Adult Book Reviews by Genre: Short Stories

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
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
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
The Things They Carried
O'Brien, Tim
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Actual Rating: 3.9

This book is good and fairly understandable if you like books that take place in war times. It has A LOT of symbolism which many can be examples of the exact things they carried. There are many back stories and stories about the soldiers as well giving you a lot of imagery as to what is happening. It talks about their missions and thoughts emotionally. It was a little difficult for me to read it but it's a pretty well written book otherwise.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Dominique R.