short stories

Small reviews: Hugo nominated short stories

So as I explained in my post on the Hugo nominated novellas, I’ve signed up for the Worldcon supporter membership, which gives you access to the “voter packet”, in which most authors and publishers kindly provide their nominated works for you to review! Not free, but a very cheap price for the year’s favourites.

So I’ve decided to do my best to read as much of it as possible to vote fairly (since you do, also, get to vote) and put the reviews out there. It feels like that’s the least I can do for authors who provide their stuff for free (membership money goes towards organizing Worldcon and the Hugos, not to the authors).

I’m currently reading my way through the Novel and Astounding nominations (and doubting I’ll make it through them all before the 19th) but I thought I’d take a short break and go through the short stories! These are all free to read somewhere online, I’ll put the link down there as well.

Continue reading…

Review: Tales of Lunis Aquaria, by Tessa Hastjarjanto

A quick one today, as I want to tell you about a book by my friend Tessa Hastjarjanto, over at Narratess. It’s a lovely little collection of tales/short stories.

Louxor always likes a cute book

The Story

The balance is tipping. Something shifts in the world of Lunis Aquaria. Menacing creatures, daunting deserts, and treacherous mountains. Hardships and solace, friendships and love. Read the stories of what went on before the world is lost in disparity and meet the heroes who will one day restore harmony.

Tales of Lunis Aquaria is a collection of nine short stories set in the fantastical world of Lunis Aquaria.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I always find it hard to “grade” short story collections. I spent some time hovering internally between a 3.5 and a 4 on this one.

It is, like I said, a lovely little collection. I love the universe it sketches out, with what is essentially a nature goddess and some alien observers in the shape of common animals. Some of the stories were cute, and some were bittersweet, and I generally quite enjoyed it.

One issue I had was that you can feel there is more to it than you’re told, and I feel like a few more stories in the collection might’ve helped round it out, and tie in some of the loose ends. Also, I kept wishing for some queer characters. But as it stands, it was a cute read, and I can’t wait to read more stories in the universe, and get some answers to my questions. This feels more like a first volume (and Tessa promises me more stories are to come!) so it’s hard to judge the whole just on the face of its first part.

What I really loved about it is that it truly felt like fairy tales, the kind of stories I could’ve read as a kid, in tone and in spirit. And yet it did not shy away from harsher stories as well. A good little collection to read with a mug of tea.

The Links

Amazon* | Book Depository

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you

Review: Cursed, an Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales

I said this before, but I’m not really a fan of short stories. But the concept really appealed to me and I figured why not. The cover also looked nice, not gonna lie. And while I got bored by a few, there were also some great highlights I want to talk about!

The Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

First off, I want to say Kudos to the narrators. The audiobook itself was brilliant, and giving it to multiple people to read different stories really helped with the contrast. Also, amazing voices. Well, there was one that gave a Northern English accent (?) to a “latin” character (whatever that means, I think they said Mexican and also South American at different points in the same story…) so that was offputting, but everything else sounded great and really helped pull me into the stories.

Now, bear with me as I try to remember the titles, there’s no clear title page (because audiobook) and I have the worst memory for names.

I absolutely loved As red as blood, as white as snow which is essentially Snow White meets Bluebeard. It really does what most fairy tale retellings struggle with, which is redeeming the stepmother (or at least yknow, acknowledging the sexism of that trope. Without putting in more sexism [don’t get me started on Gaiman’s Snow Glass Apples, which isn’t in this thankfully]). The two tales worked surprisingly well together and gives the princess some good old agency, which I can never complain about.

On the less dark side, or dark-but-funny side perhaps, I really enjoyed both Fairy Werewolf Vs. Vampire Zombie and Henry and the Snakewood Box. The first’s about some good old paranormal love triangle, with a twist. A few twists, in fact. The second involves a demon who’s giving away wishes to a boy named Henry on the principle that for each positive wish, he (the devil) gets to do a butterfly-creates-hurricane level of evil with the power unleashed. It does not turn out how he planned… The tone of these two were really what I loved. The fairy pub owner in the first, with her Southern drawl and I’ve seen everything attitude, and the extra conceited demon in the second, who was so proud of himself for having found a human easy enough to abuse… these were definitely made even better by the narrator.

Other highlights I think were the ones going with Old World vibes, like Listen, a twist on the pied piper, cursed by an old god(?) to bring back shadows of the dead with her music so they tell their truths. The Merrie Dancers also had that similar eerie vibe about the fae.

Then there was the fascinating ones I don’t know what to think about. Haza and Ghani was fascinating, if perhaps a bit long. I had the impression of a much older narrator, though by the end I was not sure. This little girl who follows her brother to the temple and becomes a kitchen help to stick around and help, and her jaded older self telling us about it, it was really fascinating, but I did also find that I was losing focus in the middle. A bit of a “get to the point” feeling about it!
Then there’s Look Inside and I loved the concept and again the ties to the old world but I’m reaaaally uneasy about the ending.
Skin was horrible and terrifying in a kind of satisfying way (very gory, mind you) but the whole idea that this woman (accidentally) put a curse on this horrible man who essentially got mad at her for her skin condition, and she has to soothe his feelings, and cajole him, and essentially agree that she is bad for having cursed him? I’m not comfortable with that. It feels like it lacks some awareness of the real world, let’s say. Which is ironic for fairy tales but it did not hit the mark for me. [deleted rant about fairy tale morality and what it’s supposed to teach and how to subvert them]
New Wine was fascinating also, and I really liked it actually, but it’s also… like it’s got that feeling of “oh no this is too much like the real world” that makes me shudder inside and not know what to think about it. In a good way, I think?

Some were unmemorable, or the ending was just a bit flat for me. I did not particularly like Troll Bridge by Gaiman, I mean it was ok but there were stronger stories. Wendy Darling was an interesting twist but it did not pack the punch I think it was supposed to. Others were just… eh, like Black Fairy’s Curse, I really didn’t see the point, or Little Red (major self-harm trigger warnings here) because I guess we all love stories in asylums (not), or Faith and Fred which again… not convinced.

One thing I’d say overall is that except for the Fairy Werewolf/Vampire Zombie and for Haza and Ghani, this was very English. British if I’m being generous. It was fun in some ways, as in I know those places, and it makes for more Old World kinds of stories but I’d have loved more diversity that’s not “this guy from the Southern hemisphere in a London tenement flat does voodoo maybe” (Hated), you know?

So overall some of the stories were brilliant, and I’d give them 4-5 stars, and most of them were ok-to-good, and a few were just uuuurgh. Which is par for the course for an anthology, I suppose. But as anthologies go, I think I quite liked this one on average.

Review of Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight

I’ve been distracted to no end this new year and college exams (who said going back to school would be easy?) and I’m regretting how little reading I was able to put in. I did, however, manage to finish this great short story collection, so I thought I’d review it.

The Book:

Come discover the breadth and endless invention of her universes, ranging from a dark Gothic Paris devastated by a magical war; to the multiple award-winning Xuya, a far-future space opera inspired by Vietnamese culture where scholars administrate planets and sentient spaceships are part of families.

In the Nebula award and Locus award winning “Immersion”, a young girl working in a restaurant on a colonized space station crosses paths with an older woman who has cast off her own identity. In the novelette “Children of Thorns, Children of Water”, a shapeshifting dragon infiltrating a ruined mansion finds more than he’s bargained for when his partner is snatched by eerie, child-like creatures. And in the award-winning “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, three very different people–a scholar, an engineer, and a spaceship–all must deal with the loss of a woman who was the cornerstone of their world.

This collection includes a never-before seen 20,000-word novella, “Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness”, set in Bodard’s alternative dark Paris.

My cat Lucky here modelling with my copy of the book

The Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I always struggle to read — and review — short story collections. I just don’t have the focus for small slices, paradoxically. It’s easier for me to get invested when I can stick with the characters for longer. But I enjoyed the Xuya short stories I read before (the Tea Master and the Detective mainly was a great read!) so I wanted to give the wider universe a try. 

It helps that all the stories are in the same universe (except for the last two which are in the Dominion of the Fallen universe and got me really interested in that as well) with common themes of war and grief. I almost want a history book of Xuya to get to know more about the different empires and their background. But the slices we get definitely paint a good enough picture. 

I was invested in the various characters, each story hit right where it should, and they were all equally good – I usually find that short story collections have highlights and then others that drag the collection down but that wasn’t the case here. I liked some better than others, of course, and Pearl was probably the highlight for me, as well as the final short story, “Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness”. “Days of War as Red as Blood as Dark as Bile” also really got to me, and “the Waiting Stars” too, but again they were all really good!

(as a side note, I was disappointed when I received my copy because this cover is nice but it’s Not As Nice, in my opinion, as the US cover edition which I keep seeing everywhere online. It’s grown on me though.)

Find the book

Portal bookshop (UK): signed copies!! | Amazon UK / US (affiliates) |B&N (US)