Book Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

Title: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Hardcover: 495 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.

Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Even though Stephen King is known for being prolific and creating monstrosities of books, I was surprised to find that his short stories are really, quite good. Some of them are ridiculously sad and terrible, but for the most part, I loved the eerie atmosphere he provides in these stories that are usually more spooky and unsettling in this collection rather than outright “scary.”

I like short stories, as I’ve said before. They’re nice for the satisfaction and closure they can give in such a short amount of time. Instead of only being able to get through a portion of a novel during my 20 minute lunch break, I’m able to read a full short story or two, which is a nice change of pace. This collection is wonderfully cohesive and intriguing, but I did find myself needing a break from reading it. I can’t deal with reading too many terrible things at once, so it was nice to be able to set it aside for a bit without worrying about losing track of characters or plots, and then picking it right back up again.

The stories that shone for me in this collection were “Afterlife” and “Ur.” King is a master at mixing fantastical elements with horror and tragedy, and these stories were perfect examples of this. “Ur” is the story King wrote to promote the Kindle, so I feel almost bad liking a promotional story (even though I love the Kindle!), but it was probably my favorite story in this collection. It just proves what a wonderful imagination King has and his ability to not flinch when his mind takes a darker turn with a “what-if.”

Overall, I enjoyed this. I didn’t hate any story, though the first one really got to me emotionally and made me have to take a break right away. But, even after taking breaks from the difficult stuff, I went right back to this book to see what else King’s mind could come up with. If you’re at all a King fan or like darker sort of stories, I recommend you check this one out.

Book Review: Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

bream gives me hiccups.jpgTitle: Bream Gives Me Hiccups
Author: Jesse Eisenberg
Publisher: Grove Press
Hardcover:  273 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups moves from contemporary L.A. to the dormrooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, reimagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions. In one piece, a tense email exchange between a young man and his girlfriend is taken over by the man’s sister, who is obsessed with the Bosnian genocide (The situation reminds me of a little historical blip called the Karadordevo agreement); in another, a college freshman forced to live with a roommate is stunned when one of her ramen packets goes missing (she didn’t have “one” of my ramens. She had a chicken ramen); in another piece, Alexander Graham Bell has teething problems with his invention (I’ve been calling Mabel all day, she doesn’t pick up! Yes, of course I dialed the right number – 2!).

United by Eisenberg’s gift for humor and character, and grouped into chapters that each open with an illustration by award-winning cartoonist Jean Jullien, the witty pieces collected in Bream Gives Me Hiccups explore the various insanities of the modern world, and mark the arrival of a fantastically funny, self-ironic, and original voice.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Even though I try to keep myself to certain reading lists for figuring out what to read next, I sometimes like to browse the available titles on OverDrive just to see what’s out there, or to find a book I can read quickly. For some reason, this book caught my eye. I really like Eisenberg as an actor and have enjoyed the interviews he’s given, so when I saw that he wrote a book of humorous short stories — and that Sherman Alexie gave a blurb for it — I decided to try it out. I needed a new collection of short stories for work, so if anything, I figured it’d keep me entertained during the dead times in the office.

The book is divided into themes/parts, and my favorite section was the first part. A little kid basically writes reviews for everything he does, and I think it’s a hilarious and quite accurate portrayal of a kids’ experience. Andrew read this section as well and thought it was a bit sad, which I get. The kid is in a depressing situation in regards to the fact that his parents are divorced and aren’t very happy with their lives, but I didn’t focus on that too much, honestly. I just loved the idea of a kid giving a fancy restaurant a bad review because they didn’t have any “good food.” Having babysat and knowing how my niece and nephew would react to a fancy restaurant, it rings true.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book didn’t live up to the first part for me, but that will be different for everyone. While Andrew didn’t finish the book, he read a fair portion of it, and his favorite parts differed from mine a little bit. He really enjoyed the stories that had the main character interacting with different family members and such, while I really enjoyed the ones with crazier characters; there’s a story about a college freshmen in here who writes letters to her high school counselor, and it is gold. The stories are mostly good, but there were a few (more than I wanted, really) that didn’t hit the mark, though I can see them being enjoyable/funny for other people. I was definitely expecting a little more from the later stuff because the first section was so good, so that might have affected my opinions of the later stories. I think it’s a fun read if you like your humor on the darker side, and it doesn’t require too much investment to get through. This is very much a “check it out if you have time” book for me.

Book Review: M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

m is for magic by neil gaiman.jpgTitle: M is for Magic
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Hardcover: 260 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Stories to delight, enchant, and surprise you.
Bestselling author and master storyteller Neil Gaiman here presents a breathtaking collection of tales that may chill or amuse readers – but always embrace the unexpected. Collection includes:
“The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds,”
“Troll Bridge,”
“Don’t Ask Jack,”
“How to Sell the Ponti Bridge,”
“October in the Chair,”
“Chivalry,”
“The Price,”
“How to Talk to Girls at Parties,”
“Sunbird,”
“The Witch’s Headstone,”
“Instructions”

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

As always, I needed a nice book of short stories to get me through the work day — I love that I can sit down, read one on my lunch break, and then move on with the rest of my day. As I’ve said before, the problem I have with short stories is that I don’t always like all of them, and it’s disappointing to spend my lunch reading something I didn’t very much enjoy. Fortunately, with Gaiman, I rarely have that problem, so when I saw this available on OverDrive, I jumped at the chance to check it out.

This collection is incredibly cohesive — the themes and tones of the stories balance each other nicely. It’s a delightfully weird collection that consistently surprised me with its twists and turns. “Troll Bridge” talks about the process of growing up and becoming an adult, and how what we value can change over time. “The Witch’s Headstone” is a lovely companion to The Graveyard Book, which I’ve also read. It shows the bravery and goodness of a small child, and how sometimes children can see through biases and do the right thing. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” shows how difficult talking to girls can be — and how otherworldly the other sex seems when you’re a teenager and trying to figure out the dating thing.

Those are just a few of my favorite stories. I enjoyed all of them as a whole and recommend this if you’re fan of fantasy and Neil Gaiman.

 

Book Review: Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Trigger-WarningTitle: Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow
Hardcover: 310 pages
Source: Purchased
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Multiple award winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman returns to dazzle, captivate, haunt, and entertain with this third collection of short fiction following Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things–which includes a never-before published American Gods story, “Black Dog,” written exclusively for this volume.

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction–stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013–as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In “Adventure Story”–a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane–Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience “A Calendar of Tales” are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year–stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale “The Case of Death and Honey”. And “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This was bought for me by my wonderful fiancé when I accidentally left my Kindle charging on the floor of our apartment instead of taking it with me on my flight to California for Thanksgiving. This was actually the perfect book to have with me on vacation, since I could sit down just for a little bit in between festivities, completely finish a story and have some satisfaction from reading, and then continue with celebrating.

Overall, I tend to be wary of getting collections of short stories. For me, they’re too often hit-and-miss to be worthwhile, but this is a Gaiman book, so I decided to give it a try. (Also, Andrew loves short stories, so this would have been a worth-it purchase anyway.) I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed about 85% of the stories, mostly enjoyed 10% and the other 5% was a varying mix of meh or not-my-thing. For me, that makes this collection absolutely worth a purchase and most definitely worth the time spent reading it.

Unfortunately, these are also hard to review, because there’s no way I’m going to go into detail about every single story. I will say that this title holds true. Every single story had some element to it that creeped me out or hit a nerve at least once — many did so more than once.

I was especially happy to see a Doctor Who and a Sherlock Holmes story thrown in here. The Sherlock Holmes story was definitely one of my favorites in this collection. “Adventure Story” was by far my favorite of this book, so I recommend taking a look at that one as well. I’m waiting for Andrew to get some free time to read it so that I can relive the experience of the stories by talking about it with him, but for now, I’ll have to settle for talking about through this and others’ reviews. ;P

Audiobook Review: Danger in the Dark by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Danger in the Dark
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Narrators: Karen Black, R.F. Daley, Christina Huntington, Jim Meskimen, Gino Montesinos, Noelle North, and Josh R. Thompson
Duration: 2 hours
Publisher: Galaxy Audio
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Explore this fantastic tale. After Billy Newman strikes gold while mining in the Philippines, he believes Lady Luck favors him so much that he buys his own South Seas island for a bargain price . . . or so he thinks.

 But when the natives fall ill from plague and crops start failing, the tribal chiefs blame Billy for angering the local god Tadamona. Their solution: sacrifice a beautiful young girl before the 75-foot god. Appalled, Billy argues to stop the ritual, but the chiefs demand he cure their ills in just one day or allow the killing to go forward. Desperate, he denies that the deity even exists and dares Tadamona to show himself. Not only does Billy get his wish, he draws a beastly wrath upon the entire island. ALSO INCLUDES THE FANTASY FICTION STORIES “THE ROOM” AND “HE DIDN’T LIKE CATS”

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

*I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher*

I enjoy pulp fiction and appreciate its significance and influence in the science fiction and fantasy genres today. Danger in the Dark is a collection of three stories, and it is pulp at its finest — just plain, good fun. As with any collection of short stories, there were some stories that I liked better than others, but there weren’t any that I really disliked or hated, so that’s a good thing. This was a quick listen and was simply a fun, entertaining collection of stories. The sequence of these stories also worked very well, since my least favorite was the first story, and my favorite was the last.

The stories included in Danger in the Dark are short and sweet — the best kind, in my opinion. A lot of action, drama, and suspense without having too much exposition to bog it all down. It’s not a huge time investment, but it’s good entertainment, which I appreciated.

Galaxy Audio really went all-out for this production. I loved the full-cast performance and the added sound effects. I’m not the kind of person who generally likes sound effects in my audiobooks, but these were incredibly well done. They really added to the story and helped create drama and tension in all the right places. This is one short story collection that I don’t think I would have liked as much in print. I would definitely recommend the audiobook version of this one.

Book Review: Steel and Other Stories by Richard Matheson

Title: Steel and Other Stories
Author: Richard Matheson
Publisher: Tor
Paperback: 320 pages
Source: Goodreads FirstReads
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Imagine a future in which the sport of boxing has gone high-tech.  Human boxers have been replaced by massive humanoid robots.   And former champions of flesh-and-blood are obsolete . . . .

Richard Matheson’s classic short story is now the basis for Real Steel, a gritty, white-knuckle film starring Hugh Jackman.  But “Steel,” which was previously filmed as a powerful episode of the original Twilight Zone television series, is just one of over a dozen unforgettable tales in this outstanding collection, which includes two new stories that have never appeared in any previous Matheson collection.  Also featured is a bizarre satirical fantasy, “The Splendid Source,” that was turned into an episode of The Family Guy.

Richard Matheson was recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Steel demonstrates once again the full range of his legendary imagination.

*I was given a copy from Goodreads FirstReads in exchange for my honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4/5 

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. I have never read anything by Matheson before, so I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed his style and outlook of the world. Of course, some I liked better than others, but overall, I thought they were enjoyable science fiction pieces. I really enjoyed “Steel,” “The Splendid Source,” and “The Traveler.”

Most of these stories did tend to be depressing, so I wouldn’t suggest reading it all in one go. Sprinkle it with some happy reading on the side. To be fair, Matheson does add some levity with ironic humor. These are relatively old pieces (dated from the 1950’s), but they don’t show their age. Instead of focusing on man’s downfall from technology-related issues (as many science fiction authors from his time period do), Matheson focuses on people themselves. Whether it be how people are their own downfall, or explorations of life and people in general.

What this collection shows is that Matheson is brilliant at creating characters and situations that stick with you. He takes the reader out of his or her comfort zone and plops them down into a strange, Twilight Zone-esque environment. If you’re at all a fan of science fiction, you’ll love his work.

Book Review: Bloody Valentine by Melissa De La Cruz

Title: Bloody Valentine
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Series: Blue Bloods, Book 5.5
Publisher: Hyperion
Hardcover: 147 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Vampires have powers beyond human comprehension: strength that defies logic, speed that cannot be captured on film, the ability to shapeshift and more. But in matters of the heart, no one, not even the strikingly beautiful and outrageously wealthy Blue Bloods, has total control. In Bloody Valentine, bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz offers readers a new story about the love lives of their favorite vamps – the passion and heartache, the hope and devastation, the lust and longing. Combined with all the glitz, glamour, and mystery fans have come to expect, this is sure to be another huge hit in the Blue Bloods series

Also, witness the bonding of Jack and Schuyler.

*WARNING* SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T READ BOOKS 1-5

My Review:

I thought Bloody Valentine was a lot of fun. It fills in some holes and gives extra information about Allegra and Schuyler’s dad. There are three short stories, one about Oliver after Schuyler leaves him, one about Allegra and Ben, and then another about Schuyler and Jack.

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