08 May 2013

Celebrating the Short Story: Anthologies

Up until now, I have largely been discussing short stories of the stand alone variety, some large enough to be termed novellas, others just small morsels designed to keep the reader hooked while waiting for the author's next big effort to be published.  There is, however, a whole section of books containing short stories.  These books are most often referred to as anthologies.  There are two major types of short story anthologies that I have come across in my reading.  The first is the collection of stories, all by the same author.  Some current examples of this type of work is Side Jobs, in which author Jim Butcher has collected all of the Dresden File stories that he has been publishing on his website between the release of the major Dresden File books.  This book is an excellent read and just the thing for any Dresden Files collector like me.
The other type of anthology is comprised of a collection of stories by different authors, but all related either by genre or subject.  My most recent foray into this type of anthology is comprised of books like First Thrills an anthology of mystery/thriller stories compiled by Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series, Women of Mystery, a collection of stories by some of the most popular female mystery writers of today, and A Study in Sherlock, and collection of stories that are inspired by the Holmes canon.  Here is my current review of this book:

Publisher: Random House
Price: $36.00 for the Hardback, $11.99 for the eBook
Genre: Mystery  and short story anthology
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

What more could a true Sherlock fan want than a book full of "Sherlock" stories by some of the best writers on the current scene. A Study in Sherlock: Stories inspired by the Holmes canon is just such a book. It is edited by Laurie R. King of the Mary Russell series fame. Ms. King seems the perfect person to such a book, since she is the author of the Mary Russell books, a series that features Sherlock Holmes as one of the main characters. What she has put together in this book is a number of stories, mostly written in the same style that Arthur Conan Doyle used when writing the original Sherlock Holmes serial. One thing that really drew me to this book was the writers that Ms. King was able to get to join in the effort. I was excited to see stories by such authors as Lee ChildNeil GaimanS.J. Rozan,Laura Lippman, and Jacqueline Winspear. I do have to say, some of the stories were better than others, and some of them followed the Holmes canon much more closely than others, but all of them were enjoyable. Even the ones that did not really follow Doyle's writing style were quite good and worth the read. For example, The Mysterious Case of the Unwritten Short Story. 

If you are a Holmes purist, this book would probably not be up to your standards, as several of the stories veer from the canon completely. If, like me, though, you just get a kick out of the way 
 that Sherlock solves mysteries I would say to give this one a chance.

07 May 2013

Tuesday's Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

A copy of this book was furnished by the publisher in return for my review

Publisher: Little, Brown
List Price: $27.99 for Hardback Edition
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I think about what to say regarding  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson,  the word "Wow" keeps popping into my head.  To begin with, my only reference for Kate Atkinson before I read this book was my desire to read her Jackson Brodie books.  I saw that this book was a standalone book, but with my limited knowledge of the author, I made the assumption that it was a mystery story.  Therefore I was totally surprised once I started reading it.

The story centers on the life, or many lives, or Ursula Todd. Ursula is the middle child in a typical family living in the British countryside during the first half of the 20th century.   Since I was expecting a totally different type of story, the first couple of chapters of the book caught me off guard.  It didn't take me very long, though, to get caught up in the story that was unfolding.  The more that I read, the more I became hooked.  I don't think that I have ever come across a story with a premise quite as intriguing and original as this one.  I loved the way that the author used the many lives of Ursula, to illustrate her premise.   The fact that none of her lives were exactly the same and the author’s use of “echoes from the past” to illustrate her point was brilliant in my opinion. I know that on the surface this is a story about Reincarnation, but even more than that, it is a story about the choices we make as we live our lives, and how they affect, not only us, but everyone and everything around us.

Atkinson's writing style was the perfect vehicle for this story. Everything from the structure of her writing, to the way she builds Ursula’s story in successive waves , to the choice of wording that she uses, all blend together to make the story fly off the pages.  She made excellent use of historical reference, beautiful prose, and a dry wit to pull the reader into the story and make them fall in love with her premise.  The characters in the book were amazingly well done, too.  Although they were all typical in some ways, they each had their own little quirks and unusual personality traits, which I loved.  In addition, the way that they interacted and blended throughout Ursula’s many lives lead to many questions about life that I found incredibly intriguing.

If the book had any downfalls at all for me, it was the amount of time that Atkinson spent on the dark parts of Ursula's life.  At times I found myself wishing that I was not so immersed in this part, but in the end, I realized that becoming immersed in this part of her life was as necessary for me as the reader as it was for her.  These were the parts of Ursula's life that had the most impact and that drew both her and I to the ultimate conclusion.

At first upon finishing the book, I rated it 4 stars, but the more time went on and the events in the book kept popping into my mind, spurring questions and making me look at life in a different way, the more I realized the book actually deserved 5 stars.  In fact, I have had some of the best discussions that I have participated in for a long time in reference to this book.  In addition, it is one of the first books in quite a while that I would anticipate reading more than once.

Although I am still excited to read her Jackson Brodie books, I am even more excited to read her first novel, [book:Behind the Scenes at the Museum|28940], which sounds like another book on the caliber of this one. This one is definitely highly recommended.