Butterfly Yellow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

After six years and two months of careful preparation and unspeakable hardships, Hằng finally arrives in Texas in the summer of 1981.

Hằng knows that her baby brother Linh is waiting for her at 405 Mesquite Street in Amarillo, Texas. She knows that once she finds him she can stop planning, stop preparing. Except when Hằng does find 405 Mesquite Street, Linh isn’t the little boy and adoring brother she lost all those years ago. Worse, he may not be the one who needs to be saved anymore.

LeeRoy has one plan for the summer after he graduates high school: he is going to reinvent himself as a cowboy. More importantly, he is going to become a rodeo star. His university professor parents are less than thrilled but they don’t understand that LeeRoy has it all figured out. The first, most vital step is meeting Glenn Ford. Once they get to know each other LeeRoy is sure Ford will be only too eager to share tips with his newest protege.

There’s only one problem. Actually, if he’s being honest, there are a few since LeeRoy doesn’t know much about being a cowboy at all. But he can learn all that. The biggest problem is that he’s just too darned nice. That’s the only explanation for how he gets roped into driving a surly Vietnamese girl all the way to Amarillo to find her brother. LeeRoy tries to argue. After all, he’s a man with things to do. But any argument gets shot down as soon as it hits the air.

Hằng and LeeRoy start as strangers. By the end of the summer these most unlikely friends will both realize that there’s more to life than plans, than goals. And that sometimes the things–the people–you would never imagine can suddenly become as necessary as breathing in Butterfly Yellow (2019) by Thanhha Lai.

Butterfly Yellow is Lai’s debut YA novel. You may already be familiar with her award winning middle grade novels Inside Out & Back Again and Listen, Slowly. The novel alternates between chapters written in close third person following Hằng and LeeRoy’s perspectives.

Although they couldn’t be more different, Hằng and LeeRoy’s stories offer a certain symmetry in Butterfly Yellow. While Hằng has spent six years working towards a reunion with her brother and clings to the past at the cost of all other plans or dreams, LeeRoy imagines a new future where he can become someone else.

Lai uses language–both English and Vietnamese–to great effect throughout the novel creating an utterly unique reading experience complete with sentence trees. While Hằng can understand English when spoken slowly, she quickly realizes she still needs a Vietnamese lens to reframe her new surroundings and begins using phonetic Vietnamese sounds to form her English phrases–words LeeRoy is quick to follow thanks to his ear for language.

LeeRoy, meanwhile, has spent years immersing himself in Texas slang so that even before he could try to walk the walk of a real cowboy he was able to talk to the talk. Although LeeRoy’s meandering speech is filled with colloquialisms Hằng can’t decipher, the sheer volume of words allows her to understand him when other English speakers prove incomprehensible.

The push and pull between Hằng and LeeRoy drives the story as Hằng tries to get closer to her brother and works toward confronting the traumas she’s tried to forget from her journey from Vietnam to Texas and LeeRoy is forced to admit he may not be cowboy material after all.

Both characters struggle with what comes next when they realize that the targets they have been chasing–the benchmarks that would signify success–have changed or may no longer exist at all. Hằng and LeeRoy become unlikely supports for each other as they confront these changes and trade as many moments of comfort as they do barbs in their prickly relationship.

Butterfly Yellow is a gorgeous, evocative story about the people you hold onto at all costs, the choices you make to be your best self even when you aren’t sure who that is, and the resilience you need to build a life when it feels so much easier to choose bitterness or failure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Lovely War by Julie Berry, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, A Step From Heaven by An Na, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Holes by Louis Sachar, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

Estranged: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Estranged by Ethan M. AldridgeWhen he was born, two fairies left their baby to be raised by humans while taking a human child down below–not to raise as their own but to show off at court.

Now, Edmund struggles to hide his changeling status in the World Above especially from his parents and his older sister Alexis. But that’s not easy with fae magic that he hasn’t learned to control. The Childe lives in the World Below where he will never quite belong; his only friend is a wax golem called Whick.

When a sorceress named Hawthorne stages a coup to claim the throne down below, Childe knows that there is only one person who can help: the rightful heir who has been living in the human world.

Childe longs to turn his back on the fae world but he can’t. Edmund wishes he could be a normal human but that’s impossible. These unlikely allies will have to work together to try and reclaim the throne before Hawthorne’s bid for power threatens both of their worlds in Estranged (2018) by Ethan M. Aldridge.

Estranged is Aldridge’s debut graphic novel.

This full-color graphic novel is visually stunning with finely detailed illustrations and a singular vision of the fairy world. While some of the art is static with little movement in the panels, the story itself is dynamic enough to balance that out as the action shifts between the fairy and human worlds. (The gutters between panels are cleverly changed to black when the scenes are down below while traditional white gutters are used in the human world.)

While Childe and Edmund’s story will continue in The Changeling King, this installment has a lot of closure as both boys find their place in the world and learn how to make peace with it.

Estranged is filled with action and adventure as Childe and Edmund reluctantly team up to stop Hawthorne. A powerful story about family–both found and otherwise–and the complicated ties that bind people to each other. Recommended for readers looking for a story with swashbuckling and heart in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerrlizzi,  Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G., Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, Pandora’s Legacy by Kara Leopard, illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews, The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson

Midnight at the Electric: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You become as strong as you have to be.”

cover art for Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn AndersonKansas, 2065: Adri has been handpicked to live on Mars as a Colonist. With just weeks before her launch date, Adri is sent to acquaint herself with the only family she has left–an aging cousin named Lily that she’s never met before. While Adri trains for life on Mars and prepares to leave Earth behind forever she finds an old notebook about a different girl who lived in the house more than a hundred years ago. As she says her goodbyes to everything she’s ever known, can Adri find answers about the girl in the notebook and what happened to her with what little time she has left?

Oklahoma, 1934: Catherine dreams of a life away from the danger and severity of the Dust Bowl. She pines for her family’s farmhand, James, even as she knows must have eyes for someone else. Most of all she yearns for a way to help her younger sister before the dust finally kills her. A midnight exhibition at a strange traveling show called the Electric promises hopes and maybe a cure. When everything goes wrong will Catherine have the courage to leave everything she knows behind to save the person she loves most?

England, 1919: The Great War is over and things should be going back to normal. But Lenore isn’t sure what normal means when her brother died in battle. Desperate for a chance to start again, Lenore plans to sail to America and her childhood friend. In the days leading up to her departure Lenore keeps writing. As more days pass without a reply, Lenore wonders will the friend she remembers be the same one she meets? Will their reunion will be enough to help Lenore remember herself?

Three young women separated by miles and generations, three stories, one shocking moment of connection in Midnight at the Electric (2017) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

Anderson’s latest standalone novel blends romance, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction in three interconnected stories. Adri, Catherine, and Lenore’s stories unfold in alternating parts as their separate paths begin to connect and even intersect.

Adri’s story unfolds in close third person while Catherine story is presented through her diary and Lenore’s through letters she writes to her friend in America. These changing formats offer windows into each girl’s personality. Adri is clinical and detached while she prepares to become a Colonist. Catherine is more conversational and clings to optimism to try and make sense of her bleak possibilities in the Dust Bowl. Lenore is all bravado as she tries to chase away the shadows and grief left in the wake of WWI.

At its core this is a story about leaving. All three heroines are hoping for something more–an adventure, salvation, change–if only they can reach that next destination. But before they can pursue what comes next each girl, in their own way, has to make peace with what came before and let it go.

Midnight at the Electric is a brief book that packs a punch. This character driven story offers poignant vignettes about human connection, loneliness, and perseverance. This book just about broke my heart in half while I was reading it. But then it mended it too. If I had to rank the stories I would say my favorite–and the one at the core of the novel’s overarching plot–is Catherine’s, followed closely by Adri’s, then Lenore’s. While Catherine’s story was the most buoyant and hopeful, Adri’s story and her relationship with Lily just about wrecked me. I cried for the entire final part of the book and I doubt I’m the only one.

Anderson has outdone herself in this beautifully written novel with a clever premise that is truly high concept. Midnight at the Electric is a book about leaving and endings but also about origins and coming home—even if home isn’t the same place as where you started. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Selling Hope by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love Triangles: A Review

cover art for Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love TrianglesEvery reader has an opinion on love triangles. Some avoid them at all costs. Others, including myself, are happy to read them provided they are done well. (You can also check out the defense of love triangles and instalove that I put together on Veronica’s blog for Contemporary Conversations: “Bad” Romance: In Defense of Love Triangles and Insta-Love.)

As a fan of love triangles in a variety of genres, I was excited to check out Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love Triangles (2017) a short story collection edited by Natalie C. Parker. This collection features a variety of authors and offers a fairly inclusive group of voices among the authors and characters. The stories cover a variety of love triangle configurations with male, female, and gender fluid characters of varied sexual orientations. The stories also exhibit a diversity of incomes and lifestyles and cover themes of mental illness as well. (It’s worth noting that physical disabilities are not featured in this collection.) Most importantly, these stories cover a variety of genres spanning the spectrum from straight contemporary to hard sci-fi and high fantasy.

Read more for my short reviews of the individual stories:


Riddles in Mathematics by Katie Cotugno
: Rowena is newly out to her family and friends and still figuring out if she fits into her family the way she did before. She’s also still dealing with a painful and all-encompassing on her brother Steve’s best friend Taylor–the girl everyone is pretty sure Steve is going to marry one day. This story is cute but I never connect with Cotugno’s writing and this story was no exception. Ro’s relationships with Steve and Taylor were sweetly handled and the story resolves neatly if abruptly.

Dread South by Justina Ireland
: This story is set in the same world as Ireland’s forthcoming novel Dread Nation. The story follows white, southern teen Louisa as all hell breaks loose and she is saved repeatedly from zombie hoards by Juliet–a Negro girl trained in combat to protect useless girls like Louisa. The triangle here is interesting and, of course, being from Justina Ireland it offers a smart and incisive look at race relations as well as Louisa’s white privilege. How you feel about this one may depend a lot on how you feel about zombie stories.

Omega Ship by Rae Carson
: A lot of reviewers are citing this story as a standout in the collection and I’m still not sure why. Carson is a very hit or miss author for me. I love her Gold Seer trilogy but The Girl of Fire and Thorns left me cold. I liked this story even less. Eva, Dirk, and Jesse are the last three survivors from Earth. Meant to travel to a new planet on the Omega Ship these three teens were part of a mission to colonize and save humanity. Then the ship crashes and everyone else dies leaving Eva as the only woman capable of saving humanity–provided she wants to spend the rest of her life in an endless cycle of childbirth. It turns out Eva doesn’t want that but you’ll have to read the story to see what she does about it. My biggest issue with the story: the ship’s mission timeline has to be sped up and everything is too heavy. Rather than lose arts and culture the colonists decide to give up clothes.

La Revancha del Tango by Renee Ahdieh
: This story was a bit of a surprise since I know Ahdieh more for her fantasy novels and expected more of the same here. Instead we get a contemporary story about a girl traveling on her own to Buenos Aires the summer before college. Nothing is quite as she expects including the snobby English boy with the terrible beard that she meets at her youth hostel.

Cass, An, and Dra by Natalie C. Parker
: Cass can see into the future whenever she makes a decision. And for as long as she can remember her present and her future have always included An. When Cass looks ahead and sees a future with Dra it shakes everything Cass thought she knew about who she is and who she wants to be with. In addition to have a f/f relationship in the triangle Dra is genderfluid too making this a really nice addition to an already inclusive collection.

Lessons for Beginners by Julie Murphy: Ruby isn’t just a great kisser, she’s a great kissing teacher–something that has led to plenty of business for her and her friend/manager Paul. When Ruby gives lessons to her childhood friend Annie and her boyfriend it sparks new chemistry between the girls. The premise, for me, was totally bizarre here but Murphy’s writing is super cute. I liked the way everything was handled here, so much so that I might be picking up Ramona Blue soon.

Triangle Solo by Garth Nix
: I will read anything that Garth Nix writes and am happy to report that I loved this one just as much as I expected too. Connor and Anwar are both percussionists in the school orchestra. Anwar hates playing the triangle beyond all reason but Connor refuses to play the triangle for Anwar because he wants attractive and charming Anwar to have some things that don’t go his way. When Connor’s childhood friend Kylie shows up back on Mars, Connor is pretty sure she’ll end up dating Anwar. Why wouldn’t she? Which makes Connor even more determined that Anwar will play this next triangle solo–that is until he realizes who is behind this new composition. This was really cute sci-fi that felt like contemporary. I’d expect nothing less from Nix.

Vim and Vigor by Veronica Roth: I can’t confirm but I have a sneaking suspicion that this story is set in the same world that Roth created for her short story in the Summer Days and Summer Nights anthology. Edie is horrified when two boys ask her to prom. After an unexpected reunion with her estranged friend, Kate, Edie uses Kate’s father’s decision making machine to see who she should choose. The answer isn’t entirely what Edie expects. This was a pretty charming story that reminds readers that sometimes the right choice can be no one.

Work in Progress by E.K. Johnston
: I loved this story and honestly, I feel like I could write an entire blog post just about this one story. It’s really nine stories in one about storyteller Alex, quick thinking Tab, and street smart CJ. This is written in second person so the characters are all genderless. In version 1.0 readers get a sci-fi story following three friends trying to survive as mutineers overtake the crew of their space ship. Will they stay together? Will they survive? Choose. 2.0 is contemporary. Three friends at a lake house every summer. Again the same questions. Will they stay together? Should they? Choose. 3.0 is high fantasy. Alex is a knight embarking on a quest with Mage Tab who is chronicling the venture and thief CJ who is there to keep them alive. The three are stronger together. But only if they continue to choose each other. The format and structure here are so clever and inventive. I also appreciated the idea of a love triangle that might be more of a friend triangle. i’d love to hear more about Johnston’s thought process and inspiration and intent for this story. This is the first story in the collection where I said to myself “Wow this should really be a full novel.”

Hurdles by Brandy Colbert
: My main takeaway from this story is that I really need to read some Brandy Colbert novels because this (like every short story I’ve read by her) was excellent. What happens when the thing that makes you YOU stops being the thing you love? A young track star isn’t sure and struggles to balance pressures from her coach father with her own needs and maintaining her relationship with her boyfriend. That all goes out the window when the love of her life comes back from rehab and asks her to run away with him.

The Historian, the Garrison, and the Cantankerous Cat Woman by Lamar Giles: If you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer you are going to love this story. Nothing is quite as it seems here and, honestly, I can’t tell you more without ruining the story’s payoff. This wasn’t a favorite of mine but I definitely enjoyed it enough that I’ll be keeping my out for some of Giles’ novels at the library.

Waiting by Sabaa Tahir
: Another surprise contemporary story from a fantasy author. Ani is waiting to start at Stanford. Waiting to leave her small town. And waiting for her best friend Sam to get out of prison and tell her what that kiss between them meant. While Ani waits she starts an unexpected friendship with Félix–a boy she never thought she could befriend forget possibly care about. Is Félix being there when Ani needs him enough to justify a relationship? Is Sam really worth the wait? You’ll have to read this one to find out. This is the kind of story where I am having as much fun imagining possible outcomes for these characters down the line as I did reading it. Such a pleasant surprise. I don’t think the writing will be in the same style but I’m definitely considering picking up Tahir’s fantasy series now.

Vega by Brenna Yovanoff
: I love everything Yovanoff writes and this was no exception. A love triangle between a girl, a boy, and the city the girl loves—the same one that is slowly killing the boy. This story is evocative and eerie and sizzles as much as Vegas’ summer heat. It was also quite the nailbiter as I worried that Elle might let Vegas’ glitter distract her from Alex. (Don’t worry, all ends as it should. Phew!) This story is easily my favorite of the collection.

A Hundred Thousand Threads by Alaya by Dawn Johnson
: At first I thought this story was a gender-swapped futuristic Zorro. In retrospect I think it’s actually more The Scarlet Pimpernel although maybe they are ultimately the same thing. Either way this story is set in the future in Mexico City with a complicated love triangle between a somewhat clueless boy, a savvy girl, . . . and the girl’s secret identity as a vigilante/spy/hero. Johnson has been hit or miss for me in the past so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this story. It’s a lot of fun and really pushes the limits of what short stories can do. I’ll definitely be giving Johnson’s novels a second chance.

Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton: Gratton’s writing is intense and sexy as Safiya struggles with her desires for both her body double and a strange soldier as well as her duties as the Moon God’s mistress. Being a story from Tessa Gratton this story also has incredibly intricate world building to the point that I was convinced there must be some historical basis to the characters and belief system (there isn’t, the writing is just that good). I once heard author Sarah Rees Brennan talk about how love triangles rarely resolve in favor of Team Naughty Threesome. THIS IS THAT STORY.

Unus, Duo, Tres by Bethany Hagen
: Enoch is sure that he and Casimir can be happy together forever–or as happy as vampires can be. Then a new student discovers the boys together and it changes everything. I like a very specific type of vampire story. This wasn’t that kind of story although it was another interesting spin on the love triangle.

Any anthology runs the risk of being uneven–not every story or author can be for every reader, after all–but I have to say that for the most part Three Sides of a Heart is one of the most solid short story collections I’ve read. A must read for fans of love triangles and an excellent introduction to some the hottest names in YA right now. Recommended.

Fire and Hemlock: A (ReRead) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Polly Whittacker is nineteen and preparing to return to college after visiting her grandmother over break. She has a flatmate, a boyfriend, and all of the other things she would expect as a college student. It’s ordinary but it feels like enough.

That is until Polly stares at the picture that’s hung above her bed for as long as she can remember. Here, now, of course, Polly knows that “Fire and Hemlock” is just a photograph of some hay bails burning with a hemlock plant in the foreground. But when she was younger didn’t the picture used to have figures dancing and racing around the fire?

The more Polly remembers about the painting, the more she realizes that her memories of the past ten years aren’t quite right either. She has the ordinary set, the ones she always thought were true. But if she thinks back far enough and hard enough, Polly starts to remember another set of memories from a very different, very not ordinary life.

It all started nine years ago when Polly accidentally crashed a funeral and met an odd cellist named Thomas Lynn. Her friendship with Mr. Lynn took the form of fantastical letters, exchanged books, and one very odd visit to his flat in London. Those memories are easy to hold onto once they start to come back.

But something else happened the last time they met. Something worse. And now, here, Polly knows that she and Tom are inextricably tied together–maybe as friends and maybe as more. But Polly won’t have the chance to figure any of that out unless she can gather her memories and figure out not just how to get back to Tom but how to save him in Fire and Hemlock (1985) by Diana Wynne Jones.

I originally reviewed Fire and Hemlock in 2007 just a few months after I started blogging when I first read the novel. Even a decade later I still think about Polly and Tom all the time and almost since the moment I finished it, this book has held a place as one of my most favorite books of all time.

I read this book again in 2017 and was thrilled to see that it absolutely stands up to closer readings. If you can, get your hands on the edition I like to above–it has one of the best covers this book has ever gotten, includes an introduction from Garth Nix, and features an essay Jones wrote about writing this novel–something she rarely talked about in interviews.

Fire and Hemlock is a retelling of Tam Lin, a meditation on what it means to be a hero, a sweeping romance, and one of the best fantasies you’ll ever read. I still haven’t read all of Jones’ novels, the thought of running out is a bit too depressing so I try to keep a few in my figurative back pocket. But if you have to pick just one to read, consider starting here.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Entwined by Heather Dixon, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Beauty by Robin McKinley, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Kissing in America: A Review

Kissing in America by Margo RabbEva Roth’s father died two years ago. She tells everyone it was the result of a heart attack because the real answer–that he died in a plane crash–is too sensational and messy. No one asks more questions about a heart attack.

Eva’s father was always the one who understood her, the one she’d sit with and write. In his absence Eva feels more friction than anything else when it comes to her women’s studies professor mother–something her mother suspects is at the root of Eva’s love of romance novels.

When Eva meets Will Freeman it seems like she might have found someone who really understands. Someone who can possibly help her to move past her grief. Until he moves away.

Afraid of losing Will and everything he promises, Eva and her best friend Annie Kim make a plan to travel across the country to find Will again. Along the way Eva and Annie will see unexpected pieces of the country and learn some surprising things about love in Kissing in America (2015) by Margo Rabb.

Kissing in America is Rabb’s followup to her YA debut Cures for Heartbreak. This novel treads similar territory as Eva tries to find her way through grief and her teen years. Although it is often touted as a light romance and a summery read, this story is filled with melancholy and very much mired in Eva’s grief.

Rabb’s writing remains superlative and evocative. Eva’s love of poetry also plays out in the novel with references to and poems from Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Nikki Giovanni, Marie Howe, and other authors add another layer to this story. While this book is marketed as a romance, it is really Eva’s relationship with her best friend and with her mother that makes Kissing in America shine.

Eva’s mother in an interesting character who is a vocal feminist and a women’s studies professor. She terms Eva’s love of romance novels as a rebellion which never quite rings true as the romance genre is one where women are able to dominate the market and a genre that is often referenced for its feminist elements and even promoting female equality. That this never comes up in the story remains a frustrating omission.

Kissing in America is a thoughtful and witty road trip story about best friends, family, grieving and, of course, love. Recommended for readers looking for a smart read that will have them smiling through the tears.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Black and White by Paul Volponi, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

To Hold the Bridge: A Review

To Hold the Bridge by Garth NixTo Hold the Bridge (2015) by Garth Nix is a collection of some of Nix’s previously published science fiction and fantasy short stories as well as a new Old Kingdom novella. Although To Hold the Bridge collects previously published stories, many of them were new to me and will likely be new to other readers as well. I was especially pleased that some of the stories included were ones not easily found in US editions.

Like most short story collections, this one had its strengths and its weaknesses. Instead of trying to review the entire collection in a few sentences, I decided to give smaller reviews of each story:

To Hold the Bridge: An Old Kingdom Story–Morghan has few prospects when he arrives at The Worshipful Company of the Greenwash Field and Market Bridge. His training as a new cadet is quickly tested when he has to hold the bridge against a necromancer’s Free Magic attack. I’m not sure if this story is circa Clariel, Sabriel, or Abhorsen but I hope we eventually see more of the Bridge and Morghan in a future book.

Vampire Weather–Amos lives in a secluded community that does not hold with modern technology or vaccinations. When Amos meets an alluring girl near the mailbox in the thick fog of vampire weather his life is irrevocably changed. An odd little story. A bit like the movie The Village.

Strange Fishing in the Western Highlands–A strange story about Malcolm MacAndrew’s first encounter with Hellboy (yes, that Hellboy). I love how Dark Horse does such weird things with their properties and it was kind of fun reading a prose story about a character usually seen in comics. I would like to see the anthology where this was originally published just for curiosity’s sake.

Old Friends–This story skewed on the older end (adult character, adult themes as it were) and was excellent. An alien is making a home on the coast of a small town when he realizes his enemies are coming for him. Fantastic narrative voice.

The Quiet Knight–Tony embrace his LARPing character’s heroism to find his voice in the real world. Few things amuse me as much as stories about Live Action Role Playing. This story was a bit short but entertaining.

The Highest Justice–Princess Jess summons Elibet, a unicorn to dispense high justice after her mother the Queen is murdered. Previously seen in Zombies vs. Unicorns. This is a short, dark story.

A Handful of Ashes–Mari and Francesca are students at a private boarding school for witches. Unlike most of the rich students, Mari and Francesca work in the kitchens to afford their tuition. When an old bylaw is established that threatens their position at the school–and the very safety of the school grounds–Mari and Francesca will have to take matters in their own hands to save the day. A delightful story about never accepting your lot and doing your part to make the world better. Possibly my favorite story in the collection. More of these two please!

The Big Question–Full circle story about a young man named Avel who leaves his village seeking wisdom and answers from a wise woman only to realize he doesn’t need to seek answers from someone else. This one was interesting but because the story covers such a large scope of time (most of Avel’s life), it is a bit hard to connect with the characters.

Stop!–Creepy and suspenseful story. When a mysterious figure shows up an atomic bomb test site in the desert he leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. There are hints here that the figure in question is an alien or even a dragon. It’s just really creepy. Trust.

Infestation–Wow. Judas as an alien and first ever vampire hunter. At least that’s my interpretation. I loved this story. It was incredibly cinematic and richly detailed. I would love to see this picked up for television.

The Heart of the City–A rather tedious story set in seventeenth century (or thereabouts) France where agents of the king work to corral and harness a dangerous angel’s power. It doesn’t go according to plan, of course.

Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West–Ambrose is recovering from a wartime (World War I) injury in the English countryside and hoping his days as an agent are far behind him. When supernatural creatures and old colleagues come knocking, Ambrose realizes leaving his past behind may not be an option anymore. It may never have been an option. This story is spooky and excellent. I hope Ambrose survives whatever comes next and I’d love to see more of him.

Holly and Iron–A story that borrows elements from the plot of Robin Hood and King Arthur blended with a world where natural magic and iron magic oppose each other. The world building here is very detailed but the characters felt under-developed in comparison.

The Curious Case of the Moon Dawn Daffodil Murder–A messy, madcap story about Sherlock Holmes’ brother. Not Mycroft. The other one.

An Unwelcome Guest–What happens when a girl runs away from home and decides to move in with the local witch? Nothing good for the witch, that’s for sure. This was a fine reinterpretation of Rapunzel and a well-done fractured fairy tale in the fine tradition of Vivian Vande Velde.

A Sidekick of Mars–Everyone knows about John Carter’s adventures on Mars but now Lam Jones is here to tell you how it really went. He should know having been with John a good eighteen percent of the time. This was a funny story but I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have if I actually knew anything about John Carter.

You Won’t Feel a Thing–Blaaaaaah. This story is set in the world of Shade’s Children but ten years before the events of that book. Shade’s Children is the only book by Garth Nix that I have read that was so horrendously upsetting I couldn’t finish it. This story was about the same.

Peace in Our Time--A very grim and unsatisfying steampunk story. I tend to think of steampunk as a sci-fi subgenre with a generally lighter tone which was not at all true for this story.

Master Haddad’s Holiday–When Haddad is sent on a mission to earn his Master Assassin status, he knows his chances of success are slim. Still, he endeavors to succeed where others would likely fail. This story is set in the same universe as A Confusion of Princes and it is as delightfully high-action as that book.

To Hold the Bridge is a solid anthology although it is not quite as consistent as Nix’s earlier collection Across the Wall.

My favorite stories were definitely “A Handful of Ashes,” “Infestation,” “Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West,” and “Master Haddad’s Holiday.” I could read about those characters all day.

Nix became a favorite author of mine because of his fantasy and the fantasy stories are the strongest ones here. Although not all of the stories were stellar, this collection demonstrates Nix’s range as an author. Recommended for fans of the author, readers who enjoy short stories, and fans of speculative fiction.