The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Published:  26th September 2017Goodreads badge
Illustrator: Sarah Kipin
Pages: 281
Genre: Young Adult/Short stories
Format: Paperback
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

Things to love about this book: fantastic fairytales, beautiful illustrations.

This collection of stories was a divine read. I definitely loved some of these more than others, which sounds like I hated some, but I didn’t. I just adored some A LOT. There is great diversity in the style of stories and the surprises are brilliant and are incredibly clever.

The fairytales have the timeless era setting which makes them everlasting. There are sneaky characters and innocent victims, but there are wonderful tricksters with ulterior motives and who buck against their expectations.

Bardugo abides by the rule of three when it comes to fairytales. It’s great to see that fairytales are not just old tales we’ve retained or reimagined, they can be new stories as well. I love that fairytales keep being created, they are not a long ago genre we must be satisfied with only retelling the ones we already know. These new fairy tales are beautifully written and beautifully illustrated which makes them even more magical.

One thing that must be mentioned as many times as possible is the beautiful designs that border the pages. They creep their way around the pages as the stories unfold, adding an extra dark and sinister layer as they go. Perfect in their revelations and their foreboding.

If you love fairytales you will love this. It was dark and sinister, and all the creepy, unexplained magical things of the original fairytales. This is set within the Grishaverse of Bardugo’s other books but there is no need to have read them before starting this as it makes no difference if you’re coming in blind.

You can purchase The Language of Thorns via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Talking Heads with Fiona McFarlane

Fiona McFarlane (Photo credit: Andy Barclay)Last week I attended a book event in Sydney for Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest and the new collection of short stories, The High Places. Held in Newtown library the event was small but inviting with a lovely selection of wine and cheese nibblies upon arrival.

The Night Guest has been on my TBR list since its release and I finished (and started to be honest) The High Places on the train. I’d planned to read them both beforehand by my online order didn’t arrive in time so it was a scramble to get a copy. Luckily I was able to purchase a copy of The Night Guest on the night from booksellers Better Read Than Dead.

There was a small crowd who gathered upstairs in library, perhaps 10 people, but they were all eager to listen to Fiona talk about writing and her new book. Fiona spoke about how she’d always written fiction and her time growing up in Newtown had helped inspire some of her stories. She said that making stories out of the things she saw and experienced was natural, an example being the skydivers who are mentioned in one of her short stories, were based on the skydivers she used to see landing nearby her house. She mentioned of course many of these things can be easily speculated after the story has been written, she wasn’t too conscious of it at the time.

After reading part of one of her short stories, she provided insight into a few references and the history to her ideas. She told us it surprised her when she noticed all her stories had histories. Fiona mentioned the trouble she had writing fiction after her PhD and decided she would read great sentences instead because her brain couldn’t handle creating great sentences at the time.

Another thing Fiona discussed was the commentary people provide about being a short story writer versus a novelist. She said people think that writing a novel takes much longer, thereby making short story writing easy, but Fiona disagreed and said short story writing can be intense, some of those in The High Places had taken her ten years to complete. Comparing that to The Night Guest, from first draft to publication it only took four and a half years.

She mentioned that what’s good about short stories is that they’re patient, they wait for you in a way a novel doesn’t, novels need to be written in one go while the world of the short story is easier to step back into. Another thing I liked was that she pointed out that no one asks why someone chose to write a novel, but always ask why someone writes short stories, as if a novel is a normal thing to write. But as Fiona said, “it is no way normal or sensible to write a novel” and why would anyone spend their time to write something that is 20 times longer?

Fiona had great things to say about the short story: “[They] can be anything but small; they’re compact explosive charges with the makings of existences.” She also said it was a bad idea to think of short stories as less than a novel. In fact, The Night Guest started a short story but Fiona soon realised it was bigger and had to face that it was turning into a novel whether she liked it or not.

Speaking about her new collection, The High Places, she said while there are no mountains in the book, the high places make you think of the low places as well. The joy of short stories she concluded was that short stories can play with scale; it forces you to face the large compressed into the small, which is something I love most about short stories and something The High Places does very well.

Two for the Holidays by Ekta Garg

Published: 15th December 2015Goodreads badge
 Prairie Sky Publishing
Pages: 130
Format: ebook
Genre: short stories
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

A medium gets ready for one of the biggest days in her career speaking to the dead. An elf accepts an unusual assignment and faces his past. Two stories about people tied to holiday-themed professions. Two stories about the reality of life’s hardships in the last quarter of the year. Two stories for the holidays. 

The first story, “Take A Breath”: Marisa Bellini has travelled to a tiny town on Halloween to help people contact the dead. She’s built an empire on the idea that she can talk to ghosts…but can she really? Sometimes even Marisa isn’t sure.

The second story, “The Truth About Elves”: Curtis, an elf, sets the record straight. No, elves don’t have pointy ears, they aren’t three feet tall, and they don’t live at the North Pole all year long. When Curtis gets a special assignment from the big man himself, though, he learns that Christmas magic has the power to transform everything he’s known for the last decade.

Come spend the holidays with Marisa and Curtis, and join the Stories in Pairs journey!

 Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This is the fifth Stories in Pairs set by Garg, and once again two unique stories are presented with a common theme connecting them. As the title suggests Two for the Holidays revolves around the holidays, Halloween and Christmas respectively, and through her characters Garg explores the personal trials and hardships faced during this time.

Each story was interesting and tugged at your curiosity for where it was heading. There are hints at what is hidden and with characters skirting around issues means you are often guessing and trying to work out what has actually happened, but this is intertwined with magic and mystery and other plot elements that keep each story flowing. At times there didn’t seem to be a clear direction, and the hints and things unspoken often made it perplexing, but as the pieces fell into place they offered a revelation that brought each story home.

The first story follows medium Marisa as she puts on a show for a small town during Halloween. While an interesting behind the scenes is depicted of the practice, there is also an ongoing uncertainty about what is real and what is fake. Marisa’s story was interesting because Garg alludes to some things and discredits others, leaving you not entirely sure what is real and what isn’t. What’s unexplained doesn’t leave a cliff hanger exactly, but leaves you intrigued all the same.

The second story I felt explored the themes much better, but it also had a lot to wrap your head around and focus on. Curtis’ story offers a creative approach to Santa and the Christmas season and after you get used to the style and the voice, the story is quite interesting, and certainly creative. Garg alternates between first and third person and there is a lot more not being said and yet continually hinted at. Through this you can piece together snippets of Curtis’ life and as more is revealed the story falls into place nicely.

Overall this pair of stories was not as captivating as Garg’s previous sets, but knowing the message she was trying to tell it is evident she achieved that. The gradual revelations and slow reveals work in building anticipation and curiosity, and the exploration of the anguish and emotional nature of the holidays is certainly clear. Each character struggles with hardships in their life and the unique and creative approaches Garg has taken allows a new look at how loss affects people during the holidays and how it can affect every aspect of their lives.

You can purchase Two for the Holidays via the following




Save Me, San Francisco by Kate Padilla

Published: 16th September 2014Goodreads badge
 Amazon Kindle Digital Publishing
Pages: 210
Format: ebook
Genre: Short stories
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Save Me, San Francisco is a collection of thirty short stories inspired by the music of Train.


Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

Creating stories from songs is one of my favourite writing ideas and one I have tried to replicate a few times myself. Padilla has developed this collection using the works of the band Train and turned their music and lyrics into a wonderful set of stories.

There are thirty stories in total, each of varying lengths, some are snippets, some have more complexity, but nevertheless all are enjoyable. Having never listened to that many Train songs I was not familiar with the majority of songs the stories were based on, but Padilla has created stories that are creative, interesting, and well told that are separate in a way from the songs they originate from.

With so many short stories in this collection they cover a range of topics and are filled with a diverse selection of characters and narrators. The characters are troubled and lost, people who want more from their lives, and who are just trying to cope the best way they know how. The feelings and desires are clear and Padilla brings these feelings to light in each story.

Padilla includes the song title and album name with each corresponding story, and does an excellent job crediting the writers as well. If you are familiar with the songs of Train then these stories may have an air of familiarity to them in terms of theme or narrative, but not knowing the songs are no hindrance and doesn’t limit the enjoyment. Padilla does not write as if she has simply expanded on the song lyrics, she has expanded on the themes and ideas, and the feelings that these song represent and she has done so rather well.

You can purchase Save Me, San Francisco via the following