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Monday, December 15, 2014

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
In one of the best novels of 2014, Rebecca Rasmussen describes both the joy and the loneliness of the Minnesota wilderness.
Eveline, joins her German husband, Emil, in a hardscrabble existence in Evergreen. Unbeknownst to her, Emil doesn't own the cabin they relocate to. When his father becomes sick, Emil goes to Germany, leaving Eveline and Hux on their own.

When a land surveyor comes through the Evergreen area, he cruelly takes advantage of her. She later makes a fateful choice that will effect her young son, Hux, and her husband who is still abroad.

The story also focuses upon Hux's sister Naamah, and their relationship. 

Hux locates his half-sister in a logging camp, years after she has left Hopewell, an orphanage, that has left her emotionally and physically scarred. 

Hux, who is a taxidermist and barely scraping by, tries to help Naamah heal; he tries to return a small piece of the childhood that was stolen from her. 

This is a heart-breaking story with many warm and humorous moments. 

Readers who like Evergreen may also like Orphan Train by Christina Kline, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, and Bloodroot by Amy Greene.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Boxtrolls by Elizabeth Kimmell

The Boxtrolls is a wonderful children's story that, among other things, show kids how awful it is to stereotype and scapegoat others. 

Boxtrolls starts with a  scenario that sounds a lot like many other dystopias. The above ground society, the Cheese Bits, are terrified of the underground society, the Boxtrolls. 

The Boxtrolls literally live underground; They eat insects and use odds and ends from the world above them to make things like a music maker. A manhole is a portal to and from worlds.

Because they are terrified of the Boxtrolls, the Cheese bits and their secret police, the Red Hats, hunt the Boxtrolls as monsters. The White Hats, who govern the Cheese bits, support the Boxtrolls hunts. One of the Cheese bit, a baby, was kidnapped and killed by the Boxtrolls. But was the Trubshaw baby really taken?

Eggs doesn't think so. He knows the Boxtrolls aren't monsters. Eggs knows this because he lives with them, They are his friends who assure him his peach skin is fine even though theirs is green or grey.

Eggs feels ok about his appearance until a girl who lives above ground, Winne Portley-Rind, calls him a name he never heard before, "boy."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

American Innovations: Stories by Rivka Galchen.

Readers who like stories about odd characters who find themselves in strange situations, will love this new collection by Rivka Galchen. 

As strange as the characters are, though, it's easy to relate to them.Who hasn't felt what this character in "The Lost Order" feels so keenly?

"But one day I woke up and heard myself saying, I am a fork being used to eat cereal. I am not a spoon. I am a fork. And I can't help people eat cereal any longer."

After a strange caller angrily denounces her for a missing Chinese take-out order, the narrator of "The Lost Order," comes to some startling conclusions about her marriage and herself.

"The Region of Unlikeness," is about another lost soul who befriends two eccentric intellectuals at a coffee shop. She is secretly attracted to one of them and repelled by the other. 

"American Innovations" bravely tackles magical realism, body image, and deformity.

"Wild Berry Blue," is a wonderful coming-of-age story about a girl who has a crush on an ex-junkie who works at her favorite McDonalds.

In one story, "Once Upon an Empire," a likable but possibly deranged narrator, loses all of her belongings. No one steals them; instead, in a magical realism way, they become mobile and literally walk away from her apartment.

She finds them in a dumpster but is reluctant to identify them to the police. 

Less successful stories included in this collection are "Dean of the Arts" or "The Late Novels of Gene Hackman." 

Galchen's collection was long-listed for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Black Warrior Review

Most of these stories and poems in Black Warrior Review (issue 41.1) are atmospheric stories with a magical realism bent. Unless that is your style, I wouldn't recommend submitting to them.

"Rejas" by Brenda Peynado is possibly the best story. A young Dominican Republic woman returns to her homeland where she no longer feels at home.

The bars or "rejas" keep the criminals from entering residences but they also keep people from understanding one another.
Black Warrior Review, 41.1

In M H Rowe's "The Dead Crystal Palace" a boy's father, in a magical realist style, moves to a crystal palace. He waves a scepter acting the part of the tyrant. His infidelity caused the divorce. He seems powerful but the last scene demonstrates his impotence.

In "Sail, Su Corazon," a young man records his final, delusional  thoughts on a faltering ship.

 The last narrative poem, "Shadow Memories From Desire: A Haunting," is dense, atmospheric and strangely captivating. A child who can see a ghost is also the object of her benefactor's desire. 

Black Warrior Review is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Writer's Digest has named BWR as one of the literary journals that matter.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong by Joyce Carol Oates

The opening novella, "Evil Eye," is a powerful story about a woman who could be on the verge of losing her mind. In a fit of despair, she has married an older man who crushes what is left of her spirit. One of the man's ex-wives tries to warn her to no avail.

The best novella is "So Near Anytime Always." Not only is this a great title, but it perfectly captures what Oates does so well. A highly-vulnerable girl wrongly believes a predator loves her.

Desmond appears charming at first. He is the dapper "boyfriend" that she has always dreamed about. Lizbeth believes a boyfriend as a "passport" to a new country.

Readers, however, can sense something wrong from the beginning. This is how Lizbeth meets Desmond: she looks up from her homework to see a boy staring intensely at her. Whether she realized it or not, he stalks her from that moment onward.

He appears well-educated, rich, and polite but becomes increasingly controlling. Desmond's true character quickly reveals itself after a disastrous violin lesson.  

"The Execution" is less satisfying because the narrator, Bart, is so unlikeable.  In chilling details, "The Execution" depicts an entitled college-aged kid who decides to murder his parents. Nothing unfolds as he plans.

The last novella, "The Flatbed," captures the feelings of a repressed woman. She suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a relative. Perhaps no other author captures the victim's viewpoint as well as Oates. 

Like all the novellas in this collection, "The Flatbed" ends on just the right ironic note. Has her fiance' revenge upon her perpetrator freed Cecilia from her damaging past? Or has she just traded one secret for another?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Anna Saves Them All by Seth Dickinson

Seth Dickinson, a science fiction author to watch, has written an impressive story about alien contact, terrible choices, and genocide in "Anna Saves Them All," by Seth Dickinson. This short story appears in tne September 2014 issue of Shimmer

Anna is Yazidi who remembers the cruelty of the "man in the red beret." She also knows that Ssrin sees some of that ruthlessness in her. 

This author has also written "Morrigan in the Sunglare" for Clarkesworld and "A Tank Only Fears Four Things" for Lightspeed.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hot Zone, A Terrifying True Story by Robert Preston

When Robert Preston's Hot Zone was published in 1994, it was an immediate best-seller. Written in the style of a thriller, Preston describes what happens when an unknown virus breaks out at a monkey house in Reston, Virginia.

While it reads like fiction, the events actually happened. Nearly five hundred monkeys at a Reston research facility were dying horrific deaths. Caretakers suspect the monkey are dying of simian fever (harmless to humans) but they send a sample to USAMRIID as a precaution.

USAMRIID or United States Army Military Research Institute for Infection Diseases have the personnel and knowledge to test for level 4 hot agents e.g. Marburg or Ebola.

When the sample glows positively against known samples of the Ebola virus, the US Army know it has serious problem.

Yet there is one perplexing mystery. All of the known outbreaks of Ebola had come from Africa. This particular shipment of crab-eating monkeys came from the Philippines.

As it turns out, the agent is not Ebola Zaire at all but rather a new agent that Army researchers call Ebola Reston. 

Preston's work, which captures the fear and chaos that accompanies a breakout, is even more relevant today than when it was published in the 1990s.