Cover Image: Jewel Box: Stories

Jewel Box: Stories

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book.

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I received this as an ARC via NetGalley.

This is a gorgeous collection of short stories to savor slowly. E. Lily Yu's prose is as elegant as her characters are riveting. She touches upon the challenges of living in the world in a humane manner, recognizing and celebrating resilience where it appears, as an act of hope and defiance. Highly recommended.

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Jewel Box: Stories" by E. Lily Yu is a collection of twenty-two thought-provoking stories that traverse a wide range of themes and genres. From the fantastical to the introspective, these tales offer readers a glimpse into the complexities of the human experience. With an imaginative and skillful narrative style, Yu weaves together narratives that challenge conventions and invite readers to explore the strange, the sublime, and the enigmatic. This collection promises to engage readers with its unique storytelling and exploration of the unusual and profound aspects of life.

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This one sounded right in my wheelhouse and did not disappoint! An excellent collection of short stories that were immediately compelling and expansive. All I can say is: more please! I already want to read it over again (and likely will!).

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A lovely selection of short stories, even though I'm not usually a fan of them! There's a good range for any speculative fiction reader, but I highly recommend 'The Time Invariance of Snow', which has helped me to realize that I'm a fan of authors playing with fairy tales.

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I love a strong collection of short stories and this is one. This is an eclectic collection to put it mildly, which may turn some readers off, but when you really dig in, themes do present themselves. While marked as a Sci-Fi/Fantasy collection this meanders in and out of those genres across space and time from medieval tales of valor to sweet quiet contemporary love stories to the loneliness of deep space. The thread through these very different structures is the human element, even in a story about monsters. Love, loss, loneliness, and belonging center this exciting collection of stories. Each one is more fantastic in some little way than the next (yes, even a story about finding love while bird watching becomes fantastic).

Yu, is a master at finding the humanity in any character, which allows her to write about individuals that span the globe, leaning away from stereotypes and problematic descriptors and into each individual in ways that let the reader fall into each of these worlds and societies quickly and effectively.

This will be one of my top short story collections of the year for sure. So amazing.

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I LOVED Jewel Box Stories. I was enamored with Yu's prior novel, On Fragile Waves, so I had to read these stories. I loved the mix of fantasy and whimsy in these stories, as well as the anthropomorphic quality to the items (bees, wasps, a lamppost, etc). I loved the way that Yu can pack so much of a story in just a few pages, and give emotion to creatures we don't think of having them.

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A delightfully unsettling collection of really dark but also really loving stories that I found utterly compelling.

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This collection is aptly named - each story is exquisite and sparkling. I loved the one of Feo and Yuri the best, even though it broke my heart.
A mix of sci fi, fantasy, history, magical realism - this book really does have a story for every reader. The prose is elevated without being pretentious. The fantastical elements are breathtaking in scope. I really enjoyed every one of these and I hope e Lily Yu keeps writing a lot!

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This was a wildly original collection of stories, defying my ability to categorize it in any certain terms. Yu perfectly captures the ordinary in the extraordinary, with apocalyptic, science-fiction tales bumping up against stories overflowing with heartbreaking doses of crushing reality.

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This collection of lovely, weird short stories is full of heart. I saw this described elsewhere as sci-fi and a few of the stories fit that description, but mostly I see these as fairytale-adjacent. Most have some magic, but all have characters you want to root for. My only quibble was that there were SO many stories! I usually only read one story a day from a short story collection and this took a long time to get through because it's full of mostly very tiny stories. But again, I loved very close to all of them.

I adored On Fragile Waves, and while I was reading Jewel Box I felt it was so vastly different I could hardly believe it was the same author. But after finishing and re-familiarizing myself with Waves, I see the through-line more clearly.

Favorite quotes:
"The reader of fairy tales will understand when I say that I did not hesitate or question the strange requirement, as one would ordinarily do, for at times there is a certain silver inevitability about our choices that no amount of reasoning can explain."

"The world is stranger than I thought. It always is."

"None of us can change what has happened to us, the clawed creature said. But if we are lucky, we live. If we are lucky, we do not lose more than we can afford."

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JEWEL BOX is a delightful genre-spanning collection of 22 short stories. The collection is aptly-named, reminiscent of a variety box of chocolates, all speculative in some way but spanning science fiction, fantasy, and folklore/mythology, which leaves the impression of the entire collection of the whole as timeless and thought-provoking.

While most short story collections, especially with so many stories, are apt to be uneven, I was hard-pressed to find stories in JEWEL BOX that were hard to get through. The collection is ordered nicely with stories of varying lengths and genres, so it is very readable from cover to cover. Favorites in this collection included:

THE CARTOGRAPHER WASPS AND THE ANARCHIST BEES - an imaginative story of two cousin civilizations of insects in a strange symbiotic relationship.
ILSE, WHO SAW CLEARLY - a folktale journey of a girl in search of sight for her village.
THE URASHIMA EFFECT - a science fiction tale about a man traveling further than humankind has dared before, and the nature of human relationships.
BRAID OF DAYS AND WAKE OF NIGHTS - a surreal reflection on death and dying, with an ending that seals the deal.
THE EVE OF THE PLANET OF YS - a science fiction apocalyptic tale of survival and choosing one's own family.
COURTSHIP DISPLAYS OF THE AMERICAN BIRDER - a charming brief interlude, a character study between two strangers.

Recommended for fans of Ted Chiang. This will be a favorite book from 2023 for me. Thanks to Erewhon Books and NetGalley for the e-ARC.

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"Jewel Box Stories" is so aptly named! All the 22 tales in this collection by E. Lily Yu are powerful gemstones and each one deserves complete attention for a day or two before selecting the next sparkling creation to examine.

The first, "The Pilgrim and The Angel" is one of my many favorites. Poignant and sad and bittersweet it tells the saga of a coffee shop caretaker who is visited by an angel who takes him on a journey to Miami (by way of Mecca) to rendezvous with the son he has not seen in THREE years. As a parent this one hit me in my heart.

There are stories featuring a sentient street lamp that falls in love with a human, wasps and bees fighting for survival and their legacy, an incorruptible Assyrian judge who is not as moral and righteous as he believes, power and wealth inequality. and a self-absorbed couple who has an over the top expensive wedding while the sea is rising nearby.

At this point, the reader may marvel at the author's imaginative scope, crafting original scenarios that engage instantly. Inspiration clearly comes from fairy tales and fables and folk- tales and religion, but Yu spins monsters and magic and hope and love and pain and sorrow with consummate skill. The story "Braid of Days and Wake of Nights" opens masterfully, "The seat beneath her was glossy plastic and not interested in prolonging their acquaintance." All the stories contain relevance and meaning applicable to our lives today, but none more than the final jewel, "Small Monsters" and its narrative of endurance and survival and resilience even in the face of betrayal and pain.

Everyone who appreciates and enjoys exceptional and uncommon stories should add this volume to their TBR stack. I highly urge you to place it at the top of the pile!!

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An excellent collection of short stories. There's fantasy, fairy tales and different fantastic genre. They're thought provoking and reminded me of the morale fables of the past centuries even if they're quite cinic.
Well done, highly recommended
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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"The world is stranger than I thought. It always is."

E. Lily Yu's Jewel Box: Stories is a collection of strange stories, each odd in its own, unique way, ranging from sci-fi to fantasy to fairy tale (including a take on Hans Christian Andersen). The writing style changes to suit the story - so many old timey words are used in the fairy tale like escapades. Seneschal. Demesne. The settings span the globe (and beyond!).

The stories captured me, curious to see what would happen next. A sly character weaves through a few of the stories. Stories about something very specific with a bigger story being told / shown behind the scenes, without being overt. Subtle, fable-like.

Bees, magic carpets, scheming peddlers, over the top weddings, jealous AI, dragons, monsters and more. Much much more.

My thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC. Jewel Box: Stories is now available.

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Its such a pleasure for me to be able to read Jewel Box Stories, a collection of short stories, It was a pleasant surprised to find that various short stories in here, which 22 stories have its own unique element. I think the story that left big impression and hard to forget is The Lamp at the Turning.

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I'm an absolute SUCKER for a horror short stories and fictions and I am so thankful to Kensington Books, E. Lily Yu, and Netgalley for granting me advanced access to this behemoth before it came out on October 24, 2023.

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The pleasure for me in reading E. Lily Yu’s collection of short stories, Jewel Box, was sourced in two of the book’s elements: its what-if premises and its, well, jewel-like language, which glittered precise and edged as any gemstone in a Tiffany’s case. The plots and characters, meanwhile, were more hit and miss for me, which is why I’m not giving it a five. As is typical for collections, the individual stories varied in their impact, with my marginal notes ranging from “lovely” or “delightful” to “meh” (mostly due to predictability or being a bit too obvious/on the nose).” But even in those stories that did very little for me as stories, the language was always captivatingly startling, so I feel pretty confident in saying everyone should this collection for those delightful starting points and beautifully honed sentences. A few specifics on a few of my favorites:

“The Lamp at the Turning” This story, of a sentient streetlight who falls in love with “a young man in a red jacket … his fluttering damp hair and fluted ears and how he held himself with the careful gravity fo the young pretending to be old”, is one of those “lovely” ones I mentioned — brief and moving and poignant and with a killer close.

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”: In premise, tone, and language, this one reminded me of no one other than Italo Calvino, one of my favorite authors. Here’s the opening sentence: “For longer than anyone could remember, the village of Yiwei had won, in its orchards and under its eaves, clay-colored globs of paper that hissed and fizzed with wasps.” And here’s the story’s precipitating move a few paragraphs later: “In this way it was discovered that the wasp nests of Yiwei, dipped in hot water, unfurled into beautifully accurate maps of provinces near and far, inked in vegetable pigments and labeled in careful Mandarin that could be distinguished beneath a microscope.” I’m already all in on the story, and that’s before the nest folded into a paper boat, wasp wars of expansion, bee ambassadors, and an apian exploration of imperialism.

“Braid of Days and Wake of Nights” When Vivian, Julia’s best friend and love of her life is at death’s door from cancer, Julia seeks out the unicorn that may or may not reside in Central Park in hope of using its horn to cure her. One of my favorites of the collection, if a little over-long.

“The Eve of the Planet of Ys” Another favorite, a melding of Lu’s usual fabulistic voice and peak pulp sci fi/dying Earth atmosphere as “In its latter days, the two blessed suns of the planet of Ys grew twice as large and dully red [so] There was no true day or not on Ys, but a long thin dusk when both suns burned, followed by a dim and feverish evening when one or the other had set.”

“The No-One Girl and the Flower of the Farther Shore” and another favorite, perhaps my number one in the book, focusing on an orphan girl, an indifferent village, an amoral butcher boy, and a story that goes off in an unexpected and lovely direction

“The Cat’s Tale”: a deft melding of several familiar old tales that feels right at home amongst old folk/fairy stories thanks as much to the voice as its use of said stories.

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I suspect that this is a story collection that will divide readers. It's titled Jewel Box, which is lovely and fitting, but I kept thinking as I worked my way through, sampling and savoring stories, of a box of chocolates. Of the 22 stories collected here, I had only previously read one (and it's one that I believe readers of SFF are most likely to be familiar with, having been a nominee or finalist for a whole passel of awards that year), The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees. Reactions to that story--because it contains metaphor but isn't just metaphor, because it has the feel of a fable or fairy tale but doesn't hew closely to the rules of either, because there's a *lot* going on in it (colonialism, human impacts on the environment, tyranny, doomed political movements that nonetheless leave reason to hope), because the seeds of the story came from actual entomological observations about anarchism in bees(!! how neat)--were all over the (ahem) map, ranging from awe to frustration. I'll go through the stories in Jewel Box and make a note or two about each, but of the collection as a whole, I'll say that if you found that story too obtuse or obscure in its aims, you might not love this book as much as I did. There is metaphor, allegory fairly abounds, and there are folk- and fairy tales that are not just saying one thing; there are openly political stories and bits of satire with sharp teeth, and the majority of it could probably be described as some degree of esoteric. The stories aren't pretentious, but they are most of them evocative and complex. The bunch taken as a whole feel more like a collection of fairy tales than anything else, but that isn't *quite* right... but I think it's true enough to say that the events in these stories, even when they do not occur within fairy tales themselves, still occur with an awareness of the forms and rules of fairy tales.

The Pilgrim and the Angel - the first two pieces in this collection struck me as appetizers; they whetted the appetite but didn't satisfy, and both this and the next story felt like *lovely* morsels of ideas but felt unfinished.
The Lamp at the Turning - a street lamp in love with a man; see above
The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees
The Lion God and the Two Gates - this is a twist on a "Judgment of Solomon"/wise judge type folktale
Music for the Underworld - Really, really neat Orpheus retelling.
Green Glass: A Love Story - Strange and unsettling (effectively so!), but heavy-handed. "Let them eat cake" but with lunar dust and ice cream. This was, for me, the weakest story in the bunch.
Ilse, Who Saw Clearly - I *loved* this one and remembered the details even after a month-long hiatus from reading. This is the most straightforwardly fairy tale-ish one of the bunch: story of a traveling peddler visiting a village whose wares are not exactly as advertised and the girl who sets out to find the peddler and finds herself in the process.
The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi - Near-future story of video games and Doers and Don'ts
The Wretched and the Beautiful - Chilling and excellent story of first contact
The Urashima Effect - Partners separated by space and relativistic effects who've made recordings to keep each other company in the deep dark. This one got me solidly in the feels.
Braid of Days and Wake of Nights - Wrecked. Loved this so much; gorgeous, powerful use of language and heartrending.
Local Stop on the Floating Train - Dark. Very good. Difficult to read, as intended.
The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight - fairy tale, of sorts. Excellent.
The Eve of the Planet Ys - Apocalyptic. I love this story.
Courtship Displays of the American Birder - Clean, crisp birder love story; big detour in tone! I liked it very much.
The No-One Girl and the Flower of the Farther Shore - This was a sneaky one. I very much enjoyed it but I could not confidently say what sort of a thing it is.
The Time Invariance of Snow - There was a lot in this collection that put me in mind of Cat Valente, but this one takes the cake on that front. Gender and self-worth and fairy tales and physics and sort-of theology... this definitely went over my head and I loved it.
Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire - The Emperor's New Clothes turned upside-down and toothy. Loved it and it made me laugh out loud.
The Cat's Tale - a take on the White Cat that I really liked
The Valley of Wounded Deer - Love this! Solid 4.5/5, easy
The View from the Top of the Stair - Beautiful and STRANGE and a little melancholy. Wonderfully evocative.
Small Monsters - A story of nature, red in tooth and claw, but also cycles of abuse and art criticism. Naturally.

"The world is stranger than I thought. It always is."

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JEWEL BOX by E. Lily Yu is a fantastic short story collection that has both the whimsical, age-old quality of the fabular and the trenchant perceptiveness of a book very much written for our times. In these twenty-two stories, Yu uses allegory and folk tale to reveal aspects of our own society that we’ve been habituated to accept, but which, when presented with Yu’s imagination, jolt us awake with new recognition and empathy.

Reminiscent of the wonderment that Ted Chiang creates in his stories, each of the narratives in JEWEL BOX unfolds an origami orb of a creative world that both delights and convicts its readers. There’s a profound morality to these tales, the kind that compels us to consider our responsibility towards our fellow humans. Yu’s prose is sparkling and nimble, as comfortable inhabiting Cairo, Nairobi, and NYC as it is exploring fairy-tale Germany, outer space, or the birding fields of Louisiana.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the stories, but loved these with all my heart:

⋆ “The Lion God and the Two Gates,” in which a judge who prides himself on his supposed neutrality is confronted by a difficult choice in the afterlife

⋆ “Music for the Underworld,” a dystopian look into an authoritarian state, the prison-industrial complex, and artificial intelligence

⋆ “The Wretched and the Beautiful,” which imagines how the world would handle alien refugees from outer space

⋆ “The Time Invariance of Snow,” which plays with fairy tale tropes and physics to explore good and evil

⋆ “Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire,” a retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes with a fantastic ending

⋆ “Small Monsters,” a moving tale of old wounds, friendship, and the creative impulse

JEWEL BOX speaks to both the head and the heart with the vividness that short stories need to make a lasting impact, and it’s in the running for my favorite collection of the year. This is also a plug for Yu’s ON FRAGILE WAVES, a top 10 read of 2022 for me. Thank you Erewhon Books for the gifted copy and to NetGalley for the e-book.

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