Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Birth of Venus – Jarl Nicholl

I first came across Jarl Nicholl’s stories when Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat sent me a link to Unsung Stories, an online magazine that publishes fantasy, science fiction and horror. His story, Eternal Sleep caught my eye and soon enough I was deep into the world of an unreliable narrator living alone in a ‘rustic little house’. Here, in a windowless room he finds a statue, and the mystery of its provenance begins to burden his already tormented mind. You can read the story here. This sentence stayed with me – perhaps because I knew exactly how the character felt.

His skeleton felt as though it wanted out from under his flesh and he suffered from alternate bouts of hot and cold sweating.

Not long after that Jarl sent me The Birth of Venus for review. He can be found here, where he occasionally posts short stories like this disturbing little piece which can be read in one sitting Microfiction – On the Generation of Animals.

The Birth of Venus The Birth of Venus – Jarl Nicholl

Some horror stories are bizarre, like an image seen through a thick glass behind which fantastic shapes move in slow motion; others, like The Ruins by Scott Smith, are quite straightforward – you get a few surprises along the way but soon enough it is clear which way the story is going. The Birth of Venus belongs to the former category.

Maya, Breanna and Paul, are three teenage friends. Paul is older – he’s seventeen and he likes Maya, his sister’s friend. Breanna, Paul’s sister, doesn’t play a major role in the story; it is here and there that we get a glimpse of her as a thin thread that has brought Paul and Maya together. From childhood games like hide-and-seek, to playful teasing, the relationship between the two of them is innocent and in time could lead to something more. But Paul is shy and awkward and he can’t quite bring himself to do anything besides acting like a big brother.
It’s not until Paul sees Maya with a strange older boy that something really seems to start going wrong. Maya’s mother is suddenly afraid for her daughter’s life. Her ex-husband, Maya’s father whom she managed to run away from years ago, seems to have found them, despite the woman’s efforts to disappear. As his presence looms closer, Sandy, Maya’s mother, begins to remember terrible things from her childhood, things she had managed to somehow forget. And Paul suddenly plucks up the courage and feels it is his duty to protect Maya from anything bad that might happen to her.
It is not exactly clear what Sandy’s memories are, besides the fact that they hint at something that would leave deep psychological scars – images, actions, even incest is hinted at, but the image stays foggy, the glass opaque, hiding the horrors. Sandy’s story and Paul’s sudden courage bring about a rush of events that precipitate the end, a part I confess left me a little baffled. The author plays with time, manipulating the story and even though I liked the story overall, the end left me shocked, in awe, watching those fantastical shapes moving around with no clear idea of what they are. But then, maybe not all stories are meant to be understood. For some, it is enough to be read.

Image used with permission, property of Abigail Larson.

Image used with permission, property of Abigail Larson.

Many thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of the story for review purposes.
I’m including this in the R.I.P. challenge, an event that ends on Halloween.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read in October 2015






Posted in Challenges | 5 Comments

The Ruins – Scott Smith

Image used with permission, property of Abigail Larson.

Image used with permission, property of Abigail Larson.

R.I.P. X or Readers Imbibing Peril is my favorite event of the year. Not that I need another excuse to read horror, because I read it all year-round, but because this event brings together so many great bloggers and I get to read a lot of reviews and take notes for new books to add to that ever-growing to-be-read pile.

The Ruins is a great horror story. It delivers fast paced action, has interesting characters (more on that later) and it concludes in a perfectly shocking way. As I came to the last couple of pages and finally realized where the story was going I could not believe it. Between wanting to throw the book out the window (as if this could, in any way, change the ending) and simply stare anxiously at the next words, this has kept me on the edge of my seat for days. It’s not a story about characters, or sprinkled with purple prose like Adam Nevill’s House of Small Shadows which is also an excellent read – it’s a straightforward narrative brimming with horrifying events that seem to escalate with every page.

The Ruins It starts quite innocently – two young American couples, having a great summer adventure together before heading off to university, dreaming of weeks spent lazing around on a beach in Mexico. They become friends with the Greeks, two guys who seem to be looking for a good time, just like their little group. Then they meet Mathias, the quiet German whose brother had left for a mysterious place, leaving behind a note with a hand drawn map. Together they decide to go and find the place, a Mayan archaeological dig at an old mining camp. And so the horror begins.
There are signs, subtle at first, then more obvious, that the place they’re trying to find should, in fact, be well left alone. Their bus driver tries to warn them, the people in a village try to warn them, but due to their inability to communicate clearly why they shouldn’t go there, the travelers choose to ignore them. If you were on your way to a mysterious place on your holiday, would you heed the warnings or keep going, hoping for adventure? That’s an interesting question. I felt that the author used the language barrier conveniently not only in this case but also when it came to the Greeks who didn’t speak any English, yet adding another layer of doubt and discomfort for me as a reader.

The travelers arrive at their destination. They find Mathias’ brother but this is more a case of “be careful what you wish for” rather than occasion for celebration. The tension is palpable, and this adventure pushes their limits, both mental and physical. There’s the heat, thirst, hunger, and the mental distress of facing a situation with little hope of positive outcome. How they react, what they do – and don’t do – life and death decisions that must be made, discoveries they stumble upon as the truth of what that place is starts to sink in, it all adds up, escalating in a finale of horrific proportions. It’s true that the characters act stupidly at times, their flaws obvious in the decisions they make, but I can forgive that – they are after all, young and just looking for a bit of adventure. Who goes on a relaxing three week holiday to the beach thinking they’ll have to go through a terrifying ordeal? Still, this was the main reason why I didn’t give this a 5 star rating.

I kept closing the book and picking it up again and again. As much as I love horror – and telling myself this is just a story – at times I found it difficult to keep reading. There are graphic passages and disturbing scenes so this is definitely not one for the squeamish. But curiosity and an engaging narrative won. I got to the end. It was unexpected. It was perfect. And it was terrible.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in September 2015






Posted in Challenges | 12 Comments

Guest post – Stefanie

There’s not much left of October. Fall has been quick in coming to this corner of Europe but summer has made a brief visit so we had a few nice warm days lately. I had planned on writing a post or two for R.I.P., which is my favorite event of the year, but I’m still working on that one as a few more stories have come my way and I’m very excited to read them. In the meantime, I’d like to introduce my guest blogger for this month, Stefanie, whose blog So Many Books, is a place I stop by with the greatest pleasure. She’s also a blogger who loves to interact with her readers, a fan of the outdoors, and she has a garden, a cat, and works in a library. Thank you, Stefanie, for being my guest for this month, and for the lovely pictures of your library.

1. Who are you?

That’s a loaded question! Seriously though, my name is Stefanie and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota with my husband and two cats and next spring will be adding a small flock of chickens to the party. I have been blogging for twelve years and it has been great fun. I work as a librarian by day and in my free time I am an avid gardener and cyclist. I’ve also been vegan for over twenty years.

I didn’t know you were a vegan. Obviously I will have to read your blog more often. Did you post any vegan recipes? I’d love to see them.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I started blogging because I didn’t have anyone to talk about books with except my husband and while he’s great, our reading interests don’t overlap much. Over the years I have “met” so many wonderful people and made a good many friends, something I never expected. It’s been so much fun I keep going and will continue until it stops being fun. My blog is about books and reading and all the stuff that goes along with that. A couple years ago I began dedicating Sunday posts to what was going on in my garden and this year when my casual cycling enjoyment exploded into passionate pursuit, I added biking stories to my Sunday posts as well. The rest of the time it’s books, books, books.

IMG_1002 3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

It’s easier to say what my favorites are not than what they are, but here goes. My go-to favorite genres are literary fiction, science fiction/fantasy, essays and poetry. Favorite authors include Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Ann Leckie, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Adrienne Rich. As for favorite books, those would be ones written by my favorite authors.

I’ve heard of Ancillary Justice but didn’t know the name of the author. Thanks for mentioning Ann Leckie, as a fantasy enthusiast this must go to my TBR list.

4. Kindle or paper book?

I like both. I have killed two Kindles in seven years. Frustrated by that and Amazon’s horrible business practices, I now have a Kobo Touch. I pretty much only read digital on my public transit commute to and from work as well as during my lunch breaks, or if I am traveling somewhere. Otherwise paper is my preference.

Some people may find this question boring but I’m always curious to see what people choose. All my friends who have Kindles actually prefer paper books. Looks like the Kindle wins for convenience but not much else.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

How to create a permaculture garden (Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway), how to build a chicken coop (How to Build Chicken Coops by Samantha Johnson), and how to make a vegan chocolate cake (Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman)

Simply Vegan – another book to add to the TBR pile. Thank you.

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

An e-reader with a solar charger and a wireless connection. Is that cheating?

Only a little bit. But you get points for creativity. 🙂

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

The American Heritage Dictionary in hardcover. Though I would never actually use it as a doorstop, it is an impressively huge and lovely book!

IMG_1003 8. Favorite quotes.

“The words loved me and I loved them in return”

from the poem “For Mama” by Sonia Sanchez (I am going to have this quote tattooed on my arm for my birthday next spring, I can hardly wait!)

“If you have a garden and library, you have everything you need” (Cicero)

I love both quotes, though I’d have to add “chocolate” to Cicero’s. That would be perfection.

9. Three tips for bloggers.

Be part of the community — comment on other’s blogs and reply to comments on your own blog. Don’t worry about how everyone else does things, find your own way.
Be yourself.

Great advice. I appreciate bloggers who respond to comments. Not all of them do.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

When I was contacted two years ago by Oxford University Press for permission to print one of my blog posts in a college textbook for freshman composition classes.

That is a wonderful accomplishment. Congratulations! I’ve read the article and agree with it even though I am a meat-eater. But maybe that will change.

11. What are you most passionate about?

Besides books – libraries, free speech, organic gardening, climate change, sustainability, animal welfare and bicycling.

12. Last book that made you cry.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Why?






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