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A Face in the Crowd by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan

9 Oct

 

Dean Evers is lonely.

Having recently lost his wife, he has moved to a Florida condo and has been filling his time with meaningless tasks, cooking meals for himself, books and baseball. The baseball games on television help to fill his nights when he is missing his dead wife the most.

One night, while watching the Rays duke it out against the Mariners, the game takes on a whole new meaning for him when he sees someone who couldn’t possibly be at the game. Sitting in the third row, right above the umpire, is his old dentist Dr. Young.

Dean thinks this is impossible, absolutely impossible, but he can’t look away, even though Dr. Young must have passed away fifty years ago. However, there is no mistaking the coke bottle glasses, the pack of Lucky Strikes in the pocket of his shirt.

The next night, there is another game on. Dean tries to avoid watching by enjoying a Harlan Coben novel but his hand reaches for the remote anyway and turns the television to the game to see who else from his past might appear to him…

To say anything else would be to give away more of the plot and this is a novella that you have to experience rather than read. I thought I had the story pegged out plot wise, but King and O’Nan had me fooled. This is not your average day at the ballpark.

Whatever you think is going to happen doesn’t happen and the result will leave you breathless. I finished this novella in practically one sitting and it’s an amazing read. Not only is it incredibly well written, there are plot twists you won’t see coming a mile away.

King and O’Nan write seamlessly together, so it’s never clear who wrote what. That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is the story is good. It’s better than that; it’s flat out amazing and King and O’Nan have written a home run of a novella.

What surprised me most, for such a short read were two things:

First, the depth of character. We spend the entire novella with Dean Evers and, at the end of its fifty pages, we know him. We know what makes up his character, internal and otherwise and I found myself aching for him and the choices he made throughout his life. Pulling off that kind of depth in such a short span of pages is an incredible feat and King hasn’t always been so successful in his eBook originals (I’m thinking of the enjoyable but lackluster Mile 81 here).

However, King and O’Nan succeed incredibly well with A Face in the Crowd. You are drawn into Dean’s world and it is an eerie, haunting work that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

Which brings me to the second thing that surprised me most: how genuinely frightening the novella was. As I’ve said, the plot twists keep you on the edge of your seat and, by the novels end, you have absolutely no idea what is coming. And what comes is nothing short than one of the best endings I have ever read in a novella, mostly because it came right out of left field.

King and O’Nan could have gone over the top horror or gross out horror, but instead, they went with honest to goodness psychological terror; because they have written such a great character in Dean Evers, and we are drawn so well into his world, we feel his fear. It is our own.

By the novels dénouement, nothing about baseball will ever be the same for Dean Evers. In fact, nothing will ever be the same for him again.

I was absolutely thrilled with every aspect of this book. It’s well told with a compelling protagonist and brilliantly drawn secondary characters, a plot you won’t see coming a mile away and an ending that will leave you breathless with shock. Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan hit it out of the Park with A Face in the Crowd.

So take me out to the ball game, buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I ever come back…

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Dark Eden: Phantom File by Patrick Carman

6 Jul

 

I absolutely love Dark Eden.

While I’ve been a fan of Patrick Carman for years now, his genre busting, transmedia novel Dark Eden (available as an app for your iPhone, iPod or iPad, ebook or hardcover) is truly something amazing. It’s young adult as you’ve never seen it before with a dark psychological twist and a killer plot.

What I love about Dark Eden is that it pushed the boundaries of what a traditional story could be and succeeded on every level. With the second book, Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction, coming out on April 24th, I’m anxious to experience Dark Eden again in app format and book format.

To keep us sated while we wait, Patrick Carman has written Dark Eden: Phantom File. Though it’s a short read, Carman manages to pack quite a punch in so few pages. After the events of Dark Eden, Will Besting has found something important that could be a key to the cure.

In Dark Eden, Will Besting and six other teenagers were cured of their deepest fears by Rainsford, a mysterious man who may have cured them but also gave each patient something else in return. Will Besting knows that Rainsford is old, perhaps older than time itself. Should he get the chance, Will wants to make Rainsford pay for what he’s done to Alex, Avery, Ben, Connor, Kate, Marissa and himself, should he get the chance. Though they are cured, they are all left with some sort of impairment: pain, headaches, narcolepsy, deafness.

Will they get the chance to repay Rainsford for his unkindness? We’ll have to wait for Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction to find out. But what about Rainsford himself? What do we know about him? Not a lot…until Will finds the phantom file on his Recorder.

Having kept voice, video and written accounts of what happened at Fort Eden, Will is surprised to find a file on his recorder that was placed there by Ms. Goring and removed…but it left a piece behind. Will has been able to retrieve the phantom file and in it, we learn a piece of Rainsford’s past.

Though Will is still angry at being used and the lack of hearing that his cure left him with, he can’t help but feel a little sorry for Rainsford. Dark Eden: Phantom File is an incredible read that you can finish in one sitting. It will leave you anticipating Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction even more than before.

Carman has done something really neat with Dark Eden: Phantom File. It’s actually a story within a story, within a story. There are three narratives here: Will’s, Ms. Goring’s and one from Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who later became Mary Shelley the author of Frankenstein, one of the most amazing classic horror novels of all time. This isn’t the first time that Carman has used literary references in Dark Eden (The Pearl by John Steinbeck is mentioned in Dark Eden and is a crucial clue to the mystery of the cure) but he uses it here to great effect.

Mary’s narrative picks up just after she has been challenged by Lord Byron and poet Percy Shelley to write the most frightening tale she can. She knows that every good story starts with an idea, trouble is, she doesn’t have one. While she is ruminating about her story, she meets Rainsford in Lord Byron’s kitchen. He offers to tell her a story of his own.

The tale he tells her will change Mary’s life forever and give Will Besting a clue of what is to come…

For such a short read, Patrick Carman packs in quite a lot: three different narratives, a twisting storyline and a dark plot that just makes me want to read Dark Eden all over again while I wait for Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction. If you want a great read, make sure to check out Dark Eden and Dark Eden: Phantom File.

Care for another cure?

FREAKS! by Nik Perring, Caroline Smailes and Darren Craske

6 Jul

 

Everyone dreams of having a superpower. Me? I’d love to be able to fly so I could avoid rush hour traffice or be able to remember each book I’ve ever read in its entirety. Everyone has also felt like a freak at one point or another in their lives: not fitting in, not being accepted, not part of the norm.

There are people, however, that we would classify as real freaks, not able to intermingle with society, keeping to themselves. You’ve seen these people: they fade into the shadows, they keep to the sidelines, they are quiet and speak rarely.

Everyone has been a freak at one time or another. That is what makes FREAKS! written by Caroline Smailes, Nik Perring and illustrated by Darren Craske so amazing. They have created a book that is for each and every person who has never felt as if they fit in anywhere.

FREAKS! is a collection of 50 short stories, some written by Caroline, some written by Nik, some written together. The stories are illustrated by wonderful drawings by Darren that bring the story to life in a way that transcends the short story genre.

Part collection, part comic book, part darkness, part hilarity, FREAKS! is a book that goes beyond the short story genre and makes it something all the more incredible.

I knew from the moment that I looked at the cover of FREAKS! that I was in for a treat of monumental proportions. Eschewing the traditional short story, the ones contained in this collection are flash fiction pieces, stories told in comic book form, stories told in mere paragrahps that pack whole pages worth of emotion into very few words.

I read FREAKS! in less than a day. I simply could not put it down. All the stories feature people with superpowers, real or imagined, and give us a brief look into their lives. Some of the stories are funny and downright hilarious, some end with a punch to the gut, some take a twist in the middle and leave you shocked. Others are haunting, harrowing and dark. However, all the stories in FREAKS! are beautiful.

I had a very personal reaction to this collection. I have always felt like a freak, as if I don’t belong, as if I was put on this earth to do something but had no idea what it was. I’ve always felt as if I was outside the norm and have never been sure if the norm was something I wanted to be a part of anyways.

In reading FREAKS! I felt as if I was reading about people I knew. I even recognized myself in a few of the stories. The stories, the characters, feel so personal, as if we are being presented with a moment in the time of their lives. I ached for this book of freaks and wanted them to know it was okay to be who they were.

Though short, the stories are written so well and so deftly that no further words are needed. Caroline Smailes and Nik Perring have outdone themselves with their stories; each can be read in a few minutes, but all of them will stay with you long after you finish reading the collection.

The illustrations are another amazing thing about this collection. Darren Craske has outdone himself, bringing the freaks to life in fantastic black and white illustrations that help the characters to jump off the page. The illustrations are so good that I felt I was reading a pulp comic book from days gone by. The stories are amazing and the illustrations just add to the over all perfection of the book.

I finished reading the paperback book yesterday morning and am reading the eBook now. While I love eBooks and primarily read everything on my iPad, FREAKS! is a book that you will want to hold, a book where you will want to thumb through the pages. Though I love eBooks, do yourself a favour and get the paperback. It’s well worth double the price you’ll pay for it as the stories will stay with you forever.

Whimsical, haunting, hilarious and harrowing, FREAKS! is like nothing you have ever read or will read afterwards. FREAKS! has turned the genre of the short story into a revolution. The literary world will never be the same again.

Briefs: Stories from the Palm of the Mind by John Edgar Wideman

23 May

 

“An unwritten story is one that never happens…”

In recent years, how writers tell a story has begun to change.

When stories began, they were told orally; can you picture voices rising into the air, words floating on the breeze?

Then stories were told with pen and paper, the ink making the paper bleed the story that it wanted to tell. Writers could finally keep their stories, hold on to them, as if they were talismans against the dark.

Today, the way we tell stories has changed once more. No longer are people content to tell tales that are long and rambling. No, story has once again gone through a metamorphosis, changing itself from a caterpillar to a butterfly, shedding words as it would shed its cocoon or a snake sheds its skin.

This shorter than short fiction is called Micro Fiction. Stories can be anywhere between thirty words to three hundred words, from five hundred words to a thousand. Generally, Micro Fiction stories are no longer than two pages or so. Each, though short, has a beginning and an ending. Though it may not be the ending you are looking for.

What is so wonderful about Micro Fiction is that it challenges our ideas of the norm; it goes against what has already been established by a long line of writers and establishes norms of its own.

Like every discipline within the craft of writing, there are some who think they can write Micro Fiction and some who actually can write it.

Thankfully, John Edgar Wideman is one of the latter.

A two time Pen/Faulkner Award winner, Wideman wanted to explore and discover words in a different way. Rather than writing another collection of short stories, Wideman wanted to explore a different side to his writing. To see if he could write even shorter stories. Micro Fiction stories. And he succeeds brilliantly.

From the brief explination behind the title, which serves as the first story in Wideman’s new collection of Micro Fiction, you know that you are in for a treat. The writing is crisp, the words are haunting and there are no stories longer than a page or two; perfect for our fast paced society that is constantly on the move.

The collection is actually a hodge podge of many different genres. Some stories are fiction, some are non-fiction and are indeed about Wideman’s own life such as the short and very private Divorce or the aptly named short story Writing.

Some stories in the collection are dark and haunting like Hit and Run, Haiku and Shadow; they explore the sides of the human heart that none of us want to look at. But at the same time, there are funny stories here too. My favourite called Dear Madonna, a litter to the Queen on of Pop herself.

All through out this collection, Wideman makes sure to use every word to its fullest potential. Some of the stories don’t make sense; but they don’t have to. The rambling stream of consciousness stories are essentially a very private look into Wideman’s mind that leave us wondering, and wanting, once the brief story is finished.

Briefs: Stories From the Palm of the Mind is really like a patchwork quilt. Each story is like a patch in that blanket; all sorts of textures and fabrics and colours blending together to make a whole. Though at first you may be put off by the colour scheme or the use of gold lame next to red corduroy, after a while it doesn’t matter anymore.

Because after a while, you realize that one story would not work without the other.

Since finishing Briefs, I’ve been haunted by Wideman’s words. Especially by the stories I didn’t care for. The words come back to me at moments when I should be thinking or doing something else. That is the true power of story: to take you away from the moment you are in now and take you somewhere else.

Do yourself a favour and take a moment or two to read and enjoy Briefs: Stories from the Palm of the Mind by John Edgar Wideman. He is truly a master of the Micro Fiction short story. You may not understand or like all the stories in the collection.

But you’ll have a hell of a journey going from beginning to end.

Angelic by Kelley Armstrong

16 Feb

 

I love Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld novels, but I’m not a huge fan of special limited edition novels or books. They are usually books that you pay a good deal of money for and can’t really carry around with you for fear of damaging the book.

Thankfully, I didn’t have that problem with Angelic by Kelley Armstrong. It’s short, just under one hundred pages, so it was an hours worth of glorious reading. I enjoyed it so much that I read it two times in a row.

In Angelic, Armstrong returns to having Eve Levine narrate her story. Tired of letting the Fates push her around, she sets about trying to get herself fired from her otherworldly job but in the end gets herself in a heap of trouble. Though she has good intentions, she proves that, if anything, she is far from angelic…

What I love about Armstrong’s writing is its strength of voice. Each of her narrators sound different and no character is the same. Even better, the stories are engaging and speed by at a fast pace.

 Angelic is no different. Though it’s a short read, it feels like a whole novel. You’ve got all the emotional highs and lows of a full length read packed into a handful of pages. Angelic is a wonderful read from start to finish and it left me wanting more of Eve.

I’ve missed her as a narrator of the series and it was like I was visiting with an old friend. While I wish there had been more to the story, I will take what I can get.

And read it as many times as possible.

Men of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong

18 May

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I love the Otherworld Series by Kelley Armstrong.

That being said, I had never read the free novellas that she offered on her web site. I don’t know why this is. Part of it has to do with the fact that I love holding the book in my hand. The other part of it, I guess, was that I didn’t want to read anything outside the actual series of books.

I know, finicky but true.

But I was extremely excited to hear that most of the online fiction would be taken off of Kelley’s web site and published into a couple of collections, the first of which is Men of the Otherworld.

I was a trifle worried that it would read like a bunch of mismatched short stories that wouldn’t really flow together very well. However, I am happy to report that I was way more than wrong.

Men of the Otherworld consists of the tales Infusion, Savage, Ascension and Kitsunegari, the collection of otherworld tales actually reads like a novel. The book follows the progress of the men of the pack including Jeremy’s birth, Clay’s being bitten, his training and acceptance of his new life.

In fact, though these tales were written at the same time as the novels, because of how they are arranged, they make for a better read than some of the more recent Women of the Otherworld novels. Not because those novels were bad; far from it. More, I think, because there is an urgency to these tales, a need that burns off the page.

If you’ve never read Kelley Armstrong’s novels before, Men of the Otherworld is actually a great place to start as everything but the last story takes place before the series itself.

And with all of Kelley Armstrong’s proceeds going to World Literacy of Canada, you’re getting a great read and doing something good. How can you go wrong?

Stephen King Goes to the Movies by Stephen King

15 Feb

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I am a huge fan of Stephen King.

I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to his books and I have been one of his Constant Readers for quite some time. I still remember the first Stephen King book I read: Skeleton Crew. I remember the monkey on the front cover of the book filled me with delicious fright. I opened the cover and have never been the same since.

After reading his other non-fiction offerings (Danse Macabre and On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft) I was super excited to hear about Stephen King Goes to the Movies. It promised to be a treat. The book description described it thusly:

Now available, the #1 bestselling author reflects on the filming of five of his most popular short stories.  Those movies are The Shawshank Redemption, 1408, Children of the Corn, The Mangler, and Hearts in Atlantis.

Includes an introduction, his personal commentary, and behind-the-scenes insights by Stephen.

On reading those words, my first thought was: HOLY CRAP! My second thought was: AWESOME!

I thought it would be really amazing to get a behind the scenes look, as it were, at the stories behind the movies. We would get the stories themselves plus personal commentary and behind the scenes insights? Oh, it was every Constant Readers dream!

Except, it was a dream that was never realized.

I should have flipped through the book when I was in the bookstore, but I was in to big of a hurry to get home and delve into the mind of Stephen King. Imagine my surprise when I got home and opened the book to find the five stories and not much else.

Stephen King Goes to the Movies consists of the five stories behind the films 1408, The Mangler, Hearts in Atlantis, The Shawshank Redemption and Children of the Corn. As for new content, Stephen King has written a brief (and I mean brief: one to two pages) introduction for each story. He’s also provided us with his top ten list of the favourite adaptations of his work.

At first, I was rather pissed off. I mean, the advertising made it sound as if the book was non-fiction, a real behind the scenes look at the stories behind the movies and behind the scenes insights behind the making of the movies.

And all we get is a book of five short stories and some short (very short) introductions?

I was not pleased to say the least. But I decided, after spending my hard earned money on the book, to read the stories anyway. I figured it would fill the gap between Just After Sunset (which came out in November of 2008 ) and Stephen Kings new novel Under the Dome (which won’t come out until the fall of 2009). So I decided to give the book a chance.

And, you know what? I’m glad I did.

It had been some time since I had read the stories contained within Stephen King Goes to the Movies. I remembered reading 1408 and Hearts in Atlantis, but The Mangler, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and Children of the Corn might as well have been new to me. I’ve read them, but it’s been years and I didn’t remember them clearly at all.

And you know what? They were good.

I mean really good. It felt wonderful to be surrounded by stories that held so many memories for me. Stephen King’s stories kept me company during many a dark hour during my turbulent upbringing; thus it’s little wonder that he inspires me so much. 

The stories were so good, so scary, so moving. The most interesting thing about the stories contained in Stephen King Goes to the Movies, however, was that after a few pages into the story, I stopped picturing the movie. All I could see were the images that the story itself called to mind.

Though the new content in Stephen King Goes to the Movies is almost nil (really about ten pages worth of new material) that doesn’t matter. Before you put the book back on the bookshelf, give Stephen King Goes to the Movies a chance.

Read the stories and let Stephen King scare you once again.