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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.

Extractions by Melissa M. Firman

Source: Purchased
E-short story
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Extractions by Melissa M. Firman is an e-short story in which something is not quite right with Kari and her family.  While they have that suburban home, there are some financial issues lurking in the background, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg.  This family is racking up the debt with no end in sight and her impending dental work is only going to exacerbate that situation.  Firman has packed a lot of detail into the first couple of pages of this short story, which according to the Kindle estimate is just seven pages in total.

Whether Kari’s drinking has to do with their financial problems or the fact that she’s cyber-stalking an ex-boyfriend on Facebook, it doesn’t matter.  Something has got to change for this family.  They are in a very precarious situation and something is going to push them over the brink.  Kari is dissatisfied, and she’s searching for something outside herself to make herself content.  An unexpected act of vandalism, however, will have her questioning her own actions.   Extractions by Melissa M. Firman is well done, but will likely leaving readers wanting more.

About the Author:

Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pa., Melissa Firman was convinced she would be a world-famous author before she was 18. When that didn’t quite happen, she earned a B.A. in English/Communications from Cabrini College and worked with various nonprofits. Melissa currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband of 20 years and their two children.

“Extractions” is Melissa’s first short story published on Amazon. She recently edited young adult author Melissa Luznicky Garrett’s much-anticipated novels “The Prophecy” and “Blood Draw.”

Melissa Firman is currently in the process of writing her first novel and is a freelance book reviewer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Connect with Melissa on her website and blog at MelissaFirman.com or on Facebook at Melissa Firman, writer – www.facebook.com/TheFirmanGroup.

80th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff

Source: NetGalley/Kindle
ebook, 21 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff is a complementary story to her new novel, The Winter Guest (my review), in which Maria finds herself married and estranged from her father in rural Biekowice, Poland, during WWII.  Maria, who is married to Piotr, finds that she is an outsider at her in-laws home, and is unable to share even her sense of loss with them after he was conscripted by the Germans.  She fills her days avoiding the scrutiny of her mother-in-law, and dreaming about what life will be like when her husband returns.  She feels alone now that she’s severed herself from her father, whom she caught selling information to the Nazis.  However, her father’s betrayal is the least of the secrets she will uncover.

“War had nipped at the edges of their tiny village, Biekowice, changing little things first, like the requirement of registration cards.  Later had come the food requisitioning that left the market so bare.  Piotr’s family had not been affected as badly as most — the farm produced enough simple fare to keep their stomachs full.”

While she lives in relative comfort, Maria must remain strong for herself and a young Jewish girls she discovers hiding in the family barn.  Maria is a young wife who is still finding her place in her new family, while at the same time trying to make sense of the families around her who turn in their neighbors or make other deals with the Nazis to survive.  When she is faced with the dilemma of a little Jewish girl, it is clear that her father’s betrayal propels her to take a different action.  The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff expounds upon a minor character in her novel, The Winter Guest, giving readers a glimpse into how much the paranoia and fear had begun to permeate even the smallest villages as Nazis traipsed through the city squares and fought through the countryside.  It’s too bad that this story is so short; it would make a good novel.

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.  Visit her Website and Facebook page.

22nd book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Poland)

 

 

 

32nd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

27th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen

Source: Kindle Freebie
e-short story, 40 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen follows her short-e-story All Is Bright (my review), telling the other side of the story from Ilsa Brown‘s point of view, rather than that of Elise Andrews.  Between these two short stories, the love triangle between these characters is real, but not as fleshed out as they would be in a full-length novel.

Ilsa Brown is a veterinarian and she meets Grif by chance in a park where his foster-dog, Fabio, has been injured.  They grow fond of each other, but Ilsa is cautious when her sister’s solid marriage loses its footing.  It makes her wonder how much Grif regrets his past break-up with Elise.  Pekkanen is adept at navigating the fragile balance of male-female relationships, especially when a break-up has recently occurred and one of the pair is still healing.  Ilsa is a strong woman, but she also realizes that the past must be embraced in order for the future to be clear.

“To hide her confusion, she did what came naturally: She reached out with her strong, thin fingers–the two crescent-shaped scars on the back of her right hand gleaming pale and smooth–and began to examine the little mixed-breed dog.”

Both new to Los Angeles, Grif and Ilsa hit it off over their love of animals and pizza, and their relationship moves at a fast pace.  But Ilsa is never more aware of taking things one step at a time as when she talks with her sister, Corrine, about him or when her sister talks about her marriage.  Pekkanen’s prose is simple and captivating in building up the romance in a short amount of time, but it’s her characters that will keep readers engaged because they are not two-dimensional.  Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen is about how love can hit at the most unexpected times and how it needs to be nurtured and understood in order to flourish.  Readers may want more from these characters, and perhaps the author will weave them into a full-length novel.

About the Author:

Sarah is the mother of three boys, which explains why she wrote part of her novel at Chuck E. Cheese. Seriously. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true. At least some dreams – Brad Pitt has yet to show up on her doorstep wearing nothing but a toolbelt and asking if she needs anything fixed. So maybe it’s only G-rated dreams that come true. Please visit her Website.

Pies & Peril by Janel Gradowski

Source: Janel Gradowski, the author
ebook, 192 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Pies & Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski is punchy and fun, a perfect read for kicking back on a rainy day or on the beach during the summer.  While “beach read” is often a looked down on term, these are the kinds of books readers crave when they want pure entertainment and to enjoy characters and their stories.  Gradowski’s characters are not like those in typical cozy mysteries; they have good heads on their shoulders, are professional, and are not throwing themselves in harm’s way without thinking things through first.  Amy Ridley is no dumb blonde. She’s focused to win every culinary baking contest she enters, but when things go awry for her former friend and now baking nemesis, Mandy Jo, she takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of her death.

“The physical side effects of becoming a triple champion made her feel like she had been caught in a stampede of tap dancers from Ms. Carrie’s Dance Academy.” (ARC)

“Okay.  Dirty dishes didn’t talk, but she couldn’t stand to see them sitting there, like batter coated chore devils perched on her shoulder.” (ARC)

Amy is spunky and determined to uncover the truth, but she’s also aware that there should be boundaries to her tenacious search for a killer.  She’s lurking in corners to eavesdrop and running into clues, but she’s also wise enough to know that she should be careful and scared of the killer who is writing her threatening notes.  Her friend Carla is a doll, and readers will enjoy their banter as they go over some of Amy’s theories about the murder and her even more outrageous theories behind the murder.  Gradowski’s style is filled with humor and characterization; readers will get to know these characters in such a short period of time, it will feel like they are friends known for much longer.  The author has a way of packing in a lot of background and characterization in a small space, making it easier to flow with the relationships and the story as it unfolds.

“… The Cookbook Nook.  Not a single auto repair or vampire book could be found on the shelves.  Just cookbooks.  Glorious, fascinating cookbooks.” (ARC)

Pies & Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski will have readers’ mouths watering, and it includes recipes at the end to keep those taste buds dreaming.  Cozy mysteries may drive some readers crazy for their dopey heroines that carry their infants into dangerous situations or just rush headlong into places they shouldn’t as they investigate mysteries, but Gradowski has found the perfect balance between the cozy mystery formula and strong heroines that leave the tough stuff up to the cops.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.  Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Check out her books.

Other books by this author, reviewed here:

Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased for Kindle
eBook, about 34 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart illustrates how the death of the person we’re closest to — oftentimes our mother — sends us out into the world, looking for answers or at least some hope.  Letting go is never about forgetting, while our loved ones may not physically be present any more and all we have is memory — a tricky thing indeed — we have the ability to seek out meaning and hope in the miracles around us.  Anyone who has read Kephart’s books before knows that she loves birds and what they can mean and represent in all their incarnations, but this obsession with birds clearly began with the loss of her mother.

“I work in a square room, watch the world (a garden like an archipelago, a museum of flowering trees) through two wide windows.  I work early in the day, a bare bulb turned on, and I work alone.  But in the months after my mother passed away, much too early, the finches came.  They were still wearing their winter coats.  They favored the crack of dawn.  They held themselves up with the acrobatics of their wings, touched their beaks to my wide windows, and hammered.”

Kephart ties together the memories of her mother’s accident and misdiagnosed and re-diagnosed illness — without naming it because it is unnecessary to do so — with the passionate love of birds held by Genevieve Estelle Jones and Katrina van Grouw.  Like these early scientists, Kephart is exploring the enigma of birds — not so much how they continue to fly and what their eggs and nests look like — but how those former dinosaurs continue to capture the imagination and offer solace to those not too busy to pause.

Readers could imagine glorious photos or illustrations of birds sweeping across the pages, along with Kephart’s words as she remembers the best parts of her mother and the best parts of herself.  Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart strives to give all those who grieve the hope that there is peace, a peace that we can live with and thrive with, as long as we remember to breathe and be alive.

***This ebook memoir was published by the new venture SheBooks, which published short ebooks for women, by women.  Check out what Beth Kephart had to say.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, is due out in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. In the fall of 2009, Kephart will teach the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.  Check out her blog.

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax

Source: Purchased for Amazon Kindle
E-Novella, 92 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax is an e-novella that follows the talented women of Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach (click for my reviews) — Madeline, Nicole, and Avery — told from the point of view of Madeline’s daughter, Kyra.  Kyra and her now one-year-old son Dustin are arriving at Ten Beach Road and Bella Flora under the close scrutiny of paparazzi.  She has little choice but to don a disguise to keep the photographers on their toes and protect her son as much as she can from Daniel Deranian’s fame and infidelity.

“The celebrity bar has dropped so low that if it were being set for a game of Limbo, that bar would be ankle-height.”

“A couple of weeks ago a crazed Daniel Deranian fan stole one of Dustin’s dirty diapers out of the trash and tried to sell it on eBay.”

Her time at Bella Flora was healing for her and her mother, as well as their new found friends who all found out they owned a piece of the rundown historic site.  Kyra is still struggling with her quasi-fame as the mother of an illegitimate Deranian child, but she still wants her own family to remain the same.  It’s unfortunate that her life plans have a way of changing on her, but she’s clearly poised to learn and grow from those changes.  Wax has created a cast of lovable characters with their own flaws, but these women are tough and ready to take on anything thrown in their way.

“What I really want is something built like a tank and with darkened windows, so that if I mow down a few photographers no one will see the satisfaction on my face,…”

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax is a great novella to catch up with these women and a great set up for the next novel in the series, The House on Mermaid Point.  Kyra’s definitely got her plate full already, but when she learns what’s going on with her own family, she’s bound to feel overwhelmed.  Wax has set up readers for an eventful new novel that comes out in July 2014.

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski

Source: Author Janel Gradowski
Kindle eBook, 43 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski is a “cupcake” novellette, volume 2 in the Bartonville series.  Daisy is the protagonist in this prequel, which takes place before Must Love Sandwiches (volume 1 in the Bartonville series).  She’s just realized that her relationship with Gary is not and will never be what she expects it to be, especially when she’s paying half the rent, for all the food, and he stays out drinking all night.  Although her life is less than perfect, she still loves her bookstore job and her life is not as pathetic as her drunk brother’s.  Moving — even temporarily — back in with her parents, she realizes that her life is not as bad compared to some others.  But it takes a swift kick in the pants for her to change her own life.

“All of the useless utensils were in the kitchen drawer when she moved in with Gary.  Everything needed to be replaced.”

“She hadn’t just lowered her standards when she started dating Gary, she sucker punched her morals and left them to wallow in the mud.”

Daisy is an insecure young woman, still looking for her place and looking for the right man.  While her mother is supportive, her father is more of a go-getter — meaning get the kids out of the house ASAP.  Her boss, meanwhile, has kept her mouth shut, but once the floodgates open, there’s no stopping her helpful advice from flowing.  Gradowski creates characters that are three-dimensional, and her dialogue is always punchy and comical, without a single wasted word.  The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski is a short satisfying treat, and the only complaint from readers could be that they want more.  In case of Gradowski’s series, there will be more in store.

This series also includes bonus stories and recipes.

Check out my other reviews:

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking and is fueled by copious amounts of coffee.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. She is the author of two series. Her first women’s fiction series is The Bartonville Series. Each volume contains stories ranging from flash to novella length. All of the stories are set in Michigan every volume contains accompanying recipes. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories that are based on the title’s theme.  Connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Check out another part in the series, Ready or Not, published in serial format at JukePop.

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski

Source: the author Janel Gradowski
Kindle ebook, 85 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski is a “cake” sized novella and volume one in her Bartonville Series, which also includes not only recipes, but a couple of bonus stories.  Emma and Daisy live at the artist’s colony creating crafts sold in the gallery store, but their worlds are shaken by the presence of food trucks in the park, where most workers end up taking their lunch.  Emma, who makes fairy doors and jewelry, is shaken by a recent break up with a fellow artist, Max, and she decides that rather than follow the path of her mother, she’s swearing off men.  Wouldn’t you know it, that once she makes that decision, she meets Brad of The Sandwich Emporium.  Meanwhile, Daisy is wondering where to go with her creations that are selling at a slower rate, enlisting the innovative thoughts of her good friend, Emma.  She’s also crushing on another food truck foodie, Marshall of the Vegan Valhala, even though she loves bacon!

“Often her mind wandered as she created the miniature art, inventing a world inhabited by delicate fairies.  In that world everybody was happy and relationships never fell apart.”

To say that these women have commitment issues outside of their artistic passions is an understatement, but while Emma was shaped by her family history of dysfunction, it is unclear where Daisy’s self-esteem issues stem from, though it is clear she does not see herself as a beauty.  Gradowski has created not only realistic characters in these two women, but characters that feel like friends who need a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the pants sometimes.  Her situations are never far-fetched, and the only complaint could be that the story ends too soon, even though the ending is satisfactory.

“Chuck’s hair was always a crazy mess, whether he had just woken up or was going on a date.  His full beard was a thicket of ginger-kissed facial hair.  Emma wrinkled her nose.  ‘He kind of looks like a bear when he’s naked, too.’

‘Thanks for that visual.  I’m going to need a lot more alcohol to erase that image from my mind.'”

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski is a mouth-watering tale that will have readers salivating for the recipes in these pages, but also for more romance.  There are some great twists in this novella, and readers will be eager to learn more about the craftiness of these women and their evolution into strong women in search of love.  The author is a fresh new voice in fiction worth reading.

***Having met Janel long ago on the Internet at Janel’s Jumble, her own craftiness — particularly with beads — shines through in this novel, and if you follow her blog, you’ll see that she often shares some of her flash fiction and recipes.

Check out my other reviews:

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking and is fueled by copious amounts of coffee.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. She is the author of two series. Her first women’s fiction series is The Bartonville Series. Each volume contains stories ranging from flash to novella length. All of the stories are set in Michigan every volume contains accompanying recipes. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories that are based on the title’s theme.

The Rose of Fire by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of The Shadow of the Wind, is like many other authors these days in that he is pumping out short stories for digital devices.  The Rose of Fire is one such story, but this story tells the tale of how the Cemetery of Forgotten Books was born at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century.  The labyrinth of books is an intriguing idea, and Zafón’s prose is at once lyrical and absorbing, transporting readers into another time and place.

As fear and suspicion are around every corner, many Spaniards keep to themselves in the hope that they will be spared the wrath of the church.  Raimundo de Sempere, who knows too many languages to stay outside the church’s suspicion, is a printer who is asked to translate a mysterious notebook found on Edmond de Luna, the only surviving man of a ship left battered and adrift near Barcelona just after a plague has ravaged the city.

“Edmond de Luna could see himself reflected in those eyes that resembled huge pools of blood. Flying like a cannonball over the city, tearing off terrace roofs and towers, the beast opened its jaws to snap him up.”  (ebook)

Zafón has created a tantalizing back story for his series of books about the library, and for those who have not read his previous books in the series, The Rose of Fire serves as an introduction to that fantasy world he’s created in which magic and nightmares come alive.  While the story is enchanting and absorbing, it is likely to leave readers wanting more in the way of character development that would likely come with a longer piece of work.  In many ways, this ebook release achieves its goal of ensuring the reader will look for more of the author’s work, but it seems to be a means to an end only, rather than a well developed short story.  With that said, Zafón is a talented author who creates believable worlds full of adventure and conflict.

About the Author:

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a Spanish novelist. Born in Barcelona in 1964, he has lived in Los Angeles, United States, since 1994, and works as a scriptwriter aside from writing novels.

This is my 53rd book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski is even more well crafted than the first volume of short stories and flash fiction, beginning and ending with a wallop.  Once again there are six stories in this collection: “Persistent Foe,” “Kaboom,” “Check Out,” “Inconvenience,” “Anniversary,” and “Addendum.”  Some are longer than others, but each is well paced, with only one typical revenge story — “Kaboom.”

Agnes from “Persistent Foe” is the neighbor you wish you could be when you have loud, inconsiderate neighbors of your own.  While she does not complain too much outright and doesn’t call the cops, she exacts her revenge little by little each day envisioning a big payoff in the end.  And the ending of this one is inspired and unique. Gradowski does a great job of foreshadowing in this short story as well: “She plucked the invasive vine out the basket and dropped it into the tangle of weeds flourishing on the other side.  ‘Time to join your ancestors.'”  Readers will be sitting alongside Agnes as she watches the show unfold in her neighbors backyard one late evening.

“Kaboom” was the most predictable of the stories, but what made this one heart-pumping was the descriptions Gradowski uses as she tells the revenge yarn from the point of view of the perpetrator as she’s performing the act of revenge on her ex.  Meanwhile, Josie’s revenge is only possible because of Erik’s pride in “Check Out.”  Working as a grocery store check out clerk can be incredibly mundane and tiring, but there are moments in life when even that kind of job can be satisfying, especially when you exact revenge on a boy who ditches you across town.  “Inconvenience” brings to the surface many of the emotions that swirled about following the financial crisis and the persistent unemployment born by much of the U.S. population in recent years.  With bills to pay, should the “breadwinner” in the family swallow his pride and take any paying job to support the family, or should he hold out for a better position?  The short story tackles this question and more, but the revenge exacted in this story will leave readers agape.

“Anniversary” is not the happy occasion you expect, but it twists the idea of a celebration into a revenge scenario that celebrates the ability to break free.  Gary has some serious concerns about his wife and his boss, but being an accountant, he takes stock of the situation — its pros and cons — and comes up with the best solution for everyone.  Bartender Amelia doesn’t have a clue how her luck is about to change when Gary walks into her bar.  “Addendum” is one of the longer short stories in the collection, and Karen is a bit of an enigma given her risk averse mentality when it comes to guys and her reaction to her boyfriend Don’s cheating ways.  In an apartment that has eyes and ears in the form of Mrs. Conway, its hard to keep secrets.  “She was either a gossip super hero or had bugged everybody’s apartments with microphones and hidden cameras.”  Living under a microscope must have added undue pressure on Karen.  There is a great deal at work in this short story, and could be a precursor to something longer from Gradowski.

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski is an even more well rounded collection of short stories and flash fiction pieces with characters that are dynamic and crafty.  The characters she creates in this collection will have readers snickering and smirking as they are reminded of the revenge plots they’ve created when wronged by lovers, neighbors, and friends.  Deliciously devilish, a joy to read.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes short fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories. Each volume will have six stories, a mix of flash and short fiction, that are based on the title’s theme.  Visit her blog, Janel’s Jumble.

***And yes, for those keeping track, this is the third item I’ve read on my Kindle.

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski is part of her six stories with one theme series and was the first she published as an ebook after much success in publishing her flash fiction in literary journals.  This collection is a quick read and can be read in about a day.  There is a surprising breadth of characters and situations representing the theme from a woman haunted by her jilted lover to a ghost unaware of his present state.

There are six stories in the collection: “Sequestered,” “New Friends,” “Retirement,” “Grandma’s Treasures,” “Uncleansed,” and “Strangers.”  Each cast of characters is haunted in one way or another whether by the past, the supernatural, or their deeds.  Among some favorites in the collection are “Sequestered,” “Strangers,” “Grandma’s Treasures,” and “Uncleansed” that have very dynamic characters in normal situations that turn a bit abnormal.  However, “New Friends” reminded me of other stories involving ghost children causing mischief in houses and mothers who don’t believe their children at first and think that their kids are exhibiting signs of trauma.  Readers may want a new twist in this kind of story, but the characters of Wendy and her daughter Mia are playful and have a charming relationship that makes them endearing.

In “Sequestered,” Stacie is jilted by her fiance and escapes to the woods to forget.  Haunted by a unrequited love and a future that can never be, she gets more than she bargains for.  The ending will knock the socks off readers, and there are some great descriptions in this short story.

“Naked trees contorted like tortured skeletons in the frigid, autumn wind.”

“Wisps of fog rose from the lake’s glassy water, materializing like an army of ghosts.”

Even in “Retirement,” Gradowski has a way of painting the scene so that readers are captured by the moment and emotionally charged.  “Autumn thunderstorms are always more vicious than their summer counterparts, like they are enraged by the cold air.”  She generates the heartache of Cecily as a palpable being that reaches beyond the page, haunting not only the character created, but also the reader.

Readers can identify with the oddities of family members from the crazy grandmother to the strange behavior of parents after a tragic event and the rituals they rely upon to keep their sanity.  “Grandma’s Treasures” and “Uncleansed” explore these relationships and their odd rituals in a unique way and each story uncovers family secrets that the protagonists Lindsey and Eva, respectively, never expected.

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski is an excellent debut from a talented flash fiction and short story writer.  Short story is a difficult form to generate connections between readers and characters, but Gradowski achieves this easily through her word choices and narrative flow.  Haunting prose, unique characters, and surprising twists will keep readers coming back for more.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes short fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories. Each volume will have six stories, a mix of flash and short fiction, that are based on the title’s theme.  Visit her blog, Janel’s Jumble.

***And yes, for those keeping track, this is the second item I’ve read on my Kindle.

This is my 44th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.