Archive for Short Stories

Booktalk: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods cover

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is kind of difficult to categorize.  It’s definitely a collection of short stories that are all dark and haunting in different ways.  The stories feel like fairy tales and are sometimes loosely connected to fairy tales, but they also stand alone on their own.  And the collection could be categorized as a cross between a graphic novel and a picture book for older readers.  But no matter how you categorize it, this is a great book to share with readers who are ready to try some deeply chilling stories!


There was a girl, and there was a man.  The girl’s father told her that she had to marry that man, and so she did.  And then she traveled by horse and carriage to the man’s enormous home, where there were servants, and silk dresses, and beautiful jewelry, and more food than she could eat.

During the day the house seems perfectly fine, but every night, she hears the sound of someone singing.  Sometimes it’s coming from the walls, sometimes from the floor, or the stairs, or the ceiling.  But each night the song is the same. Each night the voice sings that she married her love in the springtime, but by summer he’d locked her away.  Each night the voice sings about what her husband did to her, and each night the girl lies awake in bed, listening to the song, filled with terror and dread.  But even though she’s afraid, the girl is determined to find out what happened to this woman and to understand why her voice is haunting this house.

“A Lady’s Hands are Cold” is just one of the dark and chilling stories in
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Booktalk: Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Lies Knives cover

I first picked up Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses because I love fairy tales, I love retellings of fairy tales, and (I confess) I thought that a poem-format book would make for an easy booktalk.  But the more I read, the more I realized that I didn’t want to read any of the poems out loud both because of the “mature” language and because I didn’t want to limit myself to just one or two stories.  So instead I wrote the booktalk in more of a list format, so that listeners will get some idea of the range of stories in this book.

If you go to Ron Koertge’s website, you can learn more about this and his other books.  I’ll confess that I’d only read his novels before, but if you’re interested in poetry he has another recent release that might interest you, as well.

ETA: This booktalk had a really fast turnaround time (I recorded it about two minutes after writing it).  Then I realized after I’d posted this episode that I made a couple of small but vital grammatical errors in my recorded booktalk.  I’ve fixed the errors in the printed version below.  My apologies for the confusion.


Once upon a time, people made some bad decisions.

Two girls listened to their mother, and turned against their beautiful stepsister.  A man broke into a witch’s garden because his pregnant wife was craving a salad.  The Beast hoped that Beauty would fall in love with him.  A girl was kind enough to share her food with a stranger.  A man promised that his daughter could spin straw into gold.  And a girl wondered what it would be like to be eaten by a wolf.

Yes, there’s magic, and danger, and punishments, and rewards, and falling in and out of love, and revenge, and death.  But most of these stories don’t end QUITE the way you’d expect.

Booktalk: After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

First, I was interested in reading After because it combines two of my favorite things: short stories and dystopias.  Then when I saw that it was edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, I was even more excited to read it because they have an excellent track record with fantasy and science fiction anthologies.  As with most anthologies, some stories are better than others so the quality varies as you go through the book, but I definitely found more hits than misses here.  Oh, and as a side note, this book is officially for ages “12 and up,” but I think that some of the stories are above most middle school students’ comprehension so I would primarily recommend this collection for high school students or adults.

As I was trying to come up with ideas for how to booktalk this book, I was torn between talking about the book as a whole and focusing on one particular story.  Once in a while, I’ll find one story in an anthology that I think will be able to sell the book to a wide audience, like in my booktalk for Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link.  But even though I found several stories in this anthology that could definitely merit their own booktalks, I decided that I’d rather highlight the large variety of stories in this collection so that I would be more likely to suggest a premise that might intrigue someone in my audience.  And the added benefit of this booktalk?  If I forget one of the sentences, THAT’S OKAY.  And if I list the premises out of order, THAT’S OKAY, TOO.


How will society fall apart?

Will there be war?  Will the crime rate soar out of control?  Will ocean levels rise, flooding the world’s cities?  Will an illness or a plague destroy the population?  Will aliens from outer space attack the earth?  Will people spread mutations that turn them into zombies or vampires?  Will something created in a lab go horribly wrong and start destroying the world?  Will the earth become so toxic that everyone will have to leave the planet?  Will a mysterious event break the world into millions of pieces?

And then … after society falls apart … what happens next?

Booktalk: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link


Pretty Monsters is an unusual short story collection that will definitely attract some unusual readers.  With my booktalk, I focused on one story that I thought would be most captivating to a large audience and I appealed to my listeners’ curiosity and sense of humor.  Keep in mind that when booktalking a short story collection, you have
the option of talking about the collection as a whole or focusing on one
story like I did.  If you enjoy Kelly Link’s writing (and I think you will), then check out her website to learn more about her and those oh-so-amazing stories.

Oh, and one other booktalking note: my spoken booktalk differs slightly from my written one.  Usually if I go “off script” while recording the podcast I edit the written booktalk to match, but this time I left the changes on purpose.  I wanted you guys to see that a booktalk can evolve over time.  In part it’s because the way we write is a little different from the way we speak.  In part it’s because we start to take mental and verbal shortcuts if we say the same thing over and over again.  If you listened to a booktalk that I wrote on the day I wrote it, a week later, a month later, and a year later, it would sound a little different each time.  That’s not a bad thing; it’s just nature taking its course.  A little flexibility is definitly an asset, especially when you’re performing a booktalk in front of an audience.  If you’re comfortable enough with the words to be able to make some impromptu changes as you go along, you’ll be less likely to freeze like a deer in the headlights in front of the class.  Which is DEFINITELY a good thing.


Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link is a unique collection of fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories.  Each story has different elements of fantasy, from wizards to ghosts to aliens.  The story I’m going to share with you today is about a boy named Miles who is digging up his late girlfriend’s grave.

Now you might be wondering why he’d do such a thing.

Well, after Bethany died, Miles decided to make a very romantic gesture.  He wrote a bunch of poems just for her, some of the best ones he’d ever written.  And he took those poems, hand-written and covered with tear stains, and he’d put them in Bethany’s casket with her, so that no one else would ever read them.  But now it’s almost a year later, and Miles has changed his mind.  He’s realized what an idiot he was burying those poems with Bethany — how will the world be able to recognize his genius if no one else can read these poems?  So anyway, THAT’S why he’s digging up Bethany’s grave.  Miles’ plan is to dig down to the coffin, open it, take the poems, and get out of there ASAP … but things don’t go exactly the way he expects.  Because when he opens the coffin he sees a dead girl … only it’s the wrong dead girl.  And not only is she not the person he expected, but she’s also not as dead as he expected.  But Miles doesn’t REALLY freak out until she starts talking to him.  She tells him that her name is Gloria, not Bethany.  She also tells him that she doesn’t feel like staying in the graveyard anymore; in fact, now that he’s dug her up, she wants to come with him.  You can find out what happens in the story of “The Wrong Grave,” which is just one of the amazing stories in

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link