The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

I am definitely a reader-come-lately to Stephen King. I read my first King novel in my twenties and it was literally years before I read another. Not because I didn’t enjoy it but because I was hung up on the idea that King was a “horror” writer. I was wrong and I wish the marketing people had done a better job of placing King in the hands of readers because he is a very, very entertaining writer and his subject matter is so much broader than horror. He is a writer who explores the human condition.

This is a book of short stories. Each one is prefaced with an introduction in which King discusses when it was written, the story behind how he came up with the ideas in the story, how it reflects on other work he has written and a host of other observations. There are also some insightful thoughts on writing as an art and a craft and how other writers have influenced this authors work.

There is something for everyone in this collection and for those who enjoy short stories and can appreciate the difficulty in this style of writing, those readers will be richly rewarded. There are also great lessons for writers and this book is like having a master class in short fiction at hand.

Among my favorites, and there were many because very few of the stories in this volume fall short of the mark, were the following:

Bad Little Kid” – the quintessential story of an imp whose lifelong mission is the commission of trouble for one man.

Mile 81” – for those that enjoyed “Christine” a different take on a car as evil.

Afterlife”- a meditation on dying and reincarnation

Ur” – for anyone who loves books and believes e-readers are the devil’s tool, this one is thoroughly wonderful! It makes me love my Nook even more. I am waiting to find the Ur menu and archive!!

Blockade Billy” – for the baseball and sports buffs.

Mister Yummy” – a great snapshot of old age and the world of AIDS. And yes, Mr. King, you’re right…you don’t have to be gay to write well and with insight and respect about the gay experience. Bravo!

Tommy” – one of two poems that King included in this volume.

Obits” – a secret power that we sometimes we wish we might possess but could also spell disaster.

Drunken Fireworks” – are there any other kind? I laughed all the way through this one. It is such a true observation of human beings and the way they interact. And drink! And light off fireworks!

I was given this book as a gift and what a wonderful gift. I read as often as possible. Many times late at night and there were at least a few nights when I could barely keep my eyes open but I didn’t want to put the book down. I had to wrest it from my partners hands. She is a King reader from way back and now that I am not obsessing about her ruining it for me, she can finally get her hands on it. She did manage to sneak in one story and keeps asking “Are you done yet?”

Readers who love Stephen King won’t be disappointed and readers who are not normally King readers, I encourage you to explore him as a writer. You will be pleasantly surprised and probably a convert. The good news? King has a huge volume of work so converts will not have to wait impatiently for the next book. We have a lot of catching up to do!

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Love and Fear by Reed Farrel Coleman

I’m not sure who the target group is for this great little mystery book but I think it’s a quick, fun little read for advanced readers and a great introductory read for new readers. Those new readers could be young adults – there is nothing in the book too racy in either language or content that would cause concern for schools or libraries.

The lead character is wonderful. His name is Gulliver Dowd and he is described as a very handsome detective who also happens to be a dwarf. He is a private investigator and has a cast of other characters assisting him in various aspects of his investigations. His size and his vantage point provide him with a point of view that is not available in other detective stories.

This particular story appears to be the third in the series. In that sense, there was some background that was included in this book that I couldn’t put with anything but it wasn’t enough to detract from the story at hand.

In this edition, Gulliver is investigating the disappearance of a mob boss’ daughter. I really couldn’t say more without giving away the story. The book isn’t that long and the story is great. I can easily give this book 4 stars but just want to point out that it is an extremely quick and easy read. Great book for young adults – I would say from junior high all the way to adults. I would also add that the typeface was large which is great for readers with vision issues. I think I will seek our Gulliver Dowd’s earlier cases too!!

The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers

This is a great fantasy novel in all the best ways. I found myself comparing it a little bit to a Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman with a dash of Douglas Adams. Originally written in German, it definitely has the feel of a traditional fairy tale a la the Brother’s Grimm.

The story revolves around Echo the Crat (yes, Crat, that is not a spelling error) who has been captured by the local Alchemaster of Malaisea, his name is Ghoolion, and Echo is being held and fattened up so that the Alchemaster can obtain his fat for his potion library.

As the story rolls along, we find out more about Ghoolion and how Malaisea became the illness capital of the Kingdom of Zamonia. We find out more about Echo and what it means to be a Crat. Echo has the opportunity not only to eat to his hearts content, but also to explore Ghoolion’s castle – a place the locals fear and dread.

Along the way, Echo makes friends with Leathermice (a vampiric race of mice/bats), Theodore T. Theodore (an owl with a speech impediment), Cooking Ghosts, a Snow White Widow, Ugglies, a mossback Toad and a whole host of other fantastical residents of Malaisea. There is a method and means to Ghoolion’s madness that unfolds as the story unfolds.

I try to read widely and from all genre’s. This book was given to me as a gift and I am glad I got it because I doubt I would have grabbed it off the shelf under my own volition. You know how it is – you go to your favorite bookstore and you tend to gravitate to those shelves that usually yield you a reliable selection. I am not a discerning enough fan of fantasy to always grab these novels, so often, I am introduced to authors through friends giving me gifts or making recommendations.

I have also discovered something about readers – unless they are fantasy fans from the outset, many readers are adamantly opposed to dipping their toes into this genre. I’m not sure why. Partly I think it comes from an inability or unwillingness to suspend belief. Partly because readers feel that the fantasy genre somehow translates to children’s writing. Another(no offense intended here) the genre is associated with fan geeks. For me, it has been because there aren’t many stand alone pieces in the genre. They all revolve around a series and one feels that once you have committed to one book, you just have to read the rest.

This is the beginning of a series. However, I would be very comfortable in advising those who find the ideas and story intriguing, that it can be read as a stand alone novel. There is resolution at the end of the story as well as an opening for future works. And for those who love the genre, there are future works.

The other thing I loved about this story is that it is written by a European author and translated into English. I always find it refreshing to read authors who are from other countries. Their viewpoint on the world enriches me as a reader and engages my imagination as a writer to explore the world in different ways.

This is a book for all ages. It can be read to children (although there are some parts that small children would consider frightening or scary.) It is a great novel for an older elementary schooler to cut their teeth on in adult fiction. It is great for adults because the story is engaging and fun with a bit of black humor. An easy 4 stars for all to enjoy.

Eleven by Carolyn Arnold

This is another book where I am going to start by saying “I wanted to like this book but…”

Let’s start with the positive aspects before I dive into my reasons for not giving this book anything but 1 ½ to 2 stars. The story had an interesting premise. A serial killer was on the loose and one of his signatures was the coinherence symbol.

The coinherence symbol was never adequately explained to the reader in a way that tied into the actual story. In fact, I went outside the book to get some information on it in order to fill in a gap. I will also say that the story dove into what seemed to be the middle of a chapter and it took me about three chapters in before I could even begin to start to untangle what had happened. The FBI characters were literally underground, in a serial killers burial chamber talking about the crimes in the opening chapters. No set up, no introductions…it was utterly confusing.

A second weakness was the the lack of clarity about any of the characters and how one, Brandon, spoke in the first person, while everyone else spoke in the third person. It was bizarre. Brandon, a younger agent, was alternately called “Kid”, “Pending” and “Slingshot” by different people, some using more than one nickname. That was ridiculous because again, for three chapters, I had no idea they were all one and the same person. Additionally, Brandon, although he had been an agent for a minute, had already had an affair with one of his senior agents. When? How? Was this before they were both agents? Was it in high school? Who knows!

The agent named Zachery was superfluous to the whole story. He served no purpose but to make the team an even four and to irritate Brandon. I think he was supposed to be some kind of analyst but whenever real analysis was needed, they called an agent named Nadia. An agent who despite her expertise, they consistently hung up on before she could ever impart what they needed to know. That got old real fast!

Paige, the senior agent/love interest, routinely showed up to find Brandon in his boxer shorts and intimated that she was sleeping with the Supervising agent – a very irritating chain smoker named Jack. I spent chapters trying to figure out why she would sleep with such an unappealing character, as did Brandon. To his surprise and the readers, it was all a ruse! What??????

The chain smoking Jack was horrible. Ill drawn, unhelpful, irascible, unable and unwilling to work with his own agents much less local law enforcement. By the end, I was wondering if Jack would be done in by a serial killer or lung cancer and Brandon complained repeatedly about the effects of second hand smoking on his health. Additionally, his marriage fell apart in what amounted to about four pages- wife introduced, wife in peril, wife hates job, wife calls him from his office(?), disconnects her cell phone and he receives papers letting him know that the marriage is over.

I’m a masochist. I finished the book. But I didn’t like it and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Angel’s Flight by Michael Connelly

I was given this book and told it was very good. It went to the pile and waited patiently for me to get around to it. I was not disappointed at all. In the course of reading this book, I happened to glance at a shelf (one of several) that holds “to be read” books, in addition to the pile. I was surprised to find another by the same author with the same character. So I read them both!

This review is for Angel’s Flight. Harry Bosch is a detective who works out of the Hollywood Division. He is called in on a case in another division because the victim is a prominent local attorney who handles cases concerning suits against the LAPD. There is currently a case lodged against police in the division in which he is killed so other officers are called in to handle it.

Bosch’s team is also diverse. African American, gay and older detectives comprise the team which the upper brass choose to use as window dressing as the case is high profile in nature.

From that point forward the action is pretty much non-stop. What unfolds is layers and layers of corruption within the department that involve lots of ass covering exercises. The team are at times thwarted in their lines of inquiry by red tape and politics.

There is also a very interesting investigation into the internet and how people are able to subvert pages to cover others. One of the detectives is very adept at forensic computer techniques and that was eye opening and informative in itself. Also, a sub plot involving Harry’s short lived and crumbling marriage, adds layers of stress to the detective that keep him guessing not just about the case but about his own private life.

I had a hard time putting it down. Let’s just say I had a few late, late nights! You have been warned…..

Update: 50 books from 50 States

This challenge is a lot harder than one might think. There are a ton of books set in Florida, Texas, California and New York. So here is the updated list as of August 2016.

Alabama – Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Alaska – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

Arkansas – Soul Serenade by Rashod Ollison

California – The Garden on Sunset by Marcus Turnbull

Connecticut – Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis

Delaware – Summerville by H.L. Sudler

Florida – Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Hawaii – Blood Orchid by Toby Neal

Illinois – Crossing California by Adam Langer

Indiana – Trespassers by Todd Wynn

Kentucky – Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Louisiana – Judas the Apostle by Van L. Mayhall Jr.

Maryland – A Good Month For Murder by Del Quinton Wilber

Massachusetts – Animal by Casey Sherman

Mississippi – Tin God by Stacey Green

Missouri – Gone, Girl by Gillian Flynn

Montana – Canada by Richard Ford

Nevada – The Long Way Down by Craig Schaeffer

New Hampshire – Lamentation by Joe Clifford

New York – Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

North Carolina – Joyland by Stephen King

North Dakota – Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

Pennsylvania – The Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Texas – The Trial by Clifford Irving

Washington – The Silence of the Chihuahua’s by Waverley Curtis

Washington D.C.- Red by Jennifer Gilmore

Reading Goals

Summer is ruining all the good work I put into setting my reading challenge for the year. I planned to read 100 books in 2016. And then the weather got nice. Physically, I am very limited due to some health problems but the sun is so distracting. Especially when you live somewhere where the weather is not great most of the year.

According to Goodreads, I am 12 books behind. Talk about pressure!! Setting a goal like that and then forcing yourself in your mind to reach it, is like bad dieting. The harder you try to keep up and count your books, the more you feel like junk food bingeing.

My junk food this summer has been Netflix. At first I was guilt tripping myself to death every time I sat down to watch something on My List. That list, much like my book piles (both physical and e reader) are huge.

And then…epiphany. I realized that relaxing a little and watching, had prompted me to research some of the things I was watching. The research led me to books based on those subjects, or biographies, or fiction and non-fiction novels. And it prompted me to do more writing which sometimes gets neglected when I am doing a lot of reading.

The pressure is off. I am 12 books behind and I might not read 100 this year, but I am only 5 books away from exceeding last years total. And there are still 4 months left in 2016 so 100 is not out of the question. Unless Netflix sucks me back into the void!