Category Archives: Short Story Collection

A Librarian in Sin City

…A popular artist is murdered in his own gallery.

…A pagan fertility ritual at an isolated goddess sanctuary goes terribly wrong.

…A school group’s excursion to a desert wildlife refuge reveals that the most dangerous predators walk on two legs.

There’s more to life in Sin City than casinos, bright lights, and showgirls. Just ask recently divorced librarian Elinor Gray. Her day job coordinating special events for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District isn’t all that exciting. Except Elinor has a knack for stumbling—sometimes literally—over dead bodies and into the arms of Detective Guillermo “Guy” Villanueva. Too bad his ex-stripper little sister is the slut who ruined Elinor’s marriage.

Death Times Three is a mini-collection (two stories and a novella) of short mysteries that prove what happens in Vegas can be fatal.

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There is nothing predictable about this collection of strange tales.

Thirteen: a collection of odd tales by B. A. Spicer

Thirteen: a collection of odd tales by B. A. Spicer

The stories in THIRTEEN: A COLLECTION OF ODD TALES run the gamut from speculative fiction with a scientific edge to Gothic fiction to darkly humorous detective fiction. Nor are Spicer’s characters any easier to pin down. They live in ambiguity and don’t behave or react in the ways we might expect, like the loving mother in “Angels” whose grief leads her to the unthinkable, or the young lover in “The Visit” who, on a weekend holiday with a fascinating woman, somehow dreams every moment of their getaway before it happens.

A couple of the stories go past “odd” into truly dark places. “Night Caller” had me checking that my windows and doors were locked tight. I couldn’t stop squirming as I read “Flashforward”. I kept hoping that somehow a last-minute miracle would reverse what we know from page one can never be undone.

Taken as a whole, the tone of the collection is meditative, exploratory. It’s almost as if Spicer set each story loose in its own glassed-in habitat and stepped back to see what would happen. What results is a wonderfully imaginative collection that never quite shows you its true face.

Review: ON YOUR OWN by Jonathan Miller

A collection of short stories focused on individuals coming to grips with their inherent isolation–even from those they love.

On Your Own

On Your Own

The stories here are filled with flawed characters led astray by their own illusions and failure to connect with the people around them. They generally fall into two categories. First, there are generally good people gobsmacked by an unkind, inflexible world. Second, there are those who do wrong though they know better and often want to be better. All of Miller’s characters seem trapped by their own misconceptions and miscalculations. They either cannot attain intimacy or they cannot accept the restraints that intimacy imposes on them.

Miller’s writing is sharp and accomplished, and he has a good grasp on the emotional nuances that make for realistic characters. The world view presented in this volume is a bit grim, but that is literary short fiction for you, moody and leaning toward the pessimistic. Nevertheless, there are some lighter moments. “Mrs. Dumont and the Aroused Tenant” had me on the floor laughing. Also, “The Last Week of Summer” is full of a sharp-edged humor as a mini-war between two brothers clouds a much anticipated visit to their grandparents.

A thoughtful, nicely balanced collection.

Two Little Books With Lots of Heart: AN SEANCHAI by Ross Murphy and ALPHABET SUCCESS by Tim Fargo

Who out there doesn’t want to get real value for their money? Well, I have a two-scoop treat for you today. One is fiction. The other is non-fiction. One delivers laugh after laugh. The other will show you how to succeed in business while keep hold of your soul. Two first-rate books that not only deliver all they promise but also help those in need. That’s right. 100% of the proceeds go to charity.

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Author Ross Murphy created this delightful slip of a book to fulfill a promise he made to himself after the death of his friend Billy Burke–an irascible old fellow Murphy met while living in Newbridge, County Kildare twenty-plus years ago. That promise was to preserve Billy’s stories. Billy was a story teller of rare talent and reading about his early encounters with “Yank” Murphy at an old-school pub called O’Malley’s sets a wonderfully atmospheric stage for the reader. I felt as if I were huddled into a worn booth, the din of conversation and the clink of pint glasses falling away as Billy launched into “The Undertaker” or “The Priest and the Frog” or the hilarious “The Best Pub Ever.”

Some of these stories are wee bit silly, others a wee bit shocking, but they are all funny, pitch-perfect, and move one into the other seamlessly.

I also love that all of the proceeds from AN SEANCHAI go to benefit the Independence Fund, an organization that works to help severely wounded veterans.

Alphabet Success - Keeping it Simple. The Secret to Success.

Alphabet Success – Keeping it Simple. The Secret to Success.

Author Tim Fargo created a successful insurance fraud investigation company and sold it for big bucks. But this happy ending didn’t happen without some failure along the way. Fargo mines the good and the bad and presents (via a riff on the alphabet) an uncomplicated outline for building a business that works. A lot of his advice is also applicable to people outside the business world.

I like that Fargo acknowledges from the beginning that he’s always wanted to be rich. It made me say to myself “Well, whatever I may think of his book, at least he’s honest.” What sets Fargo apart from other “How to Succeed in Business” coaches is that he clearly differentiates fancy toys (say a Ferrari) as a motivator or symbol that spurs one towards a goal and the goal itself. The distinction is subtle, but it makes the difference between a life filled with money and cool stuff and one built on accomplishment that (as a by-product) allows one to enjoy money and stuff.

I like the way Fargo balances up-to-the-minute technology (e.g. computer programs that track the handling of customer complaints) and old-fashioned good customer service (sending a client a real birthday card rather than an email or e-card). He’s a man who knows that tracking and quantifying the value of a given account is important, but so is maintaining meaningful contact with the individuals behind the account.

In the end, I think that’s what sets ALPHABET SUCCESS apart from so many books in its category–it never forgets that a business is at its foundation a human interacting with other humans. So, there’s room for mistakes as well as growth. Mistakes MAKE for growth.

And if this isn’t enough to get you to give this book a try, all of the proceeds of the book generated in 2014 will go to support children in Africa via Save The Children. How’s that for putting a human face on success?

Short and Scary: A Review of “Dive” by Kory M. Shrum

Short stories can be hard to review. How much can you say about a brief work without giving the whole thing away? Luckily Kory M. Shrum’s horror short “Dive” offers a lot to chew over.

Dive: a short story

Dive: a short story

The story jumps between “then” and “now.” This constant switching provides a neat counterpoint to the reality faced by Lou, Shrum’s complicated protagonist, whose strange gift might be termed “here and there.” I can’t say much more about this without seriously spoiling the fun. So, I’ll move on to Lou herself. When we first meet her, she’s a terrified child with no idea how to handle the secret that’s tearing up her existence. Her mother tries to empathize, but she really doesn’t understand Lou’s problem. She can’t. Lou’s father, however, understands all too well. Contrast this lost child to present-day Lou, a hardened, angry woman relentless in her pursuit of a vicious drug lord. Shrum takes us back and forth in time, filling in the life experiences that have transformed Lou from prey into predator.

In the end, the drug lord isn’t Lou’s biggest antagonist. She is. Lou has to decide what kind of person she wants to be. Watching as she makes this choice is the scariest part of the entire story. Considering what leads up to it, that’s saying a lot.

Lou and the world Shrum has created for her could easily carry a full-length novel or series of novels. I hope Shrum has plans in that direction. But even if she doesn’t, “Dive” stands strong all by itself.

Of Designer Totes and Goddesses: A Review of THE EVOLUTION OF REPTILIAN HANDBAGS AND OTHER STORIES by Melanie Lamanga

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.

People underestimate the difficulty of crafting a superior short story. It takes a lot of work–and a unique sensibility– to take a reader on a satisfying imaginative journey in only a few thousand words. Author Melanie Lamaga succeeds ten times in a row. Her stories take the reality we know and bend it in odd and exciting ways. In doing so, she shows the folly of the human compulsion to rationalize a universe that refuses to be pinned down and labeled. A working class girl from Maryland reaches her majority and gains the power of life and death in her very breath. Nature versus Nurture steps out of theory to compete on a battlefield that stretches from rural Pennsylvania to Korea to a television studio in southern California. The myth of Demeter and Persephone replays in the frozen wastelands of post-apocalyptic corn country.

The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories

The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories

Lamaga’s stories are like those dreams we have that almost make sense. We recognize our neighborhood and our mother and our dog. Yet something is off. We run through it again and again, but each re-imagining blurs the image more, until it’s no longer salvageable.

There is a recurring theme of the wastefulness of consumer society and the soullessness associated with blind acquisition. I get the point and agree, but Lamaga is a little heavy handed about it at points, most notably in her longest story, “The Seduction of Forgotten Things.” But the author’s careful attention to characterization and the interplay of character and setting counteract a slightly leaden quality imparted by the sociology and philosophy lesson.

“What the Dalai Lama Said” is my favorite story in the collection. It pokes fun at “enlightenment” seekers in a way that nevertheless honors their intentions and their humanity.