Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Julie Larbalestier

Published: 21st September 2010 (print)/21st September 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Margaret K. McElderry Books /Brilliance Audio
Pages: 415/11 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Ellen Grafton, Nick Podehl, and Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Anthology
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

It’s a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths–for good and evil–of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

What started as a discussion on a blog between Black and Larbalestier turned into an anthology where the merits or zombies and unicorns are discussed and explored. Both sides are given weight as the authors explain the good of their own choice and the bad of the other.

I listened to this as an audio and it was an amazing experience. The introduction alone was a delight as a serious, dramatic voice over explains how this anthology came into existence. Before the stories begin each author of the anthology is introduced with their side of the debate and I have no doubt wrote their own introductions because they sound exactly on point for each person. I loved the serious tone the introduction took because while the content was less serious the discussion was Very Important. The author introductions also add why each author likes their chosen subject: Scott Westfield invented the Zombie proof cravat, Kathleen Dewey brought up on a unicorn farm and learnt you can’t trust them, while whose unprecedented career as a land pirate could not have been achieved without her unicorn drawn pirate ship. The sound effects are fantastic and the fact that between each story Black and Larbalestier offer their opinions on the upcoming stories and the previous information provided add some great banter. There was even a sound effect to warn listeners that a story was coming so no unwary zombie fan will start listening to a unicorn story, or vice versa.

Even though Zombies vs Unicorns doesn’t seem like a theme, these authors have interpreted these subjects in incredibly creative ways. What is actually a zombie? What is a unicorn, really? Are they both as innocent or a menacing as we’ve led to believe? There’s stories that take a scientific approach to what constitutes a zombie, as well as the effects of having a unicorn in the modern day. I loved the modern zombie tales and I loved how there were dystopian stories that weren’t horror, but were still wonderfully creepy and zombie suited. The same can be said for the unicorn stories; they are often in the magical realm, though a few are in the real world and seeing the two collide was intriguing.

My favourites had to be Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot, Purity Test by Naomi Novik, and Children of Revolution is such a Maureen Johnson story it’s hard not to delight in reading it. From the start I assumed I would be Team Unicorn because I have never quite enjoyed zombie stories but after seeing the unique ways that these authors have interpreted the concept, I am coming around. Looking from a stats perspective based on the stories I enjoyed and ones I didn’t, I am in a stalemate. I enjoyed four unicorn stories, four zombie stories, didn’t enjoy three and one I was undecided about. Where does that leave me? The ones I didn’t like were two zombie stories and one unicorn story. Does that make anything more solid? I really don’t know.

You can purchase Zombies vs. Unicorns via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

Lashings of Sauce edited by UK Meet Acquisitions Team

Published: 1st July 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
JMS Books LLC
Pages: 270
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology
★   ★ – 2 Stars

We Brits love our sauce, whether it’s what we lash on our food, read on our seaside postcards, or write in our stories. Come and enjoy a buffet of tasty LGBTQ treats!

From marriages to reunions, via practical jokes and football matches, to weresloths and possibly the oddest Tarts and Vicars party in the world, join us as we celebrate the UK Meet in the best way we know: telling the story.

As a follow-up to the critically acclaimed British Flash and Tea and Crumpet anthologies, our talented writers bring you sixteen stories about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer characters enjoying what Britain and mainland Europe have to offer, with their wonderfully diverse range of cultures and landscapes and some incredibly colourful and quirky people.

The most important thing I think any anthology needs is a strong opening story, one that will hook the reader and want them to keep going. I was curious about Post Mortem, the opening story, but it really doesn’t give you anything to grab your attention. It was unengaging and it was only my hope that there were other better stories did I keep reading. It was only by a slim chance did I actually keep going because so many times I was prepared to add this to my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile. My DNF pile is small but I was getting the same feeling from the first half of this anthology that I have had with books before. The fact I told myself that I may be missing out on other good stories kept me going, I was eventually rewarded but it was a long road.

The theme of this anthology is a little vague. The introduction states it is to show off how great the LGBTQIA community have it in Britain and in Europe. It was published in 2012 when Britain was on its high from the Olympics and the Queen had her Diamond Jubilee. None of these events are mentioned in the story but 2012 was also the 3rd annual meeting of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet and to celebrate this anthology was created. The idea is sweet enough, a chance to celebrate the good times of being part of the community in Britain at the time and this is reflected in the stories in as much as they are nice stories, things aren’t complicated, there’s no altercations or conflict that I could tell due to a character’s sexuality or gender.

There are multiple trans stories, gay and lesbian romances, as well as a BDSM story. Content warning wise not every story involves sex but some do which are described in detail though not graphic or overly explicit. In a way they are the good examples of stories; the LGBTQ characters aren’t there as a plot point, nothing really centres around their sexuality, it is just a part of the overall story because it affects who they interact with and how. It isn’t an issue of contention or a problem which was refreshing.

Having said that, only half of these stories were actually interesting. Maybe even less. Many were half and half, some parts were interesting but within the same story I was bored to pieces. There were a few exceptions that only barely made the mark: Vidi Velo Vici was good, basic but had a good ending. The better ones were Dressing Down and Zones for the humour and the heart and for something like Zones it is a great story about discovery and acceptance which is subtle, but certainly there. Lost in London was another rare gem as was My Husband and Social Whirl. The rest I was not interested in, and to only have six out of sixteen stories grab my attention, it doesn’t say much about an anthology I was rally expecting more from.

The genres range from contemporary to the paranormal and magical. I found I couldn’t engage with the paranormal as much, I preferred those in modern settings. The genders and sexualities present was a great diversity and something I was impressed with. As I say, without a theme as such, the general acceptance of LGBTQ people in Britain was a great starting point because it normalised these occurrences and while it was a theme, it also showed how to make gender and sexuality naturally part of a story and not only there to be a plot point in itself.

Honestly the second half is better than the first, I am glad I persevered because I found the stories in the second half more enjoyable, certainly more diverse. Even for a LGBTQ anthology there are only so many times you can read about gay men before you start wanting to see something different. But even so, to only like six stories, there’s more issues than just that to contend with.

You can purchase Lashings of Sauce via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories edited by Michael Earp

Published: 1st June 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/ Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

I love the titles of Anthologies because it is fascinating to see how a theme or concept is explored through so many different voices and narrative styles. For this one, not only are there queer stories, but these stories embody everything that kindred means and stands for.

These stories are not about finding love, or coming out, they are about finding someone who is like you, who knows you and understands you, if there is romance in there, great. But there are many wonderful stories about kids finding another person who understands them, and someone who, whether they know it consciously or not, are supporting them.

Not all characters in this are teens, a couple characters are in their 30s that I can best estimate, others aren’t specified, but their stories are still valid. There are a range of genres and each author has put up a story that encapsulates the theme. Kindred can mean so many things and seeing how each writer has interpreted this is wonderful.

While these are queer stories, they are also #LoveOzYA as well which showcases the great talent our LGBTQIA YA authors have. There are household names and there are new talents I didn’t know and getting some new names added to my #LoveOzYA repertoire is always a bonus. Some of these stories found their own place with me and I particularly loved Waiting by Jen Wilde. I saw myself in that story and it is proof that these stories are for everyone to enjoy.

The range of genres and representation was incredible. There’s representation from so many different cultures and voices and shows why representation matters. The tone across the stories were so different, form light hearted to dystopian, with a few futuristic and fantastic thrown in. There are some tough subjects and harsh realities but I found it refreshing because these authors don’t shy away from the realities of the world but they also treat it with a powerful care and respect.

It was a great decision to include Benjamin Law’s story at the end because while it is a story, it also acts like an essay and it is a thought provoking one that (hopefully) makes people question the things that they may do or say around LGBTQIA people.

With any anthology I am always so in awe of how one theme could be interpreted by so many different genres and approaches. It is a fantastic reminder that no matter what circumstance, no matter what reality, there is a commonality between people and the emotions and desires are universal.

You can purchase Kindred: 12 #LoveOzYA Stories via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge

Published: 1st September 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/Non Fiction
★   ★ – 2 Stars

The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world. Inspirational. Affecting.

A perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!

Personal stories by fantastic authors such as Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty, Shaun Tan, Mal Peet, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Simon French, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Bernard Beckett, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rachael Craw, Sue Lawson, Felicity Castagna, Benjamin Law, Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, James Roy, Alison Croggon, Will Kostakis and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Also features black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan!

I picked up this book because there were stories from authors that I love to read and the premise sounded really interesting. There’s always a risk with anthologies that a reader won’t enjoy all the stories equally and unfortunately this was the case for me. Sometimes it is only a few but I found with this collection I couldn’t engage with a lot of the stories. I wanted to enjoy them, I wanted to read about what books had an impact on these writers but I struggled to get through many of the stories. This may be my own personal issue and perhaps it was because they were personal essays and not fictional stories, but I kept putting the book down and finding reasons to skim.

I shouldn’t be too harsh, there are 32 stories in this anthology and some certainly were engaging; they were humorous and fascinating stories about how a single book, whether it was a massive dislike or a fascination with a concept, changed how the author saw the world and shaped who they wanted to be. Will Kostakis told how his hatred of a set book in primary school inspired him to write his own story, Benjamin Law wrote how he fell in love with Roald Dahl and reading things ten year olds probably shouldn’t be reading, while so many more mentioned that books were their treasures and offered them an escape. There were stories from indigenous authors and how their culture and stories impacted them, and there’s also voices from minorities in Australia who talk about never seeing themselves in books and how the culture of their parents affected the books they were exposed to.

These stories opened my eyes to how different people had access to different books, some read the same books I had read as a kid, and certainly the age ranges between these authors offered a wider range of books again. The reasons how and why these books made an impact were interesting in themselves. I’ve certainly felt this way about books I’ve read. My book was Checkers by John Marsden. I read that when I was in high school and it cemented my decision to want to write so I understand why these essays exist, I only wish I enjoyed more of them.

The format was not only essays, there were lists, comics, dot points, poems, and a few people had more than one book that shaped them. A nice surprise were the Shaun Taun illustrations sprinkled throughout. Tan asked random strangers why they read and seeing the responses sprinkled throughout with an accompanying sketch was an adorable and entertaining way to break up the stories.

Even though it wasn’t my favourite anthology, I still enjoyed seeing how so many books, especially ones I had read myself, had such an impact on these authors. Just shows you the true power of reading and how people can read the same book in so many different ways.

You can purchase The Book that Made Me via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Speaking Out!: An LGBT Anthology edited by Steve Berman

Published: 20th September 2011Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bold Strokes Books
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Speaking Out features stories for and about LGBT and Q teens by fresh voices and noted authors in the field of young adult literature. These are inspiring stories of overcoming adversity (against intolerance and homophobia) and experiencing life after “coming out.” Queer teens need tales of what might happen next in their lives, and editor Steve Berman showcases a diversity of events, challenges, and, especially, triumphs.

This collection of thirteen stories tell a variety of stories from a variety of own voices. These are fictional stories but each author has a small bio at the start of their story which lets you see a little into their lives and their own experience being part of the LGBTQTIA community. These small paragraphs are an extra inspiration for readers who may be experiencing their own hardships and having these authors of all sexualities put their own experiences down are real life references outside of these fictionalised stories. The authors are American but a lot of the stories have a focus on the people rather than setting. There is a lot to gain from reading these stories even if you are from outside the States.

I found myself becoming quite invested in some of these stories. When they ended I wanted to know more, I wanted to see the scene after, the scene where they tell, where they act. I had to remind myself not only are these short stories, but they are short stories that capture the moment of speaking out, the events that lead them to have the confidence to do so. This is a testament to the power of these stories, and certainly some were better than others as all anthology readers will attest to. I found myself enraptured by the strength of these characters against homophobia by friends and family, and the danger that that homophobia can have.

The stand out stories to me were Sparks of Change by Dia Pannes which was a powerful read about family and changing the small mindedness of small towns; another one was the beautiful and mystical imagery of Steve Berman’s Only Lost Boys Are Found. One story I particularly adored was Forever is Composed of Nows by Will Ludwigsen; a story about returning back to the place where you had bullying and trauma as a teen, only to return as an adult. It was incredibly well done and insightful to read.

As I said, there are a range of identities and sexualities represented in this anthology and each one is explored in so many different ways. Seeing these characters discover who they are, who they are publically prepared to be was uplifting and something I can imagine teens and young readers would find not only empowering but comforting. Personal stories and essays about experiences by the LGBTQIA are important literature to have, but having fictional worlds to escape to and relate to are also important. This is a great collection of stories and one I found an absolute delight to fall into.

You can purchase Speaking Out! via the following

Book DepositoryDymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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