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Short Story: The Tale of Leroy of the Backwoods of Vermont by Amanda McNeil

March 12, 2015 1 comment

Note: This short story, which is humorous horror, was originally published in 2011 in the online horror magazine 69 Flavors of Paranoia (volume 3, menu 13).  I recently discovered that 69 Flavors of Paranoia is now defunct.  Their website and Facebook page are completely gone.  An investigation of their twitter finds that they did not delete their twitter but they have not tweeted since evidently announcing on January 13, 2015, that they are now out of commission (view the tweet here).  They did not give advance notice to any of the authors who had been published so that we could archive our stories from their zine, nor did they create an archive themselves.  They, in fact, completely deleted their entire website; they did not even move it to a free host.  It appears that the Internet Archive primarily archived their issue table of contents and not the stories themselves.  You can view the table of contents for the issue that contained my story here.  Since I never gave up my copyright nor can the story be read in their publication anymore, I have decided to re-publish it here myself.  I don’t feel the need to resubmit it to other magazines right now, as I have other projects I am working on.  I do hope you all enjoy it.  You can view links to the rest of my publications on my Publications page

“The Tale of Leroy of the Backwoods of Vermont”
By:
Amanda McNeil

Leroy never saw no need to leave these here backwoods of Vermont, kinda like m’self.  His mama birthed him here when she was only fifteen years old in the family log cabin right up on this here hill.  Her mama done whupped her good when she found out she had a bun in the oven, but her daddy put a stop to it.  Every babe is a gift from God.  Ayuh.  That’s what he’d said.  So he was birthed, and his mama done named him Leroy.

Leroy’s folks; they didn’t trust the gubmint none.  No sir.  The gubmint’s the one that’s been slowly takin Vermont from the good, rignal born, old-timers and handin it over hook line and sinkah to them dammed librals.  Leroy’s pappy–he alwuz insisted he married Leroy’s mama on purpose, but Leroy alwuz suspected that it was more of a shot gun affair–anyhow.  He alwuz tole Leroy, “Boy! Don’t you take nothin from nobody.  We’s bettah than that.  We’s take care of ourselves n our own.  Don’t you be like them dammed useless welfare folk.”

So his mama done taught him right there at home while his pappy went to work in the mill down the road n Gram cooked n kep house.  Sometimes, Grandpappy’d take him out n teach him all’s’bout huntin and fishin and survivin without the food you kin get in a grocery store.  Ayuh.  Course, ventually, the gubmint done made him go to school, but it was only down at the gubmint school close by, and well Leroy, he warn’t never near the top of his class, if you know what I’m sayin.

I was friends with good ole Leroy back in the day.  Ayuh.  You might say that.  I’d scaped from that gubmint school soon’s they let you.  Been out a few years.  Leroy, he was gettin close to it.  Anyway, Leroy’s folks n mine, they was all on us to do our share fer the families.  I’d done took to collectin fiddleheads n beer cans an sech on the side of the road when I warn’t workin in the mill with the rest of the fellers.  That sorta thing’s alwuz more fun with a buddy along, so I done asked Leroy to join me on one sech excursion on a…..well durn.  It musta been a Sat’day afternoon, cuz I don’t recollect havin gone to church in the mornin.

So, we was out on one of them thar back roads.  Y’know, the ones that alwuz have big ole ruts in em n sometimes a farmer or a backwoodsman’ll come puttin along in his ole truck with the sharp edges, nothin like them new trucks with them pussy-ass rounded edges.  An the forest, well it just come right on up near the side of the road with just them thar drainage ditches betwixt the two.  Makes fer more interestin collectin that way.  Sometimes you see a critter or some sech.  Well, it was late spring-like.  I recollect that, cuz I was collectin me some fiddleheads.  They make a durn good supper if you cook em up right good with a big ole dollop of butter, y’know.

Anyway, so I was toolin my way along in one of them drainage ditches that run along the side of them old-fashioned dirt roads.  It was real muddy-like.  Course I didn’t care cuz you gotta wursh the fiddleheads anyway, an I had me some real good boots.  Leroy, he was pokin his way along on the other side of the road.  He done got a bit further down than me when he call out to me.  “Hey, Bobby!”  He done shout it just like that.  “Hey, Bobby!”

“Yeah, what?” I done called back to him.

“Lookee here.  Lookit what I found.”

I sighed n looked up expectin a whole bunch of nothin.  Leroy, he warn’t exactly strong in the head department, if you know what I’m sayin.  Well, thar stood Leroy.  He was a scrawny kid, Leroy was.  Ayuh.  Scrawny n tall topped off with a shock of red hair, but not the tempmint to match.  Anyhow, thar stood Leroy holdin up a squirrel by the tail.  This squirrel, he wuz the deadest durn thing you ever done saw.  I mean his middle was squirshed flat.  His head and hind end looked like two hills with a valley in-between, an little bits of guts all full of road dirt was stuck to the poor thing’s middle.  I done shook my head, cuz, y’know, guts ain’t never a fun thing to see, an I said, “Leroy! Whatchoo doin pickin up the road kill?”

“Road kill?” He let out a he-haw kinda laugh an bent forward.  “This ain’t no road kill. This here’s supper!”

“Leroy, you damn fool!”  I went back to my bizness, searchin fer the good fiddleheads.  “T’ain’t right to eat roadkill.  Them critters done suffered enough gettin squirshed to death without you hackin em up and makin one of yer god-awful stews out of em.  Sides.  Poor critter’s covered in dirt!”

“Bobby, you know better than to waste perfectly good food that you don’t got to pay good money fer.”

I done fixed my gaze back up at him.  He was standin there with his feet planted a good couple feet apart lookin the most stubborn I ever done seen him.  “I don’t believe you will.  Even you ain’t that stupid.”

“It ain’t stupid to eat food God done left in the middle of the road fer ya,” his forehead had got all wrinkled and sech.

I dropped the fiddlehead I’d done plucked into my paper bag.  “Aw, now you’re just joshin me.  You know better than to eat it now.  I can see you thinkin about it.”

Leroy done stomped over from down the road so’s he was leanin down an lookin in my face real close-like.  “I’ll go eat it right now, an you kin watch me.”

Well, it ain’t easy to get good entertainment up in these here hills, so I said I’d come watch.  Leroy figured he’d just tell his mama he done got hungry and et early.  My place was the closest to whar we were, y’see.  Ayuh.  This place rightchere.  He done cooked it up right thar on that same stove.  My mama was out in the garden, an my pappy was over visitin his pappy.  I called out to my mama that we was hungry and was gonna fix us up some of the food we done found on the road.  She just sorta grunted at me.  Mama warn’t never much on words.  I got myself around and warshed and done cooked my fiddleheads up in that butter like I done tole you before right good while Leroy, he went out back to skin and prep that durn squirrel.  He come back in, an he started fricasseein it with some gravy mah mama had left over in the fridge whilst I set myself down and ate me some of them nice buttery fiddleheads.

You warnt to learn how to cook it?  I can teach you later.  Right, right, first Leroy.

So Leroy he done make himself this fricassee.  I was gettin all ready to be mad at him for wastin my mama’s gravy when he done set himself down with a bowl and a spoon, and he just started spoonin that squirrel into his mouth like it was the best dish at the church potluck.  The whole time he was starin at me with this…..weird grin.  Like he was some coyote who knew the farmer left the chicken coop open, n he was about to get himself an easy all you can eat buffet.  I got all froze like watchin that smile in that gaunt face of his.  Watchin him eat that thar fricassee.

His spoon, it clanked at the bottom of the bowl, an he done lifted the bowl up and licked it clean.  He put that bowl down, n he said, he said, “See? I done tole you.  Ain’t nothin wrong with eatin a critter, no sir no way.”

I shook my head.  “I still say. T’ain’t right,” an I got up and started to warsh the dishes when Leroy, he made this funny sound.  Kinda like he got himself stuck in a zipper.  I turned around, n thar’s Leroy, standin next to the table, holdin his bowl with a funny look on his face.  I mean, his face was all twisted up.  One eyebrow up here, another down there, his mouth in a weird twisty line, his nose wrinkled up.

“Leroy!” I snapped.  “What’s wrong with you?  If you gonna puke up that damn fricassee, you better get out the back door and out of my mama’s kitchen!”

An that.  That’s when he sorta half-pointed at his stomach.  It was wigglin.  All on its own.  Kinda like how a lady with a bun in the oven, her tummy will wiggle when the babe moves around?  Well that’s what his was doin, only his belly was flat.

Then Leroy, he done scream and double over.  He started screamin out, “Help me! Help me, Bobby! Oh it hurts; it hurts!”

I dropped the dishrag, right there on the floor, right next to the sink.  I done grabbed him an tried to help him stand up.  “I gotcher,”  I told him.  “I gotcher.”

His eyes, they got all wide like a little kid’s do when he done first see a scary movie.  I dunno why, but I looked down.  Inside his stomach, thar was a shape of a squirrel.  I mean you could see the outline of his head all’s the way down to his fluffy little tail.  Seein that, well, I done lost my grip on Leroy, and he fell down on the floor, writhin in pain.  He looked just like a snake.  Ayuh.  He let out the biggest durn yell I ever heard.  I think the only time I ever heard one close was that time Frank down the road done got his foot stuck in a bear trap.  My mama, she must’ve started to yell an come runnin then, but I didn’t notice.  No way, no how.  Cuz right then a squirrel covered with blood an mucous an bile an whatever all else was in Leroy’s stomach done come bustin out of his gut.  Bits o’ Leroy hung from his teeth, an his beady black eyes done give me the once-over.  I ain’t never seen nothin so frightenin in all my born days then nor since.  No way.  That squirrel, well then that squirrel, it shot me a look.  That look said, it said, “Tit for tat.  Tit for tat.”  Then it skedaddled on out the door.

Leroy, he was writhin on the floor, graspin at that hole in his stomach with one hand an reachin out to me with the other.  Well, I didn’t know what to do.  Just then, my mama, she come runnin in an see the blood an guts all over her nice, clean floor.  Then she sees Leroy with his guts pourin out of him, n she starts screamin.  “What done this? What happened, Bobby? Tell me what happened!”

“It was a squirrel, mama.  A squirrel et its way out of him!”

Leroy, he was slowin down with the movin an the writhin, n he let out a gasp n collapsed back on the floor.  His eyes hangin open.

My mama.  She believed me that a squirrel done it, but we knew them thar cops from down the hill wouldn’t, so we just tole them that Leroy done gutted himself like them Japanese soldier fellers do sometimes.  I dunno if they believed us or not.  Truth be tole, no one from down off the hill missed Leroy that much.

But us?  Us good ole-fashioned Vermont folk up on the hill?  Oh we remember Leroy. Ayuh.  And that, that’s why not even the mangiest, strangest lady or feller up on this hill, no matter how hungry, no matter how skeered of the gubmint, they won’t never eat no roadkill.

© Amanda McNeil 2011

2015’s Accepted Review Copies!

January 24, 2015 2 comments

Here on Opinions of a Wolf, I open up to submissions of review copies in November and December.  I predetermine a number I will accept to be reviewed the following year.  You can view more about my review process here.  You may view the accepted review copies post for 2014 by clicking on the year.  For 2015, I decided to accept 6 books.

This year, 37 review requests were submitted.  This means I only accepted 16% of the submitted books.  Put another way, each book only had a 16% chance of being accepted.

Authors submitting to me were 59% male, 38% female, and 3% preferred not to say.  Last year only 26% of the submitting authors were female.  I am pleased at the increase for two reasons.  I’m a female author myself and like to support other female authors, but also the world is approximately half female, and I’d like for my submissions to reflect that.

14% of authors submitting self-identified as GLBTQA! I am really pleased at this, as I actively sought out authors identifying this way.  However, 19% of the books were identified as having significant GLBTQA content.  This means that more than just GLBTQA people are featuring GLBTQA characters, and that makes me really happy.

Graphical depiction of genres submitted

The above graph depicts the genres submitted to me.  I only accept the genres listed in the graph.  You can easily see that scifi was by far the most submitted genre, with 35% of the books.  This is followed by thriller and horror with 24% and 16%, respectively.  Nonfiction was clearly the least submitted, with only 6% of the books being any type of nonfiction at all.  Next year, I would like to see more variety in my submissions as far as genres go.  More cozies, paranormal or western romance, and nonfiction.

When I was doing my initial pass through of the books submitted to me, I created a document of blinded book summaries.  This means I only saw the summaries of the books, no other data, not even the title.  They were also randomized so I had no idea which were submitted when.  Using this technique, I eliminated half of the books.  In the final pass through, things like gender of the author, genre, and GLTBQA content were taken into consideration to give me a more diverse reading list for the year.  I also took into consideration whether or not the author was willing to participate in a giveaway, as well as the format of the book being offered, particularly when doing a tie-breaker.  For instance, all other things equal, if one book was willing for me to host a giveaway and another wasn’t, the one with the giveaway won.

I provide these stats for two reasons.  First to give everyone an idea of the competition the accepted books were up against.  It’s an accomplishment to be accepted for review here!  Second, I want those considering submitting to me this November and December to look at these stats and take them into consideration when submitting.  Consider the fact that I don’t want to read only scifi all year.  If you have a nonfiction or a cozy waiting to be reviewed, it has a higher chance of being accepted.  But enough stats!  It’s time to get to the accepted review copies!

The review copies are listed below in alphabetical order by title.  The authors of the accepted review copies are half female and half male.  One of the authors identifies as GLBTQA, and one of the books has GLBTQA content.  Summaries are pulled from GoodReads or Amazon, since I have yet to read them myself and so cannot write my own.  These books will be read and reviewed here in 2015, although what order they are read in is entirely up to my whim at the moment.

cover_the everlastingThe Everlasting: Da Eb’Bulastin
By: Rasheedah Prioleau
Genre: Horror
Summary:
After another incident of sleepwalking, Aiyana Gamelle wakes up lying under the stars on the Beach of Sa’Fyre Island, an island off the cost of South Carolina with a rich Gullah and Native American history.

Knowing these incidents of sleepwalking have something to do with her long awaited transition into queen of the island, Aiyana shrugs them off as little more than a nuisance to be expected since her lineage leads to a mysterious African goddess.

Aiyana moves forward with plans to host a week long festival that will end with her succession to the island throne, but the murder of an important guest and the passing of her grandmother threaten to bring the festivities to a screeching halt. Then Aiyana learns that the transition involves an unwanted possession and the revelation of a dark family curse.

cover_markMark of the Harbinger: Fall of Eden
By: Chris R. McCarthy
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Stranded from Earth for five-thousand-years with no hope of rescue, a deep space colonization ship named Eden becomes the new home for humanity. Half its population lives a life of luxury, while the other live in destitution. When a man wakes aboard the ship without memories, he must uncover the clues of not only his identity but his origin.

With the help of a female rebel he becomes embroiled in the plot to overthrow an oppressive regime, and forced to decide if doing so could cause the extinction of the human race.

cover_mediatorpattern2The Mediator Pattern
By: J.D. Lee
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Some ​people wait an entire lifetime for purpose. Some don’t find it at all. Some spend an eternity searching for paradise… for a Utopia. But sometimes purpose and paradise come at a cost.

BelisCo-San Jose boasts all ​the latest breakthrough technology: the fax machine, the electric typewriter, the tri-ox system transport vehicle and the newest technological breakthrough, the porta-fax. With innovations ​galore, BelisCo-San Jose is a modern-day Utopia—perfect​ly designed, complete with adult-only zones, smoking and non-smoking zones, cannabis, cigarettes, food, work, income, and reliable, clean transportation—all provided by BelisCo.

But things are not entirely as they seem in San Jose. It is here that jaded, chain-smoking Marcus Metiline’s world is turned upside down. ​After taking a mediation job with the ​ubiquitous BelisCo and meeting a peculiar doctor beyond the city’s zoned limits, Marcus’s world quickly unravels.​ It all starts with flashes of déjà vu and memories that have gone astray. ​As Marcus searches for answers to the increasingly strange events around him, it’s not long before he discovers that the fate of the world rests ​in him.

He’s been told exactly what he needs to do… But is something bigger moving him along?

cover_porcelainPorcelain: A Novelette
By: William Hage
Genre: Horror
Summary:
Out near the Pine Barrens in New Jersey sits the Whateley Bed & Breakfast, home of a wide collection of knick-knacks and antiques for its guests to view, including a beautifully ornate porcelain doll. However, after the Whateley’s latest guest purchases the doll as a gift, a horrifying series of nightmarish events begins to unfold.

cover_setadriftSet Adrift
By: D.S. Kenn
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Summary:
Terric Blythe is a hybrid demon and wolf shifter whose life has largely been spent in anonymous cities, moving among people while keeping them at arm’s length. The list of those who matter to him is short, but when he cares, he does completely. He has allowed himself to love the one person who truly knows him.

Jordyn Kinsley is an achingly beautiful vampire, haunted by her past. Choices and chance brought her into a world filled with evil, tragedy, and loss. At her lowest point, she encountered Terric. She learned to trust him, her demon with the heart of a wolf.

Their anonymous life in New York made it easy for Jordyn to isolate herself. Realizing she needed a change, Terric found their new home in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The tip of Cape Cod, where paranormal beings live easily among humans, is filled with closely guarded secrets. As Jordyn begins to heal and discover her strength, it’s clear she will one day be ready to stand on her own. The wolf must decide if he will return to existing in solitude or if he will follow her lead and explore what life has to offer.
Set Adrift is a story of love and loss, of deeply abiding friendship, and of sacrifice. The Immortal Isle series will grab ahold of your heart and have you falling in love with the inhabitants of this small coastal town.

cover_Unreal cityUnreal City
By: A.R. Meyering
Genre: Horror
Summary:
Sarah Wilkes is desperate enough to do anything, even make a deal with the devil—or in her case, a familiar spirit.

After her twin Lea is murdered, Sarah finds college life impossible and longs to escape. Everything changes when Sarah realizes a familiar spirit is stalking her and offers to transport her to the terrifying and fantastical realm of Unreal City. The payment for admission? A taste of her blood. Unable to resist, Sarah is drawn into an alternate reality that is a dream come true…at first.

The deeper she explores Unreal City, the more Sarah’s reality becomes warped. Death surrounds her as people are murdered in the same fashion as her sister. She has no choice but to continue her visits to Unreal City, which grows darker by the day.

Is finding out the truth worth becoming part of Unreal City forever?

 

 

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne)

January 9, 2015 2 comments

cover_hauntingSummary:
Dr. Montague is a scholar of the occult, and he invites three other people to stay with him in Hill House, which is notorious for being haunted.  There’s jovial Theodora, timid Eleanor, and the future heir of the house, Luke. What starts as a light-hearted adventure quickly turns sinister in this horror classic.

Review:
I actually started reading this audiobook way back in September for the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge.  It’s only 7.5 hours long, so I thought it’d be a quick read.  I think the fact that it wasn’t demonstrates quite well how not drawn into the story I was.  This is a classic haunted house tale that perhaps might not work for the modern reader, depending on how much horror they generally imbibe.

This is going to be a quick review because I honestly don’t have too much to say about the book.  Four people arrive at a house. Things appear normal, except one of them, Eleanor, clearly is a bit more emotionally unstable than the rest.  She is, for instance, shocked that anyone is interested in her or asks her questions.  She also has trouble with her own identity, such as knowing for sure what she likes to eat.  Odd things start to happen in the house, and because Eleanor is odd, the others aren’t sure if it’s the house doing them or Eleanor herself.  Eleanor becomes overly attached to Theodora. Drama ensues.

None of the house horror scenes really got to me, because frankly I’ve seen worse in plenty of other horror I read.  I do love the genre.  The parts that actually disturbed me were when the others in the household were inexplicably cruel to Eleanor.  That dynamic of an odd woman randomly tossed in with strangers who proceed to be mean to her in a highschoolish way held my interest more than the house did.  People and their cruelty are so much more frightening than a haunted house.  I understand that the book is sort of leaving it up to the reader to wonder if the house or the people really drive Eleanor crazy, but frankly I think the ending removes all question on this point.

Similarly, there are definitely some undertones in the Theodora/Eleanor relationship that indicates they might possibly have had a fling early on and then Theodora abruptly distances herself from Eleanor when she gets too clingy.  None of this is said outright, however it is heavily implied that Theodora’s roommate back home is her lover who she had a quarrel with, and she and Eleanor establish a close bond early on in the book.  The problem is this all stays subtext and is never brought out in the open of the book.  I get it that this book was published in 1959 so it probably had to stay subtext and was most likely shocking to a reader in the 50s.  But to me, a modern reader, it felt like the book kept almost getting interesting and then backing off from it.  The combination of the former issue and this one meant that I was left feeling unengaged and uninterested.  Basically, I feel that the book didn’t go quite far enough to be shocking, horrifying, or titillating.

The audiobook narration by Bernadette Dunne was excellent as always, and the main reason I kept listening rather than just picking up a copy of the book and speed reading it.  I love listening to her voice.

Overall, this classic was boundary pushing when it was first published but it might not come across that way to a modern reader.  Readers who read a lot of modern horror might find this book a bit too tame for their tastes.  Those interested in the early works of the genre will still enjoy the read, as will modern readers looking for horror lite.  Readers looking for the rumored GLBTQ content in this book will most likely be disappointed by the subtlety of it, although those interested in early representation in literature will still find it interesting.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

2014’s 5 Star Reads!

January 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Since 2011, I’ve been dedicating a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year.  I not only thoroughly enjoy assembling the 5 star reads posts, but I also go back to them for reference periodically.  It’s just useful and fun simultaneously!  Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.  You may view the 5 star reads for 2011, 2012, and 2013 by clicking on the years.

With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2014!

A bone hand holds chopsticks.
A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts

By: Ying Chang Compestine
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: Horror, Short Story Collection
Themes: Chinese history, food
Summary:
According to Chinese tradition, those who die hungry or wrongfully come back to haunt the living.  Compestine presents here eight different ghost stories, each correlated along with a course in a banquet and richly steeped in Chinese culture and history.
Current Thoughts:
A cute book that I think of fondly.  I really need to make at least one of the recipes in this book!  This short story collection is presented in just the way that I most enjoy.  Different stories surrounding one unifying theme.  Plus, I learned something.
Full Review

A Japanese warrior woman's face has the shadow of cat ears behind her. The book's title and author name are over this picture.
Fudoki

By: Kij Johnson
Publication Date: 2003
Publisher: Tor
Genre: Fantasy
Themes: the meaning of family, identity, duty
Summary:
An aging empress decides to fill her empty notebooks before she must get rid of them along with all of her belongings to retire to the convent, as is expected of her.  She ends up telling the story of Kagaya-hime, a tortoiseshell cat who loses her cat family in a fire and is turned into a woman by the kami, the god of the road.
Current Thoughts:
Warrior woman who was once a cat. Set in ancient Japan. What is not to love about that? My only regret is I waited so long to read this book.  It languished on my TBR pile for far too long.
Full Review

A woman's hair is barely visible on the left-hand side of a book cover. The book's title and author are in red against a black background.
Gone Girl

By: Gillian Flynn
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Broadway Books
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary
Themes: be careful who you marry, not everything is as it first appears
Summary:
On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home from working at the bar he co-owns with his sister to find his wife gone. The door is wide open, furniture is overturned, and the police say there is evidence that blood was cleaned up from the floor of the kitchen.  Eyes slowly start to turn toward Nick as the cause of her disappearance, while Nick slowly starts to wonder just how well he really knows his wife.
Current Thoughts:
It’s hard to give thoughts without revealing spoilers so let me just say that I still love the twist in this book, and I found the writing style to be perfect for a thriller.  It’s a book that really curled my toes, and I’m glad it exists and has become so popular, and I’m looking forward to reading more Gillian Flynn this year.
Full Review

Woman in short wedding dress and black boots holds a sword. A dog in a bow tie is nearby.
My Big Fat Demon Slayer Wedding

By: Angie Fox
Publication Date: 2013
Publisher: Indie, Self-Published
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: weddings are hell but lifetime partnership is amazing
Summary:
Lizzie Brown, once preschool teacher turned demon slayer, is extremely excited to be marrying her true love, Dimitri Kallinikos, who just so happens to also be a magical shape-changing griffin.  And she’s also fine with letting her adoptive mother run the whole show, even though her mother wants to make the wedding into a week-long event.  She’s not so ok with having to tell her mother about being a demon slayer, though. Or about integrating her mother’s posh southern lady lifestyle with her recently discovered blood-related grandmother’s biker witch gang.  She’s pleasantly surprised that her mother found a goth-style mansion to rent for the wedding.  Maybe the magical and the non-magical can integrate fairly well, after all.  But then it becomes evident that someone in the wedding is trying to kill her.  Plus, they find demonic images around the property….
Current Thoughts:
I read this right after I got engaged, so I was in just the right frame of mind for an urban fantasy featuring a wedding.  But even if I hadn’t just gotten engaged before reading it, I still would have loved it.  This book knocks it out of the park with everything that makes urban fantasy delightful.  A normal event kicked up a notch by fantastical characters and happenings.  It also communicates the odd combination of the horror that is wedding planning and the pure joy that is finding your lifelong partner.  Plus it’s hilarious and romantic.
Full Review

A woman's jawline and neck are viewed through a shattered glass.
Still Missing

By: Chevy Stevens
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary
Themes:  be careful who you trust, hope and healing
Summary:
Annie O’Sullivan extremely forcefully declares in her first therapy session that she doesn’t want her therapist to talk back to her; she just wants her to listen.  And so, through multiple sessions, she slowly finds a safe space to recount her horrible abduction from an open house she was running as an up-and-rising realtor, her year spent as the prisoner of her abductor, and of her struggles both to deal with her PTSD now that she’s free again and to deal with the investigation into her abduction.
Current Thoughts:
This book features a realistic depiction of PTSD plus it scared the pants off of me.  Still does if I think about it too much.
Full Review

A sunset near tropical trees and a mountain range
A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown

By: Julia Scheeres
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Nonfiction – History
Themes: understanding a tragedy, when spirituality goes awry
Summary:
On November 18, 1978, 918 people, mostly Americans, died on a commune named Jonestown and on a nearby airstrip in Guyana.  The world came to know this event as that time that crazy cult committed mass suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid.  However, that belief is full of inaccuracies.  Scheeres traces the origins of Jonestown, starting with its leader, Jim Jones, and his Christian church in Indiana, tracing its development into the People’s Temple in California, and then into Jonestown in Guyana.  Multiple members’ life stories are traced as well, including information from their family members who, perplexed, watched their families give everything over to Jones.
Current Thoughts:
I am so glad I read this.  I feel so much more informed and knowledgeable about Jonestown.  It’s sad to me that the cultural myth of Jonestown is so different from what actually happened, particularly with regards to the mass suicide, when in many cases it was murder not suicide. This book presents an event that would be easy to brush off as “those people were just crazy” in a way that humanizes it and makes it more real.
Full Review

10 Last-Minute Ebook Gifts For Under $5

December 11, 2014 2 comments

It’s time for the second gift list here at Opinions of a Wolf (see the first, 10 Non-book Gifts for Book Lovers here).  I thought with Hanukkah next week and some holiday parties already happening that it would be interesting to provide a list of cheap ebooks.  Ebooks make great last-minute gifts, as you can purchase them literally on your phone on the way to the party and have them arrive in your recipient’s email with them none the wiser that you waited until the last minute.  Since you can schedule when the gift email arrives, no one needs to know that you scheduled it only 5 minutes ago.  Ebooks are also great because you can find them for very cheap but a reader who loves ebooks doesn’t care how much the ebook cost.  A book is a book is a book!  I’m not just going to tell you a list of cheap ebooks though.  I’m also going to give you a little reader’s advisory–tell you who the book would be best for.  Without further ado, here is the list, in order of cost from least to most.

For the lover of YA who enjoys a touch of fantasy:

A bunette wearing a white dress with blue embroidery gazes at a blue pixie. The book's title and author's name are on the cover in blue and white lettering.
Initiate by Tara Maya
$0
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi.  The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing.  Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance.  But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi.  Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers.  But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
This is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia.  The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult.  See my full review here.

For the urban fantasy reader without a lot of time:

Woman with short hair in a red shirt in profile.
Cursed by S. A. Archer
$0
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned.  Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.
This fast-paced novella is perfect for the reader without a lot of time who still wants to get some urban fantasy into their day.  See my full review here.

For the lover of the style of classic scifi:
A dime sits on a black background between the title and author name, both of which are on a marble background.
The Coin by Glen Cadigan
99 cents
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012.  The only thing is, it’s 1989.  A note from his uncle states that the coin is important.  Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them.  As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
This novella is a fun new take on the storytelling methods of classic scifi.  The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising.  See my full review here.

For zombie fans who enjoy a touch of romance:

Brain in a bowl.
Hungry For You by A. M. Harte
$2.50
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.
This short story collection is different and fun simultaneously.  It will appeal to zombie pans, particularly women.  See my full review here.

For the reader of lesbian romance who loves fairy tale retellings:

Girl's hair with flowers and ribbons braided into it.
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel by Elora Bishop
$2.99
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel.  Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day.  The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship.  She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into.  Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel.  Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales.  The novellas may be mixed and matched.  See my full review here.

For the reader of women’s fiction with an interest in Scotland:

cover_emotional geology
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
$2.99
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work.  After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art.  Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.
This is an emotional, challenging, touching read for fans of contemporary fiction with a heart.  See my full review here.

For the horror fan:

Eyes behind a beaker.Gargoyles by Alan Nayes
$2.99
Amoreena is determined to be a doctor and help people.  She’s a hard-working, scholarship student on the pre-med track in her third year of college.  Unfortunately, her single mother just got diagnosed with metastatic cancer and lost her health insurance.  With no time for a job and no money for the bills, Amoreena is grateful when she is approached by a surrogacy clinic to be a surrogate for $50,000 with payments upon successful insemination and each trimester.  But after she’s successfully inseminated, Amoreena becomes increasingly concerned that something is not quite right with her baby.
If your horror fan loves Rosemary’s Baby and is particularly freaked out by evil pregnancies, they will love this book. See my full review here.

For the lover of noir and urban fantasy:

Man in a hat standing next to a Europeanish buildingOne Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett
$2.99
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them.  He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire.  When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series.  See my full review here.

For the reader of thrillers and fans of Gone Girl:

Title against a foggy image of a man walking in the woodsI’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
$3.03
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot.  He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee.  When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
This is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character.  This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for.  See my full review here.

For readers of multi-generational family dramas and GLBTQ lit:

Road during a rainstorm.The Value Of Rain by Brandon Shire
$4.99
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert.  Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.
This is one of those genre-defying books.  Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic.  See my full review here.

I hope this list helps you find a read for yourself or a gift for another.  Feel free to ask questions about any of these books or ask for recommendations for books for particular recipients in the comments!

Book Review: Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 28, 2014 1 comment

Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin BeckerSummary:
Jack Barnes once was a college professor, but now he’s a zombie.  A zombie who can think.  Think, but not talk.  He can, however, still write.  So he keeps a memoir of his quest to gather other thinking zombies and bring their case for equality to their creator, the man who started the whole zombie outbreak.

Review:
I picked this up during the height of the zombie craze in the used book basement of a local bookstore for dirt cheap.  (It looked brand new but only cost a couple of dollars).  I’m glad I got it so cheap, because this book failed to deliver the sympathetic zombies I was looking for.

The idea of thinking zombies who challenge the question of what makes us human is interesting and is one multiple authors have explored before.  It’s not easy to make cannibalizing corpses empathetic.  Zombies are so naturally not empathetic that to craft one the reader can relate to is a challenge.  Without at least one zombie character the reader empathizes with, though, this whole idea of maybe zombies are more than they seem will fail.  And this is where this book really flounders.  Jack was a horrible person, and he’s a terrible zombie.  And this is a real problem when he narrates a whole book whose plot revolves around zombies demanding equal treatment.  Jack is a snob, through and through.  It feels as if every other sentence out of his mouth is him looking down upon someone or something.  This would be ok if he grew over the course of the novel.  If his new zombie state taught him something about walking in another person’s shoes.  But no.  He remains exactly the same throughout the book.  He has zero character growth away from the douchey snobby professor who looks down on literally everyone, including those within his own circle.  This isn’t a mind it’s fun or even enlightening to get inside of.  It’s just annoying.  As annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard.

The plot is ok.  Jack gathers other thinking zombies and heads for Chicago to find the man who created the zombie virus and convince him to advocate for them.  Their standoff is interesting and entertaining.  But the ending beyond this standoff is unsatisfying.

It also bugs me that this is a memoir written by this guy but it is never clear how this memoir made it into the reader’s hands.  With a fictional memoir, I need to know how I supposedly am now reading something so personal.  I also had trouble suspending my disbelief that a slow zombie managed to have time to write such descriptive passages crouched in a corner at night.

Overall, this is an interesting concept that is poorly executed with an unsympathetic main character.  Recommended that readers looking for a zombie memoir pick up Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by SG Browne instead (review).

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Book Review: From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 9, 2014 3 comments

cover_buick8Summary:
When Pennsylvania state troopers are called in for an abandoned car, they expect it to be a simple report and transfer to impound. But instead they find a car that is slightly off.  It looks like a Buick 8 but isn’t quite one.  Plus its engine by all laws of mechanics should not work.  The troopers agree to make the Buick their responsibility, putting it in a shed and keeping an eye on it.  Because it’s not just a car. It might not be a car at all.

Review:
I was told before I read this by other Stephen King fans that it’s not one of King’s better books, but I would like to read everything he has written, so I picked it up anyway.  This is a book that builds thrills slowly and gently to a conclusion that may not seem satisfying to many readers.

The biggest thing that I think took the thrills out of the book for me is that I am not a car person.  When the narrator was describing the Buick 8, I had no idea any of it was off at all, so it didn’t give me the creeps.  When they first describe the engine, for instance, I was surprised they were freaked out by it because it just seemed like a mysterious engine to me….like all engines.  I definitely think there are more thrills to be found here if the reader is a car person.  A car person will get caught up in what’s awry with the Buick, and see it as the mystery that the state troopers recognize it to be immediately.

What this book excels at is what King always excels at.  The book establishes the place and feeling of rural Pennsylvania beautifully.  The characters all speak in accurate and easily readable dialogue.  There is a large assortment of characters, and they are easy to tell apart.  The timeline of the book is carefully selected for just the right tempo for the book.  These are all wonderful things that kept me reading and made me engaged with characters I might not normally identify with.

Some readers might find that the plot and thrills move too slowly for them.  The Buick has issues gradually over time, and the conclusion they build to might not feel like a satisfying conclusion for all readers.  Personally, I enjoy slower moving thrillers, so this worked for me, but it might not work for all.  Similarly, I believe the ending will be more satisfying to those who have read the entire Dark Tower series than to those who have not.  What is going on with the Buick is more understandable and a bigger deal if the reader is aware of all of the context provided by the Dark Tower.

Overall, if you are a car person who will appreciate a car that is slightly off and also enjoys slowly moving thrillers enhanced by a strong sense of place, this will be a great read for you.  Similarly, those who have read the Dark Tower may be interested in this book due to some possible connections to that series.  If neither of those descriptions fit you, you may want to pick up a different Stephen King book for your thrills.  He certainly has plenty to choose from.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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