Previously, short stories have always been studiously avoided by me and I admit now, I might be guilty of misjudging them. Given that I always feel quite time poor you would think that short stories would rate quite highly with me, but this has never been the case. Until now. Joe Hill’s Strange Weather is an excellent collection of four short stories.
This is what you can look forward to:
Rain – America descends into chaos with sharp glass icicles raining from the sky with lethal results to those unfortunate enough to be caught outside. Of course it doesn’t take long for the vagaries of human nature to emerge and for polar changes to happen in people that used to coexist quietly together.
Loaded – Extra marital affairs, mental health issues and guns are never a good combination. America has a rather large gun problem and Loaded quite neatly flips between the pros and cons of easy access to guns while dealing with these issues. Like me; you may find yourself wishing that the good guy had a gun to hand by the end.
Snapshot – The story of a teenager that finds himself being threatened by the owner of a futuristic device that can steal aspects of a person’s memory with the click of a button. He has seen the loss and heartache that it causes to his old housekeeper and finds a way to prevent this from happening to other people.
Aloft – Imagine going skydiving for the first time. In addition to the terrifying thought of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good plane; you crash into a solid ‘cloud’ that can anticipate your needs and wants to keep you. And your only way off is to jump.
I had to stop myself wanting to know too much about why and how these things happened. That’s not what these stories are about. They are about ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary circumstances that change their lives forever. And they are really well written.
The best part about discovering an author that you really like is finding out that they have written plenty of other books for you to get your teeth into. Joe Hill is the author and co-author of several novels, graphic novels and short stories so why not try some of these other titles by him?
And what about some short stories by other authors…
by Joe Hill
Published by Hachette New Zealand
The nominees for the Academy awards have been announced for this year. For me the most notable inclusions are “genre” films in the Best Picture category. It’s unusual for genre films to get much love from the Academy in this category (Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King is so far the only fantasy film to ever win Best Picture) so it will be interesting to see if either Guillermo Del Toro‘s fairy tale fantasy (The shape of water) or Jordan Peele‘s modern gothic horror (Get out) will take the out the Oscar. They’re both up against more traditionally “Oscar-worthy” films in this category so it seems unlikely, in my opinion ( but if you’re interested in knowing more, may I direct you to this graph showing how the genre preferences of the Academy for Best Picture stack up)
As for the library collection, below are the 2018 Oscar-nominated films available for loan on DVD or with tie-in reading material. See how many you can watch/read ahead of the awards ceremony on Sunday, 4 March (Monday, 5 March here if you’re planning on watching live).
Love it or hate it, Halloween is upon us once again. Today it is a vastly different experience than the one that the Celts traditionally celebrated. For them it marked the reaping of the harvest, the end of summer and an opportunity for the dead to cross over to the living world and scare the daylights out of everyone. Sounds like great fun so far!
For us however, Halloween has become an attempt at recreating what is largely a Northern Hemisphere celebration – with Southern Hemisphere seasons, beliefs and inclination. And more often than not, if we try to emulate what we see on TV we are destined for disaster. So here is a cautionary tale of ‘How not to Halloween’. Sadly parts of this aren’t as fictional as I would like them to be.
Let us think for a moment… the pumpkins will have only just been planted and won’t be ready until around Easter next year. So now we will have to attempt to carve something sourced from the local supermarket. We pick out a nice Crown pumpkin and overlook the insipid grey colour and lack of grandeur. Beggars can’t be choosers. All it needs is a scary face carved in it and a candle to highlight your excellent pumpkin cutting skills. You take your sharpest knife and start to cut the top off what is arguably the toughest skin on any vegetable available*.
After you get back from the doctor, you decide that it is probably wise to do away with the carved pumpkin as you can’t afford to lose the use of your other hand. You may still be able to salvage it as a Halloween decoration however, as it is now rather realistically covered in blood.
Meanwhile, your kids are dressed up in the scariest costumes you could find at the local Opportunity Shop and are already dreaming about the sheer weight of the lollies that they hope to get. They wonder momentarily if that pillowcase is going to be big enough.
Leaving Hubby home in charge of the lollies; you venture forth into the bright sunlight with a handful of ghosts and witches in tow for the trek around what you thought was a friendly neighbourhood. How wrong you were. You find yourself greeted by grouchy people who can’t even fake being nice for the kids. They love to point out the error of your ways for daring to try and experience what is largely an American custom. Others will wander openly around their living room while your kids knock on a door that will never open. Some will go to the trouble of putting out ‘No trick or treaters’ signs to save you the energy of knocking. I like these people. We each know where the other stands.
Of course it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is the occasional legend that will gush over the kids costumes and hand over a lolly or two. But after an hour and a half of what amounted to a crushing failure; we head home defeated. I console the kids with the fact that if we’re lucky, their dad won’t have eaten his way through the entire bowl of lollies at home. It has been a rather disappointing experience. The kids don’t understand why their Halloween bears little to no resemblance of the ones that they have seen on TV. Let’s be honest – it’s still won’t be dark for another hour or more.
When we get home we find that the only other people that have come around trick or treating were teenagers who didn’t bother to dress up. And when my daughter finds out that they made off with her plastic skeleton that I’d propped next to the ‘bloody’ pumpkin; she probably won’t forgive me.
I know that there are houses somewhere that are re-enacting their version of Halloween – I’ve seen the lollies disappearing from the shops. Maybe next year I’ll save myself some time and heartache and just ask them where they live. At least then we can be assured of a guaranteed result!
So if your kids are begging you to join into Halloween this year, you think you can avoid these amateur mistakes and you are looking to earn some easy brownie points; here are some books to help you achieve this.
Highly recommended by Gillian Flynn, The Doll Master is a riveting collection of thrillingly sinister stories from the dark side of life.
All is not as it appears. Each protagonist has a secret. Each story has a twist.
In the title story, a boy collects dolls after the death of his cousin. But as he collects more, it becomes apparent that his obsession is unhealthy. What does it have to do with a series of child abductions? And who is the ‘friend’ that urges him on?
Oates uses the medium of mystery to cleverly and eloquently reflect very current social issues, from very different walks of life.
‘Soldier’ plays with our sympathies while looking at the sides taken after a mixed race (accidental?) shooting. Receiving death threats from some, yet heralded for bravery by others, Brendan Shrank maintains his innocence. But why did he pick up his Uncle’s gun that day?
‘Gun Accident’ takes a fine-toothed comb to a shocking home invasion, in which a young man is shot. But what secret does Hanna hold? Why has she never spoken about what really happened that night? Why is she paralysed with anxiety when she revisits the scene, twenty years later?
‘Equatorial’ had me thinking of Vonnegut‘s Galapagos. I just couldn’t get him out of my head. But it fits, in this whacky story of a woman convinced that her husband is trying to kill her. Is it all in her (pounding) head? Oates draws parallels between the lengths will they be driven to and the fight for ultimate survival. Only the fittest will prevail…
‘Big Momma’ addresses the problems of working single parents, poverty, runaways, body image and abduction (but boy with a twist!). Where is the Clovis’ mother? And who or what is Big Momma?
I love the fluent and easy way Joyce Carol Oates writes, the (conspiratorial) asides she whispers in brackets to the voyeuristic reader. Oates wields a lovely turn of phrase;
A single high window overlooks, at a little distance, the rough waters of the Atlantic that appear in the moonlight like shaken foil.
She avoids bad language, (barring ‘Gun Accident’) and is not wordy, except in the more literary Edgar Allen Poe influenced ‘Mystery Inc.’ In this Who’s Who of mystery writers, invoking The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Oates narrationbecomes more classically sinister; her protagonist a predatory bookseller, intent on adding to his empire by foul means.But again, a twist: “Charles” entertains the idea of being partners with his mark, Aaron Neuhaus. Will he change his murderous mind? Or has Neuhaus become suspicious?
The six stories in The Doll Master are a good length, almost novellas. Although I’m not a mystery reader, I was riveted to each twisted little tale, and couldn’t put this book down.
I had to find out what would happen… Did he, or didn’t he? Will she or won’t she? Is it HIM?
In June 1816 a young woman awoke from a terrifying nightmare. Later, she would recount the vision which had left her so unsettled.
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, at the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.”
What was the source of this night terror?
In the days prior, she, and a group of other English expatriates had spent their evenings gathered around the fireplace of Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Climatic changes, brought about by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Sumbawa, Indonesia, on April 10-11 1815, had left the world experiencing what later came to be termed ‘The Year Without Summer’. Temperatures plummeted and terrifying lightning storms raged across Europe. Forced to stay indoors, they read Das Gespensterbuch (German ghost stories which had been published in French in 1812 under the title Fantasmagoriana). Naturally, this gloomy atmosphere soon led to further discussions about ghosts, vampires, and the theories of reanimating the dead.
Such was the impression that the nightmare had on the young woman, that she soon took pen to paper, turning it into a tale of her own. In doing so she was joining a Gothic literature tradition started by earlier novelists, including Eliza Parsons (1739-1811), Regina Maria Roche (1764-1845) and Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823).
When it was published in 1818, under the title Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, its author remained anonymous. Only later would the reading public learn that it had in fact been written by a woman.
Her name was Mary Shelley.
An unconventional life
Born 30 August 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was the daughter of two intellectuals. Her father, William Godwin (1756-1836) was a writer and philosopher. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) also a writer and philosopher, was a proponent of women’s rights who, in 1792, wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Unfortunately, Mary Wollstonecraft died soon after giving birth, but her ideas would be inherited by her daughter who would often read her works during visits to her grave. From her father, Mary learned of the latest scientific endeavours. These included the experiments of Italian physician Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) who exposed the limbs of dead frogs to electricity in order to observe the movements, and his nephew, Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834) who built upon his uncle’s work by running electrical currents through the heads and bodies of executed criminals, causing their limbs to twitch and their mouths to open.
In 1814 Mary met the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), at her father’s house. Although he was already married, the two formed a relationship and in July of that year they eloped to Europe. Accompanied by Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, they roamed through France before eventually arriving in Switzerland. Unable to survive on Shelley’s meagre savings, they eventually decided to return to England, via the Rhine River. In doing so they passed through a landscape of castles set atop prominent cliffs and hilltops, some of them in a ruined state. One such ruin they may have learned of, during a brief stopover in Mannheim, was the nearby Burg Frankenstein which was associated with alchemist and theologian, Johann Conrad Dippel (1673-1734) whose mysterious experiments had earned him a sinister reputation.
Upon returning to England, the couple continued to live together. Mary later gave birth to a daughter on February 22 1815. Unfortunately the child died, leaving Mary to confess in her journal that she wished for a way to restore life to the deceased. In January 1816, she gave birth again, this time to a son.
The creation of the monster
By 1816 Percy Shelley’s health was deteriorating and his unpaid debts were increasing. In May they left England returning to Switzerland, where they joined another Romantic poet, Lord George Byron (1788-1824) and his physician companion, John William Polidori (1795-1821) on the shores of Lake Geneva.
On June 15, as a storm continued to rage outside Villa Diodati, the group decided to hold a ghost story competition. A few days later, Mary would soon find inspiration for her own story in the nightmare of a scientist reanimating a lifeless corpse. Although Frankenstein contained elements traditionally found in Gothic novels (ruined castles, dark forests, storms), it departed from the standard Gothic novel of the time in that, rather than dealing with the supernatural, its horrific features had their origins in science.
The success of Frankenstein allowed Mary Shelley to embark on a career as a novelist at a time when writing was still considered a masculine domain. She would proceed to write further titles, including the post-Apocalypitc novel, The Last Man(1826), before her death in 1851.
Last week’s release of the trailer for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower movie just about broke the internet, with fevered and passionate discussion about just how right or wrong the director had got things. Widely recognised as the most important of King’s works, The Dark Tower series is a ridiculously huge tale, with nearly 4300 words in eight novels, written over the course of 30 years. Simply put, it’s the story of Roland, the last gunslinger, who is working his way to the Dark Tower to take down the Crimson King. He is pursued by the man in black.
As a longtime Constant Reader, I have spent much of my grown-up life reading and rereading Stephen King novels. My bookshelves are full of scary clowns, weird alien invasions, alcoholic hotel caretakers and needful things. I own all the books, have seen all the movies, and have definite thoughts on best and worst novels. I’ve downloaded the reading maps, sought out the editorials, and even fallen in love with the works of his son Joe.
Every reader who has a favourite author can feel nervous when books are turned into movies. And it must be said that King’s movie adaptations can vary wildly in success, from the heady heights of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, through the disturbing Misery, to the adorable but kind of dorky 1408, and the downright embarrassing Langoliers.
So you will understand when I say that I am not alone right now in feeling VERY nervous about the upcoming release of two of King’s most well-loved works. The trailer for It was released a few weeks ago, and in less than 3 minutes managed to scare the pants off most of the western world. I have yet to watch it without covering my eyes every few seconds. And the Dark Tower trailer is mesmerising for different reasons. How can one movie even begin to show us a world that is described not only in the eight Tower books, but also appears in countless other of his tales, from The Talisman, to Insomnia, to Black House, The Stand and The Shining and more.
There’s totally no time to go back and reread the whole series before the movie is out, and King has already told us that this particular story is not one of the original ones from the novels, but another of Roland’s journeys. So all I have to do now is sit, and wait, and like countless other Constant Readers, hope that this movie is at least good, and hopefully great, that Roland Deschain is a true gunslinger and that the man in black is every bit as dreadful and mesmerising as he is in the books.
And try to figure out if I will EVER be brave enough to watch IT.
Frightening Flicks – My choice of the best horror movies from our library catalogue. With gore rating, so you can pick the level of fake blood you’re comfortable with.
Maybe try some horrific winners?
Bram Stoker Awards – Named after the author of Dracula, and run by the Horror Writers Association.
Sir Julius Vogel Awards – Named after a former New Zealand Prime Minister/science fiction novelist, the awards “recognise excellence in science fiction, fantasy, or horror works created by New Zealanders and New Zealand residents”.
Women writing wickedness: salute our sinister sisters by horrifying yourself this Halloween with some monstrous madams.
Horror can appear in different forms, and means many different things to many different people. It’s in whispers from an empty attic, it’s in jerky movements beyond the edge of the campfire, it’s in vast and unstoppable forces of evil or, scariest of all, in the things people do to each other. Like any emotion, it’s hard to perfectly pin down and describe, but these are books that may send a frisson of fiction down your spine…
If you want to dig deep into the roots of the genre, one of the first horror writers of all was the fantastic Mary Shelley with her Frankenstein (also, basically the first science fiction writer ever, go Mary!)
Or prove to yourself that the classics still have the power to freak you out with Shirley Jackson. She’s inspired greats like Stephen King with her short stories, and her novels have a splendid atmosphere of terror. Her legacy is so great that the Shirley Jackson awards, given for outstanding physiological suspense, horror and dark fantastic fiction, commemorate her annually.
Want to know the best fictional name I have come across this year? In Tiffany McDaniel’s ‘The Summer that Melted Everything‘ one of our heroes – if you can call a man who publishes an invitation for the devil to come visit his sleepy backwater town a ‘hero’ – carries the incredible name of Autopsy Bliss. Strange accidents, deadly fevers, personal demons, and scariest of all, it’s set in the 80s…
For thirteen creepy, bloody, chilling tales, look beyond the more publicised male authors into the sinister hearts of these ghoulish gals:
On 16 June 1816, trapped inside a villa by insatiable thunderstorms erupting across Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Lord Byron challenged his party of young bohemians to a ghost story competition.
That night, Byron’s challenge gave birth to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Polidori’s The Vampyre, the first great vampire novel. Combining drama and a stellar cast of popular writers, including Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood, this documentary explores one of the most significant moments in gothic history and its lasting effect on modern literature.
I was a big fan of the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine when I was a kid. There weren’t a lot of scary, horror stories for kids around at that stage so Goosebumps were the go-to books if you wanted to scare yourself a little. There were always plenty to choose from and they were pretty quick reads. A search of the library catalogue tells me that we have 97 Goosebumps items in our libraries, which includes paper books, eBooks, and DVDs. That’s enough Goosebumps to keep you going for quite some time!
Earlier this year there was a Goosebumps movie released in cinemas which looked really good. My family and I didn’t get a chance to see it then but I hoped that we might get it in the library eventually. While perusing the catalogue last week I discovered we did have it on order and promptly reserved it. In our house, every Saturday night is Family Movie Night, where we choose a movie that we can all enjoy. Last week it was the Goosebumps movie and it was excellent!
The movie follows a kid called Zach who moves to a small town and moves in next door to R.L. Stine, the author of the Goosebumps books, and his daughter Hannah. When Zach hears screaming coming from next door one night he thinks that something horrible has happened to Hannah. He breaks in to try and rescue her but unwittingly unleashes the creatures from the Goosebumps books. The monsters that R.L. Stine made famous are real, and he protects his readers by keeping them locked in their manuscripts. One of R.L. Stine’s most evil creations, Slappy, releases the monsters one by one, and now it’s up to Zach and his friends to trap them back in their books where they belong. Jack Black plays R.L. Stine which is a perfect role for him as he’s a mix of manic and slightly crazy. The movie is the perfect mixture of funny and creepy so it’s ideal for both young and old Goosebumps fans.