M Is for Magic

Title: M Is for Magic

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genres: Children | Fantasy | Paranormal | Quickies

Length: 272 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3.75/5

Premise:

A collection of 11 short stories by Neil Gaiman.

Review:

I had read 5 of these stories in other Gaiman books but even those were a pleasure to reread.
Gaiman has such a way with words. At times I was a bit frustrated because a lot was left unsaid and I need resolution to feel fully satisfied but I can admit it is part of the magic. They are short stories, little snippets of magical worlds spun from a mind I cannot help but admire.

Admitedly, I did not find all of them enjoyable. Sunbird in particular seemed to stretch on and on forever and ever and it did actually bore me, although the ending was surprising.

My favourite tales were The Price, Chivalry and October in the Chair – even if this last one had me on my toes to know what happened next.

These stories will please young folks as well as older ones and they make for a wondrous, quick read, so I definitely recommend the book.

Read from Jun 15th to Jun 19th, 2016

GR Review

Probably Monsters

Title: Probably Monsters

Author: Ray Cluley

Genres: Fantasy | Horror | Paranormal | Science Fiction | Speculative Fiction | Short Stories

Length: 359 pages

Source: Netgalley

Format: Pdf

Rating: 4.25/5

Premise:

Several horror short stories featuring all sorts of monsters.

Review:

These stories all have a few things in common: they are capable of infusing you with all sorts of feelings. Throughout them I was terrified, bemused, sad, cheated, baffled, nostalgic, amongst others I cannot really name.

I believe the strength of this book is that the line between reality and dream/supernatural/myth is stretched so very thin. Not many authors can do that with the artistry Mr Cluley presented us in this collection and I could tell he did quite a lot of research on some subjects.

There were all sorts of characters, with a huge range of age, sex, location, race and sexuality. I think there is something in each story that everyone can relate to. Some characters even appear normal, if quirky, and then the author flips it on you and you find out that maybe they are not, but sometimes cannot be really sure, or if there even is anything supernatural involved.

There were all sorts of themes too. I don’t believe I had ever seen an anthology with such diversity and yet a common theme.

Each of the stories was thought-provoking in their own way and entertained me as only the best horror can.
However…
Only a collection of short stories as good as this could make me realize that this is simply not a genre I can do. In the end, even with such quality, most of them left me wanting and I did not particularly care for some endings.
They are short stories. There cannot be that much development and that just doesn’t seem to be something I can handle well. I did like some, even loved a couple, their endings included, but I always wanted more.

Alas, I absolutely loved the thought that every single one of us, given the right circumstances, can become a monster. And that bittersweet taste at the end of some stories, where I just asked myself what the heck had happened and how such a piece of writing could come out of a person’s mind assured me that, even though I don’t appreciate the genre, I can definitely appreciate quality.
The notes at the end of the book with comments on how the author was inspired to write each story were a welcome plus.

The stories I found most intense, and therefore enjoyed the most are The Festering, Bloodcloth and Beachcombing. I just realized reading this that the focus of each is a child. Definitely some of the most disturbing tales I have read feature children, but it’s the way Cluley did it that was so mesmerizing.

The author mentioned in the notes Tommy from Beachcombing is coming back in his novel Sullivan Dunn but I have not seen that one around. I would definitely like to read it, though, something a bit lengthier by the author.

A few thoughts on each tale:

All Change
This first story was quite intriguing. The protagonist is a man in his late 70s looking for something we are not quite sure what could possibly be. It’s like he has this inbuilt radar that will tell him where to look. Little by little we are fed the information we need but in such little pieces that it never really comes together until the end. A crafted built story and the ending was very eerie.

I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing
This one was very slow for me. There was a lot of talk about lobsters and mermaids and I kept wondering when it would get interesting.
Sadly, neither the story nor the characters kept me intrigued, but I did enjoy the setting and that the author tried to raise awareness to issues in Nicaragua.

The Festering
This one was powerful. It was scary, creepy, disgusting and so, so sad. I felt disturbed reading the entire thing.
It is dreadful and horrifying that so much wrongness and anger could go around in a vicious circle.

At night, When the Demons Come
Not the best one to read when you wake up at 3am and can’t go back to sleep.
This one is a post-apocalyptic tale that is terrifying and makes you wonder what you would do to survive.
The writing is magnificent as usual and I did not see that ending coming.
Again I finished the story feeling immensely sad and disturbed.

Night Fishing
This is an eerie story which approaches several sensitive matters such as inter-racial relationships, homosexuality, trying to be something you’re not, utter desperation… The last few lines left me a bit wanting after such a good set up but the rest of the story was very touching.

Knock-Knock
This one is told through the eyes of a child, which I always find extra creepy. I could never tell how old our narrator was but he was young. The author was completely successful in conveying the terror a child feels under such circumstances and the ending was, as usual, very sad but expected. At least we get hopeful hints about the kid’s future throughout the story, that was nice.

The Death Drive of Rita, Nee Carina
I wasn’t sure what to think about this one, to be honest. Disturbing as usual, especially because the line between sanity/reality and dream/invention was stretched so thin.

The Man Who Was
This story approaches homosexuality as well but in a completely different manner. The development of the story was quite well achieved both because the narrator had a completely different voice of the previous stories and the suspense was deliciously frustrating. Everytime I felt I, as our narrator, was going to get the answer to the big mystery behind the General, something would interrupt. The ending, again, left me lacking because it felt too farfetched even for fiction.

Shark! Shark!
This was probably the one I enjoyed the least. Having a completely different narrating voice was interesting but the way it was done was not. I felt it dragged on and on. I get the point that the narrator tried to give subtle hints throughout the story but reading stuff like In the middle of the room, though, is a large fish tank. As in the tank is large, but also as in it could hold a large fish. Both definitions apply. got tiresome.
The ending was surprising enough but after such a development it just wasn’t enjoyable, there was simply too much redundancy throughout the story.

Bloodcloth
This one was right up my alley, my type of horror. Again, primarily seen through the eyes of a child trying to figure out why things are the way they are and why she is not supposed to do certain things – or other people for that matter.
However, I felt too much was left unexplained and I wish it had been further developed, if not to a full novel then at least a novella. It could be awesome.

The Tilt
This story features two gay friends, one male and one female, visiting a citadelle in France.
I enjoyed the development and particularly the ironic ending that I never saw coming, which is always a pleasant surprise.

Bones of Crow
Not sure what to say about this one except it was very symbolic.
Creepy, of course but the ending made sense in a twisted way.
The notes at the end brought my attention to things I had not contemplated, besides the cancer thing which seemed obvious.

Pins and Needles
Wow. This guy was pretty messed up. And what’s even scarier is that it felt like he suffered from some kind of mental illness. To think there could be people like this out there, living their own lives and doing these little acts to get noticed. And what an ending… Perfect conclusion.

Gator Moon
Guilt leads you to do strange things.
Once again myth bleeds over to reality and what you get is a very creepy story of a haunting that just won’t go away.

Where the Salmon Run
This one takes place in Russia and is full of analogies.
Another story where myth and reality merge in the mind of a woman who has been through a very traumatic experience.
There’s a lot of talk about salmon, for sure.

Indian Giver
This tale appears to take place when the settlers took over northern american from the indians.
I think the characters were a lot more scared than me. Ok story.

A Mother’s Blood
Postpartum depression taken to an extreme. Wow.
Intense thoughts, stuff I never imagined to see on paper.

The Travellers Stay
A story where people who visit a motel never leave. Not a new theme, but interesting twist to it.
Though why anyone would stay in a hotel full of cockroaches in the first place, regardless how tired they were, is beyond me.

No More West
Much too short to account to anything relevant. Only slightly piqued my interest.

Beachcombing
Another of my favourites. A young boy can touch things and feel the emotions of those who handled them.
It is such a heartwarming and at the same time heartbreaking tale. I truly enjoyed it.

 

In the end, these stories manage to grip your attention while addressing extremely sensitive matters. They will most likely stay at the back of your mind for a while, perhaps even creep into your dreams.

All I can say is that I would love to read a longer piece by the author and that this one in particular comes highly recommended to fans of the genre.
Very hard to beat this horror anthology.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read from Dec 15 to Jan 03, 2016
GR Review

Delirium (Debt Collector #1)

Title: Delirium (Debt Collector #1)

Author: Susan Kaye Quinn

Genres: Dystopia | Fantasy | Paranormal | Science Fiction| Thriller

Length: 48 pages | 630 locations

Source: Netgalley/Amazon promotion

Format: Mobi

Rating: 3.25/5

Premise:

Lirium is a debt collector: he takes life force from folks who the powers that be consider will not be able to pay their debt in their lifetime and gives it to people who are deemed more worthy of it.
In this first episode of the Debt Collector series, we get a peek at what a Debt Collector’s life is like and start to get to know Lirium.

Review:

I was excited to meet a world where your life force actually counts as currency, and these debt collectors, who are basically leeches. Except they don’t just take, they have to give the life back, and if the taking process is exhilarating, the giving one is quite the opposite.

Most of the concepts were pretty well explained, and there’s plenty of tension. Some things related to the collecting procedure may induce addiction and it was very thrilling to read what the characters were feeling/observing.

It’s a short story, there cannot be much character development, but I did have trouble connecting with Lirium. Not so much because he is not very likeable in the first place, but mostly because I felt he rambled a bit too much. However, I did sort of understand why he came to become that person, or at least glimpsed it a bit, and the ending was somewhat helpful, at least I found it open enough to contemplate the possibility.

The cover was pretty neat. Again, I feel the synopsis gave away too much. When I am reading a dystopian tale, I prefer to discover most of what the world is about, as well as the character development, through reading the book, not the blurb.

Overall I felt the story is above average. I enjoyed the ideas, just wish they had been developed more.
I think I would like to keep reading the series, this sort of teaser piqued my interest.

This book is currently free on Amazon. Get it by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book.

Read from May 21 to May 22, 2015
GR Review

The Choice (The Returned 0.7)

Title: The Choice (The Returned 0.7)

Author: Jason Mott

Narrator: David Ledoux

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Speculative Fiction

Format: Audiobook

Length: 40 minutes

Source: Audible (free)

Rating: 1/5

 

Premise:

A man finds out that his teenage sweetheart, who mysteriously vanished when she was 17 years old, has now returned. He is faced with choosing between her and his family – wife and daughter.

Review:

I would like to think that I am usually not this negative or spoilery in my reviews, but The Choice was a bit less than an ok tale to me, and I cannot really explain why without giving a bit of the story away.

First of all, I wasn’t much of a fan of the narrator because of the constant flairs he did with his voice – it all sounded very dramatic and over the top, like he was trying to make a really lame premise sound so exciting and agonizing – which he kind of did.
Also because I could not easily tell which character was talking. For instance, shortly after we start hearing about a couple anxiously waiting for their daughter to arrive, watching her car getting closer and closer, the story shifts to a different couple who has a six-year-old daughter and it took me a while to notice this wasn’t the same one as before.
Oddly enough, I only realized it because I remember the first woman calling her husband Nathaniel and the second one called him a different name.

But the main thing was that, comparing to the previous two prequels to The Returned, this was just not as enjoyable. I felt there was a whole lot of nothing. We could say the same about the others, especially the second one, since there wasn’t much action there either; we basically got to know a bit of the past and present versions of a couple of characters. But it had a depth that this story simply did not have.

Most of the time we are hearing about 35-year-old Peter going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, wondering how his life got to how it was, because his teenage sweetheart, his first love, who had disappeared without a trace while they were madly in love is now back from the dead, along with all the other Returned.
I suppose this premise had potential, but the way it was developed simply did not cut it for me. There was a whole lot of build-up for, well, not much of a conclusion. It was the only thing possible, really.

I mean, teenage love, especially first love, is not supposed to last forever, save very few and rare exceptions, right? Especially when you have actually built a life with someone who may be flawed (so very conveniently in this case) but who loves you and you love them. And who you have a kid with.

Sorry about giving the ending away but, really, there is not much to the story. It is the first time I actually do not recommend something, even though it is free. We don’t even get to know Tracy at all! Or why she disappeared in the first place or what was done to her – now that could have been a real moment of horror.
And no one even seems to notice that Peter is twice Tracy’s age, themselves included, let alone make any comments about it or have any weight on Peter’s decision.

Just no… This was a one-dimensional story that I could have done without.

Listened to from April 29 to May 01, 2015
GR Review

The Sparrow (The Returned 0.6)

The Sparrow (The Returned 0.6)
by Jason Mott

Rating: 4/5

Premise:

In this second prequel to The Returned, we are told the story of Tatiana, a 10 year old girl from Sierra Leone, who is found near a highway by Heather and Matt Campbell. As Heather struggles to find Tatiana’s family, we can see that her husband has a very different idea about the girl and all the other Returned.

Review:

I enjoyed this prequel to The Returned more than the first one, The First. It is not action driven at all – you know this couple has found the girl and is trying to reunite her with her family, and that’s it. Instead, it focuses on the characters and their backstories, and it was just what I needed. I felt very moved and enthralled by it.

In this short story, we alternate between the present day, when Heather and Matt find Tatiana, and Tati’s life in Sierra Leone just before she and her mother were murdered. If there is one criticism I have to make about the book is that I could not clearly tell when the timeframe would switch. Maybe the narrator could have paused a bit more, I am not sure what exactly failed there.

I also wish I had known a bit more about the relationship Heather and Tatiana formed. It seemed like they grew fond of each other, at least that’s what we are told, but we never really got shown much instead of just told. While I really loved the Tatiana of the past, I could not really tell who she was in the present, even though I could tell she felt comfortable with Heather.

The story itself was lovely, in both time periods. We find that Tatiana loved her parents dearly and that she particularly revelled in creating stories with her father. The one they were creating before he left featured sparrows, hence the title of the story. In present day, we can see that Heather is a warm woman who has lost people very dear to her and therefore can understand what Tatiana and her parents must be going through, which is not the case with her husband. That guy sure brought conflict and tension to the story. He comes across as someone who is very selfish, just wants to make a profit with the situation if possible, and refuses to see the returned as people. So this short story succeeds very well as a prequel to the novel, bringing to light the different ways people reacted to the returned. We already see glimpses of how the world is dealing with situation, through the media reports. Some folks gather in churches and the government has started creating facilities to process the returned, but it all seems very voluntary, people are not forced to do anything.

The narrative had a sense of closure for Tatiana and an open future for Heather in a sort of a bittersweet way, while everyone is still struggling to come to terms with these people returning from the dead. While so short, the story sure can be thought provoking. What would you do in their place? If you found a child you knew came back from the dead, would you take them in? Are these really people? Could a loved one be amongst them? How would you deal with such a reality?

At the end of the day, it’s a short story. Considering its size, I had a very good time listening to it and recommend it. Also, it’s free! Get it from audible by clicking here.

Listened to on April 12th, 2015
GR Review

The First (The Returned 0.5)

The First (The Returned 0.5)
by Jason Mott

Rating: 3.5/5

Premise:

The First is the first (pardon the redundancy) of several prequels to Mott’s novel The Returned.
It tells us about the first returned, Edmund, who had died 1 year prior, before he and his fiancée Emily got a chance to get married. It is a short account of how the two of them, as well as the rest of the world, react to such an impossibility.

Review:

For the most part, I enjoyed listening to The First. The narrator was pretty good; he set a very fast pace throughout the entire narrative, keeping me on edge, but I did find some bits overly dramatic and the voices a tad odd, particularly Emily’s mum.
However, this is only my second experience with an audible story, so maybe I just need time to adapt.

I found the story believable for the most part. If a loved one returned from the dead, how would you react? And it’s when asking this question that I find I did not much enjoy Emily’s mum. She seemed to just accept such a bizarre thing. She had a hey, he’s back, aren’t you happy? sort of attitude. That did not seem realistic to me at all.

The other thing I did not find believable was that the guard would open up to Edmund just like that. I mean, one can sympathize with someone who is locked up without having done anything, but I did not listen to anything that made me accept that the guy would basically throw away his job like that. I just don’t understand why he crossed that line, or why he would even begin to tell him about his daughter in the first place; telling Edmund not to worry about the car, about them being tracked, also seemed overly simplistic to me.

Alas, the focus of this short story is not whether Emily and Edmund will be together and live happily ever after; it’s about that initial shock and the first reactions. When Edmund returned, he went to work as if nothing had happened. You can imagine his co-workers were baffled.
Then we hear about Emily’s reaction and her mum’s and obviously the government also gets involved. I particularly appreciated hearing about how Emily and Edmund’s relationship started getting serious, it brought a more personal feeling to the story which made all the difference.

It is an enjoyable listen and you can find this 33 minute long story for free on Audible here.

Listened to on April 02, 2015
GR Review

A Death

A Death
by Stephen King

Rating: 4.50

I was directed to an url (Thank you, Kandice!) which featured a new story by Stephen King, A Death. So, being my favourite author of all times, I of course got to it as soon as I could.

I read the first paragraph and immediately thought to myself what a master this guy is. He is able to give such a clear picture of what is going on in such a small amount of words. Unbelievable.

Now I have to admit have never been a fan of old western northern american literature, but King had me completely gripped. The story still has the King touch I enjoy so much. The little details make all the difference, and as the narrative unfolds the subtle chill factor is all there. And it is amazing to see such a narrative unfold due to a hat. A simple misplaced hat.

Now the characters… Boy, the characters. I felt so sorry for Trusdale, I was absolutely crestfallen. I actually almost cried and felt sick to my stomach; that’s the power of King’s words. All the hopelessness really got to me.
At the same time, I could not help but sympathize with the other folks. There are no bad guys in the story, just people looking for justice. And as I am sure happened frequently in those days, the urge overcame the precision in getting said justice. The people needed someone to blame for a heinous murder and the hat did all the talking.

There is so much value to this story. It is scary how the people saw themselves so civilized. It is scary how no one had any sympathy for such a ‘dim’ person, not enough to stick up for him. It’s a different kind of scary than most of King’s literature but it is just as enthralling.

The ending took me by surprise but did not take away from the rest of the story in the least.
Read this while you can; it will fill you with emotion and be over way too quickly.

Read on March 03, 2015
GR Review