Category: short stories


I’ve gotten the chance to review a number of Seanan McGuire’s book now and I’ve enjoyed them all. So, of course I was excited to see Sparrow Hill Road on netGalley, even more so when I was OKed to review it. This is one of those books that I had been meaning to read and meaning to read. Bonus in that the second book is coming out soon. Enjoy!

Sparrow Hill Road cover

Rose Marshall is sixteen and running from the man who ran her off the road. She’s been sixteen and on the run since prom night. Since she’d made a rash decision while angry. Since 1952 when she took the keys to her brother’s car and the short cut on Sparrow Hill Road to look for her boyfriend.  Bobby Cross is still hunting her, trying to catch the one that got away and feed his immortality a little longer.  He won’t stop until he catches up to her. But at least he can’t kill someone who’s already dead.

Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road is interesting to me in a lot of ways. It started out as a set of twelve short stories published across a year. Those stories were well received enough to be reworked a little and republished as a novel. That, to me, is all kinds of awesome. Then you jump into Sparrow Hill Road being a ghost’s story rather than a ghost story. It’s Rose’s story to tell and she’s well aware of a lot of the folk lore surrounding her and those like her. I actually have a little trouble talking about this one because of how much I enjoyed it.

This isn’t a settled book by any means. It roams from decade to decade and coast to coast, from living to dead and back again. The characters likewise never seem to settle. Weather that means the phantom driver who spends his afterlife racing the road he died on or the route witches whose magic is called from driving and the road itself. Pauses are brief and stopping or being stopped always seems to carry a risk. That doesn’t mean that the book moves at a breakneck pace throughout its run, Ms. McGuire does a fantastic job with her pacing here. It never felt like I needed to pause and reread something to understand what was going on. It also never felt like the book was dragged down by over explaining things.

Rose’s ability to borrow life from a willingly offered piece of outer ware is fascinating to me, likewise the rule that she can enjoy food and drink only if it’s willingly offered by a living being. Both serve to allow her to, temporarily at least, experience the parts of living that she’d enjoyed and interact with normal people as though she were one of them. It also serves to limit Rose. She can only borrow life until the sun comes up so she’s a ghost, cold and insubstantial, during the day and any food she eats that isn’t willingly offered tastes of ash. The aspect of Rose having chosen to guide the dead is also an interesting one. It isn’t something she’s bound to, at least not beyond feeling a sort of responsibility for the newly dead. It’s something she doesn’t always want to do and, in fact, something of a mirror to her habit of trying to help drivers avoid their deaths. Of course, both of those choices lead to her being seen around horrific traffic accidents and being blamed as a result.

That feels like sort of a running thing through the book, people act without knowing the full story. It happens with Rose, with the story of the pretty dead girl up on Sparrow Hill Road and all the people she’s supposedly killed. It happens with a number of the characters introduced within each section of the book, they react to the bits they know but act before digging further. They jump to conclusions while angry or confused and go based on their impressions. It’s a sort of humanizing thing that allows for a lot of the conflict in the book without it feeling like it was just thrown in.

Speaking of conflict, if there’s a bit that didn’t entirely work for me it winds up being Bobby Cross himself. This goes back to Sparrow Hill Road having originally been a set of short stories. Bobby Cross feels like a week antagonist, largely because he doesn’t have much to do early on. He’s the one who killed Rose. He wants to finish the job. Not has to, wants to. But for a lot of the book’s run it doesn’t feel like he’s a threat. The antagonists from other sections tend to be more present, likely because that’s their moment while Bobby is running a long game. When he’s effective, he’s great but when he’s not he just sort of feels like a disposable villain of the week.

I started writing this review knowing that I was going to give it a five out of five. I enjoyed it enough to not really know how to write about it without just throwing words for pages on end. Even now there are bits that I want to go back and add more thoughts on. I think I’ve come to a decent place to end this though. Sparrow Hill Road is well worth the read and I’m super excited for the next one.

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This one’s late. It’s late and I’m not particularly happy with it. Largely that comes from this being non-fiction and that not really being my cup of tea reviews wise. I broke my own rule and remembered why I had it. This one’s from the nice folks at First Second, here’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Enjoy!

Brazen cover

While I mostly enjoyed it, I am probably not the target audience for Penelope Bagieu’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. That’s not a complaint. Brazen is a cool jumping off point for looking more into the women mentioned in it but, given that it is split into twenty-seven sections, there’s not a lot of deep going into any given story. It’s also a bit of a mixed bag on the women included. Several I understood completely, a few I didn’t quite get.

In large part, Brazen feels like it could be a really good source for a middle school history class to pull from. There’s enough information to catch interest in the women featured and enough to get started. I would have liked to have seen a bibliography or an index at the end. I feel like having the sources included could have made this even better in regards to finding out more.

The writing is simple and straight forward which works well with the short sections. The art has a nifty sketchy quality while also having a fair degree of detail. The overall effect is quite functional and makes for an enjoyable read.

That’s ultimately a big chunk of what decided it for me. I enjoyed reading Brazen and I know that a younger me would have enjoyed it more. Not citing her sources somewhere in the book does lose some points for me. So, I’m giving Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World a four out of five.

Hey look! It’s that review I’ve been talking about for months. It’s here before Christmas even. For real though, sorry about falling off the world like that. Enjoy!

arcanum-unbounded

I’m kind of skipping the blurb this time, since this is a collection of short stories.

So, Brandon Sanderson’s The Arcanum Unbounded is an interesting book both as it is written and for what it is. Unfortunately it also relies pretty heavily on the reader not only being a fan of Sanderson’s work but also having read all of his previous works. That more than kind of cools me on the book, though it is more or less exactly what’s on the label. This is going to be a bit of a weird one.

There are two big issues that I have with Arcanum Unbounded. The reliance on the reader having read everything in Sanderson’s Cosmere is the lesser of the two. The more major issue I have is his habit of including an afterword on the stories, on its own it wouldn’t be too bad but as part of this particular book it clashes terribly with the framing device introduced at the beginning and make the book very easy to put down. A pretty easy fix for this would have been removing either the framing device, which ties the book together as a concept, or the afterwords, which feel a little like reading the author’s blog rather than a book. I’m much more interested in the framing device, that someone has collected these story bits from all over the Cosmere, because it ties in. But I’m also a “death of the author” kind of reader and feel like if the author has to explain something outside of the story itself, then it isn’t written well enough. Obvious biases are, in fact, obvious.

The issue of it feeling like everything else prior to this is required reading bounces around a bit. The first story is by far my favorite and feels like a whole entity unto itself, I don’t feel lost for details and could enjoy myself freely. It’s immediately followed by a short story set towards the end of Elantris that, having not read that novel, I was completely lost on which made it feel super long and just draining to get through. It’s not bad in most of the stories but, combined with the afterwords, can feel tiresome.

That said, the stylistic choices made were interesting and in several stories it felt like the author was having fun with the writing. The novella about the Survivor was great once I got into it and it started feeling like its own thing instead of a spin on something else. So this is ultimately a pretty mixed bag for me. The writing is solid throughout, but then the plotting is overly referential. The stories that stand alone are a ton of fun, but then others feel like fragments of something bigger.

At the end of the day, I give Arcanum Unbounded a three out of five. If you’re a big fan of Sanderson’s you’ll probably enjoy it immensely. If not, maybe check it out from the library first or give one of his other books a shot.

So it’s been an odd couple of days, I know I always say that when I’m behind schedule, but I blame Halloween this time.  Crazy time of year.  We got two days of coat weather and then today was T-shirt weather.  Great times though, nice to see people out having a good time.  So, since today is Halloween and all, I figured I’d toss in a review of the freebie story from Rizzoli and Isles season one.  This isn’t going to be a long one by any means but if you guys are interested it should still be free for the Kindle or to read on the show’s website.  So, no more of that, on to “Freaks”.

Following the sounds of blood curdling screams, the team is called out on an apparent homicide in an abandoned church where the body of a young woman is found apparently strangled.  A near by coffin shows signs of inhabitation.  Can Rizzoli and Isles solve a case of supernatural proportions.

Now Tess Gerritsen’s “Freaks” is a weird one right off the bat because it’s Tess Gerritsen writing Janet Tamaro’s versions of Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles.  That alone had me thinking of it as some kind of strange recursive fan fiction right off the bat. That said, it’s still Tess Gerritsen writing so it’s still good but it’s been simplified, like a YA edition of Rizzoli and Isles.  “Freaks” isn’t long in the least, sort of a fun sized bar that feels like it should have been bigger.  That feeds into my only big disappointment with “Freaks”, the ending feels terribly rushed leaving me feeling a bit left in the lurch with a sample for The Silent Girl that’s longer than the story preceding it.  I’m sure that this was meant to make it feel more like an episode of the show and I’m pretty sure that I could guess at the breaks between weekly installments, but the last be is a rough note at the end of a fairly decent story.

At this point in time, I’m pretty sure my head would explode if they tried to do a novelization of the show based loosely on the novels.  I’m also pretty sure that they’d sell really well until a couple of seasons after the show ended, but that’s beside the point.  “Freaks”, much like the show it’s based on, is something that I would have liked a lot more if it had been marketed as an original thing rather than as Rizzoli and Isles.  It’s still got pretty decent writing and if it were the first chapter in a longer book I would probably buy the book.  I’m not real sure how to review it though.  It earns a probably a four for the writing itself, but the ending makes me want to drop a point and the seasonal feel to it makes me wonder if I would rate it any different if I’d read it during the Summer.

As a note, this was supposed to go up on Halloween but then I tried napping so that it wouldn’t  sound like I’d typed the thing three quarters of the way asleep.  I woke up at seven something this morning wondering what had happened to my alarm.  Good times.

This is one of those books that I can say with complete honesty that I have no idea how I wound up reading it.  The author has another book out titled The Thorn that’s currently free to read at smashwords.com.

I just recently read Water and Other Stories by Daron Fraley.  Due to its nature as a book of short stories, I’ll be breaking this review in to three parts, one for each story.

First up is “Petitions”.  “Petitions” details the end of a day for Mark, a man who finds himself homeless and alone.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t a societal commentary as I had expected from the introduction and first few sentences.  Mark is shown as a very human figure, with a believable back-story and behaviors that feel organic rather than contrived.  It’s a bit of a tear jerker in hindsight, but well written and worth at least one read through.

Second is “Angel’s Song” a companion story to Fraley’s novel The Thorn book one in The Chronicles of Gan.  It has, as might be expected, a very Christian vibe the main character, Jacob, is even a shepherd watching his neighbor’s flock.  It seems to be, more than anything else, a growing up story with religious elements.  I would have liked to see more time put into developing Jacob, but understand that at just four PDF pages long there isn’t much room for anything beyond the story.  It would be a good read for someone who generally enjoys Christian fiction.

Last is the title story “Water”, a story based the Gospel of John 5:1-16 and Carl Bloch’s painting “Healing at the Pool of Bethesda.”  At least that’s what it describes itself as in the introduction, I personally cannot verify this.  It is a retelling of the story of Moshe and how he was restored to physical wholeness, and just that.  It does play a little with Moshe’s thoughts, placing him as the viewpoint character,  and focusing on his emotions leading up to the arrival of Jesus and his disciples.  Yet again, it’s worth a read for those who tend to read Christian fiction but well written enough to be worth the read regardless.

Water and Other Stories is available for download at smashwords.com.