“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Short Story Review)

The Yellow Wallpaper CoverInformation

Goodreads: “The Yellow Wallpaper”
Series: None
Source: DailyLit
Published: 1892


A fist person narrative from the perspective of a woman who goes with her husband to convalesce in a house with a room with hideous yellow wallpaper.

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Working as a writing tutor with college students, I have read dozens of essays about “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and after reading various takes and interpretations of the work (and getting a decent, if secondhand idea of the plot!), I decided to just sit down and the whole thing for myself.  Having done so, I can see why the story is a popular assignment for lower level literature classes.  The feminist themes give students something “obvious” to write about, but there is just enough nuance and ambiguity about what exactly is going on with the narrator’s mental state that it leaves room for students to make an argument.

Basically, it’s a tight story that explores the narrator’s apparent descent into madness as she spends her days looking at a hideous patterned yellow wallpaper in a bedroom in a house she and her husband have briefly rented to help her improve her health.  The main question of the story is whether the narrator is truly suffering from some nervous condition, as her doctor husband has diagnosed, or whether she is mostly fine but then becomes ill after her husband dismisses her own opinions about her health—her requests to be more active, see more of her friends, and move to a room where she doesn’t have to look at the horrid wallpaper.  (Read: A story of men not listening to women and thinking they know more about the bodies and mental health than the women do.)

The theme could be more subtle, but the story is short, and it’s interesting enough to warrant a read and some discussion.

You can read “The Yellow Wallpaper” free online at Project Gutenberg.

4 stars Briana

Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman & Kasie West

Snow in Love


Goodreads: Snow in Love
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: October 30, 2018

Official Summary

What’s better than one deliciously cozy, swoon-worthy holiday story? Four of them, from some of today’s bestselling authors.

From KASIE WEST, a snowy road trip takes an unexpected detour when secrets and crushes are revealed.

From AIMEE FRIEDMAN, a Hanukkah miracle may just happen when a Jewish girl working as a department store elf finds love.

From MELISSA DE LA CRUZ, Christmas Eve gets a plot twist when a high school couple exchange surprising presents.

From NIC STONE, a scavenger hunt amid the holiday crowds at an airport turns totally romantic.

So grab a mug of hot cocoa, snuggle up, and get ready to fall in love…

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“Snow and Mistletoe” by Kasie West

The plot of “Snow and Mistletoe” is predictable from the first paragraphs, but that won’t be a problem for readers who enjoy cute romances. (After all, a lot of romance is predictable in the sense that the couple is obviously going to get together somehow.)  I enjoyed the banter among the characters: Amalie (the protagonist), Sawyer, his two friends, and Sawyer’s older sister.  There were a good mix of personalities even with a small cast of characters.  I also liked the subplot abut Amalie’s pursuit of opera and her study abroad program.  I did think some of the dialogue was over-the-top and not something I can imagine many people actually saying, but I can overlook that.

“Working in a Winter Wonderland” by Aimee Friedman

I liked the premise of this story: a girl who wants a fabulous dress for her friends fabulous upcoming New Year’s Eve party gets a part time job as a Christmas Elf in a department store to help pay for it (nevermind that ‘s she Jewish and “more of a Hanukkah girl” herself!).  The details of the job were a little iffy for me, however, which made it harder for me to enjoy the story.  The protagonist gets the job immediately and it conveniently lasts only like two or three weeks, ending Dec. 24, but for some reason neither she nor her coworkers know what time their final shifts end on Christmas Eve, so three out of four have plans and just leave early. Also, apparently everyone was paid once, about Dec. 22, without any regard to whether or not they actually showed up for shifts the next two days. (Also, the implication is the store is open from 10 am to 9 pm, and these people work the entire time, but only get a 30 min lunch break, which is illegal.) Basically…this seems like a bad representation of what working in retail looks like.

I get that this isn’t the point of the story; it’s the romance and the character’s feelings of being a bit left out because Christmas isn’t really her holiday.  However, it bothered me since most of the story takes place in this weirdly run store.  If I ignore it, I think the romance is kind of lackluster because there’s not a lot of build-up, but there is a nice lesson about not judging people without really knowing them.

“The Magi’s Gifts” by Melissa de la Cruz

This is just a modern take on “The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, so if you’ve read the original, you know exactly where this is going.  I guess young readers who haven’t read the original may be taken by surprise and appreciate the irony, but “The Gift of the Magi” seems to be such a popular assigned reading in US schools that I think this isn’t really going to be new to tons of people.  The characters are cute, and the story’s well-constructed and features a bit of glamour and teenage drama.  Yet I can’t help thinking that, in an anthology that only has four stories, the fact that one of them isn’t all that creative is a bit of let-down.

“Grounded” by Nic Stone

This was a tough one for me. I liked the idea of the scavenger hunt through the airport and the idea that most (though not all) of the story was told through text messages.  I think some of the banter felt awkward to me, maybe because I didn’t really know either of the characters.  Ostensibly they know each other from childhood and last saw each other when they were 14, which was three years ago, but the story puts a lot of emphasis on how they haven’t spoken since then and are basically strangers; they wouldn’t even know what the other one looks like.  So they’re bantering like friends when I’ve just been convinced they’re not.  This also makes the relationship seem like instalove, and it seems odd to immediately announce to your family that you’re dating someone you just “met” and made out with like three hours ago.  I guess more emphasis on what good friends they were in childhood, rather than on the three year estrangement, could have helped this.

3 Stars Briana

Mini Reviews (3)

I Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton

This collection contains a fair number of the popular Pusheen comics.  It has jokes about the weird habits of cats, holiday illustrations, and even a section devoted to Pusheen’s fluffy sister Stormy.  It is equally humorous and delightful.  And, of course, utterly cute.  Cat lovers everywhere will appreciate it, but others may find themselves falling in love with Pusheen, as well. (Source: Gift) Four stars.

The Club of Queer Trades by G. K. Chesterton

This short story collection contains mysteries that feature the men who comprise the titular Club of Queer Trades and make their livings in a manner which they themselves invented.  Narrated by a man called Swinburne, who repeatedly finds himself caught up in adventures he cannot understand, the stories really star Basil Grant, a judge who left the bench after “going mad.”  It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Basil may be the one sane man in a world gone mad around him.  He believes in morality and solves mysteries by eschewing the cold logic of Sherlock Holmes and instead opening himself up to the possibilities that cannot be contained by logic.  The resulting stories are equally fun and fantastic, reminding readers to open themselves up to the romance around them. (Source: Library) Four stars.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke

Not having read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I was not sure what to expect from a short story collection of Susanna Clarke’s.  However, I was immediately disarmed, for I found myself immersed in a delightful collection of fairy stories in the finest tradition.  Some are retellings of familiar tales such as “Rumpelstiltskin.”  Others are set in the world of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  One story is even set in Neil Gaiman’s world of Stardust.  Each, however, has that air of coming from a long line of folklorists, told at night by the fireplace or passed down through the generations.  They feel like the real thing.

Oddly enough, however, the cover bears two blurbs comparing the work to Jane Austen.  I can only imagine that people see a story set in the 18th century or read a story with “old timey” language and immediately think to themselves, “But, of course, it’s Austen!”  It really isn’t.  The work bears no resemblance, in my opinion, to Austen’s witty social critiques or romances.  There is humor here, but it’s more in the counterfeiting of language associated with old-fashioned scholars.  The rest feels like traditional fairy tales, just set in a later age than perhaps we are used to seeing.  (Source: Gift)  Five stars.

The Man with Two Left Feet by P. G. Wodehouse

Humorist P. G. Wodehouse presents a short story collection full of surprises.  From the tale of an ugly policeman who falls in love to the story of a mediocre detective who dreams of going on the stage, each work is delightfully unexpected, full of witty one-liners, and peopled by characters who can’t help but grab the readers’ interest.  Bertie Wooster also makes his first appearance here, making the story of special interest to fans of Jeeves and Wooster.  This is just the type of work to lift your spirits and make you hunt for more Wodehouse immediately.  (Source: Library)  Five stars.

Lilacs and Other Stories by Kate Chopin


Goodreads: Lilacs and Other Stories
Series: None
Source: Library Book Sale
Published: June 17, 2005

Official Summary

Before she wrote The Awakening — a powerful novel that has illuminated generations of readers with its strikingly honest and controversial themes of female sexuality and miscegenation–Kate Chopin penned many well-received short stories of Creole and Acadian life. Infused with “local color,” these tales are filled with fascinating characters, idiosyncratic customs, and sometimes shocking details.

Reflecting the influences of the French writers Guy de Maupassant and George Sand, “Lilacs” is a heartfelt and simple tale of love, life, and devotion. The compelling work is accompanied by 23 other distinctive tales of southern life, among them “A No-Account Creole” and “Love on the Bon-Dieu,” from Bayou Folk, and “A Matter of Prejudice,” “The Lilies,” and “Dead Men’s Shoes” from A Night in Acadie.


Kate Chopin is best known for The Awakening (and possibly not much else), so stumbling across this collection of short stories she had published in various places during her lifetime as part of her efforts to make a living from writing, was interesting to me. The forward of my edition notes that the stories largely fall into the local-color movement of the 1890s, and Chopin probably drew on “the Creole society of her married life” as her inspiration. In short, the stories don’t really deliver the same aesthetic or worldview as The Awakening, which was somewhat a surprise to me and may be to other readers, as well.

First, when the forward mentions Chopin’s Creole society, what it seems to mean is that Chopin and her husband lived in New Orleans and were familiar with, but not part of, Creole society. The stories are what one would expect from local-color stories from the nineteenth century and, of course, do not reflect modern viewpoints on things like race, representation of dialect in writing, etc. I think Chopin generally has respect for her subjects and seems truly interested in representing the variety and nuances of their life experiences, but it was still the 1890s.

In terms of plot, the stories are just alright. Chopin occasionally goes for a small twist at the end, but none of the stories really took me by surprise. The selection in the book does at least vary in terms of whether the stories are sad, happy, maudlin, etc., which I appreciated. (Too many short story collections are put together by theme, which frequently results in the stories all sounding vaguely the same.) I don’t know, however, that I would go out of my way to recommend this book to others.

Mostly, however, I was interested in how different many of these stories seem from The Awakening. As a disclaimer, I don’t really like The Awakening and I don’t totally agree that abandoning your family is necessarily a great feminist message; however, I was struck by how differently some of these short stories tackle issues like marriage and gender relations. Some of them read as essentially the opposite of The Awakening, with women ultimately caving to the perseverance of men they have no interest in because…why not, I guess.

If you like Kate Chopin, these stories would be a good thing to look into. If you just want an interesting short story collection, you can probably find more entertaining things to read.

3 Stars Briana

“Leaf by Niggle” by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Tolkien ReaderInformation

Goodreads: The Tolkien Reader
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1945


Niggle longs to complete his final painting before going on a journey he knows he must take, but his neighbor Parish constantly interrupts his work with requests for help.  As Niggle fears, he at length has to depart with his work still unfinished and with nothing to help him on his way except the record of his past conduct.


Briana has touched before on the allegorical underpinnings of Leaf by Niggle, most notably the connection to J. R. R. Tolkien’s own creative process and the obvious parallels between Niggle’s journey and the Christian afterlife.  Though it is, indeed, impossible to read Niggle without reflecting upon both these aspects, the story is so much more than the sum of its elements.  Niggle invites readers, whether artists or not, to participate in the story and go along with its characters to the afterlife, much as The Divine Comedy works by asking readers to identify with Dante-Pilgrim and take a part in his salvific journey.  The result is a powerful reflection, not merely on the role of art in society or the need to do good works or on what we might expect after death, but on how all of these aspects touch us in our own lives.  Reading Leaf by Niggle is an intensely personal experience, one of those kind felt too deeply for words to do it justice.

Not everyone, of course, may relate at first to Niggle.  He is an artist and one apparently modeled on Tolkien himself, with his reputation for getting lost in details and taking too much time to complete any given work.  However, even those who don’t feel creative or think they lack artistic talent can identify with other aspects of Niggle’s personality–his feeling of under-appreciation, his desire to spend more time on the things that matter to him rather than on the things he ought to be doing, his annoyance over the inopportunities created by his friends and neighbors.  Niggle has things that are important to him, but that are not important to anyone else, and he feels alone and he dreads lost dreams. Such experiences are not limited to the artistic.

The resolution of Niggle’s story will prove especially powerful for anyone who, like him, had a dream left unfulfilled.  It promises everything–help and appreciation and beauty and fulfillment.  It is an especially moving moment because it illustrates so perfectly how the vision of others can complement our own and how our own work can become part of something greater than we ever imagined.  Leaf by Niggle is, above all, a story of hope–a story that it says we, too, can share.

Krysta 64

“The Miller’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer

Miller Banner


The young clerk Nicholas is in love with his landlord’s wife Alison.  She will not agree to any tryst with him, however, unless he can manage to get her jealous husband out of their way.  Drawing upon his expertise in astronomy, Nicholas feigns he has a message from God: the world will experience a second Flood, and the only way for the household to survive is if they construct three separate boats, hang them from the ceiling, and wait for the rain to come.  His landlord credulously falls for this story and begins work, giving Nicholas and Alison the perfect opportunity to sneak away together.


As a fabliau, “The Miller’s Tale” is definitely one of the bawdier contributions to The Canterbury Tales, offering a stark contrast to the courtly love story that the knight tells just before it.  Readers will realize fairly early on that they are in for a wild ride; after all, Nicholas rather forwardly grabs at Alison’s crotch while pleading his love to her and is hardly rebuked for the action.  And, of course, the entire plot centers on how Nicholas and Alison can contrive to cuckold her husband.  The raunchiness is definitely enough to amuse many readers.  However, the characterizations, details, and wider themes are also worth looking at.

Alison herself is a very compelling place to start.  Although it may not be entirely clear if one starts reading The Canterbury Tales at the beginning (since the miller’s is only the second tale in the book), most of the stories center on marriages and women.  The question here might then become: how much do readers sympathize with Alison?  For my part, I have trouble excusing or empathizing with adultery in most fiction—and it is worth nothing that, however much a fool her husband might be for believing his tenant had a vision about a second Flood, he was apparently concerned for his wife’s safety.

Nonetheless, the story does not seem to ask readers to dwell on this.  It observes fairly early on that old men should not wed young women; they are too different from each other and the wife is unlikely to be happy.  If one believes this, it in some way excuses, or at least explains, Alison’s behavior.  The ending of the tale also does not do much to bolster the husband’s standing.  Nicholas may get a comeuppance himself, for misusing Scripture and abusing his position of knowledge, but the only one who really escapes unscathed is Alison herself.  And while the audience is laughing at everyone’s antics, moral considerations may get lost in the mix.

I have to admit that “The Miller’s Tale” is not my favorite.  While I do believe it introduces many themes that continue to be raised throughout The Canterbury Tales and does a good job of explicating them within this specific tale, as well, the fabliau may simply not be my genre.  Bawdiness does not really appeal to my sense of humor, and I mostly thought it sad how poorly things turn out for all the characters.  (Even if one side character—Absolon—is fairly amusing.)

“The Vampyre” by John Polidori

The VampyreSummary:  Aubrey is excited to begin his Grand Tour with the mysterious and charming Lord Ruthven, until he learns his travelling companion is responsible for the seduction and ruin of several respectable young women.   He parts company with him in disgust, but soon discovers the situation is worse than he thought; Lord Ruthven matches perfectly the Greek folkloric descriptions of a vampire.

Written as part of the ghost-story contest during which Mary Shelley composed Frankenstein.

Review: Although technically a horror story, John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” does not frighten readers with sudden plot twists or unexpected revelations.  Instead, readers experience dread by watching a series of terrible events unfold that they already know must happen but which they can do nothing to stop.  This experience mirrors that of the young protagonist Aubrey, who suffers watching as a vampire destroys those he holds dear, thereby allowing a certain degree of sympathy for Aubrey.

Polidori’s version of the vampire—a man who is simultaneously charming yet irrevocably outcast from society, who can calmly calculate and execute cruelties in order to further his self-interests—is in fact a terrible creature.  Polidori’s presentation within “The Vampyre” will not raise fear; his story does not sound “real” enough to give any readers nightmares, even in spite of attempts to put them partially in Aubrey’s place.  Yet Polidori’s ideas are horrifying and worth some consideration.  One might conclude, for instance, that monstrosity is not something that comes with one’s nature, but is instead the choices one makes in reaction to one’s nature.  There is certainly no indication within the story that the vampire must seduce and execute young women, only that he must do so if he would like to continue his abnormally long life.

“The Vampyre,” then, is not particularly good entertainment, not if one is in search of a deliciously creepy tale.  It is, however, interesting in its portrayal of vampires, both within the work itself and because the story exercised a significant influence over later depictions of vampires.  Best read by those looking to learn more about the Gothic genre or the origins of vampires, and not by those seeking thrills.

Published: 1819

The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy

Summary:  Young journalist Polly Burton spends her lunch hours listening to an elderly man deduce the solutions to mysteries that have baffled the police.

Review: The success of Sherlock Holmes helped popularize mystery stories and Baroness Orczy took advantage of the moment to offer to the public her collection of short stories featuring an elderly man who solved crimes merely by reading newspaper accounts and attending some of the subsequent trials.  The stories are held together by a main narrative in which journalist Polly Burton eats lunch each day at the same tea shop as the titular character.  He tries to impress her with his mental prowess while she, annoyed by his ego, vainly attempts to prove his theories wrong.  Their back-and-forth sets the stage for the shocking final scene.

The mysteries themselves are told in such a way that the readers can attempt to solve the puzzle before the old man reveals his conclusions.  Those who read mysteries regularly will probably not find themselves too baffled.  However, even those who are new to the genre will soon pick up the pattern of the crimes and their solutions.  The repetitive nature of the mysteries means that the real interest of the stories lies not in the race to discover an answer but in the vivid personality descriptions given of the actors in the dramas.

The Old Man in the Corner will probably best be enjoyed by those who already count themselves fans of Baroness Orczy.  They know her faults already—know that she is repetitive, melodramatic, and sometimes unbearably stereotypical.  Even so, her clean prose style combined with an intriguing premise and a colorful cast of characters manages to erase her most grievous faults.

Published: 1909

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“Smith of Wooton Major” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien 2012

Goodreads: Smith of Wooton Major

Summary: A young boy in the town of Wooton Major eats a fay-star in his slice of cake at the Twenty-four Feast.  On his tenth birthday, the star falls from his mouth and he claps it to forehead, where it becomes a sort of passport for him in the land of Faery.

Review:  “Smith of Wooton Major” is a beautiful short story for anyone who enjoys a good fairytale—one about Faery itself, and not about a pretty princess looking for true love.  It opens with a description of the town and traditions of Wooton Major, where the Master Cook is held in high regard and hosts a special feast for twenty-four children every twenty-four years.  Tolkien’s hobbit-ish appreciation for food and good cheer really shines through, and readers cannot help but think Wooton Major sounds like rather a pleasant place to live.

The focus, however, is on what it means to open one’s mind, to accept the possibility and the value of magic.  Tolkien paints striking images of Faery, which is lovely but also stern and dangerous.  He brings the same seriousness and dignity to this land that he brought to the Elves in The Lord of the Rings.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Wooton Major can believe that this world exists.  Contrasted with the star-browed Smith is Master Cook Nokes, who makes light of even the mention of fairies.  Partially this is dangerous to him, because the King and Queen of Faery are real and powerful, but it is also very sad.  Nokes misses opportunities and great beauty through his own stubbornness.

“Smith of Wooton Major” can and has been read as an allegory, but I encourage reading it for its imagery and its message—that the imagination is important and that is not frivolous.  Adults, as well as children, can believe in magic and it is essential that they do so.

Published: 1967

*Posted as part of our Tolkien Reading Event.  You can participate by writing a review on your own blog or filling out our survey!

“The Snow Owl” by Jon Hartling

Summary: Ben’s wife died in childbirth, leaving him a baby boy he knows is not his own.  Still, he named the child Eric and raised him with love.  Eric tells him stories of a land called Lukana, a secret place under the tundra where magic exists and he is the lost prince.  Ben believes these stories to be the products of Eric’s fertile imagination, but when the boy builds an owl in the snow and it begins to come to life, he must face the realization that Eric’s real father may be calling the boy home. Continue reading