Category: Fiction

Book review: Let Me Tell You

By , July 6, 2015

Let Me Tell YouLet Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings
by Shirley Jackson

Get ready, everyone—the Shirley Jackson revival is about to begin.  In anticipation of Ruth Franklin’s major biography of Jackson coming out in 2016, Franklin introduces this compilation of short stories, essays, reviews, and family humor pieces (most of which have never been published).

If you’ve never read Jackson before, she’s best known for her short story The Lottery.  If you’re already familiar with her, you’ll see her preoccupations running throughout this collection: everyday magic, loneliness, domestic trials, and the fact that some houses are born bad.  Paranoia is a thrilling example of her short story style, and Mrs. Spencer and the Oberons (my favorite piece in the book) reveals her not-so-hidden misanthropy.  Fans of Life Among the Savages can look forward to an entire section of domestic comedy, and the book wraps up with revelations of where Jackson came up with her story ideas and how she used symbols (“garlic”) in her work.

Jackson has been cited as an influence by Stephen King, Kelly Link, and Donna Tartt, among others.  This collection showcases her wide range, from menace to dry wit.  Place a hold on Let Me Tell You before it comes out next month!


Book Review: Scowler

By , July 4, 2015

Scowler by Daniel KrausScowler
By Daniel Kraus

I came across Scowler while at the library. I did not check it out at that point, because while it piqued my interest, I am always somewhat hesitant to pick up teen novels. Many teen novels that I have read have diverse plots, and are well written. However, I would quickly discover that a major part of the books’ focus are on the main characters’ love lives— a love triangle usually ensues. I like romance in small doses. When I realized this book was a Horror/Suspense novel, I quickly ran to check it out from the library.

Ry Burke is 19 years old young man itching to be free from his mother, but who feels totally responsible for her and his sister. He vacillates between wanting to leave and go to college, and then wanting to stay on their farm in Iowa because it’s all he knows. Ry finds himself in a situation where he has to defend himself, and his family. Therefore, he calls upon old protectors to help him out once again: the kind Mr. Furrington, the wise Jesus, and the bloodthirsty Scowler.

The story opens with the anticipation of a coming meteor shower in the 1980s. It is made clear that this event will be central to the plot and characters involved. We then jump to 10 years prior, when events start unfolding in the Burke household that shine a light on the current situation.

Kraus presents a very frank (and sometimes horrifying) look at the impact violence, abuse, and mental health issues have on people (children, in particular). Therefore, readers should be aware that there are scenes that have uncensored cursing, nudity, and intimate situations in them. I would definitely recommend this book to adults and teens alike.

Book review: The American People

By , July 1, 2015

The American People by Larry KramerThe American People Volume 1, Search For My Heart
by Larry Kramer

Kramer has teased readers with this work for thirty years. Four years ago, I mentioned I was anxious for it come out. All 775 pages of Volume 1(!) have finally arrived. Need blurbs? 1) It’s the gay history of the United States. 2) Kramer’s theories are so controversial his publisher would only release American People as fiction though it started as straight (forgive the pun) nonfiction. What controversial ideas? 1) HIV has been around since the beginning of Homo sapiens. 2) A bunch of presidents were gay. Hearing this lights some people’s hair on fire. Dismissing these ideas outright is exactly the kind of hysterical reductionism Kramer rallies against, though many accuse Kramer himself of being a hysterical reductionist. He is an example of that rarest of birds – an intellectually militant gay radical. Many are fatuously accused of harboring a radical gay agenda. Proudly, Kramer actually possesses one, and The American People is his reinterpretation of the our national myth.

It is told by Fred Lemish, a metafictional version of Kramer, who is writing a history of America, and by the historians, epidemiologists, biologists, ethicists, et al that Lemish interviews for his project – all fictionalized caricatures of real life scholars. The HIV virus itself is anthropomorphized and is a competing voice with the rest of the parodied monologists. Lemish’s history of America starts with a biological history of HIV as told literally by the voice of HIV. It’s ballsy, ambitious, and extremely disorienting. A lot of it is stuff you recognize from your grammar school history book only to fugue into hardcore horrors. Plague/death is synonymous with life/sex. Allegorical sex/death fantasias abound. Luckily for me, I’ve been saying William S. Burroughs is my favorite author for so long that nothing is true and everything is permitted, but Kramer is a far better writer. The monologues are poetic, fiery, funny, shocking, tragic. The book’s length and structure are a bit much even for me, but listening on audio gives the text a much needed infusion. There is a full cast and each narrative voice gets their own actor. This is a novel written by a playwright.

If you are thinking, “Bryan, I am never reading this,” you might already be familiar with Kramer’s life and work. The Oscar nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague about the fierce early days of AIDS activism features Kramer prominently. The HBO miniseries The Normal Heart is based on Kramer’s largely autobiographical play of the same name.


Book List: My Dad’s Top Five

By , June 14, 2015

My father is where I get my love of science fiction and fantasy. I grew up around Robert Heinlein and Marion Zimmer Bradley (I was even named after one of her books!). Both of my parents encouraged me to read growing up, which has made me the bibliophile I am today!

Since the theme of Summer Challenge this year is Super Heroes, and Father’s Day is fast approaching, I thought I’d ask my Dad what his favorite books are. My Dad went above and beyond, and gave me a four book series and his favorite book!

Here is my Dad’s top five list:


Arabian Nights book cover

Arabian Nights, translated by Sir Richard Burton

First up on my Dad’s list is The Arabian Nights. You might recognize such tales as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”. I picked, specifically, the Richard Burton translation, because it seems to be the most comprehensive one. His translation spanned ten volumes, with a couple of supplementary books of tales. The book is written as a “stories within a story”, wherein a king of Persia kills off his virgin brides before they can betray him (after one night of marriage). After his vizier can no longer find him any more brides, the vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offers herself up. In order to keep the king’s interest, she starts telling him a story – but without a conclusion, so he is forced to postpone her execution. This leads to one thousand and one nights of tales! These tales have been translated in many different languages, and often are published as children’s novels, without the external framework story.  Sir Richard Burton’s translation represents a more accurate, less pleasant version of the stories – kind of like The Brothers Grimm version as opposed to the Disney version which has become more familiar!


Patternmaster book cover

Patternmaster, by Octavia E. Butler

Next up on the list is a series by Octavia E. Butler, alternatively called the Pattermaster series, the Patternist series, or Seed to Harvest. The book pictured is actually the LAST book chronologically in the series, but the first book to be published. This book talks about the far future – where people are bred specifically for their intelligence and psychic abilities. People are strictly divided into three groups – the Patternists (networked telepaths who are the dominant race),  their enemies (The Clayarks) and the enslaved “mutes”. The book tells the story of a young Patternist who is attempting to rise through society, and become the Patternmaster (who leads the Patternists). Butler’s stories explore the divisions between race, class, and gender, in a creatively epic manner. Not to mention, Butler is an African American female Science Fiction author with many Hugo and Nebula awards under her belt, and is one of the best known women in the field.


Split Infinity book cover

Split Infinity, by Piers Anthony

My Dad also listed the Apprentice Adept series by Piers Anthony as one of his favorites. The book pictured is the first book in the seven book series. In this series, there are two worlds – Proton and Phaze. They are two worlds, occupying the exact same space, in two different dimensions. Pretty cool, right? Proton is a science-based world. It has been mostly mined for a certain ore. Inhabitants of this world play something called The Game, which pits two people together on a variety of skills and levels. The Game is kind of complicated to explain in short summary, but it basically rules Proton. People wager vast amounts of money on it, and the most skilled players are sent to a Tourney to compete. In the next dimension over is the planet Phaze – a very lush and beautiful world where unicorns, vampires, faeries, and magic are common. It almost seems to be the exact opposite of Proton! Magical Adepts of this world are named based on colors. Each person born has a duplicate on the other world – and they can pass between the worlds!


Bolo!, by David Weber

Bolo!, by David Weber 

This next series isn’t just by one author – the Bolo series involves many authors and spans many anthologies. Keith Laumer wrote the original story in 1960, called “Combat Unit”, which introduced the artificially intelligent tanks. As the series grew, the tanks became more advanced – their AI patterns more human-like, their ability to function with minimal crew reduced to a single commander who could interact with the tank via interface, and extremely heavy fire power. These tanks are called “heavy tanks” because of their much bigger size. The book pictured is the 25th anniversary edition of the first anthology featuring these awesome tanks. Pictured is one of the many books in the series, written by another of my Dad’s favorite authors, David Weber. The book has four short novels about the sentient tanks.


The Man-Kzin Wars cover, created by Larry Niven

The Man-Kzin Wars, created by Larry Niven

The final series that my dad REALLY likes is the Man-Kzin War series. Again, this is a series that spans MANY authors writing in short story collections, but it takes place in Larry Niven’s Known Space universe.  The basis of this story is a series of conflicts between the human race and the Kzinti. The Kzinti are technologically superior and intelligent race of cat-like aliens who are VERY bloodthirsty. Larry Niven just referenced the wars – but many authors worked to fill in the details. This is a series of short stories that spans over thirty years – with a lot of talent going into envisioning Larry Niven’s worlds! Pictured is the 25th anniversary edition of the first book of stories that started it all.

Enjoy these random science fiction and fantasy selections this summer, available at the library!

- Sharra


Book review: I Take You

By , June 12, 2015

I Take YouI Take You
by Eliza Kennedy

Hi there!  Are you a fan of offbeat romantic comedies looking for fun vacation reads? Even better, titles to read as part of your NPL Summer Challenge participation? If so, add  I Take You to your  holds list.  Lily Wilder (that’s her on the book cover), is a successful young litigator living in New York. She is soon to marry her adorable archeologist boyfriend Will.  The trouble is, Lily isn’t sure if she’s the marrying type.  You see, Lily is physically attracted to all sorts of men – her boss, random strangers she meets at the pub, even Will’s work colleague…Even though Lily believes she loves Will, she just can’t stay faithful to him.

Lily grew up in Key West, Florida, a child of divorce, raised by her mom and grandmother, with input from her father’s multiple ex-wives.   Yes, this is a very unconventional contemporary romantic story, complete with strong women, eccentric islanders and indulgent vacationers, wild chickens, a bit of booze and drug use, all within sight of the Hemingway Home.

Author Eliza Kennedy is a Harvard Law School graduate and former litigator herself, who happens to be married to writer Joshua Ferris.  I can’t wait for her next book! I sure hope she’s sitting at her writing desk right now…

Book review: Pushcart Prize 2015

By , June 1, 2015

Pushcart Prize 2015Pushcart Prize 2015: Best of the Small Presses

This was an exceptional year for my favorite annual collection!  Find out more about the Pushcart Prize here.

Top 5:

The Zen Thing, by Emma Duffy-Comparone
A hyper-realistic depiction of a family day at the beach; this is an author to watch.

Annie Radcliffe, You Are Loved, by Barrett Swanson
The vivid intersection of the characters’ lives made this feel like an entire movie in the space of a short story.

Animals, by Michael Kardos
The author uses office life at an unscrupulous call center to investigate loneliness.

The Dance Contest, by Wells Tower
Force yourself through the baffling beginning to get to the great ending.

By the Time You Read This, by Yannick Murphy
Best suicide note ever.

Other standouts:

The Mother, by Latoya Watkins
Read this for the fantastic first-person voice.

The Fiction Writer, by Maribeth Fischer
This brought to mind Rebecca Scherm’s novel Unbecoming.

The Last Days of the Baldock, by Inara Verzemnieks
This is a memorable story about the long-term residents of a highway rest stop in Oregon (yes, you read that correctly).  It reminded me of George Saunders with its improbable premise backed by realistic details.

Blue, by Russell Banks
I’m not usually a fan of Russell Banks, but I loved this (and I wasn’t surprised that Joyce Carol Oates nominated it, with that ending!).

Unmoving Like a Mighty River Stilled, by Alan Rossi
This is an engrossing examination of the conflict between our internal and external selves.



Book review: Bury Him Darkly

By , May 29, 2015

Bury Him DarklyBury Him Darkly

by John Blackburn

What is it about ancient vaults moldering in the bowels of abandoned, crumbling estates that compel folks to want to open ‘em? Every dang time.

In John Blackburn’s Bury Him Darkly, the folks in question include a wealthy industrialist, an obsessive biographer, an elderly German scientist, a respected scholar and a local journalist. Each has their own reason for wanting the Church – responsible for protecting the security of Martin Railstone’s tomb, according to his final and specific instructions – to finally allow the opening of the crypt before the valley is flooded as part of a civil engineering project. Most of these reasons revolve around the possibility that Railstone was a genius and was buried with important works of art and science. On the opposing team is the Dean of Lanchester, convinced that the deceased individual was likely insane and definitely evil.

Part of the appeal of this author’s storytelling, as pointed out in Greg Gbur’s introduction, is the unpredictable nature of the narrative. The premise above is straightforward enough, but likely not to develop into quite what you expect. Blackburn penned novels from the late 50’s all the way up through the mid-80’s, and his specialty was the efficient and entertaining thriller, often a mixed genre bag of mystery, SF, horror, and espionage. This tale, from 1969, falls into three of those four categories, and is the only work by this author that the library currently owns, sadly. You can always change that!

But if you’re not really that into the take-charge, hands-on approach to collection development, at least give this slim novel a try and enjoy some vintage thrills.

- Ben

Women of a certain age

By , May 15, 2015


Women of a certain age.

As baby-boomers redefine the cultural landscape, it is appropriate that we re-write the literature, cinema, and music of our time. That’s right, Stevie Nicks, it’s now the Edge of Seven-ty.

Women who came of age in the 60s and 70s are now entering their 60s and 70s, living life on their own terms and maintaining their lifelong independence. I hesitate to say “hard fought” independence as the argument can effectively be made that these paths were cleared by the previous generation of women.

Three titles exemplify the independent modern woman moving through later years: Lillian of Lillian on Life, Florence Gordon and of course, Olive Kitteridge. These women lead quietly intelligent lives. Each uniquely navigates love, family, work, lust, and a longing for aloneness.

The texts are sparse (each title is just at or under 300 pages) and reflect the direct, no non-sense women examined. Spend some time in the company of these women:

Lillian on life by Alison Jean Lester

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stroutwinner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.There is a HBO produced series based on this title, starring Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray.

It’s a Golden Girls meets Molly Dodd world out there. Tune in.


“I hate the idea that you shouldn’t wear something just because you’re a certain age.” Miuccia Prada

- laurie

Book Review: Two new reads in Science Fiction and Fantasy

By , May 10, 2015
Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Judd Trichter

Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction


Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

By Judd Trichter

In the not-so-distant future, pollution is out of control. The streets are crowded. Drugs, prostitution, and other crime runs rampant. Why? Because Man and Android share the same streets. The tension is palpable. Androids have no real rights, other than the right to work. If one goes missing or is damaged, unless they are property of a person or company, there is no recourse from the authorities. That’s if the owner cares enough to report it, which they often don’t.

The androids are out to emancipate themselves, and humans are out to stop them, by any means possible.

What is the worst possible thing that could happen?

You could fall in love with an android.

This is what happens to Eliot Lazar. He is in love with Iris Matsuo, a C-900 android with a beautiful flaw in her eye, which remains an allegory for his relationship to her, and her relationship to the world in general. Eliot convinces Iris that they should buy or steal a boat, and head for the island of Inverness, where his mother lives. There, they can live together and be married without the social stigma.

But, when Eliot finally goes to get her, he finds her gone. Her apartment is in tatters, and the police are indifferent, at best. Except for one – an old hat named Flaubert who is getting close to the edge of retirement. His hands are tied about finding the android, but he is sympathetic to Eliot (in the same manner that people who know someone is mentally ill are sympathetic and helpful).

The kidnapping and dismemberment for parts of Iris sends Eliot into a frenzy – he WILL find her, and put her back together again. Finding each part comes with its own hazards, and he enlists his brother’s help. He makes some hard moral choices – and the book ends in a descent into madness, with the police on his tail, the world falling into chaos as android and man fight openly in the streets, and no idea whether his plot to put her back together brings back Iris, or someone else.

I’ve got to say – this book had me hooked from the beginning. The way the world is written – you can see the descent happening. Human beings are bound together by their hatred and use of androids, which are slowly destroying the world because the power they use creates waste toxic to humans and the environment.

I had a love/hate relationship with Eliot. He is a drug addict, a simpering fool, and he makes some justifications about his actions that make him seem like a hypocrite. But, he doesn’t stop. He does what he has to, what he feels is necessary to get Iris back together again. Even putting his life on the line, and confronting the leader of the android rebellion (who just so happens to have one of Iris’ parts.)

The book has kind of a bloody noir edge to it, but it doesn’t consume the entire book as it does with some stories. The world that Trichter creates as he goes is dark, dingy, and almost impossible to view without a little bit of disgust.

For an author’s first novel, this is pretty darn impressive. Add to this that Judd Trichter is the child actor who played Adam in “Big” and was in “Stanley’s Dragon”, a little tidbit I found out when I started reading his bio after the book.

Way to grow up, Mr. Trichter!


A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic


A Darker Shade of Magic
By V.E. Schwab

What if you had the ability to walk between parallel universes? How would you use that ability? What kind of trouble (or not) would you get into?

In this book, it takes a certain kind of blood magic to be able to walk between worlds. Only two people are left in the worlds who have the ability. One of them – Kell – is raised alongside the prince, kept as a messenger between the worlds. He describes each London by color – he lives in Red London, where magic is vibrant and plentiful. There is also a White London – where people fight to control magic (which, inevitably, has a mind of its own and doesn’t like this prospect). There is a Grey London, ruled over by an old mad king, which doesn’t have any magic at all (beyond what Kell brings to it).

There is also the mysterious Black London – sacrificed to protect all the other Londons. No one is certain whether it actually exists anymore – all artifacts from the place were destroyed.

Or were they?

Kell travels between the worlds for duty – but he also does a side business as a smuggler, bringing little trinkets through the doors and selling or trading them. He doesn’t have any real need to do this – his needs are completely taken care of by the King and Queen, and he wants for nothing.

I must admit, I REALLY want his jacket! (You’ll have to read to find out what I mean!)

When Kell finds himself in possession of a dangerous artifact and severely injured, he finds himself in the company of Delilah Bard – a thief who wants adventure, particularly to own her own ship and become a pirate.

When things get tricky, Kell takes Delilah through the worlds – and together they go on a dark adventure to stop a dangerous foe from taking over the three Londons.

When I picked up the book Vicious by the same author, I was delightfully surprised by her writing style and by the way she created a whole world with its own rules with just one book. V.E. Schwab has done the same thing here – the three Londons are fully realized, each with their own set of attributes (even when only glimpsed briefly, like Grey London). Not only is the world building wonderful, but the character development is done well. Kell and Delilah are both dynamic characters who are forced to change their perspectives on their respective worlds when they meet each other. Delilah is thrown into a whole new world – and she manages to adapt quickly (and maybe just a little bit gracefully). Kell is forced to face the consequences of his actions, and makes some choices that could be seen as selfless or selfish, depending on how you look at them.

I was very impressed with this book – it read quickly and easily, and the action was just the right pace, with a backdrop of interesting and well developed worlds.

If you haven’t read it yet, I also recommend her book Viscious as well as this one for a summer read!

Book review: Jo Nesbo’s Blood on Snow

By , May 8, 2015

Blood on Snow
by Jo Nesbo
Audio version narrated by the Patti Smith!

Do you know someone who suffers from reading avoidance? This person works hard all day and thinks the only way to relax at night is watching an hour or three of TV?  Jo Nesbo‘s Blood on Snow may be the book to fix the reluctant reader in your life.

The character at the center of Blood on Snow is called Olav.  Olav has made an interesting career choice.  He is a fixer under the employ of one of Oslo, Norway’s biggest crime bosses, Daniel Hoffmann.   Olav is fresh off a job fixing an associate of Hoffman’s competition, known as the Fisherman, when Hoffman calls with a new assignment.  He wants Olav to fix his own very beautiful wife, Mrs. Hoffman…

Olav is not without a heart, mind you.  He’s a gangster with a moral code, especially when it comes to  fixing women.  Does he fall in love with the boss’s wife and save instead of kill her? Maybe.  Does he go to the Fisherman to ask for a job fixing his current boss Hoffman?  Perhaps…  Has Nesbo written a mean little thriller featuring one of the most unusual shoot-outs ever put to the page by a writer? Most definitely!  If you’ve never read any Jo Nesbo, Blood on Snow would be a good place to start.  I highly recommend the audio version.  Patti Smith does a stupendous job giving voice to a Norwegian gangster.


Off the Shelf is powered by WordPress. Panorama Theme by Themocracy