I am familiar with Dale Bailey's short works through his contributions to Asimov's Magazine. His novelette The End of The End of Everything is not nomI am familiar with Dale Bailey's short works through his contributions to Asimov's Magazine. His novelette The End of The End of Everything is not nominated for any awards that I know of, however, in my estimation it is one of the best I read in February. Think of a dystopian earth where everything in the world is slowly dying from a sort of darkness, described as ruin, that is killing everything it touches: man-made structures as well as all living things, including man. When a couple moves to an exclusive artists' colony with a friend, his latest wife and her child, they find the wealthy, famous, and semi-famous indulging in end-of-world free-for-all dissipation and suicide parties that result in carnage. A mutilation artist becomes the ultimate horrifying temptation for the main character, a philandering poet who questions the mediocrity of his life.
This story has excellent sff elements that are utilized throughout the story as a whole. The central character works as both the focus and narrator, and the world-building although murky in its inception, is clear enough for the story's purpose. This novelette, however, is sff/horror, one that is filled with the kind of violence, blood, and mutilation that is horrifying and truthfully not for everyone. That aspect of the story did not bother me personally. What this very well-written, fascinating novella was missing for me, was a real representation of the psychological torture that the living should have been experiencing. Instead everyone is portrayed as very sophisticated and for the most part clinically detached. Yet, this novelette stayed with me and I will probably reread it. There is so much going on in this story that I may have missed something.
Check out that great cover illustration by Victo Ngai. ...more
Of the SSF short works I read in February, my favorite was Kai Ashante Wilson's 2014 SFF novelette The Devil in America, a free online read at Tor.comOf the SSF short works I read in February, my favorite was Kai Ashante Wilson's 2014 SFF novelette The Devil in America, a free online read at Tor.com that has been nominated for a Nebula Award. Last year, this author's short story Super Bass was among my favorite.
With "The Devil in America," Kai Ashante Wilson introduces fantasy elements while making a strong social statement. He combines ancient African magic with the left over legacy of slavery in America. The central story, where the fantasy elements of the story are focused, takes place in a post Civil War South. Small sections, depicting racially motivated crimes committed against African Americans throughout US history and to contemporary times, are inserted throughout to punctuate consequences of events occurring in the magical section of the narrative. This excellent novelette is short, to the point, and packs a punch. ...more
The Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert is another SFF novella from Tor.com and a Nebula nominee. This sff horror story begins with a stranger pasThe Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert is another SFF novella from Tor.com and a Nebula nominee. This sff horror story begins with a stranger passing through a small town and seducing a group of women. Nine months later, there is a baby boom. But there is something different about these babies. The mothers will go to great lengths to protect them from those who might hurt them.
This story begins on a ominous note and ends quite well. Unfortunately, the middle drags rather badly. Narrated through journal entries by the different mothers, the reader never meets the babies' "father," the man or creature that so easily seduced the women of this little town. The mothers -- some of them children themselves, others married, divorced, single, or widowed -- are secretive at first. They love their little monsters too much to care what they are or they will be getting up to. This story is fantasy/horror. With the exception of little monster babies with tiny wings, the fantasy side in this novella is left to the reader's imagination since there are no real explanations as to what they are, where they come from, or what the real purpose of their existence is. The real horror in this story lies on the mother's disquieting actions once the "mother's instinct" comes into play, the rest is mild in content....more
I liked the premise for Seven Years. Wolf shifters and mages are the main players in this first UF installment. Dannika Dark begins by introducing a sI liked the premise for Seven Years. Wolf shifters and mages are the main players in this first UF installment. Dannika Dark begins by introducing a still grieving Lexi Knight on the seventh anniversary of her brother's death, as well as her brother's best friend Austin Cole just returned home after having been gone those seven years. He is a young wolf alpha assembling his pack. His return home is filled with guilt caused by his discovery that Lexi and her family were abandoned and left without protection by her father after Lexi's brother's death. She and her family are in danger and Austin arrives on the scene just in time to become their protector.
Austin comes off as too overprotective, but he is a nice guy who gives Lexi choices we don't usually find in other stories with alpha shifters as protagonists. Lexi and her family have been targeted from a few different fronts. She is independent and used to taking care of her mother and little sister, but Lexi, who is new the world of shifters and magic, doesn't ask the right questions and suffers from lack of judgment. On the other hand, Austin doesn't explain situations clearly and makes some pretty basic mistakes himself. Some of it has to do with their mutual attraction, but much of it seems to be lack of experience or stubbornness from both sides.
I like many of the secondary characters in this UF series and the whole mage with shifters magic that develops. Some sections of the storyline did not quite make sense, i.e., Lexi inheriting a business when she is admittedly not the most knowledgeable or close to the person who left it to her. But it could be that this thread is further developed later on. Overall a good first installment filled with a sense of menace, action, and interesting secondary characters. Even with some of the issues mentioned above, Seven Years is a good enough read that I will follow up by picking up the second book of the series....more
Draven's fantasy world-building is as attractive and compelling as her characters. Imagine two cultures and peoples so different in customs and physicDraven's fantasy world-building is as attractive and compelling as her characters. Imagine two cultures and peoples so different in customs and physical appearance that the other appears to them as 'monsters.' Then imagine the royal houses forging an alliance through a marriage where the bride and groom find each other so physically repulsive they have a problem looking at each other without flinching. What are the chances that they will find a happy ever after?
This fantasy romance has some gushingly sweet lines between two people who find each other physically repellent. That's because Ildiko and Brishen genuinely like each other from the moment they meet.
She drew a circle on his chin with her fingertip. "Your skin color reminds me of a dead eel I once saw on the beach."
Brishen arched an eyebrow. "Flattering, I'm sure. I thought yours looked like a mollusk we boil to make amaranthine dye."
Draven does a fantastic job of utilizing a growing friendship and understanding as a building block to romantic love. Political intrigue is well integrated with both the fantasy and romantic elements of this novel. But there are also battles of wit as well as physical battles, warriors, magic, dark, light, and more. My one niggle is the overly formal dialog that creeps in between the main characters even during intimate moments. But that was not enough to spoil my enjoyment of this story or the beautiful romantic ending to Radiance. That is until you get to the epilogue, which almost serves as a prelude to what promises to be a more politically complex and fantasy-filled series. I will not miss the next installment. ...more
The Mermaid's Sister by Carrie Anne Noble is a whimsical short fantasy novel geared toward young middle schoolers. There are elements of the fairy talThe Mermaid's Sister by Carrie Anne Noble is a whimsical short fantasy novel geared toward young middle schoolers. There are elements of the fairy tale in it, but the story itself is not based on a fairy tale.
Sisters Clara and Maren grow up happily with their Auntie on a small cottage high on a mountain. They help Auntie with her healing potions and she tells them fantastical stories, including their favorite of how Clara was brought to Auntie by a stork and Maren arrived on a stormy night in a giant seashell, while their best friend O'Neill was found beneath an apple tree.
The story takes off from there with Maren as a sixteen year old beginning to change into a mermaid with sparkly scales and the kind of beauty that maddens men. Soon they all realize that Maren will die if she is not taken to the sea. O'Neill and Clara place her on O'Neill's gypsy wagon and set off. Their journey is long and filled with troubles. Along the way they encounter evil and battle personal doubts, love, jealousies, and selfish love, as neither O'Neill nor Clara want to let Maren go to the sea.
There are a couple of threads about acceptance that are perfectly suited for young adults. Maren accepts who she is and knows where she needs to go, but can she learn that she can't always get her own way? The journey, however, turns into more of a quest for Clara, one in which she needs to figure out who she really is and what she is capable of doing. In reality Clara and Maren are adopted sisters, but in their hearts and minds they are sisters born. Their love for each other is boundless and Clara shows that love in thought and action. For O'Neill the journey becomes a lesson about letting go by accepting a loved one's decisions.
The Mermaid's Sister is a book that young middle schoolers will enjoy, it is not for adult reading. As an adult reader, I found one too many unanswered questions at the end and a fairy tale "happy ever after" between two sixteen year olds that did not make sense. The story is well written. It contains joy and sadness, good and evil, a bit of magic, and a few extra surprises. I read it to find out if my younger nieces would enjoy it and yes, I believe they would. ...more
Grace Draven utilizes key, recognizable elements from the Beauty and the Beast children's fairy tale to create an adult fantasy romance with unique ceGrace Draven utilizes key, recognizable elements from the Beauty and the Beast children's fairy tale to create an adult fantasy romance with unique central characters. She splits both Beauty and the Beast into two couples by having Louvaen Duenda and Ballard take on the adult, experienced central role while Cinnia and Gavin play the young romantic (beautiful and virginal) secondary one. Intermingled with the romances, at its core, this is also a beautiful father and son tale of love and sacrifice.
On the romantic front, Lou and Ballard take center stage. Lou is no sweet Belle, instead she is considered an indomitable shrew -- there is no taming her. A widow, Lou is strong, determined, and brave, making her the perfect candidate to serve as protector to her weak father and beautiful sister Cinnia against the local villain. When she follows her impulsive sister to the magically hidden castle that Gavin calls home, Lou is better prepared than Cinnia to deal with Gavin's father Ballard and the cursed situation as a whole. Ballard, like the Beast from the original fairy tale, will break your heart. His sweetness and sacrifice for love trumps beastliness. His shame, resignation, and yearning for Lou will make an impact on fairy tale and romance lovers alike. Sex scenes abound in this story -- not a complaint, just surprising.
The romance between Gavin and Cinnia is definitely secondary. They play the more traditional role found in fairy tales. His is the extremely handsome and honorable role of a troubled prince, and hers is that of the poor, virginal, but extreme beauty who garners attention from miles around and incites the lust of a villain. Gavin falls for her and attempts to save the beautiful lady in distress by whisking her away to his magic castle in hopes that she in turn will save him and his family from an old curse. Draven chooses to have two very different romantic couples in this story fighting similar conflicts. Gavin and Cinnia work well as secondary characters, unfortunately, the connection with them as a couple is tenuous. This is mainly due to the fact that their relationship develops on a superficial level, lacking intimate (one-on-one, on the page) details as it evolves.
The sweet and sour dialog between the central characters is engaging and entertaining. The secondary characters also have a lot to offer in that respect. The slower moments, the happy ones, in the middle of the book flow with their friendship, loyalty and love. The magic aspects of this story feel organic to a fairy tale with some details taken directly from the original Beauty and the Beast, while others are incorporated by the author.
The father and son tale of love and sacrifice plays a key role in this fantasy romance. It is intermingled with the curse and the situation faced by the couples. Short flashback sections are utilized throughout the story to give the reader the complete picture while the characters -- Lou and Cinnia -- remain in the dark. Key to the story as a whole, at times these flashbacks interrupt the flow. Regardless, the positives outweigh the negatives and I really enjoyed this story to the end.
I recommend Entreat Me to readers who love Beauty and the Beast, adult fairy tales, fantasy romances, unusually strong heroines as central characters, and strong bonds between fathers and sons....more
I'm probably the last person to read Big Boy! I purchased it as soon as it released after having read two books by Ruthie Knox that I just loved. UnfoI'm probably the last person to read Big Boy! I purchased it as soon as it released after having read two books by Ruthie Knox that I just loved. Unfortunately, I never seemed to be in the right mood to read it and let it just lie there on my Kindle.
Mandy is a very young, busy, stressed out single mom. She became mother to her baby nephew Josh after her sister, brother-in-law, and three year old niece died in a tragic accident. Of course it changed her life irrevocably at a time when she was not quite ready for it. To ease stress and give herself time to breathe, once a month Mandy goes out on role-playing dates with a man she met online. Rules are set from the beginning, they each dress-up in period costumes, keep up with their individual role during the dates, and do not exchange names or personal information.
Although technically Mandy and her hot, role-playing partner had only met a total of nine times in nine months when this story began, Knox worked to build this relationship for over a year. That slowly becomes obvious as the story progresses. It shows in how both characters, but particularly Mandy, have changed and influenced each other over that period of time through conversations, the role playing characters, and the anticipation of seeing each other again.
The role playing itself is a fantastic part of this novella for different reasons. I love the descriptions of the costumes they wore and how well Mandy and her partner-in-sexy times get into their roles. And that brings us to Knox's sex scenes which are steamy hot as well as sensual. No need for dom/sub titillation in this novella either. Take a look at the "warning" at the bottom of the summary, those brown polyester pants were hot. What a scene!
Part of the excitement comes from the fact that these two people are strangers, and pretend that they are someone else. Let themselves go. Give themselves a break. But, this is a contemporary and as such, I always look at behavior through a contemporary lens. So, of course there is one huge niggle that made the hairs at the back of my neck stand straight up. It has to do with Mandy going on a first date with someone she met through the internet and met, alone, at a secluded place that first time! I don't care if she had mace as precaution, this is not safe behavior. If you have a daughter who dates, I don't care the age, this will bother you too. I had to suspend disbelief in order to continue with the story because who does that these days? It bothered me.
Once I placed that aside, however, I loved Big Boy, the trains and historical bits about them. Knox executed the romance and eroticism in this novella beautifully and I found that the conflict between the protagonists was valid and well thought out. I like both characters and believe they had good reasons for seeing each other and for keeping the relationship "as is" as long as they did. The epilogue showed a good happy ending that I found satisfying. A quick, great read....more
This is a quiet, multi-layered story that makes an impact. It focuses on family, the damage that may come of the too-high expectations parents place oThis is a quiet, multi-layered story that makes an impact. It focuses on family, the damage that may come of the too-high expectations parents place on their children while children base their "love" on meeting those expectations, love and rivalry between siblings, children caught in the middle, the effects of racism and misogyny, racial identity, love, infidelity, and so much more. It is a story that digs into each and every character and the motivation behind their actions. There are no stones left unturned and all is revealed, including what happens to Lydia.
I thought long and hard about these characters, this story, after I finished the book: about history and the high price so many people of color, immigrants, and their children have paid while reaching for the undeniably alluring and often unreachable "American dream," the price we as women have paid (and still pay) on our long journey forward, as well as the damage parents can, unknowingly and thoughtlessly, inflict on their children. This is a beautifully written, thought-provoking debut by Celeste Ng. Highly recommended....more
In 2013, Blanco was the fifth, youngest, first Latino, immigrant and openly gay writer to be chosen as inaugural poet of United States. He read the orIn 2013, Blanco was the fifth, youngest, first Latino, immigrant and openly gay writer to be chosen as inaugural poet of United States. He read the original poem One Today. With The Prince of Los Cocuyos, Blanco veers from poetry on to the realm of creative non-fiction. He takes a collection of linked short stories that when assembled become a partial biographical tale focusing on Blanco's childhood in Miami where his exiled Cuban family settled.
Blanco chooses slices from his childhood -- moments, memories -- and gives the reader an understanding of the Cuban exile's experience and culture in Miami beginning in the early 1970's. These slices or memories are separated into chapters, each with a title. "The First Real San Giving Day," in which as a little boy Riqui yearns for a real American experience during the Thanksgiving holiday and manipulates his grandmother into making it happen, contains much of what is found throughout this book to make it work. There are funny moments, but it also presents a portrait of the immigrant's experience from an intimate perspective, one that is also encased in frustration and nostalgia.
Nostalgia is the recurring theme. Blanco attempts to understand the seemingly perennial sense of nostalgia that surrounds the Cuban exile community by exploring or dissecting different events that take place in his personal life. However, Blanco also explores the effects cultural differences and language barrier have on an immigrant community, specifically how isolation from the mainstream and fear of the unknown prevents individuals from moving outside the "safety zone" their community represents. Additionally, he goes on to show the frustration and ambivalence of children growing up with two strong cultures pushing and pulling at them. Children who need to be part of the mainstream American culture, yet want to understand their parents, their love of the 'old country' and cultural traditions.
An excellent example of this effect can be found in "El Ratoncito Miguel," one of the funniest, most touching chapters of the book. Riqui leaves Miami for the first time on a trip to Disney World with his parents and brother. Away from the "safety zone," Riqui's father becomes self-conscious and less confident. Riqui and his brother take control of situations for their parents because they speak English and later, when necessary, both become their parents' protectors. This is a sort of role reversal that many children with monolingual parents experience early on.
On the amusing side of things, in this same chapter Blanco also introduces his mother's "por si las moscas" (meaning or taking the place of "por si acaso" or "just in case") tote bag where she carries the most unexpected items -- some embarrassing, others dangerous. This "in case of flies bag," which Blanco translates literally, becomes a recurring joke throughout the rest of the book. The literal translation makes it even funnier in the context of the stories. Blanco translates most of the Spanish words he uses in the book, and uses literal translations for many of the Cuban sayings -- what he refers to in a later chapter as "Cubichi speech" or Cubanisms.
In one of my favorite chapters, "Queen of the Copa," Miami's glamorous history is integrated along with Miami's diminishing Jewish community, which Blanco uses to further explore the nostalgia theme. And throughout the entire book, including the remaining chapters, "It takes un Pueblo," "Listening to Mermaids," and "El Farito," Blanco also incorporates early difficulties encountered with family, community, and himself while coming to terms with his sexuality. His grandmother, a fierce woman who held old-fashioned, homophobic views, makes a particularly strong impact:
"it's better to be it and not look like it, than to look like it even if you are not it."
From a personal perspective, I found myself relating strongly to quite a few of the circumstances Blanco portrays in this book. Looking at The Prince of Los Cocuyos from a bit of a distance, I found his storytelling to be touching, insightful, and hysterically funny at times with a bit too much emphasis placed on the nostalgia factor. The book as a whole comes across as genuine, heartfelt, and extremely intimate, depicting strengths and weaknesses in his family, himself, as well as in his community. As a great companion read, I recommend Blanco's poetry volume Looking for the Gulf Motel.
"Why is anyone book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe
"Why is anyone book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again."
I began the year by reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, a contemporary fiction book recommended by Christine for our Internet Book Club. The main character, a book store owner and avid reader, loves literary short stories. He references books, titles, characters and plot to describe events occurring in his life. AJ was always an introvert but once he loses his wife in a tragic accident, he further isolates himself in a world of books. A literary snob, he only places value on specific literary works and refuses to read (or buy) anything else. Then, AJ's rare copy of an early book by Edgar Allan Poe is stolen and his plans for retirement are dashed. Luckily for AJ, a little girl comes into his life and everything changes, allowing him a second chance at life and love. "No man is an island." A.J. evolves, and as a result makes a big impact in other people's lives through love, his love of books, and the bookstore.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a multi-layered story. The author keeps the reader immersed by tying events occurring in the main character(s) lives through AJ's perspective as a reader -- AJ's critique of short stories, analysis of construction and writers' abilities, personal views on content (preferences and biases).
"Maya, novels certainly have their charms, but the most elegant creation in the prose universe is a short story. Master the short story and you'll have mastered the universe."
Each chapter begins with one page highlighting the title of a short story and a short critique by AJ which includes facts pertaining to his life at that very moment. I love how the author shows A.J.'s evolution as he builds a canon of short stories for his little girl that also serves as a guide to life.
"My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels. The analogy he is looking for is almost there. We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that. In the end, we are collected works."
The author touches on issues pertinent to the book world: critiquing, giving obscure or new books/authors a fair chance, ebooks v. print books, the disappearance of brick and mortar book stores, keeping a small, independent book store afloat, dealing with publisher representatives and their seasonal book catalogues. There is a twist to do with Maya that I did not see coming. Of course, looking back, all the clues were in place and waiting to be discovered, a few niggled at the time, but I missed them. AJ as the main character is indispensable but so are the secondary characters because without them there would not be a story to tell. There are little mysteries and twists, love stories and personality conflicts, resolution and absolution.
This is a beautiful book for book lovers. But this is the thing, Zevin takes all of that and integrates it into a story about life itself with all the messy "disappointments and exhilarating moments that make life beautiful now and again." Highly recommended. ...more