Novella: Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told… until now.

There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.

At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.”

On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…

Whoosh. I read this novella all in one sitting… and I think you will too. Stephen King fans will just eat this up. It’s a quick story that casts an eerie spell, just the right length to sink its unsettling claws into your brain.

I wouldn’t call it horror, exactly. There’s very little outright blood or gore, although bad things do happen. Most of the tension and horror is psychological, as we see what happens to Gwendy after that fateful encounter at the top of Castle View.

The strange man gives Gwendy an oddly beautiful box, with eight differently colored buttons on top and levers on the sides. He shows her the levers: One dispenses a tiny piece of chocolate, which will be absolutely delicious, but which will also eliminate her cravings for junk food. The other lever dispenses a rare old silver dollar in perfect condition. As for the buttons on top, the man provides cryptic explanations, and then entrusts the box into Gwendy’s care.

And soon, her life begins to change. Gwendy at 12 is a little on the heavy side, and she’s determined to reinvent herself before starting middle school in the fall. Between her daily runs up the Suicide Stairs, and her new-found freedom from the lure of desserts and sweets, Gwendy gets in better and better shape. Is it Gwendy’s own effort paying off… or does the box have something to do with it?

Other positive changes soon follow. Gwendy’s vision improves to the point where she no longer needs glasses. She becomes a star athlete and a top student. Boys want to date her and girls want to be her friend. Her parents’ over-indulgence in alcohol seems to dwindle away with any noticeable effort. But the box is still there, hidden away for safe-keeping, and Gwendy never quite manages to get it out of her thoughts or to stop wondering what would happen if she actually pressed any of those colorful buttons.

Man, this is a good story! Even though Gwendy’s life gets better and better, there’s a dangerous undercurrent that plagues her — and us. What’s the price of all this good fortune? And who will pay it?

I don’t want to say much more. It’s a quick novella that can be read in one gulp, which is really what I recommend. There’s something about getting from start to finish without breaking the disturbing mood that lends the story even more power.

Gwendy’s Button Box is a must-read for King fans (which probably goes without saying) — but really, anyone who enjoys a tightly woven plot with an air of mystery and dread should check it out.

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The details:

Title: Gwendy’s Button Box
Author: Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications
Publication date: May 16, 2017
Length: 175 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased

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Thursday Quotables: The Boy on the Bridge

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey
(release date 5/2/2017)

Last week, I went with a classic from the late 1800s. So naturally, this week just has to be zombies! I’m about 2/3 done with this new release (set in the same world as the terrific, horrifying The Girl With All the Gifts), and it’s pretty engrossing. (En-GROSS-ing. I make myself laugh). Here’s a little description from early on in the story:

Here and there in the broad valley, at every elevation and regardless of the terrain, human figures stand; their arms hanging at their sides, their heads mostly bowed at an angle on their necks. They stand up to their calves or knees in thistles, mud, bracken, water. They wear faded and ragged clothes made piebald by the rust of old bloodstains. They look for all the world like sleepwalkers about to wake up.

And that’s what they are, Khan thinks. Except that they won’t wake, ever. The human minds that once inhabited these carcases will slumber on for always. If they open their eyes, something else entirely will be looking out.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Thursday Quotables: Final Girls

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

Final Girls by Mira Grant
(published 2017)

This novella is so scary and wonderful — it starts with what seems to be a straight-up, old-fashioned, horror story set-up, then morphs into something completely different, with devastatingly invasive technology and sociopathic corporate assassins. I’m in awe of Mira Grant!

Here are a few key selections:

On a horror note — the opening lines:

The wood is dark and the wood is deep and the trees claw at the sky with branches like bones, ripping holes in the canopy of clouds, revealing glimpses of a distant, rotting moon the color of dead flesh.

More:

A mother’s love is infinite. Shouldn’t her blood, unfairly spilled, be the same?

And later, on a much different note:

From there, it was a simple matter to roll the chair into the corner and replace it with a fresh one, unburdened by inconvenient corpses.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Novella: Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

When the Imagine Network commissioned a documentary on mermaids, to be filmed from the cruise ship Atargatis, they expected what they had always received before: an assortment of eyewitness reports that proved nothing, some footage that proved even less, and the kind of ratings that only came from peddling imaginary creatures to the masses.

They didn’t expect actual mermaids. They certainly didn’t expect those mermaids to have teeth.

This is the story of the Atargatis, lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy. Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the bathypelagic zone in the Mariana Trench…and the depths are very good at keeping secrets.

If this is how you like your mermaids:

or this:

… then Rolling in the Deep may not be the reading choice for you. No singing. No flowy red hair or adorable fishy friends. No teen angst or cute Australian accents.

Nope. The mermaids in Rolling in the Deep have claws and lots of sharp teeth, and they seem to especially enjoy biting off faces, then dragging their prey into the darkest ocean depths.

I adored Rolling in the Deep! It’s gross and scary, packing a lot into a little. In a very short time, we get to know the crew of the Atargatis, the film crew and on-screen personality from the TV station, the scientists on the expedition who are supposed to lend credibility to the otherwise potentially cheesy “documentary”, and a troupe of performing mermaids, to add a little sexy flavor in case the exploration comes up empty.

Each section of the story is preceded by an excerpt from a book written to explore the tragedy and mystery of the Atargatis — so we know from page 1 that everyone on board the ship is doomed. The story is pieced together from the footage found on board the ship, which is found drifting off course and completely empty of people — but with enough gore left behind to let the discoverers know that something awful happened. But was it all a hoax, as the Imagine network is often accused of? Or did something beyond human understanding attack the ship and brutally murder all hands?

This book is not for the faint of heart, obviously. It gets bloody pretty quickly. As for me, I thought it was terrific! Just enough gore to make the threat real, and a palpable sense of dread — we know from the start that everyone will die, but the question is how. It’s smart and fast and a terrific read.

And once I finished and went to check it off on Goodreads, I stumbled across the news that a full-length novel is on the way! Into the Drowning Deep follows up on the events of Rolling in the Deep, and will be published in November 2017. Can it be November now please? I don’t think I can wait.

 

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The details:

Title: Rolling in the Deep
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: April 6, 2015
Length: 123 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: World War Z

WWZ

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. “World War Z” is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

First things first:

  1. This book is brilliant; and
  2. This book has very little to do with the movie it inspired.

I was finally drawn to World War Z (the book) after watching World War Z (the movie) last week. The book version of WWZ has been on my shelf for at least 7 or 8 years. It’s not that I regretted buying it or wasn’t interested — I just never was in the right mood to actually tackle it.

Well, this week, the mood was finally right… and all I can say is holy f*cking wow.

Max Brooks has created an “oral history of the Zombie War”, a riff on the Studs Terkel masterpiece The Good War. In WWZ, Brooks creates an utterly plausible history of a world-devastating war that came close to the annilihation of the human race. The book is told through interviews, a series of conversations with people from around the globe who, in one way or another, witnessed or experienced some small piece of the global catastrophe.

From first warnings through the “Great Panic” through all-out war and finally recovery, we hear tales from those who lived through it all. We hear from medical personnel and soldiers, politicians and scientists, bystanders and those in power, and each has a unique voice and a unique perspective.

Why do I consider this a brilliant book? If you leave aside the gruesome fact that we’re talking about a zombie apocalypse, World War Z could be a chronicle of any world war. Brooks does an incredible job of building the history brick by brick through his interviews, so that we don’t need any historical notes or side narratives in order to gain a full picture of the war’s progression. The author lets us see the experience as it unfolded for people living through the nightmare days, as well as through the lens of the statescraft and diplomacy that came into play between world leaders and other power brokers.

It’s fascinating to see the effect on both common people and the greater picture of the worldwide balance of power. Nations rise and fall as a result of the steps taken or ignored, and the world that remains by the end of the war is far different than the one that came before.

Of course, on top of the amazing lesson in political science… ZOMBIES. There are some truly gross, horrifying, nightmarish scenarios that play out throughout the book. Like, who ever thought that zombies could survive indefinitely under water? There’s a reason never to go scuba diving again (not that I’ve ever gone scuba diving). Or how about the fact that in the colder regions of the planet, zombies would freeze during the winter — but that spring thaw could be a real bitch.

I love that World War Z reads like a completely immersive non-fiction record, even though it is of course fictional. The author fully commits to the premise — no wink-wink snarkiness or sarcasm to remind us that this “history” never happened. It’s really an incredible reading experience, one I’d be tempted to recommend even to those who don’t typically enjoy horror. Yes, there’s plenty of ickiness, but the reflection of heroism and sacrifice is like looking at the best of the human spirit and how it rises to the top in times of true need.

A word on the movie: I didn’t think the movie version was bad (hello? Brad Pitt!), just really different. It’s a straight-narrative story of a zombie uprising, seen through the eyes of one man who is dispatched around the globe to try to fight it. Some scenes are really nightmare-inducing (I am not going to get the image of zombies swarming over the walls of Jerusalem out of my mind any time soon), but as a whole, it doesn’t have the grand scope of the book. Also, the ending may work as a movie dramatic climax, but (being vague here) the solution that Pitt’s character finds isn’t in the book at all.

Long story short: This book was first published 10 years ago, but I don’t think it has lost any of its impact. It’s really a remarkable storytelling achievement, and I urge anyone with a taste for this sort of thing to give it a try.

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The details:

Title: World War Z
Author: Max Brooks
Publisher: Crown
Publication date: September 12, 2006
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: A Love Like Blood

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

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Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

‘I’ve chased him for over twenty years, and across countless miles, and though often I was running, there have been many times when I could do nothing but sit and wait. Now I am only desperate for it to be finished.’

In 1944, just days after the liberation of Paris, Charles Jackson sees something horrific: a man, apparently drinking the blood of a murdered woman. Terrified, he does nothing, telling himself afterwards that worse things happen in wars.

Seven years later he returns to the city – and sees the same man dining in the company of a fascinating young woman. When they leave the restaurant, Charles decides to follow…

A Love Like Blood is a dark, compelling thriller about how a man’s life can change in a moment; about where the desire for truth – and for revenge – can lead; about love and fear and hatred. And it is also about the question of blood.

My Thoughts:

Marcus Sedgwick is a prolific writer of unusual, often dark and disturbing YA fiction. A Love Like Blood is his first adult novel, and it’s not for the squeamish.

A Love Like Blood has the propulsive energy and desperate drive of a classic vampire story, although that’s not precisely what this is. The book’s heartbeat is the obsessive hunter’s drive to track down his prey, a figure representing ultimate evil, at whatever cost and over however many years it takes.

The pacing and sense of lurking doom and desperation remind me of books such as The Historian, or even Dracula itself. As I said, I wouldn’t exactly call this a vampire novel (nothing shiny or sparkly or supernaturally sexy here, to be sure), although the topic of vampires is broached as the main character tries to apply a scientific lens to a fascination with blood and what that means.

A Love Like Blood is about a man haunted by one fateful wartime moment, whose life eventually becomes singularly focused on what he saw and what it means, and his quest to punish the man whose actions hang over every moment he experiences from that point forward.

The horror here is mostly psychological, although there are some more graphic moments too. Definitely not a fun or pleasant read, but well worth checking out if you enjoy tales of obsession and dread. A Love Like Blood is creepy and chilling, and impossible to put down.

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The details:

Title: A Love Like Blood
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication date: August 28, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten creepy, gross, scary horror books for getting in the Halloween mood

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Happy (almost) Halloween!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is a Halloween freebie!

I’ve decided to focus on great books to scare or give the willies. To mix things up, I’m highlighting five books that I’ve read, and five from my TBR list:

Icky, squicky, creepy, scary books that I’ve read (with links to my reviews):

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NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (review)

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey (review)

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy (review)

Breed by Chase Novak (review)

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix (review)

Creepy, chilling, horrifying-sounding books that I really want to read:

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Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Wraith by Joe Hill

A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

What scary books do you love to recommend? What’s on your Halloween TTT? Share your link, please, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly features, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I host a Book Blog Meme Directory, and I’m always looking for new additions! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info.

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Shelf Control #55: Fellside

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

FellsideTitle: Fellside
Author: M. R. Carey
Published: 2016
Length: 486 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Jess Moulson is convicted of murder. But it’s a murder she can’t remember committing.

Nothing is quite clear from the drug-fuelled night when a blaze set in her apartment killed the little boy upstairs. But when the media brands Jess a child killer, she starts to believe it herself.

Now she’s on her way to Fellside, the biggest, most formidable women’s prison in Europe, standing in the bleak Yorkshire moors.

But Jess won’t be alone in her prison cell. Lurking in the shadows is an unexpected visitor… the ghost of the ten-year-old boy she killed. He says he needs her help – and he won’t take no for an answer.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

Pretty much the second it was released, this past May.

Why I want to read it:

I just loved The Girl With All the Gifts (review), and so I preordered the author’s newest book as soon as I could, and had it in my hands as of release day. And still haven’t gotten around to reading it. The only excuse I have is that it’s a big fat hardcover and I’ve been gravitating lately toward more… um… portable books. But I will read it — fingers crossed, by the end of this year.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

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Shelf Control #52: The Monstrumologist

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

monstrTitle: The Monstrumologist
Author: Rick Yancey
Published: 2009
Length: 434 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

Absolutely no idea… but it was a while ago!

Why I want to read it:

A good friend (and trusted book source) describes this book as “a wonderful, terrible, hilarious, disgusting, compelling adventure yarn“. Sold! Seriously, it sounds gross and original and engaging, and despite the fact that this cover creeps me out (I have a copy with a different cover), I’m interested enough to want to read it. I think I’ve postponed starting it because The Monstrumologist is the first in a 4-book series, and I’m really trying to avoid getting involved in any more series… but I know from The 5th Wave that I like Rick Yancey’s writing, so that’s probably reason enough to at least give the first Monstrumologist book a try.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

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Thursday Quotables: Bag of Bones

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Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Bag of Bones

Bag of Bones by Stephen King
(published 1998)

I seem to be on a Stephen King tear right now, probably because it’s summer, and somehow King’s brand of writing ends up being my perfect choice for beach reading. (What does that say about me???) I really loved Bag of Bones and the creepy mood sustained throughout.

That’s enough, a voice in my mind said uneasily. That’s enough, now. Go on back and get your car.

Except that wasn’t the plan. The plan was to go down the driveway, just as I had in the final dream, the nightmare. The plan was to prove to myself that there was no shroud-wrapped monster lurking in the shadows of the big old log house down there. The plan was pretty much based on that bit of New Age wisdom which says the word “fear” stands for Face Everything And Recover. But, as I stood there and looked down at that spark of porch light (it looked very small in the growing darkness), it occurred to me that there’s another bit of wisdom, one not quite so good-morning-starshine, which suggests fear is actually an acronym for Fuck Everything And Run. Standing there by myself in the woods as the light left the sky, that seemed like the smarter interpretation, no two ways about it.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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