Book Review: Confessions of a Falling Woman and other short stories

confessionsConfessions of a Falling Woman and other short stories
by Debra Dean
224 pages
Published 2008
Contemporary fiction

I picked up this book because the title intrigued me. I was expecting a book of short stories on a theme, being Falling Women, and instead I got a book of short stories by an author, one of them being from a divorced, adulterous ex-wife. For all that it wasn’t what I was expecting, and was not my usual fare, I was impressed by the quality of the writing and the emotions behind the stories. Most of the stories are tiny vignettes – glimpses into other people’s lives. The last story is a much longer story about a washed-up actor. The book is short, but still manages to cram in nine stories in 135 pages, with the tenth consuming 90 pages on its own.

The book begins with “What the Left Hand Is Saying,” about the people living in an apartment building coming together to form a community. “The Queen Mother” descibes a Southern Matriarch getting an intervention for her alcoholism. “The Afterlife of Lyle Stone” is a bizarre little story that I’m still not entirely sure what to make of. “A Brief History of Us” reads like a woman talking to her shrink about her family’s history. “Another Little Piece,” “Romance Manual,” “The Best Man,” “The Bodhisattva,” and “Confessions of a Falling Woman” all deal with varying aspects of love and romance. The crowning story of the collection is “Dan in the Gray Flannel Rat Suit” about a washed-up actor realizing he’s washed-up.

This was a decent collection. It’s not my normal cup of tea, though her novel looks vaguely interesting (The Madonnas of Leningrad). I’ll probably only pick up Madonnas if I happen to see it on the library shelf when picking up other things. If you’re into contemporary fiction, though, this might be worth a shot.

From the back of Confessions of a Falling Woman and other stories:

A surprised Southern matriarch is confronted by her family at an intervention… A life-altering break-in triggers insomniac introspection in a desperate actor… Streetwise New York City neighbors let down their guard for a naive puppeteer and must suffer the consequences…

In this stunning collection of short stories – five of which are being published for the very first time – bestselling, award-winning author Debra Dean displays the depth and magnitude of her extraordinary literary talent. Replete with the seamless storytelling and captivating lyrical voice that made her debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, a national bestseller, Dean’s Confessions of a Falling Woman is a haunting, satisfying, and unforgettable reading experience.

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Book Review: Tortall and Other Lands

TortallTortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales
by Tamora Pierce
369 pages
Published 2011

This is a collection of Tamora Pierce’s short stories, some of which have been published in other collections. There are six stories set in Tortall, four fantasy stories set elsewhere, and one contemporary non-fantasy story. I really enjoyed getting glimpses into other parts of Tortall – seeing stories of a few ordinary people, not just the extraordinary ones that star in her sagas and trilogies.

In one story we revisit Numair and Daine from The Immortals quartet, and see their foster dragon, Kitten, get into trouble and rescue a wild mage and her son. In another we see an apple tree turned into a man as a consequence of Numair turning a man into an apple tree half a world away. Another story shows us the birth of Nawat and Aly’s children. (Aly is the daughter of Alanna from The Song of the Lioness quartet, and has her own duology, Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen.) We see a girl learn to fight by watching animals squabble, and another girl learn to become an adult by rescuing a baby dragon.

I very much enjoy collections of short stories for a few different reasons; collections by one author show glimpses into rarely-seen parts of their established worlds, while collections around a theme introduce me to new authors. I also don’t feel bad about setting the book down between stories to go to bed! Tortall and Other Lands was a wonderful addition to the stories of Tortall, and has me even more eager to read The Immortals quartet and the Trickster set.

From the back of Tortall and Other Lands:

Years ago, the novel Alanna introduced fantasy lovers to the magical kingdom of Tortall. In Tamora Pierce’s subsequent fifteen books set in this medieval realm, readers have gotten to know generations of families; legions of friends, foes, and fantastical creatures; and much about the history, magic, and spirit of this extraordinarily well-drawn locale.

But epics do not always provide the smaller, more intimate tales. Collected here are six wondrous shorter tales from the land of Tortall, featuring previously unknown characters as well as old friends. These stories, some of which have never been published before, will lead old fans and new readers more deeply into one of the most intricately constructed worlds of modern fantasy. There are four more fantasy tales not set in Tortall. Two are historical and set in an unknown town; one takes place in a remote desert; and one is set in a very well-known town, New York City, in our time. 

And as a bonus, there’s one nonfantasy set in contemporary Idaho that proves that Pierce’s multilayered characters, finesse with dialogue, and impeccable storytelling are not limited to lands inhabited by dragons and magic.¬†

Book Review: Armored

armoredArmored
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Stories by Brandon Sanderson, Tanya Huff, Carrie Vaughn, Jack Campbell, Alastair Reynolds, Ian Douglas, and others
574 pages
Published 2012
Sci-fi short story collection

So I’m not real big on straight up Sci-fi usually – I like my Sci-fi with at least a touch of fantasy. I especially don’t usually read military sci-fi. Armored is all about mechs, mostly military-style mechs, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the book, but there were a few authors I recognized, so I gave it a shot. (My husband read it first and really liked it, so that was another point in its favor.) I’m very glad I took a chance on it! There are a couple of stories that left me wanting more in the world – and a couple of them are side stories from larger novels or series, so I may need to look those up. There are 23 stories in the book, each one about 20-25 pages long.

Some stories have sentient mechs bonded with humans; some are mechs completely driven by humans. In a couple stories the mech featured is the first mech every built; in some the mech is the latest model, or something in between. The book is a wonderful collection of different authors’ takes on man (or woman)+armored suit. One story is just a blood-filled shoot ’em up almost from start to finish; one story spends the entire time philosophizing about the melding of man+machine and what that means to society and the individual psyche.

Ultimately I really enjoyed this book. I got to see new things by a few authors I already enjoyed, and learned of a few other authors I might be interested in. That’s one reason I really enjoy short story collections. They’re like breadcrumbs to other authors and worlds.

From the back of Armored:

Decades ago,¬†Starship Troopers¬†captivated readers with its vision of a future war in which power armored soldiers battled giant insects on hostile alien planets. Today, with the success of¬†Iron Man, Halo,¬†and¬†Mechwarrior–and with real robotic exoskeletons just around the corner–the idea of super-powered combat armor and giant mecha has never been more exciting and relevant.

Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams brings you the first-ever original anthology of power armor fiction. Join leading SF authors Jack Campbell, Brandon Sanderson, Tanya Huff, Daniel H. Wilson, Alastair Reynolds, Carrie Vaughn, and others as they explore the limits of what a soldier of the future might become–with the aid of the right equipment.

Imagine power armored warriors battling at the bottom of the sea, or on nightmarish alien worlds, or in the darkest depths of space. Imagine armor that’s as smart as you are, armor that might keep on fighting even after you’re no longer willing … or able.

The possibilities are endless, but some facts remain constant: The soldier of the future will be fast. The soldier of the future will be deadly. The soldier of the future will be ARMORED.