I’m reading a lot more short fiction as the new year begins, and since they don’t get their own reviews, I thought they warranted a monthly round-up post. I’ll also include some notes at the end about the longer works I’ve been reading this month, but this is mostly a chance for short stories to get a little love.
I’ve started reading a lot more short stories lately, but I haven’t yet figured out how to find short stories that I like. With novels, my hit rate is pretty high–I rarely read something I don’t like, and I often read things that I like immensely. I found some incredible short stories this month, but I also read a lot of stories that didn’t really click. Which shouldn’t surprise me much, because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I’m going to allocate my book-reading time, and I just pick a short story based on an interesting-sounding title or a positive tweet. Maybe that’s the best way to do it–after all, I can read an entire short story in less time than I spend determining whether or not I want to read a novel. But if anyone has suggestions for better ways to vet short stories, I’m listening.
- “Open House on Haunted Hill” (2020) by John Wiswell. A sentient house and a family suffering loss star in the most wholesome haunted house story I’ve read. Put a real smile on my face.
- “If You Want to Erase Us, You Must Be Thorough” (2020) by L. Tu. I often don’t go for the super heavy short stories, but this one really stands out. Deals with genocide, so it’s tough. But it’s powerful.
- “The Ransom of Miss Coraline Connelly” (2020) by Alix E. Harrow. Empress of the Black Realms learns about toddlers. Doesn’t really go anywhere I didn’t expect, but it’s pretty darn cute, especially when I have a toddler of my own at home.
- “The Vampire of Kovácspéter” (2020) by P.H. Lee. A vampire story that’s not-so-secretly about people and how we talk ourselves into even the most egregious of sins.
Other January Reads
[Note: these appear in rough order of when I read them, not how much I liked them. I liked plenty of them, but at some point, there’s too much to organize.]
- “The Sycamore and the Sybil” (2020) by Alix E. Harrow. A heavy but beautiful story inspired by the myth of Daphne and Apollo.
- “Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law” (2020) by Lavie Tidhar. A fun mystery story with vampires.
- “St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid” (2020) by C.L. Polk. Love, bees, and the price of magic.
- “Texts from the Ghost War” (2020) by Alex Yuschik. A sweet chat log story starring an awkward young noble and a ghost-fighting mech pilot.
- “How the Emperor of All Space and Every World Awoke to the True Nature of Reality and Why it Didn’t Matter” (2020) by P.H. Lee. A tall tale with a twist.
- “My Country is a Ghost” (2020) by Eugenia Triantafyllou. A bittersweet story about immigration and connections.
- “The Bottomless Martyr” (2020) by John Wiswell. A girl who won’t stay dead can’t stop sacrificing herself for the benefit of others.
- “A Being Together Amongst Strangers” (2020) by Arkady Martine. Prejudice is still alive and well on a far-future subway.
- “If Salt Lose Its Savor” (2020) by Christopher Caldwell. A challenging story about the price of magic and making a living.
- “Dresses Like White Elephants” (2020) by Meg Elison. A drag queen shops for secondhand wedding dresses. They have sad stories attached.
- “Through the Veil” (2020) by Jennifer Marie Brissett. A physicist discovers another world and drops everything to chase it.
- “Scallop” (2020) by J.L. Akagi. Yes, Strange Horizons talked me into reading this when they spammed retweets of positive reviews for like two days straight. Transformation and a bit of body horror, and I was less wowed than all the glowing reviews.
- “You Perfect, Broken Thing” (2020) by C.L. Clark. A competition to save your life. . . if it doesn’t kill you first.
- “Anchorage” (2020) by Samantha Mills. Enjoyable and touching story about a spaceship crew that has to start working through their various traumas when they come across a hermit who listens.
- “The Billionaire Shapeshifter Ex-Wives Club” (2021) by Marissa Lingen. Pretty much what it sounds like. But it’s fun. And it’s also flash fiction, so it’s extremely short–probably the equivalent of three print pages.
- “The City of the Tree” (2020) by Marie Brennan. A city is dying after an occupation kills their archon. Now it’s up to them to save it.
- “Caihong Juji” (2020) by D.A. Xiaolin Spires. A short and sweet story with some romance and some robot dinosaurs.
- “The Goatkeeper’s Harvest” (2020) by Tobi Ogundiran. Fair warning, this one is straight-up horror. I honestly don’t know how to evaluate horror because I don’t read it often. But this one keeps the tension very high but also was a bit intense for me. So maybe that means it’s successful at being horror.
- “A Love Song for Herkinal, as composed by Ashkernas amid the ruins of New Haven” (2020) by Chinelo Anwualu. A sweet African urban fantasy with a strong family theme.
Novels and Novellas
- A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. A magic school novel that isn’t as careful as it should be in building its world and culture but is still a lot of fun.
- Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark. An action/horror novella with some very strong and relevant messaging.
- Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko. A dark/weird magic school novel that will make you think (and is totally different from A Deadly Education).
- Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. A really good young adult fantasy that confronts racism and belonging and also a secret society of King Arthur’s descendents.
- A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers. Fun found family in a far-future military setting, complete with an investigation of a mysterious ship and space sports.
- Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston. DNF at 45%. The prose was gorgeous, with an elevated, almost mythic feel, but after 200 pages, I still felt distant from the characters. Some of that seemed like a stylistic choice in telling a story with a character in a difficult mental state, but I also have a history of struggling to connect with books written in mythic style (A Wizard of Earthsea and The Last Unicorn being prominent examples), so I might just be the wrong reader here.
- Pradyutita by Geetha Krishnan. DNF at 33%. An SPFBO semi-finalist Mahabharata retelling that just didn’t have a standout element to hook me in.
Other January Reads
- The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham. Finished this fourth and final book of The Long Price Quartet last weekend and am still getting the series review written up. This one is going on the all-time favorites list.
- The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. Almost done with this one, and I’m definitely seeing why people speak so highly of Kay. I expect to have a review written at some point in the next week.