Saturday, June 26, 2010

I love the new Blogger templates! I was never very happy with the last template I had, so I was glad to see some new ones, and had a hard time choosing one. Finally decided to stick with pink...

I've been reading a lot of short stories lately--not for any particular reason, just because I keep finding good collections. Here are a few reviews and recommendations.

The Montana Stories, by Katherine Mansfield
I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book--I actually put off reading it for a while because I didn't feel in the mood. When I read the introduction I was almost turned off again, upon learning that Mansfield would not have approved of the collection at all (because it included unfinished and unedited stories). However, I kept reading, and then I couldn't stop reading. I think I may never write again, after reading her unpolished gems. I loved these stories more than anything else I've read by Mansfield--her prose absolutely sparkled, and I found myself desperate for more after each fragment. I can understand why she would have disapproved, but I'm glad Persephone published this collection anyway. Absolutely lovely.

The New York Stories, by Elizabeth Hardwick
I was excited to receive this book as my first Early Reviewers win from LIbraryThing; its summary caught my eye immediately, and my first impression when it finally arrived was promising. However, after reading it I had to wait a few days before posting a review because I wasn't sure what to say.

The stories were well-written. They were interesting. The characters were realistic, and each story was an accurate snapshot of human life and interaction.

But I didn't like them. Even in the earliest stories, the author's tone was modern and sardonic, and she wrote from a perspective on life that is very different from mine. Everything seemed dreary and hopeless and tired.

Speaking as objectively as possible, these are good short stories, and I think many people would enjoy them--but they're not my style.

Good Evening, Mrs. Craven, by Mollie Panter-Downes
An excellent collection of stories. Well-written, striking, and with that perfect little twist that makes one sit back and reflect after each story.

A Harvest of Stories, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
In the prologue, the author describes her perceived role as a storyteller:

" focus what powers I had on the effort to understand and to invite readers to join me in trying to understand what happens to and within our poor, fumbling, struggling human race... to bend the utmost effort of mind and sympathy on the lives nearest at hand."

And so she does, beautifully. I loved every one of these stories, and am finding it difficult to choose one or two favorites to mention. She begins with a collection of 'Vermont Memories', stories written about her family and neighbors in the Green Mountains, and ends with 'War', stories about the French people with whom she lived and worked during the World Wars. In between were more varied stories about 'Men, Women--and Children', and these I enjoyed most of all. I'm eager to read her writings on Montessori education, since I particularly liked the stories into which some of her theories slipped ("The Rainy Day, the Good Mother, and the Brown Suit" and "As Ye Sow"--both very inspiring to me as a mother). In fact, I'm eager to read everything she wrote, and wish that more of her books were available.

This is a wonderful collection of short stories, and I highly recommend it.

Muse and Reverie, by Charles de Lint
his is one of his more random collections. Several of the stories I'd read before, and some were not really very interesting. I did very much enjoy "The Butter Spirit's Tithe", however, and "The Crow Girls' Christmas" was as delightful as all the Crow Girls stories are. "Refinerytown" and "Da Slockit Light" were typical of de LInt's mediocre tales, like form-stories written on a deadline. "Newford Spook Squad" was amusing, and "Riding Shotgun" was pleasantly creepy. "Somewhere In My Mind There Is A Painting Box" is in several other collections, but it's a great story and a return to the woods of "A Circle of Cats" and "Seven Wild Sisters"; it nicely complements the last story, "The World in a Box", which is also excellent.

It's not his best, but being a diehard de Lint fan, I had to buy it in hardcover as soon as I saw it on the shelf at Powell's. Worth owning.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1, by Jonathan Strahan
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this anthology, particularly the science fiction stories. Several of the stories were familiar to me from other collections, but the Elizabeth Hand and Connie Willis were new to me and quite delightful surprises. The anthology slows down a bit in the middle, with some stories that are more propaganda than science fiction, but picks back up quickly. I'll be on the lookout for more of these.

The Dragon Book, by Jack Dann
Lots of excellent stories in this anthology. The best one by far was Peter S. Beagle's "Oakland Dragon Blues", but that's not surprising since he's a fantastic author with a real knack for short stories. I was surprised by my second favorite, "The Dragaman's Bride", by Andy Duncan--I hope this author keeps writing and getting published.

Tamora Pierce's story was fun, especially for those familiar with her characters (and somewhat simplistic writing style); Gregory Maguire's "Puz_le" was also fun and reminded me a bit of Nina Kiriki Hoffman. The stories by Naomi Novik and Diana Gabaldon were light and amusing and rather silly, but I was a little disappointed in the stories by Jane Yolen, Tanith Lee, and Diana Wynne Jones--I always expect better from them. While I didn't really like Cecelia Holland's story, I enjoyed the writing enough to seek out some of her historical fiction, which is now on my TBR pile. I'll also be on the lookout for Sean Williams, with whom I'm not familiar but whose story was intriguing.

The worst story? "Bob Choi's Last Job", by Jonathan Stroud. I've occasionally thought of giving his Bartimaeus books a try, but this story convinced me to avoid them. I would recommend just skipping over this story, as it should not have been included in an otherwise well-written and enjoyable anthology.

And a few more that I haven't yet reviewed on LibraryThing:

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, by Holly Black
Spell Fantastic, edited by Martin H. Greenburg
Great Short Stories by American Women
Minnie's Room, by Mollie Panter-Downes
The Matisse Stories; Little Black Book of Stories; Elementals, by A.S. Byatt