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Book Review: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

November 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Grownup by Gillian FlynnSummary:
A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.

Review:
I’m not a huge short story person but I generally really enjoy Flynn’s writing so I decided to pick this up anyway. Flynn surprised me by excelling at the short story. I think part of why I struggle with wanting to read short fiction is because so much of it is done poorly. This isn’t. It’s the perfect tale for the length, tightly told, with surprisingly real characters drawn in such a short amount of time.

The first paragraph struck me like a female Palahniuk (that’s a complement) and drew me in immediately. Every time I thought the story was taking a turn for the cliche, Flynn surprised me by twisting it away in another direction. It’s not easy to take a style you usually write in full novel length and transform it into short fiction, but she does it well. I would gladly read more Flynn short fiction, although I admit to selfishly hoping for more full-length novels so I get to spend more time in the story she creates next.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Giveaway: Porcelain: A Novelette by William Hage (INTERNATIONAL)

December 26, 2015 Leave a comment

cover_porcelainIt’s the sixth and final giveaway of 2015 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  Woohoo!!

There is ONE ebook copy of Porcelain: A Novelette by William Hage (review) available courtesy of the author, William Hage.

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of Porcelain: A Novelette (review) by William Hage.

How to Enter:

  1. Leave a comment below stating the second-hand item you own that you think is most likely to maybe be evil.
  2. Copy/paste the following and tweet it from your public twitter:
    Enter to win PORCELAIN: A NOVELETTE by @w0rdvirus, hosted by @McNeilAuthor http://buff.ly/1JAHQcP #giveaway #entertowin #horror #short
    You may tweet one entry per day. The blog comment gets you one entry. Each tweet gets you one entry.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: December 29th at midnight!

Disclaimer: The winner will have their book sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

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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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

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.

Publication Announcement: Short Story in Dark Fire Fiction

December 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Hello my lovely readers!

Just a quick post to let you know that my dark fantasy short story “Freedom Freerunner” published today in Dark Fire Fiction.  They’re a rolling publication, so there’s no issue or volume numbers.  My story will be on the front page for at least a month.

Here’s the blurb:

The Dark Ones have taken over the city. Come along as a band of freerunners battle them with parkour skills and swords.

Also be sure to click through to Dark Fire Fiction‘s homepage to see the illustration they gave my short story!

To anyone wondering due to the Dark Ones mention, yes this is Lovecraftverse and yes there are tentacles. 🙂

I’ve added the links and information to my Publications page, so you can easily find it again later.

I do hope you all will check it out!

Book Review: Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Purple and white face with large eyes and open mouth that looks frightened. Book title and author's name are written over it.Summary:
A bunch of people sign up, individually, for a writer’s retreat. Telling no one where they’re going, they vow to write the next great American novel. They wind up locked away in the opposite of the lap of luxury, however. Trapped in a dusty old theater, they quickly become focused on an entirely different type of story.  What happens to these writers is interspersed with poetry about each person and short stories written by each of them while locked in the retreat.

Review:
I am a huge Palahniuk fan. Fight Club spoke to me when I was at my late teens most intense angst that is indescribable.  To this day, I view the book (and the movie) as exemplary artforms that demonstrate how genre literature can say something incredibly serious and deep.  I also point to Palahniuk as a way to say that vulgarity and horror do not equate to bad writing.  All of which is to say, I’m pretty biased toward being a fan of anything Palahniuk does.  Just so you’re aware.

I struggle with short story collections. I like them to be all connected somehow, even if it’s just by theme, so at first I really liked the idea of a collection of short stories written by people at a writer’s retreat.  It’s a good idea, but it’s not executed very well.  The short stories are awesome! The connecting bits of narrative aren’t so much.  Basically, the writers decide that they should spin what happens at the retreat to be as horrible as possible to help get a movie deal out of it after the fact. So they focus on twisting the facts and committing atrocities against themselves and each other to make for a better story.  I totally got what is being said about writers procrastinating by making drama in their own lives instead of actually writing.  I liked that part. But there also wasn’t enough realness in the connecting bits to keep me interested.  I found myself dreading them whereas I really enjoyed the short stories, which made for an uneven reading experience.

One of the short stories contained in this collection is Palahniuk’s famous “Guts.” The one that makes people faint.  (Palahniuk has made it available online for free here).  This was definitely the best short story in the collection, and I can see why it became so famous.  It also sets the tone for a lot of the stories in the collection. There’s one with people randomly getting smashed in a city. There’s also one about the possible origins of the Sasquatch myth.  My second favorite after “Guts” was actually about an inn near a hot springs in the mountains.  That one grossed me out *almost* as much as “Guts,” and also had something deeper to say, I think.  All of this is to say that if you read and enjoyed “Guts,” you’ll like the short stories in this collection.  They’re gross, horrifying, and stick with you.

Overall, it’s an interesting idea for unifying a short story collection.  Ultimately, though, I would have liked it better as a straight-up short story collection, maybe even including the writer’s retreat as a short story by itself.  This fact might make me rate the book lower, but the inclusion of so many high quality short stories keeps the book itself rating highly.  Grab this if you’ve read and enjoyed “Guts.”

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Brookline Booksmith

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