Book Review – Tales of the Peculiar

TITLE: Tales of the Peculiar
AUTHOR: Ransom Riggs
ILLUSTRATOR: Andrew Davidson
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHED: 2016

Tales of the Peculiar is a companion book to the author’s Miss Peregrine series.  It is a collection of ten short stories, each led with a woodcut illustration.

So I’m going to start right off the bat and say that this is not meant to be part of the story that Riggs does for his trilogy.  It’s meant to be other stories from the same world.  Basically, fairy tales for peculiars.  As such, it takes place long before the trilogy and features no photographs, which we’ve come to want from Riggs.  That doesn’t make it bad at all, just takes a minute to get out of that mindset.

 

Here’s an overview of the stories.  Warning that although I tried to not spoil anything, you never know what slipped through.

The Splendid Cannibals
Travelers with money and a village of peculiars with the ability to regenerate limbs.

The Fork-Tongue Princess
A princess already promised, but her secret will make her a monster.  What’s a peculiar to do?

The First Ymbryne
She didn’t know she was a peculiar until she accidentally managed a special power – the first time loop.

The Woman Who Befriended Ghosts
A woman who had only ghosts as friends moves to a haunted house to make friends.

Cocobolo
A chinese man who searches for his lost father on the open seas and finds a family secret.  They’re peculiar.

The Pigeons of St. Paul’s
Pigeons in London need a place to roost, so they talk in the ear of the best builder and make him build a cathedral.

The Girl Who Could Tame Nightmares
She used her powers to take away peoples nightmares, but was it a good idea?

The Locust
A weird boy with no friends befriends a bug and becomes one.

The Boy Who Could Hold Back the Sea
A boy with the power to hold back and control water currents shows his power and has to go into hiding.

The Tale of Cuthbert
Basically the origin story of Miss Wren’s Menagerie.  There are peculiar animals that need saving, a gentle giant willing to save them, only who will save him?

 

Okay, so I loved the story of the first loop.  The cannibals story was just silly, although one of the stronger ones in the book.  Really, you’re reading fairy tales for peculiars, so you’re going to get absurd stuff (even fairy tales for humans are absurd).  A few stories were weak, but that’s to be expected just by the nature of what everything was.

I loved the woodcuts, even though I was used to bizarre photos and expecting them – I wish they’d’ve found a way to throw in a couple (the area now, perhaps?) – but what was done totally worked for this type of a book so I’m not complaining.

In all, if you like the Peregrine books as I have (My review of book 1 is here) I think you should pick this up as well, so I’ll give it a 4/5 pages with a warning – if you weren’t into the Peregrine books, I don’t think you’ll like this one all that much.

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Book Review-Dick Tracy: The Secret Files, edited by Max Allan Collins and Martin H. Greenberg

Title: Dick Tracy: The Secret Files

Author: Max Allan Collins, Mike Resnick, Henry Slesar, Ron Goulart, Rex Miller, Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, F. Paul Wilson, Ed Gorman, Francis M. Nevins and Josh Pachter, Barbara Collins, Wayne D. Dundee, Barry N. Malzberg, John Lutz, Ric Meyers, Edward D. Hoch, Stephen Mertz

Format: Paperback edition by Tor

Published: 1990

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Let it be no secret that I am a Dick Tracy fan, have been since I was a kid.  Not just a fan of a particular era or of Dick Tracy from the newspapers, or the movies, or any particular medium.  I am a straight up fan of Dick Tracy.  I love the hard boiled type tales, I adore the science/technology stuff, and even absolutely go nuts over the more science fiction stuff (looking at you, Moon Maid!)  So, when a copy of Dick Tracy: The Secret Files ended up in my hands, it was something special to me.

Fortunately, I wasn’t overall disappointed.  Not overall.

Dick Tracy: The Secret Files was a collection released in 1990, in conjunction with and due in large part to the Warren Beatty movie that debuted that year (Yes, I actually liked the movie, but that’s a whole other argument to have elsewhere).  Two legends in literature, Martin H. Greenberg and Max Allan Collins, at one time the writer for the Dick Tracy strip, helmed this sixteen story juggernaut of a collection and brought on talent of all types to tackle the yellow trenchcoat wearing wunderkind of crime deduction created by Chester Gould.  From Edward D. Hoch to Ron Goulart to F. Paul Wilson to John Lutz and beyond, the list of contributors to this book held a lot of promise, a fair amount of which was fulfilled.

Overall, this is a good bunch of stories.  It appears writers were pretty much allowed to come at Dick and company in any fashion they chose to and there were a variety of approaches taken.  That part turned me off a little as I read through the collection.  Yes, there were some definite straight up true Dick Tracy type stories, but there were others that, I think, tried to hard to be something different.  As a fan, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Dick take on his old and established villains throughout an entire collection, but he didn’t do much of that in this book.  Most of the adversaries were either new oddities or they were simply ‘normal’ criminals. And let me say, Dick has come up against his share of normals, but I’d hoped we’d see Pruneface and Flattop and more of the traditional Tracy villains.

Another way this didn’t deliver due to attempts to be different was that some of the stories were not about the Dick Tracy universe.  One was a fictionalization of how Dick Tracy was created in a sense, another took Dick Tracy to Hollywood, but he ended up being a deus ex machina bit player in his own story, and still another focused almost exclusively on Tess, Dick’s wife.  Now, this doesn’t mean they were bad stories, as you’ll see when I list my favorites in a bit.  But I simply wish the collection had been more streamlined with a ‘theme’ of sorts, a spine authors worked around, more than just ‘Here’s Dick Tracy. Leave your mark however You wish.” Maybe that wasn’t what was done, but this collection definitely feels that way.

The stories in this collection, though, that do stand out are numerous.  Dick Tracy and the Syndicate of Death by Henry Slesar, The Cereal Killer by Rex Miller, Auld Acquaintance by Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, The Curse by Ed Gorman, Homefront by Barbara Collins, The Paradise Lake Monster by Wayne Dundee, Old Saying by John Lutz, Whirlpool, Sizzle, and the Juice by Ric Meyers, Chessboard’s Last Gambit by Edward D. Hoch, and Not a Creature Was Stirring by Max Allan Collins are all great stories and hit on most, if not all the right notes for a Dick Tracy collection.

Dick Tracy: The Secret Files is a hard one to rate for me. Using the blog’s system, I’d have to give it 3 out of 5 pages.  This has a lot for Tracy fans as well as quite a bit for fans of Detective stories, but the scattershot approach to how Tracy’s world is addressed will probably make this a not read for many.

As for my usual scale, this gets four out of six bullets.  The strong stories outweigh the weak ones and my issues with the organization of the collection enough to make it one that hits more than half of the things it’s aimed at.

Book Review – Darkness With a Chance of Whimsey

TITLE Darkness With a Chance of Whimsey: Ten Years, Ten Stories
AUTHOR RJ Sullivan
FORMAT Paperback
PUBLISHED 2015

Darkness with a Chance of Whimsey is a collection of ten pieces of fiction mostly already published in various places. As a collection, there isn’t much that ties this together. I mean, you can argue that he pretty much writes in the same genres, but nothing beyond that. Not saying it’s good or bad, but just saying it’s a thing.
Also, each story has an explanation from the author in front of them. I thought that it would annoy me, but I kinda liked it after all, especially since a lot of the notes talked about when and why he wrote the story. And they didn’t really add anything to the understanding of the story, which was nice; if you have to explain your story, you’re doing it wrong.

So about the stories. I’ll say a little, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you… :

The Assurance Salesman – A group of people on a train meet a mysterious stranger with an even more mysterious blue rose.
According to the note, this was his first published story and I can tell. I think that the premise was interesting, but I think that it had some execution issues. I’d like to see it more refined and as part of a longer piece. Solidly 3/5

Fade – College students Spencer and Anna go to her parents house and get caught up in what her dad does for a living.
First of all, Anna is your typical blonde idiot character, and I hated her from just about the first sentence. The stuff with her dad was cool, though, and I thought that this story really had potential. Still, I feel like the execution didn’t quite make it, so I’ll give this one a 4/5.

Able-Bodied – This one was actually interesting. There was a detective who felt like he was being held back by a whiz-kid detective who showed up, gave an answer, disappeared and that was it. It was a really cool setup, and there was a bit of a turn in the story that wasn’t anywhere my head was going at the time. I thought that it ended a little too abruptly, though, and with an info dump to explain it to another character in the story that made it much too long. 3/5.

I Remember Clearly – This was the author’s first piece of flash, and again, I thought it showed. There’s a really interesting premise here. But the author sort of shoved a couple vignettes together and called them a story. It needed a little something else to make it rounded, and I just didn’t see that something. 2/5.

Do Better – More flash. This one has a couple (young adults, maybe?) locked in an old church after a night of… well, you know.
I think the paragraphs need a little work – almost every one of them flipped points of view – but there was a really cool idea here. I really like this one, and if it weren’t for the paragraph breaks, I’d have given it top marks. 4/5.

Grammetiquette 2030 – The story centers around a piece of tech called the Grammetiquette 2030. As it is flash, I’d pretty much ruin the story if I told you what it did. For the story, the author basically showed us the character’s input and the machine’s output.
Um. Okay? I actually wrote in my notes “What is the point of this?” Again, we have another moment of something that had potential without follow through. I like what was done here, but I wanted this to be the catalyst of something bigger and not the entire thing, you know? Maybe flash just isn’t the author’s thing most of the time? 2/5

Inner Strength & Backstage Pass – Okay, I’m rating these two together because they’re both companion stories to his novel series.
Inner Strength is about a little girl kidnapped by a demon. It’s okay, but I feel like the transitions are a little bumpy and the ending was kind of expected.
Backstage Pass is about a superfan and his favorite singer. … The singer was every stupid cliche you’d expect to hear in a country singer, except I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a country singer. It was just annoying. It was a much better written story, though, so at least there’s that.
Incidentally, and the reason I put these together, I haven’t read the novels that these are supposed to be companions of. And based on these stories, I can tell you that there’s a demon, but I can’t even a little bit tell you how they come together. I would assume that you would get it if you’ve read the novels.
Inner Strength – 3/5. Backstage Pass 4/5.

Starter Kit – Poor little Belljy (no, really) had something go wrong with his creatures in a tank. I… I’m torn on this story. I mean, it sort of reads like a story about those sea monkey things that you sent in the order form from the back of a comic book and $1.50 postage and handling, except the names were changed to protect the innocent. I felt like I wanted to like this story, but I just felt like I was missing something. I’ll give it a 4/5

Robot Vampire – Note: I read this before in Michael West’s Vampires Don’t Sparkle anthology, which I gave a 5/5 review to. But I only know this because the author note says so. I really don’t remember the story.
The title probably doesn’t leave much to the imagination here, but I will say that the demon that they talk about is freaking awesome and leave it at that so I don’t spoil everything. The story deals with a Japanese family and has the feel of Japanese fiction. It’s the newest story of the anthology, and by far the best written. You’re supposed to lay out an anthology/collection with your strongest stories at the beginning and end (which doesn’t affect me because I don’t read these books in order ever), and he definitely ended with his best piece. 5/5.

In all, the collection is pretty short – it’s roughly 170 pages and read very quickly. (I read seven of the ten pieces in about 90 minutes the day I opened the book….) I know I have some pretty mixed feelings about some of the stories, but I guess this falls less into the category of a book you’d have to take seriously and more into the category of stuff you’d read as filler or between heavier novels.
He does have several other titles in print and e-Book, including two that tie into this, and I’ll say that while I wouldn’t seek them out, I also wouldn’t be opposed to giving this author another shot, which is a good thing.

I’m torn between the end rating. I think this book knows its place, and that’s a good thing, but it’s not the best out there by an means. Still, the average rating of the individual stories puts this just about at a 4/5, so I’ll agree with that.

Writer Wednesday – A Christopher Drown

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1. Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
Hi, I’m Aaron. (“Hi, Aaron.”) You can find my writing under A. Christopher Drown.

2. What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
My novel, “A Mage of None Magic,” is straight-up fantasy. But my short stories are kind of all over the place.

3. What do you want to pimp right now? (May it be your newest, your work-in-progress, your favorite or even your first)
“Mage,” as mentioned above, was released last year as a second edition by Seventh Star Press. I had to set aside its follow-up for a while due to an avalanche of life-things, but am slowly starting to circle that drain again.

4. What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
The book that got me going was “The Sleeping Dragon” by my late friend, Joel Rosenberg. The book that keeps me going is “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King. The book I want to write is “The Once and Future King.”

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I’m a graphic designer by trade. In fact, I’ve been making in-roads into book design and have a strong interest in helping small presses and independent authors put the proverbial bow on the work. Just because your project is low-budge doesn’t mean it has to look it.

6. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
My Facebook author page is at /achrisdrown
My graphic design portfolio can be found at http://www.aarondrowndesign.com

***

The best advice you’ve been given:

Joel Rosenberg once told me, All you need to know when you write is where you’re going to begin and where you’re going to end—but mostly likely you’re going to be wrong about the latter.

Book Review – No True Way (All-New Tales from Valdemar)

Title: No True Way (All-New Tales of Valdemar)

Editor: Mercedes Lackey

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2014

As I’ve previously established, I’m a big fan of Mercedes Lackey, and I try to always pick up the short story collections, even though I’m not always a short story fan. No True Way is the latest collection, and is a mix of excellent stories and some less-than stellar ones (some authors are better at the format than others – and for the record, I’m really bad it, so I admire those who do it well).

In this particular collection, the story that I would classify as the one that had the strongest punch was “Written in the Wind” and reading it was like being punched in the face. Though not explicit stated, it’s set in Vanyel’s time, and two twins are Chosen, but they have the mage gift, and something or somebody has been killing off the mage-born for years.

I also love “Ex Libris” which involves setting up the first public library in Haven – I’m a bookworm, I think I’m contractually obligated to approve – and “A Brand from the Burning” which involves Solaris before she becomes the Son of the Sun. It’s an interesting look at such a powerful figure before she has experienced so much of what forges her.

I did not flat out hate any of the stories, but quite a few were bland-to-unforgettable. Not, in my experience, unusual in these collections. Still, there were a fair number I wished had been full novels, or that we’ll get a follow-up story in a later anthology, so I’ll rate this at a 3/5.

Writer Wednesday – Mark Taylor

  1. Who are you?
    Mark Taylor, author of the macabre.
  1. What type of stuff do you write?
    Um…the macabre. I jest. I started my writing career in short stories, having many published over the years. Eventually the work got longer, and now I boast novels out with a couple of different publishing houses and some more self-published work. Mostly it’s horror, a little fantasy, and some science fiction for good measure.
  1. What do you want to pimp right now?
    Small Cuts to the Psyche. It’s a collection of some of my previously published materials as well as a few unpublished surprises. It’s chock full of the dark brooding horror that anyone that knows me expects to find.
    The special edition is available on Lulu in paperback: http://tiny.cc/1wfgsx
  1. What is your favorite book?
    Nope. I can’t answer that. But I’ll name an author. Richard Laymon. The man was a genius. His twisted work inspired me when I started writing, and still does today. I’ll admit though, Nicholas Grabowski reminds me of him.
  1. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
    I’ve proofed many novels and novellas and formatted more books than I can count. I’ve also done a good number of covers for other authors.
  1. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
    My website: www.authormarktaylor.com
    And of course Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Mark.Taylor.Author

 

*

Pantsing it…

 

The hardest lesson I’ve learned as a writer? Well, the mistakes keep coming, so all the while the lessons do too, I guess all is going right.

At the moment? It keeps rearing its ugly head with me, and many others too, I expect. It’s the old plotting vs pantsing. I’m a pantser. Have been since the day I sat at the keyboard. Working with tales of less than say, ten thousand words, it’s fine. I have no qualms about being a pantser with novella’s or shorts.

But I took my pantsing with me when I started writing novels. I thought I had learned my lesson after two novels, where my own blood was shed banging away at the keyboard in the wee hours trying to make head or tail of what I had written.

I decided on the vague outline of my third novel, and then started to plot. It was hard. Harder than I had imagined. But I did what I thought was going to work. I mean, who researches how to plot a story, right?

I have never been so wrong.

I plotted vaguely. Too vaguely, I know now. It sprawled, out of control. I had plot points bouncing around all over the place. I expected a pulp novel, sixty to seventy thousand words, maybe, and following my “plot” I hit nearly fifty thousand still in the first act. And there were new plots being raised.

Sheesh.

So I did some research. I’m still working on the third, so I don’t know if what my research told me is right or not, but I learned that a plot should be detailed. Pretty much every plot point covered. And stick to it. One piece I read suggested the plot outline be roughly ten percent of the length of the finished work. So my plot should have been six thousand words.

I think it was about six hundred.

Lesson learned.

 

Book Review – Tortall and Other Lands (A Collection of Tales)

Title: Tortall and Other Lands (A Collection of Tales)

Author: Tamora Pierce

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2011

In general, I’m not a huge fan of short stories – I always feel like the story is just getting going when it ends – but I make an exception for short stories where I’m familiar with the world-building and therefore can focus on the characters and the plot.

Tortall and Other Lands contains eleven short stories, set mainly in Pierce’s Tortall world, with several contemporary stories, and several others that are in a non-specified world (probably also Tortall, but it’s not made explicit).

In reading these stories, one of the things that struck me was how Pierce has such an ability to create characters who have such unique voices. Nawat sounds different than Kitten, who sounds different than Quiom – and the humans, while a bit more similar (there’s none of the ‘I have no idea why these crazy humans are doing this thing’), still have their own voices.

My least favorite of the collection would be “Nawat,” who, admittedly, was the my least favorite character in the Trickster books (which I really enjoyed for the most part, though I know others had issues with them). A crow with the ability to shapeshift into human, he and Ally have just had their children, and Nawat is forced to decide if he will follow the ways of the crows or the ways of the humans when he discovers a terrible secret about his firstborn daughter. I did buy that he could follow the ways of the crows because he was still very crowlike, but everything he did always felt like he was doing it behind Ally’s back, and he as a character is very non-sympathetic to me for the most part.

My favorite story is (probably) “Mimic,” where a shepherd(ess) finds a strange creature that she heals, and in turn, the creature ends up saving her and the whole village. I loved the worldbuilding on this-the way the birds are part of the village, and the way that Ri delights in them makes for a lovely heroine.

I also really enjoyed “The Hidden Girl” and “Student of Ostriches” – both of which involve the girl realizing that she has the ability to take control of her own life.

“Huntress” was one of the contemporary stories, and the one of the two I liked the least. The female character learns that she doesn’t want to do what it takes to be popular, and a surprising part of her family’s past come to life. The character was understandable and relatable, but for the most part I didn’t like her. The magic portion of the story felt out of place – we don’t get to see any of the aftermath, and the build-up is, perhaps, a bit too subtle.

“Testing” keeps you in the contemporary world, and takes you to a group home for girls. Practical jokes aren’t usually my thing, but the character the jokes are being played on (called X-Ray by the girls) takes them all in stride and therefore the jokes are actually funny. Watching her win them over by telling them stories of her life makes the story warm your heart.

For the most part, the stories rely on knowledge from Tortall to one degree or another, so this collection is more for those who have that background, but they are all solid stories and I highly enjoyed the book.

4/5 pages

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