Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All by M.T. Anderson, Jennifer Donnelly, et al.

This luscious collection of short stories that chronicles the dramatic, sometimes abbreviated lives of the famous medieval English king’s doomed brides is a delicious feast of sex, gossip and politics. Authored by some of the most celebrated of YA hist. fic writers, each Queen tells her story in turn (1. Catherine of Aragon=Candace Fleming 2. Anne Boleyn=Stephanie Hemphill 3. Jane Seymour=Lisa Ann Sandell 4. Anna of Cleves=Jennifer Donnelly 5. Catherine Howard=Linda Sue Park 6. Kateryn Parr=Deborah Hopkinson) followed by a short, often arrogant or peevish epitaph penned by Henry himself, as imagined by M.T. Anderson. While the whole royal assemblage is universally strong, the two standouts for me were Donnelly’s smart, blunt Anna of Cleves and Park’s saucy, sexy Catherine Howard. (This probably had as much to do with their exceptional characterizations as it did with the fact that I knew the least about these two cursed queens going in.) Each fascinating story will inform today’s young feminists about medieval Europe’s strict patriarchal society that forced women to scheme, flatter, manipulate and flat-out lie their way into having a say in their own lives.  By turns naughty, bawdy and downright tragic, there’s not a story here that won’t capture the imagination or fire up the blood of any curious reader who turns the pages. And the most satisfying part of all? That despite all his cruel, violent machinations to secure a male heir, Henry’s throne still ends up passing to one of the most successful rulers of all time–his brilliant daughter Elizabeth I.  Because this book is bound to lead you to many more about Henry and his wives, this is a perfect rabbit hole of a novel to throw yourself down this summer!

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

I plucked this delightfully disgusting collection off my shelf to read just in time for Halloween. But before I even launch into the ominous awesomeness of these stories, can we just talk about this amazeballs dedication?

I know! Pretty fantastic, right? I have a feeling that dedication is true for far too many of us. Anyhoo, this is straight up HORROR, so for those of you who just dabble, STOP READING NOW. It just gets bloody after this point. Nova Ren Suma starts us off with a BIRDS inspired tale about a creepy next door neighbor who knows way too much about the neighborhood girls, but soon gets his just desserts in the form of a feathered babe WHO DOESN’T PLAY. Woo. Serious shivers. Then there’s a nice grouping of giant serial killer rabbit (?! don’t ask, just read. Probably the most terrifying & inventive monster of the bunch), sweet but deadly ghost, insane asylum teen sensation singer, backwoods folklore trickster and son of Satan, by the uber talented Carrie Ryan, Cat Winters, Leigh Bardugo, Megan Shepard & Danielle Paige, respectively. More sleepless nights will no doubt be inspired by editor April Genevieve Tucholke‘s I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER’s car accident yarn, Jonathan Maberry‘s outsider zombie fable (winner of best story title=FAT GIRL WITH A KNIFE), Jay Kristoff‘s online predator tale, and Stefan Bachmann‘s DOWNTON ABBY-type murder mystery.  I could continue to curdle your bedtime milk with diabolical descriptions of the equally eerie stories by Marie Lu, McCormick Templeman, A.G. Howard and Kendare Blake (author of the super scary Anna Dressed in Blood books) But why should I when all of you who love blood, gore and creaky doors are already headed to the nearest library, bookstore or e-reader to secure a copy? Horror fans won’t be disappointed, especially when you discover that each story includes the author’s movie, book or song inspiration in tiny upside down print at the end. SO, MORE CREEPY THINGS TO WATCH, READ OR LISTEN TO! Happy Halloween, you’re WELCOME.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Three sisters left alone for three days in a wintery cabin, each visited by a mysterious stranger who lures them into the snow. A beautiful young bride who makes a grisly discovery in the walls of her new husband’s grand house. A jealous man who commits murder in the dark of the forest and then is visited by the victim of his crime. These are a few of the deliciously creepy, folklore-gone-wrong stories written and illustrated by the incredibly talented Emily Carroll.  Mostly inked in red, black and a chilly cobalt blue, these graphic vignettes about love, death and revenge ooze with tension until they quietly detonate, usually in a silent moment of terrifying realization or a shocking splatter of crimson blood. Though I have read through the collection over half a dozen times by now, I just can’t stop poring over the gorgeously gory pages in fear and fascination. This assemblage of gothic-themed dread is a boon to my YA horror peeps who are always looking for a good literary scare, and to any nervous reader who’s ever been convinced that they just missed being snatched on the way back to bed by the something that lives under it. Because as the fanged shadow warns Red Riding Hood at the end of her journey through the forest, “You must travel through these woods again & again…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…but the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.” Here’s hoping that the wolf never gets lucky and you relish these darkly delightful tales as much as I did. Want a taste of Emily Carroll’s disturbing visions? Read this interactive horror story and try not to shiver uncontrollably at the end.

Up All Night edited by Laura Geringer

It’s summer and I’ve been cleaning out bookshelves and I came across this marvelous collection of short stories that had somehow drifted to the back. I’m shocked that I didn’t post about this title before, as it contains narratives by some of my absolute favorite authors, like Libba Bray and Patricia McCormick. I decided to rectify that immediately, since it’s also the perfect season for stories about being up all night. July and August are the months when schedules become fluid and the freedom of the warm weather lures us into all kinds of situations that we’d never even consider during the cold busy school months. In Libba Bray’s “Not Just for Breakfast Anymore,” Maggie and her friends try to forget all their troubles at a Cheap Trick concert, but discover that no amount of booze, drugs and rock and roll will erase the truth of their messy lives. In “Orange Alert” by Patty McCormick, a teen girl sneaks out of her house and practices driving at night in order to escape her lecherous stepdad, finding the strength to defy him on the road. David Levithan imagines a warm Manhattan night where a chorus of teens finally confess how they really feel underneath their carefully constructed public faces, while Sarah Weeks focuses in on an intimate interaction between two brothers over the death of the little brother’s pet mouse in “Superman is Dead.” Rounding out this stellar assortment is a paranormal family drama by Peter Abrahams and a short comic by rockstar graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang. Be sure to check out this awesome anthology as you begin to plan your own summer night excursions!

Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

Blessed Island is a truly stress-free place. There are no cars to pollute the air with smoke and noise, no cell phones to distract people from real connections. It’s so peaceful that reporter Eric Seven just can’t seem to motivate himself to collect the research he needs to write an article about the remote island community and it’s rumored fountain of youth. The villagers are friendly and generous, and there’s always another cup of tea to sip, another delicious meal to eat, another nap to take. Soon he’s been there for several days and it’s getting harder and harder to remember why he came. All he knows is that it had something to do with flowers, and the young woman named Merle. Eric feels certain they’ve met before, although he doesn’t know how since Merle’s never left Blessed Island and he’s never been. Or has he? In seven cleverly intertwined short stories, author Marcus Sedgwick weaves a classic yet wholly original tale of blessings and curses, love and loyalty, bitterness and revenge. Each story is like an interlocking puzzle piece that forms a fascinating picture by the immensely satisfying end. As a reader, I was completely captivated by the storytelling and as a writer, utterly blown away with the razor sharp execution of plot, clues and character. It’s an absolute stunner of a mystery and romance and I will be madly recommending it to everyone I know.

Zombies VS. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Unicorns and zombies battle for supremacy in this ultra cool collection of short stories edited by YA rock stars Black and Larbalestier.  The rival authors engage in a fervent back-and-forth argument before every story, each claiming that her supernatural creature is the more badass of the two. But the spectacular stories the two editors have assembled make it very hard to choose between Team Zombie and Team Unicorn. Among my favorites were Garth Nix’s inspired opener “The Highest Justice,” a medieval tale that includes both a zombie AND a unicorn, Alaya Dawn Johnson’s surprisingly touching zombie romance “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” and Margo Lanagan’s tragic story of an unholy union between unicorn and maiden in “A Thousand Flowers.” Maureen Johnson brings the funny with “The Children of the Revolution,” a story of celebrity zombies that almost made me pee my pants laughing, and Meg Cabot also keeps it light with “Princess Prettypants,” about a rainbow-colored, flower-scented farting unicorn who can also kick butt when necessary. More serious are Carrie Ryan’s, Scott Westerfeld’s and Libba Bray’s darker visions of a future America where frightened and cynical teens must abandon the adult rules of the world before the zombie apocalypse and create their own new societies from scratch. There’s even more, but I leave the rest for you to discover when this unique collection comes galloping/shambling into your local library or bookstore.  And what team am I on? Well, it was hard to decide since many of my fav author peeps swing the other way, but since I am ultimately an optimist and romantic at heart, I could always only be firmly in this camp:

(Sorry, Justine!)

The Poison Eaters and other stories by Holly Black

Master creepologist Holly Black has collected some of her greatest short story hits (and a few new tunes) into a gleefully gruesome mix tape for your reading pleasure. Here you will meet Matilda, “The Coldest Girl in Cold Town,” who runs towards vampires instead of away from them. But when she tries to save her lover from a horrible fate, he betrays her in the coldest way possible. Nikki finds herself in an eating competition with Satan in “Reversal of Fortune,” while Tomasa tries to bargain with an evil elf for her sister’s life in “The Night Market.” There’s a nice ode to librarians and the Dewey Decimal system in “Paper Cuts Scissors” while tailors get props in “The Coat of Stars,” about an NYC costume designer who whips up gorgeous wraps in order to tempt a reluctant faery Queen into returning his kidnapped boyfriend. But my favorites were the ones featuring clever lads fighting their animal natures. In a totally Twilight Zone turn, Black’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” will warn you not to believe everything you read when Alex becomes convinced after reading it in a book that smelling a certain posy will cause his canines to grow. And “The Dog King” is a marvelous medieval tale about a monarch who should’ve kept a tighter rein on his beloved tamed wolf, as the natural predator ends up being much smarter than his scruffy nature would suggest. Then there was the story that brought me to tears—“Virgin” about a lonely homeless boy and his pet unicorn—and the one that left me snickering on the subway—“In Vodka Veritas,” about an “accidental” boarding school orgy. Good stuff, all. Black doesn’t strike a sour note in the bunch. Plus, the small, detailed pen and ink illustrations by Black’s hub Theo add a distinctly melancholic touch. So go ahead drink some Poison—it’s good for you!

You Don’t Even Know Me: Stories and poems about BOYS by Sharon G. Flake

Though I am grateful for many things this Thanksgiving weekend, one item that tops my list is Sharon G. Flake’s new collection of short stories and poems featuring teenage boys and their angst. She is one of the hippest authors for teens around, and a new title from her is ALWAYS cause for celebration. This book is a companion piece to one of her earlier works, Who Am I Without Him? Short stories about girls and the boys in their lives (a title I have successfully shopped to so many teens I’ve lost count), and provides the adolescent 411 from the dudes’ POV. Navigating issues from teen marriage and suicide, to neighborhood politics and hot moms who attract unwanted attention, these guys struggle to make sense of the world around them while trying to solve that most maddening of mysteries—what makes girls tick? Flake also dishes up some hot poetry in this collection, including this excerpt from the title poem, “You Don’t Even Know Me”: You tell me to quit fronting,/ You ask who I think I am,/Pretending/That I’m better than you know I really am./…You know/I’ve been wondering lately,/Trying to figure out just how it could be/That we call each other brother,/And you still don’t know a thing about me/ There’s some surprises here, too. I like all the stories, but my favorite just might be “Fakin’ It,” about a last-chance boy who’s been kicked out of every one of his relatives’ homes and is now about to be kicked out of his aunt’s house, a six million dollar lottery winner. Despite her new money and resources, she still has old-school rules and he still can’t seem to follow them no matter how many chances she gives him. Unusual and unsettling because we like to think money solves everything, I just can’t get that story out of my head. So if you want to be moved to tears, laugh out loud, or be lit up with surprise, then this is YOUR book.

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor, with illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo

Remember your first kiss? While I’m sure it was exhilarating, it was most likely a great deal tamer than the supernatural busses that take center stage in Laini Taylor’s delicious collection of fantasy romances. In “Goblin Fruit,” a lonely girl wishes for love, but finds something else entirely behind a new boy’s perfect lips: “The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood.” Beautiful boy or secret beast? Only a kiss will tell…In “Spicy Little Curses Such as These,” a young WWI solider travels to India to forget the horrors of war and finds his true love. Except, she is under a curse that claims if she speaks, all who hear her will die. Will their first kiss unleash passion or destruction? Finally, a young girl finds her fate tied to that of benevolent demon when she discovers she has unknowingly incubated the love of his immortal life deep within her soul in “Hatchling.” Each story hinges on one fated kiss that holds the power of life and death, love and loss, happiness and despair. All it takes is lips touching three times to produce one dreamy, steamy reading experience. Laini Taylor’s luxuriant writing will transport you to faraway lands where demons frolic, Hell is a place of cleansing and rebirth, and destinies are determined by the whim of cold sorceress queens. Her husband Jim Di Bartolo’s opulent illustrations rendered in black, red and cream are the perfect compliment to Taylor’s plush prose, and are so lovingly detailed you will want to go back and linger over them again and again. Still thinking about your first kiss? Relive the magic, danger and decadence of it all again through the richly realized characters in Taylor’s tantalizing tome.

Sideshow edited by Deborah Noyes

Regular readers of RR know I am big fan of the multi-talented Deborah Noyes and her horror-ific short story collections. In this latest macabre mishmash, Noyes asks authors to turn their attention to that object of endless fascination: the sideshow freak. The resulting ten stories are both striking and spellbinding. Step right up to the striped tent and meet Aimee Bender’s “Bearded Girl” and Cynthia Leitich Smith’s slinky feline shape shifter. Over there beneath the Midway, you’ll find Annette Curtis Klause’s resourceful Egyptian dancer who, despite her maturity, still needs her “Mummy” now and then. Out behind the Big Top, God (yes, THAT one) visits a couple of kids who just lost their dog in David Almond’s dreamy contribution, while Cecil Castellucci’s heroine discovers a distasteful family legacy in “The Bread Box.” There’s also some cool comic shorts, including my favorite story of all, Matt Phelan’s “Jargo!” about the mysterious front end of a fake circus giraffe who was NOT to be messed with. Wacky, weird and sometimes tragic, these stories will stick with you long after you close the garish covers of this compelling and odd compilation. And the only ticket you need to get into Noyes’s freak parade? Why, your library card of course!

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang & Derek Kirk Kim

Dashing young Duncan is either a handsome knight trying to win the heart of a princess by relieving the dreaded Frog King of his head, OR just another downtrodden teen trying to get by in the projects of Oakland, as his depressed mom dates one jerk after another. Greedy Gran’Pa Greenbax is either a latter day Scrooge McDuck-like animated TV star, OR just a little freshwater frog who’s been used and abused by cruel humans. Meek Janet is either a stately Nigerian princess, OR just another cubicle-dwelling office drone. No one is quite who they seem to be in this lushly illustrated, full-color collaboration between two of the best author/illustrators in the comic biz.  But no matter what their circumstances, each character manages to discover hidden stores of bravery, hope and optimism that help clear away the dark clouds of anger, fear and pride. And what is the Eternal Smile? Well, it’s either the face of God or a hole in the ceiling, and the only person who can decide that is YOU, dear reader! Award winning authors and illustrators Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim will both blow and bend your mind with these three quirky, offbeat Twilight Zone-meets-Pushing Daisies short stories about love, life and the power of the imagination. I didn’t even have to get to the last page to know that what I was holding in my hands was pure graphic novel gold.

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

revenge of the nerds
Geeks of the world, rejoice! Several of the best YA authors around have let their freak flags fly in this nerdalicious collection of dork-shorts, and the result is no less than GEEKTASTIC. Are you an astronomy aficionado? A quiz bowl questioner? A crazy ComicCon-er? Perhaps you’re compulsive online gamer, A Rocky Horror crooner, or just simply a Buffy action-figure collector. Whatever brand of freak you are, you will soon recognize yourself and other members of your nerd herd in this outrageously funny and occasionally tragic collection of stories and comics. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci imagine the impossible love between a Jedi and a Klingon in the star-crossed “Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way,” while David Levithan explores quiz bowl backstabbing in “Quiz Bowl Antichrist.” A couple of nerds outsmart their hazers in John Green’s “Freak the Geek,” Cassandra Clare explains what happens when online gamers meet in real life in “I Never,” and Libba Bray will make you cry in “It’s Just a Jump to the Left,” a gorgeously melancholic ode to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and lost innocence. Plus, there’s Lisa Yee’s story of baton-twirling angst, Tracy Lynn’s tale of a cheerleader who finally sees the geek-light, and some totally awesome comic shorts by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O’Malley. Additional nerd-words are penned Scott Westerfeld, M.T. Anderson, Garth Nix, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass and Sara Zarr.  As a proud former show choir nerd and theater geek, I dug each and every one of these original stories and I’m sure you will, too. Because when it’s all said and done, “geek” is just shorthand for being passionate about what you love, be it karate or Klingon.  And who isn’t passionate about something? Jot this one down for next summer’s reading list, as it won’t be beamed down into a library or bookstore near you until August 2009. May the force be with you until then!

Pretty Monsters: stories by Kelly Link

Pretty Monsters
This otherworldly collection of short stories by master fantasist Kelly Link is equal parts whimsy and menace, where dreams and nightmares walk hand in hand, and butterflies turn out to be cockroaches. Walk around in Link’s peculiar world for a while, and you might run into a dead teenage girl at the 7-11 (“The Wrong Grave”), or wind up in another dimension if you open “The Faery Handbag.” In “Magic for Beginners,” you can watch a pirated television show called The Library, where the characters may or may not be real—but only if you can find it, because it’s never on the same channel twice. You can divine your inner goddess in “The Constable of Abal,” conjure your inner werewolf in “Pretty Monsters,” or discover that we are all capable of magic in “The Wizards of Perfil.” You’ll never go camping again after meeting the urban legend-y “Monster,” but may be tempted to believe in aliens after shaking hands with “The Surfer.” You can even try on the evil cousin of Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat in “The Specialist’s Hat.” Each story is as unique as a fingerprint, as surreal as a Salvadore Dali painting, and as unforgettable as your first kiss. Just in time for Halloween, these nine stories, quaintly illustrated by Shaun Tan, are full of tricks AND treats!

Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories edited by Owen King and John McNally (Illustrations by Chris Burnham)

This generous helping of superhero soup will quickly sate the appetites of those of you who continue to crave tales of men (or women) in tights outside of comic books. Going way beyond Superman or Wonder Woman, these superheroes range from the bizarre to the merely banal, each one unique in his or her own quirky way. The opener, “Girl Reporter,” tells how one famous superhero’s initial rough edges were smoothed by his unsung journalist girlfriend, creating the classy crime fighter we know and love today. In “The Quick Stop 5,” several slacker convenience story employees discover they have been granted powers by a particularly aromatic batch of diesel fuel, and become a national brand faster than you can say “Hannah Montana.” I also quite enjoyed the stories of America’s most disgusting superhero, The Silverfish (“Remains of the Night”) and it’s most unusual (“The Meerkat”—I know, I’m still scratching my head over that one, too. But trust me, it works).  And then there’s “The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children,” where one womanizing superhero has left behind all his red-headed airborne offspring to be raised by a forgiving woman of God. In the darker themed “Roe #5,” a woman discovers that her past has come back to haunt her in not-quite human form, and in “Man Oh Man, –It’s Manna Man,” one man uses his powers of persuasion to make crooked television evangelists donate to the needy instead of themselves. But my favorite stories may have been in the last section, “Super Ordinary.” There, David Yoo relates the tale of “The Somewhat Super,” those who have the dubious ability of not having to go to the bathroom (EVER), or the less than impressive power of…static electricity. Kelly Braffet explores what it feels like to have the power of bad luck in “Bad Karma Girl Wins at Bingo,” while Jennifer Weiner tells of the story of a down-and-out writer who suddenly discovers she can speak to dead people—and find missing children. Finally, David Haynes ends the collection with “The Lives of Ordinary Superheroes,” which explains what happens to old superheroes—do they retire, or just fade away? Awesomely illustrated by Chris Burnham, this super-sized collection (22 stories in all) should keep you busy at least until the sequel to Ironman comes out!

Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

red spikesThis third installment of Aussie author Margo Lanagan’s short story collections is just as bizarre and mind-bending as her previous two. My favorites include “A Good Heart,” about a medieval peasant boy who discovers that the girl he loves, a lady above his station, is harboring a dark secret, and “Under Hell, Over Heaven,” which takes place in Purgatory, where some souls try to earn their way into Heaven by forcibly transporting other unfortunate souls to Hell. “Winkie,” in which Lanagan reinterprets the benign Wee Willie Winkie from Mother Goose into a tall, scrawny, child-snatching bogeyman gave me the heebie jeebies, which were soothed away by “A Feather in the Breast of God,” a sweet story that suggests sometimes our pets come back to watch over us after death. Another thing I appreciate about Lanagan’s books is that she always includes notes at the end that let readers know where the inspiration for her weird, wonderful stories comes from. I loved the shout-out she gave to fellow Aussie Garth Nix when she wrote that the title of her last story, “Daughter of the Clay” came from reading about the Clayr in his Abhorson trilogy. If you want to take a short trip to a strange place, then these stories are just the ticket. Don’t forget to go back and check out her first two books, Black Juice (a Printz-honor title) and White Time.