Dangerous Women Part III – Edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Dangerous Women is a collection of fast-paced stories centred around women. They vary in style and quality, and although one (by Melinda Snodgrass) I abandoned, it has also led me to reserve the first of the Desden Files novels to read. The Butcher story was typical, of the collection, a women who against the odds manages to use her wits and femininity to escape from dangerous enemies and end up ahead by the end of the story.

The editors don’t make an entry into this collection, outside a short introduction by Dozois, which I would imagine anyone picking this up for the George R. R. Martin name on the front would find a disappointment. However anyone who remains disappointed as the short stores unpack would be missing in taste. By the end I was only sorry that there were only seven stories, and I’m fairly likely to pick up the other parts of the Dangerous Women series.

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Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood

In an intesting twist on the usual coming-of-age transition, in this collection Atwood tackles reaching widowhood, and other key stages as life comes to an end.

This leads elegantly to anti-heroines, to the righting of wrongs and the acceptance of change. A couple of the stories are intertwined, offering different viewpoints on the same past, and allowing a view of each party’s view, and building up of the detail. Mostly however these are good stand-alone short stories. We are given just enough to tell the tale, in a well-structured satisfying manner.

My favourite was “The Dead Hand Loves You” – about an author who had spent his adult life in the shadow of a cult horror book he’d written as a student. It reflects on decisions taken, and allows closure on lifelong relationships.

I’ve been a bit of an Atwood fan ever since I was recommended A Handmaidens Tale at uni, and also love short stories which can be swallowed in one long gulp, so this collection was definitely one to read.

Knitting Yarns edited by Ann Hood

As well as walking and reading, my main hobbies are fabric crafts: sewing and knitting. I knit whenever I get the chance: on the sofa, on the train, in a corner during my lunch hour and the gradual building up of stitches has gently become how I think about things.

This book was tucked in a corner of the LRB bookshop, an American import without a price in pounds. My aunt, who I was in London with, kindly bought it for me has half of my birthday present (the other half is a book on mathematics which I haven’t yet read).

It is a lovely collection of stories and essays, covering how knitting brings people, mainly women together. From mother-daughter bonding over learning together to a passionate gap year affair. Then there are the serendipitous meetings an conversations, because knitting in public is a way to break down the barriers that stop strangers talking. But mostly it is about how construction of fabric from a ball of string using a pair of sticks is a wonderfully soothing, powerful thing to be able to do.

I did wonder if the non-knitter: Elizabeth Searle’s friend was Suzanne Strempek Shea, as they seemed to describe each other so well, one wanting nothing more than to sit by her knitting friend and watch her produce something from just that ball of string.

My only misgiving about knitting the patterns included is that there are no photos in the book, so no indication as to how they will turn out. But I have Ravelry, so patterns aren’t something I am short of, and photos of the finished projects are never far away

Bitch Lit edited by Maya Chowdhry & Mary Sharratt

Bitch Lit is a collection of stories about female anti-heroes, which was included in a Manchester Geek Girls conference pack. Given this I was hoping for something less romantically-focused than this collection. There were very few stories which would have passed the Bechdel test, and a few of those that did were about lesbian relationships.

For all that though, it was good to have a collection that focussed on the female perspective, and many of the stories were well-written and compelling.

My favourite tale was Forklift Trucks by Michelle Green, which talked to the pettiness of some office environments, and how we all dream of behaving outside the very restricted norms. It also helped that this one didn’t have a strong romantic theme! On reading her mini-bio at the back, I discovered she is local to me, based in Manchester.

Overall, not what I expected from this book, but still a good strong collection.

Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman

I have been dipping in and out of this little selection of well-crafted nightmares for a couple of months. They are all an exploration of the things that lurk in the edge of the psyche, the things that hide in the dark and the myths that might just come to life.

Mostly new material, this is fairytales grown up and given teeth. And there is the obligatory “what happened next” for a character in one of Gaiman’s best loved books: Shadow is still walking the earth. A couple echo through the imagination once the book is closed, and it is possible to see why authors love this form, which allows so much freedom.

The BBC National Short Story Award 2015 (with Book Trust)

I was vaguely aware of these awards, but hadn’t really paid much attention. But it looked like the perfect size for my journey home when I found myself in Birmingham New Street station (now including Foyles) without a single piece of reading material. I am fond of short stories, as is stated in the introduction:

… the art of making the fewest words carry the greatest burden of narrative drive, tension, atmosphere, sentiment, wit, even humour. You can summon an entire world in 8,000 words or fewer, and the pointed brevity of your words will make it resonate in your reader’s mind with a force that is out of all proportion to the slimness of the word-count.

With just five tightly-written stories, exploring key human experiences of death and familial love. I had hear of only 2 of these authors, and had only previously read work by Haddon. From this collection I was very impressed by Jonathan Buckley’s Briar Road, where we explore grief, mysticism and cynicism, and Frances Leviston’s Broderie Anglaise, dealing with a conflicted mother-daughter relationship in adulthood. Both of these were the sorts of story where afterwards it was necessary to rest the book for a while, and let the story echo through my mind for a few minutes. I will be looking out for more of their work in the future.

The remaining stories were also strong, but not to my personal taste. It reminded me that I can’t get on with Hilary Mantel, and the others were just too grim for me. Maybe I just needed something lighter after a long day and an early start!