All Book Reviews by Genre: Short Stories

Messenger's Legacy
Brett, Peter V.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In a series that’s full of exposition and backstory, I found it a little odd that these extraneous details weren’t relegated to side-story novellas so the plot of the main series of books could focus on the current action. What’s even more curious is that Messenger’s Legacy, a side-story novella in this series, doesn’t explore anything new or interesting that hadn’t already been covered in the main books. The only new information I learned in this novella was slightly more detail about bog and swamp demons, which seems unnecessary with all things considered.

Following somewhat minor characters from The Warded Man (who haven’t appeared in the series since), Messenger’s Legacy shows it is easier to survive in demon-infested nights than the series initially indicated. While I’m not sure if any of these details will come into play in the main-line books, it does help expand the world-building just a little bit more than if this story hadn’t been included at all. As always, the demon-infused action is exciting and a strength of the author’s writing.

I’m sure there are much more interesting backstories and side-stories to tell in this series, so it’s curious that this one was written about at all. I’d much rather read about the original Deliverer or the society that crumbled away in the desert (leaving behind powerful wards in the process). Sure, there’s some personality explored in this story that helps pull the reader back to less god-like individuals and their struggles against the demons. However, with so many more interesting stories to tell, I’d suggest that anyone reading this series can skip this novella and not miss anything important.

A curious side-story that doesn’t add anything to the series, I give Messenger’s Legacy 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Last Wolf
Krasznahorkai, László
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This bundle of stories is an interesting read. It contains three stories about a writer facing an identity crisis, a hunter gone mad, and a final story about the impact of the hunter’s actions. The way this story is written can be often confusing and difficult to understand for casual readers. I personally didn't like this book, due to the bland, depressing, atmosphere of the setting, and the complexity of the sentences. Often times, it is difficult to tell when the narrator is talking or when he is thinking.
Regardless, I still believe it is a fine read for readers with an advanced vocabulary. Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Kyle Y
Awards:
Song for the Unraveling of the World
Evenson, Brian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

At the beginning of this year, one of my reading goals was to try a new genre. The short story genre is the genre I never new I needed until I read this book. The strength of short stories, in my opinion is the ability of the author to do a lot within a small amount of space; creating strong character development, great world building and meaningful messages within each story.

Within a few pages Everson manages to create character driven stories that are terrifying, full of paranoia and delusion and at the same time haunting and beautiful. From a girl without a face, to a therapist who never leaves his patience alone, to a film director willing to do anything to get the perfect final scene, these stories evoke a sense of fear and explores exactly what we will do to fulfill our most inhuman impulses. These stories provide a great introduction to a genre I now love. I can’t wait to see what else Everson does, he is definitely one to watch. Thank you to Eidelweiss and Coffee House press for the Digital Review Copy for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
All Out: the no-longer secret stories of queer teens throughout the ages
Mitchell, Saundra
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

All Out is a collection of short stories from different times in history.
These short stories keep you on the edge of your seats with every page. Being a LGBTQ+ Short story book I was delighted with detailed stories keeping with historical values and cultures. Everything from Pirates to Runaway Brides this book has it. Lovely storylines and flow. Definitely a must read for teenagers.
Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Lizzy B
Awards:
Gwendy's Music Box
King, Stephen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

While most people think of Stephen King's book as being scary, this book was more suspenseful than scary. It is the story of Gwendy, a 12 year old girl who decided to run the suicide stairs in her neighborhood to lose weight before school starts. She meets a man wearing a black hat at the top of the stairs. This man calls her over by name and gives her a specialw box that will give her chocolate and silver dollars. The box has buttons on top and Gwendy can control what may happen by pushing one of the buttons. Once she takes the box, good things start happening in Gwendy's life. Gwendy becomes obsessed with the box and keeps it with her until after college, when she comes home one day to see a familiar black hat in her apartment. The story moves quickly and keeps you interested throughout the phases of Gwendy's life. If you are interested in Stephen King books but don't want to read anything too scary, this is a great book to start with.

Reviewer's Name: Brenna C.
Awards:
Ajax Penumbra 1969
Sloan, Robin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

As I said in my review of Sourdough , I absolutely adored Robin Sloan's debut work, Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore. Since Sourdough didn't necessarily sate my appetite, I found Ajax Penumbra 1969 to be a light snack that brought me back into the world created by Sloan. Acting as a bit of a short story/novella prequel to the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 still maintains the themes common in Sloan's work: mainly, the combination and juxtaposition of analog and digital technology. In this case, the reader just happens to come across this dichotomy in 1969.

Following the titular character from the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 gives the origins of this mysterious character as he searches for answers and eventually ends up in San Francisco at a little 24-hour bookstore. The following mystery and intrigue are what I would expect from such a story, but the inclusion of the budding technological aspects of the late 1960's helped to show that not only was this character finding his way to an eventual life filled with books, but technology's infancy already had much potential at this early stage of development.

It's a little difficult to say much about this short story/novella since it didn't even take a full two hours to listen to. At any rate, it's a fun little side story for those who had picked up Sloan's first work and fell in love with the ideas and characters presented therein. While not necessarily a book that most people would pick up and read without having already read Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, Ajax Penumbra 1969 is required reading for anyone like myself who has become enamored with Sloan's writing style over the last few years.

A fitting prequel to the events of Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, I give Ajax Penumbra 1969 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Rowling, J.K.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"The Tales of Beedle the Bard" is a collection of bedtime stories from the Wizarding World, with commentary from Albus Dumbledore in between. This book was amazing! I loved getting a new perspective of the Wizarding World, even after the end of the Harry Potter series. I also enjoyed getting to read the stories that were mentioned in the series, such as Babbitty Rabbitty and the Cackling Stump. It is like a little taste of Hogwarts that will make you homesick. Each story is captivating and full of J.K. Rowling's trademark wit.
I would recommend this to people who love Harry Potter and want to return to the Wizarding World one more time.
Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Gillian P.
Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies
Lahiri, Jhumpa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book was beautiful in the variety of characters portrayed in the short stories. All had a common thread of India and Indian culture, but each story was in a class of its own. It's hard for an author to really dig deep in short stories, but there is depth in these. There were a few that ended abruptly, but I loved each and every one of them and I learned a lot about Indian culture.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Interpreter of Maladies
Lahiri, Jhumpa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories that reveal the immense cultural differences between America and India. Jhumpa Lahiri writes with such elegance that each individual story evokes a wide variety of emotions. My favorite part of this book is that all the stories come together to form a well-developed image of life in India compared to life in America. I also like that it does not portray one lifestyle as better than the other; rather, it just highlights the differences. Even in short stories, Jhumpa Lahiri has the ability of putting the reader in another person's shoes and immersing them in different cultures. Because of the beautiful writing, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in different cultures.

Reviewer's Name: Sabrina J.
The Cask of Amontillado
Poe, Edgar Allan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This isn’t a full length book but rather a short piece of writing - the first I read of Poe’s but by far the most entertaining. The piece is set in an unnamed Italian city during the Carnival season and depicts the protagonist, Montresor, inviting Fortunato, a former friend, to a wine tasting in his cellar. Fortunato previously insulted Montresor and this invitation isn’t one of forgiveness, but revenge. The language isn’t difficult to understand as most pieces from the 1800's are and there isn’t any research needed to be done beforehand in order to read this piece. The Cask of Amontillado possesses a dark, morbid theme which is entertaining depending on the audiences interests, for example, if increasingly horrifying character behavior is something that surprises you. I felt a range of emotions from suspicious to terrified throughout the piece and if there are any audiobooks you can get your hands on, that definitely assists in terms of establishing a more realistic setting. When I listened to the audiobook, echoes of their voices and droplets of water dripping from the ceiling of the damp cellar were included to contribute to an overall eeriness.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Isabella W.
Holidays on Ice
Sedaris, David
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I listened to this book, most of which was read in a nasally, whiny voice. The initial stories about working as an elf at Christmas-time had tears of laughter pouring out of my eyes, Unfortunately, the book rapidly went downhill. This satire started out funny, but it kept going too long as if the author didn't know when to end the story. There were also some disturbing images that added absolutely nothing. The stories were sarcastic, but the bitterness in them really turned me off. Can't recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: Robin
The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories, written by the protagonist (Tim O’Brien), of self reflection about his experiences during the Vietnam War. O’Brien itemizes a list of the things, both tangible and intangible, that members of his platoon have brought with them to war. The plot follows the fate of the Alpha Company members both during and after the war, as well as adding O’Brien’s personal comments on the events he transcribes.

This book humanizes war. It’s no longer one side versus another, but actual people with lives and stories beyond the war. I really enjoy the style O’Brien uses, inserting himself into the story gives the novel verisimilitude. This book is very unlike books I normally read, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much it made me think.

Reviewer's Name: Emma
Welcome to the Monkey House
Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Much like short story anthologies by a single author (see Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors and Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun ), Welcome to the Monkey House is both quintessentially a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s biting wit and satire as well as an exploration of other genres not often associated with Vonnegut’s style. Fans of Vonnegut will likely have already read some of these short stories (like “EPICAC” and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”), but some of the other stories might have been missed and for a good reason.

Overall, Welcome to the Monkey House is a fantastic set of stories, but a few of them fail to have the impact to make them memorable. Granted, these stories are few and far between, and help to break up the well-written social commentaries presented in “Harrison Bergeron” and the titular “Welcome to the Monkey House.” Vonnegut’s ability to show the slippery slope of such ideas as “everyone is equal” and “sex is bad,” respectively, is just as poignant in short form as it is in his novels. The fusion of technology in these stories might seem dated by today’s standards, but they do reveal that Vonnegut was, inherently, a science-fiction writer.

What this collection does well is show that Vonnegut understood the importance of the characters in a story. One of the most entertaining in this collection was “Who Am I This Time?” which contained characters at such extremes of human expression as to be completely unrealistic but somehow relatable and entertaining. Stories like this, which don’t necessarily follow the political or societal commentary that the other stories provide, are nice breathers that give the reader a smile instead of drilling thought-provoking ideas into their skulls. It’s this balance that truly makes Welcome to the Monkey House a must-read.

Vonnegut, true to form as well as outside his element, I give Welcome to the Monkey House 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Machine of Death
North, Ryan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The concept is simple: a machine takes your blood and spits out a card with the means of your demise printed on it. In this collection of short stories, a variety of authors explore what this truly means for individuals, as well as society as a whole. Based off an idea by Ryan North (author of “Dinosaur Comics”), this anthology has plenty of different approaches to the concept that a machine could predict how a person will die. However, many of these ideas hit upon the same concepts and social implications, making the whole thought exercise seem redundant by the end of the book.

Part of me felt the idea itself was a little derivative of Death Note, but with a more ambiguous set of constraints. Each of the short stories included in this anthology had some unique twist on the idea, ranging from humor to romance to horror. Still, every author tended to agree: a machine of death would bring about a dystopian future in some form or other. From governments requiring a “death reading” to mitigate any national disasters to a school needing to know how their prospective students will die so they can save face, the real enemies of this idea tended to be the bureaucracies of humanity.

While I honestly enjoyed the stories included in this anthology, they all seemed to suffer from the “a priori problem.” With each story titled with some way to die, you half-expect the story’s main character to end via that method. The intrigue is more in the how and when; thus providing interest to the story despite practically knowing the ending before it even starts. Granted, that’s part of the appeal of the machine: the ambiguity is as freeing as it is constraining.

A morbid set of interesting short stories, I give Machine of Death 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
the abominable snowman
Pratchett, Terry
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

It was a good book but it was boring at some parts.

Reviewer's Name: Ethan M.
Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions
Gaiman, Neil
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

As someone who has to read many short story submissions for the anthology my writing group puts together each year, I can appreciate a well-written short story. I have not read much of Neil Gaiman, but in his collection of anthology short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, I was able to see what kinds of stories a professional writer writes for an anthology. While quite a few stories were interesting, not all of them were necessarily in genres I typically read. Then again, I consider erotica and stories submitted to Hustler as pornography, which is why I do not read these kinds of short stories.

Furthermore, it is a little more uncomfortable listening to erotica, as was the case with this audiobook. Fortunately, Gilbert Gottfried did not read it, but it still is uncomfortable to hear it nonetheless. Sure, the concepts in these short stories were somewhat interesting, but the sex ruined it for me. At least there were enough other stories that I found fascinating to make it worth my while to get all the way through it. The simplicity and genius of these ideas merely verify Gaiman’s writing talent, even if a few were hard to follow. At least a few of them followed the title of the book, which helped tie these separate stories together.

Perhaps my biggest qualm with this book was its structure. Moreover, maybe it was a limitation of a direct transferal to the audiobook format, but it is almost impossible to go back to the first section of the book and listen to the intro for each story before reading that story. Instead, it dispensed pertinent information on every short story before I even had a chance to get to them. If I were to appreciate each story fully, it would have been better to introduce each one with background information, so the context is fresh in the listener’s memory.

A collection of well-written short stories, I give Smoke and Mirrors 3.5 stars out of 5.

For more reviews of books and movies like this, please visit www.benjamin-m-weilert.com

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
Through the Woods
Carroll, Emily
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll is a comic book collection of whimsically morbid fairy-tales, each mostly self-contained but serving what I would call an important, human theme: the uncanny waits, and surrounds, especially where you wouldn’t expect it. I love the stark yet evocative art throughout this book, and some of the stories did manage to surprise me. I personally love testaments to the monsters under our beds, particularly those intended for adults, and if you do, too, you may carry something interesting away from this collection. At any rate, the art is gorgeous, feeling “classic” even as it’s so unique.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
Novak, B.J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Ever wonder what your grandmother might be up to in heaven? Or maybe why it is that there are some people who just give the best advice? BJ Novak, writer and star of The Office, explores these topics and much more in his refreshingly hilarious One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. Tales run the gamut of the absurd to the seemingly mundane: from a peek inside a blind date with a warlord, to a boy who is not allowed to eat sugary name-brand cereals. Each story is almost like two sides of the same coin, all at once being achingly funny and heartbreakingly human. The collection, while as a whole is mostly always humorous, ebbs and flows with a sincerity that demonstrates Novak’s keen ability to not only write about human emotion, but to make the reader feel it as well. One More Thing shows that Novak’s writing is intelligent, his command of language sharp and his wry humor at its best.

Reviewer's Name: Heidi
Four: A Divergent Collection
Roth, Veronica
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I loved this book because it was a spin-off of the Divergent series. If you like dystopia and a different point of view, this book is just for you. The book goes in detail of Tobias Eaton's life in four different sections or chapters. I think it's amazing to be able to look into another character's background, especially after reading all three Divergent books in Tris' point of view. In the novella, you get to see Four's abnegation side before he moved to Dauntless. You see how scared he was and the steps that make him who he is later in the book. There is a lot of foreshadowing to compare to the original books and the spin-off. The reason why I gave it a four stars though, is because I felt as if Four could've had more emotion and thought because when I read it, it felt as if I was just reading the behind the scenes and not how he was REALLY feeling.
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Jade D.
The Demigod Diaries
Riordan, Rick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Demigod Diaries is a fun collection of short stories that bring you back into Percy Jackson's world with new adventures. Luke Castellan, son of Hermes, tells his story for the first time in "The Diary of Luke Castellan". Argo II members Leo Valdez, Jason Grace, and Piper McLean go on a search for a missing item and wind up finding trouble within the forest of Camp Half-Blood. Rick Riordan's son, Haley, also includes a demigod story of his own.

Overall, this book was lots of fun. Each story was interesting, adventurous, and packed with humor. I especially loved hearing more about Luke's past, as his character in the first series didn't have much time to tell his story. Leo's adventure is hilarious and fun. Haley's story was well-written, but I felt it was a little serious, considering the rest of the stories are more light-hearted. Nevertheless, this book is wonderful. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series.

Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Gillian P.

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