Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury

Several of the 22 stories in this collection had been previously published in such magazines as The New Yorker, Charm, American Mercury, Saturday Evening Post, The Reporter, Epoch, and others. Although there were a handful of tales that I found to be lackluster and anticlimactic (“I See You Never,” “The Wilderness,” “Invisible Boy,” “The Garbage Collector” and a few others), the sheer variety and breadth of topics covered clearly demonstrates Bradbury’s prowess as a master storyteller (as if we didn’t know this already!)

My favorites include:

“The Fog Horn” – Attracted year after year by the sound of a fog horn installed near a lighthouse, a legendary and elusive sea creature finally decides to attack.

“The April Witch” – A young witch with the ability to inhabit other creatures desperately wants to know what it’s like to fall in love.

“The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl” – After murdering a man in his home, the killer becomes obsessed with removing all trace of his presence—over every nook and cranny of the house.

“The Murderer” – An average man in search of peace and quiet destroys all of his electronic devices in a society where constant chatter from watches, radios, computers, phones, and TV have pervaded—nay, INVADED!—everyday life.

“A Sound of Thunder” – A travel company offers safaris to any year in the past, but disobeying the rules even slightly could be a mistake that follows you back to the future!

“Powerhouse” – A married couple traveling into town on horseback takes refuge against a storm in a powerhouse. Though she does not believe in God, the wife has an electrifying out of body experience.

“The Meadow” – A construction crew is ordered to tear down the backlot structures of a movie studio, where sets from every corner of the world have provided a second home to Smith, the night watchman. Determined to restore it all, Smith picks up a hammer and begins to rebuild it all, to the consternation of the wealthy investor who ordered the demolition.

“The Great Fire” – Marianne is visiting her uncle and aunt for the summer, upsetting her uncle’s peaceful existence. Every evening, Marianne dashes out of the house when her boyfriend arrives, giving her uncle hope that marriage is in the air and Marianne will soon move out—but Grandma knows the joke’s on him!

“Hail and Farewell” – A 43-year-old man, who appears no more than twelve, moves from town to town every few years masquerading as an orphan or a runaway in order to be adopted by childless couples.

 

The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradury

Book Review: Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing

Through all ten essays and a brief collection of poems, the elation of master craftsman Ray Bradbury is infectious. Zen in the Art of Writing is pure joy; a celebration of the craft and labor of storytelling. There is not much in the way of writing advice here, but I was inspired nevertheless.

In the essay “The Joy of Writing,” Bradbury encourages writers to execute their craft with zest and gusto, with a sense of love and fun. For if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, and without fun, you are only half a writer.

In “Run Fast, Stand Still,” he reveals one of his strategies for getting started as a writer—create a list of nouns. Specifically, things that interest you, exhilarate you, or scare you and then use them as story prompts. Some of Bradbury’s nouns included THE LAKE, THE NIGHT, THE CRICKETS, THE SCYTHE, THE CARNIVAL, THE SKELETON, THE MIRROR MAZE, and many more.

Bradbury relates how he reached back into his childhood memories from Illinois to create his famous novel, Dandelion Wine in the essay, “Just This Side of Byzantium: Dandelion Wine.”

In “The Secret Mind,” he reflects on his dreadful time in Ireland writing the screenplay for Moby Dick for director John Huston, only to later discover that his experiences in Ireland inspired several short stories and plays.

While writing a two-act drama based on his hit novel, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury recalls when—unable to write at home due to the distraction of his children—he rented typewriters in the basement of the UCLA library at the rate of 10 cents for every 30 minutes in order to write the novel. All of this is told in the aptly titled essay, “Investing Dimes: Fahrenheit 451.”

No examination of Bradbury’s work would be complete without taking “The Long Road to Mars.” In June 1949, Bradbury was invited to New York City by writer Norman Corwin, who introduced him to Walter Bradbury (no relation) of Doubleday Books. During the conversation, the topic of Ray’s “Martian stories” came up and Walter suggested that he find a common theme among them to create a novel—and The Martian Chronicles was born.

These are but a few examples of the engaging essays that left me, a burgeoning speculative fiction writer, feeling renewed and reenergized toward my craft and possibilities that lay ahead.

Zen in the Art of Writing Cover

Book Review: If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep by Christopher D. Ochs

If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep is divided into two sections. The first section is comprised of five original fairy tales and the second, five speculative fiction short stories. All are splendidly written and demonstrate Chris Ochs’s breadth and range as a storyteller.

My favorites include:

The Woman in the Sand” – A Roman citizen, exiled to a remote island, discovers the broken stone statue of a beautiful woman buried in the sand. After finding her jaw, the man successfully reattaches it—and soon lives to regret it…

The Tower of the Moon” – Following a radiant white doe through a forest under a full moon, Hunter discovers a majestic tower in a clearing. Upon entering, he finds a series of doors, each one leading to bizarre and different world, but will one of them finally lead Hunter to the white doe?

The Troll of Helenbak” – A famished troll captures a fair maiden only to learn that she’s “not quite right in the head.” Both he, and the brave prince who vows to rescue her, get a bit more than they bargained for…

The Christmas Monster” – Three miscreant students are visited by the Archbishop during The Feast of St. Nicholas. He gives each of them a small, curious gift that turns out be far more nefarious than the usual lump of coal…

No Children Aloud” – In order to join a club, three junior high-school students must pass initiation by confronting a ghost in an abandoned sanatorium. Afterward, they find themselves with a slight communication problem…

 

If I Can't Sleep, You Can't Sleep Book Cover

Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories My Mother Never Told Me

If my mother ever told me the stories included in this collection, half of them would have put me to sleep. After reading two excellent  Twilight Zone anthologies in December, I came to this Alfred Hitchcock collection expecting stories of similar quality. Regrettably, I was underwhelmed.

Oh, there were a few gems among the 13 tales, but some, such as “Smart Sucker” by Richard Wormser and  “Hostage” by Don Stanford, built up to anti-climactic endings. “Witch’s Money” by John Collier began with an interesting plot, but seemed to lose momentum and wander off.

My favorites from the collection include:

When a young woman commits suicide from a broken heart, her father decides to exact a long, slow revenge against the man responsible in “The Wall-to-Wall Grave” by Andrew Benedict.

American author Ambrose Bierce vanished in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1914. However, his final tale was found inside an unusual bottle found in the obscure village of Oxoxoco. Will “The Secret of the Bottle” by Gerald Kersch reveal the mystery of Ambrose Bierce’s final days?

Ellen Baker returned from a train ride a very different person— distant, cold, aloof. Worse, she found an unsavory new boyfriend who is prone to violence and seems to have Ellen mesmerized. Determined to protect his best friend, Eddie follows Ellen aboard another train, only discover the eerie truth about her boyfriend during “A Short Trip Home” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

When Fred Perkins receives an invitation from wealthy socialites to join them on their next hunting expedition, his first impulse is to decline. However, his wife and friends convince him that it would be a step forward for him socially. When the big day arrives, however, Fred wishes he followed his instincts and ignored “An Invitation to the Hunt” by George Hitchcock.

Every morning before breakfast Caroline’s husband Pete is more than a bit surly, he’s literally murderous! As such, Caroline often finds herself making “Adjustments” by George Mandel.

When Robert and Janet Allison decide to remain at their country cottage during the first month of autumn instead of leaving at the end of summer as they typically do, the locals seem strangely taken aback. Worse, bizarre calamities begin to occur that make the Allisons wish they had continued to be “The Summer People” by Shirley Jackson.

Traveling through Maine on what was supposed to be a sightseeing tour, Mr. Ketchum is pulled over for speeding in the seaside hamlet of Zachary, Maine. After being detained overnight, the police take Ketchum to the judge’s house where he expects to pay his fine and finally be released, until he learns a horrible truth at the hands of “The Children of Noah” by Richard Matheson.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories My Mother Never Told Me

 

Book Review: Stories from the Twilight Zone by Rod Serling

As we close in on the annual New Year’s Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy channel, I decided to delve into two collections of stories that I was fortunate enough to find in August while helping to sort donated books for my local library’s annuStories from the Twilight Zone by Rod Serlingal book sale. I hope to track down more of these collections as I comb used book stores and dealer tables at conventions.

Last week, I reviewed the 1964 collection, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Revisited, which contains a brilliant collection of nine short stories, adapted by venerable writer and magician Walter B. Gibson, from both produced and unproduced scripts.

Stories from the Twilight Zone was published in 1960 and is, I believe, the first collection of adaptations from the series. All six of the tales in this book aired as episodes of the series and all were written by Rod Serling himself.

In “The Mighty Casey,” it’s tryout day for the foundering Brooklyn Dodgers and team manager “Mouth” McGarry is sick and tired of scraping the bottom of the barrel to find pitchers, until a tall, lean kid named Casey turns up with an unbelievable throwing arm—or perhaps inhuman might be a better description…

Hypochondriac and all around miserable wretch Walter Bedecker lives in a constant state of psychosomatic illnesses, until a mysterious old man named Cadwallader materializes with an offer of immortality. It’s soon revealed that Cadwallader is actually the devil. Nevertheless, this fact barely deters Bedecker from signing the contract, which contains an “Escape Clause” should he ever decide to cancel the deal…

Advertising exec Martin Sloane is sick of the pressures and demands of corporate life in New York City. One day he decides to drive upstate and revisit his old hometown. After stopping at a gas station along the way, Martin notices that the town is within “Walking Distance.” He decides to let the gas station attendant work on his car while he finishes the rest of his journey on foot, but what he finds on the streets of his childhood is much more than nostalgia…

As a religious man of high moral standards and a precisely arranged life, Franklin Gibbs becomes quite annoyed when his timid wife wins an all-expenses-paid vacation to Las Vegas, the capital city of vice and sin. Franklin chastises his wife for dropping a nickel into a slot machine, until Franklin hears the slot machine call his name. It isn’t long before he succumbs to “The Fever.”

A young man, unable to recall his own identity, finds himself walking along a highway in parts unknown. He finally arrives in a town only to find it completely deserted, yet with signs of recent occupancy—a smoking cigar in an ashtrays and a pot of fresh boiling coffee in a diner. After days of this, the young man finds himself on the edge of sanity as he wonders, “Where is Everybody?

The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” when a strange object passes over a suburban neighborhood on a warm autumn Saturday. Shortly after, all utilities shut off, cars fail to start, even portable radios no longer work. As confusion sets in, 12-year old Tommy Bishop warns that it could be the work of extraterrestrials disguised as humans, just like in the comic books! The adults laugh him off at first—before violently turning on one another as strange occurrences escalate.

Reviewing Your Favorite Books, Even When You’re “Not Very Good At Writing”

While many of my readers take the time to leave reviews for my books, others often compliment me in person, via Facebook, or email, but when I ask these particular readers to leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon, they express reluctance, stating that they’re “not very good at writing” or they assure me that they will leave a review and never follow through. 
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Remember, you do not need to purchase a book from Amazon to leave a review for the book there.  Also, for those unfamiliar with Goodreads, it is a social media site for book lovers where you can rate and review books, create an online library of books you currently own and would like to read, and join groups of like-minded readers to discuss your favorite books. Best of all, it’s free to join!
 
The screen capture below shows two Amazon reviews for Beach Nights, a collection of short stories from Cat and Mouse Press that contains my paranormal tale, “Tower Sixteen”.  The book was published in October 2016. 
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Note the second review from Early LBI. It’s one brief sentence: “Great group of short stories.” Five words. That’s the perfect example of a brief review you can leave for any book that you enjoyed even if you’re “not very good at writing.”
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Ratings and reviews help authors immensely. As our volume of reviews and ratings increases, new promotional and writing opportunities open for us, new readers notice our work, and most importantly, reader feedback encourages writers by letting us know that our work is reaching and touching people. 
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