Showing posts with label short stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label short stories. Show all posts

Friday, January 13, 2017

Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials by Annie Bellet

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of two short stories by Annie Bellet that I will review today. Both get a worthy rating. They're also both available (at least as of this review) for free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, although I have to say Apple and Kobo seem much more interested in getting in your face than in getting you to your reads. This author has quite the oeuvre, and some of her other materials are free, too.

This short-story-for-free idea seems to me to be a good one. Yes, you can get a sneak preview of most books before you buy them these days, but all you get is the beginning, and while this does clue you in to how the author is going to approach a story (and happily allows you to reject stories which are first person voice as I habitually do!), this gives you no sense of how an author can carry a whole story, or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, so it seems to me to be a valid approach for an author to put out short stories for free.

It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to her main works, so you also get a sense of the entire world in which the main story takes place and might well be more willing to buy one of the other books in that world. I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general, but I've written one or two myself (contained in my Poem y Granite collection), and I've read and reviewed a few that were worth the time. These two are definitely worthy. I found it interesting that both of the stories told a similar tale: a young woman scavenging for a living, scarred, outcast, in danger, who ends up rescuing someone. Despite the underlying theme being the same, both stories were well-told and happily different.

This particular one is a sci-fi tale set in your standard dystopian future, where a young woman, Ryska (great name for one who takes risks!) who had evidently spent time in a research lab with many other children, being experimented upon, has escaped somehow and is now making her own way in the world. Why the kids were lab rats in the first place goes unexplained in this story. It seems the main character was purposefully blinded, and fitted with whiskers which feed her senses with sufficient information that she can get by without her eyes, and which supply her with sensory input that her eyes could not deliver. Why this was done is again unexplained.

On the one hand this seems stupid. Human cheeks are not cat or rat cheeks. Fitting whiskers to an area which is not rich with sensitive nerve endings will not give humans the same sensory capabilities that whiskered animals enjoy. Besides, animals have whiskers on their nose, not their cheeks, a fact of which far too many writers seem lamentably ignorant. I was willing to let that slide though, since my needs are simple. If you tell me this is the way it is in your story, I'm happy to go with you on that as long as I don't have to hike with you down the road to Dumbsville in the telling, and as long as you don't spend pages coming up with ridiculously lame "explanations" for why this is this way.

Talking of Dumbsville, this was yet another case of a publisher putting an inapplicable covers on books! Do cover designers never read the book they design for? This is yet another beef I have with Big Publishing™ or Big Publishing™ wannabes. This book has two covers that I know of, and neither shows a girl who looks like she's blind or who sports whiskers! The one cover shows a slightly steampunk-looking girl with goggles on her forehead. Why would a blind girl need goggles? LOL!

Perhaps that's why they changed the cover, but thee are still no whiskers on the new one, and this girl isn't dressed like she lives on the streets! In short, these covers are just plain stupid. This is why I don't review covers or wax about how great they are because the cover is window dressing only, and it has zero to do with the story inside. I'm sorry, but if you judge a book by its cover, then you're stupid. Had I done that, I never would have read either of these short stories.

The story (yes, I'm getting to it!) is that Ryska is scavenging and finds herself in a situation where violent men are searching for a young child. She doesn't want to get involved, but when she recalls the children at the lab, where she escaped and they did not, she feels compelled to counterbalance her failure there with a risky attempt at rescuing the boy here, which she does with inventiveness and courage. It turns out the boy has mob connections, so maybe Ryska's action will bring a reward or some favors? We never find out - not in this story. But that's fine. I really liked this, and I recommend it.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due

Rating: WARTY!

I could not read this book the whole way through. I made it to about 70% in in terms of page count and almost two thirds through it in terms of the number of stories I read, but I simply could not continue reading because the stories were crushingly boring. In my experience with this author, the best thing about her has proven to be her astonishing name, which I love. I'm sorry I can't love what she writes, though!

There comes a point even with the best of good will that you need to cut your losses and move onto something that will provide a more rewarding read. To continue reading in a situation like this is really to indulge in what's known in economic terms as the sunk cost fallacy (I think wikipedia has it under 'Escalation of commitment'), and I do not subscribe to that! I did move on, and I didn't regret it because the advance review copy I moved to after this proved to be eminently entertaining! Life is far too short to spend it on books that don't thrill you from the off!

By the time I quit, I'd read nine of the fifteen short stories it contained. Only one of them had been interesting to me, and even that was nothing special since this kind of story has been done to death: laying a ghost by discovering long buried bones? This variation on an old theme brought nothing new to the oeuvre.

I got this book thinking it was a graphic novel of Tanarive Due stories, so I thought it might be interesting even though I hadn't liked the only other novel by this author that I read, which was Joplin's Ghost. It was included in a flyer from Net Galley advertising graphic novels. Two of the "graphic novels" were short story collections. I got both of them and liked neither! I am going to be very careful about requesting any more 'graphic novels' from Net Galley, rest assured!

This might sound strange to say, but one of my biggest problems with this novel was that it felt racist to me. It seems this author can write only about black families, and even then only about ones with issues or with silly superstitions. There are no Caucasians or Asians in her world. This is why it felt racist to me. And no, I'm not trying to suggest she's saying all African American families are superstitious or believe in ghosts or whatever. Clearly this whole book was written about the paranormal so that's a given, but the family circumstances of everyone she writes about here are awful and it felt like racial profiling! Are there no black families that lead relatively ordinary lives that she could write a paranormal story about?! Not according to this author, which is one major reason why I did not like this.

The story titles are as follows. They were divided in the book into sections which meant quite literally nothing to me, so I'm simply listing them here in order they appear in the book and ignoring the section headers:

  • The Lake
  • This was about some kids rowing up around a lake wherein resides something that's not very friendly to kids and which is also very hungry.
  • Summer
  • This is apparently about a baby which was apparently switched out by fairies, or something along those lines. It simply fizzled rather than have any kind of an ending.
  • Ghost Summer
  • The title story was the one I thought was ok, but as I mentioned it really offered nothing new or different. I think this is the longest story in the collection, and it honestly felt really long, but it avoided being boring.
  • Free Jim’s Mine
  • I honestly saw no point whatsoever to this story. It didn't seem to go anywhere to me. It touched on slavery and servitude, but cheapened that message by tossing in the supernatural element. It's like the author felt that slavery isn't bad enough by itself, there has to be something more - some horrific supernatural element added to the recipe to make it truly cook. I think the author and I will have to agree to disagree on that score.
  • The Knowing
  • Is it a blessing or a curse to know when people will die? The "twist" in this story was pretty obvious, so it really offered no kick for me, and making this story first person failed for me because I detest that voice.
  • Like Daughter
  • This is about cloning and again was boring and made no sense to me. There was no supernatural element: it was all sci-fi.
  • Aftermoon
  • This is a werewolf story which made so little of am impression on me that I completely forget what happened in it.
  • Trial Day
  • This is a story about a man who is on trial for his life, and whether or not someone who could help him will testify.
  • Patient Zero
  • This one, as was pretty obvious from the start, is the story of a kid who is immune to a plague that is slowly killing off everyone else on the planet. It was again first person and I found it obnoxious. I skimmed lots of it rather than read every last word, and it was at this point that I decided I couldn't bare to start another of these stories, so I can't tell you a thing about the remaining stories which follow.
  • Danger Word
  • Removal Order
  • Herd Immunity
  • Carriers
  • Señora Suerte
  • Vanishings

Like I said, life is too short and these stories were quite simply not speaking to me or entertaining me. I can't recommend this one at all. I don't get why she's so fond of Roots, either. From what I've read it would seem to be a mashup of fiction and plagiarism, so I have no desire to read it when there are more realistic books available on the subject.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Not Quite So Stories by David S Atkinson

Rating: WORTHY!

"Broderick always did that was well." Maybe "as well?" (p4)

I'm not quite sure why this author named his set of twenty-three short stories the way he did. They have no kind of relationship to the Rudyard Kipling stories which I reviewed favorably back in December 2014, but they were different and unusual, and made no attempt at being 'literary' (trust me, that's a compliment from someone like me who gets hives when in proximity to 'literary' stories!).

I'm not a fan of collections of short stories even though I have written one myself, and the author of these seems very fond of simply ending the stories without offering any sort of a dénouement. I'm definitely in favor of less is best, but some of these seemed abrupt even by my standards! However, overall, I recommend this one as a worthy read. I'm not about to review each and every one individually, but the list below consists of all of them with a one line smart-ass comment from me.

G- Men
In which the government manages to find a way to spoil the enjoyment even of skydiving. You know what officialdom is like and it’s not like fun.

Cents Of Wonder Rhymes With Orange
In which orange is the new track-star. It either has a mind of its own - or somebody juiced it up.

Domestic Ties
If they're going to dragoon private buildings into helping out the overcrowded penal system, wouldn’t bars be better than homes, Sherlock?

Home Improvement
In which a man's home leaves him in the lurch and goes off looking for a new partner. If I had a haus for the number of times I've seen this happen, well, I'd be home & drei.

A Brief Account Of The Great Toilet Paper War Of 2012
In which the domestic bliss of ablutions is obliterated in and all-out escalating war over toilet paper and toilet seats.

The Bricklayer’s Ambiguous Morality
In which Larry is a brick, Derek is dead on his feet, and no one understands the gravity of the situation.

Changes For The Château
The Castle of Hope doesn't really offer quite the economy you might have expected on the room. Unless you're American....

Form Over Substance ≈ Eggs Over Easy
When a clown won’t leave you a loan?

Last Known Sighting Of The HMS Thousand Thread Count Sheets
Lamar is rather disturbed to discover that his beautiful hardwood floor isn't all it’s washed up to be.

Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey!
This is what happens when somebody monkeys with a car engine.

The Elusive Qualities Of Advanced Office Equipment
Rocking bureaucracy.

Happy Trails
Six-pack leads to six-shooter?

The Boys Of Volunteer Fire Two-Twenty-Two-Point-Five (And A Half)
This was the first really dumb story, and it annoyed rather than entertained me.

The Des Moines Kabuki Dinner Theatre
Jamón para arriba a la Castellan

Turndown Service
Grave expectations.

Dreams Of Dead Grandpa
I wonder if this title ought to have been assigned to the previous story? At any rate, I only skimmed this one because it was boring.

The Onion She Carried
Some people's lives aren’t as concentric as an onion - they have only one layer and it has only one side.

Context Driven
I think this would have been more driven had it been a time travel story!

60% Rayon And 40% Evil
Bear-Faced Liar?

An Endless Series Of Meaningless Miracles
The reach of a preacher.

The Unknowable Agenda Of Ursines
And maybe this should have been the title of a previous story, too, or would that be gambling too much?

The Headshaking Disappointment Of The Misguidedly Well- Intentioned
How to get a drug user drug out of an elevator?

Up, Up, And No Way
Overflown with weirdness.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Street Magicks by various authors

Rating: WARTY!

This book came to me under false pretenses! Yes, I requested it, but it was listed on Net Galley under 'Comics & Graphic, Sci Fi & Fantasy', and it's not - it's not graphic at all, that is. It's actually a collection of short stories - all text and no illustration. I don't go in for such collections because they tend to be boring. I was only interested because I'd thought it was a series of short graphic stories, but now I'm saddled with it, and it did not disappoint: when I read it, I found it largely uninteresting as I've consistently found such collections. I have a theory about this.

About 75% of the way through the book, I realized that one of the problems with it was that I wasn't really getting into the stories. In a way, I was doing this on purpose because I knew the story would be over before I truly got into it, even if I liked it, and this wasn't doing me any good. I had no incentive to invest in the story or the characters, and this is precisely why I don't read collections of short stories! I had thought that a graphic version might be different, but of course this wasn't a graphic version.

In fact, in theory(!), a collection like this ought to have something going for it, because some of the author's names were impressive: Elizabeth Bear, Jim Butcher, Charles de Lint, and Neil Gaiman jumped out at m (not literally, Silly!). You'd think people who are doing as well as they are could afford to put out their short stories for free, just as a generous gesture to celebrate their success and thank their readers! I know I would. It occurred to me though, that the reason these well-known authors were scattered in amongst the lesser-knowns is that this was really a vehicle to get the lesser-knowns' stories out there by attracting people using the better-knowns.

On the other hand, maybe the better-knowns contributed their stories for free in order to give exposure to the lesser-known authors? That's a generous gesture if it's true, but I have no idea if it is and on a personal level, it still did nothing to make these stories any more palatable to me. Maybe others will have more success with them than I did. I hope so. For m, though, when reading a collection like this written by one author, you know what you're in for, and if you don't like it after three or four stories you can quit knowing you gave it a fair chance. You can't do that when every story is by a different author. You have to at least try each one. Here was my experience with this collection, edited by by Paula Guran:

Freewheeling by Charles de Lint struck me as a pointless story about a delusional kid who was shot by police. I read it the whole way through and found it had nothing new or particularly interesting to say. A disappointing start.

A Year and a Day in Old Theradane was a wizard fantasy by Scott Lynch which held no interest for me.

Caligo Lane by Ellen Klages was a story about a witch creating a map in old San Francisco, but it was not something that appealed to me. It rambled on with little to say and was far too obsessed with the minutiae of creating maps. The graphic novel format might have improved this, but that's just Format's last theorem. Talk about cart a graphic!

Socks by Delia Sherman was the first story to grab my interest. 'Socks' is the nickname of a young girl whose feet smell. She lives in a home for orphaned children where everyone has to pull their weight. A new girl arrives and fascinates Socks, but then the girl leaves, having cured her foot odor problem. That's about it. It doesn't sound very interesting when put like that, but it was an imaginative story well told, even though it really didn't have much of a place to go.

Painted Birds and Shivered Bones by Kat Howard is the story of an artist who thinks she might be going crazy when she observes a naked man transform into a bird. This man, it turns out is cursed to keep transforming back and forth and he becomes the artist's muse for a whole new collection of paintings, which bring her great success. The story wasn't bad, but it really didn't do much for me, and it was at this point I decided I was not necessarily going to read all of every story in this collection!

The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories by Neil Gaiman was the first one I skipped because once I began it, I found it to be deadeningly dull, and I had no interest in pursuing it. I've liked some works by Gaiman, but it would seem, overall, that he's not an author for me. This story was full of boring details about making a visit to Los Angeles to discuss making a movie out of a novel he'd written. It was purportedly fictional, but it felt like it was autobiographical and I wasn't interested in unoriginal observations of Hollywood. I took issue with this: "People talk about books that write themselves, and it's a lie. Books don't write themselves. It takes thought and research and backache and notes and more time and more work than you'd believe." Nonsense! if you're working that hard then writing isn't for you! Yes, I can see the value of research on some occasions for some novels, but then I'm not one of those people who adores the realism in Tom Clancy novels or the verisimilitude in David Weber sci-fi. I find it tedious. There's only one novel I've written that honestly felt like work, and that one is sitting on hold waiting for me to evaluate whether it's worth finishing! I think that if it feels like work, then you're either doing it wrong or you're in the wrong profession altogether.

One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King by Elizabeth Bear aka Sarah Bear Elizabeth Wishnevsky

I didn't like the title of this story and would have avoided it purely because it gave me a feeling of mild nausea and powerful boredom. But I had to give it a try! I had read and liked The Jenny Casey trilogy: Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired, but not enough to want to immediately chase down everything she wrote to read it voraciously. As it happens, I could not get into this one. It bored me from the start. I'm willing to give a novel a lot of pages to bring me in, but I feel no such compulsion with a short story. There's too little space to waste. If you don't get me in the first couple of pages, you've likely lost me, and especially so if your story starts out way overly dramatic. This one failed on both counts. I can't tell you what it's about except that it started on the Hoover Dam with an accident - or, given the title, perhaps a suicide.

Street Worm by Nisi Shawl
When I first read this title I thought it had said "Street Worn" and it smacked of 'too cool for school', like Lou Reed's Street Hassle title for one of his albums - same effect. Transformer was better! But I digress. The title isn't 'Worn', it's 'Worm' so this improved my perspective somewhat. The story did bring me in quickly. It's about a young rebellious girl who can see worms on buildings. Is she insane, or does she have a view of the world with which most people are not privileged - or cursed? I liked the story well enough but the ending was abrupt and rather odd given the build-up.

A Water Matter by Jay Lake
This was amusing because of the title and the author's last name, but then came the fact that no one in the story had a name - only a title. There was The Dancing Mistress, the Girl Assassin, the Duke of Copper Downs and on and on. I started feeling like I didn't want to be there pretty quickly, so this is another one which I largely skipped. The tone was too playful for the content, too.

Last Call by Jim Butcher was the one I was really looking forward to, but sadly, it was a Harry Dresden story. I have no time for the man. I loved Butcher's Codex Alera series, even though I typically refuse to read series with pretentious words like 'codex' in the title (or 'cycle', or 'chronicles', or 'saga', or other such names), but I can't stand his wizard series, so I skipped this one unread. I was hoping for something new and different in a short story but apparently Butcher isn't up to it. I have a theory about this business of slipping a short story based on your series into a collection like this, which I shall go into later.

Bridle by Caitlín R Kiernan
This one turned me off in line three when it mentioned 'unseelie'. Nevertheless, I skimmed the next few pages. It turned out to be the selfsame lost cause I'd feared. I'm not a fan of 'seelie' or 'faerie'. Actually I'd be more of a fan of the latter if the authors had the guts to call it 'fairy' instead of dancing away from it, like 'faerie' is something to take seriously, whereas 'fairy' is absolutely not! That this was first person PoV did not help.

The Last Triangle by Jeffrey Ford came next. Finally here was a story which took hold of my attention not because it was bizarre or quirky, but because there was a actually something going on. It moved quickly, too. Sadly, it was first person PoV, but I tried not to hold that against it given how much it had taken my interest hostage. In this one, a junkie crosses paths with a woman on a quest, and she offers him a place to stay, and food, as long as he keeps clean; then she asks him to keep a look-out in town for an obscure symbol which she has seen appearing on buildings. She has a theory that they come in threes and mark an equilateral triangle when plotted on a map. Maybe she has a point...! This was the most interesting one in the whole collection this far, but it still lacked sufficient gripping power to make it stay with me, I knew as I finished it that I would forget it quickly.

Working for the God of Love and Money by Australian author Kaaron Warren
This was very short and not very engaging. It was a about a man who was trapped into working for the god of the title - who had his 'boy' con coins out of people (paper money was no good). He would melt them down and immerse himself into the molten metal, after which he would rise up from it with a new suit covering him. There was no explanation given for why he did this. The boy, who is the man, comes up with a way to free himself from this god. That's it! It was much less than I had hoped for given how this initially began, and it quickly fell from grace with me. I wasn't sure, when I first started reading it, if the god was actually a god or if it was just a person whom the main character perceived as being godlike. This confusion didn't help the story.

Hello, Moto by Nnedi Okorafor
This is, unfortunately, a first person PoV story about magic. The weakness of the 1PoV approach is once again highlighted as the author switches voice so we can observe another character in third person. I am so tired of this sloppy technique that I quit reading this particular story at that point. It was a bit of a mess anyway.

The Spirit of the Thing: a Nightside Story by Simon R Green
The fact that this story was subtitled "A Nightside Story" suggested it was like the Jim Butcher story - a short story from a novel series, and since Simon Green evidently writes only series, this didn't bode well for this story. With very few exceptions, I am not a series fan, and I don't feel comfortable with an effort to drag me into a world with which I have no familiarity and little to no interest in, by means of a short story published in a collection. I skipped this story on principle. It was the same as the Jim Butcher story in this regard.

A Night in Electric Squidland by Sarah Monette
I have to confess a soft spot for writers named Sarah since it's one of my favorite names. As Bishop Goddard Larsen might say, "I've known several people named Sara(h) and been fond of them all." But that title? It turned me off to be honest. This story is about Mick Sharpton, who has clairvoyant powers. He can feel the personality of a person on things he touches, and can see some sort of aura over a person's head. He works with Jamie Keller for the Bureau of Paranormal investigations. Why is it always a bureau?! The two of them are called into a new case - a person has been found cut in half - longitudinally. It's connected with the Electric Squidland nightclub, where a person disappeared some time before. Evidently something weird and horrible is going on there. The problem was that the story kind of fizzled towards the end, and dissolved into attempts to shock with sex and gore, and horror which wasn't particularly sexy, or gory or horrible. But overall, the story wasn't bad. It just wasn't good, either.

Speechless in Seattle by Lisa Silverthorne
Okay, I admit this title amused me! And Lisa Silverthorne is a pretty cool name for an author, but the story was very trope magic - almost like it was lifted bodily from Harry Potter. It was a bit like reading a fanfic from someone who had morphed Seamus Finnigan and professor Quirrell together. The idea of a wizard who stutters and has to craft spells using language would have been an intriguing and entertaining material for a novel, but this was not that story. It was less a magic story than it was a romance, so I felt that the initial concept had been betrayed or at least sidelined by an inexplicable need to have the main character get himself a girlfriend. Why does this trope fill so many stories? Cannot men and women stand on their own? It's tedious and the story was too short for it, so I didn't like it on that principle alone, aside form any other issues. This 'love' had nowhere to go and no room to breathe.

Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente
This was more of a poem than a story, and I have no idea what it is about even though I read it through (it was very short). It was really just a description of a place, so there really was no story there. I didn't like it at all.

Ash by John Shirley
This last story actually started out promising to be interesting, then it reached a point where I was convinced I knew what was going on. It reminded me of a play I wrote ages ago, but the ending was so unclear that I honestly don't know if I figured out what had happened or not. Either way the story wasn't holding my interest.

So overall, while I expected to at least like one or two stories reasonably well, in general terms, I found this whole collection to be less than desirable I'm sorry to say. I was disappointed that it wasn't what I expected, and then even more disappointed that these stories failed to really grab my attention. I cannot recommend this one.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Demo Volume Two by Brian Wood

Title: Demo
Author: Brian Wood
Publisher: Warner Bros
Rating: WORTHY!

Art work by Becky Cloonan.
Lettering by Jared Fletcher.

This was different and a bit weird. It's volume two, but the stories are evidently unconnected, so you don't need to have read volume one before this one. The first two stories did nothing to sell this comic to me at all. There are six very short and unconnected stories in about 150 pages. Becky Cloonan's drawing is pretty decent - line drawing with some shading. There is no coloring, not even on the cover. I loved the way she rendered some stories, especially the third one titled Volume One Love Story (don't look for the titles to make sense!), wherein one of the characters is very reminiscent of the artist herself, and the fifth one, titled Stranded. These two were the only stories that I really enjoyed.

The first story concerned a San Francisco resident's prophetic dream of some accident occurring in a place she didn't know. Eventually, she discovers where the place is and goes there, and she gets an ending she doesn't expect, but her behavior in running off searching for a third party made no sense given the vision she'd dreamed.

Pangs is for fans of Jeffrey Dahmer and his ilk. I think. I can't say for certain! Volume One Love Story is about an inexplicably OCD woman who is magically able to give it all up, but there's no justification offered for how she came to be that way or how she was miraculously cured except for some magical deus ex post-it note solution. Waterbreather is a bit of a Man from Atlantis redux, but in reverse. Stranded is about time-travel (I think) and the miraculous if tardy undoing of past harms. The last story is about a very destructive relationship between two painfully-evident morons.

Brian Wood's story-telling was a bit suspect and patchy. Some of it made no sense or failed to go anywhere - at least, anywhere interesting. Some of it was so vague as to leave me wondering what the heck I'd just read, like the second story, Pangs (which was about the only one that did have a title which made sense, and which ironically was the one I liked least.

Becky Cloonan must love trees because she makes full use of the entire page - no wasted paper and gratuitous white space here, but the layout of the novel overall was poor. Yes, the chapters were labeled and the pages numbered, but there wasn't much of a transition between one story and another. There was a number, but no introductory page. This was strange because they'd put all the covers in the back of the book. I can't figure out why they didn't put the cover at the start of each story where it belonged.

I think maybe they were swept-up in the graphic trope of larding-up the back end-papers with extra art, and forgot about actually serving the reader. Some stories didn't even have the title, so I had to go back to the contents list each time to find the title for the story I was about to read.

As I mentioned, I really liked the third and the fifth, and I really didn't like the second and the last, which was titled Sad and Beautiful Life, and which incredibly seemed to be trying to justify co-dependent relationships. That's a no-no for me, but as with Pangs, the story was so vague as to be indecipherable. I had no idea what was really going on. Was this just an ordinary co-dependent relationship, or was there something supernatural happening between the couple like out of the movie Hancock? I have no idea. Given the fantasy and supernatural elements in the other stories, I'd guess there was something else going on, but it was never made clear what it was supposed to be.

As for the other two stories, the first, which as titled The Waking Life of Angels was okay. It was interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, if very mildly amusing. The other one, titled Waterbreather was just odd, and neither really entertaining, nor really off-putting. If I'd read four good ones out of six, I would recommend this, but given that I only got two, I can't. You may find more to like, of course, and may dislike my favorites and enjoy ones I didn't get, but for me I can't recommend it.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Anne Frank's Tales from the Secret Annex

Title: Tales from the Secret Annex
Author: Anne Frank
Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
Rating: WORTHY!

Read by Kathe Mazur

This review is one of a brace of forays into World War fiction which I undertook this month. The other is A Very Long Engagement which I have to say right now sucked. Anne Frank can write. Kathe Mazur did a decent job of reading this, but Anne Frank wasn't an American. I think it would have been more respectful to have had someone who actually sounded a bit like Anne Frank to actually read her words.

I never read Anne Frank's diary, because I know the ending. I felt a bit differently about this volume. The original title of it is, in Dutch, Verhaaltjes, en gebeurtenissen uit het Achterhuis beschreven door Anne Frank which translates, literally, to Bedtime stories, and events from the Rear Case described by Anne Frank.. Why it was changed, I do not know, but that's the USA for you. No one knows better than we do, obviously....

Annelies Marie Frank was a young German girl of Jewish ancestry who was born on 12 June, 1929 in Frankfurt. When the Nazi's came to power, her father Otto moved the family to Amsterdam. It wasn't far enough. Otto Frank had started a business, and in preparation for the Nazis invading the Netherlands, he arranged for his business to be held under a non-Jewish friend's name.

When the Nazis did arrive, he and his family, with a few other people: the Van Pels family and a dentist named Pfeffer, went into hiding in a hidden part of the factory, the entrance to which was concealed behind a bookcase. I have no idea if this is from whence the 'Rear Case' of her title is derived, nor do I know why people chose to change her own title. That, to me, is disrespectful.

For her thirteenth birthday in 1942, Anne was given a distinctive checkered autograph book she had expressed a liking for in a store. She chose to use this as a diary in which she recorded some of her innermost thoughts and observations. In addition to relating tales of school life, she recorded her observations on her family and family life as well as the others with whom she was so effectively incarcerated. Only a month after she began to write, she and her family were forced into hiding after her sister Margot was ordered to report to a labor camp.

This was where she kept her diary and where she also started writing essays about things which had caught her lively imagination. She continued writing until August 1st 1944. Just three days later, some low-life scumbag betrayed her family, and all of them were imprisoned by the German police.

The family was quickly split up, with Otto being separated from the females. After some considerable time enduring the privations of Nazi imprisonment, her mother, Edith, was informed that she and her daughter Margot were to be sent to a labor camp. Anne was not in a fit medical condition to go, having a severe skin condition by then, but Edith refused to leave her, so all three stayed behind. Edith eventually starved to death having passed on all her food to her daughters. In March 1944, just a month or so before the camp was to be liberated by advancing allied forces, first Margot and then very quickly after, Anne, died from starvation and illness, probably typhus - another of some 17,000 innocent people who fell victim to it in the camp at that time.

Anne's diary and short stories, and the first five chapters of a novel she had begun, were all that is left to us of a young, smart, talented, strong, and inventive woman who was opinionated, feisty, and a really talented writer. Her stories were full of observations, insights, humor, and candor and would have shamed many a modern female young-adult writer. Nazism robbed the world of this talent as it robbed us of six million other people, all of whom had a contribution to make.

Annelies Frank's story isn't the only one, but it is one of the very few we have come down to us in such a very personal and heart-rending manner. There were literally millions of people whom the Nazis slaughtered wholesale, men, women, and children. Indeed, Anne herself only escaped the gas chamber because she had turned fifteen just two months before her capture. The gut-wrenchingly sad thing is that the gas chamber might have been merciful compared with what she had to endure afterwards: being ripped from her father, then from her starving mother, then from her only sister, before finally, she found a release from her pain and misery in death, just a three months or so shy of her sixteenth birthday.

List of Contents of Bedtime stories, and events from the Rear Case described by Anne Frank

  • Was There a Break-In?
  • The Dentist
  • Sausage Day
  • The Flea
  • Do You Remember?
  • The Best little Table
  • Anne in Theory
  • The Battle of the Potatoes
  • Evenings and Nights in the Annex
  • Lunch Break
  • The Annex Eight at the Dinner Table
  • Wenn die Uhr Halb Neune schlägt dreißig (If the Clock Strikes Nine Thirty)
  • Villains!
  • A Daily Chore in Our Little Community: Peeling Potatoes
  • Freedom in the Annex
  • Kaatje
  • The Janitor's Family
  • My First Day at the Lyceum
  • A Biology Class
  • A Math Class
  • Eva's Dream
  • Roomers or Renters
  • Paula's Flight
  • Delusions of Stardom
  • Katrien
  • Sundays
  • The Flower Girl
  • My First Interview
  • The Den of Iniquity
  • The Guardian Angel
  • Happiness
  • Fear
  • Give!
  • The Wise Old Gnome
  • Blurry the Explorer
  • The Fairy
  • Riek
  • Jo
  • Why?
  • Who is Interesting?
  • Cady's Life

Each of these is an essay on life in the rear case, or it's a short story, and these are found in increasing numbers in the latter half of the book. They're smart, inventive, engaging, and very well written. Anne began writing a novel during her time in the rear case, titled Cady's Life which was never to be finished.

At some point I will buy the complete works of Anne Frank, and I will back-fill the above list with some brief details for each entry. Until then, I urge you to read this and remember Anne Frank and six million others like her.