Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories

by Kelly Barnhill
First sentence: “The day she buried her husband — a good man, by all accounts, though shy, not given to drink or foolishness; not one for speeding tickets or illegal parking or cheating on his taxes; not one for carousing at the county fair, or tomcatting with the other men from the glass factory; which is to say, he was utterly unkonwn in town: a cipher; a cold, blank space — Agnes Sorensen arrived at the front steps of Our lady of the Snows.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are more mature themes and some swearing (though I’m not remembering any f-bombs). It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

I have a tortured history with short stories. I want to like them, but I find them much like poetry: I don’t get them. They’re words, and often pretty words, but I just don’t… well… understand them. (Even Neil Gaiman’s stories, which I seem to have a bit more affinity for.) And this collection was more of the same: I liked the stories, but I need someone else to read them and then explain them to me. (Especially the title story. I know it’s a metaphor, and I’m sure I’ll smack my head when someone tells me what it’s a metaphor for, but right now, I’m a bit lost.)

Barnhill is a gorgeous crafter of sentences, and this is no exception. She has a beautiful way with words, and it does pull you into the story. I especially liked the final story, which is more of a novella (which could be why), because the world that Barnhill built — a comet flies by once every 25 years and endows pre-born children with magical powers which a minister then harnesses for his own means — was so fascinating, but also because the writing was just so beautiful.

And maybe, someday, I’ll figure out how to read short stories and actually understand.

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Midwinterblood

by Marcus Sedgwick
First sentence: “The sun does not go down.”
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Content: There is some violence, and it’s a complicated story. It would be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, if we had it.

This one is SO hard to describe. Possibly because I think it really is best if you don’t know very much going in.

So know this: the stories are connected, going backward in time. Not directly connected; that tripped me up in the beginning – I kept expecting people to be related, but they’re not. The names are similar, the setting — the Blessed Island, a mysterious place somewhere in the northern ocean — is the same. But, while the stories are connected, it’s not a direct connection.

Also know this: how confused you are, how strange you think it is, you need to stick it through all the way to the end. Do that, and you will be rewarded. It will all make sense, it will all pull gloriously together, and it will be worth it.

I’ve never read anything like this before, and I’m sure this one will stick with me for a long time.

Audiobook: Flying Lessons

flyinglessonsedited by Ellen Oh
Read by: An Ensemble of Narrators
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Content: The stories are all set in middle school, and some deal more explicitly with “older kid” problems. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’m considering moving it to the YA (grades 6-8) because I’m wondering if that’s more the audience.

I’m not a huge fan of short story collections, but when I saw the audio book of this one, I couldn’t resist. I’ve been neglecting reading books by non-whites this year (I shouldn’t be!) and I thought since diversity is the point of this collection, I’d give it a try.

And I loved it! Sure, I loved some stories more than others (The titular story, “Flying Lessons” was one of my favorites, as was “How to Transform an Everyday Hoop Court Into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” by Matt de la Pena, and “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents” by Kwame Alexander, and “”Sol Painting, Inc.,” written and read by Meg Medina), but that’s to be expected. I loved that there were different readers for each story, which helped me tell the stories apart as well as giving them their own, distinct voice. I loved hearing the diverse stories, from the inner city, from the suburbs, from rural people to rich people to poor people to disabled people. It really did embrace the diversity that’s out there. Which is really the best thing.

Now to make sure that kids read it!

Reader, I Married Him

readerimarriedhimEdited by Tracy Chevalier
First sentence: “Why is ‘Reader, I married him” one of the most famous lines in literature?”
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Content: Some of the stories are sweary, including a dozen or so f-bombs spread out over several stories. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

First, a confession: while I’ve read Jane Eyre, I don’t love it. I’m not a huge Bronte fan, though I recognize the literary merit of their books. So, I really didn’t know what to expect from a short story collection that was built around one of the pivotal moments in Jane Eyre.

And, for the most part, I enjoyed this. I liked the ones that spun off completely from the idea of Jane Eyre, except for “The Mirror” which played with the idea that Mr. Rochester was a narcissist, an idea to which I can definitely ascribe. I also liked the parallels to the original in ” The Orphan Exchange.”

Other than that, I liked the ones that played with historical fiction — like “Since I First Saw Your Face” and “Reader, I Married Him.”  Though I think my favorite was “Self-Seeding Sycamore. ” I liked the play between the characters in the story; I think it was the only one where I felt there was actually chemistry between the characters.

So, while this was not a collection I would have picked up on my own (it was a book group book), I did enjoy it.

 

Summer Days and Summer Nights

summerdaysedited by Stephanie Perkins
First sentence: “There were a lot of stories about Annalee Saperstein an d why she came to Little Spindle, but Gracie’s favorite was the heat wave.”
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Content: Some stories are sweary (including f-bombs), some have drinking. I don’t think there’s any sex (maybe some references to it, but none actual.) It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Short story collections are hard books to talk about. Do you talk about the theme as a whole — ah, swoony summer romance, how wonderful it is? Or do you talk about individual stories, and how they resonate with you? (And how hard it is to actually read short stories? You get going and settled in the story and then it ends. *sigh*)

I did love that the stories by authors I knew absolutely fit them: Libba Bray of course would write a story about a haunted classic movie. Stephanie Perkins’, Nina LaCour’s, and Jennifer Smith’s stories felt like their books. Cassandra Clare’s was kind of lame (it was supernatural, sure, but underdeveloped). Some were definitely better than others: I really like Brandy Colbert’s story as well as Lev Grossman’s.  And surprisingly, Veronica Roth’s story made me tear up.

Is it something I’m going to come back to over and over again? No. But that’s the nature of short stories: they’re there, and they disappear as quickly as they come. But, I did enjoy the time I spent with it.

The Wonder Garden

by Lauren Acampora
First sentence: “John likes to arrive first.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There’s a bunch of f-bombs, but not as many as you’d think. Also some mild drug use and off-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

If I had to choose a favorite way to read short stories (other than not at all), I prefer them to be interconnected ones. Ones where it almost seems like I’m reading a novel. So, I was immediately made curious about these with the words “intricately interwoven stories”. Yes, please.

And, at first I enjoyed this. One minor character from the previous story would show up as the protagonist in the next, giving layers to what had previously went on. Some stories were odd (the insect installation), others kind of weird (the accountant-turned-hippie). I don’t know if I was truly enjoying it, but I was interested.

But about 2/3 of the way through, it fizzled. I was tired of trying to remember which story what protagonist showed up in. I was bored with the way it interconnected. And the stories weren’t enough to keep me interested; I just couldn’t find myself interested in their lives, and the words just weren’t pulling me in.

It could totally be me: short stories and I aren’t always the best of friends and I may have just not been in the mood for this. But, it is possible that it may have just worn out its welcome.