A witches brew indeed

undermy hatTITLE = UNDER MY HAT: TALES FROM THE CAULDRON

AUTHOR = JONATHAN STRAHAN (ed)

GENRE = SHORT STORIES, WITCHES 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8+

If you like witches then you will love this book. Every story is about a witch or wizardly being – some are dark and scary, some are hauntingly beautiful, some are quite funny and clevr as they play on common witch mythology. There are longish stories and there are poems ( Some witches fit the ‘black hat, black cat” mould and some really stretch this image to its limits: so some stories will appeal to younger audiences and some to older readers (“The threefold world” by Ellen Kushner). This is not just a book about magic spells (“Payment Due” by Frances Hardinge and “A Handful of Ashes” by Garth Nix), it is also a book about the magic of life (although you may need the tissues for “Stray Magic” by Diana Peterfreund). Whilst some of the stories hark back to older times, others focus on a more modern wicca experience (“Little Gods” by Holly Black) Some stories are a little spooky and some are unexpectedly warm-hearted and some manage to combine elements of both (“The Witch in the Wood” by Delia Sherman). An absolute favourite is the very clever “The Stone Witch” by the queen of Australian fantasy, Isobelle Carmody.  Fantastic Aussie author Margo Lanagan , provides a suitably weird and thoughtful : “Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow”). The funniest story (in a dry sort of way) continues the wizardly detective work of Jim Butcher’s hero, Harry Dresden  in “B is for Bigfoot).

Basically, there is something in this collection for everyone: whether you are a huge wiutch fan, or even if witches are not reasly your fave .. Dip in a nd out .. choose fave authors or try someone new … that’s the fun  of a collection of stories. And the introduction which sketches in the historical and literary background of witches will delight witch lovers and intrigue those new to (or less enthusiastic about) witches. Plus bios of authors at the end are very readable and add to the overall enjoyment of this book.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A wonderfully varied mix of Steampunk stories

steampunk anthologyTITLE = STEAMPUNK: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

EDITORS = KELLY LINK & GAVIN J. GRANT

GENRE = STEAMPUNK, SHORT STORIES

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 – 10

This collection of short stories certainly lives up to its title … being rich in variety, sometimes strange and always fantastical! Lovers of steampunk will revel in the excitement of seeing this genre push the boundaries of its usual time period and setting. For there are stories here where steampunk visits Ancient Rome (thanks to MT Anderson), the Wild West (Libba Bray) and colonial Australia (Kathleen Jennings). There are stories of romance (however twisted) from Cassandra Clare and Holly Black .. where robotic servants take on a whole new purpose! There are the entertaining adventures of Steam Girl and Rocket Boy (from Dylan Horrocks) which reveal that real life can be dreadfully boring by comparison! Some stories are even in comic-book format (Kathleen Jennings and Shawn Cheng). Some of the authors are likely to be well known to readers (Garth Nix, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare and Holly Black) and some will be new finds, which is just the sort of delight that one hopes will happen when picking up a collection of writing. Biographical details about each of the writers at the end of the collection will enable readers to extend their reading, too.

So whether you dip in and out of the collection, whether you are familiar to Steampunk or new to its delights, this is a collection well worth exploring.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An intriguing, and at times wry, set of gaslamp short stories

TITLE = WILFUL IMPROPRIETY

EDITOR = EKATERINA SEDIA

GENRE = VICTORIAN AGE, MAGIC, GASLAMP FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

As Scott Westerfeld explains in his foreword, the Victorian era was an intriguing mix of decorum and chaos; decorum was evident in the strict social mores of the time whilst the development of the steam engine meant that the social barriers of the times were constantly being threatened. This wonderful collection of stories plays on this contrast. Many of the characters take a leaf from Shakespeare’s plays and have their heroes/heroines use cross-dressing camouflage  to explore the times (“At Will by Leanne Renee Hieber and “Resurrection” by Tiffany Trent are two fine examples). Popular NZ author, Karen Healey,   introduces a touch of magic to spice up the romance in “Mrs Beeton’s Book of Magikal Management”. Whilst others explore the romance and propriety of the Social Season in “The Language of Flowers” (Caroline Stevermer) and “”The Dancing Master” (Genevieve Valentine). This is a book to be dipped into with great pleasure to see how other young folk rebelled against the strictures of their times … to follow their hearts or simply to survive a Season.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****