Author: Min Jin Lee
My rating: 3.5 of 5
In 1980’s South Korea, a young girl has spent her entire life being told in a million ways that girls are simply not as important as boys. That her family’s hopes are all in her new baby brother. That she and the three younger sisters she’s responsible for will never be good enough, even if they excel. So when her already poor family’s fortunes take an unexpected turn for the worse, she makes a horrific decision in order to be the dutiful daughter her family needs.
Although extremely short, “The Best Girls” packs quite a punch. Since this is part of the “Disorder” collection of stories, I immediately expected some sort of horror story and was surprised to find instead a Korean family drama. It tells of a family making do in the face of poverty, one that preaches (perhaps, one can hope, unwittingly) an extremely patriarchal worldview in its every action. And it tells of a smart, dutiful young girl who has been immersed in this mindset from her earliest childhood. So perhaps we should take it as a warning that kids pay attention to what’s happening around them and draw their own conclusions. In any case, this girl makes a choice that is shocking . . . and yet kind of makes a terrible sense considering her background. It’s pretty horrifying and super sad. I enjoyed the writing, even if it was quite different from a lot of what I have read, and I would be interested in trying more of the author’s work.
Author: Lish McBride
A Firebug Story
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Ava and her friends Ezra and Lock are on a job–for the magical mafia, which, not their choice really but definitely their norm at this point. It ought to be a fairly simple task, present a sufficient show of force that the witch they’ve been sent to deal with pays up. Not too hard when you’ve got a werefox, a half-dryad, and oh, a girl who controls fire on your hands. But of course, things are never simple for these three.
I adore Lish McBride’s novel Firebug, so it was with delight that I discovered this digitally-released short story set in the same world and following the same three main characters. Chronologically within the story’s timeline, “Burnt Sugar” actually predates Firebug and gives us a good picture of an (honestly) pretty average mission for these three. Which isn’t to say the story’s average, by any means. It’s exciting and suspenseful, with a great sense of humor and some amazing friendships. Seriously, I just love these three and the relationship they share so, so much. And really, a plot that involves gingerbread houses, health-conscious witches, and a girl who can summon fire with just a thought–what’s not to love? Also, if you’re not familiar with this author/series and would like a sampling, “Burnt Sugar” actually provides sufficient information to appreciate the characters and what’s going on, while avoiding being a straight-up info dump. (Granted, if you’ve read Firebug, some of the information provided is unnecessary, but not annoyingly so.) I would definitely recommend this short story, honestly to a broad audience, although particularly to fans of quirky, funny urban fantasy.
Note: While this story is available for digital purchase, you can also read it for free on Tor.com at https://www.tor.com/2014/12/10/burnt-sugar-lish-mcbride/.
Looking for some spooky reads as Halloween approaches? Well Humble Bundle has you covered with their Tales of Horror bundle. This bundle features a variety of creepy tales ranging from manga to novels (authors I don’t know but who will be fun to try) to a number of short story collections (featuring several well-known authors who know well how to craft the perfect eerie atmosphere). As I said, I’m not familiar with all the authors, but this looks like a solid collection with a good bit of variety to suit different tastes in horror. If you’re interested, you can find out more here.
Author: Justin Richards
Illustrator: David Wardle
My rating: 3 of 5
Time Lords tell their own fairy stories, didn’t you know? For instance, have you ever heard the tale of the Three Little Sontarans? Or the story of the twins who were marooned in a forest on another planet? Or about Snow White and how she saved the world from the Doomsday machine? What about Andiba and her run-in with the Four Slitheen? But however strange they may sound at first, they still begin “Once upon a time.”
Time Lord Fairy Tales was . . . not quite what I was expecting, but a fun read nevertheless. It is primarily (perhaps exclusively, and I just don’t know all the base stories) retellings of classic fairy tales but with beings and settings from the Doctor Who universe–like Sontarans and spaceships. The Doctor himself appears at times, on the fringes of the stories, although he is never a central character to the tales. I have to admit, I’m impressed with how well the stories are crafted, the way that the classic tales are reworked in a way that makes sense, carries the flavor of the original story, and yet is fresh as well. The feel of these stories is less retelling and more actual, traditional fairy tale. That’s probably the main reason that I can’t rate this higher just based on personal enjoyment–I adore retellings, but the writing style of traditional fairy tales is much more difficult for me to get excited about. Probably my favorite story is the first, a tale of children climbing a garden wall and finding plates of cookies left for them–suffice it to say that an impossible time loop and weeping angels are involved, making for a tale that is both eerie and poignant. I would have to say that I recommend Time Lord Fairy Tales for that relatively narrow group of people who love both Doctor Who and traditional fairy tales; it will be greatly enjoyed by those individuals and pretty much lost on basically anyone else.
So, this is exactly what it sounds like. Humble Bundle is offering a book bundle from Night Shade Books featuring books from a variety of genres ranging from sci-fi to horror to fantasy to maybe even a little mystery. Included are a few “best-of” short story collections as well as a number of longer novels. I’m not personally familiar with a lot of the authors, although there is a collection of Paolo Bacigalupi short stories. They claim the featured authors include names like George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, and Orson Scott Card–I’m guessing in the short story collections. The full-length novels are mostly by authors I don’t recognize, but i looks like an interesting group of books.
If you’re interested, you can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/multi-genre-fiction-books.
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The great thing–the scary thing–about boxes is that they can contain just about anything. Or nothing. You’ll never know until you open them. It could be something that will change your perspective for the better. Or it could be something that will wreak havoc with your life. Maybe it’s an opportunity for a second chance. But then, maybe it’s best left closed–after all, once you’ve imagined all the things it could be, perhaps whatever it really is might be a disappointment. You never know. . . .
As with Kibuishi’s other Explorer books, The Mystery Boxes is a collection of graphic short stories by various authors/artists focusing on a theme–in this instance, boxes. You’ve got quite the gamut of stories here from creepy (“Under the Floorboards” in which a wax doll tries to take over a little girl’s life), to corny (“Whatzit” in which a weird alien kid is pranked and returns the favor), to moving (notably “The Keeper’s Treasure” and Kibuishi’s own story, “The Escape Option”). Honestly, my opinions about these stories range widely, with some of them being lots of fun and others just being kind of “huh?” for me. Some of them, I just don’t quite get what the author was getting at, I guess. But then, there are stories like “The Keeper’s Treasure,” “Spring Cleaning” (goofy but amusing), and “The Escape Option” that I think still make Explorer: The Mystery Boxes well worth the time to read it.
Author: Elizabeth Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5
She knew she shouldn’t approach the derelict old house. Everyone knew it was abandoned–probably haunted too. But Blake Callaghan’s curiosity is just too much, so she scales the wall and wanders through the overgrown, unkempt garden towards the house. You can imagine her surprise when she encounters an old man in the garden; so very old he is. He introduces himself as Mr. Donn and begins to tell Blake stories, wondrous stories of the Sidhe, of changelings, and of the Dullahan. Stories of the brevity of life and the certainty of death that change Blake somehow in the hearing of them.
House of the Dead is an incredible novella/short story collection that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fantasy or mythology. It pulls from old Celtic legends, but presents the tales in a fresh, insightful way, uniting the individual stories within Blake’s story and making them part of a greater whole. I first discovered the author through her Merlin fanfics, writing under the pseudonym Emachinescat; they are wonderful, and I fell in love with the author’s writing then. This novella displays the same brilliance, but perhaps even more finely crafted. There is both a richness of imagery and a sparseness of dialogue in this book that is unusual, I think, and I found it oddly moving. There were several times when the stories moved me to the point of chills, and by the end of the novella, I was crying. The perspective on life and death offered here is truly powerful, echoing the Doctor’s idea that “we’re all stories, in the end” and the desire to really live life to the fullest, to write a good story with your life. As I said, highly recommended.
Story by Neil Gaiman/Art by Michael Zulli/Lettering & Adaptation by Todd Klein
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: Mature Audience/Partial Nudity
Our narrator invites to listen to his tale of a most unusual evening, one he might not have believed himself had he not experienced it himself. A couple of his friends convinced him to come along and help them entertain an out-of-town guest who shall, for purposes of his story, be called Miss Finch–a strange woman to be sure, a biogeologist with an awkward personality and a great desire to see extinct creatures like Smilodon alive in their natural habitat. As fate would have it, the party winds up in a bizarre underground circus of questionable taste, but fate takes a strange turn when they arrive at an exhibit in which one individual is to have their greatest wish granted . . . and Miss Finch is the one chosen individual.
I first read “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch” in Gaiman’s Fragile Things as a short story, which I found quite outstanding and memorable. This graphic novel adaptation is also quite intriguing, staying close to the spirit of the original short story. It’s this strange blend of magical realism and an almost macabre oddness that gets under the skin somehow. Typical Gaiman, that, I suppose–his stories have a way of being unsettling but brilliant in ways I didn’t even know stories could be. Zulli’s art is just perfect for the story, bringing together that darkness and unsettledness and all the totally out there aspects of the circus in a way that fits and ties everything together. I love the departure from a typical comic-book style; it’s more neutral tones and semi-realistic styles that work really well for this story (and are much more what I prefer in general). I would definitely read more of this artist’s works (and am pleased to see that he appears to have illustrated a few other Gaiman graphic novels!). I think for those who enjoy Gaiman’s work or who are looking for a different but quality graphic novel, The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch would be a great choice.
FanFiction ID: 8759369
Status: Complete (49 Chapters)
My rating: 4 of 5
You guessed it: here we have a collection of hurt/comfort short stories set in the Merlin-verse. I’m not even going to attempt a summary proper, since the stories are unrelated for the most part, some even contradicting others in the collection. But basically, this is a miscellaneous group of short stories, drabbles, and a few multi-chapter fics (“Throw the Boar”! :D) focusing mostly on Merlin and Arthur, but also including the knights, Gwen, Gaius, and a few other canon characters. The flavor of the stories is generally focused on hurt/comfort, but there’s a nice mix of really dark stuff (lots of angst and even a couple of deathfics–fair warning) mixed with some lighter bromantic, humorous pieces that are pretty cathartic. Also, there are several reveal fics included–again ranging from insanely dark to kind of amusing–and a good bit of whump (again, fair warning).
I love short stories, and I love Merlin . . . so what’s not to love about a collection such as Hurt and Comfort in Camelot? The stories were interesting, developing themes that I enjoy seeing in Merlin fanfiction while also presenting ideas in a different light and providing fresh, interesting scenarios. The writing itself was quite good–very readable with solid grammar and a pleasant style. The author’s understanding of the characters and portrayal of their relationships and personalities was spot on and fun to read, even when it broke my heart or made me cry . . . and there were times that it made me laugh as well. I liked that balance, even though the primary focus of the stories was generally a bit on the darker side. I would definitely recommend Hurt and Comfort in Camelot to Merlin fans just about across the board, but especially for those who enjoy hurt/comfort stories (obviously) with significant themes of angst, friendship, and bromance.
Note: You can find Hurt and Comfort in Camelot at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8759369/1/Hurt-and-Comfort-in-Camelot.
Author: Neil Gaiman
The Sandman, vol. 3
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
A struggling author manages to enslave a muse for his own benefit, inspiring amazing ideas but at what cost? Elsewhere, a stray cat attempts to unite a large enough group of cats to dream the same thing and thus alter reality . . . good luck with that one. Centuries before, Will Shakespeare and his motley band of players perform his Dream for an otherworldly audience. And a woman given transformative powers by the sun-god Ra is cursed to never be truly human again.
I swear, this series just keeps getting better! Dream Country is basically a short-story collection in graphic novel form, featuring four unique stories in which Morpheus is a minor character. All four are strange and unique and kind of wonderful in different ways. Which isn’t to say that they’re all happy and fun; some of them, perhaps even parts of all of them, are dark and pensive. Creative and brilliant, still. My favorite was the one featuring Shakespeare–which incidentally won a World Fantasy Award. The story itself is lovely and strange, and Charles Vess’s artwork is just perfect for it. Actually, Vess’s art is basically ideal for Gaiman’s writing in general, or at least for his fantasy; they mesh ridiculously well. The art for the whole collection is quite nice, although for the last story (the Ra one) I struggled for the first bit to figure out what on earth was actually going on. I think that’s just the story and how strange it is, mostly, though. I would highly recommend Dream Country, both for those who are in the midst of reading The Sandman as a series and for those who are just interested in a collection of independent graphic shorts by Gaiman; I don’t think the previous or future volumes are necessary to enjoy this collection.
Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Charles Vess, Malcolm Jones III, Kelley Jones, & Colleen Doran/Lettered by Todd Klein