Friday, October 30, 2015

About That Night by Norah McClintock

About That Night by Norah McClintock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paperback, 238 pages
Published September 1st 2014 by Orca Books
Source: Library Thing Early Review program

This is my second book by McClintock but the first I've read of her teen crime novels for which she is famous. It's a well-written suspense which I enjoyed reading however it had an unsatisfying ending, ambiguous really leaving the reader neither here nor there. In fact, the crime aspect of the story has no ending. While I liked the characters and was interested in the read I ultimately was let down and frustrated by the lack of a conclusion. I will try another of her YA crimes though as she's written a lot and won several awards.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Voices in the Field: A Collection of Short Stories by J. Allen Fielder

Voices in the Field: A Collection of Short Stories by J. Allen Fielder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 172 pages
Published October 24th 2011 by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Source: Kindle Freebie

A mixed bag of stories, this is the author's first collection. A few of the stories have been previously published with the rest appearing here for the first time. Most of the stories are of the horror variety, but there is a bit of everything added to the mix including straight fiction, children's stories, and mysteries. I found the author quite promising though he has some trouble with perfecting the twist ending. His horror is good, but surprisingly I found his juvenile fiction offerings showed his best overall work. His forays into other genres often left me underwhelmed, but I'm glad to have read the collection.

1. Voices in the Field - An elderly man's car breaks down on the side of a highway surrounded by cornfields. He records his thoughts as he waits unsuccessfully for a car to pass by. A chilling story as either the man is a victim to Evil or he descends into madness. The ending needed just an extra something to give it more pow, but this first story certainly makes me look forward to reading more.(3/5)

2. Mom's Eye View (2000) - This is a creepy story of a demented guy I guess you'd call a stalker who's got a major Norman Bates vibe going on. The story gets weirder and creepier as it goes along bringing in twists you never quite suspect. Told from alternating points of view, first the stalker dude, then the girl. The ending works up to a great climax but again is a bit of a let down as I felt it just needed that final piece to be polished. (4/5)

3. One Night in New Orleans - Very short story of a black woman who has never left her native Minnesota before but who goes on a business trip to New Orleans and spends one night of magic under the influence of the spirit world and music which gives her a new "soul" she'll never want to forget. I haven't looked to see who this author is, but the story felt like it was written by a white man. Didn't feel real. (1/5)

4. Liquid - The best story so far. A rich, playboy doctor who cares more for his Armani suits and golf than he does his patients is harassed by a toothless, diseased bum for change. When the Dr. refuses rudely to deal with hm, the bum spits on him and the Dr.'s life forever changes. A moral of "do unto others" and if you don't you'll have to learn your lesson the hard way ... the *very* hard way. (4/5)

5. Homemade Pie - This is a creepy horror story with a good twist ending. A southern teenage girl wants out of the family restaurant business where her mom's pies are such a big business because of the "special ingredient". There's a bit of trouble with the ending again though. There was a perfect point for it to have ended, but then the author added some extra lines which weakened it for me. (4/5)

6. Rain - Very short. A serial killer's multi-million dollar house complete with thousands of tapes is sliding into oblivion during a mudslide in California. A twist ending you can see coming before it even starts. (2/5)

7. Cowboy Up - A cowboy asks a woman to marry him. This is just plain humour so unlike the other stories here. I didn't find it funny. (1/5)

8. Truck Stop Love (2000) - This was well-written and had so many possibilities running through my mind, but none of them panned out. The ending was a real let down. A woman stuck working at a truck stop for the last twenty years has given up on her dreams of ever getting out of the tiny little town when she meets the new waitress, someone who reminds her of herself when she was young. I don't know whether to give it a 3 for the writing or a 2 for not going anywhere. I don't usually do halfsies but in this case ... (2.5/5)

9. Sorry, wrong number (2001) - Not the best story here but the best written. The tension mounts throughout to an almost perfect twist ending. Written as a series of voice messages between a stalker girl and a couple of guys. (4/5)

10. Watching - Very short. Less than a minute. I *think* this is just an example that we don't need to think anymore since we have search engines. I had to read it twice to get it, so I'll give it two stars. (2/5)

11. Toby and the Lake - This was written well and the ending was very good, but I didn't like the story at all. I quickly knew where the story was going. Some people will find it compelling but in the end it's a sympathetic portrayal of someone who is nothing but a murderer. (2/5)

12. End Game - Loved this one! A dark, gloomy tale of a man writing his murder/suicide letter. He's a despicable creature and we are sure we know what is going on, but the twist ending proves we don't and just how vile the man really is. (5/5)

13. A Fire Inside (2001) - Another good one that would fit in the crime or mystery genre. A woman is positive her mother's death was not accidental six years ago and has been calling the police continuously ever since to reopen the case and look closer at murder. For a joke, her call is transferred to "the new guy" and what he uncovers is far more than the daughter could have ever expected or perhaps ever wanted to know. (5/5)

14. The Pumpkin Princess - This is a sweet little story told from the pumpkin's point of view. Obviously written for young children and strange to find in this collection here at this point. Very well-written, has a bit of tension, a perfect Halloween story for little ones. (5/5)

15. Least Likely to Succeed: A Vinita Park Short Mystery for Young Readers (2001) - Good story. An unpopular but brainy kid who often solves mysteries is asked by the most popular girl at school to find out who stole her iPod from her locker. Fine, well-written mystery with an unsuspected ending. More than a mystery story it deals a lot with bullying and includes realistic teen dialogue. We have the viciousness between girls and a mean "fat" kid bully. These last two juvenile stories make me wonder if perhaps this is where the author's forte may lie. (5/5)

16. All-American Murder (2001) - A standard murder mystery involving college football players. Nothing special but not bad. (3/5)

17. Weight - The final story comes full circle with another horror offering. A high school student tells of the bullying he's received his whole life because he's fat from other kids, teachers, and his own parents. He's now planning his final revenge. Pretty freaky and a good note to end the book on. (4/5)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paperback, 139 pages
Published 1979 by Dell Laurel Leaf
first published 1972
Source: thrift shop

The last chapter had me choking back the tears. I read this book probably in about Grade 5 and from there went on to read all Peck's books. This is my first re-read and I can see why it affected me so much at the time and I also see that it began a long-lasting relationship for me with this type of literature. I'm still drawn, today, to books about farm people, mountain people, uneducated folks, living off the land, living plain and simple. And books that end with sadness and people dying, books that some would call depressing but rather I see the redemption that will follow after the book has been closed.

This is Peck's first book and is autobiographical; he even uses his and his father's own names for the characters. Set in 1920s Vermont it opens with a violent, brutal first chapter involving a cow birthing gone wrong and the main character being injured. The rest of the book follows suit. This book is very real where the animals are concerned and gets banned or censored regularly by animal rights activists making it a good choice for Banned Books Week. I just love the rawness of this story, the love of this simple family living off the land, the Shaker ways they try to uphold and the plainness of the language. It makes me want to re-read all Peck's books again from the 70s and 80s and read all the new ones I haven't read. I see a sequel was written in the 90s. One certainly isn't needed, but it will make for an interesting read to find how Robert's next year on the farm fares. This is a keeper for my shelves, but I'll have to scout out for the hardcover edition I remember from my 70s childhood.

Friday, October 23, 2015

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paperback, 343 pages
Published February 1st 1994 by Vintage Books
first published 1965
Source: Bookmooched

It has taken me a long time to get around to reading this classic. Generally known to be the first true crime book, I was afraid it would be somewhat dated for a reader like me who reads a lot of true crime and non-fiction "novels". I couldn't have been more wrong! It's an excellent piece of work, brilliantly written, raw and very brutal. The book completely reads like fiction, being told from various characters points of view. Yet it never lets you forget that it is nonfiction as the author provides you with quotes from a multitude of sources both oral and written. Capote never refers to himself until the very last pages when he mentions the killers spoke to a journalist which one assumes means himself. I thought I knew this story of the Clutter murders as I'd seen the movie, with Robert Blake, and read brief accounts of it often enough so was surprised at how much I really didn't know about it at all. I haven't read Capote before and he is truly a master writer; you are able to feel the humanity in each and every character in this saga from victim to perpetrator to participant. The only thing I found a bit unsettling was that Perry Smith seemed to be the focus of the book as a whole. He's certainly the most interesting one from a psychological perspective but the author appears to have made actual friends with Perry and wants to tell his story. Capote also at a few points throughout the book and then, in one specific instance, makes a particular case for criminals being allowed to be declared "not guilty by reason of insanity" even if they know what they did was wrong. He believed Perry fell into this category. It's a fascinating literary piece of history. I read it very quickly and am so glad I have finally read it. I don't think it is an unbiased piece of work by any means, but it is a unique first-hand account. Reading a more modern account of the case in retrospect may be something I'd like to try at some point now.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak Volume One

I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories  by Clifford D. Simak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ebook, 332 pages
Published October 20th 2015 by Open Road Media

The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak (Volume One)

A random collection of stories by Clifford D. Simak, all science fiction except for one western. I really like this author especially his longer stories and novellas of which a few are included here. This is a good mix of short and longer stories. Each story is prefaced with a short intro by the editor explaining when and where it was first published along with an interesting tidbit about its publication and the editor's personal opinion or remembrance. All of the stories are good garnering mostly 4 or 5 stars with only a couple of 3 stars. Simak is an excellent world-builder and his stories are entirely mesmerizing. It also has all the qualities I like in a short story collection with David Wixon performing an excellent job as editor.

1. The Installment Plan (1959) - Excellent story to start the collection with as it immerses us deeply into Simak's world building. A crew of robots and couple of human leaders has returned to an alien planet to conclude a trade deal, only because of bureaucracy, they are 15 years late. They find the locals uncooperative and the planet in a different state than last reported. This has a bit of everything including a mystery. Loved it! (4/5)

2. I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air (2015 first time in print!) - We listen to the mind ramblings of a man who finds he has been turned into something not human until he discovers one remaining vestige of humanity left to him ... hate. Has a twist ending. I didn't really get into this one as I didn't buy the author's conclusions about humanity since I'm Christian. Ultimately, it all rang hollow to me. (3/5)

3. Small Deer (1965) - A man builds a time machine and discovers the horrible truth of how the dinosaurs became extinct. Written as a letter this is a very fast, short read. Somewhat outdated in its views but, nonetheless, entertaining. (3/5)

4. Ogre (1944) - This is a splendid story of life on an alien planet that I've read before. The race here is plant based and thrives on music. Quite an adventurous tale as beings on both sides plan to conquer Earth. I absolutely love the world-building and alien beings in this one.(5/5)

5. Gleaners (1960) - The goings on at a time travel company. Absolutely loved it! (5/5)

6. Madness from Mars (1939) - An early story and one Simak himself didn't like. However, I thought it was a great story of space travel from the era and the consequences of bringing back an alien animal. (4/5)

7. Gunsmoke Interlude (1952) - This is a short one and a western. Though famous for sci-fi Simak wrote other genres. It's a good redemption story, but I didn't like the smart alec kid who is the redeemer so it fell flat on me. (3/5)

8. I am Crying All Inside (1969) - Whoa! This is short but very powerful. A story of false pride. At first, it sounds like a slave talking about his "people" and the elegant "folks" who live in the big houses, but that is not what is going on at all! Compelling. (5/5)

9. The Call From Beyond (1950) - A novella. I love Simak's longer pieces as they are totally engrossing. His world building is amazing. A team of scientists had secretly been sent to Pluto to work on secret biological human mutations, but three years in had sent an emergency message that all hell had broke loose and the last man was killed during the report. There was a government cover-up, ban and quarantine on Pluto. Our hero comes to Pluto thinking he can come live as a recluse from Earth and be left in peace but finds things are not as he thought they'd be. The story turns into an interesting dissertation on "mutations", not physical but neurological. It's quite interesting in light of today's scientific research and opinion of neurological conditions such as Asperger's which in this story are considered mental mutations and the public's reaction and government's handling of these so-called mental mutants. A page-turner! (5/5)

10. All the Traps of Earth (1960) - The final story in this collection is another long one and again a deep story. Instead of world-building, this story concentrates on character and follows the predicament Richard Daniel, a six-hundred-year-old robot, finds himself in when the last member of the family he has faithfully served all these years passes away. Illegal for a robot to keep the same life memories for more than 100 years Richard rebukes his imminent memory washing and sets out to find a life free of Earth's rules. An exploration of the humanity of a robot. Excellent! (5/5)

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Killer Handyman: William Patrick Fyfe by C.L. Swinney (Crimes Canada: True Crimes That Shocked A Nation (Book 7)

The Killer Handyman: William Patrick Fyfe by C.L. Swinney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, First, 112 pages
Published September 25th 2015 by RJ Parker
Source: Kindle Store

Crimes Canada: True Crimes That Shocked A Nation (Book 7)

This is the second book I've read in this series and I won't be reading any more. A different author this time, but again I hadn't heard of the case and it is certainly worthy of knowing about. However, badly written, with a lot of repetition of information, blocks of details rather than narrative and plenty of the author's own personal opinions and assumptions, Swinney managed to make this book boring. I only finished it since I paid for it and I wanted to know the end results of the case without just resorting to muderpedia.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Horror, 1816-1914 by Leslie S. Klinger

In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Horror, 1816-1914 by Leslie S. Klinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 15th 2015 by Pegasus
Source: egalley via Edelweiss

A wonderful collection of gothic short stories by authors the editor feels have been forgotten over time as writers of the macabre by falling under the shadow of Poe. A very informative and entertaining introduction is included which gives a history of the "terror" story from ancient times to now with the emphasis being on the latter-half of the 1800s. This is an excellent sampling of Gothic tales of horror from the Victorian era by a wide range of authors. Of course in such collections some stories are better than others, but I found the collection as a whole to be a solid 4-star rating. I had heard of most of the authors, read a good many of them, found some new-to-me authors, but also did not recall having read any of these stories and was particularly pleased to find a couple in the collection that I've wanted to read for ages such as "The Yellow Wallpaper", a classic indeed, that had thus far eluded me. Klinger has done a fine job as editor and this is a highly recommended anthology!

1. The Sand-Man by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1816) - This has all the markings a classic Gothic tale should have, even including a madman, but is quite forward thinking for the times as the man is the innocent, childish, frail one while the woman is the logical, non-emotional one coming up with the reasonable answers to the strange goings on. Hoffman is quite the melodramatic story weaver! (4/5)

2. The Mummy's Foot by Theophile Gautier (1840) - A Frenchman walks into an antique shop and buys an Egyptian mummy's foot. A strange episode ensues. Descriptive to the point of tedium, starts off with pages describing the antique store, then the proprietor before even getting to the purchase then becomes exotic with its descriptions of Egyptian things but, overall, while being a fantastical story pretty boring for today's reader. (2/5)

3. An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1851) - I like Le Fanu. He's a great writer and very easy to read compared to others from this era. This story is just ok, though. A haunted house story, in which the narrator relates the events which happened to him and a friend when they rented the old manor. The descriptions of the ghost are quite gruesome and it's a nasty thing so I can imagine this being more titillating at the times than it is now, to me. (3/5)

4. The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford (1885) - Loved this! Classic ghost tale! Has a bit of everything. A group of men are sitting around having their usual cigars and drinks, telling stories, when our narrator mentions he has seen a ghost. Then he tells his tale, A splendidly gothic, creepy tale taking place aboard a steamer ship crossing the ocean. My favourite so far. (5/5)

5, His Unconquerable Enemy by W.C. Morrow (1889) Oh sweet revenge! He will have it at all costs. Thievery is punished by the removal of an arm, thence revenge steps in. His re-capture turns his sights upon the Rajah who punishes him with the removal of the second arm and so and so on. This is the type of story that can only be read. Visualization would take away the cringeful moments the imagination can create better. (5/5)

6. In Dark New England Days by Sarah Orne Jewett (1890) - Spinster sisters loose their domineering, miserly father as they enter their senior years. Hoping to find they've been left financially secure now that they are free at last, instead the timid sister curses the man (and his generations) who cause them to remain dependent on what they can earn from garden and spinning wheel. A fairly straightforward story, and predictable, but well-written and atmospheric. I really enjoyed it. (4/5)

7. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892) - Brilliant story of madness! Fascinating piece for its historical value as Ms. Gilman is protesting the common treatment, at the time the story was written, given to women who were suffering "nervous" disorders. A cautionary tale but extremely frightening because of its reality. Is followed by Gilman's 1913 essay on "Why I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper" (5/5)

8. Desiree's Baby by Kate Chopin (1893) - Whoa! I didn't see that coming. Short, but powerful! (5/5)

9. The Yellow Sign by Robert W. Chambers (1895)- This is a creepy, haunting, otherworldly tale which gets weirder right up to its abrupt ending. One of the best stories in the collection. It leaves you a little baffled; is it ghosts? supernatural? Leaves you thinking. (5/5)

10. A Tragedy of Bones by George MacDonald (1895) - Chapter 17 of the novel "Lilith" - A man out walking in the forest at night happens upon some incidents involving skeletons. MacDonald's work is all very theological and in essence, this is a little tale on the afterlife, taking place in a dream I suppose (I haven't read Lillith) showing the narrator what goes on in Purgatory (or Hell since MacDonald believed Hell was actually more like the Catholic Purgatory). If you don't get the theology going on it's basically just a story of dancing and arguing skeletons. (3/5)

11. A Night of Horror by Dick Donovan (1899) - The classic haunted house ghost story where the ghost is looking for his remains and the truth of his death to be discovered. Well written and very gruesome for the times. (4/5)

12. The Corpse-Rider by Lafcadio Hearn (1900) - This is supposed to be the retelling of a Japanese tale though it's been Anglicized somewhat. The premise of the vengenance of a scorned woman outlasting death is frightful and so is the set-up of the story. But then it plays out to a boring end and let down. (2/5)

13. The Leather Funnel by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902) - A story of the occult which is tied to a real true crime of the 1600s. Very good! (5/5)

14. The Shadows on the Wall by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1902) - Absolutely delicious little tale of terror; perhaps murder, perhaps ghosts. Brothers and sisters gather at the family home (they all live there except for a married sister) after the abrupt, sudden death of the youngest brother under suspect, but hardly dared spoken of, circumstances. The suspense and tension slowly mount to a chilling end. Loved it! (5/5)

15. Lost Hearts by M.R. James (1895) - In a strange editorial choice this one story has been placed out of chronilogical order; this being because the story gained its popularity once it was reprinted in a collection in 1904. It would have been better placed earlier in the collection. Going back to the early 1800s this story brings together a practitioner of the dark pagan arts and his newly arrived orphan nephew, only 12 years old. I's easy to guess where it goes from there. (3/5)

16. The Moonlit Road by Ambrose Bierce (1907) - I like this author but this story isn't terribly haunting even though it is a ghost story. Told in three parts we read the testimony of three participants; first the son, then the father and finally the mother (through the aid of a medium). (3/5)

17. The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers (1915) - Perfectly splendid! Perhaps my favourite in the collection! Expertly told. Some might, but I wouldn't, call this a ghost story, more a tale of the macabre. A medical student registers himself up in a room whose last three occupants have hanged themselves in rather an unnerving manner the past three consecutive Fridays between the hours of five and six pm. These are the journal entries found in his room in which he did stay longer than the next coming Friday. Haunting and well-written for a story in English translation. (5/5)

18. The Woman with the White Hood by L.T. Meade (1908) - Perfect Gothic ghost haunting. A familiar take today but quite shocking for its day especially for the description of the girl's terror. I enjoyed the female protagonist especially in a story written at this time for her pluck. Of course, she was utterly stricken almost mad with terror before the apparition but she was determined to see the affair through and lay the poor spirit to rest no matter her own suffering. Great story! (5/5)

19. The Easter Egg by Saki/H.H. Munro (1911) - Saki is hit and miss with me and this one was pretty good. A Clovis tale (though he doesn't appear) in which a very weak and nervous grown son has one brief shining moment of half-courage before his mother. Rather macabre. (3/5)

20. The Squaw by Brahm Stoker (1893) - Again an editorial choice to place the story out of order because it was published in a collection for the first time in 1914. Stoker is easy to read though and the story not time specific feels good here as the finishing story. The "dumb" American is over-the-top, but I took him to be intentionally so making one have little feeling for his horrific ending. Quite a disturbing story, violent with a disturbing act by one character leading to a final disturbing act by another. A good story with which to end the collection. (4/5)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Pet Sematary by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paperback, 410 pages
Published 1984 by Signet
first published 1983
Source: Bookmooched

Contains spoilers but I've been intentionally vague.

I'm re-reading King's books in chronological order and I was looking forward to this one. I would have been 15 the first time I read this and I remember it being quite frightening; I have no memory whatsoever of watching the movie even though I must have. My memory served me well pretty much recalling the whole plot of the story, but I couldn't remember the ending. Did he actually bury the kid? And what happened then? All that stuff ends up happening in the last 75 pages or so, though.

For the most part, I found the book did not live up to my expectations. The last 75 pages is the good stuff. Preceding that we have a family story, bad stuff happens, this family has psychological problems in dealing with death, but not much happens except for the cat thing. Honestly, that isn't even very scary. The best part is when Rachel describes the death of her sister when she, Rachel, was nine. That is fairly gruesome and terrifying to think about experiencing. The characters just didn't get to me, I didn't really care for them much, except the nine-year-old Ellie. There is no real bad guy or defined evil. There are glimpses and Louis defines it for himself as the Wendigo but the real "bad guy" is simply death itself and I don't think of death as a bad thing myself. These people just seemed so dysfunctional, I couldn't get on their fear bandwagon. So there is the supernatural element of the Pet Sematary but it doesn't turn out all that bad and with no defined "Evil" it was a fairly mundane read. Then suddenly the last 75 pages were a rush. Things went hyper, the Evil came out, all the good stuff happened and a there's a very sinister ending.

I also like to watch for connections to the overall SK Universe while reading and this has a couple. Almost right away we know where we are as someone briefly mentions that a nearby town had an episode where a rabid dog killed several people (Cujo). Next is the appearance of the line "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" which is from "The Shining" movie not book but must have been a nod in one way or another. (King did not like the movie adaptation) and finally whilst driving a road sign for "Jerusalem's Lot" (Salem's Lot) is passed and the driver feels it must be an unpleasant place. Those are all I noted.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dark Screams: Volume Five edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar

Dark Screams: Volume Five edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 160 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Hydra
Source: egalley via Netgalley

Dark Screams (5)

I've read all the books in this series and found this latest offering the most disappointing. All the stories included are originals for the book, or at least the copyright doesn't say any different. The crowning glory of this series has been the inclusion of at least one (sometimes two) old reprints by classic authors such as King, Straub or Barker. This book fails to carry the scope of the previous four books by including five authors I've never heard of and not one of them stood out as must read author to me. Though the stories improved starting with the worst and saving best for last. I'm hoping the next book will return to its previous format and include a proven successful reprint as a feature story.

1. Everything You've Always Wanted by Mick Garris - Hmmm ... I'm not really sure what to make of this. It's gory, dark, very sexual. Not something that particularly entertained me but kept me reading. The climax was unexpected, a bit silly and ultimately disappointing. (2/5)

2. The Land of Sunshine by Keelan Patrick Burke - Huh? (1/5)

3. Mechanical Gratitude by Del James - A man's love for his '68 Camaro and his wife, married the same year. The story has a bit of a "Christine" feel to it, but it's the wife who does the ultimate deed to protect man and car. Pretty good until the weird ending which kind of ruined it for me. (3/5)

4. The One and Only by J. Kenner - A creepy little ghost story. Southern gothic with just a touch of voodoo to add to the atmosphere. By far the best story in the book. (4/5)

5. The Playhouse by Bentley Little - A wonderful story to end the collection with, I found this even better than the last. A disturbing tale which never really lets you in on the secret. Is the playhouse haunted? Have the inhabitants died? Entered another dimension? The strange events keep you guessing, but one fact is clear, a couple of real estate agents are playing with (or being played by) time itself. Spooky. (5/5)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York: A Yarn for the Strange at Heart by Kory Merritt

The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York: A Yarn for the Strange at Heart by Kory Merritt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paperback, 128 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Andrews McMeel
Source: egalley via Netgalley

The art is the best thing about this profusely illustrated picture book for older kids. It's creepy and haunting, a bit scary and gross at times, certainly disturbing and the creatures are the stuff of nightmares. I liked it, the colours, dark and cool, purples and blues matched the gothic atmosphere. The story, on the other hand is somewhat long-winded taking ages to get to any point. The whole first half up to where Jonathan can't come up with a story, I found boring and tedious and struggled with not wanting to finish the book. It would hardly have changed the plot had the book started in the middle with Jonathan sitting there without a story to tell, getting up, and the same events would have followed. This is where it picked up for me and I started to enjoy the swamp creatures and the antics. There is a moral; Jonathan starts off as a timid person afraid of living and after his adventure he has gained self-confidence and a new joy for life. Great art, so-so story

Friday, October 9, 2015

Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty by Anthony Galvin

Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty by Anthony Galvin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 280 pages
Published June 9th 2015 by Carrel Books
Source: egalley via Edelweiss

An engrossing read from start to finish. The book narrows down its focus quite quickly but does start broadly to illustrate how the author arrives at his premise. Starting with worldwide execution methods throughout history, Galvin quickly travels through medieval and renaissance Europe, then particularly Britain from whence the colonists brought their preferred execution styles with them to the new world. For most of Britain and it's colonies, hanging became the civilized method and was used almost exclusively in the US until a time when Britain was perfecting the method. What was the US to do? Follow Britain again? Was hanging the most humane method of execution? The French had the guillotine, the Spanish the garrotte, and the firing squad has been used in most civilized countries even up to today. But the US went a very American direction and invented a uniquely American device that is associated with the US only, the electric chair. This book then tells the making of, history of, use of, moratorium on, reinstatement of, replacement of by more modern technology, and the possibilities of its comeback. Quite fascinating stuff whether reading about Edison and Westinghouse's quarrels about A/C vs D/C electrical currents, reading about botched executions, prisoner's last meals, or case studies of numerous individuals who ended up in the electric chair.

One thing this book is not, is an argument pro or con death penalty. For the largest part the author presents an entirely unbiased introduction of the facts; he uses a slight bit of gallows humour which is expected in these types of writings. Personally, I am against any form of capital punishment for any reason and yet I found Galvin's writing style informative and entertaining. The last few chapters Galvin does seem to press heavy that the current state of affairs does need change/reform and here he loses his bias as he does lean more one way than the other, but his information is interesting, even if one tempers his statistics as over keen especially as he heavily pushes the innocent quotient. But these are realistic thoughts to be thinking of going forward: 1: the EU's refusal to sell lethal injection drugs to the US; supplies are currently already low; 2) the research data that concludes lethal injection has probably been one of the most painful methods of execution the US has ever used, hanging was more efficient, beheading is most humane; and 3) 1 in 25 death row inmates is innocent of the crime for which they have been sentenced to death. None of these factors affect any change in my own opinions as they are based on my faith which cannot be swayed. The majority of the book though is about the past, that which happened, without any judgement and is an exciting book to read. I read the first whole half in one evening!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Classic Collection: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and Frankenstein

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving by Savior Pirotta; illus by Jason Juta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 48 pages
Published October 1st 2015 by QEB Publishing
Source: egalley via edelweiss

QEB Classic Collection

A very well written story in itself and a well-told adaptation of the classic tale. Many adaptations choose to concentrate on the headless horseman and turn this into a horror story when it is not. This author has kept to the original by presenting a fine folktale of life in New York, a love triangle, and the place ghost stories held in these peoples' lives. The headless horseman scene is the climax of the story which meanders along telling the story of Ichabod Crane first and foremost with moments of humour and a bit of a sense of the haunted. A good introduction to the ghost story.

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson by Anne Rooney; illus by Tom McGrath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 48 pages
Published October 1st 2015 by QEB Publishing
Source: egalley via edelweiss

QEB Classic Collection

A fine retelling of the classic horror story. Being a novella, in the first place this is not that difficult to adapt and Rooney has done an excellent presentation of the original including all the key elements and exploring the theme of the good vs evil personalities inherent in everyone and the consequences Jekyll creates by separating them from his core being. The book is an easy read for young chapter book readers with a full page of text accompanied by a gorgeous full-page illustration in the style of the Victorian era.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley by Savior Pirotta; illus by Franco Rivoli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 48 pages
Published October 1st 2015 by QEB Publishing
Source: egalley via edelweiss

QEB Classic Collection

A decent rendition of the classic Frankenstein story with beautiful illustrations every spread. The illustrations make this book as they are simply lovely even though they depict the creature akin to Boris Karloff's version which is not how he appears in the novel at all. The text does a good job of simplifying the story while keeping all the major plot points including important but small details such as the murder of the little brother and keeping in mind the whole deprivation of love/revenge-theme. Two points which make this version miss the mark are that the creature is identified as a "monster" immediately and it fails to convey Victor Frankenstein's insanity. These are key to understanding the original novel but still this version does introduce the story to first-time young readers.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories edited, illustrated & introduced by Audrey Niffenegger

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories edited, illustrated & introduced by Audrey Niffenegger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 464 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Knopf Canada
Source: Review Copy thanks to Penguin Random House Canada

A varied selection of ghost stories from Victorian era through to modern day authors. The spooky ghost theme is consistent throughout the collection though sometimes the reader is left with deciding whether it is a story of the paranormal or madness. The writing, however, varies widely from Gothic to humour to horror to simply odd and so on making it a decidedly inconsistent anthology. Overall, I found the selections mediocre, some better than others, a few great, but more than a few less than good. There were some I'd read before and the older ones were my favourites. There were classic stories by Poe, Oliver Onions and M.R. James but surprisingly my favourite in the entire collection was a modern story by a new-to-me author, Kelly Link. Almost all the older authors I've read before, if not these specific tales, but I just wasn't wowed by their representative stories. They have so many much better titles to choose from. Certainly not one of my favourite anthologies, but if you haven't read any of these authors before they are worth reading.

1. The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe (1843) - I've read this many times and reviewed it before. Quintessential Poe with many of his oft-repeated themes. The cat episode never fails to get at me. A little iffy as to whether it is a ghost story, though. (5/5)

2. Secret Life with Cats by Audrey Niffenegger (2006) - Ok this is certainly freaky. Freaky in a weird way and puts an entirely new spin on the idea of the crazy cat lady. Fun to read but the ending didn't seem to fit the character. (3/5)

3. Pomegranate Seed by Edith Wharton (1931) - Gahhh! This was decidedly dull with an incredibly predictable melodramatic ending. (2/5)

4. The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions (1911) - The collection's novella, this is a very long story. I haven't come across this author before but I'll be sure to look out for his name from now on. Very satisfying story that has us thinking all over the place. Either a ghost story or a descent into madness with a completely shocking ending that took me by surprise. The ending really makes the story worth the read. (5/5)

5. The Mezzotint by M.R. James (1904) - Oooh! Spooky! I loved this and the writing. James is a wonderful writer from this period. A man receives a picture and every time he looks at it, it has changed. Very creepy when he finds out the history of the engraving. (5/5)

6. Honeysuckle Cottage by P.G. Wodehouse (1925) - The intro to this story says it's funny but I'm not a huge fan of Wodehouse and found the story a bit insipid and silly rather than ha-ha funny. A dyed-in-the-wool bachelor writer of mysteries inherits his romance writer aunt's house and finds it haunted by the spirit of wholesome head-over-heels love stories. Readable enough to keep my attention, though. (3/5)

7. Click-Clack the Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman (2013) - Fast forward to modern times and here is a very short creepy story from Gaiman. It's certainly creepy enough but the pov it's written from isn't possible if we're to believe the intended doomed ending. I'm not big on Gaiman. (3/5)

8. They by Rudyard Kipling (1904) - A man drives upon a secluded manor with a large garden of fanciful topiaries and spies assorted children. Then he meets the young, beautiful blind mistress of the estate. Quite haunting though overly sentimental. (3/5)

9. Playmates by A.M. Burrage (1927) - Well-written though fairly straightforward 'nice' ghost story. A lonely young girl is raised alone by her elderly guardian, they move to an inherited old house and her usual glum manner eventually brightens up. Her guardian and the housekeeper think she has made up some imaginary friends but we, the reader, can figure out what these so-called friends really are. (3/5)

10. The July Ghost by A.S. Byatt (1982) - A man rents upper rooms from a married woman and soon learns he is the only one being visited by her 11yo son who was killed in a traffic accident two years ago. This was just boring. (1/5)

11. Laura by Saki aka H.H. Munroe (1914) - Saki is hit and miss with me; usually a miss and this was one of those. A woman is on her death bed talking about how she supposes she will be reincarnated as an otter. Of course, she does. The humour falls flat on me and I just found it stupid. (1/5)

12. The Open Window by Saki aka H.H. Munro (1914) - Now this one is a hit. I've read it before, but it always delights. A teenage girl plays a nasty trick on a distraught visiting man. Dark humour. (5/5)

13. The Specialist's Hat by Kelly Link (1998) - This is a new-to-me author and I found this a spooky ghost story. It is a babysitter story and I admit to enjoying creepy babysitter tales. This one runs counter to your usual bb-sitter horror, and because of that is indeed a unique twist and haunting tale that slowly reveals it's rather unexpected ending. Probably my favourite in the entire collection. (5/5)

14. Tiny Ghosts by Amy Giacalone (2015; previously unpublished) - This is just silly, but I guess the moral is not to let anyone push you around. (2/5)

15. The Pink House by Rebecca Curtis (2014) - A woman tells a gathering of writers and painters an obscure true ghost story which happened to her over a period of seven years. At the end, the listeners tell her what they think of her tale, which isn't much at all and I felt the same way. Strange, but in a "why bother" way. (2/5)

16. August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury (1950, orig. "April 1985") - A haunting, tale that tells the last day in the life of an automated house that survived the nuclear apocalypse. Chilling. It is dated, though, and changing the stories time-frame date from 1985 to 2026 doesn't fix that. I can take the piece more seriously as intended, from a Cold War perspective. I'd give the original 5 stars but give the edited date version four. (4/5)