To mix things up a bit this week, I am sharing 3 short stories and 2 novels I've read an enjoyed recently.
I am a book. My pages are purple.
This is how they made me. First, they flayed the calves, stretched and scraped their wet skins. Then they mixed lichen and leaves, rotted in human urine, to mimic the purple that comes of torturing sea snails to force the desperate spew of sedative. Soaked my pages in all that stink until they turned the colour of violence.
I loved this story when I first read it in Lackington's Gothics issue and it's a great listen at Podcastle, narrated by Alyson Grauer. History, alternate history, politics, and magic intertwine as Heartfield tells us the story of a book, as told by the book itself—and not just any old book here, but the famous Codex Argenteus, also known as the Silver Bible. This uniquely imagined, gloriously inventive tale involves Ostrogoths, royal machinations and intrigue through the ages, Queen Kristina of Sweden, and layers of deception and deceit. Being Swedish, I read a lot about Queen Kristina in school, and I love Heartfield’s take on this historic character.
This podcast story is a full on audio production with sound effects and music and excellent narration by Cherrae Stuart. It's set in a virtual reality world reminiscent of The Matrix movies, and we follow a woman who finds herself in a reality that is suddenly glitching.
This is how a valravn is made: A child dies. Lost in the woods, he curls up at the base of an ancient oak, and never rises again.
I am including this story in my roundup for November, and I am kind of upset at myself for somehow missing it when it was published back in September. Brennan tells us the tale of the valravn. It's a terrible creature that drinks the blood of its victims and keeps their souls locked inside itself, but as the story is told, we also understand that even such a terrible creature as this can be unmade, and maybe re-made, in unexpected ways. I can't overstate how much I love this story. One of my favourites from 2019 for sure.
This book had been sitting in my to-read pile for a long time, and when I finally picked it up to read, I could barely put it down. This is a post-apocalyptic book where a woman has to find her way, and a new purpose in a world that has been devastated by disease, and the chaos that followed. To quote the blurb:
After a devastating In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth’s population—killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant—the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power—and the strong who possess it.
Compelling from the get-go, haunting and harrowing, this book took me on a dark and sometimes terrifying ride and I'm now all-in for the sequels: The Book of Etta, and The Book of Flora. (For a hearty and soul-warming read by Elison, you can check out her story "Rapture" in Shimmer Magazine.)
Inspired by her award-winning short story "Cat Pictures, Please" from Clarkesworld, Kritzer's debut novel is called YA, but imo, adults can read and enjoy this too. I sure did!
To quote the book's official blurb:
Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet—a social media site where users upload cat pictures—a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.
I love this whole book, and I especially love the way it depicts social media and online interactions as both a source of belonging, community, and friendship; and as a potential source of trouble and danger. I also love how it is set in a future that is close enough to our own present day to seem very familiar, yet also includes several believable technological advancements (self driving cars, robot teachers, and - of course - a sentient AI) to feel futuristic.
There's a suspenseful undercurrent in the story from the start that involves Steph's dad and the reason why her mom first ran away from him, and the last third of the book ramps up the tension until the final chapters become a flat-out fantastic, riveting thrill-ride. The ending also very neatly sets up a sequel (can't wait for that!).
Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful week!