Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan is stunning, absorbing the reader into the lives of her characters — animal and human — and forcing them to contemplate wider questions of what it means to love, change, and grow.  The collection melds nature and human nature flawlessly as Ryan explores the parallels between the natural world and the human world.  For an example of this, please check out my short story spotlight of the story “Greyhound.”

There are moments when characters connect with animals in ways that are astonishing, like a goose that follows a human who never feeds it in “Migration,” and the love between a woman and an an octopus in “A Sea Change.”  But each of these stories is more than a moment in time, and in some cases, they examine a lifetime in just a dozen or so pages.  Ryan has a gift for creating characters and relationships that are realistic, without leaving the reader wondering what’s next by the end of the story.  Encapsulating the right moments and memories, she demonstrates her short story creating skills in a way that ensures readers remember her characters vividly.

“She had read that many Canada geese were no longer bothering to migrate, particularly those in populated areas.  The margins between people and wildlife were beginning to blur, and there was something unnerving about the intersection:  pigeons living on dropped French fries; raptors nesting on sooty skyscrapers; geese, sated and lazy staggering through city parks.  How many generations would pass before their wings grew stunted and useless?  Fly, she thought, staring at the flock.  Fly before it’s too late.”  (page 69 ARC)

There are so many well written and emotional stories in this collection, and it’s clear that Ryan is a observer of not only nature and how it operates, but also how humans have shown similar attributes and skills.  But these characters are more than just studies in how they interact and resemble other animals in the wild, they live and breath the calm experiences of the world around them, sometimes without even realizing its influence.  There are subtle messages about slowing down, enjoying the moment and loved ones while they are here, but there are also calls to action.  Act on that love or that need for change, do more than just survive, which is interesting given that one of the stories is called “Survival Skills.”

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan, which will be published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press on paper from Sustainable Forestry Initiative Certified sources, is a highly enjoyable collection that will get readers thinking about their own lives, the nature around them, and even their own pets, but most of all, readers will be entranced by these stories.

***If you haven’t read novels or short stories from Ashland Creek Press, you are missing out on some really great finds.  Might I suggest you start with Ryan’s collection?***

About the Author:

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California.  A horticultural enthusiast and chef of many years, Jean’s writing has always been her favorite pursuit. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Blue Lake Review, Damselfly, and Earthspeak. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister.  Visit her Website.

This is my 17th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.


  1. I think I’m most intrigued by this collection because you say they don’t keep you wondering what happens next. That’s my biggest problem with short stories, that they end too soon for me!

  2. I love these comments. I can tell this book really resonates with readers.

  3. This sounds like a really intriguing collection. I haven’t heard of it before so I’ll have to check it out.

  4. I, too, love these stories for (among so many other things) how they combine nature and human nature … Jean weaves these elements so seamlessly. Thanks, Serena, for a lovely review!

  5. I am about halfway through with this book. I plan to post my review next week so I am trying to get it read quickly, but I also want to linger over the stories a little, which slows me down.

  6. Many thanks, Serena. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the stories.

  7. I feel like we live in the goose capital of the world now. Maybe I should read these stories! :–)


  1. […] Other reviews of Survival Skills: Luxury Reading; Publishers Weekly; Book Chatter; Savvy Verse & Wit  […]

  2. […] Finally, I wanted to call attention to a great giveaway over at Ashland Creek Press, an independent publisher that not only prints books sustainably but also chooses works that reflect nature in some way.  I’ve enjoyed several of their books, including Lithia’s eco-vamp series by Blair Richmond. I also enjoyed The Names of Things, which recently was named as a finalist for the 2013 Chautauqua Prize, and a recent short story collection, Survival Skills. […]