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Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury

March 15, 2017 2 comments

Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray BradburySummary:
Dinosaur Tales is a Magnificent Collection of Famous Tales by RAY BRADBURY, One of America’s Best-Loved and Best-Selling Authors. In This Elegantly Designed and Illustrated Book, Bradbury Presents All of His Dinosaur Stories in One Volume! “I have an idea that Bradbury’s work would have given Edgar Allan Poe a peculiar satisfaction to have written them himself.” -Somerset Maugham

Review:
Ray Bradbury clearly loves dinosaurs. This collection of short stories just about dinosaurs was obviously a labor of love. The introduction to the book where Bradbury discusses at length his deep love of dinosaurs and complete disbelief that anyone could possibly not love them is one of the best parts of the book and totally sets the tone. Heck, I love dinosaurs myself but even I found his tone infectious and sent my own love soaring higher than I thought possible.

The collection consists of 5 short stories and a poem. The short stories range from a little boy who wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up to a time-traveling business that obviously goes awry to a lonely sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse for a friend. They alternate between hilarity and bitter-sweet, all touched with pure Americana. In news that surprises no one, the poem was my least favorite but I didn’t hate it (and that’s strong praise for a poem). All of the stories (and poem) are lovingly illustrated by a team of illustrators, with each one receiving its own unique style. It’s definitely a book that I think is well worth owning in print, and it’s taken up residence on my shelf as a reminder that I don’t always dislike short stories. They’ve just gotta be the right ones.

Recommended to dinosaur fans, and to quote Bradbury, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: Bits of Bliss – Volume 1 by Andrea Trask (Series, #1)

Book Review: Bits of Bliss - Volume 1 by Andrea Trask (Series, #1)Summary:
A collection of nine erotica short stories, mostly featuring elements of fantasy.  Covering everything from fairy tale retellings to vampires to a bit of scifi.

Review:
This erotica short story collection was quite hit or miss for me.  The stories that excelled were creative and unique, but the stories that did not featured some problematic elements that prevented me from enjoying the erotica.

When I read a short story collection, I always individually rate the stories.  My rating of the collection as a whole is just the average of those ratings.  The highest rating any story in this collection received from me was four stars.  There were three stories I gave four stars, and two of them were the first two stories in the collection, so it definitely started out strong for me.  One is a F/F story featuring a woman who is also a flower (or a flower who is also a woman).  It is poetic and heart-quickening.  The second story features a sentient house that has missed its owner and demands attention.  This made me laugh, and I enjoyed the oddity.  It read like a lighter-hearted, erotica version of dark fantasies where there is an evil house–this one is just horny.  The third four star read was enjoyable for a different reason.  It’s a scifi erotica where two lovers are in a spaceship that is running out of air.  They decide to make love, even though they will die quicker.  It was so heart-breaking and beautiful that I wished it was a whole book.

Four of the stories received three stars.  In each case I felt the story either didn’t take an idea far enough or the story wasn’t long enough to tell the story.  Take it farther, and these all could be just as good as the first three I discussed.

Unfortunately, there were two stories that were big clunkers for me, with each receiving only one star, and they both had almost the same problem.  “Hunting Hound” has a woman mating with a werewolf.  She meets him when she is out riding, and they start making out against a tree, with her a willing participant.  Then this happens.

“Stop” she said, and his face darted in toward her own with a low growl. “Too late to stop.” (loc 1650)

He proceeds to penetrate her.  There is nothing sexy about a woman asking a man to stop and him claiming it’s too late and proceeding to rape her.  It is never too late to stop, and it’s never too late for a partner to change their mind.  It really bothers me that this type of scene is still being presented as sexy.  I know everyone gets off to their own thing, but this is such a clear scene of consent being removed and then ignored that I just cannot say to each their own in this case.  I also want to mention that the book blurb claims that this story features “consensual sexual violence” but it definitely did not read that way to me.

“Summer Nights,” which also received one star, has a similar problem.  This story features a woman who keeps seeing the same mysterious man at parties.  She goes out to the woods behind the house at one of these parties, and he follows her.  She finds out he’s a vampire.  She stands in the woods talking to him, holding a wineglass, when this happens:

“he struck like a train, his swinging backhand sending the wineglass flying toward the treeline, and I faintly registered the tinkling shatter of it, perhaps hitting a rock, or a fallen log.” (loc 5654)

She finds the fact that he just hit a glass out of her hand to be massively sexy and proceeds to bang him.  This is, again, something I feel like I shouldn’t need to say, but there is nothing sexy about a partner violently hitting something out of your hand.  Nothing. Sexy. This is not a sign that oh man she should totally bang this vampire. It is a sign she should run because she is alone in the woods with a violent motherfucker.  This could have so easily been foreplay if, instead of hitting a glass out of her hand, he said something like, “I want you now,” and he gently took the glass from her hand and tossed it away.  Or if she said, “I want you so much,” and tossed the glass over her shoulder.  It would be so easy to have the same erotica about a powerful vampire alone in the woods with a woman without it turning into problematic territory.

I truly wish these last two stories were not in the collection.  The rest of the collection is creative, features some fun queer content (the F/F story and a gender-swapping story), and in the case of the best three stories, has some unique ideas.  Where the collection flounders is, interestingly enough, with the two most mainstream stories that take the agency out of the hands of the women in them and instead retreats to the tired idea of violent men being sexy.

Overall, if a reader is looking for some quick fantasy erotica, most of the stories in this book will satisfy this need, although I would recommend skipping over “Hunting Hound” and “Summer Nights.”  The reader who enjoys the other stories for their uniqueness will most likely be disappointed by the “sexy violence” in these two.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

September 16, 2014 11 comments

A bone hand holds chopsticks.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.

Review:
I picked this up because I had previously read Compestine’s book Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party (review) and when I looked up what else she had written, I was deeply intrigued by the premise.  This is a strong short story collection, featuring diverse yet related short stories, each beautifully written.

The eight short stories are organized into appetizers, main courses, and desserts.  The titles are for the food being served that course, such as “Tea Eggs” or “Long-life Noodles.”  The food mentioned in the title also appears somewhere in the story as a key part of the plot.  It’s a gorgeous way to organize the short stories and makes them also feel like diverse parts of a whole.

The short stories are mostly set in 20th century China, but a couple feature 20th century characters investigating something from the more distant past or being haunted by more ancient ghosts.  One story is set in New York City and features a Chinese-American family.

The stories, universally, quickly establish the setting and characters.  They all subtly teach some aspect of Chinese culture or history.  For instance, one story looks at medicine under Communism in China, while another features preying mantis fights.  At the end of each story, a brief blurb gives further details about two to three aspects of Chinese culture or history featured in the story.  Most surprising, and incredibly welcome, at the end of each short story, Compestine gives a recipe for the featured food!  It reminded me of how cozy mysteries often feature patterns or recipes at the end of the book, only this time the recipes are found in a shorty story horror collection.  Brilliant!

What about the horror aspect of the short stories?  I found them simultaneously plausible and sufficiently scary.  I was a bit on the edge of my seat without being scared out of my wits, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Overall, I immensely enjoyed each of these short stories, from the touch of horror to the settings to the amount I learned about Chinese culture and history to the wonderful recipes.  Highly recommended to anyone with even a moderate interest in China, Chinese culture, or Chinese food.  Even if horror isn’t usually your genre, give these ghosts a chance.  You’ll be glad you did.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

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Counts For:
Banner for the RIP IX challenge.

Book Review: Instruction Manual for Swallowing by Adam Marek

Red book cover witha  fly on it and the title "Instruction Manual for Swallowing" written in pink, and the author's name "Adam Marek" written in black.Summary:
A collection of fourteen short stories taking one ordinary experience and inserting an extraordinary fantastical, scifi, or bizarro instance into the situation, seeing how the main character reacts.

Review:
A mixed collection, containing both 2 star and 5 star stories, although most stick right around the 3 star mark.  The stories veer between scifi and fantasy, although both have some bizarro element in them.

Where Marek excels is when he takes a little talked-about male experience and utilizes the unique qualities of genre fiction to explore it.  The only 5 star story in the collection, “Boiling the Toad” explores a male victim of domestic violence.  It does this in a powerful way without demonizing all women.  The story starts as “my life is so bizarre” but eventually becomes all too real.  It’s interesting to note that this is also the opposite of many stories in the collection.  Many start ordinary and turn bizarre.  Starting bizarre and turning ordinary worked much better.  Similarly, “Testicular Cancer vs. The Behemoth” explores male feelings about a cancer that is only possible to get if you have testicles.  Marek fairly eloquently presents the main character as attempting to defend his perceived manhood by trying to protect his girlfriend from a Godzilla-like monster attacking the city.  These stories are interesting, and I enjoyed exploring them.

Where the collection fails and flounders, though, is when the main character is self-centered and perceives of women as objects or only existing for his pleasure.  It’s incredibly difficult to feel any empathy for a character who wants to cheat on his wife but ends up failing because of a mysterious puking illness he gets at the sushi restaurant (Sushi Plate Epiphany) or to care about a man who calls his pregnant wife a monster and tries to cheat on her while she’s still carrying his children (Belly Full of Rain).  A lot of these stories incited an eye-roll and “boohoo it’s so horrible to be a man” sarcastic response from me, which I seriously doubt was what the author was going for.

Then there are the stories that simple don’t seem to have any point or make any sense.  They seem to just be getting going when Marek stops them abruptly.  Or they do seem to be at their end but there is just no point.  Both “the Forty-Litre Monkey” and “Jumping Jennifer” have a great set-up of a mystery but that mystery is never addressed.  They stop too soon.  “Instruction Manual for Swallowing” and “The Thorn” are highly fantastical yet the conflict isn’t set up enough so as to be interesting.

Marek’s writing style varies widely between the perfect tone for bizarro genre fiction and being overly pretentious for his genre.  For instance he writes sentences like this:

Being in the room felt like being suffocated in an armpit. (location 55)

But also pretentiously calls a college quad a “quadrangle” (“Jumping Jennifer”).

Overall then this is a widely varied collection of bizarro short fiction.  Some of the stories offer wonderful insight into male issues while others wallow annoyingly in the minds of terrible men who only think they have a problem, while still others set up a fantastic world but are ultimately boring due to lack of conflict.  If you are intrigued by any of the stories mentioned, I would advise getting a copy from the library since they will be quickly read, and you can return it when done.  Definitely feel free to skip around in this collection.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: Mulliner Nights by P.G. Wodehouse (Series, #3) (Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge)

Cat with red cheeks and a spilled whiskey bottle in the foreground.  Man with folded arms in the back.Summary:
Mr. Mulliner has a wide variety of eclectic relatives, and he’s more than happy to tell snippets of their life stories over a pint at the local pub.  From a freewheeling artist brought into line by a judgmental cat to a timid fellow who accidentally subscribes to a correspondence course on how to get a backbone to a private detective with such a disturbing smile that criminals readily confess their hijinks keep the patrons of Angler’s Rest in stitches.

Review:
This made it onto my tbr pile thanks to a visit to Harvard Books’ used books and remainders cellar.  This was in the remainders pile, and three things drew me to it.  1) It was under $5, 2) The cover has a cat drunk on whiskey on it, 3) I had just read Love Among the Chickens (review) by Wodehouse, which was my first encounter with him, and found him hilarious.  Given this trifecta, I couldn’t resist.  I’m glad I didn’t, as this short story collection didn’t disappoint.

Don’t worry about this being the third in a series.  The only connection among the short stories is the main characters are all a Mulliner (or married to one).  It was completely unnecessary to have read the first two books in the series to get into this collection, although I intend now to read all of the Mulliner books.  I really appreciated how Wodehouse sets up a structure to hold his short story collection together in one unit.  Although they are all self-contained tales, their being together in one collection actually makes sense.  They have more in common than just the author.  They are literally a family of stories.  This helped it hold my interest in a way that many short story collections can’t.

This collection consists of 9 short stories, most of which have some sort of love element.  One person wants to be with (or marry) another and must overcome some sort of obstacle (usually caused by British upper-class culture) in order to be with them.  Hilarity ensues.  My favorite of these was “The Story of Webster,” the cover’s drunk cat.  In this a freewheeling artist has his religious uncle drop his cat off with him while he goes on assignment to Africa.  The judgmental, sullen cat soon starts to reign in the young artist, much to his and his girlfriend’s chagrin.  Everything about this, from the early 20th century fashion and dialogue to the witty commentary on cats and culture works perfectly, particularly for this cat-lover.  The story that I thought worked least-well, and unfortunately wraps up the book, is “Gala Night.”  A pastor Mulliner accidentally helps a young couple who enjoys dancing to acquire the young woman’s parents’ approval of their union.  I didn’t like the religious Mulliner.  He just wasn’t funny to me.  Similarly the catalyst of a mysterious mood enhancing drink just lacked the creativity found in the other stories.  Fortunately, most of the stories fell much closer to the hilarity of the whiskey drinking cat.  However, a couple did fall a bit flat for me, which is why while I greatly enjoyed the book, I wouldn’t say I was totally in love with it.

Overall, this is a wonderfully witty collection of short stories held together by an elderly Mulliner who enjoys telling (possibly tall) tales about his family over a pint in the local pub.  If you enjoy a dry wit and slapstick humor to top off a cute love story, this collection is for you.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Previous Books in Series:
Meet Mr. Mulliner
Mr. Mulliner Speaking

Book Review: Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary by Kathy Stevens (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Woman standing next to a horse in front of a country landscape.Summary:
When Kathy Stevens decided to change careers mid-life, she wanted to do something that would help animals and let her teach.  She landed on the idea of founding an animal sanctuary.  But this book is very minimally about Kathy.  It is mostly about the animals that came to find a safe haven at the sanctuary she founded.  Animals like Rambo the sheep who guards other animals.  Paulie a former cockfighting rooster who loves car rides.  And of course a blind horse once terrified to move who now goes for trail rides.

Review:
This book wasn’t what I was expecting, which was an account of setting up and running an animal sanctuary.  Instead it is a collection of short stories about individual animals who live at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, in the vein of James Herriot, although not quite to that classic’s level.

The stories are roughly grouped based on the situations that led the animals to the sanctuary, their personality, and of course some ultimate peaceful deaths at the sanctuary.  I was a bit frustrated that instead of telling one animal’s story end to end, they were split up among sections.  I can understand not wanting to end every chapter with an animal’s death, but I also think seeing one animal’s life in a complete story would be more touching.  On the other hand, I also appreciated how clearly the different animals’ personalities were drawn without ever venturing into the land of hypothesizing.  One doesn’t have to impose their own beliefs on an animal to clearly see the difference between a hurt, abused animal and a happy one.  Stevens presents the difference quite clearly without venturing into speculation, which I think will give the book the broadest audience.

In spite of the dark past lives of these once abused animals, the book is a light read, both in spirit and in content.  You won’t learn the nitty gritty of founding and running an animal sanctuary, which I think is too bad.  It’d be nice if there was even an epilogue about more of the day to day realities of rescuing animals.  On the other hand, the light, easy read gives the book a broader audience.  It also features a suggested further reading list at the end, as well as links to the sanctuary’s website and invitations to visit, so those who want more can seek it out.

Overall, this is a well-written, feel-good collection of stories of the animals of Catskill Animal Sanctuary.  It doesn’t provide much insider information on the running of animal rescue charities, but it does provide insight into the personalities of farm animals.  Recommended to animal lovers who enjoy short stories.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic edited by Eduardo Jimenez Mayo and Chris N. Brown

April 17, 2012 2 comments

Skeletons with butterfly wings.Summary:
This collection gathers 34 contemporary Mexican short stories featuring fantasy, scifi, and literary, clearly a wide range.

Review:
For me this collection was very hit and miss, and alas even the hits weren’t that wonderful.  Part of the issue is there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind the order in which the tales are presented.  It feels as if 34 completely random stories were selected with the only thing they have in common being Mexican authors.  I generally prefer a short story collection to have a more universal theme or play upon similar tropes, but there is none of that here.  The stories range from young boys hunting iguanas to figuring out how to dispose of a body to a trophy wife on vacation in Las Vegas to a pact with the devil.  It was a bit of an exhausting collection to read.  That said, I’d like to highlight a couple of my favorites that kept the read from being an entirely troublesome experience.

“Hunting Iguanas” by Hernan Lara Zavala both gives a glimpse into country Mexican life, which isn’t something we get to encounter very much, and provides commentary on colonization.

“Lions” by Bernardo Fernandez was particularly delightful for an animal rights activist to read.  In a time of budget cuts the less attractive animals of the zoo are let loose in the city park and gradually take over.  Delightfully tongue-in-cheek.

“The Nahual Offering” by Carmen Rioja features a disturbingly prophetic dream by a tribal woman.  It is a great example of the beautifully grotesque.

You can see, though, that I was only able to pick out three short stories from a collection of 34 to highlight as particularly enjoyable to me.  The collection simply lacks a universality of theme or talent.

Overall this collection is an interesting peek into contemporary Mexican writing, although it does seem the editors could have done a better job in selecting what to include.  Recommended to those with a marked interest in modern Mexican writing.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: LibraryThing EarlyReviewers

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