melissajm: Cover for Between Worlds, by Melissa Mead, from Double Dragon Publishing (Default)
I thought I'd post some comments on the River anthology, edited by Alma Alexander. They're purely subjective, especially since several people involved with the book are friends or online acquaintances. I’m not any kind of an experienced reviewer, just somebody who loves stories.

I enjoyed the book a lot. First of all, I've never seen a book that used a literal map of a river as a TOC. Nice touch. And I understand the editor's premise that all rivers share in the same deep magic. A book about water and water creatures always gets my attention.

Now, some brief personal thoughts about the stories:

"The Mill-Keeper and the Wolf," by Tiffany Trent- The book starts with a love story. There’s a twist, though. The lovers are an eternally-dying wolf and a wild spirit bound to guard a sacred well, the start of the River. The ending leaves it up to the reader to decide whether or not their perpetually-repeating fate can change.

"Rites," by Mary Victoria- I loved the setting for this story- Cyprus. The author brought it vividly to life, and used it as the backdrop for a mythological retelling focusing on Effie, the timid, lonely protagonist.

"The Fall," by Irene Radford- The author does a fantastic job of writing from a river’s POV. At first I thought it was based on the legend of Aunt Sarah’s Falls, in NY, but apparently lots of waterfalls have stories of sacrifice attached to them. Unfortunately, this is one of two stories in this book that struck a personal nerve for me- the disabled character who exists to be either cured or sacrificed. I suspect the author was limited by the original legend in this case, and overall she did make the character a fully rounded human being, which I appreciated. Heck, she made the RIVER a fully rounded, um, being. ;)

"They Are Forgotten Until They Come Again," by Jay Lake- The other story that hit that nerve, although the characters’ actions make sense in the context of their culture. It’s a well-developed culture that hints at a larger world and more stories to come. I’d be curious to know if this story is part of something bigger.

"Scatalogical," by Deb Taber- I shouldn’t have read this story at lunchtime, becuse it lives up to its name. :) The mudfrogs are a clever creation that made me wonder just what might be going on at the local dump.

"Floodlust," by Jaycee Bedford- A story of love and sacrifice, and river angels. I wouldn’t mind reading more stories about the river angels.

"Five Bullets on the Banks of the Sadji," by Keffy R. M. Kehrli- Another story rich in worldbuilding. In this case it’s a violent, grim world of politics and poison hounds, and a scrap of hope in spite of it all.

"The River," by Joshua Palmatier- This story is set in the same world as the author's "Throne of Amenkor" series. Readers who already know the world and characters will enjoy revisiting it, and those who don't may be tempted to read more after this tragic, haunting story of desperate people and dark choices.

"My Grandfather's River," by Brenda Cooper- This is a small, sweet story about a beautiful gift. It made me miss my grandparents, and a certain lake.

"Lady of the Waters," by Seanan McGuire- This one was fun! If there’s a book set in this would, I want to find it. It’s got a centaur sea captain and a most unusual mermaid, and it may be my favorite story in the book. Possibly. In a book like this, it’s hard to choose.

"Vodnik Laughter," by Ada Milenkovic Brown- I love mythological-creature stories, folklore, and historical settings, and this story’s got it all. Czech folklore too, which I haven’t encountered all that often.

"River-Kissed," by Joyce Reynolds-Ward- Did I mention that I love mythological-creature stories? This book’s full of tales of sacrifice and change, and this story embodies both.

"Beyond the Lighthouse," by Nisi Shawl- And the book ends with a love story, one set in our world, that feels both real and magical. This was the perfect story to end the anthology. It was touching and poignant, and I kept fearing that it was going to end a totally different way, and was very happy with how it turned out.

So, overall, this is a fascinating anthology full of variety and well-written stories, and I recommend it highly.
melissajm: Cover for Between Worlds, by Melissa Mead, from Double Dragon Publishing (Default)
Thanks to Ellen Datlow for letting me be one of the blog reviewers for this book. I’ve never written a book review before, but I love fairy tales and variations on them. These are more properly Faerie Tales, because they’re not about fragile pastel creatures, but Faerie as JRR Tolkien describes it. If you don’t recognize the reference, the Introduction will remind you. These are stories about the blood on the spindle, the bindings of a gilded stranger’s kiss, the choices made at crossroads. Remember this, when you enter the dark wood.

“Words Like Pale Stones,” by Nancy Kress
The anthology starts off with a heroine who’s as far from delicate and helpless as you can imagine. I’m not sure I agree with this story’s assumption about art, but you’ve got to admire the heroine’s boldness in the face of depravity, and feel sympathy for the “rat boy.”

“Stronger Than Time,” by Patricia C. Wrede
This one may have been my favorite. Maybe it’s because I’m a hopeless romantic. The choice of narrator was perfect. The story’s got the sense of wonder that a good fantasy should have, but it’s real and homey and heartbreaking, too.

“Sommnus’s Fair Maid” by Ann Downer
I do so like the “fairy godmother.” For proper effect, this story should be read while ensconced in a comfy chair by the fire on a dreary afternoon, with a cup of tea to hand. Be ready to chuckle. Decorously, of course.

“The Frog King, or Iron Henry,” by Daniel Quinn
I’ve had nightmares that felt like this. You know, the kind where you’re running and running from something dark and horrible and can’t wake up…

“Near-Beauty,” by M. E. Beckett
What DO you do when you find a three-foot cane toad in your shower? In a SF story like this…ahem…just about anything. Especially if the “toad” sings an enchanting “Phantom of the Opera.” And Amanda is not the type of heroine to stay locked in a tower.

“Ogre,” by Michael Kandel
Speaking of theaters… the one in this story is decidedly off-Broadway. I hadn’t read “The Yellow Dwarf” before this, but- goodness, the things that go on backstage!

“Can’t Catch Me,” by Michael Cadnum
This one’s all about the voice. And that gingerbread dude’s one tough cookie. I suspect that “Catcher In The Rye” fans will like it.

“Journeybread Recipe,” by Lawrence Schimel
I don’t know much about poetry, but this was kind of like “Into the Woods” in a poem. I liked it.

“The Brown Bear of Norway,” by Isabel Cole
I didn’t know the original fairy tale to this one. It reminded me of “Cupid and Psyche,” though. And it has a sweet, sad ending.

“The Goose Girl,” by Tim Wynne-Jones
I’ve always thought the Goose Girl of the original tale was a dull excuse for a heroine, but this isn’t that Goose Girl! And it’s not really her story, which makes it even more interesting.

“Tattercoats,” by Midori Snyder
I’m of two minds about this one, because I don’t like explicit sex scenes. On the other hand, the whole story was so sensual and vivid it was impossible not to enjoy it. The best part, for me, was that the characters weren’t Good and Evil, but real people living in real, finite time.

“Granny Rumple,” by Jane Yolen
This isn’t a story. It’s a stark, unflinching reminder of what evil really is. I don’t think I have a right to pick it apart. Just read it, appreciate it, and pray that some monsters stay slain-or at least driven back.

“The Sawing Boys,” by Howard Waldrop
If you’ve got the soundtrack to “Guys and Dolls” around the house, it’ll make a good backdrop to this one. I think Mr. Waldrop was channeling Damon Runyon. It’s as light as the previous story was dark, and I got a chuckle out of the “sawing boys’” names.

“Godson,” by Roger Zelazny Another one I liked as lot. The introduction to this story says that telling the name of the original fairy tale would give too much away. That was puzzling, since to me it was clear from the first page, but that’s all right. It had a nice balance of humor and depth, and some likeable characters. A fun story.

“Ashputtle,” by Peter Straub
Ok, this was disturbing. Deeply disturbing. But when you think about it, could a “Cinderella” really go on to Happily Ever After untouched and unscarred?

“Silver and Gold,” by Ellen Steiber
Again, I’m no poet, but I like the bit about disposing of your enemies but being careful not to harm the good in them.

“Sweet Bruising Skin,” by Storm Constantine
This is a long story, so it’s got the space for detailed worldbuilding and some interesting twists on the workings of evil queens.

“The Black Swan,” by Susan Wade
At first I was afraid that this story was going to end the anthology on a completely tragic note. It doesn’t quite, but it is a tragic, heartbreaking story. A fittingly somber ending.

And, because I’m the sort of obsessive person who devours books whole, there’s some interesting-sounding Recommended Reading in the back, too.

Read and enjoy! I did.

July 2016

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