Short Stories and Sci-fi – Stepping out of my comfort zone (and a book review!)

So, my first grown-up book of 2019 was Nomad of the Emirates by E.B. Dawson (I mentioned this in a previous post).


This book was fantastic, and reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which I read last year at the recommendation of author Thomas Fenske. As in The Left Hand of Darkness, Nomad of the Emirates features a lone human emissary to an alien planet and follows the human’s interactions with and efforts to survive in the entirely foreign environment. Nomad of the Emirates tackles issues of race, culture, and class with a depth and emotionality that is impressive in such a short story, and these are the issues, I think, that will resonate with a wide audience. Jessica, the protagonist of the story, I believe, will also strike a chord with many people. What really blows me away is the Dawson’s worldbuilding. I feel like I understand the fictional world of Dawson’s The Emirates as well as, if not better than, Le Guin’s Winter, which is an impressive feat for such a short work. (There’s your bonus book review!)


Now, about that comfort zone…

One author who asked me for a review described my reading style as “hard to pin down,” which I think is a pretty apt description; I read a lot, from all different genres. That being said, short stories and science fiction are things I’ve only recently begun to seek out. I started picking up short stories in 2017, and continued to do so in 2018. It’s a form of writing that I just didn’t even really think about. I’ve read quite a few now, though, including some collections, and I find the format intriguing, if a little broad. Let’s look at a dictionary definition of “short story”:

(n) an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot (Merriam Webster)

“Shorter than a novel.” That explains how some I’ve read are two pages long, and some are much, much longer. I do find it interesting, though, to think about the intention as described in the definition. It’s something I’d like to reflect more upon as I read more short stories…

My adventures into science fiction sort of happened by chance, and while I’ve enjoyed the works I’ve read I’m not sure it’s a genre I’ll seek out for its own sake. My big sci-fi read of 2018 was The Left Hand of Darkness, which is described on Goodreads as “a groundbreaking work of science fiction.” I picked this up after the death of Ursula Le Guin in 2018, of whom I had sadly just become aware; Nomad of the Emirates is my most recent sci fi read, and I think the last time I read sci-fi was when I read Ender’s Game over a decade ago. Left Hand and Nomad were both good books, but each makes me want to read more from the author rather than more of the genre per se. I’m open to persuasion, though, if you all have any suggestions!

I think by last count I have over 60 unread books on my Kindle (yikes!), but I’m always open to recommendations. What short stories do you love? What books made you fall in love with science fiction? Share in the comments!


Book Review: Heaven Shining Through

39704566Heaven Shining Through is a short, novella-length book written by Joe Siccardi. It tells the story of Samantha’s life in the context of a journey home to visit with her mother, with whom she has always had a rocky relationship. It is fundamentally a Christian story — it is a story of Samantha and her faith journey throughout her life and, ultimately, her ability to see “heaven shining through.”

It’s a quick read but a powerful Christian witness to dealing with life, love, loss, and forgiveness. I liked how the author was able to integrate so many elements of real life – difficult family dynamics, the waning and then revival of faith, coping with tragic loss – into a story that makes life seem blessed despite (or maybe even because of!) the difficulties encountered throughout.

There was one little aspect that I didn’t love: I sensed a little anti-Catholic sentiment in Samantha’s journey. She is raised Catholic but joins a different church when she returns to faith as an adult, where she finds the community she’s been seeking. I’ll be the first to say that Catholic churches are typically not warm and fuzzy kinds of places, and I think, unfortunately, that Samantha’s experience is reflective of what so many fallen-away Catholics have experienced. It only made me a little sad because I felt, as a Catholic, that it missed the beauty of the Catholic faith. (I know – this sounds crazy to a lot of readers given what we are all bombarded with in the news right now re: the Catholic Church. Believe me – I’m struggling with it. But the presence of Evil does not negate the presence of Christ, and that’s what I’m holding on to.)

The book, as a Christian witness, serves its purpose well! As a stand-alone book I would’ve liked to see more – due to it’s short format, there’s a lot that feels glossed over; I think the book has the potential to be a full-length novel and engage the reader on a deeper level. Some of the most beautiful writing in the book is actually in the dedication, where we see Siccardi’s love for his late wife shine. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to read this book (thank you, Joe, for contacting me and offering a review copy!), and I wish Joe all the best in his ministry.

3 stars!

Book Review: Twenty-One Trees by Linda Cousine

30331041I honestly can’t remember how I acquired Twenty-One Trees by Linda Cousine, but I do remember devouring it pretty quickly! I think it was another I “bought for free” on Amazon after seeing it advertised on Twitter. I have a book-hoarding problem, and I know it. At least e-books don’t take up space in my house…the books are getting displaced by children!

In any case, it’s a story of a husband and wife, Birdy (James) and Savannah Johnson and the path their lives and the lives of their four children take after Savannah ends up with dissociative amnesia; her memory of the past seven years–their entire marriage–is completely gone, and the last she remembers is being a rich beauty-pageant star engaged to her high-school boyfriend. She has no recollection of marrying Birdy, of having had their four children, or that they were quite poor.

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t particularly care for Savannah. I found her spoiled and selfish and sometimes just downright mean. As the story unfolds, however, I gained a respect for her efforts to embrace motherhood and a greater empathy as more is revealed about her past; I certainly can understand her battles with post-partum depression. Birdy is an admirable character and so often I thought that Savannah didn’t deserve his love and devotion.

It becomes clear, however, that they are both broken people (who isn’t, really?), doing their best to live life while accounting for the burdens of their pasts. Ultimately the book is a story of love and life; of how adulthood brings unforeseen challenges in life; of how important personal growth and emotional well-being are for the health and strength of a marital relationship. It’s not a “light” romance by any means, but I would definitely call it a realistic love story.

The story is well-crafted and I was very invested in the outcome, despite my dislike for Savannah. Overall, I’d say I liked it, not loved it, but it’s worth a read if you’re up for something that’s often emotionally heavy but speaks to the power of enduring love. I’d also be up for reading another of Linda’s books in the future!

4 stars!