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review 2018-03-31 22:11
Review: Monster Portraits
Monster Portraits - Sofia Samatar,del samatar

The latest lovely from Sofia Samatar and illustrated by her brother, this is a short jaunt down strange lanes, reminiscent of Ogre of East Africa or any number of other Samatar stories. The fantastical elements blended with sharp observations of real life.

 

I really wish I could find the quote from her about her style being research paper with personal oversharing.

 

The illustrations are lovely and the whole thing a beautiful, sad delight. My only complaint is that I'd have liked a hardcover copy.

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review 2017-07-04 17:44
Tender by Sofia Samatar
Tender: Stories - Sofia Samatar

This is a beautiful, original, often surprising, and yes, tender, short story collection by a fantastic author. Samatar’s novels are lovely, but I think she may excel even more in the short story format, which combines her exquisite writing with compressed plots that necessarily move briskly. And her wide command of genres is impressive: fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, fairy tales, contemporary, young adult. Most of the stories are sci-fi and fantasy, and while I love fantasy I typically avoid sci-fi, but I absolutely would read more if Samatar wrote it. Her stories never use characters simply as a long-winded way of examining an idea or making a point; instead the characters are the point, and no matter how inventive their settings, the stories are about the people, their lives and relationships. And to the extent they’re about larger issues, they are issues that matter in human society today, like race and religion.

But then there are stories that break the mold I would expect from a genre author. “Olimpia’s Ghost” is a work of epistolary historical fiction set in 19th century Europe, involving a relationship that may or may not have existed between two real people (I won’t say who since figuring it out myself was so much fun), while “Those” is an answer to Heart of Darkness, written in a similar vein but with the frame story narrated by a mixed-race character, which changes everything.

There are a lot of fantastic stories in this collection, and from perusing the reviews it looks like different readers have different favorites, which is a sign of strong writing. I’ll mention my favorites here:

“Selkie Stories Are For Losers” – A young woman in the contemporary U.S. builds her life in the shadow of a fairy tale. This could easily be a novel and I’d love to read it.

“Walkdog” – This is an epistolary story written with a certain amount of deliberate inelegance, since it’s meant to be by a typical high school girl. It’s an achingly sad story about love, bullying and social conformity, with a bit of mythology wrapped in. Unlike in a lot of YA, which seems to be a weird adult vision or fantasy of teenagers, I completely believed this one; no one would want to admit to making Yolanda’s choices, but they feel realistic.

“Honey Bear” – This is a lovely post-apocalyptic tale. In the tradition of my favorite short fiction, it’s a story you’ll want to read twice, because everything comes together at the end in a way that changes your entire view of the story, and so you re-read it with new eyes and understand all those references that didn’t quite make sense before. But despite the post-apocalyptic world, the story is closely focused on its main characters, and its heart and primary source of tension is a couple who react to changed circumstances in very different ways.

“How to Get Back to the Forest” – I’d classify this one as dystopian; it reminds me of Never Let Me Go, with young people raised in superficially pleasant institutions, slowly and imperfectly discovering how their world really works. The key difference is that here the characters resist, at least in small ways.

“Request for an Extension on the Clarity” – This is superficially science fiction, but it’s really about race and immigration and isolation; the protagonist finds refuge in the stars from a world where she doesn’t seem to belong anywhere. The collection includes several stories with similar themes, but this is the one that brought it all together for me.

“The Closest Thing to Animals” – Straight-up science fiction, set on a quarantined world, but about a character whose abandonment issues cause her to see rejection where it doesn’t exist and prevent her from seeing the ways in which others need her. The story is lovely and so are the weird images of its world.

“Fallow” – This is a novelette, by far the longest piece in the collection, set on a world inhabited by refugees from a self-destructing Earth. It’s a meditation on religion (eventually we’re given enough information to figure out what group is involved) and social pressure, hearkening back to the Puritans despite its otherworldly setting.

Of course, as with most collections, I didn’t love all the stories; some seemed opaque or didn’t quite land for me. In particular, there’s a stretch from “Tender” through “Meet Me in Iram,” of stories dealing with alienation and characters feeling out of place in their own skin – sometimes, though not always, related to immigration – that I bounced off of until I reached “Request for an Extension on the Clarity.” A few of the other contemporary or parable-like stories also didn’t strike any particular chord with me. But these are skillful stories that clearly landed for others, so I’ll chalk that up to my limitations as a reader rather than Samatar’s as a writer.

Overall, I loved this collection and would absolutely recommend it, probably even ahead of Samatar’s novels to those with any liking for short fiction. To my surprise, I especially loved Samatar’s science fiction and hope to see much more from her along these lines in the future.

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text 2017-06-01 16:51
June TBR: Small Bear Press Month
Tyrannia: and Other Renditions - Alan DeNiro
North American Lake Monsters: Stories - Nathan Ballingrud
The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories - Lizza Aiken,Joan Aiken
The Liminal People - Ayize Jama-Everett
The Fires Beneath the Sea - Lydia Millet
Fire Logic - Laurie J. Marks
Couch by Benjamin Parzybok (2008-11-01) - Benjamin Parzybok
After the Apocalypse - Maureen F. McHugh
The Child Garden: A Novel - Catriona McPherson
A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar

Last year I got a Humble Bundle of Small Bear Press books that I archived and never got to, so I'm dedicating June to at least testing out some of them. I read one last year called Stranger Things Happen that a lot of people seem to like but I hated it. A lot of these look good though. They seem really creative so I'm holding out hope. Once I finish Dragondawn, I will tackle this pile and see where it leads.

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text 2017-05-09 00:09
Bookstore trip
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden
Amberlough - Lara Elena Donnelly
Tender: Stories - Sofia Samatar
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
Not Quite Narwhal - Jessie Sima,Jessie Sima

I went to a bookstore on Sunday to pick up 2 books I had ordered, and left with 5 books. 

 

Sofia Samatar's collection, Tender: Stories is out! That and Amberlough were on my order. I've heard so many good things about The Hate U Give that I picked up a copy just because I saw it on the shelf. The Bear and the Nightingale and Not Quite Narwhal were both recommendations from one of the women who works there. She has pretty good taste, I usually take her up on recommendations.

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text 2017-03-28 17:43
2016 Year in Review
A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers) - Becky Chambers
The Obelisk Gate - N.K. Jemisin
The Countess Conspiracy - Courtney Milan
Midnight Taxi Tango - Daniel José Older
White Trash Zombie Gone Wild - Diana Rowland
The Liberation (The Alchemy Wars) - Ian ... The Liberation (The Alchemy Wars) - Ian Tregillis
Babylon's Ashes - James S.A. Corey
The Core of the Sun - Johanna Sinisalo
The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin,Robin Miles
The Winged Histories: a novel - Sofia Samatar

Last year, I failed to do any summary posts about what I had read in 2015. I think I just kept putting it off until it was so late in the year that it seemed not worth the bother. Of course, I see so many "best books of the year" posts in November of the year in discussion that sometimes January seems like it is too late. So March isn't even that late, really.

 

My breakdown of the 76 "books" I finished in 2016:

anthologies: 1
collections: 0
Adult novels: 41
YA novels: 5
MG novels: 13
graphic novels: 1
art book: 0
comic omnibus: 11
magazine issues: 0
children's books: 2
nonfiction: 2

Of those 76, only 20 were published in 2016. I abandoned 3 titles without finishing. I also counted Final Formula as 1 book even though it was 2 novels and a short, and decided to consider the serial box stories an anthology instead of individual books. 
 
I did read some other miscellaneous short fiction in various magazines, but I don't shelve magazines unless I'm reviewing the issue. And I don't shelve individual stories because I am lazy.
 
Across all categories:
  Written by Women: 55 (72%, up from 2014)
  Written by POC's: 13 (17%, down from 2014)
  Written by Transgender authors: 1 (1%)
  Written by Non-binary authors: 1 (1%)
 
I'm a bit unhappy with how little of my reading was by POC's, both because it was a decrease from last time I checked, and because if I counted unique authors, I'd have even fewer. Apparently 2016 was the year I read lots of white ladies. I added 2 new demographic categories, which I know I'll need for the 2017 counts as well. I included the 1 transgender author in both that category and in the category she self identifies as. 
 
My favorite book from 2016 was A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers) - Becky Chambers, just barely edging out The Obelisk Gate - N.K. Jemisin and The Core of the Sun - Johanna Sinisalo because I needed comfort more than truth. All the novels I rated 5 stars are included in the ribbon. My favorite new-to-me writers were Noelle Stevenson and Daniel José Older, who both write awesome women.
 
I reviewed 72 titles read in 2016. That has to be a new high for me, even with the website issues here at BL.
 
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