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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Short Stories

In Sunlight Or In Shadow by Lawrence Block

sunight-and-shadow

“Edward Hopper is surely the greatest American narrative painter. His work bears special resonance for writers and readers, and yet his paintings never tell a story so much as they invite viewers to find for themselves the untold stories within.”
So says Lawrence Block, who has invited seventeen outstanding writers to join him in an unprecedented anthology of brand-new stories: In Sunlight or In Shadow. The results are remarkable and range across all genres, wedding literary excellence to storytelling savvy.
Contributors include Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olen Butler, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Craig Ferguson, Nicholas Christopher, Jill D. Block, Joe R. Lansdale, Justin Scott, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Warren Moore, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Lawrence Block himself. Even Gail Levin, Hopper’s biographer and compiler of his catalogue raisonée, appears with her own first work of fiction, providing a true account of art theft on a grand scale and told in the voice of the country preacher who perpetrated the crime.
In a beautifully produced anthology as befits such a collection of acclaimed authors, each story is illustrated with a quality full-color reproduction of the painting that inspired it.

 

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC to me!

Edward Hopper is my favorite artist, so when I saw this opportunity to read and review this book, I was ecstatic. I was so curious to see how the authors would interpret the art and translate it into a story.

At the beginning of each chapter, the painting is shown to give the reader an idea of the muse behind the writing. I enjoyed going back to take a second and even third glance at it while I was devouring each story, even if only to compare my own thoughts behind the artwork to the words being written.

The contributors range from the blockbuster (King, Oates, Deaver, Child) to the well known (Abbott, Lansdale, Moore), and the talent follows accordingly.

My favorites: Night Windows (lush writing plus a twisty plotline), The Music Room (simple yet shimmering with darkness), and Autumn at the Automat (satisfying 1930’s detail and a strong female character).

Disappointments: Rooms by the Sea (a bit too fantastical for my taste), The Incident of 10 November (a real departure for Deaver, who usually writes flawlessly; perhaps he was trying something new), and Still Life 1931 (a drab, sluggish tale that needed a bit more action).

I have always considered Hopper’s paintings to be benign, peaceful works of art. Imagine my consternation when I discovered all the seamy, sordid tales that were spun! Was that the collective thought of these writers, to banish all the vague pleasantness and expose the evil lurking below the surface? I’m happy to say that I will still enjoy Hopper’s paintings, despite the remnants of these stories that will surface occasionally.

Final thought: I was not aware of the backstory about the self-aggrandizing and duplicitous preacher who usurped some of Hopper’s work for himself.  Author Gail Levin illustrates the entire sordid tale thoroughly.

Whether you are a fan of the artist, or just like short stories, you will enjoy IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW. You can pick up your own copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1681772450″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales by Susan Berliner

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Welcome to Susan Berliner’s world. It’s a place where strange things–both good and bad–happen. Meet some of the inhabitants:

* Doreen. It’s time for her wedding but where is everyone? (Doreen’s Wedding)
* Neal. The face he sees in the mirror is no longer his own. (Mirror Image)
* Deb. All she does is recite four Latin words. How bad can that be? (The Rapunzel Effect)
* Ben. Everything he says sounds like gibberish. (Wordless)
* Mary. Her sweet dreams become nightmares and then the nightmares become real. (Dare to Dream)
* Kayla & Dan, Lisette & Omar. Two vacationing couples, one white and one black, form a bizarrely close relationship. (The Sea Crystal)
* Alicia. She waters office plants for a living. It’s a stress-free job, right? (The Plant Whisperer)
* Isabel. The man in a red sports car looks exactly like her long-lost husband. (Nathan’s Return)
In this weird world, you’ll encounter a variety of genres from thriller and horror to fairy tale and humor. Enjoy your visit!

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

Once I started reading these stories, I could not put my Kindle down. Short stories are always good, because you can read one and pick up again with a brand new story. However, once you start reading anything written by Ms Berliner, you had better clear your calendar. Her characters are haunting, memorable, and real. Despite the horror/thriller undertones in some of the stories, each character seems authentic.

As I read, I kept thinking of the Twilight Zone, with offbeat stories that started out normal, but always had some strangely plausible but unsettling ending.  THE SEA CRYSTAL is just like that. Normal people: a bride, an office worker, couples on vacation — what could be so strange about that?

You are in for a real treat. It takes a special talent to be able to create a scene in a few pages, from beginning to end, and this is where the author excels. As soon as the story begins, you are thrust into a little microcosm where things look ordinary…mundane, even.

But then…plants start talking, or someone disappears, or someone who is there turns out that they were never even there in the first place!

Much like a riddle or a brain teaser, these tales will get under your skin and not be shaken off that easily. One of the stories in particular, DOREEN’S WEDDING, left me with a queer little ache in my heart. Entirely plausible, simply done, and utterly gripping. I challenge anyone to read that and not be moved.

Berliner is a talented weaver of stories, and I guarantee you will love this book. Click [easyazon_link identifier=”0983940150″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link] and pick up your copy RIGHT NOW.

 

Death and A Cup of Tea by Jess Faraday

 

death and better

 

Elm Books is proud to present the fourth book in our mystery collection, with eight stories featuring a female sleuth and tea. Choose your brew carefully… some are comforting, others are deadly. But whether your style is English, Jasmine, Chai, Green, or Vanilla Cream there’s bound to be a cup for everyone! The fourth mystery collection from Elm Books features female sleuths and protagonists from Elm Books veterans along with a few exciting newcomers. In these eight stories you’ll find eight wide range of lovable characters. In “A Cup of Chai” Robert D. Hughes proves that detective work is more exciting than biology homework as a college student solves the mysterious murder of a local tea house owner. Professional sleuths in Lee Mullins’ “Edith Jones Just Got Game” and Lynn Finger’s “Fear on Eight Legs” solve crimes from Philadelphia to the far reaches of the galaxy. Tea is a civilizing influence and a key to answers both for the prim and proper Miss Wisner of Albert Tucher’s “Miss Wisner Will Pour” and for a team of psychological researchers investigating an escaped mouse in Sharon Nelson’s “Civility: Worth a Try When All Else Fails.” And justice is on the menu in Stephanie Rico’s “Extraordinary Happenstance”, Wendy Worthington’s “A Nice Cup of Homicide”, and Cheryl Korte’s “A Garden of Simples” as their heroines dish out boiling hot revenge with two lumps of sugar.

 

Thanks to Rachel at Elm Books for offering this advanced reader’s copy!

A writer’s call for a plot that included women and tea is the genesis of this collection of short stories. Each of them are written by different authors, thus different styles and genres. All the stories were written well, with only the plot leaving room for interpretation.

For me, knowing that the tea was the link sort of spoiled things for me a bit, as I was alert to the appearance of the beverage. Some inclusions were relevant to the plot, others a mere aside, that wouldn’t even have figured on a reader’s radar if not for the title.

“Civility” started out well, with humorous dialogue involving a laboratory mouse, but the ending was  rather abrupt, and not satisfying at all.

“Fear On Eight Legs” will give arachnid-fearing readers a chill and perhaps some nightmares, as a robot spider is sent to perform an errand.

“Miss Wisner Will Pour” was to me, the most erudite and well written story, with a plot that was completely plausible. The idea of proper librarians with dark secrets was delightful and refreshing, exactly like a well-brewed cup of, well, tea.

“A Cup Of Chai” seemed a bit implausible to me, and a bit too pat. Biology student turned sleuth was a good theory, but didn’t hold my interest.

“A Nice Cup Of Homicide” was a story about four women trying to rid themselves of an annoying hanger-on to their afternoon club. The character of Kyra was evil and manipulative, but the idea of these women deciding that murder was the solution was hard to believe. How could they be so impotent in the face of a single person?

“A Garden Of Simples” was my second favorite story, I think. The main character planned out her deed thoughtfully and naturally, and the fact that it was under everyone’s nose made it all the more pleasant to read.

Short stories hold so much promise, because if there is one that you don’t enjoy, there will be another on your plate in a few pages. My time spent reading DEATH AND A CUP OF TEA was enjoyable and relaxing, without having to puzzle too hard over the mysteries contained within. This is a perfect little read for an afternoon, much like the proverbial teatime within each of the stories.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B00XLJ7F64″ locale=”US” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link]. This book will be published on August 1, 2015.

 

 

 

 

DIVISION: A collection of science fiction fairy tales by Lee S Hawke PLUS GIVEAWAY


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BEAUTY. GRIEF. MINDS. EVERYTHING IS DIVISIBLE.

From LEE S. HAWKE, author of The Changeling and the Sun (published by Ideomancer Speculative Fiction Magazine) comes DIVISION: A COLLECTION OF SCIENCE FICTION FAIRYTALES.
Featuring 7 original, fairytale-inspired science fiction short stories, this collection explores the division between mind, body, technology, and humanity in Hawke’s trademark haunting style.

Inside:
A chronically ill civilian discovers that his immune system may be the key to human survival.
A schoolgirl tries to escape her demons through levels of virtual reality.
A data analyst falls in love with a software coder during a forced government assignment.
A young boy is confronted with a horrifying truth about his constructed world.
A jaded medical technician rediscovers the meaning of beauty.
A girl scrambles to escape a horrifying alien invasion in a futuristic dystopia.
And a spaceship engineer struggles with the death of her only daughter.
Metaphysical and visionary, this collection of fantastic fiction combines humor, wonder, horror and humanity to create an enduring anthology of fairy tales for adults.

 

Thanks to Erica at Blind Mirror Publishing for offering me DIVISION in exchange for this honest review. Also, thanks for providing the three digital copies of the book that we’re giving away in the raffle below! Entering is easy, so you have no excuse not to do it.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Short stories are always good to read in between longer books, because they serve as a palate cleanser and give you things to think about in a small package. DIVISION was awesome to read because the sci-fi wasn’t overly technical; the stories were all basically dystopian and mostly believable; and there was just enough of an odd twist to make you take a breath and consider the possibilities of what you just read.

The twist is not always glaringly obvious–you need to read the story (or parts of it) over again to grasp what Hawke is saying. In the story about the boy trying to get beyond the giant gray Wall that surrounds his town, the descriptions of the road become more and more detailed, until you realize what, exactly, the road is made of. That’s when you get that chill in your heart and know you are dealing with a writer with talent. Short stories are hard to create–you have to have a hook, interesting characters, and a plot that wraps up just as things get going. Hawke has constructed some fine work here, for sure.

Perhaps my favorite one was the story about the forced interaction between the data analyst and the software coder. Appropriately dystopian and government controlled, I thought it would be a lot darker than it turned out to be–but still satisfying nonetheless. Maybe I liked it because it was the most benign one of them all. Remember what I said: odd twists and hints of darker things that sometimes lurk in the basement, or in the far reaches of our mind, where we don’t want to go.

If you like sci fi or dystopian work, you will enjoy DIVISION. All the stories have characters that you can sympathize with, and situations that will ring true. Excellent job by Lee S. Hawke on this collection, and I’d love to see more.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”1925299015″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].

Internal Medicine by Terrence Holt

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A collection of essays about life as a surgical intern.

Terrence Holt, whose In the Valley of the Kings was hailed as a “work of genius” (New York Times) and made Amazon’s Top Ten Short Story Collections of the year, brings a writer’s eye and a doctor’s touch to this powerful account of residency.

Intense, ironic, heartfelt, and heartbreaking, these nine vivid stories put us at the bedside of a patient dying in a house full of cursing parrots, through a nightmarish struggle to convince a man that he has cancer, at a life-and-death effort to keep an oxygen mask on a claustrophobic patient, and in the lounge of a snowbound hospital where doctors swap yarns through the night.

Out of these “dioramas from the Museum of Human Misery”, Holt draws meaning, beauty, wonder, and truth. Personal, poignant, and meticulously precise, these stories evoke Chekhov, Maugham, and William Carlos Williams, admitting readers to the beating heart of medicine. Internal Medicine is an account of what it means to be a doctor, to be mortal, and to be human.

This book was on my “to-read” list, so I picked it up from the library. Attempts to reach the author for a review/giveaway copy were unsuccessful.

It only took a few pages for INTERNAL MEDICINE to become a great read. Told in the voice of a doctor, explaining how he handled difficult cases during his internship, this book is alternately chilling and poignant. The take away message is this: doctors have self doubt and fatigue just like everyone else, despite the brave front they put on.

Each chapter told the story of one patient, and how Holt learned from their situation. One lesson was patience, one was bravery, one was teamwork, and so on. Brilliant details and situations that everyone can identify with are what makes this such a moving and important read.

As I read about the woman whose oxygen saturation was dipping into the 80’s, yet she kept ripping her O2 mask off due to claustrophobia, I ferverently hoped I would never be ill and lingering in the hospital. The intimate details of how the human body betrays us all is what will stay with you, long after the book is finished. Holt’s writing style is easy to follow, and full of honesty.

Each chapter can be read as a stand alone, and I recommend that–for you will need time to digest the life lessons revealed with each patient’s final outcome. Holt does not hide his fear, his disgust, his anger, and his weariness. He exposes himself –  and the entire medical profession – with stories that cannot help but touch your soul. What makes this book so wonderful is that the stories take place during his internship, where each moment is a learning experience and a doctor’s intuition is “make or break”.  The spin on each chapter would be totally different if it was written under the guise of a man who was completely comfortable with his medical knowledge, with his ability to heal and comfort. Instead, there are questions and internal monologues, which make the doctor not larger than life, but truly human and with foibles.

The book can be graphic at times, so beware. Seasoned readers of the medical genre will enjoy it, as there are some things that I haven’t read about previously. The scenes and maladies are diverse, and there is a chilling story from a mental hospital thrown in for good measure. The only chapter I had a problem with was the last one: a seemingly out of place fable (told  on a regular basis by doctors) about an incident that may or may not have taken place in real life–a rambling and unsatisfying tale told (in this case) by an older doctor in an on call room where others are trying to get some rest.  I’m not sure why the author chose to end with this story, as it took the life out of the other eight chapters that went before.  Other than that, I have nothing but praise for INTERNAL MEDICINE. This should be on the must read shelf for all those about to enter the medical profession.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”0871408759″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even In Death by Kristy Feltenberger Gillespie

Review - Even in Death by Kristy Gillespie

 

Many thanks to the author for gifting me this review copy!

Even In Death is a collection of 10 short stories, eminently readable. Her prose is achingly beautiful, as evidenced in this line from “A Fine Winter Day”: “Mark began to pluck the feathers off my innocence six years ago, when I was thirteen and he was twenty-one”.

Or this snippet from “What’s Really There”: “We live in the country, 300 miles from the closest beach, and yet their sadness crashes precisely like waves against the shore. My husband David and I felt their presence early on, within a few weeks of buying their home. At first it was tolerable, although a bit cramped: two people and three ghosts sharing 1000 square feet. But we got used to them; footsteps in the attic, windows creaking open in the dead of night, occasional sighs and sniffles, but that was before they started touching us.”

There is a bit of the surreal, of anger and love, of things that are just-not-quite-right in each of these little gems. It’s hard to tell a good short story without making the reader feel like they have missed something, or fumbling the ending and leaving the reader unsatisfied. Not here.  There is the right amout of detail, of character exposition, with nuances of language and color and emotion that grab you right away. Each story has its quirk, to make you think and to make you feel.

Which story didn’t I like? “What Caught My Senses”, a tale about a writerly couple in search of money, so they concoct a scheme to invite a group of authors to their villa under the guise of offering a writing retreat. Towards the end, there is a lot of activity and people just got jumbled up in my mind as I tried to keep track of who was doing what to whom. It was written as well as any of the other stories, I just didn’t enjoy the plot and how it unfolded. The fact that I didn’t like Katie and Mick, the unscrupulous writers, didn’t help either.

My favorite was “The Collector”, about a girl whose mother is a hoarder. Sammie describes her mom’s stuff as ‘collectibles’ to her first grade friends, until the kids discover for themselves that it’s just all garbage. Every time Sammie or her grandmother try to clean, Mom always distracts them with food or a trip into town. What happens to Sammie at the end is both sad and uplifting at the same time, while the essence of a hoarder mentality is captured perfectly.

I hope that Ms Gillespie has another book of stories in her. Want your own copy? You should! [easyazon_link asin=”0692228055″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”no” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]Pick it up here![/easyazon_link]

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