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review 2018-02-18 15:19
Thought-provoking, Challenging, Uncomfortably Good
These fragile things - Jane Davis

Having recently enjoyed ‘A Funeral for an Owl’ by indie author Jane Davis (see review dated 2 Jan 2018), I dived further into her back catalogue and found this book (first published in 2012) and I’m delighted to report that the author’s accessible writing style again made for a really enjoyable read.

 

In particular, Davis does have a wonderful knack for developing interesting teenage characters and in this offering the central protagonist (Judy Jones) is recovering from a deliberately mundane, yet life-changing incident, in which a wall collapses on her. In fact her survival is positively miraculous. Still, the wall is a very effective metaphor for other constructs around self-image, relationships, indeed life and the book explores how susceptible to collapse these things can also be when buffeted by external, or self-made pressures. The stress-test that the human experience places on individuals, families and communities can be profound and the mechanisms created to defend one’s well-being can be elaborate, or at times blindingly simple. Though not meant to be a commentary on faith, Davis does at least invite the question whether spiritual faith and/or faith in each other aids the character’s ability to cope and navigate the unexpected, or whether the key is our shared humanity and the capacity for random acts of kindness.

 

For those readers with children, especially teenagers, there are interesting moments for reflection at the shifting nature of the parental relationship, but also a potentially visceral empathy with Judy’s parents and the impact of the kind of news for which we all live in a state of dread. But, if subsequently the child then purports to experience visions, how does one react to that?

 

At its core the book focuses on the experience of loss – of health, identity, belonging, an anticipated future - and the attendant bereavement. The interlacing of aspects of the characters’ individual and collective journeys is cleverly handled by the author, though for me the slightly bizarre departure from the rails of Elaine Jones (Judy’s Mum) was an unnecessary distraction. Yet, all-in-all a fascinating and thoughtful novel, which does emphasize the potential corrosion of loneliness, however it may be imposed.

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text 2017-01-25 12:16
7 Great Short Fiction Collections
Strange Wine - Harlan Ellison
The Shawshank Redemption - Stephen King
Tales from Nightside - Charles L. Grant
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman
Night Music: Nocturnes Volume Two - John Connolly
Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman (Volume 5) - Manly Wade Wellman
20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill,Christopher Golden

I am a big short fiction reader, and have always been. I love being able to hop in, geta full experience, and move on in a single sitting. Or take a long, hot bath and read an entire novella. That kind of thing.

These are all single author collections, as opposed to multi-author anthologies. I prefer collections, in general, because, while they may vary wildly in terms of content and quality, they tend to be more cohesive, less jarring. Not to say there aren't some amazing anthos (this is what foreshadowing looks like)...

You'll also notice that these are mostly horror. I feel horror is often best at shorter lengths, giving short, sharp shocks before disbelief can set in. Novellas please me because you have just enough space to flesh out a few characters and give your story depth, but not enough to wander too far off  course.

Anyway, a few faves...

 

1. Strange Wine - Harlan Ellison  Strange Wine - Harlan Ellison  

 

    My first Ellison, recommended by Stephen King in Danse Macabre. Contains some of his best, weirdest works, but any Ellison is worth picking up. Still, this has a story about a nice Jewish boy whose dead mom is still trying to run his life. For his own good, of course. How can you resist?

 

2. Different Seasons - Stephen King  Different Seasons - Stephen King  

 

    Four novellas, all amazing. Yes, my favorite is "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," but"The Breathing Method" is a close second. I love club stories, and this is one of King's rare forays into that sub-genre. 

This is, to my  mind, King's most consistent collection. All of the others have at least one dud. Not this one. There's a reason three of these four tales have been made into great movies.

 

3. Tales from Nightside - Charles L. Grant  Tales from Nightside - Charles L. Grant  

 

    Another one highly recommended by King (he wrote the intro), and another that introduced me to one of my favorite authors. One  of the masters of "quiet horror," Grant wasn't much one for gore, preferring to imply some truly terrifying things. Dark and disturbing, with a few weird turns here and there.

 

4. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman  Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman  

 

    I love almost everything I've read of Gaiman's, but this is my favorite of his collections. Not much more to say about it, really, it's just great.

 

5. Night Music: Nocturnes Volume Two - John Connolly  Night Music: Nocturnes Volume Two - John Connolly  

 

    Read this last year, and loved it. Everything from literary fantasy to Ligotti-esque horror to true-life hauntings, all in one beautifully written package. Still need to read more Connolly.

 

6. Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman (Volume 5) - Manly Wade Wellman  Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman (Volume 5) - Manly Wade Wellman  

 

    All of the Silver John stories in one place. One of my favorite series characters, John is an itinerant balladeer who confronts various bizarre happenings during his wanderings through Appalachia. There's nothing quite like this out there.

 

7. 20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill,Christopher Golden  20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill,Christopher Golden  

 

    If this only had the title story and "Pop Art," it would still make the list, but there's so much more, too. Those two are sweet and sad, but the rest gets pretty damn dark while still keeping a bit of wonder.

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review 2016-10-31 06:40
Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman

As with previous collections of short pieces by Gaiman, I found this extremely variable in quality: Anything referred to as "poetry" is execrable, as are all the "stories" that are extremely short and fail to follow any normal narrative structure. On the other hand, the pieces that follow some kind of conventional method are all at least OK and in some cases delightful.

 

Stand-out entries are A Study in Emerald and How to Talk to Girls at Parties.

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review 2016-08-24 00:00
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman Please note that I gave this 3.5 stars. I rounded it up to 4 stars on Goodreads.

So all in all definitely a mixed bag I am sad to say. I have loved everything else that I have read of Neil Gaiman's though I did only find Good Omens to be okay/good and have no intention of re-reading it. I have already read "Coraline" and "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" twice this year.

"A Study in Emerald" (5 stars)- a Sherlock Holmes story that is not a Sherlock Holmes story. I know that makes no sense, but you will get that when you read the whole story. I really did enjoy this one especially about a darker version of the heroes we know and love.

"The Fairy Reel" (4.5 stars)- I liked the poem and it did have me imagining a young man out in the woods calling to a fairy.

"October in the Chair" (5 stars)-This was a great story involving the months as we know them coming to life and telling stories.

"The Hidden Chamber" (3 stars)- I think I just dislike poems. I recall from Stephen King's latest he had some in there and I just hard cringed at them.

"Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves of the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" (3 stars)- I still have absolutely no idea what int he world was going on. We have a man writing a ghost story and oh yeah he may live in a haunted house. And people are not who they appear to be. And things just end on no explanation.

"The Flints of Memory Lane" (4 stars)- Just a short story about a young man remembering the time he came across something evil.

"Closing Time" (4.5 stars)- This story was a little weird, but in the end I liked it well enough. I think that the problem was the reveal just happens and I sat there scratching my head. So I don't know what the man in the story met as a young boy.

"Going Wodwo" (1 star) -Another poem. At least it was only a page and a half.

"Bitter Grounds" (2 stars)-This story seemed endless and nonsensical. I am still trying to figure out what happened to the anthropology professor so maybe that's why I could not get into this story.

"Other People" (3 stars) - I was the least surprised person at the end of this short story.

"Keepsakes and Treasures" (1 star)- I know that there are evil people in the world, but this whole story was repulsive as hell. I found it hard to read and hope that Mr. Alice and Mr. Smith show up again and something terrible happens to them both.

"Good Boys Deserve Favors" (2 stars)- An okay story. I just didn't get the point of it. It stuck out a bit in this collection to me.

"The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch" (1 star)- This story was so odd. I don't even know what I was supposed to take away from it. Miss Finch sucks. But so do the other people in this story.

"Strange Little Girls" (2 stars)- Just seemed to be listing different attributes certain women take on. I don't know. I didn't enjoy it.

"Harlequin Valentine" (2 stars) - Meh.

"Locks" (1 star) -Another poem.

"The Problem of Susan" (5 stars)- Disturbing as anything, but it does give a different perspective as what became of Susan Pevensie and why she turned her back on all things Narnia. I do want to high five Mr. Gaiman for this one. It has never sat right for me that Susan was left behind to never enter Narnia because of some b.s. reasons.

"Instructions" (1 star)- Another poem.

"How Do You Think It Feels?" (3 stars)- I went back and forth on this one because I thought the main character was a jerk. And it seems in the end maybe he imagined things about a former lover. Who knows.

"My Life" (1 star)- Another poem.

"Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot" (1 star)- No. I just read that thing twice and just rolled my eyes.

"Feeders and Eaters" (3 stars)- Another weird story. Why did the character of Eddie even get into the arrangement that he did. There were so many questions I had. I think the ending was supposed to shock, but I was left with a lot of questions.

"Diseasemaker's Croup" (.5 star) - My eyes glazed over so I can't tell you what this was about. I tried to re-read it for the final review and my brain shut that down so quickly it was unreal. So that's all I got. I could not stand to read this past two paragraphs.

"In the End" (1.5 stars)- Barely counts as a short story about the Garden of Eden.

"Goliath" (4 stars)- Sad story from beginning to end. Now of course I am wondering what was real and what was not based on how the story went.

"Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky" (3.5 stars)-It was okay. I just didn't get into this story much.

"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" (3 stars)-Very weird. I really didn't get into it at all.

"The Day the Saucers Came" (4 stars)- I did like this long winding story where it comes out that sitting around and waiting for someone to call you is pretty much never the answer.

"Sunbird" (4 stars)- I liked the whole thing about this elusive eating club getting their just desserts.

"Inventing Aladdin" (3 stars)- Another poem taking a look at Scheherazade. This was one of the few poems in the collection that I enjoyed.

"The Monarch of the Glen" (5 stars) -This is American Gods #1.5 and I will say that if I had gotten this as a stand alone novella I would have been happy. We get to revisit Shadow and see how he is faring. He comes across some things that should not be real and also the characters Mr. Alice and Mr. Smith from a previous story in this collection.
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review 2016-07-16 00:00
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman Some real gems here, as you would expect from Gaiman.
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