Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shadow Show by Sam Weller and Mort Castle (Editors)

Review based on ARC.

It is difficult to rate something written in honor of the eminent Mr. Bradbury.  Part of the rating must assuredly originate from the topic.  Part of the rating is in the appealability thereof.  And part must be from the writing and/or stories themselves.

In Shadow Show, many authors who themselves are worthy of celebration, gather to honor the works, life, and influence of Ray Bradbury.  I have only actually read two Bradbury novels, though 'the rest' have been on my wish-list for as long as I can remember.  Shadow Show renewed my desire to jump to it and start gathering the Bradbury tomes for my reading pleasure and intellectual enlightenment (according to those featured in Shadow Show ;)).

Some of the novels take a theme in a Bradbury piece and run with it; some are merely written in his honor; still others written in what the author hopes is his style.  All of the stories are followed by quick blurbs from the author explaining the impact Bradbury had on them in their lives and/or careers.

I enjoyed the collection as a whole, and, as stated above, I am eager to grace myself with other Bradbury pieces.  There were some stories that I loved, some that I liked, and just a couple that I felt were "meh."  (For those interested in a story-by-story blurb, see below.)  Overall, I highly recommend the collection.  Obviously, Bradbury fans will want to partake, but I equally recommend the collection to all readers -- people who love discovering new stories, new worlds.

Overall, FOUR of five stars.

The stories, individually blurb'ed, without acknowledgment of their added explanation/blurb.  The following is not a description OF the story (since they're so short) so much as a brief response TO the story.  I've noted after each whether they fit into a sort of fantasy/sci-fi category or a more "real-life" (drama) category:

A Second Homecoming by Ray Bradbury
This is more of a second introduction than a story.

The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury by Neil Gaiman (drama)
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, so I was actually a little disappointed with this one, the one I was probably looking forward to the most in the collection.  It was good, insightful, well written... but just didn't jump out at me and didn't do much other than pay homage.

Headlife by Margaret Atwood (sci-fi)
I particularly liked this one.  I've read one other Atwood (so far) and this one easily trumped it. As with the Handmaid's Tale, Headlife made a point about society, but does not shove your face in it.  This story was was also reminiscent of Twilight Zone and, dare I say, Futurama....

Heavy by Jay Bonansinga (drama)
Heavy was thought provoking and emotion-making.  It was simultaneously touching and grim; hopeful and morose.  Bonansinga did an excellent job of channeling what I think of as the Bradbury-spirit.

The Girl in the Funeral Parlor by Sam Weller (drama)
This one was a little creepy and had a wonderful concept.  I'd actually like to see this one developed into at least a novella and maybe put at least a little more into the sci-fi (or fantasy) category.  Regardless, I enjoyed reading this short and am looking into Weller a little more...

The Companions by David Morrell (sci-fi (fantasy))
I loved the way this one started and middle'd.  I did not love where the author went with it, but I understand it.  I imagine that this short will appeal to a lot of people, but for me, I wanted something more "fireworky" at the end.  The short felt, perhaps, a little self-indulgent.

The Exchange by Thomas F. Monteleone (drama)
This was another one that was okay and felt a little self-indulgent. It was a little sentimental in the way that it feels like you're listening to a story by a grandfather type, about that "one important person" who really impacted his whole life....  It was fine, but not spectacular.  Enjoyable but not staying (I had to re-read a little bit to remember which one it was just now...)

Cat on a Bad Couch by Lee Martin (drama)
I really loved this one and, whenever I think about "Shadow Show" as a whole, this is the story that first comes to mind.  It was so nicely put together, very complete, and impressive in its subtlety.  Martin's character is somehow relatable and even endearing in his weaknesses and very human desires.

By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill (drama'ish)
Another great short.  Hill leads the reader around corners effortlessly, never hinting at what is on the other side of that corner.  His characterization is impressive given his subjects and, in the end, satisfies the reader while leaving her (me) longing...

Little America by Dan Chaon (sci-fi (fantasy))
He never comes right out and says it (and neither will I), but Chaon dances around his story - a theme that has become much more popular in the past couple decades - with a lithe leap.  The perspective is impressive, the plot is brief and to the point, and the end is, again, satisfying, and I appreciated that Chaon did not attempt to think for his reader.

The Phone Call by John McNally (sci-fi)
This one is right up my alley.  When I realized who the author was, I was not surprised and was, instead, reinvigorated in my desire to read more McNally.  His topic is not new anymore (though, as he states in his after-the-story blurb, he's been toying with the idea for a couple decades), but it is presented with a fresh spin, a modern perspective, and a thoughtful end.

Young Pilgrims by Joe Meno (sci-fi)
Another excellent story.  Exploring the next frontier in the context of a zealous religious group could, in another's hands, be inaccessible.  But Meno approaches both with an eye toward present, modern, and very-Earth concerns and ideas.

Children of the Bedtime Machine by Robert McCammon (sci-fi)
The story begins bleak and hopeless and slowly, subtly, moves into hopeful and bright.  I loved the concept, and I thought the characterization was really excellent.  I did, however, think the end was just a little too neatly packaged.  I like my happy endings, but with short stories such as these, leaving room for a little wonder is welcomed

The Page by Ramsey Campbell (drama'ish)
I really liked the way Campbell weaved just a touch of the possibility of supernatural into the everyday, the potentially mundane.  The story was informative and complete, yet still left room for the reader to question everything in the short -- the presence of perhaps a ghost and the influence of such an existence on everyday life.

Light by Mort Castle (drama)
I've read other Norma Jean / Marilyn Monroe pieces, but this one was really well done.  It was insightful and aware.  I don't know if any of the experiences and thoughts described therein were documented and merely re-played here in an effective manner or if Castle created it all from his, apparently vast, imagination.  The short was a believable account, deftly, efficiently, and emotionally told.

Conjure by Alice Hoffman (drama'ish)
I went out and bought another Hoffman this weekend as a result of this story.  I love exactly how she told it.  Nothing more needs to be said.

Max by John Maclay (sci-fi (fantasy)'ish)
I liked it, but I didn't love it. It was just a little too much like reading history for my tastes... a little too memoir and not enough story.  But, fine.

Two of a Kind by Jacquelyn Mitchard (sci-fi (fantasy))
This was probably my least favorite.  It was good, well-written, well-told.  It had a little bit of spook and a little bit of creep.  But in the end, it felt more like someone was trying to educate me than spin me a tale of two boys...

Fat Man and Little Boy by Gary A. Braunbeck (sci-fi'ish)
Another one I loved.  Braunbeck touches just enough on human frailty and conceit, the ego and insecurity.  He dabbles with the future and establishes a life.  I am interested in more of what he has to say...

The Tattoo by Bonnie Jo Campbell (sci-fi (fantasy))
I have, for some reason, mixed feelings about this one.  It is right up my alley, but I was, nevertheless, dissatisfied.  I love the concept, and I think that Campbell did a great job of describing the details.  I think that what was dissatisfying for me was the relationship side -- perhaps realistic, but unmoving.  Intriguing, but I feel like the story could have gone just a little bit further.

Backward in Seville by Audrey Niffenegger (sci-fi)
For those who know me, you know that I am the anti-fan when it comes to Niffenegger's Time Traveler's Wife.  Nonetheless, I purchased her second book, and I read this short with an open mind.  I felt, after reading Time Traveler's Wife, that Niffenegger has potential that could have been better illuminated by a more aggressive editor (vis-a-vis cutting about 150 pages from the 500-page book).  But I digress....  Backward in Seville was nice.  It was sentimental, which was not even slightly surprising.  Overall, I felt that with this (much) shorter foray, Niffenegger did a (much) better job telling her tale.  It was good.  Possibly even very good...

Earth (A Gift Shop) by Charles Yu (sci-fi)
I have heard of Yu and was eager to read this short.  Yu presents the tone just right. I mean, just right.  It is completely convincing in what it endeavors to accomplish.  You are reading (listening to audio of) a marketing brochure for Earth, a Gift Shop, written by (told by) a wry, self-defacing marketer.  Looking forward to more Yu.

Hayleigh's Dad by Julia Keller (sci-fi)
Awesome.  Am definitely going to look into more Keller.  Maybe it's this one.. maybe this is my favorite...

Who Knocks by Dave Eggers (sci-fi)
This is in the tone of an urban legend.  And it was fun.  Not deep, but fun.  And creepy.  Enjoyed my first tiny jaunt into Eggers-land.

Reservation 2020 by Bayo Ojijutu (sci-fi)
This was well told, but it felt a little preachy.  I understand that a lot of authors are moved by Bradbury's ability to preach so effortlessly, but that's the point -- it's effortless.  In Fahrenheit 451, the reader gains a sense of Bradbury's opinion, perspective, and, as far as he is concerned, truth.  But it's a story first.  Ojijutu's story has intrigue, and I loved (loved) the interaction between Joseph and the Governor, but overall, I felt that the tale fell flat -- onto a moral message and not a story.  It was not bad, and it was certainly well-written, it was just not my favorite.

Two Houses by Kelly Link (sci-fi)
Kind of awesome.  Reminds me of Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk for some reason.  Fun, light, deep, and provocative.  I'm curious about Link...

Weariness by Harlan Ellison (sci-fi)
His name is trademarked, which made me feel like I've missed out on a lot of good sci-fi.  I thought the story was OK, a nice thought, a well-done conclusion to "it all."  But what I really enjoyed from Ellison was actually his after-the-story blurb.  He sounds like just the sort of person I'd love to have a long conversation over tea with..


Monday, September 17, 2012

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

This book was, apparently, the third in a series.  Having read it out of turn, the mystery stands on its own, but some of the side points were left unexplained -- the fact that the author did not re-explain every interesting point is something I definitely would have appreciated, had I read the first two books.  In this one, it left me wondering, but did not interrupt the story.

Semi-rookie Peter Grant investigates crimes in London when "other" explanations are required.  His partner Lesley wears a mask because, as she explains at the beginning of the book, her face fell off.  I imagine this whole story is encompassed in book 2, but in book 3, it merely adds to the overall ambience of the book.  Nightingale is their boss and they live at the Folly with Molly, who I assume is their ghost housekeeper (again, probably detailed in a prior book).

The mystery in this book is fun and Aaronovitch spends time going through the hoops of crime investigation.  It's an entertaining read for a saturday afternoon or a plane ride (where I did most of my reading).

On the cover is a portion of a review that claims that this book is the perfect mix of Harry Potter and CSI.  As a Harry Potter fan, I beg to differ.  This book is more like the Dresden Files, without the same level of darkness or angry wry humor, and with more investigation and cop-speak.  I can only assume the Harry Potter reference on the cover is due to a few Harry Potter references throughout the book itself, and the fact that there are wizards and "fae."  Perhaps if I had read books 1 and 2 I might understand the comparison more -- being brought through a new world and learning of magical creatures as the main character does is part of the magic of Harry Potter.  Harry Grant spends more effort not being shocked because cops are supposed to know  more than the public and, necessarily, an element of wonder is absent.

Overall, I enjoyed Aaronovitch's sense of humor (quite a lot at times), and I appreciated the distinctly london feel and dialect.  I would recommend the book, particularly to someone who is interested in a detective solving crimes involving the supernatural.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by

Another one.  I mean, another good sink-your-teeth-in book.  I read this one in a matter of hours.

Christmas Day, Tara returns home.  Tara's been gone for 20 years but, upon her return, has hardly aged at all.  She looks tired, maybe wiser, but otherwise, she appears to be a 36-year-old in the body of a 16-year-old.  The story is told from various perspectives.  When Tara is telling her story, it is from her perspective, though the listener varies between her brother Peter, her ex-boyfriend Richie, and her shrink Vivian (Mr. Vivian Underwood).  Tara's story is the heart of it -- what events led up to her disappearance, where she was, what has happened since she has been back.

Sometimes the story is in first person, sometimes in third.  Sometimes the author uses quotes to indicate conversation, sometimes merely logic (e.g., He told me, don't do that).  Joyce uses a variety of quotes to intro his chapters, which quotes set the mood for the chapter and the perspective, the best of which are a transcription of the trial of Michael Cleary for the murder of his wife Bridget Cleary.

The book is well paced and pulls you through.  I really didn't put it down until I was done.  I was impressed with the way Joyce implemented the various perspectives and thought his voice was largely convincing for most if not all of the characters.  I particularly enjoyed Dr. Underwood's report, perspectives, conversations.

The first 50 or so pages aren't the best in the book.  It almost feels like a little too much set up before we get to "the goods."  I didn't think I really loved the ending, either, but I felt like I understood the reasoning behind it.  Then, upon further reflection, I was very impressed with the window that was left open.  It was all cinched up *just* enough to keep you wondering about absolutely all of it.  Which I am surprisingly very happy about because I normally like nice, neat packages.

I definitely recommend the book.  It falls somewhere between magical realism and fantasy.  It's interesting and well told.  And best of all, it's a real novel.

FOUR of five stars.

Niceville by Carsten Stroud

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into with this one.  I read about it, some quick little blurb somewhere, and it seemed like it could be a "lose yourself in here" kind of book.  I think the quick synopsis is something like "boy suddenly disappears, like caught-on-camera disappears. town in a tizzy.  something's weird in niceville."

I thought to myself, sure! that sounds good to me...
Now that I've read it (rather quickly), I find myself having a difficult time really describing it.  So, the little two-liner above isn't inaccurate.  it's just not accurate either.

Niceville is like reading a Stephen King without the gore.  Or maybe a Grisham with ghosts.  Or maybe nothing at all like Stephen King or John Grisham because it just doesn't fit.

It was well written.  It was VERY well populated with characters.  It was intriguing.  It was funny (surprisingly).  It was a horror story, kind of, but not gory, really.  It was a thriller, maybe even psychological, but maybe it's more of a crime story.  It would make a good crime tv series.  Especially since I know that there are more coming (yay!).

So, what's it about?  It's about this town, Niceville, where things aren't so nice.  (that's not surprising, I don't think, from either the title or the cover image).  There's a cliff and a sink hole that seem to make people act ... odd.  There's a missing boy, then something happens (i hate spoilers), and then the boy is back.  Kind of.  Or maybe not.

But then there's also the bank robbers.  There're the pervie side-characters.  There's the genius techie.  There're Nick, Kate, and Kate's dad.  There's Glynis Ruelle.  And there's Claire Mercer.  There's also so much more.  Again, I was impressed with the amount packed into this book, particularly because it read so quickly.  I find that a rare skill -- the ability to introduce a reader to a high number of characters, to allow the reader to really get to know the characters, and to do so while moving the plot(s) along quickly and effortlessly.

I highly recommend, but I also warn it's dark.  If you want something light & fluffy... well, if you want something light & fluffy you probably don't read this blog.  But this is on the darker side of dark.  But not squeamish.  Not nightmare.  Just ... you know, that slight discomfort in the quiet 2 a.m. when everyone else in the house is asleep...

FOUR of five stars.

Advent by James Treadwell

There were some things I didn't know about certain legends before I started reading Advent.  Like, I had not heard of Cassandra and her curse.  And I did not know anything about Faust.

Having read Advent, I now want to read more about both of these legends.  I typically do not read intros and authors notes because, frankly, they're not really relevant to me.  I am reading a story and I don't really care what someone says about the author or the impact the story has one some community... or what the author wants to "extra point out" after you've taken the time to read his book.

When I DO read these extras, I know that I have enjoyed the book.  I am in a place to read more ... often times, anything more I can get my hands on.

In this case, the author's note at the end of the book was a rewarding (and thankfully brief) read.  It explained that the legend of Faust is like that of Arthur -- little solid is known, allowing for great flexibility in the telling of the story.

Advent was great.  Whether you know anything about Faust / Cassandra or not, it is just great, a well-told story with vivid characters and a colorful setting.

Advent starts with a teenage Gavin who is escaping from the stifling rule of his parents' upbringing.  He has a dad who seems to hate him, a mother who weakly mimics love while cowering under the heavy handed rule of her husband, and a friend - a best friend - who isn't real.  As he has been told countless times by the adults in his life, who know better.

Gavin has been permitted a brief escape to his aunt's house in a small town a train-ride away, while his parents are on vacation -- largely from him.  Gavin's aunt is unlike the other adults in his life - in fact, while others have assumed imaginary friends, his Auntie Gwen encouraged his visions and often asked for details -- a little too excitedly.

However, when Gavin arrives, his scatter-brained Aunt is not at the train station to pick him up.  Gavin, fortunately, has made friends with Professor Hester who drives him home, around the long winding road, to his Aunt's lodge at the front of the Pandora Estate... oh, i'm sorry, Pend*ur*ra.  ;)

As you can see from the above, which truly is just the very very beginning, Treadwell packs a lot into each sentence, pulling the reader into the world at Pendurra completely.  The entire book occurs over the course of a weekend, or so.  But rather than being weighed down with the details, Treadwell's book instead brings the world therein alive.

Treadwell is a gifted writer and I am eager to read more.  I found myself often straying back to Advent, even when time did not actually permit.  I savored the book and found myself with an appetite for reading again.  After so many "false-starts," it was nice to find a real book-book.  A book with a hearty plot, believable and endearing characters, and an intriguing story line.

It wasn't a five-star book only because it wasn't.  I don't have any precise criticisms and I can't point out specific flaws.  But this book wasn't the next Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, though it had flavors of it.  And it didn't make me rabid for more, but it almost did.

I highly recommend and I will certainly read more Treadwell.
FOUR of five stars.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ballerina by Edward Stewart

I discovered this book over twenty years ago in the public library.  I was in 7th or 8th grade and I had a voracious appetite for reading and had already read through several Stephen Kings, all of the available Christopher Pikes, most of the R.L. Stines... well, you can see the type of book I was reading back then.  But I was looking for something different.. something I could really get lost in.  I found this hard-cover, largely nondescript book somewhere on one of the back walls.  I was with my best friend who was newly obsessed with the Clan of the Cave Bear series, which I couldn't get into.  I started reading this and never looked back.  I often think of it as the first non-horror book I really enjoyed.

Fast forward about 18 years and I'm feeling particularly nostalgic.  I am certain that somewhere in the back of my head the title of "that one book that was SO good" was Ballerina.  I start in on Google, amazon, goodreads, biblio, etc.  I really searched.  I could not find it.  Until I thought... you know, maybe it IS that out-of-print one by Edward Stewart.  I ordered two copies - just in case.

How pleased I was when it not only WAS that book, but that upon reading it again as a lawyer in her early thirties, I discovered that it was JUST AS GOOD.  Such a well done novel that simultaneously makes the ballerina world look enrapturing, exciting, and devastating.  It delves into the pain, the politics, the pressure.  And it also brings the reader with it into the highs, the accomplishments, the glory.

I am so happy to discovery that others agree (e.g., Amazon.com reviews).  I highly recommend this book.
FIVE of five stars.