I did actually read both of these lovely Christmas short story collections over Christmas break, which should tell you exactly how long it can take me to review the books I read. Despite the fact that Christmas is now several months away, I hope this post will inspire you to pick up these collections in anticipation!
As always, I’ll read anything Connie Williswrites! This book consists of a wide variety of fun Christmas short stories. Willis is very familiar with Christmas stories from It’s a Wonderful Life to the nativity, and she creates imaginative retellings and original stories, many of which have her signature SFF spin. Connie Willis discusses in the introduction how much she enjoys Christmas stories, and that shines through in each tale in this collection.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries
I absolutely loved this huge collection of mysteries! I read a few almost every day in December; they just feel so festive. There are short stories from famous authors (of course Agatha Christie is represented here) and lesser-known authors alike, and the mysteries are organized by category, so whether you want something pulpy, something scary, something funny, or something traditional, there are stories here for you. If you are at all interested in mysteries and the Christmas holiday, I highly suggest picking up this book.
In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was so lovely! Minli’s journey to find the Old Man of the Moon was such a fun way to string together the Chinese folk stories that author Grace Lin grew up reading. Plus there is beautiful full color art. This is a quick read that should be on your (or your child’s) TBR list.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
The Tangle-Coated Horse
Ella Young was born in 1867 in the little village of Feenagh, County Antrim. “From childhood I heard tales of ghosts, banshees, haunted castles, mischievous and friendly sprites, snatches of ballads, and political arguments….It was not until I came to Dublin and met Standish O’Grady, A.E., and Kuna Meyer that I realized what a heritage waited for me in Celtic literature. I read every translation I could get, learned Irish, and betook myself to Gaelic Ireland where, by turf fires, I could hear the poems of the Fianna recited by folk who had heard the faery music and danced in faery circles…”
This is one of the old, out of print Honor books that I’ve ordered through interlibrary loan. I’m finding that most of the books that fall into that category are short story collections, which I’m not a big fan of (as you might remember). This one, a collection of tales about ancient Ireland and the magical creatures that lived there, is not too bad, but I found myself getting bored much of the time. I have a feeling your kids will probably feel the same way about it.
Tales and legends from Finland form the background to this story of a modern Finnish boy who is a student during the Finnish Revolution of World War I that freed that country from oppressive Russian rule.
Vaino was surprisingly enjoyable. Expecting another short story collection (see above), I was glad to find that the majority of this book consists of historical fiction focused on Finland in the early 20th century. There are short stories here about the fictional creatures and gods that populated ancient Finland (of course there are), but they are interspersed with the real-life events of the Finnish revolution during WWI and the adventures of Vaino, a young Finnish boy who gets caught up in these events. The intertwining of these two threads made this book work.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
In the Beginning
A thought-provoking collection of twenty-five stories that reflect the wonder and glory of the origins of the world and humankind. With commentary by the author.
You know I love Virginia Hamilton. This Newbery book of hers, In the Beginning, retells many of the world’s creation stories. The book is filled with great illustrations and explanations of these myths, including the various types of creation stories. I didn’t find this book as compelling as the last Virginia Hamilton I read, but I certainly don’t regret reading it.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Year of Billy Miller
When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad.
If you’ve read as many Newbery books as I have, you start to realize that there are major themes for the different time periods in which they’ve given the award. As mentioned above, many of the early Newbery books are collections of myths and short stories, while the 70s and 80s brought a glut of historical fiction. The most recent decade or so has been marked by unique, easy-to-read writing styles and a branching out from the topics of previous years.
The Year of Billy Miller, a Newbery honor book from 2014, fits nicely into that description. It’s a sweet story about a wonderful, ordinary second grade year. In four consecutive sections, seven-year-old Billy learns how to get along with his teacher, his mother, his sister, and his father. Your second grader will almost certainly enjoy this book.
This book is the only Newbery book from 1929 that I hadn’t already read. It’s a book of short stories and poems, many of which are based on historical events, myths, or fairy tales. This is going to be a very short review, because The Pigtail of Ah Lee Ben Loo consists of intricate but racist illustrations and a variety of fun, funny, or boring racist/sexist stories and poems. People, just leave this book alone.
Rating: Skip This One
Despite my usual hatred for short stories in general and this book in particular, I really like this quote about short stories by Neil Gaiman:
“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.
A quick note before we get started on today’s mini reviews. You may have noticed that I’ve recently revamped the blog, including a new logo and everything! I’ve moved all the information about my editing services to this blog, and I’ve updated almost every page. Take a look around and let me know what you think!
M is for Magic
The best part about listening to this as an audio book like I did is that it is narrated by the author, who is a fantastic narrator. This collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman is so representative of his style. It’s classic Gaiman creepiness without really being scary. Each story stands alone (something I generally dislike, but it worked here), and they run the gamut from fascinating (the months of the year personified hang out and tell stories) to ridiculous (a hard boiled detective story set in the land of nursery rhymes). The collection also includes a long excerpt from The Graveyard Book, Gaiman’s wonderful Newbery book.
The one bad thing I have to say about this book is that I’ve forgotten pretty much all the stories in the book, other than the ones I’ve mentioned here.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Secret Adversary
You already know how I feel about this book, since it made my best of 2016 (so far) list. I enjoy Agatha Christie in general, and Tommy and Tuppence are my absolute favorites. This story, written about the couple’s very first adventure, is more action-packed than most of Christie’s murder mysteries, but it is still suspenseful, well-written, and filled with awesome characters. I was slightly disappointed for a moment when I thought I had figured out the solution, but never fear, Agatha Christie subverted my expectations like the master mystery writer she is. If you’re a Christie fan, this book is not to be missed.
Rating: Re-read Worthy
I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed
“I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed “is the story of Kyria Abrahams’s coming-of-age as a Jehovah’s Witness — a doorbell-ringing “Pioneer of the Lord.” Her childhood was haunted by the knowledge that her neighbors and schoolmates were doomed to die in an imminent fiery apocalypse; that Smurfs were evil; that just about anything you could buy at a yard sale was infested by demons; and that Ouija boards — even if they were manufactured by Parker Brothers — were portals to hell. Never mind how popular you are when you hand out the Watchtower instead of candy at Halloween. When Abrahams turned eighteen, things got even stranger. That’s when she found herself married to a man she didn’t love, with adultery her only way out. “Disfellowshipped” and exiled from the only world she’d ever known, Abrahams realized that the only people who could save her were the very sinners she had prayed would be smitten by God’s wrath. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book, a humorous memoir about growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness church, sounded like it was going to be amazing. And parts of it were–there are some truly funny stories about the strange beliefs and activities Kyria had when she was a kid. But there’s an awful lot of sex and drugs and abusive relationships in here; it’s a little darker than I had hoped it would be. Proceed with caution if you decide to check out this book.
Breaking up can be one of the hardest things a person can do, something that the dedicated team at Washed Hands, Inc. thoroughly understands. Whether one’s soon-to-be-ex is manipulative, violent, or anything else that makes a clean break difficult, the company’s rejection counselors ensure that the split is established and maintained in no uncertain terms. And in the toughest cases, no one’s better at this than Monica Deimos.
Brought in on what appeared to be a relatively straight-forward domestic nightmare, Monica realizes all-too-late that she has been set up to take the fall for the murder of a wealthy socialite. As the police close in, Monica needs to discover who she can trust, who wants her out of the way, and why she was framed. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Did I pick up this free Kindle book just because the MC’s name is the same as mine? Maybe. I honestly don’t know, because this has been languishing on my Kindle for at least a year. Monica is a jaded agent for Washed Hands who isn’t really interested in making friends. But when she is set up to be framed for murder, she has to quickly figure out who she can trust and why she was set up.
This was a surprisingly good mystery (filled with a lot of swearing, just FYI). Monica’s prickly nature makes it difficult for her to find someone to help her solve the mystery before the cops find her, but her skills–akin to those of a detective or secret agent, despite the fact that her job is ending bad relationships–help her as she tries to uncover who set her up. I enjoyed the characters and was surprised by the solution. What more can you ask for in a mystery?
A series of fascinating Chinese stories, strong in humor and rich in Chinese wisdom, in which the author has caught admirably the spirit of Chinese life and thought. (Summary via Amazon.com)
This very short Amazon summary is close to the only information I could find about this Newbery winner. I read it as a child, so I don’t remember a huge amount about it, but even on the basis of this short review, I wish I did! My note to self from when I read the book says, “Very fun, short Chinese folk tales.” Maybe I should reread this one! It sounds great, but I remember close to nothing about it. I do remember that of all the Newbery short story/folk tale collections, this was my favorite. Let me know your thoughts if you read this one!
Once again, there is only a medal winner and no honor books for 1925’s Newbery books. I read this book several years ago, and I found it pretty cute, but forgettable.
Medal Winner:Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger
This book is made up of a bunch of short stories, folk tales collected from Latin America. Considering my feelings about short stories, I actually enjoyed this book pretty well. That said, I remember not a single one of the stories well enough to tell it to you. I remember talking animals and good versus evil, but that’s about it. I do remember it being easy to read and holding up pretty well for its age. Definitely take a look if you or your child are interested in the fairy tales of other cultures.
I’m usually not a fan of short stories. I love getting to know the characters, twisty plots, and submerging myself in the story, and short stories don’t really allow for that. But I do enjoy Margaret Atwood, so I decided to give this book a try. I’m glad I did, although I still don’t have a soft spot for short stories!
This collection focuses on the theme of aging–the time when your body fails you and social norms become less important; when old relationships come back to haunt you. From Amazon, here is a quick summary of many of these short stories:
A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in “Alphinland,” the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In “The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom,” a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In “Lusus Naturae,” a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In “Torching the Dusties,” an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in “Stone Mattress,” a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. (Summary via Amazon.com)
This is another of those books that I feel like I’m not quite smart enough or knowledgeable enough to “get,” but fortunately the stories grab the emotions as well as the intellect. Again, I probably won’t be picking up tons of short stories on the basis of this one book, but if you enjoy Margaret Atwood’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this one too.