Deal Me In, Week 16 ~ “Riddle”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Riddle” by Ogbewe Amadin

Card picked: 2 – a WILD card
Found at: Fireside Magazine

The Story

I think Aunty Adesuwa is a witch. Mama says so sometimes.

To Idara, Mama never lies, and when Mama says that witches are evil, it must be so. But witchcraft also see,s like it could be a wonderful thing, full of possibilities. Idara sets out to prove whether Aunty Adesuwa is really a witch and really evil. It’s a riddle that isn’t easily solved.

Fireside Magazine showcases some really nice flash fiction. This one has been bookmarked since January and I decided to choose it for my wild card this week, even though it doesn’t fit with the sci fi tales I’ve chosen for hearts. Glad I did. It’s a lovely story with a nice touch of ambiguity.

The Author
I think this might be Nigerian author Ogbewe Amadin’s first publication. I’m pretty sure it won’t be his last.

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Review ~ All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked Saints Cover via Goodreads

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I won this from Midnight Book Girl(s) during Bloggers Dressed in Blood. YA isn’t usually my thing, but I was intrigued by sort of magical realism vibe going on in the blurb.

What Worked
I love a good setting and the place and time of Bicho Raro, Colorado, in the desert in 1962 are intrinsic to the story. Pirate radio stations are a thing of the past and the desert is as much of a character as any person. Both transported me to an arid, harsh, but beautiful land full of darkness and stars, owls and soundwaves.

There is a heightened type of narration in All the Crooked Saints and it took me about two-thirds of book to figure out what it reminded me of: Wes Anderson. In a Wes Anderson film, each character has a place and a default way of acting, sometimes in a slightly absurd manner. Crooked Saints has that with the myth-making of Peter S. Beagle and a dollop of telenovela drama. To be fair, this is something that could have gone poorly for me if I hadn’t been in the right mood.

It’s a lovely bit of fairy tale with characters working their way through the mysteries of tradition and superstition in a world where magic does exist.

What Didn’t Work
There are a lot of characters. Not all of them get a lot of page time—which is fine—but many of them don’t get too much of a different voice either. The world is peopled, but much of the Soria family sounded and felt the same to me.

Overall
I really enjoyed All the Crooked Saints. It was a well-needed injection of gentle fantasy into a fairly dull bunch of March books.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Scholastic Press, 2017
Acquired: 11/15/17
Genre: fantasy, YA

Deal Me In, Week 9 ~ “Thirteen Steps in the Underworld”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Thirteen Steps in the Underworld” by Su-Yee Lin

Card picked: Ace
Found at: Tor.com

The Story
*peers suspiciously at her list of stories and her cards*
Another story about a married couple. Maybe I always have this many stories about married people in my Deal Me In selections, but right now I’m noticing every one I come across. After all, marriage is a fairly common thing…

This is, not surprisingly considering the title, a tale of a man entering the underworld to find his wife. Unfortunately, our protagonist is not Orpheus. He’s a high school chemistry teacher from New York. He goes about entering and serching the underworld in as rational a manner as possible. He makes lists. He tries to make his way logically even as he starts to forgot things like his own name. In the process, we learn about his relationship with his wife and her death. It’s a lovely, bittersweet story.

The Author
Su-Lee Lin is a talented short fiction writer, whom I was utterly unfamiliar with. Luckily, I have lots of opportunities to become more familiar with her works!

Tangentially
The first section of the First Nights music classes at edX covered Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which is a retelling of Orpheus and Euridice. Below, from the class, is Act II, given an English language translation. We start with news of Euridice’s death:

Deal Me In, Week 8 ~ “Three Questions”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Three Questions” by Amy Aderman

Card picked: J ~ Fantasy genre suit
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story

The bean nighe is never wrong. She sits by a stream, washing the clothes of those soon to die. The water runs red with blood but the stains never fade. If you are bold, she will answer three questions but she will ask three in return; only true words must fall from your lips.

I’m pretty sure I was attracted to this story due to the title: who doesn’t love a fantasy about three questions (or three wishes)? This is a flash story and all the context and background comes from the questions asked and answers given by the narrator and the bean nighe. It’s a nice piece of work.

In “Three Questions,” the narrator asks about her impending wedding; the bean nighe asks about her first husband. Oddly, half of my Deal Me In stories this year have had to do with marriages or married couples.*  Have there been lessons in fiction for my 18th year of marriage? I haven’t decided yet.

* (I didn’t post about Mark Twain’s “Eve’s Diary” a couple weeks back because, man, Twain’s satire requires some mental overhead.)

The Author
Amy Aderman is a librarian and a folklore enthusiast. Her novel The Way to Winter is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.”

Deal Me In, Week 2 ~ “The Wrong Foot”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Wrong Foot” by Stephanie Burgis

Card picked: Q
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story

Needless to say, I didn’t want to try on the slipper in the first place.

Have you ever thought about the absurdity of Cinderella and the whole “marry the girl who can wear the glass slipper” thing? I mean, even though Payless didn’t exist in 1600s Italy, foot size isn’t exactly the same as fingerprints…or her face. (Although now I want to write a Cinderella variation in which the Prince is face blind…) What kind of cobbler makes glass slippers anyway? And if you take away the interference of fairy godmothers, why was Cinderella so eager to get away from the prince by midnight?

Sophia is a modern girl. She likes to read. She has her own inheritance coming to her. But her mother think she needs a husband and, if her small feet happen to fit in the glass slipper, why shouldn’t that husband be the Prince? Not helping matters is the Prince’s secretary whose hazel eyes make Sophia feel distinctly unscholarly.

This story is a clever and sweet, a nice twist on the fairy tale. I’m two for two on stories this year.

The Author
I don’t believe I’ve read anything by American/British writer Stephanie Burgis in the past. Info about her other stories, long and short, can be found at her website.

Deal Me In, Week 1 ~ “A Dead Djinn in Cairo”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“A Dead Djinn in Cairo” by P. Djeli Clark

Card picked: 5
Found at: Tor.com

The Story
A bit of a longer story for my first of the year, but one I was especially looking forward to when I put my list together. Why? Djinn. They are underused in my opinion and I’m always interested in what different authors do with them.

Clark puts one in the center of a mystery…as the corpse.

Fatma el-Sha’arawi, special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, stood gazing through a pair of spectral goggles at the body slumped atop the mammoth divan.

A djinn.

In this history, the border between our world and a world of the supernatural has been breached. There are ghuls, “angels,” and, of course, the djinn who have brought their brand of steampunk-ish technology to the era. This is still Victorian/Edwardian Egypt, though. While the djinn have helped remove the English from Egypt, Fatma, a woman, is still unique in her position as an inspector. On the surface, the death of the djinn seems to be a strange suicide. With unknown runes left inscribed around the body and an “angel’s tongue” found at the scene, Fatma suspects more but her theories are dismissed.

The investigation takes a world-endangering turn, which felt a little abrupt. The world that Clark created for this story is a lot of fun and it was surprising that Fatma and the Ministry don’t currently live on in other works.

The Author
P. Djeli Clark is an Afro-Caribbean-American writer of speculative fiction. He can be found online at The Musings of a Disgruntled Haradrim and on Twitter.

Review ~ The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. (And trust me, if he knew about the extended metaphor in this review, he probably would have thought twice about asking…)

Cover via Goodreads

The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories by K.J. Kabza

Ramshead Jones has a billionaire father, a dysfunctional family, and a shocking secret nestled in the hedge maze in his backyard: Earth’s only portal to hundreds of other realities. When Ramshead’s unwitting father decides to rip the hedge maze out, Ramshead is forced to use dangerous magic to move the portal before it’s destroyed, too—unless the deadly maze of other family secrets that come to light destroys him first.

In THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES, sand cats speak, ghost bikes roll, corpses disappear, and hedge mazes are more bewildering than you’ve ever imagined. These 11 fantasy and science fiction stories from KJ Kabza have been dubbed “Sublime” (Tangent), “Rich” (SFRevu), and “Ethereal” (Quick Sip Reviews) and will take you deep into other astonishing realities that not even Ramshead has discovered.

Cover design and interior illustrations by Dante Saunders. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Ages ago, I reviewed a Best Horror of the Year anthology that included Kabza’s “The Soul in the Bell Jar” (also included in this collection). I’ve been a fan ever since.

What Worked
Short story collections are like a box of chocolates. Sure, looking at the glossy bonbons, you don’t know which is going to be coconut cream and which one is, uh, pink, but you do roughly know what you’re getting when you buy a box of Whitman’s or Russel Stover. Such is the case when you pick up a collection or anthology—a certain quality author or editor is going to provide certain quality stories, despite inevitable pink cream equivalent. The way to avoid that is to buy a better box of chocolates. The Ramshead Algorithm, my friends, is a box of top-end Godiva.*

Every story in this collection is excellent. I had read over half of them in the past between Kabza’s self-pubbed collection Under Stars and some of his more recent publications. I decided to reread them in order to have the full experience of the collection. I noticed certain details (gardens, hedge mazes, ruins, and oceans) that repeat throughout as well a theme of searching and finding which I might have missed if I had only read the new-to-me stories.

I believe in my review of Under Stars I mentioned how well-done the world building is and I want to reiterate that. The short story form necessitates brevity, but every detail in these stories creates the world, whether the flash fiction-sized “All Souls Proceed” to the novella “You Can’t Take It With You.”

What Didn’t Work
My one and only beef was that I had scheduled out the stories from this collection not realizing that the final one in the collection “You Can’t Take It With You” was indeed a novella of a hundred pages. My entire reading schedule was messed up and it was basically my own darn fault.

So, there is nothing that didn’t work.

(Btw, “You Can’t Take It With You” is what Ready Player One would be without the nostalgia nods every .5 seconds. And this story is the better one.)

Overall
Readers might be interested to know that Kabza is a LGBTQ+ writer and some of his characters are LGBTQ+ as well. If your doing a diversity-in-reading challenge, sure, go ahead, this is a great collection to add to your pile. But, please, don’t let that be the only reason you decide to read The Ramshead Algorithm. Read it because who doesn’t want a box of Godiva?

* Okay, I’ll admit it, I have pretty middle class tastes and Godiva is what comes to mind when I think of classy chocolates. With a little googling, Godiva does make it to many “luxury” lists. Plus, most people have heard of Godiva while many of the other Swiss/French/etc. chocolatiers don’t really roll off the brain. But if you have a favorite high-end chocolate, go ahead and substitute it.

Publishing info, my copy: PDF, Pink Narcissus Press, 1/16/18
Acquired: 10/10/17
Genre: fantasy, science fiction, a dash of horror