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December 17, 2020

Sneak in Some Reading Time with These Short Stories

by MK French

This can be a very busy time of year and finding time for ourselves is often difficult. Short stories can be a great way to get some reading in even when you are short of time.
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A Universe of Wishes edited by Dhonielle Clayton

A Universe of Wishes
December 2020; Crown Books; 978-1984896209
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); YA anthology
A Universe of Wishes
 is a young adult fantasy collection of short stories written by several own voices authors for children. We Need Diverse Books has put together several collaborations, and this is their fourth entry. Fifteen different authors contributed, and each story is a wonder of its own.

The title story opens the collection and is a story of magic, loss, and burgeoning love between Thorn and Sage. "The Silk Blade" reminds me of the Lady and the Tiger, in that it has a very ambiguous ending. In "Cristal y Ceniza" the Cinderella tale is spun so that the LGBT in danger of being erased is the driving force for the Cinderella figure to go to the ball held in honor of the trans prince. V.E. Schwab's contribution, "A Royal Affair" is in the world of her Shades of Magic series, a prequel involving Rhy Maresh and Alucard Emery. Rebecca Roanhorse's short story is a science fiction heist, bringing artefacts back to the indigenous cultures they belong to. Other stories also blend science fiction with fantasy, bringing on the end of the world and the hope to be remembered.

Zoraida Córdova's entry, "Longer than the Threads of Time" blends the magic of the supernatural with New York City, Belvedere Castle in Central Park, and Rapunzel. I adore this story, and it gives me the same melancholy that approaches a book hangover. There's so much richness in it, it's as immersive as a full-length novel, and is easily my favorite story of the collection.

Overall, this is a fantastic book, full of diverse voices and ideas, different people all looking forward to a future they can belong to.

Buy A Universe of Wishes at Amazon

Frostgilded by Stephanie Burgis

November 2020; Indie; ebook (28 pages); fantasy
On the eve of the Winter Solstice, Cassandra Harwood has so much to do. She's juggling holiday festivities for her students, intimidating parents-in-law, chaos at Thornfell College of Magic for Young Women, as well as an important anniversary with her husband, the magician Rajaram Wrexham.

This tale is an epilogue, following the book Snowspelled. Snowspelled and Thornbound make up the two volumes of the Harwood Spellbook, a series with other offshoot novellas taking place in Angland, an alternate 19th century England where magic is real, the Sidhe, fairies, and trolls are present, and men are the ones that can get compromised and forced into marriage. Women normally rule the political sphere and men rule the magical sphere, but Cassandra has magic and broke gender norms in order to study it, pushing herself farther than she should have. Even if you haven't read the prior novels in this world, it's easy enough to pick up the relationships over dinner, which opens the novella.

It's a busy evening, and Cassandra is off and running throughout the entire story, putting out one proverbial fire after another. All the while, she still feels like she's not doing enough for everyone else, and that she should be doing more to celebrate with her husband. Truth be told, it's the age-old feeling for every working woman, so it's definitely familiar and helps me bond with Cassandra. She and her husband have genuine affection and respect for each other so that the ending is a cute way to wrap things up and bolster their relationship further. Fans of the series and of Stephanie Burgis will definitely appreciate another look into this world.

Buy Frostgilded at Amazon

The Midnight Circus by Jane Yolen

The Midnight Circus
October 2020; Tachyon Publications
978-1616963408; ebook, print (256 pages)
dark fantasy
The Midnight Circus
 is a collection of sixteen stories by Jane Yolen. She has written over three hundred and sixty-five books, including children’s fiction, poetry, short stories, graphic novels, nonfiction, fantasy, and science fiction. These are darker, spooky stories, each told with her usual lyrical style

We open with "The Weaver of Tomorrow," featuring a young girl that wants to know everything about everyone, and isn't content with the simple facts that ordinary people would want to know. On the surface, it isn't scary, but being cursed with all of the knowledge of the infinite has driven other characters insane in other books. Other stories have similar spooky vibes, not frightening with gore or clear monsters, but with the implications of more sinister goings-on than previously understood. History is tweaked in "Requiem Antarctica," taking a fragment of truth and spinning a plausible-sounding tale to explain it.

In "Night Wolves," the boy scared of the wolves beneath his bed and the bear in his closet hears a ghost crying in the new home he and his family moves into. Yolen has a fantastic child's voice, bringing a bit of the fantastic into the boy's life. "Winter's King" definitely feels like a fairy tale,from the lyrical nature of the words as well as the way the boy is sent from one home to another yet still yearns for the winter folk. "The Fisherman's Wife" contains silence and the sound of the sea for the characters, and the pull of mermaids that leads to loss of all kinds.

"The House of Seven Angels" is not spooky in a creepy kind of way, but in the way of legends. It's short but packs quite an emotional punch to it, told in a way that reminds me of a speaker's cadence. I can see this story as being told at a campfire or late in the evening after a big family dinner. "Dog Boy Remembers" is a different kind of creepy, featuring a teenage mother and domestic violence, and the murderous Other that is the Fae.

No matter what she writes, Jane Yolen always has a lyrical way of putting the words together. Sometimes the sad pull of the story lingers afterward so that I feel like I have to remember the story or else it'll disappear.

Buy The Midnight Circus at Amazon

On Tràigh Lar Beach by Dianne Ebertt Beeaff

On Tràigh Lar Beach
October 2020; She Writes Press; 978-1631527715
ebook, print (248 pages); essays
Stressed by her first book contract, Erica Winchat finds thirteen items on the Scottish beach Tràigh Lar. She tells the story of each item, and the thirteenth inspires her novella.

Any writer would be plagued with impostor syndrome, feeling like awards won are nothing but a fluke. This is what keeps her from being able to write, even though she has landed a two-book contract. This sets up the framework for this novel, several stories, and a novella inspired by the flotsam and jetsam found on Tràigh Lar, which is Gaelic for Sandy Floor. Admittedly, I rushed through Erica’s opening chapter, finding her indecision less interesting than the idea of stories built up around trash washed up on a beach. The stories themselves are built out of moments, small slivers of time where they can feel quick with staccato descriptions, or drawn out a bit with longer or repetitive ones. Each chapter is also headed by an illustration of a flower, the name of which coincides with the short story associated with the found object. The descriptions serve as an epigraph as well, subtly addressing aspects of the story that follows.

I really enjoyed Brook’s voice in the story associated with the arthritis pills, as if she’s in a conversation with the reader as she goes along with her duties as a CNA in hospice care. Ella’s attempt at meditating in the next story for the artificial lotus blossom made me laugh, and then I was dragged down into grief for “Robin,” an epistolary tale where the real story is told between the e-mails of the text. Similarly, I felt grieved by the senselessness of the tragedy in “Red,” where the narrator didn’t even know her name. Some stories, such as Belle’s, don’t have a conclusive ending.

On Tràigh Lar Beach closes out with Erica’s novella “Fan Girls,” a story where four fans of the Scottish band Datha tell their stories leading up to a reunion at a Chicago concert. The four friends’ lives didn’t necessarily go well after the first concert. There is domestic violence, theft and abuse of an elderly employer, emotional distance and self-sabotage in relationships, and sexual assault in college. Their lives sometimes intertwined, and the music was always a common theme for all four of them. When they met for the concert at the end of the novella, it didn’t end the way I expected it to.

We don’t hear from Erica after the close of the novella, and I had hoped to see her character arc by the end show more confidence in her storytelling skills and the ability to pull off the contract. Overall, this is an interesting collection of stories about women of various ages and backgrounds, and the ways ephemera can sometimes give inspiration for more than we think they will.

Buy On Tràigh Lar Beach at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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