Pride, Prejudice and Sibling Rivalry

The Bennet family makes up most of the core characters in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." It consists of Mr. Bennet, a father who wishes to remain uninvolved, Mrs. Bennet, a tiresome and interfering woman, and their five children. The five children are all daughters. Jane Bennet is the eldest daughter with Elizabeth Bennet, the main character, following her. Their three younger sisters from oldest to youngest are Mary, Kitty and Lydia.

The sibling rivalry to be found in "Pride and Prejudice" is nearly always, if not always, perpetuated by the silly and annoying Kitty and Lydia. Jane is a sweetheart who gets along with everybody. Elizabeth is mostly just aggravated and ashamed of her two youngest sisters. She gets along with the other two and has no rivalries. No one sees poor Mary as competition.

Kitty and Lydia are very similar in both age and temperament. This not only makes them close, but it makes them vie for the same things. On at least one occasion, Kitty complains that her sister gets to leave town when she does not. Lydia, who is a careless braggart, seems not to care, despite her seeming closeness with her sister.

A common theme throughout the novel is marriage. Mrs. Bennet is obsessed with marrying off her daughters. Her older three daughters do not seem to dwell on the idea much (until the two eldest Miss Bennets fall in love). However, the two youngest Miss Bennets can think of little else. They want to flirt with officers, meet rich men, fall in love with one and get married. They are so open and obvious about their shallow desires that Elizabeth is quite embarrassed by them. Furthermore, they seem to be in a competition, in their own minds, to marry first. It is not said outright. However, after a botched and shameful marriage for Lydia, she brags to her sisters about how she was the first to marry.

Lydia is by far the worst when it comes to petty competition with her sister. Competitions that she seems to be the only one interested in, it is worth noting. However, Kitty and Mary are not exempt from sibling rivalry. Their incidences of it are simply on a much smaller scale. For Kitty, her rivalry tends to start and end with Lydia. Mary tries very hard to be a voice of reason (a somewhat dull one, at that) when her sisters are being ridiculous. It sometimes appears as if this is how she seeks to divert attention away from her sisters. She never prevails.

There are a few other sets of siblings in Pride and Prejudice, but no other sibling rivalry to speak of. Mr. Darcy gets along wonderfully with his sister, Georgiana. Mr. Bingley has a horribly shallow and scheming sister, but she does not appear to be in competition with him over anything, unless you include Mr. Darcy's attention.

Shelly Barclay

My Favorite Quotes About Books: Part One

Like any lover of books, there are moments when a quote about books just hits home for me. Some are silly, some I secretly think are about me and others are quite astute glimpses at the relationship between books and society. They are all awesome. However, like most quotes extracted from the modern libraries of unattributed, misattributed and/or made up quotes, these may be off. If you notice a discrepancy, please feel free to note it and provide a source. Thanks.

"You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have – arm yourselves!" ~ The Tenth Doctor

For those of you who don't know Doctor Who, go watch seasons one through now of the more recent incarnations. I'm serious. I have nothing more to say to you until you have done so. For the rest of you, you may recognize this as a quote from "Tooth and Claw." The Doctor is trapped by a werewolf and finds one of his temporary companions idiotic when he (the companion) remarks that they have no weapons while standing in a library.

"The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame." ~ Oscar Wilde

There is not much to say about this quote other than that it is unfailingly true. However, I would go on to say "or fear." Some books that are banned for being immoral contain nothing shameful, but they strike fear into those who believe them to be pathways to some sort of religious faux pas.

"Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all." ~ Abraham Lincoln

I love this quote coming from a man who may not have had original thoughts, but was obviously very inspired by thoughts, be they his or those of other people. Nonetheless, I can very much relate to this quote. I often find myself reading something and wanting to sit in a room with the author and express my agreement, saying, "I often think that as well. Thank you for saying it."

Shelly Barclay

The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part Five

In this installment of our Grimm series, at least one of the fairy tales outlined is pretty sick and twisted. However, for the heck of it, I've thrown in one that is humorous and one that is just plain daffy. Each still has its own special brand of Grimm gruesomeness, though. They never disappoint in that area.

The Old Man and His Grandson

The Old Man and His Grandson is not so much about an old man and his grandson as it is the story of how the grandfather's treatment influences the child. In the very first paragraph, his son and his daughter-in-law neglect the old man because he cannot eat neatly enough in his old age. They seat him away from the dinner table and feed him less than he requires.

This quite short story ends with the man's grandson playing on the floor. Upon being asked what he is doing, the boy replies that he is building a trough for his parents to eat out of when they get old. The parents immediately begin treating the old man better. This is humorous in some ways, but it is a Grimm way to get the point across.

The Little Peasant

In a town where only The Little Peasant is poor, he tricks a cowherd into taking a fake cow out to pasture. When the cowherd fails to bring it back, the title character convinces the authorities that the cowherd lost his cow, thus gaining himself a cow as recompense. Later, he takes shelter from a storm with a woman who is kind enough to give him bread, cheese and shelter. The woman has a guest over for a feast of a dinner, but has to hide it and her male guest when her husband arrives unexpectedly. The Little Peasant tells the husband of the hidden food and guest, thus gaining himself monetary payment and a bit of the feast.

The other peasants in this town of mostly rich peasants suspect The Little Peasant is doing something devious, as he is becoming more prosperous. He is convicted on no evidence and sentenced to death by being placed in a barrel full of holes and rolled into the water. He tricks a shepherd into the barrel instead and then steals the shepherd's sheep. He then convinces the entire town to go into the water, where everyone drowns.  The moral here? Everyone is greedy and murderous?

Frederick and Catherine

The moral of this Grimm fairy tale appears to be that being an idiot pays off. Frederick and Catherine are newlyweds. Frederick quickly realizes that Catherine's weak mental faculties are costing him food and money. Long story short, they wind up chasing down some thieves after Catherine loses all of Frederick's money. Catherine is carrying the door to their house, as Frederick asked her to lock the door and she reasoned that he wanted to protect the door. She drops the door on the thieves from a tree when it gets too heavy. They run off. Fred and Cathy get their money back. Problems solved by a certifiable housewife.

Shelly Barclay

The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part Four

By this part of my messed up Grimm's series, it is pretty well established that the fairy tales the Grimm's collected for their book were not the type of fairy tales we let children enjoy today. The morals of these stories had a lot to do with being eaten by strangers, or starved thanks to a greedy friend or foe. These were very real dangers in the cultures they came from, surely. Nowadays, people are just afraid that teaching their children these lessons will give them nightmares. I do not blame them. Here are a few more examples of frightening fairy tales.

Tom Thumb

Tom Thumb is an ordinary boy of extraordinary size. He has two normal sized parents that love him very much, though he is quite small. His size comes in handy when a few men purchase him from his father at Tom's urging. He escapes and eventually wounds up being eaten by a cow. The cow is slaughtered and Tom is eaten with the cow's intestines by a wolf. In the end, he is saved by his father, who beheads the fox and picks the boy out from among its entrails.


Rumpelstiltskin is the story of a girl and a hobgoblin. In the beginning, the maiden's father brags that she can spin gold out of straw; she cannot. She is then kidnapped by the king, who locks her up with a bunch of straw and essentially tells her to spin it to gold or die. The first night, she trades her necklace to a hobgoblin for him to spin it to gold. The second night, she gives him a ring. On the third night, she trades him her first-born child, which it presumably wants to eat.

The maiden is married by the king, who had kidnapped her, imprisoned her and threatened her life for some gold. She has a child, but decides she does not want to give it up. The hobgoblin tells her that she has three nights to guess his name or he will take the child. She guesses his name with the help of another. He flips out so bad that his foot goes through the floor. In other versions, it is he himself who goes through the floor and he tears himself apart in a rage trying to pull himself out -- literally.

Clever Gretel

Clever Gretel is not about the girl who loved and was loved by her brother Hansel. Clever Gretel was a cruel and greedy cook. She drank wine all the time and ate too much of what she cooked. One night, she ate a guest's meal and told the guest that there was no food and that her boss was going to cut his ears off. The guest ran away in a panic. The story ends with the boss thinking the guest ran off with the chickens the cook ate and chasing him with a knife, yelling that he wants only one. The guest thinks he means one ear, but he really means one chicken. Gretel is unaffected by her morbid storytelling.

The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part One

The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part Two

The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part Three

Shelly Barclay

The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part Three

In this third installment of our look at just how messed up the Grimm fairy tales really were, we take a look at some kidnapped children, greedy birds, girls who use poop to make their great escapes and something one would expect Hannibal Lecter to do. Well, maybe not. Lecter did seem to have some morals.

Hansel and Gretel

The story of Hansel and Gretel has survived many a century to make it to the present as a story with a deranged witch and two plucky kids. Well, the original has that much, but much more. At the start of Hansel and Gretel, their parents have decided to abandon them in the woods because there is too little food to feed all of them. Well, clever Hansel leaves a trail of stones, so they make it back, at which time, their stepmother pretends she has been waiting for them all along.

Food gets scarce again and the filicidal stepmother decides that it is time to leave the children out in the woods even farther than before. Hansel is unable to get stones, so he sacrifices his only food to leave a trail of breadcrumbs. He and Gretel, after half-starving, stumble upon a house made out of treats. It is owned by a mean old witch who locks up Hansel and forces Gretel to cook rich meals for him so he will get fat. Naturally, as this is Grimm, the old hag wants to eat him. When she decides to put Gretel in the oven alive, Gretel tricks her and the witch is instead burnt alive. The children go home to find their stepmother is dead (never explained) and their rueful father welcomes them. Way to go, dad.

The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage

Inanimate objects are sometimes animate in fairy tales. It's a rule; kind of like not having characters eat each other, but Grimm ignored that one. In this case, a sausage lives in harmony with a mouse and a bird until one day the bird decides it does too much work. When the others agree to change household duties, it results in all of them dying. Perhaps the moral of the story is to do your chores or you will die.

Little Red Riding Hood (Little Red Cap)

In Little Red Riding Hood, a wolf swallows a grandmother whole, waits a bit and then swallows her granddaughter as well. In the Grimm's version, they are both saved by a man who wants the wolf's pelt. However, the versions that the Grimms derived theirs from were far more grotesque than even that. In one, the wolf makes Little Red Riding Hood take off all of her clothes and burn them. She is made to lay in bed with the wolf and is only able to escape when she pretends she has to go number two and makes a break for it. In another, the wolf has left the grandmother for Little Red Riding Hood to eat. Really, this one is quite nasty no matter how you look at it.

The Robber Bridegroom

The Robber Bridegroom is the creepiest fairy tale I have read to date. It involves a young girl who is promised to a man courtesy of her father. She goes to his house as requested, but finds a derelict home with an old woman in it who warns her to leave. The woman hides her in a room, just as a group of men comes in with another girl, who they proceed to kill, undress, chop up and prepare for eating. One of the girl's severed fingers lands in the first girl's lap. Well, she manages to escape and get the men captured, but that does not change the fact that this fairy tale is not safe for life.

The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part Two

As mentioned in "The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part One," there is typically a little more to the fairy tales of the Grimm brothers than what makes it to whitewashed modern children's television and literature. In fact, the original Grimm fairy tales would be lucky to get by with a rating of T for teen, with a few exceptions. Here are a few more tasteless children's fairy tale twists courtesy of the Grimm brothers.

Cat and Mouse in Partnership

Oh, how nice, a fairy tale that brings together a cat and a mouse. These ancient enemies will be just adorable together. Well, it might work in legitimate children's television like Tom and Jerry . . . Wait, Tom and Jerry were homicidal maniacs too. Well, if this were a cartoon blog, we would certainly discuss it. Where was I? Ah, yes, the cat, the mouse, friends forever, or until the food runs out.

This story starts with a cat convincing a mouse that they would make great roommates. They move in together and decide to store a pot of fat for the winter. The cat tricks the mouse and eats the entire pot long before winter strikes. Finally, winter comes around and there is no food. When the mouse figures out that the cat did it, her dear friend eats her without a blink. Moral of the story: store extra food for winter or your friends might eat you.

The Goose Girl

A princess, kind and meek, is sent to another kingdom to be married to a prince. She takes with her: royal clothes, a golden cup, jewels, a talking horse, a maid and many more riches. During the trip, the maid forces the princess to trade horses and clothes, saying that she will kill the princess if she tells. When they get to the kingdom, the prince mistakes the maid for the princess and brings her inside. However, the talking horse is a problem and the maid has it killed. The princess then has its head hung outside of a gate and talks to it every day. Oh, and the severed horse head talks back.

The king eventually finds out that the maid has tricked his son, partly thanks to the Dickensian ghost of a horse. So, he sneaks the princess into the castle in royal clothes. Nobody recognizes her as the goose girl that she had become. The king then recounts the story and tricks the maid into deciding her own fate. She is then stuck in a barrel with many nails sticking into it. Then, the barrel is dragged by horses.


Rapunzel is not as bad as others, though I have heard that the very original version is quite X-rated. In the version that made it into recent translations, Rapunzel does not just let the prince up into her tower, she gets pregnant. We all know how that happens. Then, the enchantress who trapped Rapunzel banishes her to the desert and gets the prince to jump from the tower. He does not die. He only has his eyes gashed open by thorns and is rendered blind. Disney left that out. Later, he stumbles into the desert where he finds his wife and twin children. His sight is restored by Rapunzel's tears. Lovely happy ending, but readers deserved it after the eye gouging, bearing children alone in the desert and kidnapping going on in Rapunzel.


Do not be fooled by its name. The Grimms forgot to put the fun in Fundevogel. It starts when a forester finds a child that was grabbed away from its mother and carried off by a bird. He takes the boy and raises him as a son with his own daughter Lina. Lina and Fundevogel grow to love each other very much. They are inseparable, as evidenced by their great escape when the cook admits to Lina that she is going to boil Fundevogel alive. Oh, yes. We assume she was going to eat him too. Sleep well, kiddos, and don't worry. Lina and Fundevogel turn into a swan and a pond. Lina then drowns the cook in Fundev . . . the pond.

More of these twisted tales of fairy whimsy will be up soon. Beware.

Shelly Barclay 

The Violent and Weird Side of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Part One

Grimm's fairy tales are among the most popular children's stories of all time. Several of them have been the basis for those airy Disney classics that our kids love so much. Though some arguably messed up stuff makes it into children's television, it is pretty much guaranteed that Grimm's uncensored works would be rated nothing less than "Holy crap! Don't let kids watch that."

The Golden Bird

In The Golden Bird, a fox helps a young prince find a golden bird that his father covets. Like a strange personal ad on the internet, the fox only asks one thing in return -- that the prince cut off his -- the fox's -- head and feet. Serial killer bedtime stories, anyone? Not to worry, though. When the prince finally gives in and hacks into the fox, the little guy becomes a prince.

Hans in Luck

Hans in Luck is the story of a man who is ripped off . . . over and over again. Hans starts his day with a hunk of silver as large as his head. Throughout the day, he happily trades his silver for a horse and so on. Every person he makes a trade with is a swindler. By the end of the day, Han is empty-handed and happy about it. Moral of the story: If you are going to be ripped off, it is best to be a dolt so you do not feel bad about it.

The Dog and the Sparrow

In The Dog and the Sparrow, a man decides to starve his dog. The dog runs away and is run over by another man, who committed the deed on purpose. A sparrow had befriended the dog and so torments the man who killed him. The man tries to kill the sparrow with a hatchet, but misses three times and kills all three of his horses. Later in the story, his wife tries to kill the sparrow, but misses and hits him in the head with the hatchet, killing him. It is like Poe and 70's teen slasher flicks got together and had a baby.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

In The Twelve Dancing Princesses, a king is curious where his daughters are going at night. Their shoes show signs of having danced the night away. He issues a proclamation that any man who can discover their activities will be given the princess of his choice and later become king. However, if he cannot within three days, he will be executed. Several princes die this way. It turns out that the princesses were giving the men a sleeping agent, despite knowing that the men would have their heads chopped off.

Shelly Barclay

Short Story Review: "Cat Calls" by Cynthia Leitich Smith

"Cat Calls" by Cynthia Leitich Smith is a short story that is clearly geared toward young teen women. It is about a girl named Tiffany who is coming into her own living with her grandmother in a traveling circus. The story touches a bit on the girl's back-story, particularly as it pertains to her parents. It is not especially memorable, well written or suspenseful. However, it does the trick. It delivers what it is meant to deliver and leaves the story open at the end so girls can gobble up a little more sexual angst and supernatural mystery.

If there was one thing that could have been hoped for out of this story it would have been more development as far as the setting of the circus. Yes, we get to know that Tiffany and her grandmother have some special gifts, but it is hard to tell whether the rest of the circus is just as gifted or if it is just your typical circus. In this way, Smith manages to take her greatest opportunity and leave it stranded.

Unfortunately, the big twist of "Cat Calls" is evident from about page two or three. There really is no surprise to be had for most readers. Some might find it surprising or tantalizing. I did not. Nevertheless, Smith has found her niche and does well in it, and this story is not terrible. It is just not eerie enough for my taste, especially if I were still a teen girl.

Shelly Barclay

Best Horror Short Story Anthologies

Horror is one of the most beloved genres in literature. Writers like Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft have made horror visceral and approachable. However, some people like their horror with a quick punch rather than as a long tale. That is what horror short story anthologies are for. The following are single author anthologies, but there are great collections available that include several writers each.

More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Unfortunately, it seemed the thing to do to include only one of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. That is not because only one is good, but because only one is necessary to put this series on the map. I chose More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark because it contains The Bride, which is my favorite of all these spooky tales. It is written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated surreally by Stephen Gammell. This is the only collection on this list that is geared toward children. Of course, its status as a children's book is widely challenged because of its violent and gory content. Needless to say, kids love it. I know I did.

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King

Skeleton Crew is a short story anthology by best-selling horror author Stephen King. Some of the stories contained within it are largely psychological, such as The Jaunt. Other stories contain that characteristic in-your-face horror that has made Stephen King a living legend, such as The Mist. This book is a constant hit and never miss.

The Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. Lovecraft

Since you are reading this, you probably do not need an introduction to Lovecraft. However, if you are experiencing a sudden craving for horror that you have never indulged, thus you do not know of him, read his work. That is all the introduction needed. As for The Dunwich Horror and Others, it is a short story collection typical of Lovecraft. By typical, I mean it is quite awesome. His use of the English language never fails and certainly does not here. Creeping prose, vivid imagery and an instinct for fear make Lovecraft the best of the best. This collection is proof of that. Story of Note: The Call of Cthulhu

Clive Barker's Books of Blood

All right, I said I only added one by Alvin Schwartz for a reason, but one cannot mention the Books of Blood without just chucking them all in for good measure. Some of Clive Barker's horror has gone on to become teen screams, but not in the way one would expect. It is just that he appeals to that audience, not that he has half-naked teen girls in his stories. However, the Books of Blood cater to any audience. I have to suggest that readers start from the beginning so they understand the literal meaning of the collection's name.

Please feel free to leave your horror short story anthology suggestions in the comments or even tell me why you hate mine.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

It wasn't only the garden that the little girl at the beginning of Kate Morton's story had forgotten. She'd forgotten her name. She didn't know where she belonged or who she belonged to. It had been a long voyage from the shores of England to the continent of Australia, especially for a four year old. But the childless couple who took her in off the dock knew exactly who she was. She was a child who needed a home, and they were just the ones to give it to her. They gave her a name as well, Nell.

Read more of this review by Kathleen Krueger.

Book Review: "The Stand" by Stephen King

"The Stand" by Stephen King is an epic novel that follows the survivors of an apocalyptic plague through their experiences before, during and after the event. While this is a major plotline of the novel, the eponymous stand is a face-off between good and evil in a battle for what remains of the United States. It is hinted that, in the time to come, the battle will spread to other countries and become a worldwide struggle for power.

The novel progresses from the story of a young soldier who manages to escape a U.S. Army facility when a then unknown disaster occurs there. As the young man, his wife and child make their escape, they touch the lives of several others. Soon, the reader learns that the young man and his family are carrying a highly deadly virus -- a manufactured strain of the flu. Gradually, characters from across the country fold into the story seamlessly as almost everyone around them gets sick and dies while they are left to traverse the broken country in search of a place where society can reconvene.

In true Stephen King style, "The Stand" addresses deep fears that would be quite realistic in such an event. A pregnant woman fears her child will not be immune to the virus. A number of survivors realize that the loss of most modern medicine means their lives are still at risk. The loss of law and order leaves survivors wondering what will happen when someone inevitably gets violent. On top of all of these, there is the supernatural evil that one expects from Stephen King. In "The Stand," this evil comes in the form of a creature known as the Dark Man, the Walking Dude, Randall Flagg, Walter o'Dimm  and possibly Andre Linoge. This one single creature is the ultimate bad guy in Stephen King's fictional universe and he has come for the world in this story.

This is one of Stephen King's best works. It is terrifying, uplifting, sad and, best of all, it is one of the ropes that ties into the best horror series of all time -- the Dark Tower series. It touches on religion, while distancing itself from absolutes as to the existence of any deity. King carefully interchanges the words magic and miracle so as to leave an ambiguity that I have always appreciated in his work. Anyone who has some time to kill on a book that is bigger than the Bible should pick up "The Stand."

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls opens her memoir stuck in traffic in New York City. As she looks over to the sidewalk, she sees a homeless woman digging in the trash. A homeless woman that she recognizes as her own mother. Instead of leaping out of the cab to embrace her and bring her home, as we would expect, she instead leans back and hopes her mother doesn't see or recognize her.

 Back in her Park Avenue apartment, Walls deals with her feelings of guilt on one hand and helplessness on the other. She rehearses in her mind the number of times she has tried to help her parents before, and their insistence that they are quite content and in need of no help from their children.

 Read more of this review by Kathleen Krueger here.

So, I Wrote a Book

Copyright Michelle Barclay

Dear Cracked Spines readers,

Well, it is about that time. You may have noticed that since December of last year there has been a NaNoWriMo winner badge on Cracked Spines. During November of last year, I wrote a book. It is a short book, but I did what many others do not do and gave myself only the month to complete it. Of course, editing was to come later, but the story itself was wrenched out of me in November of 2011. I continued writing here and elsewhere at the time as well. In short, I am mighty proud of myself for finishing it.

Fast forward six months and I have made the epic decision to edit and publish what is now known as Morrigan's Shadows. That was harder work than writing it, I think. It was somewhat scary. Nonetheless, within a few months of that decision, my first full-length horror novel was for sale in print and electronic format. Surprisingly enough, I have sold a few copies too. Here I am, in the second month of sales, a few tens of dollars richer and working on a sequel.

I was not going to write about it here, as this is not so much a personal blog as a place for people to go to read about books. After thinking about it for a while, I realized this is about creating books and selling them, so I decided to tell you guys a bit about it. Morrigan's Shadows is no epic masterpiece, but it is something I am proud of. Its sequel will be longer, more epic and hopefully even scarier. I will let you know when I finish. For now, you can keep up with my progress on my website.

Shelly Barclay (Michelle Barclay)

Book Review: "All My Crimes" by Tal Valante

Cover Photo courtesy of Riptide
Publishing -- all rights reserved
"All My Crimes" by Tal Valante is a fantasy fiction story with adult themes. It is set in a world where humans have just defeated the race of the elves in a fell swoop that is soon revealed to have been nothing short of a massacre, but whose fault is it? The story is told from the perspective of Lord Teregryn Eve, a former lover of the human king and former prisoner of the elves. He is recovering after a respite of two years following the war. He cannot remember those two years and might just be better off that way.

In a very short span, Tal Valante manages to conjure a story that could easily be called an epic with just a few tweaks. It sweeps across years and even generations if one looks deeply at the story. Tal whips up magical lore that most authors take many chapters and sometimes even many novels to create. By simply displaying the powers that some characters have and using her narrator's memories, she skips the lengthy descriptions and dialogue that would have transformed "All My Crimes" into a 1,000-page novel.

Perhaps the best thing about "All My Crimes" is the way this single novelette encompasses so many themes. Most short stories will focus on one or just a few things. Fear, grief, anger and revenge are just a few of the themes that can drive a short plot to a satisfying end. Tal Valante incorporates magic, war, revenge, genocide, love, friendship, fear, murder, anger, sorrow and even more. Maybe another reviewer will find something negative to say about "All My Crimes" by Tal Valante, but having just read it and thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish, I simply cannot. Tal Valante is certainly one to watch.

Shelly Barclay

Lawrence Durrell Titles Now Available in Electronic Format

Cover of "Justine"
courtesy of Open Road Media

Lawrence Durrell was born in British India in 1912, though he was ever disassociating himself with Britain. He considered himself a citizen of the world, in a manner of speaking. He went on to become a prolific writer who published novels, poetry and even travel guides. Until now, his works have only been available in print, limiting the distribution significantly in this digital era. However, Open Road Media has decided to launch 28 of his titles in e-book format. This will be the first time ever that Lawrence Durrell's books will be published electronically.

Those who already own print copies of Durrell's work may still want to consider grabbing these e-books. Each of them contains an author biography and photos that are not available in the print versions. Furthermore, there will be several introductions that are only available in the e-books.

For those unfamiliar with the work of Lawrence Durrell, the following is an excerpt of his first full-length novel and the first novel in his renowned Alexandria Quartet -- "Justine."

"Capitally, what is this city of ours? What is resumed in the word Alexandria? In a flash my mind’s eye shows me a thousand dust-tormented streets. Flies and beggars own it today — and those who enjoy an intermediate existence between either. Five races, five languages, a dozen creeds: five fleets turning through their greasy reflections behind the harbour bar. But there are more than five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish among them. The sexual provender which lies to hand is staggering in its variety and profusion. You would never mistake it for a happy place.The symbolic lovers of the free Hellenic world are replaced here by something different, something subtly androgynous, inverted upon itself. The Orient cannot rejoice in thesweet anarchy of the body — for it has outstripped the body. I remember Nessim once saying — I think he was quoting — that Alexandria was the great winepress of love; those who emerged from it were the sick men, the solitaries, the prophets — I mean all who have been deeply wounded in their sex."

Visit Durrell's Open Road Media page to learn more about his most famous series and about the author himself. The e-books are also available via this page.

*Note: Durrell's e format titles are currently available in the U.S. with limited distribution in Canada.

Shelly Barclay

The Best Horror Novelists of all Time

In the interest of celebrating the best genre in literature, I thought I would post a bit about the writers that I think are the best horror writers of all time. There is at least one book that comes to mind when I think of each of these writers and the books they have written have been part of my reading ever since my mother started letting me take down the books with the dark covers. Nonetheless, I look up to everyone who has dared to try to offend the senses of others with wording and imagery. These nine have just stuck out for me and hope you have or will have the opportunity to enjoy them as well.

Stephen King

I'm starting this off with a bang. Stephen King is the horror writer of the 20th century. He has churned out more bestsellers than I have time to count. Everything he writers turn to gold and film, I should add. No one is as universally appealing to horror fans as Mr. King. Sure, he has his denouncers, but they cannot even make a dent in his sales.

For me, it all started weirdly. The first of his works that I read was "The Green Mile." Any fan would tell you that is an odd place to start, but not a bad one. It was brilliant. I had to have more. From there, it was a parade of King books leading to the story that I think of as the Mecca of horror and science fiction -- The Dark Tower series. Boy, how I was, and still am, hooked. I've forgiven King for his ending, but only after throwing the book across the room at three in the morning and pouting the entire following day. Still, I was only upset at the end because the series was so good. I don't think any ending would have satisfied me.

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley needs no introduction. All I have to say is "Frankenstein." Enough said, but I suppose I need to say more in order to be able to call this an entry. Mary Shelley was clearly brilliant. Her 19th century masterpiece has spawned countless adaptations in novels, films and on the stage. The monster created by the eponymous doctor now has a life of its own, no pun intended, but it is like the monster has leapt off the page and clomped its way through the past century and a half without any reference to the novel being necessary. Bravo, Mrs. Shelley.

Bram Stoker

How does one say anything about Bram Stoker that has not already been said? Well, anything sensible, at least. I could call him a terrible couch and be original, but that wouldn't make much sense, would it? Anyway, Bram Stoker is responsible for the best and most beloved vampire novel of all time. No one will ever be able to touch "Dracula." You can make vampires sparkle, you can make vampires sexy, you can make vampires teen heartthrobs, you can make vampires disgusting and just about anything else. What you cannot do is tell a single vampire story to match "Dracula." You can try, but you will fail.

William Peter Blatty

William Peter Blatty is well known, but not nearly as well known as his above counterparts. However, the biggest story that he spawned haunts the minds of adults and teens alike. Perhaps some children too, but the idea of a child checking out this work by William Peter Blatty is almost as disturbing as the book itself. I am talking about "The Exorcist." Blatty might not be Stephen King, but that novel is as spine chilling as a novel can get. He pulled out all of the stops. He made sure I could not put the book down and that I could not sleep once I did.

Edgar Allen Poe

The master of short stories, the poet of horrors, the eerie, the brilliant, the chilling -- Edgar Allen Poe! Sorry, I can't help it. The man deserves an entrance filled with adjectives. Edgar Allen Poe wrote tales that would span a mere few pages and remain stuck in your mind for the rest of your life. It's impossible to name one that defines his craft, though "The Raven" is likely his most oft-quoted work. If you want a story whose words will masterfully paint a picture but also leave enough to the imagination for you to keep filling in blanks long after you are done, pick up Edgar Allen Poe. If you regret it, you either experienced it well or have no taste.

H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft is the creepiest of the creepy. The only way I can describe his work is by telling you to imagine a dictionary, a thesaurus and an encyclopedia set combined and then robbed of everything light, fluffy or happy. That is what H.P. Lovecraft leaves you with it. He is a master of words, a purveyor of darkness and just about everything I could not be if I lived a million years and wrote every day. There is no replacing him in the annals of horror history.

A few honorable mentions are Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Algernon Blackwood and Anne Rice (What? She's good.). All right, horror fans, pick a novelist from above and start reading, if you haven't. You have no idea what you are missing.

Book Bannings: "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding

William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" is one of the most popular and controversial novels of the 20th century. It was the first book the man ever published and was his greatest success. It came out in 1954 and was initially mildly successful. However, it wasn't long before the quality of the book and its multiple, well-incorporated themes of good and evil made it must read for both education and enjoyment.

"Lord of the Flies" is the story of a group of boys who find themselves trapped on an uninhabited island. It seems that the boys were being evacuated by plane when their plane went down, killing all of the adults on board. This leaves them to sort out how to survive and behave without the guidance of adults. Eventually, the group splits with the more "evil" of the bunch in one group and the more "good" of the bunch in the other. However, the lines start to blur and fear of a "beast" on the island, which is actually just a dead man, drive the children a bit crazy. In the end, two of them are murdered by other boys and the structure of their island society becomes primeval.

What made "Lord of the Flies" so good was also what made it so controversial. Throughout the novel, there is profanity, mentions of sex, graphic violence, animalistic behavior, racism, religion, sexism and references to the consequences of fear, isolation and war. The way William Golding incorporates these themes, some of which are generally found offensive, was brilliant. The story is engaging, it suspends disbelief wonderfully and it evokes emotions in the way only a good novel can. Nonetheless, not everyone can stomach indelicate novels. Therefore, it has been challenged, repeatedly, for more than 50 years.

Despite attempts at banning the book, "Lord of the Flies" is required reading in classrooms throughout English speaking countries and even elsewhere. It is a great novel for sparking discussions on society, war, youth, human nature, fear, murder, justice, kindness, logic and much more. Its characters make great fodder for analysis and, best of all, it is an entertaining story. Thank goodness saner heads have prevailed and "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding remains on bookshelves.

Shelly Barclay

Book Banning: "Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell

Public domain depiction of
"Big Brother" propaganda

"Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell is one of the most controversial and popular novels of the 20th century. It was George Orwell's final novel before his death from tuberculosis mere months after it was published. Because of this, what the author meant to say with the novel is debatable, though many would say it is obvious. Because of the very strong themes in "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and the fact that people will choose to interpret novels as they see fit, it was banned in Russia and has almost been banned elsewhere. That hardly hurt the sales. It sold like crazy in the UK and the United States immediately after it was published and is still very widely read today.

"Nineteen Eighty-Four" is the story of Winston Smith, who lives in what was once England in the year 1984, which was the future when the novel was published in 1949. In Winston's world, the people are kept in line with mind control, propaganda, surveillance and even torture. The main antagonist in the novel is Big Brother, a dictator who is "always watching." Over the course of the novel, Winston becomes guilty of numerous crimes in this totalitarian society and is eventually brainwashed, tortured and forced to betray a loved one.

Truth be told, George Orwell was not a man to keep his opinions secret. He obviously found the idea of a world like that in "Nineteen Eighty-Four" appalling. Was he warning against allowing the government so much control? Many people think so. However, one thing is certain and should be considered when considering the fact that it was banned. "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is a work of fiction. It is certainly a commentary of sorts on moral, political and civil rights issues, but it is still fiction. Yes, it was daring. Yes, it was penetrating. Works that shine so harsh a light on any political system, real or fictional, are always going to be criticized by those who fear criticism of their political systems. Was that why it was banned? You decide.

Shelly Barclay

Book Banning: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is a classic 19th century novel by American author Mark Twain. It is the story of the eponymous character Tom Sawyer and some of the trouble this young lad gets into in his fictional hometown of St. Petersburg, Missouri. In the novel, Tom Sawyer gets in trouble with his guardian, falls in love, falls in with the wayward Huckleberry Finn, they land themselves in trouble with Injun Joe and then become something like local heroes. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is an innocent enough novel but, like so many before it, it has come under scrutiny and been banned in its time.

In 1905, Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, commented himself on the matter of his two most popular characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, being banned from children's areas in libraries. Tom and Huck, while considered rather tame today, were the epitome of naughty boys in Twain's day, so some adults, a woman in this case, took it upon themselves to complain. Mark Twain's response was that his books on the two young men were never meant for children and that he was "troubled" that children had access to them to begin with.

Well, Mark Twain would probably be shocked to learn that "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is pretty much standard reading for young children these days. However, one can take away from his response to the complaints and bannings that it is the responsibility of libraries, schools and parents to filter the content given to children. He does not go on to express an opinion on book bannings themselves, in this particular missive.

When it comes to "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," this was not the only complaint by a long shot. They continue to this day. In fact, I myself heard a rumor that it was going to be edited for content we would consider racist today. Just like bannings, I find the idea ridiculous. By all means, be careful what your children read, but do not deny the rights of others to read what they wish. Surely, raise your children to be fair and to treat people of all races as equals, but do not whitewash the past. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is a wonderful book. Given that its author is long gone, it should remain just as it is today for Mark Twain is not here to change it and no one living should have the nerve to change or ban the words of a man like Mark Twain.

Shelly Barclay

Character Analysis: Derfel Cadarn in The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell

Derfel Cadarn is the protagonist and narrator of The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. At the start of the novels, he is an orphan being raised in Merlin's realm. Merlin took him in, in a way, after a botched sacrifice nearly killed Derfel. Derfel is originally Saxon, but he identifies as British because he was raised as such. Over the course of the series, it becomes clear that Derfel's ties to his homeland are more than meets the eye. In short order, Derfel Cadarn becomes a warrior and friend of Arthur. The novels revolve around the Arthur of legend, but only through his connections to Derfel. Derfel is the true hero of the story.

Initially, it appears that Derfel Cadarn is not much more than a wayward orphan. He is in love with Nimue -- Merlin's favorite. He has no real trade and knows little about the world outside of Merlin's realm. He knows of Arthur and was there at the birth of Mordred -- Arthur's nephew and future king of Dumnonia. That is the extent of his experience. However, he is soon thrust into the middle of a drama upon which the entire country balances. It is through tragedy and necessity that he becomes loyal, brave, intelligent, dependable and much more. There are very few instances in the novels where Derfel Cadarn strays from being, in many ways, a better man than even Arthur. Even in those instances, there are always mitigating circumstances.

The life of Derfel Cadarn, as almost entirely created by Bernard Cornwell, is quite extraordinary. He is there in battle, even when Arthur is not. He is privy to Merlin's actions to a far greater extent than Arthur. He becomes the lover of a witch of sorts and later the life partner of a princess. He sees the rise and fall of Arthur and Arthurian Britain. He lives a life immersed in paganism and then another immersed in Christianity, for the sake of his beloved. He is a fierce and almost unmatched warrior and then he is a peaceful monk. Derfel is witness to Arthur's shame when Guinevere betrays him. He is witness to the corruption and wickedness of Mordred and what appears to have been the mortal wounding of Arthur. Through Derfel, Cromwell weaves a tale that is both new and ancient. He uses elements that are familiar while creating a story that has never been told quite like this.

My opinion is that people who read The Warlord Chronicles will pick it up wanting to read about Arthur and keep reading because they want to find out what happens to Derfel. Only a very good character could take attention away from one of the most popular characters in literary history. Even the oh-so alluring Merlin is overshadowed by Derfel and Guinevere never stands a chance. If Bernard Cornwell decided to write another series about Derfel told through another's eyes as he did with Arthur through Derfel, I would read it.

Shelly Barclay

Character Analysis: Zaphod Beeblebrox from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the primary characters in Douglas Adams' undeniably amazing contribution to science fiction literature -- "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Of course, he was also a character in the original radio series and in the television series, but, given that the book is the most common and popular reference point and that there are differences in the character across the mediums, we'll stick to just the novel.

Zaphod or "The Best Bang since the Big One" is rather central to the story. He is related to Ford Prefect, one of the two most prominent characters in the series, with whom he shares three mothers. The explanation for this impossibility is rather typical Adams humor, being an accident involving a time machine and birth control. He is also Arthur Dent's competition when it comes to Trillian, another central character.

Beeblebrox's personality can only be described as unwarranted. He is self-centered, a bit of a cad and he is constantly plotting, though in a more humorous than evil way.  It can only be assumed that his brash, impulsive and thoughtless behavior stems from his over-inflated ego. However, he is not entirely unlikable. He has friends in the book and is a beloved character when it comes to readers. Despite some depictions of him, he is not entirely idiotic and does instigate many of the more entertaining parts of the novel.

Physically, Zaphod is undeserving of his sense of self-importance. I mean, the mannish thing is from Betelgeuse, has two heads, three arms and an alarming sense of style. He is the seven-time winner of the "Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe Award." Given the creatures and people that appear in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," one can only assume that he has atrocious taste.

As for Zaphod Beeblebrox's head, meaning the extra one, it is never fully explained. He was likely born with it, given that the ghost of his grandfather also had two heads. The most recent film adaptation of the novel attempts to explain the head, but does so using the mechanism used to explain how, well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's just say that the attempt was weak and never mention that film again. As for his extra arm, well, he had it added.

One of the most important accomplishments of Zaphod Beeblebrox is his appointment as President of the Galaxy and subsequent theft of the "Heart of Gold," a spaceship central to the plot of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." In order to manage this scheme, he had part of his brain removed so his intentions to steal the ship were not picked up on the required brain scan when he became President of the Galaxy, which is similar to the botched mechanism used by the writers of the aforementioned never to be mentioned again film to explain the extra head.

Memorable Quotes of Zaphod Beeblebrox in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:"

"If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now." 

"I'm a great and amazing guy, didn't I tell you baby, I'm Zaphod Beeblebrox." 

"Don't you try to outweird me, I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal." 

Shelly Barclay

"Out of Oz:" Was Glinda Dying or Did Elphaba Come for Her?

First, please permit me to state that this is merely a confused, personal pondering session to see if I cannot figure out the fate of Glinda in Gregory Maguire's "Out of Oz." I realize that the author left it to the imagination, in some ways. That, of course, means that whatever I think happened is what happened, as there is no explanation. I should go on to say that those who have not read the book and plan on doing so should consider this entire piece a SPOILER and therefore click away. Now, I publish this not because I suffer under the delusion that anyone cares what I eked out of Glinda's last moments in "Out of Oz," but to allow whoever reads this to tell me if I missed something, their opinion or even to encourage me not to obsess over cliff-hanger endings.

I suppose I should begin my pondering with the moment in question. Gregory Maguire has Glinda in Southstairs, imprisoned for treasonous acts. There are hints that she will not be staying there long and that the sentence will only be long enough to satisfy political obligations. She is last mentioned in "Out of Oz" as resting in her prison cell when the knob on the cell door is turned. It is stated that Glinda knows who is at the door. She says aloud, "You wicked thing. You've taken your own sweet time, of course." Her use of the word "wicked" is very leading.

Now, in my mind, there are four possibilities to explain this, given later and earlier events in the series. One possibility that I have eliminated is Rain, as she was nowhere near Southstairs. Another possibility is that the Cowardly Lion has come to remove her. That seems unlikely, as he would probably send someone else. Another is that Glinda has simply lost her mind. Yet another is that Glinda is dying and imagining/seeing her best friend as she dies. The last, my favorite and what I believe is more than implied is that Elphaba has either risen from the dead or never died to begin with.

In "Wicked," Elphaba is believed to have died by the hands of Dorothy Gale. However, no one witnessed Elphaba's death. Gale saw her disappear and ran away. Nanny ran up after Dorothy ran away, somehow took control of the Elphaba situation and refused to speak a word of what she saw. Just a few pages before Glinda has this mysterious visitor in Southstairs, Nanny says that she has seen Elphaba in Kiamo Ko. Of course, Nanny is ancient and somewhat senile. There are various other mentions that Elphaba will come back, has come back or did not die at all throughout all of the novels. There may have even been a prophecy of her return, but, as always, Maguire was infuriatingly ambiguous.

Therefore, I choose to assume it was Elphaba. I also love Gregory Maguire for being a bit of a tease that drops who knows how many hints without ever coming out and saying it. Still, I would love him all the more if he just came out and said it.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: "Out of Oz" by Gregory Maguire

"Out of Oz" by Gregory Maguire is the last installation of his "Wicked Years" series. Like the first two novels in the series, it is an engrossing tale of witches, political upheaval, familial turmoil and, of course, the fantastic land of Oz. The third novel in the series, which centered on the life of the Cowardly Lion was an excellent novel, but it just did not have the draw of the three that centered on the family of the Wicked Witch of the West. "Out of Oz" more than makes up for that slip, while including the Cowardly Lion in a much more attractive way.

The best character out of the motley crew of Ozians presented in the Wicked Years has arguably been Elphaba -- the Wicked Witch of the West. Painted in the original tales as an evil, Dorothy-hating nut job with a shoe obsession disorder; Maguire took another direction. His Wicked Witch has a name, a history and a family. She is more of a misunderstood activist with a knack for magic than evil. She is a bit of a grump, though. Since her death at the hand of Dorothy in "Wicked," nothing has come quite close to matching her in Maguire's books -- until "Out of Oz."

"Out of Oz" centers on the childhood and teenage years of Elphaba's granddaughter. In "Son of a Witch," Elphaba's son Liir fathers a green girl that comes to be known as Rain. Rain's life takes the reader on a journey that reintroduces many of the important characters from the earlier novels. It drags up old hurts and creates new ones. It is filled with as much tragedy as the story of Elphaba and more. At its heart, it is the story of a girl whose life is defined by the generations before her, but who evades all definition. Rain, like Elphaba, is quick to learn and slow to love. She is fierce, but she is dedicated. She is an even less tame version of her grandmother and she makes "Out of Oz" a page-turner.

Gregory Maguire reuses some of the themes from "Wicked" and "Son of a Witch" in "Out of Oz" with great success. There is magic, but seemingly more restraint. There is the topic of same-gender relationships again, but this time with a huge twist and with a lingering lesson that love does not take heed of trivial matters, such as possession of specific organs. One of the best themes that is ever-present is the anti-hero in all of the heroes. Virtually every character that does anything worthy of approval also has nearly unforgivable flaws. Rain is rude, dismissive, self-absorbed and sulky. Glinda is even more self-absorbed, but she is also petty and narcissistic. The Cowardly Lion is, well, cowardly. Liir is ever in love with two people. The list goes on.

From beginning to end, "Out of Oz" is a fantasy drama that displays Maguire's capacity for taking the unreal and making it realistic. The problems faced may involve a fictional place where dragons and magic dwell, but they are relatable problems. My one complaint is that the "end" reminded me of the Dark Tower series' ending. Thank you, Stephen King. The similarity was that it was so unsatisfying. It was an end without an end. An end left to the imagination is a gift in some ways, but with some futures looking rather uncertain, I would prefer to call it an intermission. However, it looks like it really is the end. Maguire says it is so, as does the dang book jacket.

Shelly Barclay

Short Story Review: "Dreams of Virginia Dare" by John P. O'Grady

"Dreams of Virginia Dare" by John P. O'Grady is one of the short stories in the anthology "Otherworldly Maine." It shares the book with such names as Mark Twain and Stephen King and is somewhat outshined by these others, to be honest.

"Dreams of Virginia Dare" starts off and gets its footing on a web of American history. Set in Maine, it draws from tales of Boston and even further south, the lost Roanoke Colony. The name Virginia Dare comes from the first child born to those colonists -- a little girl who was lost to history along with her family and neighbors. This, and the addition of allusions to magic, got "Dreams of Virginia Dare" off to a running start. It was mysterious, strange and very . . . Maine.

Before I dive into where it went wrong for me, I should mention a little more of where it went right. It was realistic, an area where many stories fail. It was explanatory and amusing in a "look what the years reveal" sort of way. However, it was also anti-climactic. It was as if it started from the end and worked its way to the beginning in terms of experience.

"Dreams of Virginia Dare" by John P. O'Grady" was a short read, compared to the other stories in the anthology. While I would not seek it out on its own merit, I certainly would not suggest skipping it when reading this anthology. It has good moments and is over rather quickly, so it is hardly a waste of time to give it a chance.

Shelly Barclay 

"The Winter King" by Bernard Cornwell: Book Review

"Enemy of God" is the second installment in Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian Warlord Chronicles. Like "The Winter King" before it, "Enemy of God" is an evocative mixture of all the Arthur legends from hundreds of years past and a fictional tale that Bernard Cornwell uses to breathe life into the old tales.

Like a good lover of cliché tales of honor, deception, war and magic, I have read numerous attempts at weaving this presumably fictional story out of history into a modern historical fiction. I have watched miniseries and feature-length films. Like so many others, I have loved the story since childhood. Never have I been so engrossed in the tale as I am right now. I hardly want to write this, the wish to pick up the third and final installment is that strong. As usual, I digress. Where were we . . . ?

The start of this novel has all of the heroes fighting for a peace that is Arthur's dream. It has Merlin searching for an item that he says will bring the pagan gods back to Britain. In a nod to true history, it has the Christians and their religion of peace fixing to oust the pagans with the utmost violence and treachery. Of course, best of all, it has subtle hints at the original Yoko Ono -- Guinevere -- who broke up the Knights of the Round Table in a way. I always preferred the versions where Guinevere could not be happy with even the most legendary man in Britain, but also had to have the questionable Lancelot. It always seemed more realistic and Cornwell delivers it in an unexpected way.

Well, enough giving away the plot. The loveable and fierce narrator from the first novel is back and as worthy as ever. "Enemy of God" is more Derfel's story than Arthur's. Arthur's trials are experienced through Derfel and Derfel has more than his fair share of challenges. Of all the characters, it is the easiest to connect with him. When Arthur finds it impossible to hate or be vengeful, Derfel is there to satisfy the natural hope for retribution that the reader (okay, me) feels. The realism of Derfel combined with the single-mindedness of Arthur makes for engrossing reading.

Another interesting aspect of "The Winter King" is Bernard Cornwell's use of numerous stories and legends. He borrows from various tales, choosing what suits his version best and making up the rest. Woven into this amalgamation of centuries old Arthur tales is the much tale of Tristan and Iseult. Some of the tale is different, but it is still there as a sweet and then predictably shocking addition. Damned if I was not hoping that little subplot would not turn out the way I knew it would.

This book is thorough. It is entertaining. It has all of the components one wants from a modern tale of King Arthur. I would suggest it to anyone who is an Arthur fan or really anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction novel. Cromwell deserves a pat on the back for this one, if only for managing to write a story using those impossible to decipher Welsh names.

Shelly Barclay

Short Story Review: "Longtooth" by Edgar Pangborn

"Longtooth" by Edgar Pangborn is the first short story in the anthology "Otherworldly Maine." I recently picked up the anthology because it features several short stories by familiar and world famous authors. I had never heard of Edgar Pangborn, but I am glad I gave him a shot. This short story has the simplicity, country feel and eeriness one must demand from a supernatural story set in Maine. One might say that Stephen King set this standard, but Pangborn came first. King just perfected it and gave it a little more perversity, which certainly appeals to the modern reader.

"Longtooth" is the story of two men who find themselves at odds with a creature they cannot explain. They are the only free and living human beings who have encountered this creature. Therefore, they also find themselves at odds with the locals, who understandably think them crazy or lying. The situation would be one of simple Maine yarn spinning, were it not for the fact that the creature's actions have made it appear as if one or both of these men have committed a crime.

Through stories of subtle and brief encounters with the creature -- including its call and the messes it leaves behind -- Pangborn introduces the reader to Longtooth. It has an eerie call that neither man can attribute to local wildlife, despite their familiarity with the creatures that inhabit the local woods. Harp, the man who is particularly tormented by the creature, describes it as ape-like with long teeth. He says it spends most of its time in the trees and eventually comes to the realization that the creature's thoughts are similar to those of a man. It is purposely escaping detection.

There is nothing too gory, too daring or too in your face about "Longtooth." There are no literary theatrics. It pans out precisely as one would expect if something like this story actually took place. There are no heroes. There is no burgeoning love in the face of danger. There is no camaraderie born of necessity. It is just two men against one creature and the word of these two men against every local. Pangborn says through his narrator Ben, "My word is good." and I think he is right.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: "The Winter King" by Bernard Cornwell

Morgan Le Fay
[Sister of King Arthur]
by Edward Burne Jones

"The Winter King" by Bernard Cornwell is a historical fiction novel chronicling King Arthur's rise to legend. It is written from the perspective of a warrior and friend of Arthur named Derfel. Derfel is now a Christian monk, but he is recalling the story of Arthur for Queen Igraine, not to be confused with Arthur's mother Igraine. While political intrigues dot the story and propel its plot, "The Winter King" is very much a story of war, pride, honor and religion.

The core of Bernard Cornwell's story is one of the most popular legends in all of history. In some ways, this makes it easy to draw the reader in. There is something about the magic of Merlin, the heroism of Arthur and the treachery all around them that makes for a good read. However, it is also very easy to make a poor King Arthur story, as evidenced by the many that collect dust on library shelves. Cornwell's "The Winter King" is not such a novel.

From the start, the reader gets a look at a Britain that holds a tenuous power. The lands have been plundered and abandoned by the Romans. The Saxons are an ever-looming threat. Britain is left without a high king when Arthur's father Uther dies, leaving his infant grandson the throne. Naturally, kings vie for that throne and Arthur is sworn to protect it and Mordred, his nephew. The ties that bind the kings of Britain are tenuous and Arthur struggles to hold them together, though he fumbles when he meets his equally legendary lover Guinevere. Merlin makes few appearances, but he is not forgotten by the narrator Derfel. He serves as a reminder that kings do not provide the only conflicts that threaten to destroy Britain. Religion is helping divide Britain's people.

In "The Winter King," Bernard Cornwell introduces the reader to an Arthur who is the right combination of battle-hardened leader and fool. He offers up a Merlin who is both helpful and indifferent. A Merlin set to his own purpose and using the men around him as pawns to that end. This story is everything we love about Arthurian legend and much more. The narrator alone is enough reason to love this book. In fact, Derfel trumps Arthur in many ways over the course of "The Winter King." While he extols the virtues of his dear leader, it is impossible not to see the charm in the simple son of a slave that Bernard Cornwell created to tell Arthur's story from a new perspective.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller is a controversial novel that has piqued the interest of censors since it was first published in France in 1934. To some, it is prosaic. To others, it is masterpiece. Either way, there is no denying its impact on censorship and on readers who care for the novel.

The best place to start in telling you about Tropic of Cancer is likely with language. If you are averse to "filthy" language, it is best to leave its reading to others. However, if "offensive" bursts of obscene language please you or do not affect you negatively, you have a shot at finishing this book un-offended. From start to finish, it is a lesson in obscene verbosity. Henry Miller could re-teach a sailor how to swear with this novel.

Now, in order to enjoy Tropic of Cancer it is essential to eke the meaning from these words and set aside any averseness to the words with which he conveys these meanings. You might wonder why anyone should bother if you are a not a fan of unpopular words. My answer to that would be that lying beneath those words is the strange beauty of one man's love and obsession with women and words. In a way, it is a romance.

Okay, perhaps calling Tropic of Cancer a romance novel is a stretch, but for some, it is truly that. While difficult to follow with its unpredictable switches between biography, fiction, past, future and present, it still manages to tell a story. It is essentially the story of a man's pursuit of his basest needs while coping with life as a pauper, lover, slightly insane writer, jealous admirer, etc. This novel is a whack on the head with a hammer. Forget plot. This book is a literary seizure and I loved every second of it. Pick it up, if you dare to challenge your concept of acceptable language or if all language is acceptable.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Changeling by Roger Zelazny

The Changeling by Roger Zelazny is a sci-fi fantasy novel about a boy named Dan and a man named Pol who are actually one and the same. It is the novel that comes before Madwand, which I sadly read and reviewed out of order. Both novels can be read as stand-alone novels. However, like any good series, they feel more complete together.

The Changeling begins on an exciting note. Rondoval castle is under attack and two wizards are going head-to-head. The end result of this battle is a child being removed from this magical world of wizards and being taken to a world that is more technologically advanced and less magical. It is the polar opposite of the first world in that respect. The child is traded for a young boy named Dan. Dan is taken to the other boy's world. The other boy, whose real name is Pol, is raised as Dan. Dan is raised by a simple farmer.

Eventually, the trade-off proves bad and Pol must return to his world to stop Dan from bringing too much technology into this magical place. Pol learns he is a wizard and takes back his parents' fallen castle. In many ways, it is a better novel than Madwand. The clash of magic and technology is more pronounced. The urgency is more vivid. In addition, there are more magical creatures and odd happenings.

Like other Zelazny novels, The Changeling is not too histrionic. He writes of magic as if it were a simple thing, explaining it visually and viscerally. He is an excellent writer, so do not mistake the last to mean his pieces are too shallow. It just means that he does not try to be overly dramatic. It is not a majestic dragon whose mountainous body alarms and astounds. It is a dragon and it is big. Okay, he words it better than that, but the dragons do not sparkle and he does not write himself into plot holes that no amount of backtracking can fix, *ahem* Stephenie Meyer. He does fantasy so it does not seem too fantastic. There is more room for an appealing, quick read this way.

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer is a wildly successful author and I admit to reading and enjoying some of her work. She has to admit that the vampire pregnancy and no reaction to menstruation things were just not easily explained, though. Venom is not sperm and blood is blood. However, I have to give her credit. She could probably make a house out of money. Zelazny might not have been able to. However, his novels do tend to hold water. 

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Long Walk by Stephen King

To be quite frank, I do not know where to begin with The Long Walk by Stephen King. I have read it several times and just recently reread it to write about it here. Reading it, thoughts swirl in my mind. However, when it comes down to talking about it, it is just plain hard to explain why it is so good. It is a mind screw -- a visceral, touching, horrifying and praiseworthy piece of writing. That string of adjectives does not do it justice. You will just have to bear with me while I try to find the right words and fail. I will start by saying that it was Stephen King's first novel, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. It makes my first novel look like a piece of chewed gum on the landing at South Station.

In short, The Long Walk is the story of a twisted sort of competition set in an alternate present. King does not go into too much detail about how or why the United States is this nation fraught with abuse of power, but we do know that is what it is. We also know that The Long Walk is a product of this complacency toward violence. It pits 18-year-old men against each other in a walk to the death. One hundred men set out on foot. One crosses the finish line. Along the way, people cheer on this massacre of young men. It is incomprehensible but says a lot about reality television long before reality television became the bane of society that it is today.

You will have to read The Long Walk for yourself to really understand how truly messed up it is. There is nothing supernatural about it. It is as realistic as it can get. If you do not think competitions to the death are realistic, you need to study history a little more. Despite the fact that reading it for oneself is ideal, there are a few points I can pick that highlight how gruesome of a creation The Long Walk (the book and the novel) is. The first is insomnia. These men walk until they cannot walk anymore. When they stop walking, they are shot and killed. Having suffered insomnia, I can say that three days without sleep under that kind of pressure can make you insane. King knew it too. Reading the novel, I could imagine exactly how that aspect would feel. It was terribly unnerving to think about it.

Another point about The Long Walk that really stood out to me was these young men's willingness to participate. Stephen King never ceases to amaze me with his insight into humanity. He hit the blind faith in living forever of every youth right on the head. To teenagers, death will not come until far in the future or at their own hands. That is the mind of a teenager. Adults could easily exploit this. In fact, adults do exploit this in reality television today. They do not exploit the death aspect, but certainly the "nothing can hurt me aspect." There are likely hundreds of individuals who are mortified at their behavior for our entertainment during their teens. I digress. The simple point is that Stephen King makes something like The Long Walk realistic. He makes suspension of disbelief effortless by using simple human truths to weave a fictional tale.

In conclusion, read it. Give it to teen boys. Remember, there is some language, but this is the kind of book teenage boys love.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: Rage by Stephen King

Rage is one of the novels Stephen King wrote under his pseudonym "Richard Bachman." It has a theme that is common in King's early novels and short stories -- school violence. Unlike many of his other novels and even one of his other school violence novels, there is nothing supernatural about Rage. This is a story that resonates in reality. It exposes a fear that is unavoidable in modern schools.

The antagonist with a somewhat protagonistic streak in this novel is high school student Charles Decker. He is also the narrator. From the beginning of the novel -- first period of a normal day at high school -- there are hints that something is not right with Charlie. As the novel progresses, the reader learns that Charlie has a recent history of violence in the school, though all that is learned is he did something to a teacher during class. The novel follows through Charlie's recollections of the day and some flashbacks of his life. There are moments where King skillfully makes it possible to pity him, but his life just was not traumatic enough for the reader to forgive him for what he has done and what he is about to do.

Before long, Charlie has shot and killed two teachers. The bulk of Rage takes place during his standoff with the police. He has an entire classroom full of his peers hostage, so it takes several hours for the standoff to end. During that time, Charlie threatens his school administrators and the police with violence on the other children. However, most of the children do not fear him or, if they do, they do not fear him for long. Stephen King, through Decker, turns the classroom into a teenage confessional. The students take this rare opportunity where life is not mapped out for them by an endless parade of parents and teachers to say what they want to say. Throughout this, Charlie is at times fascinated and confused by them. In some ways, he is just like the rest of them, with problems no greater or lesser. There is just something in him that snapped. That thing seems to disappear over the course of the novel, but the reader knows it is still there and that this cannot end well for Charlie.

In what this reader feels was a brilliant turn on Stephen King's part, Charlie does not hurt any of the students. He keeps them around for some reason even he does not quite understand. However, he allows them to hurt each other, even encourages it. In the end, he hurt the teachers and the students hurt each other. The message seems to be that, freed from the bonds of servitude every teenager owes society, they are all Charlie Deckers. They just have a door that Charlie lacks and Charlie encouraged them to open it a little whether he meant to or not.

Sometimes, King's novels are gore fests and mind screws, peppered with poignant human moments that help anchor his fantastic stories in reality. He is brilliant at just such novels. However, there are also those novels that are all poignancy, all real, all too human for some readers' liking. Rage is that kind of novel. It is something that can happen. In fact, it is something that happens all the time. King just manages to write about it in a way that does not demonize the child ("We Need to Talk about Kevin" anyone?) or make him some bullied kid with a score to settle. It is the way he makes him an "any kid" that really hits home. King has decided to ask his publishers to stop publishing the novel, though. Several school shootings have sadly been linked to it, though saying the novel "caused" them is a stretch. Still, Stephen King is a fiction writer. Surely, it would appall him to have his fiction become a reality whether it is his fault or not.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Accused witches at the Salem Witch Trials

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is a novel about a young girl, her relationship with her mother and her part in the Salem Witch Trials. Unlike many other novels about the time, this one is an intimate look at a simple family and the ties that bind mothers and daughters. It must be assumed that much of the novel is guessing on the part of Kathleen Kent, given the scant records of anything beyond "She's a witch!" that were kept at the time. Even the best researchers are unlikely to find more than the accusations given in court, rumors and the birth/death/marriage records of the accused's family. Nonetheless, Kathleen Kent paints a believable picture of the Carrier family and the woman who Cotton Mather so disdainfully called a "rampant hag," only to be remembered in history as a superstitious fool who was partly responsible for the most infamous wrongful executions in United States history.

Martha Carrier was one of the women hanged after being found guilty by the Court of Oyer and Terminer. She, unlike so many others, declared her innocence to the very end. In fact, she is known for being outspoken and derisive of her judges and the girls responsible for the witch-hunt. She had five children, a simple farm and a life marked by the deaths of family members from small pox and the hardships that came with being a poor colonist in 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Heretic's Daughter is written from the point of view of her daughter Sarah Carrier, who was also accused during the Salem Witch Trials, though just a girl at the time.

The beginning of the novel is very much a look at Martha's character. Everything from the relationships Sarah forms with her cousin to the way she behaves at home shows Martha's personality. Sarah grows to dislike her mother, who is coarse, disciplinarian and seemingly simple. This is the picture of Martha that is also painted by history, but there is no way of knowing if the feelings of resentment felt by Sarah in the novel were actually present. It seems almost a modern view of mother/daughter relationships. There is simply no way of knowing if a simple farm girl like Sarah would have resented her mother. As the story develops Kathleen uses a bit of artistic license and begins to paint Martha as a literate and somewhat soulful woman whose callousness comes from necessity. This makes for a good story, but really we only know that she was outspoken. She was likely pleasant by today's standards, anyway.

The tragedy that befalls this family is inevitable to any reader who approaches the novel with knowledge of the Salem Witch Trials. Four of the children are taken to jail after their mother. The only family member left to fight for them is their father. Here is where the story really becomes something special. Kathleen Kent obviously took great pains to accurately describe the attitudes of the accused and their accusers. She did a magnificent job of painting Salem as in the grip of hysteria, which it was. She also did a great job of including individuals who were against the harsh conditions in which the witches were kept. In the end, the emotions she paints are believable and touching. In short, this is a great book for anyone who loves a historical fiction novel. It is as if Kent is reaching back through the centuries to point her finger at the real criminals of the Salem Witch Trials. Bravo to Kathleen Kent on creating such a moving freshman novel.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: Madwand by Roger Zelazny

Madwand by Roger Zelazny is a science fiction/fantasy novel that I found literally tucked away in a dusty corner of my local library. It is not much of an insult to the writer, as that is where they hide all science fiction/fantasy that is not for children or young adults. Perhaps I will dedicate an article to why I think that is sometime, but for now, I am digressing. I did not come across Madwand by chance. I read a short story novel by Zelazny several years ago and have been itching to get my hands on more stuff by him ever since. The problem was, I lent the book out and the man's crazy last name made it impossible for me to find his work.

Finally, I figured out the name of the short story anthology and marched -- okay, drove -- to the library. I could not find anything in their computer and nothing in the fiction section (angry face). A few trips later, I found the dejected science fiction/fantasy section at the back of the nonfiction section (pointedly angry face). There, I found a mere three novels by this man, who has apparently written many more than that.

I grabbed one of the lonely Roger Zelazny novels and scurried away. Looking back, I am relatively certain I did not give it much of a once over. I did not want to miss my window of opportunity. You never know when the one other adult science fiction/fantasy fan in straightlacedville would show up and snatch it out of my claws. When I got home, I Googled the book and discovered that it is a sequel. Ugh. Well, I was not about to bring Madwand back to a library that a quick phone call showed did not have the first book. With that reasoning in mind, I read Madwand without the benefit of reading its precursor, Changeling. Luckily, it proved to be a decent stand-alone novel.

Basically, Madwand is about a sorcerer who was raised in a dimension without sorcerers. I am assuming it was Earth, but I will have to read Changeling to get that information. Before the start of Madwand, he returns to the world he was hidden from at birth. There happen to be many sorcerers there, but Pol -- our antihero of sorts -- was not raised to be a sorcerer, so he is a "madwand." So, we have an untrained, morally ambiguous sorcerer surrounded by other sorcerers of all ilks, dragons, deception, thieves, dwarves that live in factory/castle shells, a demon for a sometime narrator, glimpses of advanced dimensions full of nightmarish creatures and just about everything else you want from a sci-fi/fantasy novel. The best part is that Roger Zelazny is articulate. Oh, yes, you can forget about the last twenty years of pandering to middle school reading levels. Old school fantasy has literary finesse.

I get the sense that Madwand is better as a sequel. I really felt the lack of back-story as I read it. Of course, it can be read alone, as mentioned above, but I really wanted to know how Pol came to be where he was and I did not want to know from simple allusions (not illusions . . . snort) to his childhood and how he got to the world of castles and deceitful wizards. I will let you all know when I get my hands on Changeling.

Shelly Barclay

Five Classic Novels for Romance Lovers

Charlotte Bronte
I have to start this article by saying I despise the modern romance novel. Every aspect of modern romance is extraneous. Authors have to take leaps of epic proportions to create obstacles for their lovers. These leaps were not necessary in classic romance, as there were enough obstacles in every day life. Now, modern historical romances could have been the solution to this utter defilement of the love genre, but you might as well take the bosoms out of the corsets and call it what it is -- fodder for grocery store bookshelves. It is not my intention to be harsh, but I cannot help but be honest about my opinion. There is no denying that people a hundred years ago or more understood love in a different way than we do now.

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is essentially the story of a man -- Jay Gatsby -- who appears to have it all, but wants only one thing -- Daisy Buchanan. It was first published in 1925 and has remained required reading for anyone who wants to know about the evolution of American literature since. The story of Daisy and Jay is central to The Great Gatsby. However, it is the setting, the period and the other characters that make the story work. From angry mistresses to corrupt "associates," 20s style parties to tangled love affairs, The Great Gatsby has it all. Of course, dime a dozen spy novels have the same. It is simply Fitzgerald's writing and the tragic figure of Jay Gatsby that make the novel stand out among the multitudes of lesser novels.

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has the distinction of being the only novel on this list that has a simple, self-sufficient, average-looking and kind heroine. Sure, some of the other women on this list have one or some of these qualities, but only Jane Eyre has all. She is the most realistic, sad and inspiring of all these women. Her love is the simplest, least greedy and most respectable of all these fictional women. She makes this novel work. She is the kind of woman you want as a friend. She is the kind of women that you want to scold men into loving. In short, she is great. There are other elements to the novel that make it worthy of a "best" list, the greatest being charity, overcoming odds and mystery. The mystery of this novel is actually quite surprising.

3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind, ah, I wonder how many people are irritated that this is not number one on this list. Well, Margaret Mitchell did a wonderful job of writing something that is now not only considered classic romance, but was also historical romance at the time she wrote it. As such, it contains historical flaws that cannot be overlooked by some readers. So, while her love/hate story between Scarlett and the long-suffering Rhett is good, the background story is too full of holes. Also, Scarlet is not easy to like -- at all. Nonetheless, it is a very sweeping story, so Mitchell can be forgiven her inaccuracies. Furthermore, Scarlet is so dramatic and fitting in historic fiction that Mitchell can be forgiven for trying to make a mean, ignorant Scrooge of woman into a lovable character. At least she is resourceful and not swoony like other romance heroines.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Bronte sisters or the "Bell" brothers, as they were known then were masters of romance. However, none of the sisters was as good as Emily. Their achievements, while great, fall far short of Emily's masterpiece "Wuthering Heights." This really is not an insult, given that nearly every novel in the genre falls short of Wuthering Heights. Unfortunately, it was the only novel young Emily was able to write before her untimely passing in 1848.

What makes Wuthering Heights stand out among the simpering masses is the nature of the lovers in Emily's book. Heathcliff and Catherine hate each other. I am not talking about in the way that silly damsels say "No, no, no." when they mean, "Yes, yes, yes." in these ridiculous cheap love novels (okay, even one novel on this list). I mean, they really hated each other. They went out of their way to hurt each other. There was no happily ever after, no, "I'm so sorry. I've really loved you all this time." They went to their deathbeds with angry obsessions of each other that passed for love in the dreary background of Bronte's "Wuthering Heights."

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is widely regarded as the best romance novel of all time. Jane, who spent her life single and writing, manages to take her telltale "everything is going to be fine" style and turns it into a great love story. The novel was first published in 1813 and has stayed at the top of its class ever since. In fact, it is at the top of all classes. People simply love this book. Well, most people.

To be frank, I would have put Emily Bronte's magnum opus at number one on this list and Jane's quaint love story at number two were it not for the sheer popularity of this novel. Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are legends in literature. For me, the substance is not as profound as that of Wuthering Heights. Nonetheless, I find the dialogue and characters of Pride and Prejudice hugely amusing. Despite my preference for Wuthering Heights, I too am among the masses that love Pride and Prejudice. A certain innocence about it is lacking in Wuthering Heights. Of course, Pride and Prejudice lacks the emotional range of Wuthering Heights. It makes up for it with satire of the simplest form.

Shelly Barclay