lists · Short fiction

Recommendations: Short Stories

I have written a list of favorites and least favorites novellas, and I will do the same for novels later. Today, I wanted to talk about my favorite short stories and novelettes, but I didn’t want to rank them – can you really rank them, anyway? – so this will be a list of short stories I recommend.


I Built This City For You by Cassandra Khaw
I Built This City For You is creepy and unapologetically weird, and just like everything Cassandra Khaw has ever written, it’s perfect to read out loud. It follows Anisa, a woman whose girlfriend has left recently. Now, Anisa is making a pact with a supernatural entity to get her back, but things do not go exactly as planned.
The focus on the city speaks to me on a personal level, and in this short story there’s some of the best writing I’ve ever seen.

The Witch of Duva  by Leigh Bardugo
Every short story in The Language of Thorns anthology is worth reading, even if you didn’t like Leigh Bardugo’s novels, but The Witch of Duva is my favorite out of all of them. It’s a dark, twisted fairytale about hunger, and a very loose retelling of Hansel and Gretel. It’s set in the Grishaverse, but you don’t have to read the novel to understand it.

The Battle of Candle Arc & Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee
These two stories are set in the Ninefox Gambit universe, but you don’t need to read the novels to understand what is happening. Both stories follow Shuos Jedao and are set more than three hundred years before the first book. The Battle of Candle Arc is about a space battle inspired by the Battle of Noryang of 1598. Extracurricular Activities is a lighter read and it follows an undercover operation. These two stories made me fall in love with this space fantasy dystopia before I started Ninefox Gambit.

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong
I talked about this one in my The New Voices of Fantasy review. It’s amazing, and if you want to read about a (kind of?) creepy f/f/f love triangle with vampire-like creatures, this is perfect.

Death Knell by Victoria Schwab
This was the only short story worth reading in the Because You Love To Hate Me anthology, and it was worth all the mediocrity around it. It’s about Death, who wakes up at the bottom of a well. It’s eerie and atmospheric in the best way.

That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn
This one was lovely. It’s about the aftermath of a war, and the reunion of two people from opposite sides who met during it. It’s so hopeful, and I loved it because of that. Also, game/war metaphors.

The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars by Yoon Ha Lee
This one takes a different approach on the game/war metaphors. It’s about a game between the warden of games and a strategist who always wins, who wants to solve an unwinnable space war with this game. Here you’ll find magical math, reflections on the game of Go, and stunning writing.

Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Yang
Sad but hopeful, beautiful and gay, this novelette is about a space rebellion and a f/f love story. It’s space fantasy, and JY Yang’s writing doesn’t disappoint.

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara
This is about a gay trans man who is bitten by a vampire, and it talks about the parallels between this transformation and transition. It’s really interesting, but it’s also violent, explicit and deals with dysphoria, so keep that in mind.

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon
I talked about this one in my The New Voices of Fantasy review. It’s about magical creatures and the importance of agency, and I loved the ending twist.

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
I read three stories by Alyssa Wong this year. Two I loved, one was mediocre. A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers is one of the two I loved. It talks about storm magic, sisterly bonds, death and time travel. The writing is beautiful, as usual.


Have you read any of these? What are your favorite short stories?

Book review · Fantasy · Short fiction

Review: The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

The New Voices of Fantasy is an anthology of 19 fantasy short stories by a selection of new authors.

I was already familiar with some of them (mainly Alyssa Wong and JY Yang) but I discovered many other writers, and now I want to check out their other works.

As many other anthologies, The New Voices of Fantasy has its ups and downs, with some stories I loved and some I didn’t like; my average rating is 3.35 out of 5. Overall, it was an interesting experience.


Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong – 5 stars
This one was a reread for me. It’s one of my favorite stories of all times because of its well-rounded characters and f/f/f love triangle. It’s about Meimei, a vampire-like creature who looks perfectly human, but feeds off violent thoughts; her favorite way to hunt is to look for creeps on Tinder. Alyssa Wong’s writing is beautiful, sharp, surprisingly dark.

Selkie Stories Are For Losers by Sofia Samatar – 3.5 stars
After Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, this was slightly underwhelming – the characters weren’t developed at all, we don’t know much about them. On the other hand, I loved the writing, the atmosphere and the way many different Selkie stories were woven in. Selkie Stories Are For Losers is mostly about family and about leaving. This one also had a f/f romance.

Tornado’s Siren by Brooke Bolander – 3 stars
This one had an interesting premise, but I didn’t like the way it was developed. I guess it was about not settling down and chasing adventures, but it didn’t do anything for me. I really liked the idea, the message and what the story was trying to do with them, but the characterization was almost nonexistent. When the writing is unremarkable (it wasn’t bad by any means, it was just there) I want at least interesting characters.

Left the Century to Sit Unmoved by Sarah Pinsker – 4 stars
I wasn’t familiar with this author, and this story surprised me. It’s about a magic pond that makes people disappear, and the way it affects the people who live near it – who they lost, who they love, why they dive anyway. It’s a story about change, about growing up, or disappearing. It’s atmospheric and mysterious, but the ending is kind of disappointing.

A Kiss With Teeth by Max Gladstone – 3.5 stars
If you think vampire baseball died with Twilight, you’re wrong.
A Kiss With Teeth is a story about a vampire, his wife and his young son, who is struggling at school. The beginning had a lot of potential, then the story took a turn I didn’t like (the main character was stalking a teacher, which I understand – vampire – but that’s probably one of my least favorite aspects of vampire stories). The ending was perfect.

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon – 5 stars
I had never read anything by Ursula Vernon before, and now I want to read more. Jackalope Wives is one of the best stories in the collection, and I loved everything about it – the Jackalope Wives, the main character, the ending. I didn’t see the twist coming, and it couldn’t have ended any better.
It’s a story about choices, consent and magical creatures.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu – 2.5 stars.
Lovely writing, interesting premise, boring execution. It’s about bees, wasps and the politics of hives (and maybe not just hives…), but it didn’t work for me.

The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate by A.C. Wise – 4 stars
This is exactly what the title says – a guide about the relationships between witches and their homes. It was a lighter read than the previous story, but it had some creepy aspects (the part about the witch who made a home out of herself, mainly). I liked it more than I expected: it made me smile, and I loved the Baba Yaga references.

The Tallest Doll in New York City by Maria Dahvana Headley – 3.25 stars
I was already familiar with Maria Dahvana Headley: I’ve read her YA novel Magonia, and The Tallest Doll in New York City reminded me of it, but I liked this story a lot more. It’s about a building who decides to walk around New York to date the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. It was weird, which I always appreciate, and felt kind of cheesy at times, which I didn’t like as much, but it was still an interesting story.

The Haunting of Apollo A7LB by Hannu Rajaniemi – 3.25 stars.
This is a story about grief, hauntings and black astronauts: a dead astronaut’s moon suit tries to go back to the person who had sewn it, a black woman who was also the dead astronaut’s girlfriend. I really liked the hopeful ending.

Here Be Dragons by Chris Tarry – 1 star
I had to skim this one. It’s my least favorite story in the collection, and I didn’t like anything about it: not the writing, not the themes, not the characters. It’s about men who have to help their wives raise their children, and how that’s supposedly so, so difficult. I don’t know what Here Be Dragons was trying to achieve – if it wanted to subvert misogynistic fantasy tropes, it failed, as the female characters are still ignored by the story itself.

The One They Took Before by Kelly Sandoval – 4.75 stars
I had never heard of this author or this story before, but I liked it a lot. It’s about loneliness, about trying to live a normal life after being abducted by fairies. About addiction and recovery, in a way. It was eerie and sad and well-written and… powerful. Especially that ending.
Also, cats.

Tiger Baby by JY Yang – 4.5 stars.
JY Yang is one of my favorite authors; their Tensorate series is the best novella series I’ve read so far. Tiger Baby is a really unusual, interesting story. It’s difficult to describe, mostly because it was so weird – it’s about a woman who is convinced she is a tiger, and who is obsessed with The Tyger by Blake. It’s about not feeling right in your own skin, and as usual, JY Yang’s writing is beautiful.

The Duck by Ben Loory – 1.5 stars
I didn’t like this one. The writing felt awkward, the story was cliché, and I knew what the ending was going to be the moment I started it. The Duck wouldn’t have been out of place in a children’s book, but it was in this anthology.

Wing by Amal El-Mohtar – 4 stars.
Really cute, well-written, short. I knew I loved Amal El-Mohtar’s writing, and this just confirmed it. It’s about a girl and a book of secrets. I didn’t rate it higher just because I wanted it to be longer.

The Philosophers by Adam Ehrlich Sachs – 1.5 stars
Another one I didn’t like. This story was actually three stories, all about families – men and their families, since there are no women here – all of them pretentious. The “fantasy” aspects were barely there, and I was bored.

My Time Among the Bridge Blowers by Eugene Fischer – 2.5 stars
This is both a fantasy story about a magical culture and a satire of colonialist fiction (the white/white-coded man wants to bring “fame” to a culture he doesn’t know and that he sees as inferior). It had an interesting premise and worldbuilding – there are both magical creatures and people with magical powers – but I thought it was too long.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado – 3.25 stars
I had heard of Carmen Maria Machado and this short story before, and I have read many good reviews of her collection Her Body and Other Parties. Now I can say that this kind of fiction isn’t for me. The writing was perfect, the symbolism too, but the story could have been half its length and it would have worked anyway. I understand the point, but when I was halfway through The Husband Stitch stopped feeling like a story and started feeling like a list of metaphors about how society is terrible to women, and how women are expected to give everything.

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik: 3,75 stars.
I really liked this one! I do think it was too long for the collection (it’s a novella, not a short story), but I love multigenerational stories. The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn is about a princess, a jinn and a magical cup, and it’s set both in the United States and in Pakistan. I loved the writing and the ending.

I received an ARC (advanced reader copy) from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Weekly

T5W: Non-Horror Books that Scared You

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is  Non-horror Books that Scared You.

This can be entire books you found frightening or just specific scenes from those books, but discuss books that weren’t technically supposed to scare you, but did.

I don’t think I ever read a scary book that wasn’t supposed to scare the reader (or be somewhat creepy) so this is a list of creepy books that were supposed to be creepy but aren’t horror.


The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz

TheGalleryofUnfinishedGirls
The Gallery of Unfinished Girls isn’t a scary book, but some of its scenes were at the very least unsettling. Time lapses, memory loss, pictures disappearing – all the scenes set in the Estate had that feeling of not-quite-real that creeped me out a bit.


Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

23203106

I read this more than a year and a half ago, but I remember that Wink Poppy Midnight was a twisted little book. I don’t think I understood everything that was happening, but the writing was stunning and I loved the (creepy) atmosphere.


The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

TheStatsAreLegion
The Stars Are Legion is known mostly for its premise (lesbians in space!) but not everyone knows how many weird and intentionally gross descriptions/themes there are in it. And believe me, it’s better to be aware of what this is before reading it. In this book there are in-depth descriptions of entrails, body horror, and people who give birth to objects. It’s disturbing at times.


I Built This City For You by Cassandra Khaw

This is one of my favorite short stories, and probably the weirdest I’ve ever read. It’s about a woman who turns into a city because her ex-girlfriend doesn’t love her anymore. Unlike other books by Cassandra Khaw, it’s not exactly horror, but it does have creepy aspects. And the writing. Every time I think about this story I want to read it out loud. And it’s free!

Hello.
Is this your city?
No, no. We understand. It is not a city yet. It is merely embryonic. Conceptual. An idea to which your bones are laced, the sinews that tether the tendons of your dreams. It is only a city in waiting, a city mid-birth, a city breathless, inexorable.


Blue Lily Lily Blue by Maggie Stefvater

17378508
The Raven Cycle as a whole has its creepy aspects – it feels so close and so removed from reality at the same time. But nothing in the series was as creepy as the tapestry scene from Blue Lily Lily Blue, at least for me. Or the mirror magic. Also the mirror magic.


What are your favorite creepy non-horror books? Have you ever been scared by a book that wasn’t supposed to be scary?

Weekly

T5W: Our Vampires Are Different

The Italian version of this post can be found on blogger.

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is  Books Featuring [paranormal creature of your choice].

Here is the previously mentioned paranormal creature topic. This topic will revolve around one type of paranormal creature of your choice. So books featuring vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, demons, fae, zombies, etc.

So I decided to write a post about books featuring vampires, but not your usual vampires: vampires in non-western stories, queer vampires, vampires who are actually monsters and not shiny love interests, vampire-like creatures who have unusual origin stories.


Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong

26849365

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers is a horror short story published in Nightmare Magazine, Issue 37, and the winner of the 2015 Nebula Award. It features three Asian women in a (kind of?) f/f/f love triangle, and two of them are vampire-like creatures who eat bad thoughts. And it’s free!


Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara

 35382710 

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time is a short story published in Uncanny Magazine, Issue Sixteen. This one is free, too. It’s about a trans man who, after a vampire bite, becomes a vampire.


Monsters of Verity by Victoria Schwab

Tthissava

In the Monsters of Verity duology (This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet) the city of Verify is full of vampire-like monsters. Some of them feed on blood (the Malchai), some of them eat corpses (Corsai) and some of them feed on the souls of sinners (Sunai). What’s interesting is that all these monsters are born from different kinds of evil deeds.


The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

12813630

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a paranormal book set in a near future in which vampirism is a common illness. While the vampires in this book are more similar to the ones we’re used to, what’s remarkable about this book is that it doesn’t shy away from the creepy and violent aspects. In this book, vampires are monstrous, not shiny romantic characters.


Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

CertainDarkThings

Certain Dark Things is a paranormal noir book about vampires set in Mexico City. The main character of this story is a Tlāhuihpochtli, a descendant of Aztec vampires. There are many other kinds of vampires in this book, like Revenants and the European Necros. Also, the main character is bi.


What are your favorite books about vampires? What is your favorite paranormal creature?

Adult · Book review · Short fiction

Review: That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn

ThatGameThat Game We Played During the War is a Tor.com short story that was nominated for the Hugo Award. I had never heard of it before, because short fiction as a whole is underrated. That’s why small gems like this one go relatively unnoticed. And it’s also free, so.

At the moment, I can’t think of another story I’ve read that is set after a war, not before or during (no, That Game We Played During the War is not actually set during the war, but there are flashbacks). Maybe Strange the Dreamer? And I can’t think of a story about war that was so full of hope, either.

As the main character notices many times, after the war both sides had stories like that. Stories of loss and suffering, and everyone is now standing on a fragile peace.

It’s a story about a war between Gaanth (telepaths) and Enith (not telepaths), and two people who met when they where war prisoners.
Two people that now, after the war, want to finish the game of chess they had started.

It was interesting to see how a society of telepaths would work, and I liked seeing how the protagonist felt as the only Enith between the Gaanth. Some aspects were underdeveloped – we do not know anything about the conflict, or about the differences between the two cultures that are not about telepathy – but it’s an enjoyable short story anyway.

My rating: ★★★★¾