Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Reviews for July

Best American Short Stories 2007, edited by Stephen King

As you know, I adore this series. I have seven copies of BASS and I love them all. I love reading through each volume and finding the standout story. At least the standout for me. As someone who continues to try perfecting the art of the short story, every volume of BASS teaches me something valuable.
BASS 2007 was a gift from Alisha Geary. Thanks, Love! As always, you know me so well.
The standout story for me in this volume: St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

I was pleasantly surprised to find a work of fantasy in BASS and even more pleasantly surprised to find this riveting and gorgeous tale. I have come to learn that there is a short story anthology by Russell sharing the story's title. I was so impressed with her work that I am going to look her up at the library and see if I can find that, or her other work, Swamplandia!, which expands on a piece found in the short story collection.

Well-written short stories make me happy!
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

This book, recommended to me by several readers and writers, is a startling look at bullying. I haven't read a Robert Cormier book with a happy ending, so it shouldn't have surprised me that The Chocolate War wasn't any different. But I wanted it to end well. And when it didn't I was sad. I suppose that's the whole point of the story. Bullying never ends well. Lives can be devastated, as they were in this story.

When Jerry Renault refuses to sell the chocolates during his private school's annual sale, he is punished, by both peers and faculty. The results are violent and disturbingly real. The Chocolate War is a searing portrait of human cruelty set in 1974.

While I think it's good to have books like The Chocolate War available to youth and adult readers, it's not a book for everyone. Content warning: sexual situations, language, disturbing imagery.

Beyond The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Publisher's synopsis: "The school year is almost at an end, and the chocolate sale is past history. But no one at Trinity School can forget The Chocolate War.

Devious Archie Costello, commander of the secret school organizationcalled the Virgils, stall has some torturous assignments to hand out before he graduates. In spite of this pleasure, Archie is troubled by his right-hand man, Obie, who has started to move away from the Virgils. Luckily Archie knows his stooges will fix that. But won't Archie be shocked when he discovers the surprise Obie has waiting for him?

And there are surprises waiting for others. The time for revenge has come to those boys who secretly suffered the trials of Trinity. The fuse is set for the final explosion. Who will survive? "

Don't expect a happy ending with this one either. Same content warning as The Chocolate War.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Those of you who know me know I love Anderson's work. Some books are more beloved than others -- at least by me. Speak and Wintergirls and Chains are my top faves. Fever 1793 is young adult historical fiction! There's not much of that on the shelves right now from new authors. I dunno, blame the burgeoning Paranormal Romance section. Don't get me started.

Those of you who know me know I also love a good infection story. Fever 1793 follows Mattie Cook through the Philadelphia yellow fever outbreak. Anderson's story is creepy and harrowing, as a good infection story should be. It also highlights social attitudes of the day, racial oppression and the limited knowledge of medicine, all seen through the eyes of the strong main character.

I recommend Fever 1793. It has no questionable content. Germophobic or sensitive readers might have problems with some illness-related disturbing imagery.

Archangel by Sharon Shinn

Picked this book up at a library book sale for 50¢. This book is at once interesting and frustrating to me. It takes place in what I assume to be a very distant future on a world called Samaria. This is usually the type of book I would just eat up, and it was fascinating, but I wanted an origin story.

Gabriel, soon to be the Archangel, must find a wife to help him lead the sing-a-long worship to their god, Jovah. Using the Jovah's Kiss in his arm (what I assume to be some kind of tracking device) and a prophet (who communicates with Jovah using a screen) Gabriel tracks down Rachel, a slave-girl, and marries her. The relationship is loveless, but Rachel and Gabriel eventually reconcile.

This story at first glance carries everything I would love in a sci-fi/fantasy tale: distant future, colonization, genetic engineering of the ruling class, loss of technological understanding, etc. But these are things I only gleaned through implication. There is no explanation given by Shinn for how everything works. She doesn't tell us where their strange Judeo/Hebrew/Israeli religion/government stems from, where these people or their technology came from. Honestly, I'm more interested in the origin story than I am in the dilemmas of the main characters.

Archangel is interesting though, and I would recommend it to fans of sci-fi/fantasy. For those of you who read it, maybe the origin story wasn't necessary for your enjoyment of this book. Let me know what you think.

Firebirds - edited by Sharyn November

This anthology of fantasy and science fiction (there's no science fiction, which disappointed me) was recommended to me by Shar Abreu Petersen. On the whole, I was very impressed with this selection of stories. My favorites:

The Baby in the Night Deposit Box by Megan Whelan Turner
Mariposa by Nancy Springer
Max Mondrosch by Lloyd Alexander
Medusa by Michael Cadnum
Hope Chest by Garth Nix
The Flying Woman by Laurel Winter

I recommend these stories in Firebirds. The art of the short story lives!

Ophelia by Lisa Klein

In this retelling of Shakespeare's finest play, Hamlet, Ophelia gives us her side of the story. As a fan of the original and someone who has read it multiple times, I found this to be fascinating reinterpretation. Klein takes the circumstances around Ophelia's tragic death and crafts them into a Romeo & Juliet-esque tale of love in hiding and dark revenge. Klein flavors the novel with flowery prose and remixes of Shakespeare's beautiful language, making it believable within this fictional version of Denmark.

I won't give away what ends up happening to Ophelia. Here are some hints: Hamlet, poison, condemnation, Horatio and flowers. I recommend this book to lovers of Hamlet, but it's not for purists. Content warning: sexual situations (only implicitly described), assault.

Also read:

The Game of Sunken Places by MT Anderson

Creepy speculative fic for middle graders.  This book is pretty scary, so sensitive readers beware.  It was fun.
Going Bovine by Libba Bray

This won the Printz Award.  It was weird.  And long.  Any one have any thoughts on Going Bovine?

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