Top 3 Favorite Short Stories

Hey y’all, I’m back! I’ve been incredibly busy recently with summer classes, and as of today finished my last summer class before the fall (and my wisdom teeth and ankle surgery *insert whining emoji*). But YAAAY!

I took a really cool class, though, called The Short Story. Can you tell I’m an English major? Anyway, it was very interesting, we covered a lot of different mediums, including radio dramas, “story songs” (aka….songs), and even a comic book. It was really cool to see the different ways in which a short story can be portrayed. However, obviously the main objective was text.

So I thought, hey! I haven’t really been reading for myself in my spare time, but I have been reading a LOT! So I figured, what the heck! Lemme give you guys my top three favorite short stories that we covered in my class (keep in mind, we read a hell of lot more than three, so this was a tough list to narrow down – honorable mentions will be at the bottom)!

So, without further ado:

“Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” – Stephen Crane

I’m sure some of you might have read this story – really a novella – before in high school. But I dropped out of my public high school for a period of time, and when I went back to a different school we certainly did not cover short stories, mostly just Shakespeare (yaaaassss! <3). But let me tell you: this story is GOLD.

To give you a little background, “Maggie” is set in the poor tenements of New York City at the turn of the century, and centers around a girl, Maggie (duh), and her brother Jimmie. The two grow up in an abusive family with two alcoholic parents. The story progresses from their time as children to their lives as adults, where Jimmie is basically the King of the Streets, and Maggie grew to be a really beautiful woman (Crane describes this as “blossom[ing] in a mud puddle”). The story takes an ugly turn, and I won’t tell you any more than that, for fear of ruining it for you. But oh my God, please go read it.

From the book I was reading, Barbara Solomon’s The Haves and the Have-Nots, it was about 65 pages long – so longer than your average short story, but certainly not longer than a book or even really a modern novella (although it is considered a novella).

I HIGHLY recommend this story. Keep in mind, it is set in the tenement districts of NYC – so a very poor, very depressed time period, with alcoholism and all kinds of other not pleasant things. So if you’re not in the mood for something dark, don’t read it just yet. However, I think it was fantastic, and something that everyone should read. If not for the sake of the interesting plot, at least for the historical significance and imagery.

“The Musgrave Ritual” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It wouldn’t have felt right not to include at least one Sherlock Holmes story. We read practically half of  The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries and it was fantastic!

“The Musgrave Ritual” is honestly the epitome of Sherlock Holmes, in my opinion. While the story is told, as always, through Watson’s perspective, this story is actually set many years prior when Holmes was first starting as an independent detective. Holmes helps an old school acquaintance. His Butler, and the butler’s scorned lover, have disappeared. In order to solve the mystery, Holmes must first solve his friend’s old family “ritual” or riddle:

“Whose was it? His who is gone. Who shall have it? He who will come. Where was the sun? Over the oak. Where was the shadow? Under the elm. How was it stepped? North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one, and so under. What shall we give for it? All that is ours. Why should we give it? For the sake of the trust.”

Like WTF??  If you want to know the answer, you’ll have to read the story…. Muah hahaha!

“To Build a Fire” by Jack London

I’m sure many of you have read The Call of the Wild, but for those who have not read any of his short stories – please do! “To Build a Fire,” like most Jack London stories, are very man vs nature. It centers around an older, but physically fit, man in the Alaskan wilderness. Rather than going the easy way to the campsite, he and his dog go through the rough snow storm the long way.

True to Jack London form, he gives glimpses of what the dog is feeling or experiencing through a lens, and makes for a really wonderful read. While certainly not as depressing as “Maggie” it does have parts where you’re going to be yelling at the book and saying “you’re such an idiot,” “how could you?” and “daaaamn!” But it is well worth it!

If you’re interested at all in what it’s like in the harsh Alaskan wilderness in the late 19th century, this story is definitely for you. But I find that it’s just an overall wonderful story, that I think everyone needs to read.

So that’s all, folks! Those are the three most impactful, and exciting stories that I read during my six week session. I hope you guys read them because I really enjoyed them, and think you will too. Hopefully, now that I have two weeks on my own, I’ll be able to finally read some books for my own entertainment and not for a good GPA, but I’ll keep you guys posted!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or e-mail me with the address below! Hope to hear from you soon!

By the way, honorable mention goes to:

  • “A Pair of Silk Stockings” – Kate Chopin (The Haves and Have-Nots)
  • “The Five Orange Pips” and “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries)
  • Because it’s a classic: “The Gift of the Magi” – O. Henry (23 Great Stories)

Until next time!

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Works Cited

Crane, Stephen. “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.” The Haves and Have-Nots, edited by Barbara Solomon, New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, 1999, pp. 219 – 284.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “The Musgrave Ritual.” The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, Signet Classics, 2014, pp.  421 – 439.

 

London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” 23 Great Stories, by David Leavitt and Aaron Their, The Penguin Group, 2013.

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River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey Review

Hey guys! I’m so proud of myself – I’ve managed to read two books since June. I know, it doesn’t seem like much, but trust me: it’s been hard to find time. That being said, I’m going to talk about one of them: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey.

Now, before I go into the book I think it’s only fair I tell you a little bit about the historical background of this novella:

In 1910, a man by the name of Robert Broussard, et. al.  proposed an idea to the U.S. government – an idea so preposterous it just might work. Or so he thought.

Broussard proposed the “American Hippo Bill.” What is the “American Hippo Bill,” you ask? Well, you see, in the Louisiana swamplands an invasive plant called the Water Hyacinth was running rampant, destroying animal habitats, “choking” the rivers, and making it near impossible to ship anything from the waters. The government tried everything: including an attempt to pour oil over it to kill the plant.

I mean, why they thought just dumping sludgy oil over a water plant was a good idea, I have no idea. But I guess at least they’re nothing if not consistent because their next plan was even more ridiculous. Broussard proposed that in order to get rid of the Water Hyacinth they could bring African Hippopotamus’ into Louisiana waters and kill the plant.

Now that’s pretty crazy right? Well I’m not done.

Not only did they want to bring the Hippos all the way from their natural habitat to kill this plant, they also wanted to ranch them! Their idea was simple: we’ll bring the hippos in, we’ll put them on a ranch, or a farm, and raise them like you would a cow or chickens – let them eat the water hyacinth, and then when the hippos are ready, we kill them and use them as a source for meat. At the time there was a meat shortage, so why not add hippo into their diets!

Needless to say, despite Theodore Roosevelt being 100% on board with this plan (Because he’s TR, and a true badass), there were no hippo ranches to be made in Louisiana.

So what does this have to do with the book? Well, Gailey – who is on a whole other level of creative that I could never reach, decided to write this novel as if the “American Hippo Bill” had passed!!

I was just scrolling through Amazon books and one of the “also recommended” books was this. I saw the cover and immediately knew I had to at least give it a shot. Well, this book was well worth it.

Gailey took some liberties and made this book set in the 1800’s, and I have to say that was a great idea. She takes her own liberties when it comes to time periods, technology used, and the like, but overall her use of those liberties made for a really fun read.33099585

I’m not going to say that this is the next Great American Novel, but it sure was entertaining and honestly worth another read from me.

The story follows a character named Winslow Houndstooth who manages to get a group of “mercenary hippo wranglers” together to complete a year-long job. What they don’t know is that Houndstooth isn’t just doing a job (although he is doing the job) he’s also looking for revenge!

I thought this book was really fun, light, and an easy read. All of the characters are SO different, they all have a purpose, and they all bring something fun, or different to the table. I didn’t know what to expect from this book, and even while reading it I couldn’t tell what was going to happen next. It was just one big rollercoaster.

If you love historical fiction, adventure, heist, and animal books – this is for you. It appealed to my want for something based on fact, something almost swash-buckling, and it still had animals!  The only thing I will say is this: if you don’t like gore, don’t read it. It’s not overly gory, and honestly Gailey does a very tasteful job with that, but there is death in the book and the scenes tend to take a very different turn from what you’d expect. So just keep that in mind if you wanted to read it. It also does have sex in it. They don’t talk about genitals or anything, but there is kissing, and not-at-all-subtle sleepovers.

So again, buyer beware.

Otherwise, I thought it was excellent! It was fun, it was interesting, it was cool that it’s based off of real life, and I really enjoyed it! Good news too: she’s making a sequel! Comes out in September!!

Also, I just looked it up and it looks like Edward Norton and RatPac Entertainment are creating a movie on the topic! I assume the movie is about the true story of trying to get the bill passed and such, but how cool would it be if it were a killer hippo story??

Anyway, if you like these kinds of books, and like history, and a really short read (160-something pages) READ THISSSSS!!!! It’s summer – buy this book and bring it to the beach! It’s worth it!

As always, if you have any comments or questions feel free to leave them here or contact me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com!

Until next time!

Rachel

E-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Heartless Pt 1 of 2 Review

Alright we have a little bit of a situation.

I started reading Heartless by Marissa Meyer to start the new year off right – haaaay 2017, whaddup? I’m absolutely in love with Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, and I was thrilled when I heard that she was writing a new book – separate from the series – about who The Queen of Hearts was before Alice in Wonderland. That’s awesome, right?!

Except I really don’t like this book so far.

So what’s the deal, you may ask? Why is this even going to be two parts if you don’t like it, you may ask? Well, I got so pissed off at this book that I put it down for three days. In fact, I got so pissed off at this book that I started reading another book! But after careful consideration today, I decided that I’m going to tough it out.

I have not loved a Young Adult fantasy series like I do the Lunar Chronicles since I read the freakin’ Hunger Games in 2010. Six years! It took SIX YEARS for me to find a YA series that I genuinely, absolutely adored. So I think I owe it to myself, and to Marissa Meyer, to give this book a fair chance. After all, the Lunar Chronicles was five books – so I know she’s a great writer.

Now, I’ve made my feelings very clear in a previous blog post back in 2015 why you should stop reading books you don’t like. However, I’m going to tough this one out, and see if she doesn’t disappoint…. For science!

Before I say the bad stuff about the book, let me tell you one great thing: the packaging. The book cover is gorgeous, the hardback is beautiful, and even down to the page it’s stunning to look at it. That’s one thing I can say without a doubt about Meyer’s novels, is that the artwork is phenomenal.18584855

Okay, why do I not like Heartless so far? Well, to start, it’s incredibly slow on the uptake. I understand that she’s trying to build suspense, and set the scene, and I appreciate that. But the way she goes about it is wrong.

The book so far has been about a girl, Cath, who dreams of owning a bakery with her servant, and best friend, Mary Ann. She’s such a wonderful baker that the King of Hearts himself requests for his desserts at parties to include her treats. Now what Cath doesn’t know, is that her parents have arranged for her and the King to get married. At the royal ball, the King is about to announce to everyone that intends to marry her. Spooked, Cath flees from the ball she faints and is revived from the new Court Joker, Jest.

This all seems fine, normal, and dandy right?

Yeah, but that night she discusses with Mary Ann that she doesn’t want to marry the King at all. She wants to open the bakery.

Before I get into that, I want to take a minute to mention that the King is like the world’s nicest man! He’s always happy and kind to everyone he meets, he’s constantly smiling and telling bad jokes, and yes maybe he laughs too much, but I’d rather be around a King who is kind and can laugh at the world than one who can’t stand his people or takes everything too seriously. Just a genuinely sweet man, and she acts as if he’s the grossest thing in the world, and thinks his laughing is so annoying. I mean, look lady, did it ever occur to you that maybe you’re just a stick in the mud?

Anyway, so she complains to her friend-servant that she doesn’t want to marry the King and how awful that would be. Mary Ann, who is a servant, is rightfully upset. She doesn’t understand how anyone could not want to be Queen – she wouldn’t answer to anyone, she’d have all the freedom in the world, she’d be able to do anything she wanted, and the King was a nice man… I mean, come on, you can’t really complain to a servant – who will never be able to move upwards in society, and who has to clean your goddamn bed pans every night – that yeah, I guess it’s a wonderful opportunity for not just Cath, but for her entire family and probably even all of the servants and servant’s families because they’d likely be moved to the castle to serve, but by golly does that bakery on main street sound nice!

Here’s my other thing, if she’s the fucking Queen, why can’t she open a bakery herself? If that’s the only thing in life that she’s concerned with then by marrying the King she would be able to have the money to pay for the bakery, would have all day every day to bake in the royal kitchen which I would assume is pretty top notch, and to buy the specific plot of real estate she wants without going behind her parent’s back and stealing the money they were going to use for her dowry (I forgot to mention that her parents don’t even know she wants a bakery because Cath has never told them, so instead of them listening to her and understanding what she actually wants for her life, they just assume that she would be happy marrying the King. And even when she says she doesn’t want to marry the King, Cath still doesn’t tell her parents what she wants instead). Am I wrong, here? Furthermore, it’s not even like the King would be mad, I don’t think. I think he’d be happy because it would mean she’s making him desserts all day, and bringing in money for the Kingdom. I mean, really.

I understand that in the end she’s going to do something horrible because she is still the “off with their heads!” Queen, but holy crap – I mean, I have no sympathy for her struggle in the least. I’m just waiting for her to know that she’s evil so that at least I can hate her as the villain in this story and not just as annoying narcissistic girl with no empathy for what her loved ones might be feeling.

Now lets move on to this Joker, Jest. Cath feels like she’s in love with him because she had a dream about him and then suddenly lemons and roses appeared in her bedroom. Okay, that’s a little weird, I’ll give you that, but a dream does not a relationship make! Furthermore, in almost every instance Jest has hinted that he’d be happy being the jester to the King and to her – AS THE QUEEN – for the rest of his life. He even talked to the King when he realized she wasn’t ready for marriage and asked the King to slow it down and court her, to which the King was delighted to do because he really, truly cares about Cath for whatever unknown reason other than her goodies (pun intended).

It honestly sounds like a one-sided romance to me. And not in the brilliant way that Meyer’s did in her novel Fairest where we follow the bad guy before she was the bad guy and you can see all of the things that led to her becoming the way she is, including forcing a man to love her by killing his wife and then making herself look like his dead wife. I 22489107mean that character went through some really messed up stuff, and I can’t really blame her for becoming evil. Not that I liked the character, and in that book she did some really dark stuff, but at least I understood. In this, it’s different. The character is just a jerk, but she thinks she’s this thoughtful great person.

So now I’ve reached that impasse where I think, Rae, you’re like two hundred pages in, and even when you skipped ahead  to see how much more of this book you’d have to sit through, she still was on the fence about marrying this King and running off with Jest- do you really want to subject yourself to listening to this spoiled girl go on and on about how she wants this bakery? 

Normally my answer is no. Normally, my response is to say fuck this book – I’m moving on. Life is too short to be reading bad books. But then there’s that flicker that says, Nah, dawg, wait it out. 

Thus, I’m listening to the flicker. Even as I wrote that sentence, I rolled my eyes and put my hand on my face like “oh, I have such a headache, I’m a screw up. Fuuuuuuuuuuuucc…..”

We’ll see. I hope I’m not disappointed, but this bitch better either turn evil real quick so I’m justified in hating her or at least make me sympathize with her in like the next 40 pages because I swear by the time this book is finished I’ll have gouged claw marks into the pages.

I’m going to try to read it as swiftly as possible, but no guarantees it’ll be done in the next few days because at this rate it’s been about four days and I haven’t even touched it. I promise I’ll pick it up, though, guys. I do promise you that, because I’m actually interested in seeing where this experiment goes.

Now I’m off to do me the big science! She blinded me with sciiiiience… na, na naaaa, na…. Science!

I’m sorry I just threw some Thomas Dolby at you. I’ll just be over here if you need me.

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Book vs Movie: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I finished Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!!! And let me tell you – it was mediocre.

Okay, let me explain: I’m a huge nerd.

I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I love everything about it. I love the books, I love the movies, the symbolism, the fan-base. Just everything. And I read the actual Fantastic Beasts book (the encyclopedia version, that came out as a two-pack with Quidditch Through the Ages, which was published in 2001) and I loved it because it opened up a world of new creatures I hadn’t known, or that had only been mentioned once or twice.

So when I heard that they were going to come out with a movie based on that book, but instead of an encyclopedia of animals, it was going to be a fictional story based on the author of that encyclopedia, Newt Scamander, I was thrilled! I’ve waited three years for this movie to come out, and it was fantastic (see what I did there? You can’t see me, but my eyebrows are moving up and down suggestively). It was incredible, and it actually blew me away.

It was an incredible movie. It was so much darker, and much more adult than the Harry Potter movies (I think the books are still just as dark and adult, but the movies never truly portrayed that dark, eerie, messed up world that Harry and his friends were journeying through). This movie was the perfect blend of character development and animal development. I found myself wanting less of the humans, and more of the creatures – but even so, I thought there was a great blend of the two.

The main character, Newt, was wonderful. He was exactly the type of antisocial, awkward, uncomfortable person that I could imagine would make a life out of studying magical creatures. I loved how awkward and how much unease he seemed to feel around humans, but how relaxed and free he felt around the creatures, and talking about the creatures. It’s this spectacular transition that I thought genuinely made this movie come to life. Newt could have been any one of us nerds. He could’ve been me, being awkward around others, with a quizzical nature towards people who want me to feel accepted …. Is this a trick? Do you actually want me here, or should I just go find a dog to pet?

The cinematics of this film were wonderful. The colors were beautiful, the CGI and 3-D animation were seamless, and the music was the perfect at every instance.

But the book. Oh God, the book.

I didn’t realize they were coming out with a screenplay of the book until maybe a week before I saw the movie. I was thrilled, though. I knew it was a screenplay, and not a novel, but I felt like the script for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Pt. 1&2 was pretty great, so why wouldn’t this screenplay be? I was wrong.

Look, there are great parts to this book: the cover is beautiful, it’s made to look like a 1920’s hardcover novel, and the interior art is absolutely stunning! It’s honestly the beautiful book I’ve ever seen in my life – no joke. But the writing is not as good. I feel horrible saying it, because I love JK Rowling so much, but the writing is subpar. ne60ri1lfofa99_2_b

It’s written in screenplay version. So it’s supposed to be written with very little detail, since the real detail should be in facial expressions, scene art, and story. But that’s the thing – this book is word-for-word the movie.

The only part that is different is the very first page, where they show Gellert Grindelwald killing a bunch of people. Every single thing afterward, including the newspaper articles from the beginning of the movie, are in there. No extra dialogue, no extra information, no extra subtext, or body language, or anything that would make me truly imagine what was going on.

In fact, I’m so happy that I watched the movie before reading this screenplay because I can guarantee I would have been like, “what the hell am I reading?” because there just wasn’t enough description of characters and animals for it to actually make sense, or for me to truly imagine what I was reading.

I saw the movie twice in theatres, once with my boyfriend, and once with the rest of my family – but honestly I feel like I watched it two and half times, and the last half just wasn’t as fun.

I’m really disappointed, actually, because I was very excited for this screenplay and I’ve NEVER disliked something that JK Rowling has written. I was skeptical when The Cursed Child came out, and I was expecting to hate it, but I didn’t. It wasn’t a perfect book, but it was still very good. This book I just don’t like at all.

I’m glad I own it for aesthetic purposes, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend reading it. I DO, however, want you to know that I am not only recommending that you see the movie, but demanding that you see the movie if you like this type of story, or are a Harry Potter nerd like myself. It’s uttertly fantastic!

The movie is obviously the clear winner in this case, so my tally is:

Book: 8, Movie: 6 

Let me know in the comments or via e-mail if you felt any differently. I don’t know if maybe I was just expecting more from the book and was just let down, or if there were other people out there who didn’t like it as much as I did.

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

The Lunar Chronicles: Winter Review!

I’m back! I know, I know, three months off seems a little excessive, but hey! This is just for fun, right?

I’m finally going to talk to you about the last book of the Lunar Chronicles series, Winter.

I have one word: DAMN!

No, three words: oh my DAMN!

This book was intense. As per the previous novels, each story has a underlying fairytale that accompanies each character that the book kind follows. Each character is loosely based on a fairytale, but mostly the author just rips apart everything you ever knew and turns it into something completely different. The first book was a take on Cinderella, the second on Little Red Riding Hood, the third on Rapunzel, the fourth on the Wicked Step Mother, and the fifth and final book in the series, on Snow White.

Okay, now that you’re all caught up: this book was crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever actually read a book series that captured my attention from the start and kept it this much even three months after I’ve finished it since Harry Potter. Seriously, if I weren’t so busy (and didn’t have a hundred books on my shelf that I haven’t read yet) I would have already re-read this series.

winterMarissa Meyer does an absolutely phenomenal job portraying each and every character and I’m so impressed that she was able to jump from point of view to point of view, while still keeping track of five different characters at once. It’s absolutely incredible and awe-inspiring to read a book from someone so talented.

Winter is definitely tied for the darkest book of the series, which I didn’t think was possible after reading Fairest. Both books are the type that you read and say, “that’s fucked up.” every ten pages or so, which was (weirdly) a breath of fresh air.

You see, from looking at the beautiful covers of these novels you would not for one second think it would get as dark and twisted as these books do, but I love that!!! Every turn is surprising and new and I never know what is going to happen. I’m pretty certain that those two books have more scarring content of any young adult novel I’ve ever read.

There is psychological and physical abuse. There is madness to the point of taking control of other people’s minds and having them stab people. There is gruesome accounts of burning alive. There’s basically almost molestation, and there’s an all out war. You expect plot points like these for regular fiction novels, but never for a young adult novel! I think it’s absolutely astonishing that Meyer was able to take these very adult themes and manipulate them and turn them into beautiful lessons and just beautiful stories overall.

The ONLY negative thing I can say about this book (and I’m not even sure it’s a negative, really) is that the ending isn’t a traditional happily ever after. It has those elements, yes. But each group of stories within the larger story has a much different ending than I would have expected. But is that a negative? I’m not so sure. I think it just makes it more realistic.

If you love books that are loosely based on very grim fairy tales (ha! – grim fairy tales;  Grimm’s fairy tales… funny right? No? Okay, I’ll just wait over here…), if you love romance stories, action stories, science fiction stories, young adult fiction, alternative future stories, scary-ish stories, I have no reason to believe you would not love these books. Each one is so unique and so special that I just have nothing bad to say.

I’m also going to add an image that was on the inside of the front and back covers for Winter because it’s absolutely ASTOUNDING! Artemisia.jpgFor book cover art, it’s easily one of the most captivating images I’ve seen.

Good job, Marissa Meyer! I can’t wait to see what you produce next!

Again, I’m sorry it took me three months to get to writing this, please don’t ston me to death! I swear I’ll try to do these quicker. For those who stuck around and waited for this last installment, thank you – I hope I didn’t disappoint, because this series sure as hell didn’t!

If you have any questions or comments or just want to say hi, I’ll leave my e-mail address below. In case I don’t get the chance beforehand, Happy Thanksgiving all!

Gobble gobble,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com