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Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 236 pgs.
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Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman is fraught with gangs, poverty, and class struggle. In Todos Santos, these families barely scrape by to make a living, but even as they fail to see eye-to-eye sometimes, each strives for the dream of a comfortable life — whether that means a husband who stays home with his wife rather than his mistress or a young man seeking his fortune in North America.

Clearman’s strongest stories are the series about Concepción and the baby brokers that provides not only the perspective of a woman who sells a child, but the perspective of the broker who buys children, the parents who search for their lost child, and the parents from North America who are desperate to have a family. This series is so emotionally charged and convoluted, but it’s easy to see that there is always more than one side to a story, even if the selling of babies is abhorrent.

“‘The race is long and hard, like life,’ his grandfather had told him. ‘There is no winner. The purpose is to bear up, to survive.'” (pg. 109 from “The Race”)

Clearman breathes life into Todos Santos and its people, demonstrating that like the United States, class is an obstacle many wish to overcome to reach prosperity. While their circumstances may be reduced compared to those in the United States, their dreams are similar in terms of material wealth and familial wealth. Like many races in the United States, the the Mayan descendants are discriminated against, with the children whipped at school until they speak proper Spanish, etc.

Drawing on folklore and mythology, Clearman pays homage to a culture that is hidden in the jungles and cities of Central America. But she also follows some of these residents as they chase their dreams in America. The different walks of life represented her was interesting and engaging, though in some cases, it is hard to emotionally connect with the characters, like they are not as fleshed out as those in the first half of the stories. Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman provides a new look at a culture often overlooked or hidden in literature.

RATING: Tercet

Photo credit Douglas Chadwick

About the Author:

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.

A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner

Source: Vanity & Pride Press
E-story, 26 pgs.
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A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner is a reimagined story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in which a portal sucks Lizzy into the 1940s when WWII is underway. Modern-day Lizzy, who is a dance instructor, bemoans the social media life that many of us lead and longs for a romance with a gentleman, but she has lost hope. Until her sister Jane convinces her to visit an antique shop in the older part of town, Lizzy has given up on love. Once in the antique shop she is drawn to a special broach.

Gardiner’s story is unique and marries a her two favorite things — Austen and 1940s America. Her take on Lizzy and Darcy in the past is charming and will win over readers quickly because Lizzy has a chance to remedy a situation that could separate these 1940s versions apart forever. That first impression Darcy makes by calling her not tolerable enough to tempt him in the original is similar here, but modern-day Lizzy is more forgiving — setting these two lovers on a path of romance and lasting affection before WWII takes him overseas.

Returning to the modern world, Lizzy has a semi-renewed sense of love and hope, and this propels her to think more openly about opportunities that could come her way in 2017. A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner is too short, but it still has that satisfying happy ending all Austen readers enjoy. Gardiner’s grasp of the 1940s never disappoints, transporting her characters and readers into a believable world, even if they have to suspend disbelief about time portals and wormholes.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy and Jane Austen. A member of the esteemed National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America and her local chapter Tampa Area Romance Authors (TARA,) she enjoys writing across the modern spectrum of “Pride and Prejudice” inspired novels.

Voted Austenesque Reviews’ Favorite Modern Adaptation for 2014, the comedic, Chick-Lit “Lucky 13” was released in October 2014. The romantic adventure “Denial of Conscience,” named Favorite “Pride and Prejudice” Modern for 2015 by Margie Must Reads and More Agreeably Engaged has set the sub-genre on fire since June of this year. In December 2015, another romantic comedy titled “Villa Fortuna” was voted Just Jane 1813’s Favorite Modern JAFF for 2015.

Her greatest love, however, is writing 20th Century Historical Fiction, WWII Romance. Her debut novel in that genre, “A Moment Forever” was released on May 30, 2016.

Married 23 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world – their orange tabby, Ollie. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

Source: the author
Paperback, 320 pgs.
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Sandlands by Rosy Thornton is a devastating collection of short stories, some of which shift between the present and WWII and some of which occur during WWII. These 16 short stories are set near the village of Blaxhall in coastal Suffolk, England, and it is Gothic in many ways as Thornton creates micro-worlds in which her characters are haunted or lost. These characters dwell in an ethereal world in which nature itself becomes a character of its own, including the owl who keeps secrets.

Each story is a magical world in which anything is possible, though some have a more meditative pace than others. There are two in particular that have a crescendo that will leave readers breathless and devastated — “The Watcher of Souls” and “Stone the Crows.”

In the “Watcher of Souls,” an older woman takes walks in the woods daily and comes across an owl, and they have a moment in which their eyes lock. This connection becomes something she seeks to explore after she’s read about the legends and myths of owls. When she discovers the owl’s home in a hollow of a tree, she also discovers a tale of love and sadness. This story enables her to connect with others in a way that had been lost to her since her children moved out and began their own adult lives and she was left to live alone. It’s a touching story about human connection, love, and the solace it can bring, even just through words from the past.

These stories are complex puzzles with dynamic characters who are developed in a short span by Thornton, but who will leave an indelible impression on the reader. The setting is steeped in myth and historical legends of witches and witch hunters, WWII POWs, pagan religions carried on in the iconography of Christian churches, and folklore. In Sandlands, Thornton has created an absorbing atmosphere that envelops readers like the fog, providing them just enough to discern a path forward but not enough to see the end before it arrives.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Rosy Thornton is an author of contemporary fiction, published by Headline Review. Her novels could perhaps be described as romantic comedy with a touch of satire – or possibly social satire with a hint of romance. In real life she lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She shares her home with her partner, two daughters and two lunatic spaniels.  Visit her Website.

Heirlooms: Stories by Rachel Hall

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity
Paperback, 190 pgs.
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Heirlooms: Stories by Rachel Hall is a series of connected stories that read like a novel. Four generations of a Jewish family are touched by the secrets held as one generation copes with the Nazi occupation and, ultimately, flees France to safety. What are the heirlooms this family carries into their new lives? Is it a baby carriage? A beloved wedding band? Or is it simply the memories that flood their minds when they refuse to speak of the past?

From “The War Ends Many Times” (pg. 53)
“Of course, one second-guesses, grasps at the many missed opportunities for escape–that lovely word, that flowing cape of an idea! Why did they not attach themselves to it when it flapped and hovered close? Why?”

Beyond loyalty and duty, each generation is tethered by the ghosts of the past — a father who dies a revolutionary at the hands of Nazis and a mother dying in bed calling for her mother even as her own baby waits in the next room. Peeling back each layer, readers peer into the lives of the Latour family, seeing echoes of the past and reverberations into the future. Even the smallest decision of a stranger desperate for a child she can never have is felt through the generations, forcing one member to make a decision that affects many more and another to accept responsibility for a casual moment.

From “En Voyage” (pg. 89)
“When Jean takes the film to be developed, he is given doubles of this roll. He puts one set of the photos in an album, labels them carefully. He can’t bear to throw the extras away, though there is no one to whom he can safely send them. This makes him feel as if that time is lost, irretrievable, though he knows certainly he does, that time is like that, moving only forward despite our wishes.”

Heirlooms: Stories by Rachel Hall is a deeply moving collection of stories about survivors of WWII and how they coped with their own survival. Fears and protecting their children were forever at the top of their mind, making them hide the past. Despite their efforts, the past can re-emerge in the most unpredictable ways — the effect of heat-stroke leaving you exposed to those you sought to keep from prying too much, from getting too close.

RATING: Quatrain

Photo Credit: Pamela Frame

Photo Credit: Pamela Frame

About the Author:

Rachel Hall’s collection of linked stories, Heirlooms, was awarded the BkMk Press 2015 G.S. Sharat Chandra prize, selected by Marge Piercy.

Hall’s stories and essays have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, Gettysburg Review, Lilith, New Letters, and Water~Stone. In addition, she has received awards and honors from publications such as Lilith and Glimmer Train, and New Letters and from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, as well as Ragdale and the Ox-Bow School of the Arts where portions of Heirlooms were written.

She holds an MFA from Indiana University where she was the Hemingway Fellow in Fiction. Currently, Hall is Professor of English at the State University of New York-Geneseo. She teaches creative writing and literature and holds two Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence—one for teaching and one for her creative work.

United States of Books: Drown by Junot Díaz

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 208 pgs.
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Drown by Junot Díaz, which Entertainment Weekly selected to represent New York, is not set in New York.  It is set in New Jersey.  In most cases, the neighborhoods in New Jersey can be transposed over those in New York City.  However, given that the young boy views a trip across the bridge as a trip to another world, these New Jersey neighborhoods are unique in terms of how many residents are Dominican and how those residents interact with other minorities.  EW said that the “book of stories stands out for its depiction of immigrants striving for their own versions of the American dream,” which is an accurate description.

There are 10 stories in this collection, and Díaz never shies away from the darkness that can envelop an immigrant’s life, especially when jobs and money are scarce and discrimination is around many corners.  A young immigrant boy must come to terms with his new life in the United States, after spending his early years feeling abandoned by his father.  Living an impoverished life with his mother and brother in the Dominican Republic, waiting for money from their father or even word from him, was somewhat easier because of its familiarity.  In the United States, these children must learn to live with a father they barely know, and it is a jarring experience.

“The uniforms Mami could do nothing about but with the mascotas she improvised, sewing together sheets of loose paper she had collected from her friends.  We each had one pencil and if we lost that pencil, like I once did, we had to stay home from school until Mami could borrow another one for us.” (pg. 71, “Aguantando”)

The immigrants in these stories are from the Dominican Republic, but even that does not summarize the power of these tales.  A family is fractured by a man with big dreams, but even those dreams are not enough to keep his focus most of the time.  One day after pledging his devotion to his wife and children, he takes his family’s money and flies to the United States, leaving his wife and two sons behind.  They live a squalid life to say the least, and while they make the best of it with the girls and the friends they have on the dirty streets, they know that there is something missing, and in some cases even blame themselves for the empty space.

Drown by Junot Díaz is gritty.  There are dark alleys, drug deals, fights, and sexual promiscuity, but there also is a desolation as these immigrants find that they are without an anchor in American but unable to return comfortably to their former lives.  Immigration can provide opportunity, but it also can provide paths that are unsavory and dark, leading to loss and hardship, similar to those left behind in their home countries.  These stories seek to shed light on the darker side of immigration and the breakup of families in search of an American dream.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig is a collection of short stories set during World War I, the Great War. Love is at the crux of each story, whether its a lost love or the love of a child lost to war, and these men and women are tested by the ravages of combat.  These writers have a firm grasp of the subject and readers will never question their knowledge of WWI or the human condition.  From a childless widow of German heritage living in France in “Hour of the Bells” by Heather Webb to a young wife left in Paris alone and estranged from her husband’s family in “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland, people are torn apart by war in many ways and those who are left behind to pick up the pieces are weary and forlorn.  They must pick up their skirts or what remains of their lives and move on, despite the pull of the past, the future that will never be, or the emptiness of their homes.

“But the trick was not to care too much.  To care just enough.” (from “An American Airman in Paris” by Beatriz Williams, pg. 244 ARC)

“Sixty years gone like a song, like a record on a gramophone, with the needle left to bump against the edge, around and around, the music gone.” (from “The Record Set Straight” by Lauren Willig, pg. 44 ARC)

These characters care, they care a lot, and even after the war is long over, the past still haunts them, at least until they are able to make amends or at least set the record straight.  How do you get past the loss of loved ones, do you wallow? do you seek revenge? how do you hold on to hope? Sometimes the war doesn’t leave a physical reminder, but a mental and emotional one — scars that are harder to trace and heal.  These stories are packed full of emotion and characters who will leave readers weeping and praising the hope they find.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig takes readers on a journey through and over the trenches and to the many sides in a war — crossing both national and familial borders.

Rating: Cinquain

Connect with the Authors:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m counting this as my Fiction Book Set During WWI.

 

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman is a fanciful collection of short stories in a variety of forms, including those that use letters, poetry, and stories within stories. In the introduction, Gaiman explains what he means by trigger warnings and subsequently explains the seeds that began the stories and the thought processes behind them.  Readers who like surprises may want to skip the explanations and head right into the stories, because on their own, you can see how trigger warnings might be necessary for some readers.

“I’m thinking rather about those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. … And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead.” (pg. XV)

Stories in the collection are twisted, have dark shadows that play at the edges, and will have readers contemplating what on earth they’ve just read.  “A Calendar of Tales” was a fun experiment conducted with the help of Twitter in which statements from strangers spawned ideas for stories, and these tales are spontaneous and captivating with images that references the months of the tales.  Readers will love the tone used by Gaiman, who builds little mysteries one word at a time.  Gaiman has chosen his formats and language very carefully — sucking readers in quickly and astonishing them by the end.  However, one story — The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, previously reviewed here — that makes an appearance in this collection may be better read in its illustrated format — it’s so much richer.  But one of the creepiest and unsettling stories in the collection is “Click-Clack Rattlebag” in which a young boy asks for a scary, but not too scary story before bed from his babysitter.  The story that’s told is not what the babysitter or the reader expects, and it will have readers looking very closely about the shadows at the edges of the room.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman was a satisfactory collection and while the theme seems to be the inescapable past, many of these fanciful stories also seek answers to what happens when you begin forgetting or when the future you expected does not come to pass.

Other Reviews:

The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains

About the Author:

Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebook, tumblr, and his blog.

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay

 

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 304 pgs
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The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay is an engaging way for young readers (age 10+) to learn about World War I through the touchstones and artifacts left behind by soldiers, their families, and the war itself.  From a writing case to a toy soldier, these stories draw inspiration from these objects, building a world in the past that could be as real today as it was then.  There are stories from Michael Morpurgo and Tracy Chevalier, and like many short story collections some stories shine brighter than others, with “Captain Rosalie” being bitter sweet and “Our Jacko” inspiring.  These stories will evoke deep emotions in readers, as they learn not only about the realities of war and loss, but also the connections we have to objects that come from our ancestors.

“I keep the compass shined up and the safety catch on so the little needle doesn’t swing and break.  When I hold it and let it go and hunt out north, it bobs around like anything, like something on water, and it’s hard to tell where you are or what it’s saying.  That’s because I can’t keep my hands still enough.  But my dad could.  He kept his hands steady all the way, and he found home.” (“Another Kind of Missing,” pg 27)

“For in order for a story to work, it has to have a purpose, a structure, a journey, and a resolution.  And in reality, war has none of these things.  War is simply a near-random sequence of horrors, and so to make a story out of war is to lie.”  (“Don’t Call It Glory,” pg 65)

“But for music, I might have just stayed there,
keeping time with the
swoosh, swoosh, swoosh
of my push broom
for always.

Maybe making something of yourself is about
not
just keeping time
but doing something of substance,
something risky,
something you couldn’t fathom having the
skill
guts
nuts
to do until
you
do it. (“A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” pg. 153)

Beyond the short stories told in this collection, there is one, long narrative poem, “A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” which mirrored the rhythm and blues played by the main character.  But it also highlights the desire to seize the moment when it comes, rather than wait until its gone to desire it.

“So I won’t waste it:
War can break a man.
Slam him down on his back in the
dark.” (“A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” pg. 166)

Each of these pieces brings forth some of the hidden feelings of those left behind by soldiers and those who are less than eager to fight, but they also illustrate the complexity of war and its allure.  Kay’s illustrations are in black and white and give the collection just the right amount of gruesome horror, but these are accompanied by facts about the war from women entering the workforce and the types of jobs they assumed to the conditions of the trenches.

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay would be a great addition to any classroom willing and able to go beyond the traditional teachings of just WWII and other wars.  WWI was an important part of history that should not be forgotten, as it illustrates not only the brutality of ambitious people, but also the realities of bravery and cowardice, particularly through the eyes of children who are left behind.

 

 

 

 

Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem

Source: Random House
Hardcover, 157 pgs
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Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem is an eclectic collection of short stories that range from the experimental to the surreal and traditional, but many of these stories lack the final punch readers make expect from short stories. While characters in these stories may experience smaller revelations, they often fall a little flat in the telling as the prose tends to be overly flowery or down-right boring. Of the collections that should be engaging to the reader given the title alone, they often lack the glitter readers will expect, such as “The Porn Critic.” And even these stories with catchy titles are some of the best in the collection, despite their flaws.

The first story, “Lucky Alan,” chronicles a neighbor who is obsessed with a reclusive Alan in his building and upon his marriage and later his growing family, the neighbor feels less important and pushed aside. In reality, he learns that this friend he tried so hard to win, was not who he thought him to be at all. And after the entire building sides with Alan, it is hard for him to continue living in a place that is unaware of Alan’s true nature. There are more nuances in the story, but they often get lost in the strange dialogue between friends and the situations that seem outlandish even in a large city of eclectic people.

In “The King of Sentences,” Lethem takes a look at the other side of fame, not so much the emphasis on the crazed fan, though there are some here, but on the perceptions we have of these famous people and how they may be very far from reality. In fact, the reality presented here is very scary for those of us who wish to meet those famous stars and writers we love. Meanwhile, “Their Back Pages,” seemed to be riffing off of Survivor and Lord of the Flies, but there are some pieces within the story that worked better than others, which made the overall effect of the story muted and confused.

Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem was a collection of stories with a lot to recommend it, but unfortunately, I can’t. I was disappointed with the individual stories and those that worked for the most part just didn’t wow me. Others might have a different view, but when reading short stories, I shouldn’t be falling asleep.

About the Author:

Jonathan Allen Lethem is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer. His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel that achieved mainstream success. In 2003, he published The Fortress of Solitude, which became a New York Times Best Seller. In 2005, he received a MacArthur Fellowship.

Short Story Friday: Christmas Canapes & Sabotage by Janel Gradowski

In a renewal, I’ve been reading some short stories in collections, and I really love Janel Gradowski‘s writing.  Her cozy mysteries are always full of food and fun.  One of her latest stories was published in the Cozy Christmas Capers: Holiday Short Story Collection.  I wanted to share a little bit about why I am enjoying these cozy mysteries from Janel and why we as a community should support more writers like her.

Christmas Canapes & Sabotage by Janel Gradowski is part of the culinary competition mystery series of books — her new one is coming out this month, Chicken Soup & Homicide — that find an amateur cook embroiled in a deadly mystery at local food competitions.  Amy is a winner when it comes to these amateur cooking competitions, but she is always humble about her skills, even if she is as inventive in the kitchen as some professional chefs.  Why do I gravitate to these books?  1. food 2. humor.

“‘Old Man Winter can ease up any time now.  It isn’t even Christmas, and I’m tired of the deep freeze.  I think the girl who handed my my registration packet had blue fingernails, and the color wasn’t from nail polish.'”

“‘You’re like a foodie super hero, saving the masses with a pot of tea.'”

Janel is the queen of the instant one-liners, and she’s a book blogger who has made her writing dreams a reality.  She started with flash fiction pieces published in online journals, and from there dove into more challenging, longer projects.  I love her spunk in tackling larger projects that challenged her, and I think that she’s found a great niche.

Have you found other book bloggers who’ve entered the world of authorship?  Have you read their books?  I’d love to hear about it.

To enter Janel’s party giveaway, go here.

Island Fog by John Vanderslice

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 288 pgs
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Island Fog by John Vanderslice is a collection of short stories placed in chronological order beginning in 1795 on Nantucket, Mass., through 2005.  These stories are dark and oppressive, and one of the most harrowing is “Taste,” which is likely to have some readers’ stomachs churning.

“Physical assault is a vaporous threat that gravitates around his being like the afternoon fog infecting the harbor.  A threat that, unlike the fog, never actually takes body.” (from “Guilty Look”, pg. 18)

“More than that, William said he could not live trapped in a nuthouse anymore.  ‘This island,’ he said to you, and you were not to take this personally, ‘feels like some mad doctor’s lab experiment.'”  (from “How Long Will You Tarry?”, pg 124)

Vanderslice weaves in the economic and social history of Nantucket to demonstrate the insular nature of an island and how dynamic it can be, despite that isolation.  The tension between Congregationalists and Quakers in colonial times is vibrant and engaging, as are the struggles of a young wife whose husband is lost at sea, but the overall collection is a mixed bag.  While the author strives to depict the disappointing pasts of characters on the island and their desires and hopes, the overall feel of the collection is one of a harsh island life that sometimes can feel like a prison to those who are native to the land and those who are merely visitors.

Island Fog by John Vanderslice is about peeling back the shroud of our neighbors lives and engaging with their personal lives in ways that many of us never expect.  The secret desires we harbor and the past transgressions we hide from even ourselves are revealed in these short stories, but beneath the fog is the desire to hope, the need to reach for something better than we have — even if in the end it is disappointing.  The collection would generate lively discussions in a book club.

About the Author:

John Vanderslice teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas, where he also serves as associate editor of Toad Suck Review magazine. His fiction, poetry, essays, and one-act plays have appeared in Seattle ReviewLaurel Review, Sou’wester, CrazyhorseSouthern Humanities Review1966, Exquisite Corpse, and dozens of other journals. He has also published short stories in several fiction anthologies, including Appalachian Voice, Redacted StoryChick for a DayThe Best of the First Line: Editors Picks 2002-2006, and Tartts: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers.  His new book of short stories, Island Fog, published by Lavender Ink, is a linked collection, with every story set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Countdown by Mira Grant

Source: Amazon Kindle
ebook, 82 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Countdown (A Newsflesh Novella) by Mira Grant is a great addition to the trilogy, chronicling the emergence of Kellis-Amberlee from its aucpicious beginnings as separate cures for the common cold and cancer.  There is the saying that there can be too much of a good thing, and in this case, these good things combined to create one of the most destructive things imaginable for the human race.  Dr. Alexander Kellis is working on a way to cure the common cold, but his testing is still in animal trials, while Dr. Daniel Wells is working on the Marburg Amberlee cure for cancer and is testing on humans with some success.

“‘This guy thinks he can eat textbooks and shit miracles,’ was the pitch.”

“Freed from its secure lab environment, Alpha-RC007 floated serene and unaware on the air currents of the stratosphere.  It did not enjoy freedom; it did not abhor freedom; it did not feel anything, not even the cool breezes holding it aloft.  In the absence of a living host, the hybrid virus was inert, waiting for something to come along and shock it into a semblance of life.”

“There is nothing so patient, in this world or any other, as a virus searching for a host.”

While these scientists are working on separate cures, there are forces outside of their labs that threaten their progress.  The Mayday Army, once a pot-head group of kids, is bent on “sticking it to The Man.”  They see an opportunity and take it.  Meanwhile, the unsuspecting people throughout the country, including the Masons from the trilogy itself, are left to deal with the wide-ranging consequences.  Through a series of blog entries, these tales unfold in rapid succession, ramping up the tension toward the ultimate conclusion before the start of the official trilogy.

Countdown (A Newsflesh Novella) by Mira Grant is not a necessary addition to the series, but certainly one that will be appreciated by those that love the novels and want more about how the outbreak that ended modern civilization occurred.  Readers will enjoy how Grant mixes scientific jargon into a thriller.

About the Author:

Born and raised in Northern California, Mira Grant has made a lifelong study of horror movies, horrible viruses, and the inevitable threat of the living dead. In college, she was voted Most Likely to Summon Something Horrible in the Cornfield, and was a founding member of the Horror Movie Sleep-Away Survival Camp, where her record for time survived in the Swamp Cannibals scenario remains unchallenged.

Mira lives in a crumbling farmhouse with an assortment of cats, horror movies, comics, and books about horrible diseases. When not writing, she splits her time between travel, auditing college virology courses, and watching more horror movies than is strictly good for you. Favorite vacation spots include Seattle, London, and a large haunted corn maze just outside of Huntsville, Alabama.

Mira sleeps with a machete under her bed, and highly suggests that you do the same.