Mhairi McFarlane, Just Last Night
Don’t let the bright colors and cartoonish art fool you: this is primarily a book about grief. Thirty-something Eve and her three best friends have been inseparable since college; they know, love, and understand each other in a way that no one else can. At the beginning of the novel, one of them dies, and Eve spends most of the book trying to cope with her grief and process the aftermath. She also uncovers a devastating secret that profoundly affects her life, as well as the dynamic of the friend group. There is, in fact, a love story that I quite enjoyed, but it doesn’t really get going until the last third of the book or so, and it seems a bit incongruous with what came before. Nevertheless, I devoured the book in one sitting and stayed up far too late to finish it! So I did like the book overall, although I think I still prefer If I Never Met You.
Robin McKinley, ed., Imaginary Lands
I picked up this short story collection based solely on Robin McKinley’s name, but unfortunately, as with most short story collections, I found it a mixed bag. Below are my thoughts on the individual stories, but my overall opinion is that even if you’re a fantasy lover, you can skip this one.
James P. Blaylock, “Paper Dragons” – This story won the 1986 World Fantasy Award for short fiction, and I have no idea why. Nothing happens! And we’re introduced to a lot of characters and bits of history and mythology that are never fully explained or given context. A frustrating read, for me.
Patricia A. McKillip, “The Old Woman and the Storm” – This one is set at the dawn of time, and it has a very elevated, myth-like style that got on my nerves. I did like the resolution to the story, but overall it just wasn’t my jam.
Robert Westall, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” – In the early 20th century, a family of American tourists is forced to stay overnight in an English salt-mining town that is slowly sinking into the earth. Probably my favorite story in the bunch, perhaps because of its lively, comedic tone.
Peter Dickinson, “Flight” – A “history” of a fictional empire that repeatedly tries and fails to conquer a stubborn territory whose residents use hang glider-esque devices to fly. The narrative device was my favorite part of this one; it allowed for some fun satire about real-life history and government policy.
Jane Yolen, “Evian Steel” – Sort of a prequel to Arthurian legends. Well-written, but I think I’d have gotten more out of it if I knew more about Arthuriana.
P.C. Hodgell, “Stranger Blood” – Probably the most traditional “high fantasy” story in the collection, set on the borderland of a Great Evil that is going to kill everyone unless our heroes can stop it. I liked this story, but it felt unfinished; if it were expanded into a novel, I’d be curious to read it.
Michael de Larrabeiti, “The Curse of Igamor” – A short fable-like tale with a killer horse and rich bad guys who get their comeuppance. I liked this one.
Joan D. Vinge, “Tam Lin” – A Tam Lin retelling, as the title indicates, and one with a somewhat unsettling ending. I prefer The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope or Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones.
Robin McKinley, “The Stone Fey” – This story has a lot of the things I love about McKinley’s writing — a sympathetic heroine, lovable secondary characters, great animals — but I wanted to know a lot more about the titular stone fey. He’s a catalyst for the story’s action rather than a character in his own right, and I wanted to know what his deal was. I feel like this story is only for McKinley completists like me…and even then, maybe not.
Kate Noble, The Dress of the Season
Harris Dane, Viscount Osterley, is known to Society as “Austere Osterley” for his serious, some might say rigid, demeanor. But that doesn’t stop him from pursuing a lovely widow as his mistress. He purchases a scandalous gown for her, and at the same shop he also buys a pair of gloves for his ward, Felicity Grove. When the packages are sent to the wrong women and Felicity mistakenly receives the dress, scandal erupts, leading to a chain of events neither Harris nor Felicity could have anticipated. I read this cute Regency romance novella in an afternoon. It’s not particularly authentic in terms of writing style, and the short length prevented me from getting very emotionally invested in the characters. But I found it a fun read and would definitely try more by this author.