Category: Fiction

Book Review: Unexpected Stories

By , November 22, 2015

Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. ButlerUnexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler

When I first heard Octavia Butler’s estate had found unpublished material by the famous sci-fi author, I almost lost my breath. Since I knew the discovered stories would most likely be unedited or rough starts of Ms. Butler’s beautiful writings, I was hesitant to read this collection because I did not want to be disappointed. However, on a random lunch break, I finally cracked open the book; or rather whipped out my smartphone’s Overdrive app, since this is only available as an e-book. Upon reading the first few lines of the first short story, “A Necessary Being”, I nearly dropped my smartphone in shock. This is a short prequel to Ms. Butler’s out of print book Survivor–set within the Patternist series’ universe, which feels like a godsend to her most devoted fans! I felt like getting up, screaming, and doing a death drop, before realizing that I would look demented.

“A Necessary Being” takes place on another planet, and deals with several groups called the Kohn. The main protagonists are Diut (Tehkohn Hao) and Tahneh (Rohkohn Hao). Both protagonists lead their respective groups, and both feel weighted by the expectations and responsibilities that ruling entails. Tahneh has ruled her people for a good length of time, but must prepare herself to name a successor. Diut has just come into power, and is trying to learn how to manage his expectations versus his people’s expectations. These two meet, and both must choose whether to follow tradition, or choose a different path for themselves and their people.

The second short story, “Childfinder,” was written for Harlan Ellison’s anthology Last Dangerous Visions. The anthology was never published, so the story was thought to be lost forever. Butler’s cousin, and her literary executor, found this story and “A Necessary Being.”
“Childfinder” takes place in the 1970s. Barbara is a black women who is able to find children with pre-psionic (i.e., telepathy, pre-cognition, etc.) powers, and is able to activate these children. When the story opens, she is currently running away from the organization that she helped start. Barbara is left with the decision to continue with the life she has always known, or to let that life go. “Childfinder” is very short, but it deals with covert racism, classism, and what it means to truly get along with others.

Unexpected Stories is a sparse collection. Although it is a worthy addition for any adoring Octavia Butler fan, it only contains two newly found short stories, a foreword by Walter Mosley, an afterword by Merrilee Heifetz, and a brief biography on Octavia Butler herself. Unexpected Stories will definitely satisfy Ms. Butler’s longtime fans, and allow readers who are unfamiliar with Ms. Butler a better idea on how her experiences influenced her writing, and also shows how her work transformed and became more refined overtime. For those beginners, I would also suggest reading with Lilith’s Brood.


Book review: Bird Box

By , November 13, 2015

18498558Bird Box: a Novel
by Josh Malerman

Don’t go outside without a blindfold, and keep all windows and doors covered!  Seriously, something is causing people to commit horrible violence.  We’ve managed to discover these shocking acts occur after victims see whatever this “thing” may be.  So remember, if you must go outside, keep your eyes closed!

Mallorie and her two children have been living in that house by the river, but their stockpile of food and supplies has run out.  It’s now or never to make a break for a better life.  They’ve set out on a journey down the river in an old rowboat, with only their hearing to protect them from whatever approaches…

Josh Malerman’s 2014 debut novel is a page turner that you’ll want to read with your blinds closed and all the lights on.  It’s a perfect read while you wait for the King of Horror‘s latest, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Book review: Carry On

By , November 10, 2015

Carry On
By Rainbow Rowell

My brain hurts. This book made my brain hurt. In 2013, author Rainbow Rowell released Fangirl, which is my favorite of her books (so far). This book followed main character, Cath, to college, where she embarked on a creative writing degree, while still writing her insanely popular fan faction for Simon Snow, created by fictional author, Gemma T Leslie. Snow is instantly recognizable as an homage to that other boy wizard, or as Rowell puts it, Snow’s “kind of an amalgam and descendant of a hundred other fictional Chosen Ones” – or mostly…you know…Harry Potter.

In an author’s note to the new book, Rowell explains that the character of Snow wouldn’t let her go, and she really wanted to tell his story. So she set off to write  - stay with me now – as an original author, creating a fictitious author writing what amounts to fan fiction, who was then borrowed by another fictitious character for more fan fiction, and then back to the original author who took the fictitious author’s character and wrote her own fan fiction. (Is it really fan fiction if you created the author that created the character in the first place?)

See why my head hurts?

But…once you get past all the nephew’s-uncle’s-cousin’s-brother’s-former roommateness of the situation, there’s actually a pretty good story underneath.  Simon Snow is, indeed, the Chosen One, but his massive amount of power is so unstable that he can’t control it. And his evil doppleganger is destroying what magic is left in the world. Will he and his arch enemy/ roommate/ potential love interest save the day? Or will they just fight with each other?

Now Rowell is no Rowling – her writing doesn’t quite have the depth of the master. And sometimes the Britishness of the story comes across as contrived (Rowell lives in Nebraska…just saying). But if you can’t get enough Harry Potter adventures, or have some dark fantasy that Harry and Ron hook up instead of Harry and Ginny, then you need to read this book. You can probably read it without reading Fangirl first, since this is it’s own story, but your experience will be better if you’ve read the original before Carrying On. I really like Rowell’s voice – no matter how many layers of fan fiction it has to go through to get to the source. And while she is technically writing for teens – anyone will appreciate these stories. If you’ll remember, the other boy wizard was initially written for children.

Keep reading and Carry On

Amanda :)


Book review: Don’t Look Now

By , November 2, 2015

Don't Look NowDon’t Look Now
by Daphne du Maurier

I could read Daphne du Maurier stories for the rest of my life. The title story completely terrified me, even though I’ve read it before and seen the movie! I’m putting du Maurier with Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith in the dread-filled short story hall of fame.

This edition also has an introduction by the wonderful Patrick McGrath, as well as the stories The Birds (very different from the Hitchcock movie based upon it) and The Blue Lenses.

May I also take this opportunity to shower praise upon the New York Review Books Classics imprint?  NYRB Classics brings forgotten treasures back into print, with introductions by perfectly matched contemporary authors, and has led to some of my favorite reading experiences of the past few years:



by John Wyndham, better known for The Midwich Cuckoos and Day of the Triffids, with an introduction by Margaret Atwood.







Cassandra at the WeddingCassandra at the Wedding

about the weekend in which Cassie attempts to sabotage her twin sister’s wedding.







Wish Her Safe at HomeWish Her Safe at Home

a really, really skillful portrayal of a woman slowly going mad.








by Caroline Blackwood, now one of my favorite authors. Also check out her book Great Granny Webster, available through Interlibrary Loan.







As a review on the NYRB website says, “Once you have discovered the series it’s as if you’ve just gained an incredibly well-read friend who consistently lends you obscure yet highly enjoyable books.”



Book review: The Day of the Triffids

By , October 29, 2015

Triffids-2You might not expect a novel about killer plants to be thoroughly lacking in over-the-top corniness, but John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids handily pulls it off.

William Masen awakes one morning to find that he is among the few humans in London who still possess the capacity for sight. The reason for sudden widespread blindness involves a meteoric event, and the circumstances that most of the helpless citizens find themselves in are scary enough without the addition of a more sentient threat: large, hostile plants known as “triffids”. Without specific safety precautions – the removal of a ten-foot-long stinging stem that can be wielded by the plants with amazing accuracy – the triffids are dangerous organisms, chiefly because they are both carnivorous and mobile. A city (and perhaps a country?) full of blind persons is no match for both a crumbling society and a giant deadly weed. Depressing, right?

An element of hopelessness is certainly present in Wyndham’s novel, but it’s more frequently both fascinating in its depiction of a strange concept, and gripping in its realistic narrative. Forget for a moment the fact that this story was adapted for film in 1963; while that version might be plenty entertaining in its own way, the source material compels because of its believability and the grounded nature of the story. At only 222 pages, you’ve got time to fit this SF classic from 1951 into your schedule!

- Ben

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

By , October 1, 2015

We need diverse books! I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase or seen the hashtag on Twitter in the past year. Per statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 36 out of 3,500 children and young adult books published in 2014 were written by Latino authors. September 15th kicks off the annual celebration of Hispanic Heritage month. Nashville Public Library is hosting various events this month that highlight the literary and artistic contributions of Hispanic and Latino culture. In honor of this celebration, check out some of my favorite YA libros (books) written by Hispanic authors. Happy Reading!

Last night I sang to the...
Last Night I Sang to the Monster
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Zach is an alcoholic. Zach is an addict. Zach doesn’t remember, but his therapist keeps asking him questions. He’s searching for answers to questions that Zach doesn’t want to remember, like how he got to rehab, who is paying for it, and why hasn’t he heard from his mom, dad, or brother?

Funny, heart-wrenching, and hopeful, Last Night I Sang to a Monster is about a young man’s struggle to face his troubled past and reconcile the challenges of the present in an uncertain future.

Mexican Whiteboy
Mexican Whiteboy
by Matt De La Peña

Danny Lopez is too white to fit in with inner-city kids and too brown to fit in with his private school classmates and, on top of that, he doesn’t even speak Spanish. The only thing Danny’s got going for him is his mean fastball, but life on the streets is a bit different than the ball field. Danny’s goal for the summer is to figure out who he is and, hopefully, track down his father in Mexico and find out why he left their family. Mexican Whiteboy addresses the complexities of racial identity and finding friendship in unlikely places.

*Since it is also Banned Books Week (September 27th-October 3rd), it is interesting to note that in 2012, Mexican Whiteboy was banned for containing “critical race theory”. If you needed (yet) another reason to check out this novel, you should totally read a banned book. It’s good for your brain.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
By Meg Medina

Who is Yaqui Delgado?

Piddy needs to answer this question fast and diffuse the situation before she ends up in a fight with someone she doesn’t even know. Unfortunately, Piddy has a lot on her plate: new school, new apartment, and an absentee father who her mother refuses to discuss. The last thing she wants to deal with is a bully who thinks Piddy doesn’t act Latina enough.

A 2014 Pura Belpré Author award winner, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, is a brutally honest depiction of teen bullying.

Further reading:

The Firefly Letters: a suffragette’s journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

- Raemona

Minecraft: Full STEAM Ahead

By , September 29, 2015

Minecraft Game Screenshot

Minecraft, a computer game where everything is made of blocks, is sweeping the nation. Everywhere you look you can find children playing the game, reading the books, or begging adults to buy them Minecraft merchandise at the store. There are many benefits to playing the game, and they can all be summed up in five letters – STEAM.

But wait, what is STEAM?

STEAM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art + Design, and Math.

How does STEAM apply to Minecraft?

Science: Players use their knowledge of materials to create different objects, tools, homes, or cities. For example, at the start of the game, players are automatically tasked with digging in order to find the material they need to create with – iron. Then, players smelt their iron – a process of placing iron ore into a forge, heating it up, and waiting for the final product: an ingot. Players can then make tools and other items out of their ingots.

Technology: Minecraft requires some kind of computer device whether it be a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a phone. You can access Minecraft anywhere! The benefit of playing Minecraft on different devices is that players learn new technological skills. Players become more adept at using keyboards and mice when playing on a computer. They can also develop their hand-eye coordination by playing on an Xbox or a tablet. Some advanced players may even become proficient at “hacking,” “modding,” or changing the code of the game.

Engineering: There are different game modes that children and young adults can play in, such as Sandbox style and Inventor style. In Sandbox style, players can create different environments and structures. In Inventor style, players can figure out how to build working objects, like elevators and cannons.

Art + Design: When children and young adults play Minecraft, they will likely spend hours creating the perfect design. They will decide on colors, sizes, placement, etc. for their blocks based on their mined items. Creating their world will help develop architectural skills as they put their blocks together and create different structures and equipment.

Math: Mathematics encompasses more than just using numbers to calculate amounts. It also incorporates logic and reasoning skills. Using logic and reasoning, players determine how to build their world inside Minecraft. Minecraft also helps players understand the concept of graphing because the Minecraft world operates through grids, and it helps them understand geometry using and creating different three-dimensional shapes.

Schools are beginning to acknowledge the many benefits of Minecraft, and the developers of the game have responded by offering a bundle pack available specifically to schools called MinecraftEDU. Some schools are even implementing Minecraft labs for students to use during the day to focus on and build STEAM skills. Dan Thalkar, a Los Angeles Charter School teacher, believes that Minecraft is successful in classrooms because you can use it for pretty much anything:

“If you want to use it for something for math or for science you can, either just by using the game itself or by modifying it.”1


Minecraft Handbooks for Kids (and Adults)

Minecraft Redstone Handbook

Minecraft Redstone Handbook

Minecraft Combat Handbook

Minecraft Combat Handbook

Minecraft Construction Handbook

Minecraft Construction Handbook

Minecraft Essential Handbook

Minecraft Essential Handbook


Minecraft Chapter Books Encourage Reading

The Skeletons Strike Back: an Unofficial Gamer's Adventure

The Skeletons Strike Back: an Unofficial Gamer’s Adventure

Last Stand on the Ocean Shore: an Unofficial Minecrafter's Adventure

Last Stand on the Ocean Shore: an Unofficial Minecrafter’s Adventure

Escape from the Overworld: an Unofficial Minecraft Gamer's Quest

Escape from the Overworld: an Unofficial Minecraft Gamer’s Quest

Battle for the Nether: an Unofficial Minecrafter's Adventure

Battle for the Nether: an Unofficial Minecrafter’s Adventure

Book Review: The Girl in 6E

By , September 27, 2015

The Girl in 6E by A. R. TorreThe Girl In 6E by A. R. Torre

1. Don’t leave the apartment.

2. Never let anyone in.

3. Don’t kill anyone

These are the rules that Deanna Madden lives by.

She has not stepped outside of her apartment for three years, for fear of doing harm to others. She supports her hermit lifestyle by becoming Jessica Manchild, one of the highest paid camgirls in the country. Everything she needs is either contained in her apartment or delivered to her door. Deanna’s only interactions with people are either from behind a locked door, over the phone, or through a computer.

Deanna is afraid that she is a terrifying person because she has the impulse to kill people. She then meets someone who appears to be a genuinely terrifying person, and is not only forced to take action, but is also forced to confront the things that lead her to this point. Along the way, she meets someone who is truly decent and understanding. The only question is will she give into her murderous impulses or not?

Book review: The Bourbon Kings

By , September 22, 2015

The Bourbon Kings
By J.R. Ward

I have been a fan of the Warden for a while now. When her Black Dagger Brotherhood series came out, I thought it was awesome. Now that it has a few years on it, I’m starting to get a little annoyed with the Brothers and their quirky language, true? And don’t even talk to me about her Fallen Angels series. I could do 14 separate posts on what was wrong with it. I was never so happy that something came to an end and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

My colleague, Sharra, posted about the book release a month or so ago, and I’ve been intrigued ever since. A Southern family dynasty romance? I’m so in. I have a real soft spot for Southern literature and family sagas, so to put those together was very exciting. Plus, I had a feeling that the characters wouldn’t talk like drug-dealing morons (come one BDBers, you know I’m right).

Ward sets her story in the fictional town of Charlemont – which sounds a whole lot like Louisville, Kentucky. The Bradford family is world-renown as the best producers of bourbon, and they like to show off their wealth. But like many uber-wealthy families, theirs is completely dysfunctional. It’s derby time and somehow the whole clan finds itself together again for the big race day. Will everyone survive all this wonderful family togetherness?

It’s a good thing I grew up watching soap operas, because is this ever one. For a minute I thought we were in Dallas and someone was gonna shoot JR. My only real complaint is that if you are going to write a book about a city like Louisville, at least do us the courtesy of calling it Louisville. In the BDB, she invented the city of Caldwell just outside of New York City. She could have done the same thing here just as easily. Every time they refer to Charlemont, it pulled me out of the story because I knew they really meant Louisville. It’s not like it’s trademarked or anything.

But overall, I would say this was a pretty good book. It definitely grabs you and you don’t want to put the book down. Plus, there’s a big scene with a thunderstorm and honestly, she had me at the boom! All it needed was an evil cloned twin who was stolen by Russians at birth to be perfect.

It looks like this is going to be her new series, and I’m in to see what happens to the Bradford family. (Insert creepy soap opera music here…dun dun dahhhh!)

Happy reading…

:) Amanda



Book review: Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes

By , September 11, 2015

913YAFmLDXLAlly Hughes Has Sex Sometimes
by Jules Moulin

This may be an unusual way to start a book review, but in a minute you’ll understand why. I would like to acknowledge, celebrate, and applaud all of the single parents out there. Single parents work so hard to care for and raise your children, to work and maintain a home. You deserve all the happiness, good fortune, and moments of relaxation that come your way.

Ally Hughes is a single mom. She got pregnant during her junior year of college, and had her daughter Lizzie, without any support from the father. Ally finished college, completed her PhD, and is now teaching feminist economics at Brown, all while raising her extremely gifted, now ten year old daughter Lizzie. Enter Ally’s chance at happiness and relaxation (and dare I say love?!): Jake Bean, a twenty-one year old student in Ally’s class, who has requested a meeting to discuss his failing grade. Ally not only grants him that passing grade, but hires him to do some chores and repairs that her usual handyman has bailed on.

As Jake works around the house, he and Ally connect, and the romantic tension builds.   When Jake suggests they spend the night together, Ally reminds him she’s 31, he’s 21, AND her student.   Not anymore, he admits. Jake has quit Brown to take his life wherever it leads him. Ally has been so devoted to her daughter and focused on her career for so long… She reluctantly says yes, but only if their time together can remain a secret, and just for the weekend. If you’ve paid attention to the title of this book, you know what happens next.

Fast forward ten years. Ally’s twenty year old daughter Lizzie is pursuing a career in acting, and gets a bit part in a big movie, opposite the handsome A-List co-star Noah Bean. Lizzie invites him to have dinner at her mom’s house. When they arrive, Ally is shocked to find that her daughter’s friend, Noah Bean, is actually Jake Bean, her long-lost lover. Yikes!

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes is Jules Moulin’s first novel, but if you were a Party of Five and/or The West Wing fan, you’ve experienced her smart, insightful, and witty writing.   Although her first novel isn’t perfect, Moulin’s cast of characters remains fully realized when her plot falls a little short. The love affair between Jake and Ally is as hot as a ghost pepper, but Moulin also brings to life that deep intimacy you expect between two people who are meant to be together. And I haven’t even mentioned the Internet sex-crimes ring that gets a big smackdown!

Ally Hughes would be a great beach read,  or just a great read for when you’re sitting in an easy chair with a cat (in my case) or your beloved toddler asleep in your lap.


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