Audiobook quick takes: An Austen retelling and some less-than-perfect “getaways”

With a trip coming up and limited time this week, I decided to listen to a bunch of Audible’s free short stories rather than start a full-length audiobook. It was a mixed bag overall — here’s what I listened to and what I thought:

Imagine if you made one little mistake when you were young and were punished for it for the rest of your life. Well, that’s what happened to Lydia (yes, that Lydia, the youngest Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice), and she’s here to set the record straight. Hold on to your teacups and get ready for sophisticated (and a little bit naughty) hot takes and witty banter that’ll make you laugh—and think.

We meet Lydia just as she is denounced by her family, exiled miles from home, and married to the rogue George Wickham, who seems to love all women…except his own wife. She must learn to summon great bravery to carve out a place for herself in the society that has brutally rejected her.

Lydia isn’t the traditional Austen heroine, and this isn’t a traditional, polite period drama. Lydia is a badass. A trailblazer. She’s fierce and fiercely funny. And she might inhabit the Regency period, but she’s fighting the same battle many of us are today—having to defend the decisions she’s made and the person she chooses to love, to shut out the “trolls” and gossips, to hold her head high in a world that will judge her for any mistake she makes.

Starring Academy Award nominee Jessie Buckley (Fargo, The Lost Daughter) and Johnny Flynn (Lovesick, Stardust), this hilarious and timely listen is for fans of classics with a twist. Writer and creator playwright Sarah Page says that she wrote Mrs. Wickham to “entertain people with a romantic, optimistic, and seductive comedy,” but that there’s also a “message held at its heart to treat each other with kindness.”If you binged Bridgerton, this one’s for you.

I’m always up for a Pride and Prejudice spin-off, and was intrigued by the idea of following Lydia after her marriage. I’m not sure that this story actually needed Lydia Bennet, though — it’s a cute gimmick, but really, this could be the story of any woman surviving scandal and finding redemption (and somehow, even falling in love with her own husband). I didn’t realize in advance that this would be a full-cast audio play, rather than narrators reading an audiobook. The cast as a whole is entertaining and funny, but some of the production elements are decidedly weird (loud rock music in bar scenes, for examples) or icky (hearing Lydia vomit after a bout of ill-advised drinking). Overall, I was entertained enough to finish, but that’s about it.

Audible Original: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Three more from Amazon’s Getaway collection — six short stories described as:

Perfect vacations or last resorts? In this collection of short psychological thrillers, bestselling authors bring trouble to paradise. Today’s itinerary: surfing, sailing, hiking, facing your worst fears . . . Most dream vacations never live up to expectations—but few cause this many nightmares.

Of the six, I picked stories by authors I already was familiar with:

On the New England coast, an irresistible vacation rental draws a woman into the sinister secrets of her past in a cunning short mystery with a gothic twist by a New York Times bestselling author.

Clea McAllister returns to the Newport haven of her childhood, a gilded mansion by the sea once owned by her beloved grandmother. Now she is a paying guest at her own ancestral home, and Clea’s vacation hides a darker intention: to confront the estate lawyer who stole her rightful inheritance. But wicked games are still being played at Belle Mer, and Clea uncovers more than she ever intended.

Quick entertainment — this is a suspense story about a stolen inheritance, a fight to regain control of the family mansion, loyal servants, a missing lawyer… There’s a lot going on here, and it all comes together well by the end. This is a fast listen, and the author uses the short story format to quickly build tension and intrigue before a sudden shock at the end.

Audible Original; 1 hour, 21 minutes
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

An extravagant anniversary trip turns into a desperate scramble for survival in an unsettling short story about desire, manipulation, and revenge by a New York Times bestselling author.

Psychiatrist Olivia Cole is a shell of herself after only two years with her tyrannical husband, the outwardly perfect Sebastian. On their two-year anniversary, she’s subjected to one power move too many when Sebastian whisks her away on a surprise trip—first to the charming capital of Sweden, then to an unexpected final destination. Miles from home and help, the only way for Olivia to wrest back control of her life is to give Sebastian an even bigger, shocking surprise.

Ummm, not sure what to make of this one. It’s suspenseful and creepy, but overall, it’s such a disturbing look at a woman whose lost all semblance of self-determination to her cruel, controlling husband that it’s impossible to actually enjoy listening to the story. Then again, I’m not particularly a fan of thrillers in general, so this may have been just a step too far for me in a genre I’m not always comfortable with. Your mileage may vary, but I found the plot details too awful to actually consider it entertainment.

Audible Original: 1 hours, 11 minutes
Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

“Speak your truth.” An icebreaker leads to unintended consequences for two strangers aboard a luxury yacht in this seductively twisty short story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Sister.

When Ella boards a sumptuous charter off the coast of Australia, she feels…dread. Her husband, Mac, the social butterfly who makes these wellness retreats so much easier to navigate, is stuck at work, leaving her exposed to the other passengers. Luckily, she forms an instant bond with the charismatic Chloe, a newly single woman salving a broken heart. But as the friendship grows, Ella discovers they share more than the need for an escape, and their devastating connection has the power to forever alter their lives.

Sally Hepworth is so terrific at creating interpersonal dynamics that are something other than what they initially appear to be. In this short story, the main character’s sea voyage takes a dramatically different direction when she meets another passenger whose story has just a few too many familiar elements to it. The psychological drama and tension build throughout, although I was expecting a much darker resolution to it all. I wasn’t entirely comfortable once I realized that infidelity would be a major theme — that’s not something I particularly enjoy or look for in fiction, but given that the Getaway collection seems to be squarely in the thriller/suspense genre, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Overall, this quick listen held my attention and was well performed — not a bad piece of entertainment, for what it is.

Side note: I would absolutely hate to go on this wellness sea voyage! Only eight passengers, too many touchy-feely sharing sessions, intrusive challenges… so not my idea of a fun vacation!

Audible Original: 1 hours, 44 minutes
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

As I’ve said many, many times on this blog, I am not a big fan of short stories. I deliberately chose to listen to shorter works this week, but I’m not particularly surprised that none of them actually wowed me. Still, they passed the time and held my interest! Who knows? Other readers may really enjoy these, especially (with the Getaway stories) for those who love suspenseful fiction.

Shelf Control #325: Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: Stories by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory
Author: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Published: 2020
Length: 256 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the creator and executive producer of the beloved and universally acclaimed television series BoJack Horseman, a fabulously off-beat collection of short stories about love–the best and worst thing in the universe

Written with all the scathing dark humor that is a hallmark of BoJack Horseman, Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s stories will make readers laugh, weep, and shiver in uncomfortably delicious recognition. In “A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion,” a young couple planning a wedding is forced to deal with interfering relatives dictating the appropriate number of ritual goat sacrifices. “Missed Connection–m4w” is the tragicomic tale of a pair of lonely commuters eternally failing to make that longed-for contact. The members of a rock band in “Up-and-Comers” discover they suddenly have superpowers–but only when they’re drunk. And in “The Serial Monogamist’s Guide to Important New York City Landmarks,” a woman maps her history of romantic failures based on the places she and her significant others visited together.

Equally at home with the surreal and the painfully relatable (or both at once), Bob-Waksberg delivers a killer combination of humor, romance, whimsy, cultural commentary, and crushing emotional vulnerability. The resulting collection is a punchy, perfect bloody valentine.

How and when I got it:

I bought the paperback about a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

To be very specific, I bought this book on my daughter’s recommendation. This goes back to a blog post I did that was about her favorite books read so far that year, and she told me that this story collection was a must-read.

This is definitely not an obvious choice for me, because I’m not much of a short story reader. I don’t have a great attention span when it comes to story collections, and have a tendency to give up after only a few stories.

Still, I do love (a) the title of this collection, (b) the cover, and (c) the fact that my daughter — who has excellent taste in books — spoke so highly of it. (I’m also fairly certain that the author’s family and my family have a connection back in our home town, not that that really matters). From what I can see from the synopsis, the stories sound weird and quirky, which could mean that they’d be right up my alley.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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 in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby

Title: Shit Cassandra Saw
Author: Gwen E. Kirby
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: January 11, 2022
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Short stories
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Margaret Atwood meets Buffy in these funny, warm, and furious stories of women at their breaking points, from Hellenic times to today.

Cassandra may have seen the future, but it doesn’t mean she’s resigned to telling the Trojans everything she knows. In this ebullient collection, virgins escape from being sacrificed, witches refuse to be burned, whores aren’t ashamed, and every woman gets a chance to be a radioactive cockroach warrior who snaps back at catcallers. Gwen E. Kirby experiments with found structures–a Yelp review, a WikiHow article–which her fierce, irreverent narrators push against, showing how creativity within an enclosed space undermines and deconstructs the constraints themselves. When these women tell the stories of their triumphs as well as their pain, they emerge as funny, angry, loud, horny, lonely, strong protagonists who refuse be secondary characters a moment longer. From “The Best and Only Whore of Cym Hyfryd, 1886” to the “Midwestern Girl [who] is Tired of Appearing in Your Short Stories,” Kirby is playing and laughing with the women who have come before her and they are telling her, we have always been this way. You just had to know where to look.

Please do judge a book by its cover… at least in this case. Shit Cassandra Saw‘s cover is bright, almost eye-searing, and clearly puts the reader on notice that it’s time to shake things up.

This collection of short stories covers times and settings from the ancient world to the contemporary, mixing in fantastical elements with pieces that are all too real. The women in these stories are angry, despondent, and tired of being ignored or mistreated or threatened. Told through a variety of styles and voices, the stories work as a collection by playing with perception and tropes, and letting women’s voices shout out clearly.

All that being said, some of the stories in Shit Cassandra Saw worked better for me than others. In general, I really liked the historical pieces, although a few of the contemporary stories really appealed as well.

My favorites include:

A Few Normal Things That Happen A Lot: My absolute favorite of the bunch, and it’s so weird and wonderful. From the opening lines:

A woman walks down the street and a man tells her to smile. When she smiles, she reveals a mouthful of fangs. She bites off the man’s hand, cracks the bones and spits them out, and accidentally swallows his wedding ring, which gives her indigestion.

… it’s clear that nothing here is normal, although yes, the story is about things that happen a lot. Random men telling women to smile. Creepy dudes on subways exposing themselves. Male joggers following maybe a bit too closely. Unwanted comments about appearance. All those little moments that are really so common that every woman has experienced them in one way or another.

In this story, the author does an amazing job of portraying how fear of these moments pervades women’s lives, turning simple things like a walk from one’s car to the front door into something to plan and consider — and then shows how that might all turn around, given a few sci-fi-flavored twists.

This story is also available to read online via TinHouse.

Shit Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell the Trojans Because At That Point Fuck Them Anyway: A short piece that’s just so well done, about all the things Cassandra could tell Trojans about, but:

She is tired of speaking to listening ears. The listening ears of the men who think her mad drive her to madness.

It ends on an oddly uplifting note, as Cassandra’s thoughts turn to all the things she wishes she could tell the women of Troy about too, things that would make them happy if they only knew.

And briefly:

Scene in a Public Park at Dawn, 1892: About two women duelists, very short, but I really liked it.

There are other stories I liked too, and a few that kind of clunked, but overall, it’s a great collection, and I really enjoyed the variety of topics and styles. Many of the stories were previously published elsewhere; some are available through the original online sites were they appeared, and some are original to this collection.

Fun fact: I might never have stumbled across this book or thought twice about it until I happened to click on a link to a story on LitHub, motivated solely by the fact that the image for the article was a scene from Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which is a movie that I love an irrational amount. Once I clicked through and read Gwen E. Kirby’s thoughts on the movie and how its “stabbiness” empowers the women in it, I was sold!

This sort of stylized violence, stabbiness if you will, emerges in my writing as a fascination with women from history who fight and with contemporary women who wish they could. Stabbiness makes me wonder how violence in these very specific contexts can feel affirming, even as violence is the thing being defied.

You can read the article here.

As I’ve mentioned countless times on this blog, I really don’t consider myself a short story reader, and I don’t typically have the patience to read an entire book of stories. With Shit Cassandra Saw, I took a slower approach, reading just one or two stories per day, and found the entire experience really enjoyable. I’m glad I took the time to appreciate this book. If you like your stories on the weird side with a strong feminist theme throughout, check out this collection!

Shelf Control #304: The Deadly Hours by Susanna Kearsley, C. S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, and Christine Trent

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Deadly Hours
Author: Susanna Kearsley, C. S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, Christine Trent
Published: 2020
Length: 352 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A stellar line-up of historical mystery novelists weaves the tale of a priceless and cursed gold watch as it passes through time wreaking havoc from one owner to another. The characters are irrevocably linked by fate, each playing a key role in breaking the curse and destroying the watch once and for all.

From 1733 Italy to Edinburgh in 1831 to a series of chilling murders in 1870 London, and a lethal game of revenge decades later, the watch touches lives with misfortune, until it comes into the reach of one young woman who might be able to stop it for good.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a paperback copy as soon as it was released, back in 2020.

Why I want to read it:

Basically, as soon as I heard that there was a book being released that included Susanna Kearsley as one of the authors, I knew I had to have it.

Susanna Kearsley is one of my go-to favorite authors, and I haven’t regretted reading (or buying) a single one of her books yet! And while I haven’t read anything by the other authors who contributed to this book, I’ve heard good things about all of them.

As for the book itself, I like the sound of interconnected stories focusing on a watch that gets handed down through generations, and I’m curious about the curse, what it is, and how it might be broken. Plus, I’d love to see how the four different authors’ pieces work together, and whether it feels like one coherent whole.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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 in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Title: Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town
Author: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Publisher: Random House/Wendy Lamb Books
Publication date: April 20, 2021
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Young adult – short stories
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A lyrical and heartfelt collection by an award-winning writer that connects the lives of young people from small towns in Alaska and the American west. Each story is unique, yet universal.

In this book, the impact of wildfire, a wayward priest, or a mysterious disappearance ricochet across communities, threading through stories. Here, ordinary actions such as ice skating or going to church reveal hidden truths. One choice threatens a lifelong friendship. Siblings save each other. Rescue and second chances are possible, and so is revenge.

On the surface, it seems that nothing ever happens in these towns. But Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock shows that underneath that surface, teenagers’ lives blaze with fury, with secrets, and with love so strong it burns a path to the future.

In this collection of interconnected short stories, a varied group of teen characters each face the challenges and rewards of small-town life. Through ordinary events, showing brief moments in the characters’ lives, we see their inner struggles, how they deal with pain or boredom or being left behind, and how they find new paths and moments of healing.

Set in the mid-1990s, the stories are set in Alaska and in small towns scattered across the American west. We meet hitchhikers, kids with reputations, girls who grew up wild and free, siblings who’ve suffered loss. Some common threads are apparent across multiple stories — the early warnings of a wildfire in one story turn into an out-of-control inferno in another; the aftermath of certain events are sprinkled throughout several characters’ lives, but we only get the full picture in a seemingly unrelated story later on.

I loved seeing the way the characters’ lives intersect and have impacts big and small on other characters’ lives, even when there’s no obvious connection. In fact, these characters for the most part will never know the threads that connect them, even though we as readers are treated to the bigger picture and have the pleasure of seeing where all theses lives overlap.

The author’s first novel, The Smell of Other People’s Houses, is one of my favorite books, and is a must-read. In Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town, we’re once again treated to her simple yet affecting approach to language, the realistic-feeling dialogue, and the tour of the inner workings of teen minds and hearts.

I wouldn’t normally be drawn to a short story collection, but I picked this one up because of the author, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a slim, lovely book, and I’m sure I’ll read it again to gain new appreciation now that I know how the very different pieces all fit together.

Highly recommended.

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Buy Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Also by this author: The Smell of Other People’s Houses: AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Shelf Control #256: Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Six Months, Three Days, Five Others
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
Published: 2017
Length: 188 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Before the success of her debut SF-and-fantasy novel All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders was a rising star in SF and fantasy short fiction. Collected in a mini-book format, here–for the first time in print–are six of her quirky, wry, engaging best:

In -The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model, – aliens reveal the terrible truth about how humans were created–and why we’ll never discover aliens.

-As Good as New- is a brilliant twist on the tale of three wishes, set after the end of the world.

-Intestate- is about a family reunion in which some attendees aren’t quite human anymore–but they’re still family.

-The Cartography of Sudden Death- demonstrates that when you try to solve a problem with time travel, you now have two problems.

-Six Months, Three Days- is the story of the love affair between a man who can see the one true foreordained future, and a woman who can see all the possible futures. They’re both right, and the story won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.

And -Clover, – exclusively written for this collection, is a coda to All the Birds in the Sky, answering the burning question of what happened to Patricia’s cat. 

How and when I got it:

I bought this book when it came out in 2017.

Why I want to read it:

Put this in the “judging a book by its cover” category. When I saw an announcement about Tor releasing certain books as mini-hardcovers, I was completely charmed. This is one of several I bought on the spot, because it’s just so cute! But not only that — I’ve enjoyed Charlie Jane Anders’s writing for years, going back to her days on the io9 forum. More recently, I read and loved All the Birds in the Sky, at which point I knew I’d have to keep reading whatever she wrote!

I don’t tend to gravitate toward short story collections, but this one does sound amazing! I love the descriptions of the different stories, and think I just needed a reminder (like, for instance, writing this post) to motivate me to take this book off the shelf and actually start reading it.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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 in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Mini-reviews: A trio of classic horror

Maybe it’s the month of October exerting its spooky influence over me, but I ended up reading three works of classic horror fiction this week, and they were all chillingly great. For all three, I was inspired by recent reads that drew upon these works as inspiration. Read on to find out more…

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Title: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Author: H. G. Wells
Published: 1896
Length: 153 pages

Adrift in a dinghy, Edward Prendick, the single survivor from the good ship Lady Vain, is rescued by a vessel carrying a profoundly unusual cargo – a menagerie of savage animals. Tended to recovery by their keeper Montgomery, who gives him dark medicine that tastes of blood, Prendick soon finds himself stranded upon an uncharted island in the Pacific with his rescuer and the beasts. Here, he meets Montgomery’s master, the sinister Dr. Moreau – a brilliant scientist whose notorious experiments in vivisection have caused him to abandon the civilised world. It soon becomes clear he has been developing these experiments – with truly horrific results. 

For this book and the next on my list, I was inspired by Theodora Goss’s excellent trilogy The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club (which starts with The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, reviewed here.) A newly invented character related to the happenings on Dr. Moreau’s island is one of my favorites in the Goss books, so of course I had to read her origin story.

The Island of Dr. Moreau is grotesque and horrible, but it’s also a very exciting and compelling read. I can only imagine that this would be even more startling if (unlike me) you didn’t know the major plot twist related to Dr. Moreau’s strange and cruel experiments.

There are sinister people, scary beings in the jungle, midnight chase scenes, and all sorts of terrifying encounters. Definitely recommended!

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Title: Rappaccini’s Daughter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published: 1844
Length: 48 pages

Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is an inspired tale of creation and control. Giovanni Guasconti, a student at the University of Padua, is enchanted to discover a nearby garden of the most exquisite beauty. In it abides a young woman, perhaps the most beautiful Giovanni has ever seen; yet as he looks out from an upstairs window, he soon learns that the garden–and the matchless Beatrice–are not the work of Mother Nature but rather the result of a monstrous abomination of creativity.

Beatrice Rappaccini is another character who appears in the Theodora Goss novels, so it was enlightening for me to read the original story about her. Here, Dr. Rappaccini is a scientist devoted to cross-breeding plants and flowers to create a deadly garden, and has raised Beatrice among the plants from birth so that she herself is poisonous. Giovanni falls in love with her, but eventually has to believe the evidence he sees that proves that Beatrice’s breath and touch are deadly.

Rappaccini’s Daughter is brief, but powerful, and well worth reading.

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Title: The Willows
Author: Algernon Blackwood
Published: 1907
Length: 105 pages

Two friends are midway on a canoe trip down the Danube River. Throughout the story Blackwood personifies the surrounding environment—river, sun, wind—and imbues them with a powerful and ultimately threatening character. Most ominous are the masses of dense, desultory, menacing willows, which “moved of their own will as though alive, and they touched, by some incalculable method, my own keen sense of the horrible.”

“The Willows” is one of Algernon Blackwood’s best known short stories. American horror author H.P. Lovecraft considered it to be the finest supernatural tale in English literature. “The Willows” is an example of early modern horror and is connected within the literary tradition of weird fiction. 

I picked up a copy of The Willows after reading The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher, one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read (reviewed here). In the author’s notes, T. Kingfisher credits The Willows as an inspiration, so of course I had to read it.

This is such an odd story, because in some ways, it’s hard to understand why the characters’ situation is so scary. They stop on a small island in an isolated, wild section of the Danube, where the river is wild and harsh, filled with similar small islands, and surrounded everywhere by willows.

The longer the men spend on their precarious island, the more convinced they become that something unearthly is going on, that they are in fact in a place where the veils between worlds are thin, and that the best they can hope for is to evade the notice of the beings from the other side who are trying to push through.

The Willows has a creeping terror — no jump scares, just the growing sense that something is really, really wrong, and that the characters may not make it out alive. Nothing is obvious, but the overall atmosphere is chilling and disturbing. It’s a weird story, but was enlightening in terms of understanding where some of the elements in The Hollow Places came from. Really a strange yet interesting read.

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That’s my creepy classics round-up! What’s your favorite classic horror story?

Shelf Control #229: Flight or Fright: 17 Turbulent Tales edited by Stephen King

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Flight or Fright: 17 Turbulent Tales
Edited by: Stephen King & Bev Vincent
Published: 2018
Length: 332 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Fasten your seatbelts for an anthology of turbulent tales curated by Stephen King and Bev Vincent. This exciting new anthology, perfect for airport or airplane reading, includes an original introduction and story notes for each story by Stephen King, along with brand new stories from Stephen King and Joe Hill.

About the Book:

Stephen King hates to fly.

Now he and co-editor Bev Vincent would like to share this fear of flying with you.

Welcome to Flight or Fright, an anthology about all the things that can go horribly wrong when you’re suspended six miles in the air, hurtling through space at more than 500 mph and sealed up in a metal tube (like—gulp!—a coffin) with hundreds of strangers. All the ways your trip into the friendly skies can turn into a nightmare, including some we’ll bet you’ve never thought of before… but now you will the next time you walk down the jetway and place your fate in the hands of a total stranger.

Featuring brand new stories by Joe Hill and Stephen King, as well as fourteen classic tales and one poem from the likes of Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Dan Simmons, and many others, Flight or Fright is, as King says, “ideal airplane reading, especially on stormy descents… Even if you are safe on the ground, you might want to buckle up nice and tight.”

How and when I got it:

It was an impulse buy while I was visiting a favorite bookstore about a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

I’m not a short story reader, but every once in a while, a collection catches my eye… and how could I resist this one? I mean, look at the authors included!

Table of Contents:
Introduction by Stephen King
Cargo by E. Michael Lewis
The Horror of the Heights by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson
The Flying Machine by Ambrose Bierce
Lucifer! by E.C. Tubb
The Fifth Category by Tom Bissell
Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds by Dan Simmons
Diablitos by Cody Goodfellow
Air Raid by John Varley
You Are Released by Joe Hill
Warbirds by David J. Schow
The Flying Machine by Ray Bradbury
Zombies on a Plane by Bev Vincent
They Shall Not Grow Old by Roald Dahl
Murder in the Air by Peter Tremayne
The Turbulence Expert by Stephen King
Falling by James L. Dickey
Afterword by Bev Vincent

I have a feeling I’ll be terrified and will never want to get on a plane again… but then again, with the pandemic’s end nowhere in sight, it’s not like I’m traveling anyway. So maybe now really is the perfect time to read this collection!

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!



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Book Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Title: Laughter at the Academy
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: October 31, 2019
Length: 376 pages
Genre: Horror/fantasy (short story collection)
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.

Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.

There are two things I think I’ve established by now over the course of many years of writing book reviews: 1 – I love Seanan McGuire. 2 – I’m not a big fan of short stories.

So when Seanan McGuire releases a collection of stories, what’s a fan to do? Buy it immediately, then stick it on the shelf and delay, delay, delay…

Well, I’m here to say I’m an idiot. Because OF COURSE I ended up loving this book once I finally sat myself down and gave it a try. It’s Seanan McGuire! What’s not to love?

This collection brings together stories from 2009 through 2017, and as the author makes clear in her introduction, all stories take place outside of her “pre-existing universes” — so you won’t find October Daye or the Incryptid’s Price family members anywhere in these pages. All stories appeared in other publications and anthologies over the years, and it’s a treat to have so many available in one glorious collection.

Quick aside: I purchased the pretty hardcover special edition from Subterranean Press as a splurge, but it’s also available in e-book format for a much more reasonable price.

These 22 stories cover a wide range of themes, topics, and tones. Some are funny, some are sad, some are terrifying, and some are just downright creepy. Absolutely none are boring or skippable! One of the things I loved about this book was the mix — from story to story, it’s always something new, and so many surprises!

I’ll share just a few highlights about my favorites of the bunch:

The title story, “Laughter at the Academy”, is all sorts of awesome about mad scientists and a condition called “Schizotypal Creative Genius Personality Disorder”. It’s brutal and fun and, well, mad.

“Lost” is creepy and disturbing and sad, as is any story about children all over the world acting strangely at the same time. It made me think of Torchwood and Childhood’s End, although it isn’t really much like either one.

Seanan McGuire is excellent at unleashing hell on the world, so a story about viruses ravaging humankind is scary and perhaps too timely right now, but I loved “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells” all the same. Super frightening. And prescient — this is from her introduction to the story:

I also believe that the modern world’s disdain for quarantine and willingness to support structures which encourage its violation is going to do a great deal of damage one day… and that with the new diseases emerging regularly from a variety of sources, that day may not be particularly far in the future.

And as the story itself describes:

If they were to stay home, avoid the company of strangers, and wait for a vaccine, they might stand a chance. But no one listens to the doctors, or to the newspaper headlines begging them to stay indoors.

One of the coolest stories in the collection — so weird and unexpected — is “Uncle Sam”. Ever wonder why women go to the bathroom together? Read this and find out.

There’s also a story about Valkyries, a western sci-fi story…

Cherry’s first to the cattle call, her guns low and easy on her hips, her hair braided like an admonition against untidiness.

… military mermaids, a steampunk invasion of carnivorous plant-based aliens…

“A… diplomat?” Arthur blinked at me as our carriage rattled to a stop, presumably in front of our destination. “But the first thing you did was eat my sister’s maid.”

… a Peter Pan story, a Twitter-based ghost story, more end-of-the-world/end-of-humankind scenarios, a GoFundMe for bringing on eternal Halloween…

… and the story that’s given me nightmares ever since, “We Are All Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War”. There are dolls. And they’re scary as hell. This is creepy and brilliant, and if I ever get over my first reading of this story, I’ll come back and read it again!

Seanan McGuire’s writing is as amazing as always, and this collection shows her range and ability to try on any genre or style and make it work.

Obviously, I loved this book, and I’m so glad I got over my reluctance to read short story collections. Laughter at the Academy is a must-read for Seanan McGuire fans, but you don’t have to have previous experience with her work to appreciate the funny, scary, and strange worlds presented here.

Book Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

Title: If It Bleeds
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: April 21, 2020
Length: 447 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author, legendary storyteller, and master of short fiction Stephen King comes an extraordinary collection of four new and compelling novellas —Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story If It Bleeds— each pulling readers into intriguing and frightening places.

A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Call me crazy, but Stephen King books are my version of comfort food. When I need distraction from the drama of daily life, I know I can sink into a King book and get carried away from everything weighing me down.

So getting a library e-book download of If It Bleeds this week was just perfect timing! Also very surprising, as I’d expected to be on the hold list for months… so thank you, San Francisco Public Library!

I approached If It Bleeds a little hesitantly, as short stories are really not my thing. Still, there was the book, just waiting for me on my Kindle, so how could I resist?

I’m so glad I dove right in! If It Bleeds consists of four novella-length stories, all unrelated, and all very different in content and tone. And each was a treat!

The story that garnered the most pre-publication buzz is the title story, If It Bleeds (which appears 3rd in this collection). If It Bleeds stars Holly Gibney, whom even Stephen King refers to as a favorite character! Holly was first introduced in the Bill Hodges trilogy, and then was a key character in The Outsider (the adaptation of which aired on HBO recently).

Here, Holly is the lead in her own story. She is horrified by news of a terrible mass murder by bombing at an elementary school — and then is hooked by a discrepancy she notices in the appearance of the local newscaster who was first on the scene. Holly is never one to let go of details, and as she investigates, she becomes personally involved in tracking down and stopping a monster.

It’s a good story, very suspenseful, although I’m not sure how much sense it’ll make to someone not familiar with The Outsider. It’s not an exact sequel, but the earlier novel definitely informs the way Holly’s case unfolds and what she knows.

As for the other stories… well, I loved them!

In order of preference, my least favorite would be the final story in the book — although don’t get me wrong, I still really liked it! Rat is the story of a writer who’s never been able to finish a novel, although he has published some highly regarded short stories and is an English professor. When a new story idea appears to him, he’s sure it’s his novel at last, and decides to retreat to his family’s remote backwoods cabin to work on it in isolation before the inspiration disappears.

Rat is an interesting look at creativity, the writing process, a writer’s fear, and the superstitions and bargaining that may accompany a fickle gift. Stephen King does love to feature writers as main characters, and then put them in dangerous, awful situations. Is the writer here really experiencing the disturbing things he thinks are happening, or is he losing his grip on his sanity? Read the story and decide!

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the first story in the collection, and feels like classic Stephen King. It combines his patented nostalgic look back at childhood with a small-town setting, the loss of loved ones, and a piece of technology that changes everything. It’s a story about growing up and saying good-bye, but also just a good, spooky, odd ghost story. Very cool.

Finally, the 2nd story in the book, which was my favorite of the bunch. The Life of Chuck is weird and wonderful, and I adored it. Told in three sections that move backward chronologically, this story is surprising and captivating, and strangely moving too. I don’t want to give away a single thing about it! Definitely check it out!

All in all, a terrific collection! As I mentioned, I don’t typically seek out story collections, even from my favorite authors, so I’m really grateful that I happened to be able to get this from the library.

And true confession time: I loved it so much that I ended up using an Amazon gift card to treat myself to my very own hard copy!

If It Bleeds is a great addition to Stephen King’s huge body of work. If you thought he might possibly run out of original stories to tell… this book shows that that’s not at all likely to happen. A must-read for King fans!