I'm a bit behind in posting this, but I recently read a very intruiging collection of short stories called Lethal Kisses. Edited by Ellen Datlow, it contains a number of big names, such as Joyce Carol Oates, Pat Cadigan and Michael Swanwick, to name a few. As you can probably guess from the title, it's a collection of stories about revenge. I would recommend it - there were some great and unexpected stories, and all were enjoyable to read. You can catch my full review at Bewildering Stories magazine here.
I've known Edward Ahern for a couple of years now, and I was pleased to pick up his new collection of short stories, Capricious Visions. A mixture of fantasy and horror stories, the writing is at times fun and other times macabre, but the stories always held my interest from start to finish. I've written a more in-depth review at Bewildering Stories, which you can read here. I hope you enjoy the collection as much as I did!
I've often enjoyed reading the anthologies by Third Flatiron, often edited by publisher Juliana Rew. In fact, I had a story published by them a couple years ago in Abbreviated Epics. So I started to read their new anthology, Hyperpowers, with anticipation. It was guest edited by Bascomb James, and the theme of the book was space opera and military SF stories, genres I've enjoyed since reading Heinlein when I was a kid.
I have a full review of the anthology published at Bewildering Stories magazine.
I've enjoyed other short stories by Edward Ahern in various magazines, and so I was pleased to pick up his newly released book, The Witch Made Me Do It: Modern Fairy Tales. The book is composed of fifteen stories previously published in a variety of magazines, gathered together for the first time in a collection. These stories are in Mr. Ahern's usual very readable style, and I finished the book in about a day.
The retold fairy tales are taken from a variety of sources - some Russian, some European, some Native American. Some are set in classical settings in the past, some are adapted for the modern day. They highlight a number of traditional dichotomies, such as good versus evil, men versus women, hard work versus laziness, poor versus rich.
I'm a sucker for fairy tales, and I thought this was a very nicely composed collection. I'm sure that my kids would enjoy them as much as I did, although some of the stories have more grown-up themes that might pass over their heads right now. While the tone of the stories is generally straightforward, there are some instances of tongue-in-cheek humor that elevate them just a touch and gives them an added layer of meaning. I enjoyed the collection as much as I've enjoyed Mr. Ahern's previous stories, and would definitely read more work by him. For fans of fairy tale retellings, I think this is a great collection, and I'd recommend it.
A Whisper of Leaves is a novella that tells the story of Riko, a twenties-something girl who was raised in Australia, but whose parents are Japanese. She is currently living in Japan on a work visa, although she has just lost her teaching job because of a false sexual assault charge leveled at her by a government official's son. If she doesn't find a new job, she will be deported back to Australia. To get her mind off her problems, she decides to go hiking in the national park by Mount Fuji with her friend and roommate, Kiyomi. The mystery begins when they leave the hiking path at the smell of smoke and discover a strange old man kindling a fire in the woods. When they try to return to the path, Riko trips over something and discovers an old journal partially buried in the earth. She takes it with her and starts to read it, and as the story in its pages unfolds, strange things begin to happen to her. She can't decide if perhaps she is going crazy or if perhaps there is a supernatural explanation for everything that is happening to her. As her situation grows more dangerous and she becomes haunted by inexplicable events, she has to get to the bottom of the mystery quickly – or she might not survive long enough to be concerned about finding a new job.
I felt that this story started out a bit slowly for me. Although some explanation was necessary to establish the backstory of the characters, I probably would have liked to have a little less explanation at the beginning and more of a jump straight to discovering the journal. Having said that, the story does pick up quickly after that, and I especially liked the incorporation of poetry and journal passages into the text – it provided a nice contrast with the straightforward narration. The voice was very accessible to read and I think it would appeal strongly to a YA audience. It never gets too graphic, as a lot of modern horror tends to do, and it reminded me of classic teen horror stories I read when I was younger, à la R.L. Stein and Christopher Pike – hinting at danger, but never stepping too far over the edge and out of my comfort zone. I also enjoyed the exploration of cultural differences within a Japanese setting and incorporating Japanese beliefs/superstitions. The passages from the journal are particularly poetic and poignant, as they recall an earlier time in history, for example:
Mother still wore the Mofuku, the black of her hair was lost in the fabric when she bent to pour tea, but I
remember one day, right after Father died, she smiled. I had woven a scarf. She smiled and stroked my head.
Was it the last time she truly smiled? I don't know."
So for those readers who enjoy horror that is not all blood and guts, but incorporates more of the traditional elements of true suspense, this would be a good novella to pick up. I've read other work by Ashley Capes before, and I'd read more by him in the future.
Fire from the Overworld is a complex story that follows the lives of three young protagonists as the structure of their world falls apart. The three main characters live in a rural town reminiscent of historic India. Yuvali and Héyowan are mystics and close friends who have grown up together, and Pradah is Héyowan’s older brother who will eventually take over for their father as chief of the village. The natural world has gone crazy--animals and men behave erratically, the crops are dying, and attack from roaming bands of tribeless warriors threatens the very existence of the village. It is a fight taking place on both the physical plane--Pradah is training to be a warrior to defend the village from attack--and the spiritual plane--Yuvali and Héyowan appeal to the very highest of the gods for rescue. But when the line between good and evil blur, the three children must grow up quickly and make adult choices that will change not only the course of village life, but perhaps change all the infinite worlds ruled by the gods.
Lowry’s writing style has beautiful passages of description that easily transport the reader to the kingdom of Raiya. Here's a brief snippet, when Yuvali is using the mystic powers of an ayur to travel outside her body:
The sand beneath her was liquid, or blowing in the air across the big world, skins on the surface of a great
creature who was a ruler herself, and Yuvali was like the dust in the wind around her, blowing everywhere
and mixing with the world’s winds. She loosed herself to the four directions.
Hands caught her, held her together so she could go on. Someone with her, keeping her whole. The tree
grew closer; a branch caught moonlight as a covering cloud broke apart. Buds lined the branches, and spiky
clusters of leaves. The silvery mound had a dark patch within it.
It was a cave.
Interspersed and inspired by mythology and oral storytelling, the book’s world has a richness that is the perfect backdrop to an epic story of good and evil. If you’re a fan of Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy or are looking for a YA story similar to the atmosphere of Alexander's MG-level The Iron Ring, you would enjoy reading Fire from the Overworld.
I read a lot - depending on my writing schedule, I can usually read about a book a day. Some of the books are fantastic and I would love to recommend to everyone - some, not so much. Either way, I thought I would share a few thoughts on what I'm reading at the moment.