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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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Box Trolls

Did you know the Box Trolls is based on the book, Here Be Monsters, by Alan Snow? Elizabeth Cody Kimmel has written a novelization of the movie and its available from Scholastic. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Everybody Paints: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin

Everybody Paints may be for young readers but adults will also enjoy this wonderful biography about this remarkable artistic family (the Wyeths). 

The book begins with pathfinder Newell Conver's story. His father thought art was nonsense yet Newell Conver Wyeth (better known as N.C. Wyeth) persisted, studied the craft, and became one of the most successful illustrators of his time.

Wyeth traveled West, wrote and illustrated "A Day with the Roundup" for Scribner's magazine, and married his sweetheart in 1906. Most people know Wyeth, however, for his illustrations of British stories:Treasure IslandKidnappedRobin Hood, and King Arthur.

Though all of his children were artistic, Andrew was the one who followed in his father's footsteps. Andrew is perhaps best known for the paintings "Braids" and "Christina's World" that use a technique called tempera on panel.

Andrew's son, James, became the third generation of Wyeths to take up painting. Jamie painted with combined mediums and had made portraits of the Kennedys, Andy Warhol, his wife and friends. Like his grandfather, James also illustrates children's books. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Prepare to fall in love with Rasmussen's characters in this wonderful novel about small-town life in Spring Green, Wisconsin. At the heart of the story are two sisters who have devoted their lives to each other.

In a novel that deftly moves back and forth in time, Rasmussen introduces us to two versions of the sisters: as they were in their teens and as they are as elderly ladies.

Twiss, who is adventurous and mischievous, wants to be an explorer and a scientist. Good as gold, Milly, wants to get married and have children. Things do not exactly go as planned, especially since they have an eccentric father and a stoic mother.

After losing his golf prowess, Milly and Twiss' father is never quite the same. He loses his job as golf instructor and his passion for life. He and the girls' mother never officially separate, yet he takes up residence in the barn, hanging his silk shirts from the rafters.

Rasmussen enlivens a heartbreaking situation with a quirky cast of characters. Spring Green is populated with people like lonely Mrs. Bettle whose only love is her pet parrot and nosy and fearless Bett who talks non-stop about her life in Dead Water, Wisconsin.

We also find characters like Father Rice who leaves his congregation to take a trip to Mexico and have a margarita. The bird sisters and the town work tirelessly to help him return when he runs into trouble.

For Father Rice, Twiss creates her happiness tonic which she tries to sell at the fair. Twiss arrives in a lacy dress in order to prove how much the tonic can transform a person. Twiss normally hates dresses.

What I like best about this novel is the terrific, comic scenes which also offer irony. When Margaret wins a bean-counting contest at the fair, her prize is a trip in a small airplane. 

The pilot asks her where she lives so he can fly over her house and barn. For Margaret, its a chance to fly over her life. Significantly, right after she flies over life, she comes to some startling revelations. 

As humorous as it is, the novel is also a deeply moving testament to the strength of sisterhood. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan

The Last Dead Girl features amateur detective David Malone who, in this novel, is still a home inspector in Rome, NY. Dolan's latest novel gives David's back story; it serves as a prequel to Bad Things Happen (2009) and Very Bad Men (2011). 

Though he is engaged to be married, David finds himself traveling down a dark trail that leads to Jana Fletcher. After a brief romance with Jana, she is killed by an unknown assailant. The reluctant hero finds himself chasing down leads. 

Detective Frank Moretti thinks Jana's murderer is local thug, Simon Lansky. David incurs the wrath of Rome lead detective, Frank Moretti, when he develops a completely different theory about Jana's killer. 

Moretti wants Malone to "stop playing detective," but his motives may not be as pure he pretends. David suspects the detective has framed an innocent person and may be hiding even darker secrets.

Dolan alternately illuminates and obscures the facts of the case for dramatic effect. Plot twists and time shifts add tension to this fast-paced, thrilling amateur detective story.