Tag Archives: short stories

The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman

absolutesandman1Artwork by Dave McKean, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and more.

I decided to use a large cover image here because this hardcover, full-color, glossy heavy pages tome absolutely deserves this “in your face” treatment.

I read the first twenty installments (24 pages each) of Gaiman’s game changing graphic novel series (from 1989 to 1991) in sequence and absolutely loved every page and moment of it! Dark, haunting, gruesome, poetic, enigmatic and yet lucid all at the same time, wrapped in such a handsome package.

Even if so much within is extremely disturbing, Gaiman’s stories and the art and layout design make reading this volume a blissful experience.

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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

triggerwarning by Neil Gaiman

This is typical Gaiman: disturbing and unsettling little scenes, interesting observations of human natures, everything floating in between waking and dreaming. My favorite are the longer tales, “The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains,” “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” and “The Black Dog.” The first two are folk/fairy tale reimagined, while the last one is an American Gods’ short with Shadow’s adventures continuing. Another small dosage to hold us over for the sequel to American Gods? Calendar of Tales with its many weird crowd sourced tales is also highly enjoyable. Oh, I can’t wait to actually WATCH a special episode (of the 11th doctor and Amy Pond) made based on “Nothing O’Clock.”

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A Matter of Souls

matterofsouls

Author: Denise Patrick Lewis

Genre(s): Short Stories, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Basic Content Information: Eight short stories, African American experiences from various periods (voting, slavery, owning a business, current conflicts, etc.)  Some are about families and others are romances — showing the struggles and triumphs (and failures) without reservation.

Edition: Netgalley

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

Publisher: Carolrhoda/Lerner

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media.  The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

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Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

squirrelby David Sedaris, read by the author

Finished listening to Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk… here are my thoughts: I was really smitten with this audio production and the stories at the beginning — Sedaris is definitely hugely talented and oh so so very clever. And the excellent reader/actors (David Sedaris, Dylan Baker, Elaine Stritch and Sian Phillips!) definitely enhance the listening experience. However, half way through, I realized that Sedaris’ life view is just too bleak and his humor too mean-spirited for me at this time of my life. I almost cringed at the thought of listening to the next grotesque and undoubtedly bleak tale… … but I went on and finished the book — and enjoyed The Grieving Owl (toward the very end of the book). Looking back, that might have been the only story that I could say that I truly enjoyed (about 95% of the tale… the ending wasn’t pretty and I didn’t much love it). I almost wish that I had not encountered some of the denizens in this story collection or witnessed that much ignorance, vanity, pride, and all kinds of unattractive human traits, even when the author’s intention is to belittle and make fun of these traits. Now, I cannot unread or un-know these stories. Shucks!

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Smoke and Mirror

smokeandmirrors
by Neil Gaiman – read by Neil Gaiman

This is a short stories collection from 1998.  As I love Fragile Things and especially love how Gaiman reads his own tales — he is quite a voice actor, changing his tones, inflections, accents — all dexterously and effortlessly and all quite fitting the characters, the advantage of having the author (who is a good storyteller) reading the stories.

I did not love all the tales — not even most of them.  Of the 31 tales and verses, I think I only really enjoyed about a dozen or so.  Something felt lacking — quite a few seem to be character sketches or exercises in painting imageries and building atmosphere, for something bigger and more complete — but not deep or polished themselves.  I often enjoy Gaiman’s somewhat dark or even brutal (and honest, perhaps?) depictions of sexual acts in his writing for adults.  But, I found myself slightly appalled by certain gratuitous passages, shaking my head, gently whispering in my mind, “Neil, you did not have to resort to this — the story itself is strong and intriguing enough…”  — but, of course, many of these stories were meant to be slightly pornographic (light erotica) — I just didn’t quite prepare myself for so many of them being this way.  Now I’ve listened to it once, I’ll be able to go back and pick out the tales that I want to listen to over and over again (like quite a few of those in Fragile Things) and also figure out why some of the stories did not work for me the first time.  (They might grow on me upon repeat listening.)

 

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Tales from Brothers Grimm and Sisters Weird

talesfrombrothersgrimmby Vivian Vande Velde

The short fractured fairy tales in this collection are lightly inventive, and I found the retelling of Hansel and Gratel truly successful: Vande Velde turns the traditionally sympathetic siblings into cold-blooded, calculating murderers.  The few fairy tale poems seem to be merely fillers.

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Midwinterblood

mindwinterblood15794941by Marcus Sedgwick

I put up two covers for this book because I found it so strikingly obvious that the UK edition and the US edition attempt to appeal to different readers.  The UK edition has the back of a man in robe holding a gleaming dagger while we are stared at by a beautifully young woman with mysterious patterns overlaying her skin.  Even the type choices are different (not to say that in the UK Sedgwick’s name is the selling point while in the U.S. he has to be “explained” as a Printz honor recipient.

The two design of the title are even different where the UK version Midwinterblood is one word but the US edition the title reads Midwinter Blood.

I have to confess that I was not all that impressed or emotionally invested at the beginning of the book.  It’s that darn high expectations syndrome again: high and enthusiastic praise and push from Monica and the publisher.  Both of them compared the book to other titles I loved — and especially titles that have what I consider “beautiful” writings (such as Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch.)  When I didn’t see the sparkling prose that I was expecting, my eagerness dwindled.  And, the US ARC proclaims that there are Seven Stories of Love and Passion which I interpreted as each story would be an incredibly passionate romance  (again, in the vein of Lips Touch.) Perhaps it’s my close-mindedness, but perhaps this description is indeed misleading.  And from hindsight, I could see how each tale IS a story of passionate love, just not all romantic love.

I am so glad that I stayed with the book.  As it is really clever and original.  The seven stories going back in time, each interconnected in some way, and each containing some unsettling elements (which I adore in short stories,) piece together a whole picture that is powerful and affecting.  Sedgwick even granted my wish by bringing us all back to the first tale, the first characters, and giving us closure.

I’m still left with a couple of questions, though: 1. Are we to interpret the characters ask speaking a Scandinavian language and that everyone of them is from the same linguistic cluster (the Journalist, the Archeologist, and Airman, specifically)  They all seem to have no problem communicating with each other, no matter the time periods and whether the encounter is within the community or with outsiders; and 2. I want to know more about the Orchids and their origins and powers and perhaps stories of greed and desire because of their special qualities.

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Half-Minute Horrors: A Librarian’s New Best Friend!

I’ve been scaring, confounding, disgusting and delighting my 4th and 5th graders (and some older kids, even high schoolers) with the short short stories (we timed them — the way I read, many of them are more than half-a-minute long but seldom more than 2.5 minutes long) crammed into this slim volume for several weeks now.  It’s not Halloween Season, but we all still welcome a spine-chilling experience in the Library’s Reading Room.  We love M.T. Anderson’s EWWWWWW-inducing “An Easy Gig” where an innocent baby-sitting job turned menacingly tragic and we collectively are repulsed by Dean Lorey’s “Hank” where a beloved pet turns out to be.. um… not so endearing at all.  Sarah Weeks isn’t all that sweet penning “One of a Kind” and Jack Gantos’ half-page “Up to My Elbow” makes us think twice and come to the “OMG” revelation on our own.  With 72 stories in words and pictures, this proves to be the “best buy” of the school year for my library.

My students and I owe so many hours (minutes?) of reading and sharing pleasure to this cleverly conceived and brilliantly executed volume and HarperCollins and Susan Rich for putting the book together.

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Tales from Outer Suburbia

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

This book reminds of a third grade project that my daughter did: to write a short story that accompanies one picture from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. In fact, on Van Allsburg’s site, there is an entire section dedicated to stories from “readers” of the book inspired by the images in the book.

Outer Suburbia has that same absurdity, the same eeriness and outlandish qualities that constantly surprise and delight the reader, even when we feel slightly uncomfortable with what we read and see. It is at times unsettling and other times deeply moving.

I am not sure that this is a book just for children or teens. It seems to me that it is very much a book made to just express the artist’s imagination and to satisfy his own storytelling needs — which, ultimately, benefits the readers who would appreciate this kind of short vignettes. My favorite stories/images are: Eric, No Other Country, Alert But Not Alarmed, Make Your Own Pet, and strangely my top choice: The Nameless Holiday.

The entire book design is so amazing as well. I remember the sense of thrill and awe when I first discovered the Griffin and Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock. This one comes close.

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Fragile Things: Short Fiction and Wonders

Author: Neil Gaiman
Rating:
Reading Level: HS/Adult

Pages: 355
Publisher: William Morrow
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

This book is such a treasure — from the cover design to the very interesting, informative introduction, to each of the 30+ stories and poems. It is odd to think of this book with such fondness and deep, comforting satisfaction when most of the stories are unsettling, dark, often with unrestrained gore and tragic situations. I wanted to write my reaction to each of the story… but simply didn’t have time. Here are some of my favorite pieces. The short summary is just so I won’t forget what the stories are about…

October in the Chair
(the little boy running away, meeting a little ghost boy…)
Forbidden Brides of the Facelss Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire
(meta-fiction of a young writer, living in a world of fantasy and trying to write his own “realistic fiction”)
Bitter Grounds
(a “zombie” like traveler, assuming another’s identity…)
Other People
(very short and philosophical piece of demons in hell)
Harlequin Valentine
(tricking and being tricked — do not lightly give away your heart — pinning it on the door, with blood dripping..)
The Problem of Susan
(what happens to Susan after the Last Battle from the Narnia books…)
Instructions (poem)
(instructions to one who finds herself trapped inside a fairy tell)
My Life (poem)
(tall-tale goth and funny)
Feeders and Eaters
(a really creepy cannibal story)
Goliath
(a possible story from the world of the movie Matrix)
The Day the Saucers Came (poem)
(humorous accumulative love letter)
Sunbird
(what happens when you have eaten all the rare and precious foodstuff – and not so-foodstuff – in the world)

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Dolores: Seven Stories about Her

Author: Bruce Brooks
Rating:
Reading Level: 6th and up

I definitely liked the character very much and enjoyed a few stories tremendously: especially the first story when she was 7 and the story about her first romance. However, it does not quite feel that all the stories are connected, and I can’t quite figure out how each of them builds on the previous version of Dolores. I think that is the intention — to show how she becomes the Dolores of the next stage. But, it might be just me as a reader who failed to see the connection between one set of characteristics to the next. It also seems very unrealistic, fairy-tale like almost — although I do know young women who remain true to their inner-selves and are accepted and even admired for their fierce loyalty to their own hearts. So, maybe it is not quite a fairy-tale!

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May 2005 Reads

Fast Food Nation
by Eric Schlosser (Read by Rick Adamson)

recommended
nonfiction, Adult, audio book

Whether the writing is too bland or the reader too inappropriately dramatic, I couldn’t tell. But, this very famous and popular title of the last couple of years only delivered information… long passages of it devoted to documenting the people involved in the fast food industry… without satisfying my literary “appetite.” It also has a pretty strong and unhidden agenda that feels a bit heavy handed. I am still happy that I read/listened to it and that I was “informed.” Beyond that, there is not much more to say about it.


Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
by David Sedaris

highly recommended
humorous, nonfiction, memoir, Adult, audio book

Another audio book that is absolutely fantastic to listen to. Read by the author/public speaker with his signature nasal voice that is both sarcastic and completely sincere — incredibly cynical and yet touchingly innocent. The short autobiographical episodes are entertaining, enlightening, and memorable. Absolutely loved it!


Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini

recommended
realistic fiction, Adult, audio book

I listened to this brutal and brutally honest and beautiful book on my iPod, folding laundry or washing dishes… on the subway or falling asleep at night… It is read by the author and his accent and pronunciation of the Afghan words made the experience rich with layers. It was an unforgettable “event,” listening to it.


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