The Scarlet Circus by Jane Yolen

A rakish fairy meets the real Juliet behind Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. A jewelry artist travels to the past to meet a successful silver-smith. The addled crew of a ship at sea discovers a mysterious merman. More than one ignored princess finds her match in the most unlikely men.

From ecstasy to tragedy, with love blossoming shyly, love at first sight, and even love borne of practical necessity―beloved fantasist Jane Yolen’s newest collection celebrates romance in all its glory. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Tachyon Publications for providing me this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Scarlet Circus will be available on February 14th.

Jane Yolen is a name that most readers know. Not only has she written an extensive list of fantasy books, but children’s books, historical fiction, and poetry are among the genres of books she has penned. I have loved many of her books and was thrilled to have the opportunity to read an early copy of The Scarlet Circus.

The Scarlet Circus is the third in Jane Yolen’s “Circus” series, but you don’t need to read the others to read this one. This particular short story collection is all about love in its many forms. Now, this might seem like an odd read for me seeing as, when it comes to books, I have the romantic sensibilities of a chewed-up piece of gum. That being said, I am a big fan of stories with fairy tale vibes (whether the more lighthearted kind or the darker ones) and I knew that’s what this collection would bring.

Smart, heartwarming, funny, and at times a little dark, The Scarlet Circus has a wide variety of tales. There are no descriptions of sex, which I vastly appreciate (sex scenes are not my thing). Instead, these take on the cadence of stories told around a fire to an appreciative audience. While they all feature love in some shape or form, each story is unique and adds something new to the collection.

I loved the entire book, but a couple stories stood out to me for various reasons. I’m a sucker for Arthurian tales so of course The Sword in the Stone was a favorite. It’s an alternate idea of how that pesky sword was originally yanked out of the stone and by whom. I loved the cleverness of it and how just a few tweaks turned that whole legend on its head. Merlinnus was delightful, a cunning wise man who played the long game, but could still be taken by surprise (his reaction to the word “cushion” made me laugh).

Dragonfield follows Tansy, a misfit who is in the wrong place at the right time (or the right place at the wrong time) and finds herself embroiled in a battle to defeat a dragon. Unfortunately, the hero who is supposed to slay the dragon isn’t quite a hero. He’s something better: a roguish coward with more muscles than scruples. I absolutely adored the characters in this story, and the amount of growth they did in so few words just goes to show what a great writer Yolen is. I did feel a bit sorry for the dragon, though.

Oddly enough, what really elevated this collection from great to amazing to me were the story notes and poems found at the back of the book. They shone a spotlight on the creativity and brilliance of The Scarlet Circus while adding extra details and revelations about the author herself. The poems often had a darker slant which I loved, especially compared to the happily ever beginnings found in several of the stories. The Girl Speaks to the Mage had me laughing out loud and cheering a little. An Old Story About the Mer was chilling with its sudden gruesome ending staying with me.

The Scarlet Circus is another fantastic collection by a master storyteller, one that should be added to every fantasy lover’s library. Turning the pages gave the sense of wonder and adventure that first drew me to fairytales as a child, making this a book to treasure.

Small Press, Big Stories: Dragons of Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales

Runalong the Shelves has created the coolest event: a month-long series celebrating small/indie publishing. I have read so many great indie titles and am excited to be taking part in this series. Today, I want to discuss a great collection of dragon-related stories, Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales.

Dragons of a Different Tail was one of the most creative and entertaining anthologies I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The sheer variety of tails-ahem, tales- in this book is astonishing. There’s generally a story or two that doesn’t connect with me in anthologies, but that wasn’t the case here. Between the subject matter and some extremely talented authors, this is a win from beginning to end.

While I enjoyed every story in Dragons of a Different Tail, there were a few that stood out to me. Chasing the Dragon by Sean Gibson was delightful and the perfect way to start the book. It follows Celare and Stanley, two detectives in Victorian era London. Their job entails slightly more than what most people picture when thinking of Victorian era P.I.’s. They find their into an opium den, where they discover something way out of the ordinary.

I loved the banter between Stanley and Celare! Celare was delightfully snarky with the sort of attitude that is a blast to read. The ending was brilliant (although I’m not sure I can forgive author Sean Gibson for such a cliffhanger!), but my favorite part of the tale was the nature of the beast. It’s not something I find often in fantasy, and I loved it. I won’t say more, for fear of giving spoilers, but it was fantastic.

Spirit of the Dragon by J.C. Mastro rocked (quite literally). It is about the DragonFraggen, a metal band in search for inspiration for a new song. Fortunately for the reader, but unfortunately for them, they find it in the form of an old, mysterious text. Things go a little wonky and the next thing DragonFraggen knows, their live concert might end up with someone dead.

I loved how unique this story was! Aside from the band having a bit of a Spinal Tap feel (word to the wise: never be the drummer in a band), their earnestness made me laugh. The dragon was killer, pun intended, and the entire tale left a big smile on my face.

The other story that most stood out to me was Wei Ling and the Water Dragon by Jeff Burns. Wei Ling decides to track down the thieves that stole her village’s dragon idol and steal it back. It doesn’t go quite as simply planned, but she ends up with the most unlikely of friends.

Wei Ling and the Water Dragon is action-packed and quick moving. Wei Ling herself was a ball of sass and the dragon in this tale was entertainingly smug. Both Wei Ling and the Dragon were well-written. They developed beautifully together, with a surprising amount of character in such a short amount of time.

Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales is a great anthology, one with something new and unexpected on each page. This is an excellent book for readers who love dragons and people who love fantasy in general. Pick this one up!

Dragons of Different Tail would be an excellent Christmas gift for fantasy lovers (or anyone who wants something new and different).

*This is a Cabbit Crossing Publishing title

Amazon

Rogues- Edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

If you’re a fan of fiction that is more than just black and white, this latest story collection from #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and award-winning editor Gardner Dozois is filled with subtle shades of gray. Twenty-one all-original stories, by an all-star list of contributors, will delight and astonish you in equal measure with their cunning twists and dazzling reversals. And George R. R. Martin himself offers a brand-new A Game of Thrones tale chronicling one of the biggest rogues in the entire history of Ice and Fire.
 
Follow along with the likes of Gillian Flynn, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, and Connie Willis, as well as other masters of literary sleight-of-hand, in this rogues gallery of stories that will plunder your heart—and yet leave you all the richer for it. (Taken from Amazon)
 

I’m a huge fan of morally gray, roguish characters, so Rogues seemed like it would be right up my alley. While there were a couple of stories that I didn’t quite love, it was an excellent collection of stories overall, and the two that I didn’t love were easily overshadowed by the rest of the tales.

With this group of authors, there were a few usual suspects that I knew I’d love, and also some that really surprised me. Doubly great is the variety of rogues present in this collection. While there were a couple of the stereotypical thieves and ne’er-do-wells (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the term “rogue” was creatively explored. No one story was like another, which was awesome.

“Tough Times All Over” by Joe Abercrombie started things off magnificently with a game of “button, button, who’s got the button” that just happened to include a fair amount of violence. It was a snappy, engaging story that ended at just the right time.

I’m not normally a big fan of Gillian Flynn, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed “What Do You Do?”, in which the reader is left to wonder who is conning whom in a case of possible possession.

Both Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss had fantastic stories. No one can match Gaiman for creativity, and Rothfuss once again showed his excellent writing chops. I would have liked a little more ambition from Rothfuss since he was writing about Bast (I want answers and details, dang it!), but his writing style immediately sucked me in.

My favorite story in the collection, though, was “Bad Brass” by Bradley Denton. I don’t think I’ve read any of Denton’s books before, but I loved the idea of a tuba heist, fraught with double crosses and surprise appearances. It was so much fun!

In fact, there were only two stories that I didn’t enjoy, and one of them I didn’t expect to. I’m not the world’s biggest George R.R. Martin fan, but people who have enjoyed his series will be more than happy with his offering here.

This is an excellent collection of stories, chock full of all the things that make rogues so much fun. I suggest this for fans of morally gray characters, or anyone who is looking for an engaging palette cleanser after a heavy read.

Tales of Magic & Destiny: Twelve Tales of Fantasy by Ricardo Victoria, Maria Haskins, Tom Jolly, and More

Take a trip into worlds of fantasy – where magic and destinies are very real and could be very deadly. Twelve writers delve into dungeons, cross battlefields, challenge prophecies and conjure up characters ready to face the gods themselves. Discover 12 new legends of fantasy – and explore these worlds of imagination.

From stories about fierce battles to tales of mysteries and faith (and even one story that seemed reminiscent of A Pilgrim’s Progress!), Tales of Magic & Destiny has something for everyone. I was so impressed by how unique and different each story was from the one before it.

I never know how to review a collection of stories: do I review every single story, or leave some to be discovered by the reader? I think I’ll go for the latter because there’s something special about coming across an unexpected gem.

Tales of Magic and Destiny started out strongly with Stars Above, Shadows Beneath by Maria Haskins. This tale focused on Ny’am, returning to her childhood home as conqueror after being treated poorly growing up. Only her triumphant return seems like anything but. This was a story about forgiveness and faith, with a bit of violence thrown in for good measure. It was well written and set the tone for the rest of the book.

I loved Out of the Dust by Leo Mcbride. There was an immediate lore and entire world hinted at, one which was creative and seemed fraught with peril. I was hooked from the get-go. The story follows Tarras, a reluctant leader trying to keep her people alive in a very unhospitable place. A stranger shows up, one who is seen as incredibly dangerous, to be kept locked up at all costs, followed by a more immediate danger. Tarras is faced with the decision: which danger is worse? I would have loved to see this story continue on for much longer, although the ending was fantastic.

Asherah’s Pilgrimage by Ricardo Victoria was another standout for me. Ostensibly about a character trying to lead her people to a better life, it is in actuality an introspective examination of resilience, strength of character, and doing what’s right even when it’s hard. Oh–and there’s a dragon! I’m a sucker for dragons anyway, and this dragon is snarky and fun.

This is a strong collection of stories, certain to please any fantasy fan. I could see the talent that each author brought to the table. I thoroughly enjoyed Tales of Magic and Destiny.

Tales From Alternate Earths 3

Step into fourteen new worlds that might have been…

What if the Ripper had kept killing, Hitchcock had directed Titanic, or an alien attack forced two adversaries into an unlikely alliance?

Visit worlds where wartime experiments unlocked genetic potential, where magic and magical creatures flourish, and where two detectives solve crimes in a world where Rome still rules.

The third Tales From Alternate Earths arrives with more stories and more award-wining authors. Discover these worlds if you dare! (taken from Fantasticfiction)

Thank you to Inkling Press for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Tales From Alternate Earths Volume 3 will be available on September third.

This collection takes “What if?” in new and exciting directions. What if the historical events we all (should) know unfolded differently? What ripples would they cause? How would our world be different? The creativity behind these musings and the skill of the writers blew me away.

Short story collections can go either way for me. Sometimes I just can’t connect with the shorter lengths. However, Alternate Earths 3 used the shorter formats to excellent advantage, shining a laser focus on unique ideas. While the entire book is strong, there are a few stories that stood out to me.

The collection started out strong with “Gunpowder Treason” by Alan Smale. It takes a look at how things would have been had Guy Fawkes and company succeeded in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It’s told through an interesting perspective- that of a streetwalker. It made the story feel much more personal than if it had been told through multiple points of view.

“Ops and Ostentation” by Rob Edwards followed the indomitable Mrs. Constance Briggs as she encounters a certain man whose military mind has been spoken of often (I’m doing my very best to be vague, and hopefully I’ve succeeded). Her role in the events that unfolded was fascinating. That ending too! It was infinitely satisfying.

I was unsure about “Dust of the Earth” at first, but I ended up really enjoying how author Brent A. Harris wrote it. It’s told in a series of flashbacks which isn’t something I encounter too often. While it was disconcerting at first, I loved that the story ultimately focused on mental health, which is a subject that I am very passionate about.

“To Catch a Ripper” by Minoti Vaishnav gives a new angle on Jack the Ripper, and it’s the most interesting take on the Ripper that I’ve ever read. There were many things about this story that made me oh-so-happy, from the determined main character, to the intrigue and action. If ever this becomes a full-length novel, I’ll be in line to buy it.

I was delighted to see that Ricardo Victoria, an author whose writings I always enjoy, has a story in Alternate Earths 3. His story, “Steel Serpents”, was thought-provoking and incredibly smart. I’ll be thinking about this one for quite a while.

The collection ends just as well as it started, with a story that follows a couple of former KGB operatives. Author D.J. Butler had me hooked right away.

These are just a few of the stories that stood out to me; the entirety of Alternate Earths 3 was clever and entertaining. This collection is perfect for readers who want to be challenged, who like to muse on all the paths history could have taken. I highly recommend picking this one up.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Okay, okay, I admit: I grabbed this book mainly for the cover. It promised mythical, mysterious tales. Plus, it has the pretty illustrations! This book takes place in the world of The Cruel Prince. Reviews for the series: The Cruel Prince/The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing.

Unfortunately, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (referred from here on out to King of Elhame because the full title is bit long) didn’t quite butter my biscuit. Holly Black is a talented author and I think I expected more than what I got.

First of all, it felt a little thrown together. Several of the short stories seemed a bit like scenes that were edited out of the original books. While they were interesting, they didn’t quite seem like full stories to me. Also, any scene involving the sexening and Carden made me dissolve into giggles. He has a tail for crying out loud! Hmm…that might say more about my maturity level than about the book itself. Luckily, I tend to skip sex scenes anyway.

Something that I found interesting (and a little bit of a bummer) was that the stories that were supposed to take place during The Cruel Prince felt a little revisionist. It was really odd because Holly Black wrote with such confidence that I did not expect her to feel the need to change anything. She is a very good writer and I truly hope she knows that.

That being said, I did really enjoy the three stories involving the troll woman. In two of them, she told Carden a different version of the same fairy tale. I liked that they changed based on both Carden’s age and what had been happening in the original series at the time. It showcased Carden’s character development. I won’t ruin anything by talking about the third of the troll woman’s stories. I will just say that I thought it was extremely clever.

The final verdict for me was: the book was not horrible, but it felt unnecessary. However, I am sure that my opinion isn’t the popular one and I would love to hear what you loved about The King of Elfhame and why. Tell me what I missed!

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives. (taken from Amazon)

The funny thing about The Hazel Wood (and its sequel) by Melissa Albert is that, for me, the best parts weren’t the main storyline. Nope. The best parts were the undeniably eerie fairy tales come-to-life that bled through into the pages of the books. I told my husband that if a collection of Hinterland tales was every published, I’d be super excited to read it. So, of course I had to snag a copy of Tales from the Hinterland!

These completely original fairy tales were about characters that crossed over from the fictional world into the real one in The Hazel Wood books. And they were as creepy as it gets without descending into full-on horror. Let’s just say that the majority of them did not end well for the “hero”. In fact, most of them didn’t have a hero per se. What they did have was a ton of creativity and a darker tone that sent shivers down the spine.

One thing that stood out to me was that the main characters were all female. There were naïve females, clever ones, even evil ones. But males were always in a supporting role. It was an interesting choice. It didn’t change my enjoyment of the book, either positively or negatively; it was just something I noticed.

Another thing that I really liked was that not a single tale seemed even remotely like an existing fairy tale. There were no Beauty and the Beast retellings, and Little Red Riding Hood didn’t make an appearance. The stories were 100% original. It was refreshing to see entirely new ideas (not that I mind a good fairy tale reimagining).

There wasn’t a single story that felt lesser than or out of place. My main complaint, in fact, is that the tone was similar in several tales. I am not even sure if that should be a complaint: that the stories fit well together. Hmm…something to think about.

There were three stories that stood out to me. One was The Door that Wasn’t There, which was equal parts creepy and sad. It’s about two sisters who were locked in a room to starve and what one of them does to survive (no, there’s no cannibalism. Ew!). The feeling that Melissa Albert created in this story was a little bit gothic and a whole lot of unearthly.

The second story that kept me enthralled was The Mother and the Dagger. This felt like your usual tale told to scare kids into coming home before dark- but with a twist that was uncanny and creeptastic. The way this one was written, like someone is talking to you, stood out from the other stories and drew me in. I loved the ending, which had an abrupt finality to it.

Finally, was Twice-Killed Katherine. That character was one of the bits of fairy tales that showed up in The Hazel Wood, and the one that I found the most intriguing. While the story didn’t go the way I expected, it was nonetheless fascinating and really cool to see the backstory the author had for her. That one also felt different in that what was left unsaid could have been stretched and expanded on to create an entirely separate novel in its own right.

Tales from the Hinterland was by far my favorite book that takes place in the Hazel Wood universe (so to speak), even though it’s not a straight-through narrative. It was eerie and intelligent, and definitely not a book to read alone at night. I wouldn’t necessarily call it horror- maybe horror-adjacent. Either way, it was really stinking good.

Around the Dark Dial by J.D. Sanderson

Take a trip around the dark dial with eleven original and thought-provoking short stories that invoke the wonder and mystery of old-time radio dramas. Forget all that you know about modern sci-fi. In Around the Dark Dial, it’s all about the unexpected. (taken from Goodreads)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is a short story collection unlike any other I’ve read. Evoking a sense of the mysterious, each story had an underlying tension that kept me fascinated. Short story collections can be hit or miss for me; this was a definite hit.

Each story provided a unique take on the sci-fi genre. While there were stories featuring common sci-fi features, they were uniquely done in ways that felt fresh and new. There were what seemed to be hidden connections between some of the stories, more common themes than anything else. I enjoyed the thrill I got from seeing how one might be connected to another. Even the way the stories were ordered added to my enjoyment of the collection.

I particularly liked The Simulant for its take on AI. The humanity that author J.D. Sanderson gave to his Simulant was actually very thought-provoking. The ending gave off a sense of paranoia, much like a good thriller can. In fact, Sanderson knows just when to end a tale, leaving plenty of room for the reader to think and wonder, without suddenly dropping the plot. I don’t like books that stop abruptly, but I also am not a huge fan of things being overexplained. Sanderson tread the fine line between the two with skill.

My absolute favorite of the stories, though, was Caller Four. This one revolved around a radio show that covered the topic of alien abductions. The late-night scene, combined with the question of whether the alien encounter was really happening, made for an engrossing read. I loved how the ending brought the story full-circle. This one will definitely stick with me.

If you’re a fan of creative fiction, or if you enjoyed The Twilight Zone, Around the Dark Dial will be right up your alley. I highly suggest giving this one a go!

You can find Around the Dark Dial on bookshop.org (among other places). If you order through my link I’ll get a small kickback. More importantly, you’ll be supporting local bookstores.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper - Kindle edition by Gilman, Charlotte Perkins ...

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is told as a series of journal entries written by a woman who has gone to a country manor to recover from what is assumed at this time to be postpartum depression.  Her loving husband, John, follows the recommendation of doctors of the day (he is also a doctor), and sequesters the woman so that she might rest and recover. She is not supposed to exercise or write,  instead letting repose heal her. The woman (whose name is never learned) is not allowed to leave her room, which has yellow wallpaper. As time progresses, the woman becomes convinced that the wallpaper moves and there is someone in the wallpaper trying to get out.

I really can’t accurately describe the creepy feel of this story. While it is ultimately a tale of the deterioration of the woman’s mental state (due to the absolutely absurd treatment of mental illness in the late 1800’s, when this was written), there is an eerie vibe to it. The writing is astounding. I was immediately drawn in. I can see why this story is considered a classic.

When I began the book, I thought it was odd that the color of the wallpaper was such a big deal. However, I soon found that it makes perfect sense. The metaphors found throughout are amazing, conveying the hopelessness the woman felt regarding her situation.

It isn’t a happy-go-lucky story, but it is a compelling one. And the ending! Holy terror, Batman! Gilman’s writing is excellent. I highly recommend reading this story.

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights: Weekes: 9780765337221: Amazon.com: Books

An anthology of original stories based on the dark fantasy, role-playing video game series from Bioware.

Ancient horrors. Marauding invaders. Powerful mages. And a world that refuses to stay fixed. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a fun, slash ’em and bash ’em fantasy. This collection of stories certainly fit the bill. As is the case with most short story collections, I enjoyed some of the stories more than others. However, this is a strong book and even the stories I didn’t love were fun.

I’ll admit that I don’t know a ton of the lore surrounding Dragon Age. I don’t get much chance to play video games and I prefer multi-players, so I only know what I’ve been able to garner here and there. It didn’t matter, though: everything that is important to the book is explained throughout. Kudos to the authors for making this a book anyone can follow.

Even though all the stories are fun, there were two that really stood out to me. The first one is “Three Trees to Midnight” by Patrick Weekes. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that I loved the development of the relationship between the two main characters. The condescension that built to a grudging respect moved the story along wonderfully.

The other story that I loved is “Luck in the Gardens” by Sylive Feketekuty. The narration in this story was excellent and made it easily the most memorable of the tales. The opening immediately hooked me.

If you’re looking for a book to take you out of the stress of everything going on, one to escape into, this book is for you.