He had not heard her coming. Girls were like that. Their shoes never squeaked. No boards whined under the tread. They slunk like cats on padded claws.
He had not heard her coming. Girls were like that. Their shoes never squeaked. No boards whined under the tread. They slunk like cats on padded claws. ~The End of the Party, Graham Greene
I don't read a lot of short stories; it's not a format that appeals to me usually. However, when a story finds me that is so exceptionally good and unforgettable, so fine and filled with jagged teeth, there is no one on this green earth who will become a bigger pimp for said story.
...Graham Greene's "The End of the Party" is one of those stories.
So here I go a-pimping. First of all, I want to give a shout out to Wendy Darling and Stephen, both of who have done an awesome job pimping this story royally (without such pimpage I wouldn't even know of the story's existence).
Secondly, if I'm going to go ga-ga over a short story, there's a 99.9% chance it will have a twist ending, an ending that makes your skin crawl, or heart pound, or stomach drop down to the floor. Stories like: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, The Jaunt or Children of the Corn by Stephen King, or the more recent sleeper hit Ponies by Kij Johnson.
This story has a twist ending that goes right for the jugular. It's not sensational, but rather filled with creep and laced with unforgetableness (now I'm just making up words as I go along; I tend to do that when I get excited). Because this classic story is written by a literary master, you know the prose is going to snap and sing. There's a sadness in the story, about the powerlessness children often feel, and how often they can find themselves in threatening situations not of their own choosing. This is a story about fear and how unrelenting and merciless it can really be if left unchecked.
Above all, Greene accomplishes so much in so few words that your jaw will gape open in amazement (and envy). He makes Every. Word. Count.
Neil Gaiman weaves a tale in such a way that he transports me back to a state of childhood wonderment when being transfixed by a story seemed so muchNeil Gaiman weaves a tale in such a way that he transports me back to a state of childhood wonderment when being transfixed by a story seemed so much easier and so much more pleasurable. Gaiman reminds me of why I love to read and I love him for that.
First-line-fever: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife....more
I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't be I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't been at least tempted to dream of it occasionally with a wistful sigh. Please, please, please, just one more chance to live the best moments again and when necessary, to make different choices? But I would imagine if any of us were actually tasked to unravel all the "right" and "wrong" choices from our life and to relive the bad with the good, we'd go screaming into the night like raving banshees.
For what is a perfect life? How many kicks at the can would it take for you to answer that question, if it is indeed answerable at all? Change one thing, change everything, change nothing, change all the good, change all the bad. Round and round and round. It's exhausting just thinking about it. What's the saying? If I only knew then, what I know now...what? What would you do different? And would different choices always translate into better choices?
Ursula is a normal British girl except she's pretty certain she's lived her life before, maybe many, many times. The older she gets, the stronger these feelings of deju vu become, hounding her like ghosts in the night. Her prescience is rarely crystal clear, more like moods or instinct. Do this. Don't do that. Run away. Run toward. Stay still.
Life After Life starts slow and unassuming. The story is teasing, the pacing a dawdling, scenic walk through the English countryside. But from the very first page I was enthralled and little did I realize what a powerful spell Atkinson was casting on my reader brain. Because as you continue to read, the book picks up gravity and speed and texture. Each life after life reinforces the tender bonds you have been working on with each of the characters. Your acquaintance with them is not one brief life, but many, many lives. Like Ursula we are both cursed and blessed with the long view, the big picture. We come to know all the various permutations of death, cruelty, love and loss. We bear witness through two World Wars and how some forces, no matter how forewarned, are unstoppable, greater even than the hand of time.
This is a very English story, and is steeped in pre-1950 historical detail. Not ever having watched an episode of Downton Abbey I'll go out on a limb here and suggest fans of that show will love this novel for its acute sense of time and attention to detail. Atkinson is ruthless in her pursuit for authenticity. This is wartime England, no time to pussyfoot around. This has got to be right, and in her quest I believe she succeeds magnificently. The details are small but glorious, and paint such an intimate portrait you will feel absorbed into Ursula's quiet family life where there are disagreements and births, and jealousies and forgiveness. Yes, there is the rumble of the earth as the German bombs fall during the Blitz, but such terrible moments co-exist with the stark ordinariness of a life lived. Dinners, and picnics, and birthdays and games of cricket, and work, and gardening, and lots and lots of tea.
"Ow!" one of the evacuees squealed beneath the table. "Some bugger just kicked me."...Something cold and wet nosed itself up Ursula's skirt. She hoped very much that it was the nose of one of the dogs and not one of the evacuees.
This knowledge of the ATS girl's background seemed to particularly infuriate Edwina, who was gripping the butter knife in her hand as if she were planning to attack someone with it--Maurice or the ATS girl, or anyone within stabbing distance by the look of it. Ursula wondered how much harm a butter knife could do. Enough she supposed.
There is whimsy and humor laced throughout this novel and it makes for a beautiful contrast to the more serious components of tragedy and war. Life is a farce after all; if you can't find the humor in it you've been doing it wrong or have missed the point entirely. Atkinson has not missed the point. As readers, we are in capable hands. She has one helluva story to tell you, and trust me, you don't want to miss it.
2015 re-read: Closing in on the final two volumes and I can barely stand the tension. I have the day off work and am blissfully binging on the terrify 2015 re-read: Closing in on the final two volumes and I can barely stand the tension. I have the day off work and am blissfully binging on the terrifying thrills and spectacular adventure that is Joe Hill's Locke & Key series. I'm madly in love with this wicked crazy gothic modern fairytale about a sprawling, mysterious house with forbidden secrets hiding behind locked doors and a cast of unusual keys with the power to open them.
This story works not just on a fantastical level that blows all the circuits of your imagination at once, but on an emotional level where you care and worry about the characters and grip the pages white-knuckled in total abject fear for their safety. Little Bode Locke stole my heart from the opening pages of Welcome to Lovecraft and I've come to adore the sweet, precocious brat even more as the series has gone on, gathering steam and momentum and magic along the way.
Tyler and Kinsey are great older siblings acting as stabilizing forces to Bode's youthful uncontainable exuberance and transgressions. But even Tyler and Kinsey have made mistakes that have put the entire family in the worst jeopardy. Where do we go from here? What happens next?
What is the Omega Key? And what lies behind the black door?
2012 review: Outstanding!!!! I cannot wait for more! This series continues to get stronger with every installment. Since Chapter 1 "Sparrow" is dedicated to the great Bill Watterson, it is only appropriate that I express the extent of my pleasure in a happy dance thusly:
Camille Preaker is haunted by childhood memories of a cold, hysterical mother and the devastating loss of her sister, Marian, who died when Camille waCamille Preaker is haunted by childhood memories of a cold, hysterical mother and the devastating loss of her sister, Marian, who died when Camille was only 13. Literally carrying her war wounds upon her flesh, Camille is a recovering "cutter" who has carved a myriad of words into her skin as a visible record of the pain and trauma she's experienced. Having escaped from the clutches of a cloying family environment, Camille is being sent back into the cauldron, this time as a reporter for a second-rate newspaper to cover the gruesome murders of two local pre-teens. The more involved she becomes in the mystery, the more she uncovers about her town, her family, and herself. The discoveries are anything but pleasant.
Part thriller, part mystery, part Southern Gothic, Gillian Flynn's debut novel is simply outstanding. Camille Preaker is a heroine worth cheering for, as Flynn expertly delves into the female psyche and the delicate, often damaging ties between mothers and daughters. In the tradition of Flannery O'Connor, the writing here is so effective and evocative, this one will stay with you long after the reading is done....more
Picking this one up I was not prepared for such a trip into dark and depraved waters. This is more than Scudder has ever gone up against previously an Picking this one up I was not prepared for such a trip into dark and depraved waters. This is more than Scudder has ever gone up against previously and definitely the strongest in the series since Eight Million Ways To Die. While we've moved along in years out of the 80's into the early 90's, New York City continues to be a seething trap of anger and violence and desperation with all those ways to die and Scudder has stumbled upon yet another one. This time, he didn't even go looking for it, not really. It sort of finds him in a weird, chilling series of coincidences.
Two words: snuff film. Yeah, like I said, dark and depraved waters.
Scudder is moving along nicely in his life these days. He's sober and regularly attending meetings. He's got his girlfriend Elaine (who one dewy-eyed reviewer wistfully and with no irony whatsoever refers to as Matt's snuggle bunny) no matter that she's a call girl and continues to see clients. He's also forged a pretty meaningful friendship with Mick Ballou, the Irish gangster who may or may not have carried around some guy's head in a bowling ball bag, the man who proudly wears his father's blood stained butcher's apron (and which of those stains are man or animal, nobody knows).
I keep coming back to these books mostly for Scudder. He's such a great character to spend time with. But also for the sense of time and place that Block is able to conjure. I find the Scudder books act like time capsules in a way. So much of the plotting of this story relies on VHS tapes and renting them from a video store. It made me remember what that was like and how long it's been since I've actually done it.
I remember when my family got its first VCR ever and it was this huge exciting moment, like we had finally arrived at a Jetsons' version of the future. And with Block, it's so authentic, because he's not writing these books from a 21st century perspective and recreating 1991, he actually wrote this one in 1991 without the long view and hindsight that we have as readers. I love that. That doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to Scudder aging and getting Block's take on a 21st century New York. I can't wait actually.
I'll wrap this up with a note on the ending -- holy shit snacks. (view spoiler)[If Scudder had done this in his heavy drinking days, I would have blamed it on the booze, but to do it stone cold sober, I'm positively shocked. Yet pleased. Satisfied. There was a time early on when I was so angry at Scudder for letting a child rapist walk free (forcing him to donate money to Boys' Town). I was so disappointed with his lack of action then. Well, no one can accuse him of lack of action here. Decisive. Unequivocal. Was this justice or cold-blooded murder? I loved when Scudder tells Ballou about his mentor who told him you don't ever do something with your own hands you can get somebody else to do for you. Well I guess Scudder decided that wasn't for him. If this was going to happen, he was going to have blood on his hands to show for it. I can respect that. (hide spoiler)]
Now I think I'll go for a walk among the tombstones. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Holy shit snacks, people. This book is intense!!! I need a moment to compose myself. But there will be a review.
I was already familiar with Frank BilHoly shit snacks, people. This book is intense!!! I need a moment to compose myself. But there will be a review.
I was already familiar with Frank Bill's writing after surviving a close encounter with his debut -- the short story collection Crimes In Southern Indiana. Upon finishing those stories, my only thought was: "Jesus Christ, this man is a lunatic" -- and then immediately, "I want more!" For sure the stories are raw and unpolished, and perhaps a little too overeager to tell rather than show, but there is also an urgency, a ferocity to the writing that refuses to be ignored. It's so in your face that at times it feels like an assault. I loved it!
So you can bet when I heard this guy was about to publish his first novel I became very afraid, and very, very obsessed with getting my hands on it to read it.
Usually my eyes tend to glaze over and ignore most book blurbs because they always seem so generic and at their worst, sycophantic. But at their best, book blurbs can capture in a few short phrases the very tail of the beast itself and show you its face. As much as I loathe the majority, there are some that do their job so well, they deserve to be recognized along with the book they're blurbing. I only say this now to emphasize that Bill has attracted the attention of authors I love and respect and if you're not going to listen to me when I say this guy's the real deal, then maybe you'll listen to them:
Donnybrook is vivid in its violence, grim in its grimness. It reams the English language with a broken beer bottle and lets the blood drops tell the story. -- Daniel Woodrell, (Winter's Bone)
With action like a belt across the face and vivid prose like a stroke up the neck, Frank Bill's astonishing novel...renders you punch-drunk. Here's the writer to watch: mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Megan Abbott, (Dare Me)
I also like this one by Bonnie Jo Campbell: "Don't poke this book with a stick or you'll make it angry." And trust me -- you won't like this book when it's angry. Goodreads friend Jacob writes in his review:
something this good should be illegal, because the act of hunting down a banned copy and hiding from the censors and morality police to read it is the only goddamn way it could get any better. Donnybrook is a relentless, no-holds-barred, total fucking mind-fuck of endless violence...
Yeah, like that. But now you're looking at me tapping your foot impatiently saying: "Yeah, but what the hell is this book about?" I could give you the plot summary lowdown -- about bare-knuckle fighting in the backwoods of Southern Indiana, about desperate family man Jarhead Johnny Earl who's going to steal a thousand dollars to cover the entry fee into the infamous annual Donnybrook tournament.
Then there's meth-making brother and sister Angus (nickname Chainsaw) and Liz who put the F.U.N. in family dysfunction. They've just lost their last batch of dope and are determined to recoup their losses, no matter who gets in their way, even if it means each other. Like any great rural crime story, you've got the steely, determined deputy Sheriff following a trail of dead bodies into a trap he has no idea lays in wait for him. Last but not least, there's Chinese "collection agent" Fu, who's about as badass a dude as you're ever going to meet. He is awesome.
This mad, manic mélange of murderers, misfits and miscreants will eventually descend upon the Donnybrook -- a three day stint of brawling, booze and drugs run by a man named McGill, who makes the Governor from the Walking Dead comics look like Mr. Rogers. But it's not about the final destination folks, but the journey to get there, and (to quote one of my favorite movie taglines ever): who will survive and what will be left of them. Reading this book I couldn't help but be reminded of the lucid insanity of some of Tarantino's best work -- the ensemble characters, the multiple plot threads, and how it all comes crashing together in the end with defined, divine purpose. Hells yeah, people. This is the good shit. Heisenberg grade blue.
Frank Bill is a writer you want to watch. You can find out more about him at his blog House of Grit or follow him on Twitter @HouseofGrit. And as my mama always told me -- never trust a man with two first names.
1. Setting: Post-Katrina New Orleans. Swampy, sensual, tragic, dangerous. A complete immersion into the si How do I love a book? Let me count the ways.
1. Setting: Post-Katrina New Orleans. Swampy, sensual, tragic, dangerous. A complete immersion into the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a damaged and depressed city, betrayed and forgotten, seeking its redemption.
2. Heroine: Kick-ass, ruthless, complicated, haunted. Claire DeWitt is much like the city of New Orleans itself: damaged and dangerous, tragic and seeking redemption. Neither needs nor desires your pity or understanding.
3. Language: Hard-boiled dialogue that snaps and shows its teeth, married with gorgeous turns of phrase and a robust philosophy about the very nature of solving mysteries.
The client already knows the solution to his mystery. But he doesn't want to know. He doesn't hire a detective to solve his mystery. He hires a detective to prove that his mystery can't be solved.
4. Mystery: I don't read a lot of "mysteries" where there is a genuine, bona fide puzzle to be solved. I'm not a clue junkie hoarding each item the author throws down in an effort to beat him or her to the big reveal. Here, I really felt compelled to sit up straight and pay attention. It didn't take very long before I became incredibly invested in Claire's investigation and its outcome, no mere detached observer but something akin to an actual participant.
Despite the fact that Claire's methods are anything but conventional -- bordering on mystical and clairvoyant -- the investigation remains firmly grounded in reality and logic. I adore how everything comes together in a satisfying "click" "snap" "lock" way that isn't pretty and predictable, but all the more beautiful for that very reason.
Finally, I can't do this book justice on my own so I'm going to call in the big guns. Without these two reviews I don't think I ever would have found my way to Claire. Take it away Carol and Anthony. ...more
Pardon me while I flail about in fangirl mode, but OMFG and all that is holy, Y: The Last Man is totally a.w.e.s.o.m.e!!!! I didn’t think the graphicPardon me while I flail about in fangirl mode, but OMFG and all that is holy, Y: The Last Man is totally a.w.e.s.o.m.e!!!! I didn’t think the graphic novel format would ever win me over entirely, but it’s happened - I’m in love - hook, line, sinker, fully, completely. Not only is this an addictive premise taken to the extreme reaches of the most fertile imagination, it’s brimming with fully fleshed out characters who live and breathe with histories, motives, strengths and vulnerabilities. The best part? This edition only collects Issues 1-10; I still have another 50!! to look forward to.
How’s this for a premise? – last guy on Earth is not alone, literally. Yorick is a hapless, near to agoraphobic, practicing escape artist, madly in love with a young woman a hemisphere away in Australia when a sudden unexplained plague hits the planet and kills every last mammal carrying a Y chromosome. Every last mammal that is except for Yorick and his pet Capuchin monkey Ampersand. Think it would be a laff riot to be the last guy on Earth surrounded by a few billion ladies? Think again gentlemen. Welcome to your new nightmare.
Vaughan’s world-building here post-plague is incredibly detailed and believable. With all men suddenly blipped out of existence women aren’t standing around singing Kumbaya (did you really think we would?) and the world does not become a better place. Far from it. Vaughan deftly explores the harsh realities that must be faced when such a monumental, unpredictable, counter-evolutionary shift happens to humans with no warning.
The graphics are superior; each character has their own unique look and the action is propelled along not just by Vaughan’s ripping dialogue, but by Pia Guerra’s sharp interpretation of the action. I love that I get so much story delivered on such a small canvas. I could have taken days to plow through a 650 page novel and not felt as sated or panting for more, the way I felt here after indulging in a mere 250 pages of colorful, comic book cells. That’s storytelling magic. I can’t wait for more!
My deepest thanks to my graphic-novel reading friends who kept throwing this series title at me for ages – I finally get it now!!! ...more
I love this series!!! The dialogue is snappy, smart, and funny, the characters are multi-dimensional with their own distinct histories and motivationsI love this series!!! The dialogue is snappy, smart, and funny, the characters are multi-dimensional with their own distinct histories and motivations and the action is compelling and suspenseful. Not only is this an original idea, it is executed with real finesse and with a great sense of humor.
Yorick is the perfect not-hero. He's just your regular guy, young, impulsive, mouthy, a little stunned sometimes but basically in possession of real heart and good intentions. It's not easy being the last guy on Earth, especially when your two escorts across the country are a top-notch secret agent who is secretly in love with you, and a brilliant geneticist who is secretly in love with the secret agent. Talk about a triangle worthy of the Apocalypse!
As if that weren't drama enough there are umpteen special interest groups -- political, paramilitary, rogue, cult -- that want you dead or captured to suit their specific agendas. Including your very own sister!
What I love about the writing of this series is that it stays fresh and alive and the situations -- while dramatic -- don't seem contrived. The cast of characters that come and go out of the storyline are all richly drawn no matter how brief their contribution to the story. This time around I'm particularly partial to the lovely Natalya and her broken English in America to rescue a Russian Cosmonaut.
All I can say is I can't wait to see what happens next! ...more