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The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013
Michele Jaffe
Lindsay Smith
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Elizabeth Wein
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Shards and Ashes

Shards and Ashes - Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, Melissa Marr, Carrie Ryan, Veronica Roth, Nancy Holder, Rachel Caine, Beth Revis, Kelley Armstrong This review and others are posted at Read, Rinse, Repeat.

Each story in this anthology is around 30-40 pages. I'll provide a synopsis, mini-review, and rating for each story. I'll also provide an overall rating for the book as a whole at the bottom of page.

Hearken by Veronica Roth: Hearken features Darya, a musical prodigy, and her older sister, Khali. While there is some competitiveness between the two, we feel the bond between them very quickly, and the two share some tender moments. These prodigies are called Hearkeners, and once identified, they are fitted with a brain implant that allows them to hear "life songs" or "death songs," musical tones emitted by humans depending on the condition of their health. Darya explains her choice: “Life's something we already understand. Death is a mystery.” Not a whole lot happens in the story, but the writing has a magical, ethereal quality that matches the subject matter. I'm sure it's difficult to depict music through writing, but here Roth does it here in a very pretty way.
3 stars

Branded by Kelley Armstrong: We get a quick explanation of the state of the world in Rayne's history class, and it's not pretty. Supernatural beings (not the nice kind - they have a taste for human flesh) decided it was time to take over the world. The battle resulted in natural disasters including earthquakes and tsunamis, and human survivors fled to fortresses. Anyone found inside the fortress with “hybrid” blood was executed or tossed outside the fortress to a likely death. Outside the fortress, in addition to the hybrids, are refugees who are desperate to reach sanctuary and savage humans who are best avoided. When Braeden's identity as a werewolf is uncovered, he is cast out, and Rayne leaves the safety of the fortress to save him. This story vividly depicts the frightening hybrids and the desperation and fear of those outside the fortress.
3.5 stars

Necklace of Raindrops by Margaret Stohl: Eh...All I'll say about this story is that it had a dreamy, light tone. That might sound great, but the result was that it drifted right past me without catching my attention.
No rating

Dogsbody by Rachel Caine: “You. Your number is up.” That doesn't sound good, does it? Well, maybe it does if you're standing at the deli counter, waiting on some tasty Boar's Head honey turkey. But if you live in an overpopulated, under-resourced society that solves its problems by randomly killing its citizens, then having your number called is not exactly desirable.

And about the title...I wondered what “dogsbody” meant before reading this novella. Maybe this was a story about half-human, half-canine hybrids? As fascinating as THAT concept sounds, in this case, dogsbody is the term for the people on the lowest end of the totem pole in this dystopian society. There is a good deal of violence and double- and triple-crossing and action galore, but the story never fully drew me in. Terrible things were happening on the page, but I never felt empathy for the characters.
3 stars

Pale Rider by Nancy Holder: I realized while reading this story how much I enjoy the scenes in post-apocalyptic books and films where characters are scavenging for basic supplies. It makes me realize how relatively easy we have it in this country. Speculating what would happen if our resources were suddenly scarce or disappeared altogether is fascinating to me. This is one of the reasons why I loved The Road (both the book and the film) so much. So, despite a writing style that was noticeably more “juvenile” than the other stories, I was prepared to enjoy Pale Rider until it suddenly morphed into supernatural territory. And when a fantasy element was introduced, it just seemed like there was too much going in this short story, and I think Holder bit off more than she could chew.
2 stars

Corpse Eaters by Melissa Marr: With an alcoholic father, Harmony doesn't have it easy. But that's not the worst of it, because the world has been taken over by the devotees of a reptilian god named Nidhogg, a proponent of human sacrifices. These devotees seek out sick humans to sate their hunger. Harmony and Chris are part of a resistance movement attempting to destroy Nidhogg and his followers. The story has a nice level of gruesomeness and a surprising final twist.
3.5 stars

Burn 3 by Kami Garcia: An environmental catastrophe, now referred to as the Burn, polluted the water and destroyed most of the Earth's ozone. Survivors live in domed societies for protection from the deadly sun. Phoenix is the caretaker for her younger sister, Sky, and when Sky disappears, Phoenix heads to an underground system of laboratories to search for her. Can anything pleasant EVER occur in an underground lab? Certainly not here. Here's a hint: In a world...where exposure to the sun can be fatal... (said in my best sinister movie preview voice), what is one of the most valuable commodities? You can read this story for the answer, or you can just take my word that this is fairly ho-hum. It started off with some excitement but ended with little more than a whimper.
2.5 stars

Love is a Choice by Beth Revis: The spaceship, Godspeed, is bringing its citizens to a new planet. Most of the people onboard drink water drugged with chemicals designed to keep them subservient, with the only antidote being a prized pill which must be taken daily. The pills are dispensed to only the most valuable workers, but Orion obtained a supply from his late father. When his supply runs low, he seeks assistance from Mag, a non-drugged employee who agrees to steal pills for Orion and provide him with a safe place to hide out from the evil ruler, Eldest.

Orion's natural instinct is to rebel against oppression, but he asks himself, “Should I risk everything – even the lives of everyone on board this ship – for what I think is right?” He debates with Mag not only whether they should revolt, but how. And it goes deeper: are people better off being little more than sheep? After all, when you take away the will of the people, you also take away their capacity for fear, worry, and other distressing emotions.

This was my favorite of the short stories. In a few dozen pages, Revis manages to lay out Eldest's means and purpose of subduing the spaceship's society, something that, incidentally, my recent read, Article 5, was unable to do in more than 300 pages. She takes this story to surprising depths, and it's the only one that covered enough ground to flesh out a full-length novel.
4.5 stars

Miasma by Carrie Ryan: Disease, epic flooding, man-eating monsters, and evil doctors with beaks. Welcome to Miasma. And about that disease: “Your lungs had begun melting into your heart, and your stomach into your intestines, until you became nothing more than a jumbled mass of deteriorated cells barely held together by yellow-tinged cells.” Ooookay...I think I'll take the floods. The monsters prey upon the sick, and one of those taken captive is the mother of sisters Frankie and Cathy. While Cathy falls ill, too, Frankie goes to work as a maid for the Oglethorpes. The monsters continue to sniff out the sickened, and it seems it's just a matter of time before Cathy is discovered. This story had an interesting spark of romance between Frankie and Charles, the Oglethorpe heir. There is a great cat-and-mouse quality between the two, as Frankie is uncertain whether Charles can be trusted.
4 stars

3 Stars Overall