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LeVar Burton Reads: Season One

Ever since I discovered LeVar Burton Reads, which is an outstanding podcast showcasing short stories, I have listened to LeVar’s melodious voice on a weekly basis, and kept track of the stories through my Goodreads account. Now that I have finished season one, I am ready to share!

Kin by Bruce McAllister

Kin is a short story that builds momentum as you suddenly see how the title relates to the relationship between an Earth boy and an assassin alien. Young Kim contacts an Antalou alien and convinces him to prevent the forced abortion of his yet-to-be-born sister. At first you will wonder why this alien follows through on the boy’s request, but this quietly menacing story will show you how the mercenary alien recognizes that the two share a kinship of character. Evil can put on an innocent face and the alien knows Kim’s true nature will soon reveal itself.

The Lighthouse Keeper by Daisy Johnson

This magical realism short story tells of a solitary woman who is a lighthouse keeper. One night while swimming in the ocean she comes across a unique fish and becomes entranced with it. Worried that the local fisherman will catch it, she tries to protect it, although many townspeople think her actions strange. While the tale was poetic and filled with symbolism, I did not connect with the woman or the narrative in a larger sense.

Empty Places by Richard Parks

Empty Places, a high fantasy short story about a wizard and a rogue, started slow but ended quite satisfactorily. The wizard employs a thief to put an unknown package in the nursery of the newborn prince. The thief, having some morals, asks if the package will hurt the child and the two have a battle of wits as they journey towards the castle. While you might assume the wizard is up to no good, there was a surprising and poignant ending.

What It Means When a Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Author Lesley Nneka Arimah quickly world builds and establishes believable characters in this short story. This story is an interesting mix of magical realism, sci-fi and even folk lore with the idea that “grief counselors” can use advanced math equations to take away people’s grief. But as the story advances we learn that taking on other’s people sadness is too heavy a burden and there are repercussions. This tale is layered and you will think of the metaphors in the story long after you finished it.

Graham Greene by Percival Everett

The short story Graham Greene is refreshing, not only in how it’s told but that it is set on a Wyoming Arapaho reservation. The story subverts your expectations and details a story about Roberta, an 102 year old woman, who is looking for her son before her death. She claims she has not seen him in decades and entreats Jack, who had worked on a water project on the reservation years ago, to find him. Given a picture, but few additional details, Jack goes out into the community to search for him. Not only does Jack make some assumptions about the son, but so do people who see the picture he has (hence the name of the story). The ending is bittersweet and you will think back to Roberta’s motivation for the favor and why she specifically asked Jack to do it.

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman

This short story was sweet- no more, no less. A British matron finds an interesting chalice in a local thrift sale only to discover it is the mythical Holy Grail when Sir Galaad comes to her door in search of it. Mrs. Whitaker lives a quiet peaceful life, so her reaction to a knight requesting this holy relic is surprisingly subdued. She puts him off as she is fond of the chalice on her mantle piece- not because she is hoping for some great power for owning it. Sir Galaad persists and offers her several rewards, but she ends up giving it to him more out of kindness than any desire for what he is offering her in return. She is content in simple pleasures while he wants a grand adventure, but ultimately both are chivalrous to one another and both are happy with the end result.

The Second Bakery Attack by Haruki Murakami

The Second Bakery Attack is a short story that details an unusual robbery by newlyweds. This odd tale has a husband and wife wake up in the middle of the night ravenously hungry, and while they search their apartment fruitlessly for food, the husband shares that he once robbed a bakery store with a friend back in his college days. The wife believes they must rob another bakery store to break the curse of their hunger, but they end up robbing a Tokyo McDonalds of 30 hamburgers instead. Mysteriously the wife has a sawed-off shotgun that her husband knew nothing about, so you begin to wonder how well this married couple truly know one another.

1,000 Year Old Ghosts by Laura Chow Reeve

A bittersweet short story about how a family tried repressing memories to avoid pain, but the practice has long term consequences for the women. The story is told from the granddaughter’s perspective, and she recounts how her grandmother taught her how to remove her bad memories and pickle them in jars. The Chinese grandmother and granddaughter share a kinship, while the mother disapproved of the practice, and soon you see why. By removing the bad memories, gaps are left and the entire memory becomes corrupted. The good memories left become hazy, with no corresponding bad memories to balance them. A coping mechanism started in one generation ends up affecting future generations, and you hope that the granddaughter will stop this practice and appreciate and cope with the life she is living now.

Navigators by Mike Meginnis

This short story grew on me, as you start to realize how the title of the story ties in with the narrative. Joshua is a young boy living with his newly divorced father who bond over the RPG Legend of Silence they play together every day. The twist in the game is not to level up, but for the heroine to lose her power by the end of the game. This parallels their lives, as father and son are living in diminished circumstances, with unpaid bills and food rationing. You hurt for this little family, for as they pour their attention into navigating the game, they are not navigating real life well. Joshua’s mother is not in the story, yet her presence is felt, and you hope that once they reach the conclusion of the game, the father will find some stability for them both.

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

Bi-racial Jack is a young boy who is comforted by his Chinese mother one night after a nightmare as she folds him an origami collection of paper animals. She breathes life into them and the small menagerie become Jack’s favorite play toys. But as Jack grows up, he becomes embarrassed by his mother in his American neighborhood, and tries to fit in with his peers by rejecting her language and customs. His mother becomes silent, stung by his exclusion, and his origami animals are forgotten. During his college years, Jack’s mother is dying of cancer, and only after her death does he receive a letter from her in one of the origami animals that explains how she came to be a mail-order bride to Jack’s white father. The tale of her youth was heartbreaking and explained so much, but it was too late for Jack to rectify their relationship. The excellent story about identity brought into sharp focus how some mistakes can not be fixed, and how becoming Americanized can sadly lead to rejection of one’s culture and heritage.

No Man’s Guns by Elmore Leonard

Author Elmore Leonard is known for his Western tales and crime/thrillers, some of which have been adapted to screen- Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma and Jackie Brown. In one of his earlier Western short stories, No Man’s Gun, a newly-discharged soldier runs into trouble on his journey home, and he must fight for his innocence in a case of mistaken identity. He has to convince a group that he is not an outlaw as to avoid a lynching. He narrowly avoids the quick frontier justice by out smarting someone who was trying to double-cross him, and there is a hint he will ride off into the sunset with a woman he recently met on the trail. If you are a fan of westerns, this short tale will interest you.

Goat by James McBride

When a 12 year old boy shows a talent for running, which could lead to scholarships and further schooling opportunities, a well-meaning teacher tracks down the family of her student, nicknamed Goat. She finds out the family has more needs than she ever envisioned, but she is determined to do right by the family, and helps them with paperwork that will help Goat at school and for an older brother to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. The story seems to be going in one direction, when the birth certificate twist at the conclusion of the story changes everything and puts a pall on the entire story.  That ending…no, just no.

These twelve episodes were a varied lot- different genres included magical realism, western, sci-fi, fantasy and realistic fiction. I will absolutely be listening to further episodes, as LeVar sucks you into the story no matter if you think you’ll like the story or not. Check out the podcast LeVar Burton Reads yourself, “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

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Gothic Tales of Haunted Love

Gothic tales + haunted love + diverse characters = yes, please!

This strong anthology has 200+ pages of short illustrated stories that are horror-themed, as they are a tribute to 1970’s Gothic pulp novels. Each story has a different author and illustrator, with lends to many different styles within this collection. The stories are extremely diverse, with characters of different nationalities, cultures and sexual orientations plus they take place in several different time periods. This variety will give every reader some stories that they will absolutely connect with as there are stories with revenge motifs, historical heartbreak or the supernatural.

As with any anthology there are some stories that are stronger than others. Pair that with a graphic novel format, and there are some illustration styles that will not appeal to everyone, but the art as a whole is well done with evocative coloring. The book includes eighteen new stories, and one reprint of an original Korean Gothic comic. A prologue, art gallery and author bios round out the collection.

My favorites included:

Crush– Janet Hetherington, Ronn Sutton, Becka Kinzie & Zakk Saam: An African American governess falls in love with a widowed Sea Captain, father of the seven children she cares for. When he disregards her as a love interest, she obtains revenge.

The Return– David A Robertson & Scott B. Henderson: A Native American woman comes back from the dead to be reunited with her fiancee, but she finds a better man who sees beyond her beauty to what was in her heart.

Green, Gold, and Black– Cherelle Higgins & Rina Rozsas: Set in Jamaica on the eve of a slave uprising, an enslaved woman is giving birth. She is chained by her white mistress, for her husband had raped the woman and the child is his, and she is consumed by jealousy. This is the most heartbreaking of all the stories, although I found a nugget of hope in the end, depending on how you interpret the mother’s visions.

Mistress Fox– Megan Kearney & Derek Spencer: A bride shares an unsettling dream with her guests the morning after her wedding – the night before, her new husband had killed a maid that he was having an affair with. You know she is framing her cad of a husband, but there is one more sly twist at the end.

I received an online copy from NetGalley for an unbiased review back in April, but I had downloaded it close to it’s expiration date, and had to do a quick review based off only one day at looking at it online. That just wouldn’t do, so I ordered a print copy for my library, so I could re-read it and have library patrons enjoy it too. And isn’t that the point- to purchase a book you’d like to read over and over again- and then share it with others?!

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads

LeVar Burton + short stories on podcast = Reading Rainbow for adults!

As I detailed in an earlier post about choosing my perfect Star Trek crew, LeVar is the celebrity I most want to meet- from his portrayal of Kunte Kinte in Roots, to his love of literacy in Reading Rainbow, and then his Star Trek TNG role- I kinda love him. He has rightly been associated with reading for decades and there is a whole generation who would recognize his melodic voice anywhere. Thus, there are adults like myself who went from listening to him reading storybooks in Reading Rainbow to having their own children watch the show, and who now listen to his podcast.

LeVar selects short stories from many different genres and at the end puts the story in context and explains why he choose it. While some well known authors such as Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler have been chosen, lesser known authors are also showcased. He voices the stories expertly, and brings them to life for the listener. He ends each podcast with his catch phrase “I’ll see you next time, but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

The LeVar Burton Reads podcast is not to be missed, and I want you to take my word for it, and check it out if you haven’t already!

-Nancy

Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View

I love Star Wars! I love short stories! Together this anthology was a win-win for me.

Forty authors celebrated forty years of Star Wars by contributing a story of a minor or supporting character from the ending of Rogue One to the finale of A New Hope. I listened to these stories on audio, but also had a copy of the book to refer to when I wanted to double check a detail or if I didn’t like the way a story was voiced. There are a few spoilers, but I did my best not to give it all away! 😉

Raymus by Gary Witta   4/5

Captain Raymus Antilles holds onto hope to the very end that his ship carrying Princess Leia away from the Battle of Scarif will escape from the Imperial Fleet.

The Bucket by Chrsitie Golden   4/5

Stormtrooper TK-4601 begins to have feelings of dissent with the Empire after he meets Leia. Not an immediate deserter, but the seeds are sown…

The Sith of Datawork by Ken Liu   5/5

A fun tongue-in cheek story that will be appreciated by the many of us who feel that paperwork is endless at their jobs and in their homes. Arvira, Imperial Logistic Datawork Officer, knows her forms and helps Bolvan, the gunnery captain who let a certain escape pod go unchecked to Tatooine, cover up his mistake with layers of reports.

Stories in the Sand by Griffin McElroy 4/5

Am amusing tale of little Jot, a Jawa who doesn’t erase R2-D2’s memory like he typically does with other droids for resale. By watching other droid’s chips he sees there is more to the universe than the gritty Sandcrawler he works on.

Reirin by Sabaa Tahir  3/5

We meet Reirin, a female Tusken Raider, who is willing to leave the safety of her clan for the mysterious charms of a green crystal she finds.

The Red One by Rae Carson  4/5

A surprisingly poignant story about R5-D4, the red droid that Uncle Own picked first from the Jawas. His malfunction was truly a sacrifice made for the Rebellion.  It was fun to start getting outsider’s views of Luke as we first meet him in A New Hope.

Rites by John Jackson Miller 3.5/5

Three young Tuskens want to make names for themselves in their warrior society. They meet Obi-Wan, whom they consider a wizard, and Luke whom they call Sandy Hair.

Master and Apprentice by Claudia Grey 5/5

Obi-Wan receives a visitor and because of their conversation realizes he needs “to think of death as only the beginning of wisdom”. While I was surprised at this entry, as he formally was not part of A New Hope, the visitor’s wisdom would have always remained with Ben.

Beru Whitesun Lars by Meg Cabot 5/5

LOVED this story! Author Meg Cabot gave Aunt Beru a beautiful backstory and a voice in how she loved raising Luke. I was tearing up as I listened to this story, for Beru was more than an aunt, she was a MOTHER to him and should have been recognized more for being the loving woman who shaped Luke into the man he became.

The Luckless Rodian by Renee Ahdieh  4/5

Greedo…and his last hours before his fateful encounter with Han Solo.

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Not for Nothing by Mur Lafferty 4/5

A supposed excerpt from one of the Bith band member’s memoirs about why they were playing at the cantina, after a forced extended stay at Jabba the Hutt’s “palace” . The music must go on…

We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here by Chuck Wendig 3.5/5

A character study of Wuher, one of the bartenders at the cantina. My biggest take-away from this story is learning that Ackmena, the barmaid from the Star Wars Holiday Special,  is now canon!

The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction 1/5

When are we going to leave Tatooine??!! Why was the worst story also the longest story? I did not care one whit about the crime planned to take place at Chalmun’s Cantina.

Added Muscle by Paul Dini  5/5

Luckily the next story balances the previous story by being short and fresh. We learn Boba Fett’s recollections of what happened between Han and Jabba in Docking Bay 94.

You Owe Me a Ride by Zoraida Cordova  4/5

Twins Brea and Senni Tonnika live on the edge of society, unwillingly trapped at Jabba’s palace. The sisters begin to scheme how they can leave the sandy planet forever.

The Secrets of Long Snoot by Delilah S. Dawson  2/5

Are we STILL stuck on  Tatooine??!!  Not every bounty hunter is successful and suave, and Long Snoot skulks along the fringes hoping to pick up easy information he can then pass along to the Imperial Troopers hoping for enough credits to reunite with his family.

Born in the Storm by Daniel Jose Older  4.5/5

Stormtrooper TD-7556 relates his recent mission on Tatooine in an incident report form. Turns out he was one of the soldiers who sent Obi Wan, Luke and the droids on their way- “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”.   This stormtrooper is no mindless drone, he is funny and sarcastic and the story was a fun read.

Laina by Wil Wheaton  5/5

OMG the feels! A widowed Rebel soldier wishes to send his beloved daughter Laina to safety and makes a video for the toddler. He recounts to her information about her mother and the reason why he is fighting against the Empire. Already a poignant tale of a family being separated, it takes an even more heartrending turn at the end. ( I have re-imaged the last bit in my mind to make a happier ending)

Fully Operational by Beth Revis  3.5/5

General Tagge uncomfortably witnesses Lord Vader’s reaction and choke hold of Admiral Motti. Previously believing the Empire’s greatest weapon was the Death Star, he now realizes it is Vader himself.

An Incident Report by Mallory Ortberg   3.5/5

Admiral Motti gets his rebuttal and blusters about his importance to cover up his shame of being humiliated in front of other staff. He refuses to see Vader’s power and relies entirely on the Death Star’s technology.

Change of Heart by Elizabeth Wein  3.5/5

The indomitable Leia unknowingly influences another Imperial soldier to rethink his alliance after he witnesses her strength when Alderaan is destroyed. Having two stories like this was over kill. I have huge Leia love, but to have two soldiers completely change their ways just by observing her was too much.

Eclipse by Madeleine Roux  4.5/5

A heartbreaking look at the last hours of Breha and Bail Organa. Despite them realizing their planet’s impending doom, they cling together in love and with hope in their hearts that their daughter is safe.  On a side note- I had a hard time imagining Leia growing up there. Things at the palace were so ornate and orchestrated, instead I thought of Padme.

Verge of Greatness by Pablo Hidalgo  4/5

Evil Empire leaders are taught not to trust anyone else and to only look out for themselves- but if Tarkin and Krennic had been able to work effectively as a team, perhaps then they could have been more powerful than Vader.  I appreciated the shoutout to Galen and Jyn Erso at the end.

Far Too Remote by Jeffrey Brown 4/5

Surprising and funny one panel cartoon from the author/artist who writes children’s books Vader’s Little Princess and Vader and Son.  See book for dialogue! 😉

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The Trigger by Kieron Gillen  3/5

Aphra is a dubious archaeologist who skirts the law on Dantooine. Captured by stormtroopers she talks her way out of trouble. She was an unfamiliar character to me, but her fleshed out backstory hinted that she plays more of a role in Star Wars canon, so I wasn’t surprised to realize she can be found in many Star Wars graphic novels. .

Of MSE-6 and Men by Glen Weldon 1/5

Why again are the worst stories the longest stories? Told from the perspective of a mouse droid found on the Death Star.

Bump by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker  3/5

One of the stormtroopers from the Tatooine unit that let the droids by, due to Obi Wan’s mind tricks, is called up to report once that data has been reviewed. He knows he’s in for it, but remains true to the Empire until the end.

End of Watch by Adam Christopher   4/5

Commander Pamel Poul is at the end of her shift on the Death Star and just wants to be off duty. But there seems to be a small problem in one of the detention blocks, and an odd message from an alleged soldier there doesn’t seem to follow protocol…

The Baptist by Nnedi Okorafor   5/5

When a creature is taken from their home planet and taken to the Death Star, I wondered where in the world the story was going. Then I realized it was the garbage disposal monster and I was intrigued. I found this story strangely appealing!

Time of Death by Cavan Scott   3/5

This story had me torn. While in one way I liked having more time with Obi Wan, his after life is a delicate subject matter to tackle. There was one little remembrance that I enjoyed- a missing piece of his lost years at Tatooine when he interacts with a young Luke and his Uncle Owen.

There Is Another by Gary D. Schmidt 3.5/5

This pushed canon a bit too far. While I have always wondered why Leia never trained to use the Force, this story has a certain green somebody quite opposed to training Luke, claiming that Leia would be more suitable. Maybe so, to a degree (see picture below), but he missed Palpatine being a Sith Lord, so maybe just maybe he could be wrong about Luke. (And he was.)

Image result for star wars meme 19 years old anakin leia luke

Palpatine by Ian Doescher 4.5/5

An interesting soliloquy from Palpatine’s perspective that I first listened to and then read to get the full power of his thoughts as it was written in poem form.

Sparks by Paul S. Kemp  4.5/5

Told from the perspective of Dex, a Rebel fighter pilot, during the battle of Yavin 4. This was an action packed story that had an expected sad ending for Gold Two.

Duty Roster by Jason Fry   4/5

Not every Rebel pilot gets to fly when there are not enough ships and Col, aka Fake Wedge (to his chagrin), is not chosen. He is furious at not being picked when newbie Luke Skywalker is selected, but as most of the pilots die, he survives for future missions.

Desert Son by Pierce Brown  4/5

Oh, Biggs Darklighter, we barely knew you…and you seemed so appealing! If only you and Luke had been able to reunite but your heroics helped ensure Luke’s victory.

Grounded by Greg Rucka  4.5/5

Chief Nera Kase, an integral part of the Rebels for her mechanical knowledge, watches as the pilots and ships she cares for head into battle. Not every body can be the flashy hero, but her behind the scenes work is an heroic as any pilot or leader’s contribution. I always root for the solid characters, who often don’t get their due because they are quiet and unassuming.

Contingency Plan by Alexander Freed  4/5

All good leaders should have contingency plans, for even the best laid plans can go sideways in a moment.  Mon Mothma is no exception, and the Rebel victory gives her renewed vigor for the cause.

The Angle by Charles Soule  4.5/5

With the new Solo movie coming out, I couldn’t help but think of our favorite caped scoundrel as being a mix of Donald Glover and Billie Dee Williams. The audio version had this guy voiced perfectly, as he wonders why in the world his fellow rogue Han would risk his life.

By Whatever Sun by E.K. Johnston and Ashley Eckstein  3.5/5

Captain Miara Larte and her crew witnesses the medal ceremony for Luke, Han and Chewbacca. While perhaps it can be argued it was a premature celebration, she feels that the joyful occasion is needed in a time of sorrow. This character was another one I was unfamiliar with, as she is from the Ahsoka book that I have not read yet.

Whills by Tom Angleberger  5/5

Awesome ending! I adored the two Whills scholars debating how to chronicle the Star Wars saga. They debate both where to start the story (Episode IV!) and the wording that we have grown to love.

This book is a must read for all Star Wars fans! It strengthened and filled in gaps in the narrative and this new canon was a treat from beginning to end.

-Nancy

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A Tribute Anthology to Deadworld

The graphic novel series Deadworld and their titular character King Zombie has been around since 1986, and made zombies cool before The Walking Dead and World War Z. I’ve looked at some of the issues and amazing artwork of Deadworld before, but never truly read the series, so when this anthology became available on NetGalley, I was anxious to read it. While I was surprised that it wasn’t a graphic novel, instead it was a novella of eight short stories, I was pleased as short stories are a favorite genre of mine.

Before the eight stories there is an introduction by editor Lori Perkins, then a lovely tribute to comic publisher Gary Reed by Kevin VanHook and another tribute to the series by Thomas F. Monteleone with a shout out to the enigmatic King Zombie.

The Guitar Girl by Jason Henderson established an Old West feel in this story in the Deadworld universe. Dana, who tries to spread music and hope in a post-apocalyptic world, reunites a family.

Small Town Gay Bar by Andrew Robertson felt like an 80’s slasher movie, and required a suspension of disbelief as to how the zombies infiltrated this small Southern bar. Ending with a cliffhanger, I hope the appealing heroes make it to safety.

The Girl by Jennifer Williams had a dystopian feel with a mystical bent. Our plucky heroine didn’t get the glorious ending you were hoping for.

Home on the Range by Ken Haigh showcased the zombies as more a nuisance than a threat and had an innocuous ending.

Rearguard by Sarah Stegall had the best world building with a Creole family that truly seemed real. Ailing Harriet sends her grandchildren to safety with a box of family mementos while she stays behind. Her position as rearguard hearkens back to her days in the army as a young woman, and she takes out a zombie horde to keep her beloved family safe.

Gonna Get Close To You by Jamie K. Schmidt was on odd mashup of mob assassins, revenge and unrequited love. We get a reference to the Zombie King in this story and the idea that not all zombies are mindless minions.

Another Man’s Skin by George Ivanoff shows what family members will do for each other to ensure their survival. There is no room for sentimentality when you are battling the undead. Felt like a Twilight Zone episode with a twist I saw coming.

Pit Stop by Jeremy Wagner drops us in the middle of a post-apocalyptic world with Rhonda and two children trying to make it to safety. It definitely had a Walking Dead vibe and felt like it was part of a longer story instead of having a conclusion as the other stories did. Thus it was apropos that their was a mention that this story was an excerpt from Rabid Hearts. I was intrigued enough by this tale to want to know more about this story’s characters, so I’d like to know where to track down the longer story.

I enjoyed all the stories, as each writer added something strong to this Deadworld anthology. My interest has been piqued and I plan on tracking down some comic issues of the series next time I stop in my local comic book store. As my previous  T5W post shows, I am a big fan of the zombie genre, and this short story collection supplied by NetGalley for an honest review, was a welcome addition to my reading list!

-Nancy

Perkins, Lori, A Tribute Anthology to Deadworld and Comic Publisher Gary Reed. 2017.

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