan starts to drift, living more and more recklessly and slipping beyond Joan’s protective grasp. As Joan’s behavior continues to spiral out of control, Cece is forced to make an impossible choice.

The After Party is Anton DisClafani’s second novel. Her first was the v. v. scandalous Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. The two share similar themes: close female friendships, family secrets, society scandal, and ultimately female independence. While Yonahlosse was like O-M-G scandalous, The After Party was scandalous in a less dramatic way. DisClafani is a smooth writer, and the time she devoted to researching her book really shows.

This book has secrets, scandal, and social hierarchy intrigue. At it’s core, it’s about female power and independence in the late fifties, the impossibility for a woman to have a life of her choosing, regardless of wealth. If that sounds good to you, definitely pick this one up!

-M