Friday, October 24, 2014

Short Fiction Friday: Flavorwire's 50 Scariest Short Stories

Y'all, this is sooo cool! Monday, Flavorwire put together their list of the "50 Scariest Short Stories of All Time" and it is packed with big names, creepy tales, and online freebies! That's right, they've included links to where you can find 33 of the stories, including one by Neil Gaiman, another by Roald Dahl, and even one by King himself.

Here's the full list to scroll through.

I'd already read a few of the stories listed: "Veldt" by Ray Bradbury, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor, "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood, "Midnight Meat Train" by Clive Barker, Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," Daphne Du Maurier's "Don't Look Now," and (of course) "The Green Ribbon" by Alvin Schwartz.

But really that's so very few! So I started with story number one, Harlan Ellison's truly bizarre "I Have No Mouth and I must Scream," and am working my way through. So far I have to say that Kelly Link's "Two Houses" is my favorite. (And I know they list her upcoming collection for that one, which isn't due out until Feb, but a version of the story can actually be found in the Ray Bradbury tribute collection, Shadow Show. A fabulous collection, by the way.)

Certainty by Victor Bevine

Good morning, readers. Today I'm part of the TLC book tour for Victor Bevine's debut, Certainty.

William Bartlett is a young lawyer still working to prove himself in his chosen career when he takes on a case that may be more than he can handle. It is the summer of 1919 and a local clergyman, beloved by many, has been accused of a shocking crime. Pressure is on Bartlett to push a plea to a lesser crime, but the ramifications would still be hugely detrimental. Certain that the priest is innocent, Bartlett pushes forward with a trial, intent on proving the man's innocence. But as attention on the case increases the trial becomes more complicated than Bartlett ever imagined. 

I like the idea of Bevine's book - shining light on a really quite shocking piece of history that I'm sure almost no one is aware of. I had some issue getting into the book, though.

We meet Bartlett and Kent immediately, as Bartlett picks Kent up from jail. It's a nice intro to the lawyer with a story about his father's connections and his own first understanding of the law. We then jump back to Bartlett and Kent's first meeting and the beginnings of the plot conceived by certain Navy men to crack down on undesirables in Newport. And I quickly got lost. I trudged through, though, breaking out of the seamen's scheming and back into Bartlett and Kent's tale, relieved to return to the characters I'd connected with initially.

At this point the book takes on a tone akin to any legal thriller. The pacing picks up, the trial begins, the plotting on the part of the characters is revealed...

I share in another reviewer's opinion that this was something of a shocking read. I found myself quite emotionally affected by Certainty, disturbed by the actions of the characters and the case itself. I did find it to be a fair picture of the time - there was much going on in 1919, including the devastating Spanish Flu epidemic - and Bevine takes care in including those aspects of time and place into the overall story of the case itself (this case, by the way, is known as the Newport Navy Vice Scandal if you'd like to read more about it).

Certainty is well written but was, again, hard for me to get into. It was a combination of the subject, keeping the various players organized in my head as I was reading, and simply being unprepared for (or not in the right mood for) such a heavy topic. (Honestly, I'm sure it was more mood than anything as I've been craving more seasonal fare of late.)

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Victor Bevine you can friend him over on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Land of Dreams by Kate Kerrigan

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Kate Kerrigan's Land of Dreams, the third part of her fabulous Ellis Island trilogy!

It's 1942 and the now twice-widowed Ellie Hogan has carved out a nice niche for herself in New York. She's raising two adopted sons and is an up-and-comer in the art scene as well. When her eldest boy, Leo, decides to take off for Hollywood in pursuit of fame and glory, Ellie has no choice but to follow. Initially, her plan is to retrieve her son and return to New York, but when it looks as though stardom might be a reality for Leo, Ellie's plans change. 

But Hollywood is a far cry from New York or even Ireland. 

I was so anxious to get to get back to Ellie's story with Land of Dreams. It's been on my must have list since I turned the final page on City of Hope last year. Seriously, I even considered ordering it from the UK so that I wouldn't have to wait!

That said, I was surprised that the first third of the book is basically backstory to get us up to 1942. It glossed over Ellie's years with Charles and Leo all in order to catch us up on what happened after the last book and get us to the point where the story actually begins. It was disappointing and dragged the momentum of the first part of the book quite significantly.

This start was doubly disappointing because I'd found City of Hope particularly easy to get into even if you hadn't already read Ellis Island and I felt that Land of Dreams didn't have that same approachability. I've so adored each part of Ellie's story that it's become one of my favorite things to recommend to readers. But where readers could start easily with either City or the actual first installment, Ellis, I don't think Land would serve well at all as a diving off point.

Now that that's out of the way, I will tell you that I still greatly enjoyed returning to Ellie. She's a character readers can't help but fall in love with! Her struggles in this book are centered around her kids and her identity. She worries about stifling Leo's dreams but Los Angeles proves to be less than inspiring for her own art and that's something that scares her.

I was glad Bridie traveled to LA in Land! Ellie's friends have always played a big role in her story and while she does make friends in California, Bridie is a favorite from the previous installments. She's feisty and funny and I would have missed her and the way she supports Ellie and her family.

Land of Dreams is a nice close to Ellie's tale but I do recommend reading at least City of Hope beforehand.

Rating: 3.5/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Kate and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I'd Like to Start

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: top ten new series I'd like to start.

The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Liz Rosenberg's The Moonlight Palace.

Agnes has lived all her life in the crumbling ruins of the Kampong Glam palace. The last descendant of the Sultan of Singapore, her history is inextricably tied to that of the island. Agnes and her few remaining relatives - her Uncle Chachi (who is actually her great uncle), British Grandfather, and his wife Nei-Nei Down - rely on the family stipend (which continues due to some accounting error) and British Grandfather's pension from the military, along with income from boarders, to keep themselves afloat. But it's not enough. Agnes is old enough now to help, and that is what she vows to do, all the while hoping that she can save their Moonlight Palace.

I was pleasantly surprised by The Moonlight Palace and Agnes in particular. From the start, her voice rings loud and true, drawing the reader into a story that is rich with both history and emotion. Much of the focus of the story is her coming of age, but I found it to be a rather well-rounded tale as a whole. Though it is a rather short read, Rosenberg did a great job weaving in the history, setting the scene quite nicely for both Singapore in the 1920s and of the raggedy palace. And though Agnes herself is a force, the rest of the characters that surround her are quite nicely developed as well.

Singapore's history is not something I know a terribly lot about but I find it to be utterly fascinating. And while I didn't necessarily plan to follow up one Singapore read with another (this read comes somewhat on the tail of the latest Ovidia Yu in my TBR) I did love going back to it as a setting.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

California by Edan Lepucki

When Cal and Frida left Los Angeles behind, it was to start fresh - just the two of them. The world has changed and life in the city is all but impossible. Neither of them can afford to live in one of the communities that have cropped up around the country, but Cal has the skills to live off the land and support them both. Then Frida discovers that she may be pregnant. With a third life to consider, the couple decides it might be necessary to strike out and explore their surroundings. For a long time they've known that there are others nearby, but they've avoided all contact until now. 

I wasn't sure how much to share about the overall plot of Edan Lepucki's debut. The ultimate pull of the story is discovery. Discovery of Cal and Frida's story, discovery of the nearby settlement, discovery of the secrets that everyone is living by. To give too much away, then, would ultimately kill the suspense.

I'm also at odds with my own opinion about the story, which obviously makes it harder to review as a whole. On the one hand, the discovery I mentioned above kept me interested. On the other hand, I'm undecided about whether the ultimate revelations were really the pay off I wanted.

The story ebbed and flowed throughout, with high points and lulls. Of course the high points kept me intrigued and drew me through the story. The lulls, though, drove me a bit nuts. I really want to go into more detail but I just don't want to risk giving too much away. I guess I'll limit myself to saying that there are a lot of questions that come up in the book. Lepucki addresses some but not all of them and those that are addressed aren't always done so in a way that was expected nor did some of those questions seem to warrant as much secrecy or tension.

California was a good read and one that I did enjoy, for the most part. I feel I should point out that while it is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and there are a lot of the horrors one would expect with such a setting, it isn't a very action-packed tale as a whole. It's a very character-driven story and much of the tension I spoke of surrounds Cal and Frida and the various choices they're faced with.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New Releases 10/21/14

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Desert God by Wilbur Smith

Seventh Grave and No Body by Darynda Jones

Sometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite

Fish Tales by Sheri S. Tepper

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnston

Bathing the Lion by Jonathan Carroll

Burned by Valerie Plame

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella

The Ice Dragon by George R. R. Martin

Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

New on DVD:
The Purge: Anarchy
Earth to Echo