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review 2018-02-22 02:48
Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes
Burning Girls - Veronica Schanoes

*Enters room filled with cobwebs and dust* 

 

Uh... hello? Is anyone still here? *Coughs from ball of dust* 

 

Phew! It's been a while since I've been able to sit down and read anything. Life has not been kind to me. The beginning of 2018 was so peaceful and productive... for about two weeks. Then Hell came and slapped me in the face and I've been trying to get back on my feet ever since. And let me tell you, it has not been easy. However, I am back and I am ready to tackle my TBR head-on! With that said, I was able to read a short story which I enjoyed quite a bit.

 

Now, seeing as how it's been a while since I've read anything, I decided starting off with a short story to ease me back into reading was a good move to make. And I was right. I read Burning Girls from Tor.com and it was such a harrowing read. It follows a Jewish girl's life living in Poland where she faces discrimination from the Cossacks and how magic can be a double-edge sword for the young witch. This short story covers so many topics. From Jewish tradition to history to even mythology. I was intrigued by the story from the very start.

 

Schanoes's writing style is very crisp. Since her main character is rather blunt and cold-hearted, her writing showed that very same bluntness without ever becoming bland. She has an incredibly flowing writing style and I really am interested in reading more of her works in the future.

 

As for her characters, I felt that a lot of them didn't have enough time to develop into fully fledged beings. I suppose that's what happens sometimes with short stories. Her main character, Deborah, was the only one that actually showed any type of growth. Although she is someone I consider to be highly unlikeable, she does learn to empathize a little with those around her and learns not to judge as harshly as she did at the beginning of the story. Shayna, Deborah's sister, throughout most of the story acted like a petulant child, which annoyed me greatly. I did, however, enjoyed her transformation towards the end of it. Still, I wish I got to know these characters a bit more before reading the end of the story.

 

Speaking of the ending, wow. That was well done and fit well with the rest of the story. I liked how it grabs you and reminds you of the harshness of reality. Life is rough and you don't always get what you hoped for no matter how hard you try... and that sucks. Man, this story made me feel so many emotions!

 

In short, read this story. It's really good. I did have my problems with some of the characters but I did enjoy the magical and fairy tale elements. If you love learning about Jewish culture, fairy tales, and a bit of history, read this story. It's quite the harrowing, dark read, but a good one nonetheless. 

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review 2018-02-21 19:27
Manbot - Scarlet Blackwell
Adorable and sweet story filled with funny and heartwarming touching moments.
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review 2018-02-21 18:21
The Bloody Chamber (Story No. 1)
The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories: 75th-Anniversary Edition (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) - Kelly Link,Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber is a retelling of the french folklore tale "Bluebeard". It´s dark and twisted and beautifully written, even though I felt slightly disturbed most of the time and some passages made me feel downright icky:

 

I saw him watching me in the gilded mirrors with the assessing eye of a connoisseur inspecting horseflesh, or even of a housewife in the market, inspecting cuts on the slab. I´d never seen, or else had never aknowledged, that regard of his before, the sheer carnal avarice of it; and it was strangely magnified by the monocle lodged in the left eye.

 

I don´t know what is worse, the monocle or having the feeling of being compared to horseflesh or a slab of meat. I bet by now she regrets having married him.

 

Overall a great short story.

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review 2018-02-21 05:53
Review: Changing Planes, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Changing Planes - Eric Beddows,Ursula K. Le Guin

Changing Planes is a delightful book.  It delights me.

This anthropological tour through some of the stranger societies in the multiverse begins by explaining its basic premise: Airports are not only portals to other terrestrial cities, but also to other dimensions.  Interplanar travel requires no machine or vehicle, no magical incantations or special knowledge.  The remarkably simple method was developed by one Sita Dulip, who discovered it when her flight out of Chicago was delayed several times and finally canceled.  Trapped, exhausted, uncomfortable, and bored, she realized that:

By a mere kind of twist and a slipping bend, easier to do than to describe, she could go anywhere - be anywhere - because she was already between planes.



(Normally, I would have no truck with any book whose premise was based on such a ridiculous pun - but over the years I have made a few grudging exceptions to this policy.)

The rest of the book is divided into fifteen short stories - or really, ethnographies - about life on the different planes.  Some of them are moral allegories, some are social satires, some portray strange and unsettling alien philosophies.  None of the chapters have much plot to speak of, but they are all fascinating vignettes.  The formula is essentially: "Let me tell you a few things about the people of _____."

Despite this common approach, the stories are fairly diverse in style and theme.  Four of the standouts highlight some of the different tacks Le Guin takes:

Seasons of the Ansarac is an ethnographic description of the migratory people of Ansar.  On a plane where each season lasts for six of our years, the people spend spring and summer raising children in idyllic northern homesteads before heading south to the vibrant cities every fall and winter.  Le Guin's detailed description of Ansarac folkways is fascinating, but the story takes a darker turn when visitors from another plane (one similar to ours) arrive, convince the Ansarac that they are primitive, backward, and hormone-driven, and offer to help them adopt a modern lifestyle.

Great Joy satirizes the American obsession with meaningless holiday kitsch, describing a privately-owned plane where one island is always Christmas, one the 4th of July, one New Year's Eve, and so on.  This plane's sickly-sweet candy coating covers a horrifying system of slavery and exploitation - not that Christmas-loving midwestern Cousin Sulie and her fellow patrons give much of a shit about that.  "I just get right into the spirit just thinking about Christmas Island! Oh, it is just such a happy place!"

Wake Island is a cautionary dystopia about science gone awry.  Based on their theory that sleep is a vestigial trait that keeps most humans from accessing their latent genius, a group of scientists genetically design babies who need no sleep.  This is essentially the same premise as Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain, but Le Guin's aftermath is much more disturbing.

The Island of the Immortals is in many ways a horror story, cloaked in the guise of classic science fiction.  It reminds me quite a bit of the better works of H.G. Wells, where a lone traveler encounters a society he at first cannot understand - and then later wishes he never tried.  In this story, the narrator has heard of an island on the Yendian plane which is populated by immortals.  Curious to learn the secret of their longevity, she visits - only to find the locals quiet, standoffish, and oddly somber.  There are immortals among them, yes, but they are not what the narrator expects.  This is the story that has remained in my mind most vividly since I first read this book almost a decade ago.  It is, in my opinion, one of Le Guin's most powerful and thoughtful pieces.

~

Ursula K. Le Guin died last month; I reread this book in part as a memorial (and in part because I just love it so much).  Given her recent passing, this excerpt in particular struck me:

When I was twelve or thirteen, I used to plan what I'd wish for if they gave me three wishes. I thought I'd wish, 'I wish that having lived well to the age of eighty-five and having written some very good books, I may die quietly, knowing that all the people I love are happy and in good health.'



She was 88 when she died, and she wrote a great number of incredible books.  I hope that the rest of her wish came true as well.

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review 2018-02-21 01:55
Not Bad
Spells, Swords, and Storms: Short Stories - Nicole J. Sainsbury

Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.  We are GR friends, though I didn't realize she had published until the offer.

 

                Spells, Swords, and Storms is a three-story collection, one story for each word in the title.  The first story, “Spellbound” is a pretty story about a love spell.  Sainsbury plays with the idea of what happens after the love spell works and love is gained.   It’s a delicate balancing job to write a story like this, especially when a reader factors in the questions of will.  It is to Sainsbury’s credit that she handles the balancing act just fine.  The sense of guilt, love, and shame that Jenna feels are palatable.

 

                “Aislinn’s Raven” is the second story, and draws on the knights surrounding King Arthur.  In fact, this story has been on my TBR shelf.  While it is a good story, it is the weakest of the three.  The story centers around Gareth, filling in his backstory, in particular where he would learn such skill at arms if his mother kept him tied to her skirts (as the story goes).  While the central protagonists are well drawn (Gareth and his teachers), their opposites are not, at least not in the same way.  The theme of a class of culture and powers is interesting and the description of time and setting is well done.  However, one villain’s behavior doesn’t fully make sense.   Perhaps this is all to do with bullies being “piss and wind”, but something more is hinted at, making the ending a bit too open ended.  The reader wants a sequel and a bit more answers.

 

                The best story is the last, “Winter Flood” which isn’t so much a fantasy, as a study of growing up and grief.  Rachel, a college student, suffers a break up with her long-term boyfriend, and meets someone who is strangely familiar.  While not, technically, the fantasy that the other stories are, it contains, at its heart, a quiet and beautiful magic.  In some ways, it reminded me of Jim C Hines’ Goldfish Dreams – a more quiet, real story that is fantastic in tone and deals with real life and serious real-life problems directly.

 

                All three stories deal with the theme of friendship, loyalty, and love.  All feature strong women, though strong in different ways.   Each story also focuses on questions of love and loyalty.  They are not overly sentimental and quite magical.

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