Turns out I loved short stories and I spend 23 years of my life having no bloody idea!
Last year I picked up my first anthology Because You Love to Hate Me. I flew through it and absolutely love so many of the stories that I wondered why I had never read an anthology before. I guess I didn’t really know they were much of a thing until I was properly in the book community.
Now I’m drawn to any anthology that has just one of my fave authors writing for it. I’ve still not read loads of anthologies but I’m actively trying to read more.
It’s such a great way to find new authors and maybe even genres you would normally go for.
I also found out I enjoy a good short story thanks to reading Every Heart a Doorway. I’ve found lately that I struggle with books that are a bit longer. I don’t know if it’s just that my attention problems are getting worse or if it’s that I’m picking up long books that could have used a bit more cutting down before being published. Either way, I’m finding myself drawn to shorter books. And I am yet to be disappointed.
This week, I’ll be yet again bending the rules. I’ll be listing not only my favourite short stories, but I’ll be including the stories in anthologies separately. Does that make sense? You’ll see what I mean once I get into my list I promise!
│The Wayward Children Series│Seanan McGuire│★★★★★│
“She thinks she’s going back. Don’t you, Nancy? You think you’re going to open the right-wrong door and see you stairway to Heaven on the other side, and then it’s one step, two step, how d’you do step, and you’re right back in your story. Crazy girl. Stupid girl. You can’t go back. Once they throw you out, you can’t go back.”
I’m putting these together in one mostly because when I worked out my favourite short stories from anthologies I couldn’t include all of the Wayward Children books without going over 10. Oops.
Despite that, this series is so bloody brilliant. It’s whimsical and diverse while being both fantastically fluffy and deliciously dark at the same time. McGuire is an expert and bringing readers a story with only the most important parts, ensuring you never get bored with the filler that is often found in a lot of books.
│The Radical Element│Jessica Spotswood│★★★★│
I read this anthology as an arc and it was really fun! It’s the second anthology I’ve read and it reminded me that I do need to go out of my way to read more of them. I’m actually currently reading one now, All Out, but I won’t be including those stories as I’m not finished with reading it yet.
“You take that color off this instant,” the costumer said.
“It keeps my lips from disappearing,” Evelyn said.
“I don’t care,” the costumer called across the set. “Wash it off. You look like a Mexican.”
The words cut into Grace like the leather strap of the harness.
Grace is a Mexican girl masquerading as a white girl in Hollywood in order to help support her family. Set in 1923, Glamour is a magical realism story of accepting yourself, not despite the things that make you Other, but because of them.
We get to see what it is like to have to change so much of yourself in attempts to fit into a world that does not accept you, and how draining that can be on a person.
In addition to a Latinx main character, Grace is also queer, has a trans love interest and there is disability rep throughout as well.
I really enjoyed the magical realism of this story and the important messages it put front and centre of the story.
│Better For All The World│Marieke Nijkamp│★★★★★│
Eight judges agreed Carrie Buck’s rights didn’t matter. Eight judges agreed that she wasn’t enough.
Carrie Allen has made her way to Washington, D.C. in 1927 to live with her Aunt Elizabeth to get away from the discrimination she received in her hometown for being different, for being autistic, and to hopefully make it in the male-dominated career of law.
We first meet her during a hearing for Carrie Buck, a real woman in history who had her rights and bodily autonomy taken away by the law, in the name of protecting the population from her ‘undesirable’ traits. She is lawfully sterilized in order to keep her from bearing any more children as she is seen as ‘feeble-minded’.
Carrie is a force to be reckoned with and I pity the person who tries to stand in her way.
I loved reading Carrie’s story and all though Buck’s story was bleak, Carrie Allen’s is optimistic and filled with potential.
│The Belle of the Ball│Sarvenaz Tash│★★★★★│
He was doing the roll call now, looking stern any time he said one of the boys’ names, like he maybe expected them to try something. He seemed to have no such expectation for any of the girls. All we got was a smile dripping with condescension and, occasionally, a nice “Nice to see you again, dear.”
That sealed the deal for me.
What could I say? I got an inexplicable thrill from defying expectations.
Rosemary is funny. She writes small bits for her friend Sandra to perform as distractions of the mundane life they live in Brooklyn, New York in the year 1952. But when Rosemary overhears a neighbour say that women can’t be funny Rosemary is pissed off. However, the same neighbour is also accepting scripts from women for writers of a television program. Rosemary takes it upon herself to prove that women can be funny and she writes an example episode of her favourite show, I Love Lucy.
I loved Rosemary, she was so fun and determined and I loved that the love interest was never an obstacle in the way of Rosemary’s dreams. It was just a funny short story that managed to keep both humour and feminism in one little and impactful package.
│Because You Love to Hate Me│Ameriie│
This anthology is the first one I ever read and I would be lying if I didn’t say the only reason I bought it was because VE. Schwab wrote a story for it.
I love me a good villain. I don’t want those one-dimensional boring as villains that are bad to be bad. No, I want a good damn reason for them being villains. I want a villain who could very easily be our good guy if the story was just told from their point of view. I wanna feel for them, understand how their rationalization works. Give me complex villains or fuck off.
│The Blood of Imuriv│Renée Ahdieh│★★★★★│
“No. But you—you tend to let your emotions rule you. And that serves no one in a place that desperately needs logic and reason. The discussions that take place in the Cacus are often—”
“Enough!” As soon as his anger burst, Rhone tried to take control of it. He refused to prove his younger sister right. “I am not ruled by my emotions.” His words were still clipped.
A peal of laughter resonated throughout the space. “Even now, you are so angry you want to last out at something. I can feel it.”
The Blood of Imuriv follows Rhone who lives in a kingdom (spacedom? I’m pretty sure this was set in space) where the women rule things. While his sister is being primed for leadership, Rhone is bitter and angry.
Rhone was an interesting enough character but I’ve met him before, we all have. Rhone is the epitome of every man who’s ever lived his whole life in the shadow of greater women and is hella bitter about it. I really liked that Ahdieh showed us something we’ve all seen before and put that kind of behaviour and thought under a microscope.
Every woman has been in Rhone’s shoes, sometimes we’re really not even being all that emotional (got to love gaslighting) meanwhile men get to be emotional all the time (yes, anger is an emotion, a pretty strong one at that) and their reason and abilities are never questioned. I loved that Ahdieh took an interaction us women are all used to and reversed the gender roles.
│The Sea Witch│Marissa Meyer│★★★★★│
I feigned indifference, and over time that indifference became a well-crafted shell.
The Sea Witch is what happens when a mermaid decides to murder her love interest and turn back into a Mermaid instead of living out the predetermined happy ending, becoming the Sea Witch we all know and
I really loved The Sea Witch, I thought it was well done. You get to see her before she became the villainess we’ve come to know when she was an outcast and still desperate to feel loved. I felt her anger towards the end of the book and I was rooting for her, even though I knew she was technically the villain. Meyer had made me see her as the victim and that she was just restoring some justice in her world.
│Beautiful Venom│Cindy Pon│★★★★★│
“Beautiful Phoenix doesn’t seem such an appropriate name any longer,” the goddess said. “You will go by Mei Du from now on—Beautiful Venom.”
Saying I enjoyed this story doesn’t feel quite right, maybe that I feel that it is an important story to tell is more appropriate.
We follow Mei Feng as she is set to marry the Emperor, but an alluring stranger comes to tempt her from her purity. She prays to the Goddess of Purity for help with her temptation but it falls on deaf ears.
Pon took the old Greek Myth and turned it on its head giving it a Chinese spin. I loved the fresh take on an old tale so much! My only complaint was that I wanted so much more.
│Death Knell│Victoria Schwab│★★★★★│
“Give her back,” she called, and the words echoed down, down, down into the well, and when they came up again, they were all broken.
Death Knell tells the story of Death who comes in the form of a young boy who wakes at the bottom of a well and must find the person whose life he must reap.
Enter Grace, who is a fiery girl still gripped by grief after losing her mother and fights for more time.
Schwab has this beautiful way of wording things that is just so gorgeous it hurts. Am I being melodramatic? No, absolutely not. The woman can make mud sound beautiful. Mud
On top of her beautiful writing, Schwab has this amazing skill of blurring the lines between hero and villain and Death Knell is a perfect example of that.
Sera watched and watched and watched the warring boys. She devoured them, eyes bright. Hungry. Kareena was sure Sera would hurtle herself into those boys if she could. If only Kareena would let her go, she would join them, become their general.
“Bang, bang, Mama,” Sera says after. “Bang, bang.”
This one might just be my favourite from Because You Love to Hate Me. It was fucking amazing!
Sera follows a girl called Sera (I know such a shock), the poor thing has a mother and sister who are terrified of her. She’s a bit different.
Kareena thought having a second child would be good for Callie, she’d have a lifelong friend. But where Callie is gentle, Sera is dangerously curious and observant and soon it becomes clear that there is something in Sera that has a negative effect on the men around her.
Sera was another ‘villain’ I felt a lot of empathy for. She tries so hard to be good, to suppress the part of herself that her mother and society deem wrong but eventually it wins the battle and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces.
Yoon did a very good job at critiquing society’s perception of how boys vs how girls should be and how dangerous men are capable of being. It was also nice to see a mother being honest about her feelings towards her children and showing how much it affects her having these feelings and thoughts that would make people label her a bad mother if she voiced them out loud. And on top of all that Yoon challenged what it means to be a villain, and how looks can be deceiving.
I really enjoyed this story and I wish Yoon wrote fantasy because I think she’d quickly become a favourite author of mine.
│The Assassin’s Blade│Sarah J. Maas│★★★★│
“If you can learn to endure pain, you can survive anything. Some people learn to embrace it- to love it. Some endure it through drowning it in sorrow, or by making themselves forget. Others turn it into anger.”
I’ve included this one, which is a collection of short stories for the Throne of Glass series, as one because I didn’t really review it and I can’t remember which individual stories were my favourite. It’s worth mentioning though, that this collection is my favourite book of its series. I didn’t care much for any of the other books which is why I DNF’d the series. However, I loved this book.
I think mostly I just loved Sam Cortland.
This series of novellas follows Celaena before the events of the rest of the Throne of Glass series. It takes you on Cleaena’s journey of her first love and heartbreak and it fucking hurt to read because the whole time you know how it ends. You know Sam won’t make it out alive and yet you are still hoping against all odds that Maas will pull some impossible twist just so he survives.
Okay, so I wasn’t going to include any of the short stories in the anthology I’m reading now, All Out but one of them is so fucking good that I couldn’t not mention it!
│Every Shade of Red│Elliot Wake│★★★★★│
This one is a Robin Hood retelling, which is a story that is close to my heart as my drama class in year eleven did our very own retelling where Sherwood was a derelict train station in a rough neighbourhood.
Elliot Wake’s retelling, however, is far better than ours was. For one it is diverse af, while ours was a bunch of white kids with the only diversity being that some of us girls were dressed in drag. Our main character, Will Scarlet, is gay and deaf and in a m/m relationship with Robin Hood, a trans man. We also have an ace secondary character as well as several members of their gang being POC.
It’s everything you could love about an Elliot Wake story; dark and lyrical writing that keeps your heart in your throat until the last second, with characters you want to protect from everything that might harm them. This is one of the very few short stories that left me wanting so much more. A whole book more.
Those are my fave short stories!
I did it, without cheating! Okay maybe I bent the rules a little but I don’t care. I enjoyed making this list and that is all the really matters.
What are your favourite short stories?
What about anthologies??
Which anthologies should I check out?
Because I need more, damn it!