Kate’s Review: “Growing Things and Other Stories”

42118050Book: “Growing Things and Other Stories” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: A chilling anthology featuring nineteen pieces of short fiction from the multiple award-winning author of the national bestseller The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In “The Teacher,” a Bram Stoker Award nominee for best short story, a student is forced to watch a disturbing video that will haunt and torment her and her classmates’ lives.

Four men rob a pawn shop at gunpoint only to vanish, one-by-one, as they speed away from the crime scene in “The Getaway.”

In “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” a meth addict kidnaps her daughter from her estranged mother as their town is terrorized by a giant monster . . . or not.

Joining these haunting works are stories linked to Tremblay’s previous novels. The tour de force metafictional novella “Notes from the Dog Walkers” deconstructs horror and publishing, possibly bringing in a character from A Head Full of Ghosts, all while serving as a prequel to Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. “The Thirteenth Temple” follows another character from A Head Full of Ghosts—Merry, who has published a tell-all memoir written years after the events of the novel. And the title story, “Growing Things,” a shivery tale loosely shared between the sisters in A Head Full of Ghosts, is told here in full.

From global catastrophe to the demons inside our heads, Tremblay illuminates our primal fears and darkest dreams in startlingly original fiction that leaves us unmoored. As he lowers the sky and yanks the ground from beneath our feet, we are compelled to contemplate the darkness inside our own hearts and minds.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

I’ll be honest and up front here. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but short story collections aren’t really my thing. True, I will pick them up every once in awhile if the book really tantalizes me (hence the collections I’ve read on here), but overall I tend to avoid them. That said, when I found out that Paul Tremblay’s newest book, “Growing Things and Other Stories”, was going to be a short stories collection, I was basically like

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The man can do no wrong in my eyes. (source)

I did go in with my usual worries and hesitations regarding short story collections, but I also had faith that I would probably like it overall. And that faith paid off for the most part! I enjoyed a number of the stories in “Growing Things”. And as I usually do with short stories collections on this blog, I’ll focus on some of the favorite stories from the book and why I liked them, with a general write up at the end.

“A Haunted House Is A Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken”

First thing to note is that the format of this book didn’t QUITE work in eARC form, as it’s designed to be like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ novel. When you have an ARC that doesn’t have ALL the kinks worked out (as far as I know), AND it’s on an eReader, that removes some of the intent to this story. But, all of that said, I found “A Haunted House Is A Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken” to be one of the most emotional stories in this collection, as well as creepy as heck at times. It involves a woman revisiting her childhood home, and having to recount the memories of living there. Some of those memories are about the various ghosts that haunted the house and made her childhood creepy. Others involve her mother who was dying of cancer. Along with some visceral and unsettling imagery, Tremblay really tapped into the grief of losing a parent, and how that kind of loss can haunt a person just as much as the ghosts in the story haunted the house. I definitely teared up a number of times as I read this story. Tremblay is so good with pathos.

“The Ice Tower”

For those of you who like “The Thing” and other ice/cosmic horror, this is a tale you will probably enjoy. When a group of adrenaline junkie climbers are recruited to explore a giant, mysterious pillar of ice, it isn’t just the cold and snow that they have to worry about. Slowly it becomes clear that there is something otherworldly, and wholly threatening, about the ice wall. One of the main features of cosmic horror is that you never QUITE know what is going on, and you can’t expect explanations to go along with the terrible events that will surely unfold, and with “The Ice Tower” the ambiguity was rampant. As someone who knows cold and knows the horrors that can come with it (albeit natural ones in my experience), this story really resonated with me and set me on edge. I also couldn’t help but think about the fact that one of the most notorious ice climbs, Mount Everest, had such a deadly year this past year, which made this terrifying in it’s own way, supernatural scares aside.

“It’s Against The Law To Feed The Ducks”

The third story that stuck with me was this one, which had both a sense of existential dread and a childlike whimsy within it’s pages. Through the eyes of a little boy, a family goes on a remote family vacation in the woods. But during this vacation, something on a global scale happens, and we see it unfold through the perspective of a child who doesn’t understand what’s going on, and whose parents are trying to shield him from it. If you want to talk about unsettling ambiguity, this one knocked it out of the park. It also reminded me a bit of “The Cabin at the End of the World” in it’s themes. The reader never quite figures out just what it is that has happened, and the childish lens that we see everything through is written very well, and made it all the more upsetting. This was probably my favorite in the entire collection.

In terms of the stories as a whole, there was a lot to like. We get revisits to characters in Tremblay’s book “A Head Full of Ghosts”, we get to see some more monster stories, and even Hellboy makes an appearance (as Tremblay wrote for a collection that was in tribute to “Hellboy” and Mike Mignola)! While I thought that the three I mentioned were far and away the best of the book, there were other strong stories as well. While not many of them really ‘scared’ me, I did find them all to be pretty entertaining.

“Growing Things and Other Stories” is a nice sampler of the kinds of stories Paul Tremblay has to offer, and I think that horror fans really need to check it out! And like always, make sure to have some tissues handy, because you will probably cry.

Rating 8: Once again Paul Tremblay shows his talent and contributions to the horror genre. “Growing Things and Other Stories” is a healthy mix of different kinds of scary stories, as well as moments that are filled with emotion.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Growing Things and Other Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists

Find “Growing Things and Other Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both. 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

39873981Book: “Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships that Changed History” by Sam Maggs

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, October 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: from the library!

Genre Mash-Up: Non-fiction and short stories

Book Description: A modern girl is nothing without her squad of besties. But don’t let all the hashtags fool you: the #girlsquad goes back a long, long time. In this hilarious and heartfelt book, geek girl Sam Maggs takes you on a tour of some of history’s most famous female BFFs, including:

• Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the infamous lady pirates who sailed the seven seas and plundered with the best of the men
• Jeanne Manon Roland and Sophie Grandchamp, Parisian socialites who landed front-row seats (from prison) to the French Revolution
• Sharon and Shirley Firth, the First Nations twin sisters who would go on to become Olympic skiers and break barriers in the sport
• The Edinburgh Seven, the band of pals who fought to become the first women admitted to medical school in the United Kingdom
• The Zohra Orchestra, the ensemble from Afghanistan who defied laws, danger, and threats to become the nation’s first all-female musical group

And many more! Spanning art, science, politics, activism, and even sports, these girl squads show just how essential female friendship has been throughout history and throughout the world. Sam Maggs brings her signature wit and warmth as she pays tribute to the enduring power of the girl squad. Fun, feisty, and delightful to read—with empowering illustrations by artist Jenn Woodall—it’s the perfect gift for your BFF. 

Serena’s Thoughts

This was my bookclub pick. I drew “nonfiction” and “short stories,” which on first glance was a pretty terrifying and unintuitive draw for me. I read very little nonfiction and only a handful of short story collection, all of which were decidedly NOT nonfiction and definitely were lots of fantasy/magic/aliens action that in no way could be pass off as “true to life.” But after thinking about it a bit more, short biographies seemed like the obvious choice and when I stumbled on this title when browsing around, it was an obvious pick.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. Collections like this about women of history who have largely gone unnoticed have had a bit of a spotlight recently and our bookclub, when asked, could rattle off three or four similar titles off the top of their heads. But the interesting quirk that made this one stand out was its focus on female friendships and partnerships. All too often we hear stories about the one woman who stood out as unique (and often forgotten) among all of the men who surrounded her, so it was a breath of fresh air to read this book that focused on the fact that it wasn’t just one in a million women who was doing interesting things and chances were good that she surrounded herself by other like-minded women who are worth noting, not just a bunch of dudes.

Many of the stories were unfamiliar to me and I really liked that about the story. There were a few familiar ones as well, but even those felt as if they were providing new insights into the lives of these women. Overall, I enjoyed most of the choices provided. However, the book is broken up into section that have an over-arching theme with the women included in each, like “sports,” “science,” and “warriors.” I get the reasoning for this, but I do feel it might have worked against the book, as readers who are less interested in certain areas, like sports, perhaps, might go into a segment of stories prepared to be bored. And then, because they have similar focuses, the way each story plays out could begin to feel a bit predictable and repetitive. Had the stories been presented in a more random manner, this might have helped this aspect.

My only other complaint comes with annoyances with the writing style. At times, it can read as very dry and a bit pedantic. And then, in an obvious effort to counterbalance this very thing, the author would throw in some quirky, conversational-style line to try and “spice things up.” I found these one-liners very distracting and fairly eye-roll-worthy most of the time. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed this book and was glad that my bookclub pairings lead me to it!

Kate’s Thoughts

I, for one, am always going to be happy to see women’s history showcased, especially if they are stories that haven’t really been brought to the public’s attention on a large scale level in the past. So when Serena picked “Girl Squads” for her book club pick, I was definitely excited to learn some new things about some awesome ladies.

And new things did I find! While there are some familiar stories in this book, like the stories of the three present Women Supreme Court Justices or the ‘Hidden Figures’ of NASA, a lot of the tales of lady friendships and partnerships were new to me. I enjoyed the variety and range of the stories told, from sports and athletics, to warriors and battles, to innovators and creatives and more. It was both really empowering to read all these different tales, and also frustrating that so many of these tales have gone unnoticed or under-told for as long as they have, at least in terms of what I’ve been exposed to. My favorites included the Haenyo Divers on Jeju Island, South Korea, and the Japanese Women’s Olympic Volleyball team.

I also really liked that Maggs made a concerted effort to tell a variety of stories from all over the world, so as not to focus mostly on white, European narratives. Given that our educational system in this country is so Euro-centric, seeing stories from all over the world and many different experiences was really enlightening. Given that academia, like many other communities, has problems with diversity, I was happy to see that Maggs intended to write an intersectional book.

But like Serena I had similar problems with the structure of the book and the conversational tone it attempted to implement. By the time I reached the final fourth of the book, I found myself skimming and missing various sections of the chapters due to zoning out. It just got to be a little long, and, as Serena mentioned, the structure made it feel repetitive and lagging. And when it comes to the conversational commentaries that Maggs tried to drop in every once in awhile, I had very little patience for it. I think that this kind of creative choice CAN be done, as I’ve read a few books that manage to nail the fun quirky tone with the more ‘serious’ subject matter, but Maggs’s attempts felt more ‘how do you do, fellow kids?’, as opposed to natural or organic.

Those things aside, overall I enjoyed “Girl Squads” because of the stories that it told.

Serena Rating 7: Never quite felt like it found the writing style or organization that best fit it, but the stories were interesting and enlightening, none the less.

Kate Rating 7: With similar complaints about the writing style and structure, this book tended to take me out of the moment more often than not. That said, I liked learning new things about women I wasn’t familiar with.

Book Club Questions

  1. Which story was your favorite and why?
  2. Were there any stories that you want more information on or think could have been improved? Which one would you read a full-length biography on?
  3. Are there any women you would have like to see highlighted who weren’t included and what notable aspects of their life would you draw upon?
  4. How did you feel about the writing style and organization of the collection?
  5. Are there any other “themes” (like “girl squads”) that you would like to see be used to create a collection of short biographies? Who would you include in a collection like that?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships that Changed History” is on these Goodreads lists: “Biographies of Women, by Women” and “Great Books For Young Girls.”

Find “Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships that Changed History” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Northhanger Abbey” by Jane Austen.

Kate’s Review: “Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft”

36426163Book: “Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft” by Tess Sharpe (Ed.), and Jessica Spotswood (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Harlequin Teen, August 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.

Review: I want to thank NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

As I’ve made abundantly clear on this blog numerous times, I am a huge fan of witches and witchcraft in my stories. Basically, if there is a witch, I want to read it. So imagine how genuinely thrilled I was when I heard about “Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft”, a short stories collection edited by Tess Sharpe. Not only is it a collection of witch stories, it has a feminist centered theme of witchcraft. On top of THAT, there are also DIVERSE stories involving these witches, from authors like Zoraida Córdova, Robin Talley, Brandy Colbert, and more! My goodness did the description of this book get me in a witchy mood, and make me want to break out “The Craft”/relive my 8th grade Wicca phase.

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Hail to the guardians of the watchtowers of YA feminist witch fiction…. (source)

There are some really great stories in here, and I want to give them credit where credit is due. I will talk about my favorites and what it is about them that made them stand out.

(NOTE: Yes, this book originally had 16 stories in it, but after Tristina Wright was accused of sexual harassment her story was removed from the final product. My ARC had her story, but knowing that it wasn’t going to be in the final work I skipped it completely.)

“Starsong” by Tehlor Kay Mejia

A young witch named Luna has garnered a social media following because of her posts about star charts, fate, and magic. One evening she starts a conversation with a science minded girl who is very much a skeptic. As they start to chat over messages, Luna realizes that she’s starting to fall for her spirited intellectual nemesis. In terms of just sweet and calm stories, “Starsong” fit the bill. The first reason is that it feels very relatable with the social media bent that it had as it’s base. I liked the idea of a teen witch giving guidance to her followers and coming into herself in a medium she is comfortable with. And while I’m not so much into the romance genre in general, this one was super charming and didn’t feel overwrought or melodramatic as these two girls get to know each other and start to feel the first pangs of attraction. It’s just super cute, and since it’s the first story in the collection you get to ease into it with an upbeat first course.

“The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley

This one felt the most like the kind of witch story that I wanted from this collection, and it’s probably my favorite of the lot. A town has been long haunted by the urban legend of Stone Mary, a witch who was murdered a couple centuries prior and has supposedly put a curse on the town. Now there are legends and myths surrounding the gravesite of Stone Mary, a popular spot for teens to goof off at. Wendy is a descendent of Mary, and her family has long had an unspoken stigma about them because of the family line she is a part of. When she starts to start a romance with a new girl in town, she just wants to be seen as normal, but her lineage may have more of an effect on her relationship than she could have imagined. From the ghostly legend of Stone Mary to the actual real life consequences of small town small mindedness, Talley delivers a strong, somewhat bittersweet, story about what it’s like to be an outsider. The Mary legend is tragic and upsetting, and Wendy’s present day obstacles feel real and very much placed in Othering, be it because of her lineage, or because of her sexuality. There is also something of a twist that took me by surprise, and I think that it gave the story a little more depth. As someone who has memories of urban legends regarding graveyards (specifically the Black Angel in my aunt’s home of Iowa City), “The Legend of Stone Mary” was a treat in all regards.

“The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma

This is one of the darkest and saddest stories in the book (though just wait, we’ll be getting to the other one), but I didn’t expect any less from Nova Ren Suma. A coven of witches, brought together by trauma and pain, are preparing to bring in another member to their group as the same trauma is about to befall her. Suma is one of those authors who knows how to make the darkness in humanity twisted and blistering, but still present it in a bittersweet way. This story definitely has some strong implications in regards to sexual assault, so I have to give it a trigger warning, but the eeriness and the sadness is written in a flowing and haunting prose that I greatly enjoyed. While a large number of these books had very feminist roots, this one felt like a riot act towards those who do women wrong, and how victims can find their own voices and power by finding each other and coming together to support one another. This is also one of the shorter stories in the collection, though it packs a huge emotional punch that had me enthralled the entire time reading it.

“Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May

This is the last story in the collection, and boy oh boy is it a strong note to end it on. Women accused of witchcraft are taken to a forest work camp and are made to ‘repent’ for their actions, though they are not witches, but victims of society. Shamed and silenced, abused and mistreated, a group of women come together to support, endure, and find their voices again. This story absolutely weaves together the idea of witch hunts and trials and applies it to modern social mores such as rape culture and misogyny, and it brings forth a powerful read that struck hard and hit home. Especially given the current social climate, where sexual abusers in the highest offices of Government get off without consequence and someone can be sentenced to THREE MONTHS for rape (AND STILL FEEL LIKE THE CONVICTION WAS TOO HARSH), “Why They Watch Us Burn” strikes a chord. It’s angry, it’s raw, but it’s also hopeful.

Another positive is this book is chock full of Own Voices authors and a lot of great diversity in it’s characters. Not only are a number of the witches in these stories LGBTQIA+, there is also a wide range of racial representation, with varying cultures having a huge influence on the types of witches that these characters are. The witches in our stories need not be wholly influenced by Anglo-Saxon mythology alone, and “Toil and Trouble” takes cues from all around the world.

And yet, if you take the collection’s stories as a whole, a large number of them didn’t really stand out to me. None of them were BAD, per se, but they were either a bit muddled, or a little too bland for my tastes. Some of the stories felt stilted and dragging, and with others I found my eyes glazing over (and I’ll admit it’s probably because of the high emphases on romance in those ones). So because of that, “Toil and Trouble” wasn’t the consistently satisfying collection that I expected it to be. The stories that were good were VERY good, but I wanted more of them to be as appealing to me as the four that I mentioned.

But in terms of important, diverse, and feminist anthologies, “Toil and Trouble” is absolutely noteworthy. The stories I mentioned are worth a look by themselves, and you may find more value in the ones I struggled with. And hey, Halloween isn’t too far away. This is the perfect read for the upcoming Season of the Witch.

Rating 6: While the strong stories in this collection are very strong and the representation is top notch, “Toil and Trouble” didn’t have the consistent strength across all of its tales of witches and witchery.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Anthologies”, and “2018 Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy”.

Find “Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Feral Youth”

31556153Book: “Feral Youth” by Shaun David Hutchinson (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

Review: We have once again found a book that is inspired by “The Canterbury Tales”, the medieval tome that I have not read. Even though I was excited about “Feral Youth”, enough so to highlight in on this blog, I was a bit worried that I would miss key components because of my ignorance. But I still went ahead and picked it up, and I’m glad that my self doubt didn’t discourage me. “Feral Youth” is a strong collection of short stories from a number of talented YA Authors, some of whom I loved before, others of whom I am now interested in pursuing.

As the description says, the premise is that a number of teenagers at a program for troubled youth are on an eighteen mile team building exercise hike, and tell stories to each other to pass the time or provide distraction. Each author of the collection has written a story for each of the teenagers, and created some insight into their personalities through the stories. As a whole the collection was pretty strong, with a few excellent standouts and a couple of clunkers. I’m going to talk about my three favorites here.

“A Ruthless Dame” By Tim Floreen: Cody is a closeted teen in a religious family. He starts up a romance with Mike, the boy next door who is visiting from college, and has a passionate, yet brief, love affair. But after Mike goes radio silent, Cody feels like he’s been used. When Mike comes home the next break, Cody finds out that Mike not only has a girlfriend, but a number of photos of underage boys on his phone… Cody included. Cody decides to follow the footsteps of the femme fatales of his favorite noir movies to get his revenge. This story was a pure revenge fantasy piece, and I greatly enjoyed Cody and his manipulations. While in many ways he has been victimized by Mike, he doesn’t take things lying down, and is brilliant in his scheming. I was cackling as I read this story, but also always had a sense for the tragic existence that Cody is living and why he loses himself in noir films.

“A Cautionary Tale” by Stephanie Kuehn: C.J. Perez has found himself in the role of Student Safety Escort during a college’s Avalon Festival. He meets Hollis, a sophomore who pulls C.J. into an urban legend and conspiracy theory about a serial killer, or something worse, that kills students at the school in cycles. While C.J. is skeptical, he and Hollis find out that things may not always be what they seem. This story was the one that pulled the rug out from under me, plot wise, and I expected nothing less from Stephanie Kuehn. You all know how much I love her books, and this short story is just another triumph of hers. The suspense builds and the behavior of various characters simmers in unsettling ways, so this combined made for an intense and shocking read. Man, I would love it if Kuehn would do flat out horror in her future works, because this story shows that not only could she pull it off, she could create something fabulous.

“Self Portrait” by Brandy Colbert: When Sunday moves to a new town and new school, she befriends Michah and Eli, two brothers. Michah and Eli have a tumultuous relationship, and Sunday finds herself in the middle of their low simmering feud. But she never could have imagined that she would find herself betrayed so fiercely by one of them. Colbert was the other author that I was very excited for, and “Self Portrait” didn’t disappoint. I feel like Colbert knows how to build up the feel of YA melodrama without ever crossing into the ridiculous, and Sunday’s story continues that theme. It was one of the quieter stories in this book, but it still packed a real emotional punch at the end of it.

The stories are strung together through interactions between the characters on the camping trip, and it was interesting to try and parse out who were reliable narrators and unreliable ones based on those moments. But all in all, it ultimately doesn’t matter if these stories are ‘true’, at least within the context of the story. The point is that they shed insight into those telling it, and with all these different authors telling these different stories it does feel like a group of unique individuals. If I missed anything because of my lack of knowledge of “The Canterbury Tales”, I didn’t notice it. It stood on it’s own two feet well.

“Feral Youth” was an enjoyable collection of short stories that showcases some good writers. If you want a taste of some of these authors, this is the place to start!

Rating 8: A solid collection of stories with a few serious stand outs, “Feral Youth” is a must read for fans of short stories collections with a twist!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Feral Youth” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 YA Books With LGBT Themes”, and I think that it would fit in on “Best Teen Short Stories”.

Find “Feral Youth” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Final Girls”

32994321Book: “Final Girls” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Subterranean Press, April 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: What if you could fix the worst parts of yourself by confronting your worst fears?

Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented proprietary virtual reality technology that purports to heal psychological wounds by running clients through scenarios straight out of horror movies and nightmares. In a carefully controlled environment, with a medical cocktail running through their veins, sisters might develop a bond they’ve been missing their whole lives—while running from the bogeyman through a simulated forest. But…can real change come so easily?

Esther Hoffman doubts it. Esther has spent her entire journalism career debunking pseudoscience, after phony regression therapy ruined her father’s life. She’s determined to unearth the truth about Dr. Webb’s budding company. Dr. Webb’s willing to let her, of course, for reasons of her own. What better advertisement could she get than that of a convinced skeptic? But Esther’s not the only one curious about how this technology works. Enter real-world threats just as frightening as those created in the lab. Dr. Webb and Esther are at odds, but they may also be each other’s only hope of survival.

Review: First and foremost, I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

I quite enjoy the “Newsflesh” Trilogy by Mira Grant. For one, it has zombies, which is almost always going to be something of a plus for me when it comes to my horror novels. But it’s also a pretty unique and tech based take of life after the zombie plague. So when Serena sent me some information about a new short story of Grant’s, called “Final Girls”, I was immediately intrigued. Grant likes to take common tropes and give them a tech-y spin. While sometimes I’m a little skeptical of short stories, just because so much has to be crammed into them in a smaller amount of pages to really pull them off, I had faith that Grant could do it. And she didn’t disappoint.

Even though this is a shorter piece, Grant did a really good job of describing the place and time without any of it feeling rushed. The time frame is kind of vague, but we do know that technology allows us to fall into a holodeck-like virtual reality where we can work through various emotional hang ups or relationships. The science is kept nondescript enough not to be bogged down by the science that may or may not ever come to fruition in this world, but it is detailed enough that it seems like it could feasibly happen in the nearish future. She also did a good job of establishing the main characters and their motivations, so I was never questioning why they did the things that they did. I could understand why Dr. Webb is so invested in her invention, and why she would have her whole faith in it and never question how it could go wrong. She is both brilliant and arrogant, cold yet empathetic. Esther, too, is someone whose motivations we can understand, even if her background is presented quickly and never hammered at over and over again. I think that the weakest characterization was that of the mysterious ‘assassin’ character, who drives the conflict of the story with her dangerous meddling. I understand why she would be doing the things she’s doing, but I think that had we explored more about the people who hired her, maybe I would have been more fully invested in her. As she was, she was just kind of the cold badass character. It works well in this story, though, so I can’t really complain about it too much.

I also liked the moral and ethical implications and questions this book raised. There are so many grey areas within the scientific world, and how far we can push experiments without treading on the rights of human and animal subjects. Even if there wasn’t a psychopathic assassin messing up a program and making it super dangerous (due to the stress levels and possibility to be scared to death), how ethical is it to put people in a terribly stressful situation in the name of therapy and relationship healing?

Also…. Zombies.

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My reaction to a well done zombie story. (source)

While sure, it may seem a bit old hat to bring zombies into this story given the “Newsflesh” series and everything, Grant is just so good at it that I don’t really mind. I’m not sick of zombies yet, so when this was the simulation I just grinned and leaned back, ready to enjoy it.

It’s a bit more than the usual zombie story, and “Final Girls” was a quick and engaging story that built up the suspense and delivered on the chills. But it also goes beyond the usual fare, and brings up good points about the responsibilities of science. It was a fun little read and I recommend it to zombie fans to be certain!

Rating 8: A quick paced and creepy little horror novella that raises questions about ethics and professional responsibility.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Final Girls” is a fairly new novella and isn’t on many lists yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Awesome Technothrillers and Sci-Fi”, and “Zombies Plus: Unconventional Zombie Novels”.

Find “Final Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Short Story Collection” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

24561496Book: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” by Ellen Oh (Editor)

Publishing Info: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Kate’s Thoughts

The “We Need Diverse Books” movement is one that I have been following for a bit now. Basically, it’s goal is to promote, publish, and highlight books by diverse authors, and tell stories of many different viewpoints and experiences, especially in children’s and young adult literature. When our dear friend and fellow librarian Alicia picked the short stories collection “Flying Lessons” for our book club, I threw it on my request list and got it almost immediately. I also happened to read it during the first attempt this administration made on implementing a travel ban into this country. So yeah, this felt like a very pertinent read, especially since the hope is that diverse books will build empathy to other experiences.

Like most short stories collection, it had some highs and lows. But luckily, it was mostly highs! I really liked the varied authors that contributed to this, and how they all offered so many different kinds of stories without feeling like a box was getting checked off. I expected no less from Ellen Oh, one of the instrumental members of We Need Diverse Books. I will focus on my two favorites.

“Sol Painting, Inc” by Meg Medina: I love the other books by Medina that I’ve read (“Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass”; “Burn, Baby, Burn”), and I was very excited to see that she had a story in this collection. She does a great job of showing one snippet of a day in the life of Merci, Roli, and Mr. Sol, who are Latinx and have a family painting business. While Mr. Sol and and younger sister Merci really love this business, so much so that Merci wants to open her own home improvement empire someday, the elder brother, Roli, is starting to feel embarrassed by it, and would prefer to focus on science things. Medina does a great job of showing the discomfort that Roli has surrounded by his very white peers in a very white space when they go to paint the high school gym, in exchange for tuition for Merci. This story also feels very real in Merci’s voice, as she is the narrator. She doesn’t understand her brother’s self loathing or her father’s self sacrificing. This is probably the saddest story in the bunch, but it was my favorite.

“The Difficult Path” by Grace Lin: Lin takes us back in time to long ago China. It follows the story of Lingsi, a servant girl who is also educated, as it was her mother’s dying wish and her mistress, fearful of being cursed with bad luck, agreed. Lingsi and her house are traveling to try and find a wife for the only son of the family, a cruel and idiotic lout. But as they are traveling, they are attacked by pirates, and Lingsi finds herself in a very surprising situation. I loved Lin’s story telling in this one, as I could totally see everything and hear everything with perfect clarity. It was also neat seeing a surprising feminist twist within this story. No spoilers here. But let’s just say that there is a history of female pirates during this time period. This story was fun and definitely satisfying.

I really liked “Flying Lessons”, and I think that it’s a great collection of short stories that all kids will love.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’m always a bit hesitant about short story collections for a few reasons. First is the same reason that Kate laid out earlier and is true to a certain extent with this one: there can be a variety in quality from one story to another which can be an off-putting reading experience. Secondly, writing a short story is a completely different beast than writing a novel, a fact that I think many authors tend to forget and that then leads to questionable short story collections. Publishers simply paste all the big author names together on one title and think it’s a clear win, with no understanding that many of the skills and traits that make an author successful as a novelist may not carry over to a short story collection.

So, with all of this in mind, I was hesitant about this book, especially as it was often marketed and sold on the fame of the authors’ works it included. But, while there were a few misses, I was happy with the collection as a hole and there were a few stories that particularly stuck out. Kate already discussed two of my favorites, but I’ll throw in a third.

“The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn” by Kelly J. Baptist: This story follows Isaiah Dunn, a young boy coping with the death of his father and with his mother’s subsequent fall into alcoholism. Just with that short description, you know going in that this was one of the heavier titles in the book. But this story was so incredibly powerful for it! Grief itself is a huge subject, but the story also touches on so many other factors that all get swirled together in a the life-changing impact that comes with the loss of a parent. The trying economic situation of the family, the mother’s coping method, and the hope that can be found amidst it all is beautifully illustrated in this tale. I particularly appreciated the rather meta use of the power of stories that is brought to being in this story after Isaiah finds a old book of his father’s stories. Isaiah’s voice is also particularly strong, effectively portraying the innocence of childhood but never short-changing his ability to deeply understand the world around him.

As Kate said, there were a few weaker stories included, but even these would likely be well-received by the middle grade target audience of this book. All in all, I greatly enjoyed this collection and its ability to tell important stories without falling under the weight of too much “agenda.”

Kate’s Rating 8: A fun, touching, and varied collection of stories from some of the best children’s and YA authors out there.

Serena’s Rating 8: What else should we have expected from this strong collection of children’s/YA authors? Its strength lies largely in the variety of stories included, both in tone and subject matter.

Book Club Questions:

1.) What was your favorite story in the collection? Why?

2.) Were there any stories that didn’t work for you as well?

3.) This book sets out to present a very diverse collection of stories. Are there any perspectives that you felt were missing?

4.) Were you familiar with any of these authors before? Did any of them have particular writing strengths that appealed to you?

5.) A lot of thought goes into the order in which stories are arrange din a short story collection. Were there any changes you would make to this line up and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flying Lessons and Other Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”, and “YA Short Stories and Collections”.

Find “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Scary Out There”

28954124Book: “Scary Out There” by Jonathan Maberry (Editor)

Publishing Info: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Multiple Bram Stoker Award–winning author Jonathan Maberry compiles more than twenty stories and poems—written by members of the Horror Writers Association—in this terrifying collection about worst fears.

What scares you? Things that go bump in the night? Being irreversibly different? A brutal early death? The unknown?

This collection contains stories and poetry by renowned writers such as R. L. Stine, Neal and Brendan Shusterman, and Ellen Hopkins—all members of the Horror Writers Association—about what they fear most. The stories include mermaids, ghosts, and personal demons, and are edited by Jonathan Maberry, multiple Bram Stoker award winner and author of the Rot & Ruin series.

Review: During one of our recent book club meetings, our fellow member Aimee mentioned to me a book of short stories she was reading for a book committee she was on. That book was “Scary Out There”, and as the resident (and kind of lone) horror buff she felt that this might be a good fit for me. I’ve read horror short story collections for teens before. One of the very best ones I’ve read is the FABULOUS book “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys”, and knowing that there are some great horror authors out there for young adults, I was pretty intrigued by “Scary Out There”. The problem with short stories collections is that sometimes you may have a set of stories that may have some stand outs, but are, as a whole, a dud. And unfortunately, “Scary Out There” pretty solidly fell into this unfortunate trap.

But I will talk about the stand out stories first. Because there were a few that I really liked.

“Danny” by Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman is the author of the incredibly creepy and completely ambiguous “Bird Box”, so when I saw that he had a tale of terror in here I had high hopes. The man did NOT disappoint. This story is about Kelly, a fifteen year old girl who wants to start babysitting, even though her parents aren’t sure she’s up to the task. After some convincing on their part, she answers an ad for The Donalds, who need a babysitter for their young son Danny. After her Dad drops her off for the job, the Donalds come clean. They don’t actually have a son, but really, really wish that they did, so could she just go through the motions of acting like she’s babysitting their nonexistent while they go out for the night? Kelly, wanting to seem responsible and not get an ‘I told you so’ from her folks, agrees. But is she actually alone in the house? HOW SCREWED UP, but also, how Josh Malerman. This story really hit all the right notes, as you spend the majority of this book wondering if the Donalds are totally insane (scary enough on it’s own), or if there is actually something else in this house with Kelly. I was completely unsettled and freaked out by this one, and Malerman did a great job of building suspense slowly, and being deliberate in turning the screws on the reader.

“Corazón Oscuro” by Rachel Caine

This one is definitely an old school, nightmare fuel ghost story, with horrifying imagery and revenge. When Zenobia and her doctor mother are driving in the desert at night, they come upon a car accident. While her Mom goes to help, Zenobia calls 911, but instead of connecting to help, she connects to something else. Shortly thereafter they realize that they are not alone in this desert scape, as illuminated eyes and strange noises can be seen in the darkness. Help in the form of a man in a pickup truck comes to them, and he tells them about the ghost of a girl covered in scorpions. Zenobia and her mother get caught up in the unfinished business of this girl. I loved this story. It had a taut and scary plot, really creepy moments, and hit all of my ‘NOOOOOPE’ bingo squares with the description of the girl ghost (strange movement, sounds, AND scorpions?! YIKES).

“Death and Twinkies” by Zac Brewer

This one stood out mainly because it’s more sad and melancholic than it is scary. Jeremy is a depressed teenager who is on a quest to kill himself to get away from his terrible life. But when he goes to jump off a bridge, a mysterious teenage boy is there. They start talking, and Jeremy realizes that he’s talking to Death. As they talk, Jeremy starts to wonder if he can go through with what Death should want him to do. I liked this one because, oddly, it was one of the more tender stories in this book. Definitely not scary or unsettling, but kind of sweet and hopeful. Plus, Death is a fun and snarky character, as any personification SHOULD be, in my opinion.

“Non-Player Character” by Neal and Brendan Shusterman

Neal Shusterman is just a powerhouse in the YA world, and this time his son came along for the ride! Darren is a teenager whose parents are obsessed with an online video game. Darren pretty much cares for himself they’re so far gone, and cares for them too. But then he sees a strange girl inside the game, a non-player character. Darren is compelled to pick up the controller and play too, if only to get closer to her. But as he does get close to her, his own dangerous obsession begins. This one was upsetting on a few levels. The first is that Darren’s parents are the absolute worst in how they neglect him. The second is all about the power of the game itself, and what it can make people do. The end was screwed up beyond belief, and I loved that about it.

But guys. These are just four stories out of twenty one. The rest didn’t really do it for me. They were either boring, pointless, or ended abruptly and felt haphazard. There were multiple times that I would feel like the story built up so much that it didn’t work where it ended, feeling incomplete and unfulfilling. Other times there would be such hamfisted ‘issues’ stories that could have used horror as a good metaphor, but ended up falling pretty damn flat. OR, they ended on a cliffhanger and that was it. Come on! I don’t want so many stories to end with a big ol’ question mark, or a ‘she ran away but doom was certain… but was it?’ kind of resolution.

So while four of these stories were pretty damn awesome and I shall sing their praises to hell and back…. the rest were rather disappointing. If you can find these mentioned stories on their own, definitely do. But if you want want a more well rounded book of horror short stories for teens, I would say definitely go with “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys”. “Scary Out There” just doesn’t have the balance.

Rating 5: While four of the stories stand out as strong contributions, the rest of them are rather lackluster and not as scary as they want to be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scary Out There” isn’t on many Goodreads lists that reflect the material, but I think it would fit in on “YA Short Stories and Collections”, and “Short Horror/SciFi Collections”.

Find “Scary Out There” at your library using WorldCat!