Best New Year's Short Stories and Poems

If you are like me, reading a relevant poem, short story or novel gets you into the holiday spirit, no matter which holiday is. That is why I decided to do a holiday series this year and get everyone inspired to read (hopefully). Today, after some effort, I came up with a list of New Year's stories and poems that should do the trick. If you think of any I do not have listed here, please feel free to leave the suggestion in the comments section!

"A New Year's Eve Adventure" by E.T.A. Hoffmann

While he may be wrong with this assessment, "You must surely know that on this season, Christmas and New Year's, even though it's so fine and pleasant for all of you, I am always driven out of my peaceful cell onto a raging, lashing sea.", at least the idea that it is pleasant for many, E.T.A. Hoffmann weaves an eerie and unusual New Year's Eve tale with this classic that gets overshadowed by his more famous works.

The story starts with hints of an impending sorrow wrought by the Devil juxtaposed with the hint of a promise of a rekindling of passionate love. Quickly, you get the sense that there is a wild joke being played on the narrator, perhaps a very sinister one. The situation is averted when he leaves in a hurry, but it is only to meet a few more strange characters and to immerse himself in the small pleasures of a beer cellar that are expressed as positively sinful, though quite run of the mill today.

During his escape, he seems to find to horridly kindred spirits. One small man with a hatred of mirrors and one tall and sad man who seems to have lost his shadow, but what do the misfortunes of these three men mean? Well, apart from a holiday nightmare, very little to do with New Year's, but the story is great and has enough to do with the holiday to feature on this list.

"New Year's Eve" by Lord Alfred Tennyson (Poem)

I'll keep this description brief, as this is a poem rather than a short story. It will suffice to say that it is a wonderful poem, as the name of the author may attest if you know much of poetry. It is both sad and uplifting. In a way, it is the story of the end of a happy story, if that makes any sense.

"New Year's Night" by Henry Lawson

"New Year's Night" is the story of a holiday and an anniversary set in a hot farmhouse in Australia's farming country. A simpler story is not on this list and it takes a certain appreciation for the little things in family life to understand the magic in this tale. It is certainly not my favorite story of a New Year's Eve or Day, but it has the spirit of love and family between its few pages.

"A New Year's Gift" by Guy de Maupassant

This story begins with the narrator in a place many of us probably hope to be on New Year's Day -- reviewing the previous year and maturely taking stock of experiences. In the case of our storyteller, the thing of most import is the state of his romantic relationship with a woman named Irene. Very soon the woman unexpectedly joins him, but she is no good mood. Because the mystery is so quickly introduced and so clear of other distractions, it builds a natural curiosity that spurs the reader on to finish the brief tale. It is not long before the torrid secrets of their relationship and her life come spilling out.

This story ends with a bit of a shock and, to the modern reader, perhaps with a loss of respect for one of the two characters. Nonetheless, it is a New Year's Eve gift that is sought and it is received.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year,

Shelly Barclay

Book Giveaway! and Spotlight on Marie Drake's "Three Rules:" A Suspense Thriller With all the Right Ingredients

"Three Rules" cover
Copyright Marie Drake 2013
Animal lover, hiker, home cook, mother and crochet aficionado Marie Drake has somehow managed to pen her freshman suspense thriller amid her busy life of caring for children, many of whom are foster children, volunteering and keeping house. While she may lead her own personal dream life with her beloved family, her protagonist Hope Wellman in "Three Rules" does anything but. Read ahead for an excerpt from the up-and-comer Marie Drake's new novel "Three Rules."

" I want to spit on his grave, but I won't. That would cause the surrounding people to be offended and confused, all these people who didn't truly know him but honor him at this service. I hold my frame as stiff as a board beneath the dark, rumbling sky full of churning clouds – the perfect weather to send him off. I twist my buttons trying to make sure they all point in the same direction. It's a trivial thing to be focused on at a grave site, but my obsessiveness won't allow me to stop until I fix them all.
I guess most people would be sad attending two family members' funerals so close together. I'm not. We buried Grandfather Leonard not long ago. I didn't cry. I didn't know him. I didn't know what I was missing by not knowing him. I don't have any grandparents on my mother's side either. I wasn't his real grandchild anyway – and he never fussed over his own children – so why would he fuss over their children? I'm wearing the same black dress. My black hat covers my long blonde hair, fashioned into a bun. A veil conceals my face. I'm not crying for the loss of this man either, but no one can tell. Another rumble of thunder sounds and lightning crackles through the clouds. It seems appropriate that the sky swell up and spit on him for me. The pearly gates will not open to welcome him. No, he will not spend a single moment of eternity in a peaceful state.
There is no open casket, no public viewing. The authorities recovered his boat with evidence of some blood, a few strands of hair, and empty alcohol bottles. It was a logical conclusion that he fell, bumped his head, and went into the water. They did not recover his body. Too bad, I may find some morbid sense of satisfaction seeing him laying there in a coffin dead.
This ceremony over an empty grave seems very strange. Among all these tearful people mourning and sharing embraces, I separate myself. I look at them. I can see the fear in some of their faces. He died very young. They're afraid of death.
I scan the cemetery. So many headstones, so many graves, they all contain secrets – even the empty ones. I stand alone, twisting these buttons, counting the reasons I'm glad he's dead."

This excerpt coupled with the following quote from Hope Wellman, “I have learned three rules in my life: 1.) The most dangerous people in the world are not always strangers. 2.) The scariest things imaginable are not those that can kill you, but those you can live through. And probably the most prominent: 3.) The most horrible possibility is not what could happen to you, but what you could become – I became a killer.” have sucked me in. I just could not wait to find out what happened to Hope and what is going to happen to her as the pages turn. 




Enter to win a signed copy of "Three Rules" here!

Learn more about the author at www.mariedrake.com

"Three Rules" is already available for purchase at Amazon!

Shelly Barclay


Best Horror Stories for Christmas

Christmas is associated with uplifting stories while Halloween is associated with terror. However, some traditions involve telling not necessarily Christmas related ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We're not talking about ghost stories like "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, though that is a great example of a story that could be family friendly while kicking up a cool tradition. We're talking about actually scary or adult scary tales that either relate to Christmas or were just made for Christmas.

"Ghost Stories of an Antiquary" by Montague Rhodes James

For some strange reason, I did not even know about this book until I downloaded Librivox on my iPhone so that I could listen to books while I fell asleep. Turns out, this isn't a great idea for drifting off to sleep, though I did get used to it. At any rate, as it happens, M.R. James wrote these stories for telling at school during Christmas time and they are actually quite chilling. "The Mezzotint" may be my favorite, but that could change by next Christmas.

"The Stupidest Angel" by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore is one of my favorite satirists, particularly because of "Lamb," but "The Stupidest Angel" is pretty darn good itself. It is about an angel who manages to wreak havoc on Earth after a series of hilarious blunders. The result is a horrifying Christmas for those involved. While this story is not for kids, it manages to be funny, so I would not exactly classify it as horror. I think people who like either genre or both will all enjoy this strange novel.

"Santa Steps Out" by Robert Devereaux

This rarely occurs, but I'm actually suggesting this story without having read it. In my searches for great stories, this one has been mentioned by book loving acquaintances on many occasions. For that reason, I am saying perhaps you should give it a try. It involves an errant Santa and a number of other made up creatures getting up to nefarious deeds during the off-season on the North Pole. From what I surmise, you shouldn't read this book if you are very attached to the commercial version of Santa.

We horror lovers do not have to give over to stories of good will and peace. I mean, it is wonderful to have them in real life for the holidays and always, but if you want gore, fear and suspense in your fiction, you can have it all year long. This Christmas, fill up with zombies, stupid angels, naughty Santa and vengeful ghosts.

Happy Holidays,

Shelly Barclay

Best Short Christmas Stories

Tolstoy looking very much the
Russian equestrian Santa
Christmas short stories are the cream of the season. You get all of the joy (or sorrow), giving (or shaming) and love (or disdain) all in one quick dose. The best of these stories are ones that warm or break your heart. For some unknown reason, the season has inspired some of the best writers in history to tackle the underlying feelings of the holiday and turn them into unforgettable stories, my favorite of which are listed right here.

"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry

Beside Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which is a mite too long for my list, "The Gift of the Magi" is my favorite written Christmas story by giant leaps and bounds. For me, it sums up everything that Christmas is meant to be. As long as you have everything you absolutely need, you do everything you can to give to another, be it someone you love or a stranger. O. Henry brings this principle to heartwarming life with a newlywed couple. [Spoiler Alert] Each has a cherished possession. Each decides that the other deserves an accessory for the aforementioned possessions. They wind up selling the things they love the most for the person they love the most, so both of their gifts are useless, but the thought behind them and the sacrifice is an exquisite example of what Christmas is supposed to be.

"The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Anderson and "Matchless: A Christmas Story" by Gregory Maguire

Here, I combine two tales because the first is amazing and the second is another look at the first written by a man who has captivated millions by giving new angles to old pieces of literature. The former looks at Christmas through the eyes of the severely underprivileged and is the saddest Christmas story I have ever encountered. The latter takes the same story through the eyes of another underprivileged child who [Spoiler Alert] very narrowly escapes the same fate. Both are well worth reading.

"Papa Panov's Special Christmas" by Leo Tolstoy

For me, a non-religious person, the religious aspect of Christmas is typically just so much noise. I was raised with Christmas and raised with the giving values I now associate with it. I do not attribute them to religion, but I certainly have a right to celebrate, regardless, given the overwhelming Christmas culture in the U.S., but I digress. However, I am not less moved by a brilliant story simply because it contains an aspect of Christmas that I do not believe. Such is the case for me with this story. [Mild Spoiler Alert] It takes the figure of Jesus and puts it not into those who help the needy, but the needy themselves. [Bigger Spoiler] A kindly old man hoping to see his beloved savior on Christmas looks for him all day only to realize later that every person in need that he helped that day had something of Jesus in him or her. It's a lovely sentiment written by a true master, so what more could you want?

"The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern

Have you ever seen "It's a Wonderful Life?" If so, you know the story of "The Greatest Gift." It was this, for lack of a better word, wonderful story that inspired the film. In my opinion, "It's a Wonderful Life" is the most beautiful Christmas film ever developed. A cranky man just looking to get away can be hiding the most giving and self-sacrificing individual for miles. A dirty old beggar can be an angel. An old rotting house can be a home. Most of all, you can be much more important than you think you are. What you are to other people is what determines this. Anyway, all of those brilliant messages are still there in the short, but sweet Van Doren Stern story that started it all.

I know that this list is woefully short, especially considering the sheer number of Christmas tales out there. I'll just have to pick up where I left off next year and hope you get some good reading in this holiday season.

Merry Christmas,
Shelly Barclay

Best Halloween Movies for Kids Based on Halloween Books for Kids

So many great children's films are based on great children's books. This definitely applies to Halloween films and films that are just awesome to watch around Halloween. The films and novels I have listed here are all relatively modern and that is not because older films and older novels are not good. It is simply because kids are, by definition, pretty modern. Therefore, if I want to write a list that is going to be relevant at all for your kids, I should probably include stuff that is not going to bore them to tears. So, without further ado . . .

"The Witches" by Roald Dahl and "The Witches" (1990)

This is the oldest film/book of this list. The reason it made the list is because it is simply so awesome and really does not require the special effects that make newer movies so cool. Why? Because it is a Jim Henson film and it has actors like Anjelica Huston creeping out little kids everywhere. What makes it such a good kid's story? It is simple. The plot pits children against evil. Children love it when the protagonist is a child, as evidenced by literally every movie on this list. What makes it such an awesome movie? It freaked me out as a kid. There. I said it.

"Coraline" by Neil Gaiman and "Coraline" (2009)

Well, the film for this selection does have more animated old lady breasts in it than I care for, but it also has a strong-willed (if a little bratty) protagonist, an epically strange villain and a bunch of other weirdos to round out the cast. This movie/film is not exactly made for Halloween, but it has all of the elements that a good Halloween film should have, so I say get this one out around Halloween time, elderly boobs and all. (Note: They're really not showing, just a little too prominent for my delicate sensibilities.)

Every Single Harry Potter Book by J.K. Rowling and Every Single Harry Potter Film

Argue with me if you want. Tell me I am wrong, if you wish. That is your privilege, but I am going to come right out and say that this series is everything you want in a Halloween movie for kids. They progress in age appropriateness, so you have a great film for every age. They have witches, wizards, werewolves, shape shifters and all other manner of magic. They have drama, suspense, likeable and detestable characters -- I mean, what else could you want? Even if you are one of those soulless creeps that doesn't like Harry Potter, the least you can do is let your kids watch it around Halloween time. Do not let them miss out because of your bad taste. It's in their best interest.

All right, that should do it, unless you want to watch kids' movies until you are ready to stick your head in the pumpkin with the candle still lit. If you have the time, pick up the books to accompany the films. Your kids may want to get some chills beneath the covers while they get ready for bed this October. None of these books is horribly scary, so if a child is progressed enough to read them, he or she should be emotionally ready to handle them.

Happy Halloween!

Top Five Halloween Movies Based on Novels

The Exorcist Title
Some of the best horror to be found is in the pages of books. Writers have the advantage of using the reader's imagination and painting just about any picture possible. Films have the disadvantage of having to rely on reality and some special effects, though the latter are getting better all the time. When these books are turned into films, sometimes you manage to get the benefits of both by partaking of both. That is why the following five films are among the best Halloween movies ever filmed.

5. "Interview with the Vampire" 

The film "Interview with the Vampire" features youthful versions of Hollywood mega stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. The original novel was the first in a massively successful series by supernatural horror author Anne Rice. Now, you could easily argue that it is not a very scary film and you would be correct, at least when you compare it with other films on this list. That is why it comes in at number five. However, some people like their Halloween romantic and the homoeroticism that both the novel and the film swim with is certainly that.

4. "Pet Sematary "

Before "Pet Sematary" became a reasonably good horror film, it was a book by Stephen King about a land that had turned "sour" and would resurrect the dead buried there. Most of the film trods along well enough, but does not exactly have constant chills, that is until [spoiler alert] a very small boy rises from the dead to become a creepily adorable psycho killer with a taste for flesh and love for stabbing. When that tiny voice asks its daddy to come and play and you know very well that it means "Come over here so I can stab you too," sh*t gets really spooky.

3. "Dracula" 

With all of the decreases in horror lovers' sensitivity, films like "Dracula" are simply not as frightening anymore. However, this is Bram Stoker's story, the one that sparked literally every vampire story that ever followed. If you love horror and you haven't seen the original, you are doing it wrong. Go check it out and get the book while you are at it. You may find the novel is actually quite frightening.

2. "The Shining"

Stephen King is making the list again with his story of a haunted hotel, the evil that lurks there, the father it controls and the son it torments. The novel and film version are quite different. Of all the stories on this list, this is the one with the most to offer in terms of diversity. Stanley Kubrick really focuses on the tribulations of the alcoholic father while King's focus is the shining of young Danny.

1. "The Exorcist"

Whether you like it or not, this is the scariest novel and film of all time. Many will disagree with me, but many will also agree. When you take the supernatural, in this case the ultimate evil, and put it in a child, it makes for some scary Halloween fodder. Moreover, the filmmakers were committed to bringing the disgusting bits of William Peter Blatty's novel to life, so you get quite a few ick moments to go with your "Holy crap, this atheist wants holy water beside her bed" moments.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: "Doctor Sleep" by Stephen King

Stephen King has done it again and I am sure that none of you reading this (you are reading this, right?) are surprised. Last week, I was working from home, as I always do, when I got a package that I assumed was some clothing I had purchased online. It was awfully heavy for a pair of leggings, but I have received some strange stuff in packages from eBay vendors, so I still thought nothing of it until I pulled off the edge and saw the words "Doctor Sleep" written smokily down the spine of a book. My boyfriend, who was facetiming me at the time knew exactly what it was. He had sent it to me. I dug right in and didn't come up for air until a day and a half later when I was done. For me, it was the same experience I had with nearly every other book Stephen King wrote.

So, you already know I liked "Doctor Sleep" and I have to say that it is not because I am a rabid Stephen King fan. I am, of course, but I have damn good reasons for liking this book. Firstly, it is a sequel to "The Shining," but it is not about "The Shining." It is about the shining and even more so than its predecessor. When I say that, I mean that we clearly can't go back to The Overlook and spend another novel there, though, in some ways this novel does that. Instead, King explores the namesake of the first book to a much fuller degree than the first time around. This time, we are dragged through the good, bad and ugly aspects of the shining via Danny Torrance (Warning: This is where the spoilers begin), aka Doctor Sleep.

I liked that this sequel does not lean on "The Shining" the way it could have. That was a huge success for King and a complex enough story to pull an immediate and heavily replicative (for lack of an actual word) sequel out of it. Of course, there is a ton of "The Shining" in "Doctor Sleep," but they are two completely different novels. Danny isn't a boy. The antagonist isn't a haunted hotel and there are subplots that could not have existed in the limited space of The Overlook. It's exciting in ways that Stephen King has only become in the past few decades. I mean, how could he have gone all these years writing masterfully without getting subtly better all the time?

For me, everything that King writes feels like it is viewed through 50s colored glasses. I do not know why. Maybe it is King's taste in music, the way he describes people, the cars he prefers to write about, etc. Shoot, I don't even know if he writes about the 50s at all. It is just the way I see it. So, that being said, you will probably meet some characters and places that seem a lot different to you than they did to me when I read "Doctor Sleep," but I think you will like them as much as I did -- even the bad ones.

If you don't have the time and just want to get into this one as soon as possible, don't bother rereading "The Shining." You don't need it. King will remind you of what you need to know and the rest will come or remain hidden. It doesn't matter. You will fall right into step with "Doctor Sleep," either way.

Shelly Barclay

Great Short Stories With Free Versions Online

Before I start, I should mention that you are going to notice a few things about this list that reflect my preferences as a writer. It shouldn't come as a shock on this kind of blog, but I figured I would tell you that all of these stories are classics and most would fit in the horror genre, though they aren't the dripping with gore you would expect from modern horror. So, you have your shot to bugger off (I love Britishisms) if you do not like classic horror.

Oh, I should also note that the free versions I have posted here are current as of today. I have no idea what rights the sites hosting them have to the stories or if the stories are in the public domain, with the exception of Poe, which is certainly public domain. Please let me know if one goes down or if you know it is posted illegally.

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson (1948)

I am going to go ahead and start with the lady of the hour. You may know this story, you may not, but Shirley Jackson broke right into what was largely a boy's club with her "The Lottery." This creepy short story is a very quick read and well worth it. I've already reviewed it, if you want to read more about it here. However, I suggest using your reading time taking in the actual story, which you can find here.

"The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)

I had to refrain from filling this entire post with Poe links as all of his work is available online. (I love you, public domain.) When you follow the link for "The Black Cat," check out the rest of the site, which contains many more stories. I chose this one to highlight for one reason only. It scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. While I am an atheist and I think I always have been, I really wanted to believe in things like ghosts, bad luck, aliens coming to Earth, etc. I like to be scared. Therefore, when I read "The Black Cat," I let it be feasible. That, in turn, led to walls being creepy to me. Count how many walls you see today and imagine what that was like for my very little self. I know . . . awesome. Now, for your reading pleasure, click here for some chills.

"Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov (1941)

"Nightfall," and Asimov's writing in general if we're to be honest, is really cool because it is science fiction horror. This story takes us to another planet where the attributes of the planet itself allow Asimov to explore the heart of man's most innate fear -- the darkness. This is a very well developed story for being of the short story genre. Enjoy it here.

"The Dunwich Horror" by H.P. Lovecraft (1928)

Lovecraft wrote very many great short stories. I chose to add "The Dunwich Horror" for a few reasons. Firstly, it takes place in a fictional town in my home state. Secondly, the name Arkham derives from this story and I'm a Batman fan. Thirdly, it is a great example of the Lovecraftian universe. You will find his famous Necronomicon and Cthulhu here.

"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry (1905)

This story is quite different from the others I have posted here, but it struck me so much when I read it as a kid that it has to be one of the best short stories of my lifetime. "The Gift of the Magi" is about family, love and sacrifice. Coming from a large family and focusing a lot of my life on them makes me appreciate the kindness and support those of us who are lucky in family have available to us. Being poor can help you appreciate the story as well. Before I ruin it for you with my lack of literary prowess, go ahead and read O. Henry's masterpiece here.

Jim "Junior" Rennie: Differences Between CBS's "Under the Dome" and Stephen King's "Under the Dome"

As a fan of virtually all things Stephen King, I was naturally excited for "Under the Dome" to come out on CBS and have been watching diligently since the first episode aired. Of course, I expected there to be some major differences. I mean, anyone who has seen shows "based on" works by Stephen King, such as "Haven" knows that the apple sometimes falls very far from the tree. I say that as a fan of "Haven." As it pertains to "Under the Dome," the biggest difference I picked up was with Jim "Junior" Rennie, played by Alexander Koch.

Note: The differences here are only up until Episode 11 of the first season. If you notice any other differences or mistakes in the ones I have listed, please feel free to comment. 

Warning: Spoilers for both the novel and the television series are contained throughout this post.

The first thing I noticed about Junior Rennie that was not in the novel was his lack of migraines. In Stephen King's "Under the Dome," Junior has crippling migraines that seem to be the catalyst for a series of insane acts. These are caused by a tumor that has also made no appearance in the series.

One of the biggest story lines involving Junior Rennie in the novel has him killing two young women and raping their corpses over the course of the novel, even thinking of them as his girlfriends. The first girl he kills is none other than Angie McCain. Yep, the girl he locks up and seems more and more to genuinely love in the CBS series is dead for most of the novel. Of course, she does make many appearances as a corpse and in Rennie's thoughts. The other girl is Dodee Sanders, who is Angie's best friend in the novel. She is a completely different person in the series.

While Junior Rennie is a relatively violent man in the "Under the Dome" TV series, he is nowhere near the sick man he is in the book. In the novel, he enlists the help of his friends to assault and beat protagonist Dale "Barbie" Barbara. In the show, Barbie repeatedly gets the better of Junior in several ways. Further, Junior is less murderous in the show, only killing one person so far to avenge the near-rape of Angie.

In the show, the acting sheriff makes Junior Rennie a deputy when it becomes clear that the town is going to need additional law enforcement. Junior is somewhat estranged from his father at this time due to the younger Jim's kidnapping of Angie McCain. In the novel, it is Jim pulling Junior's strings and making him a deputy.

Generally speaking, Junior is a far more ambiguous character in the television series. He appears to be connected to three other people trapped in the dome in a way that is important to the plot. He is the so-called "fourth hand." He may even have been acting out of love for Angie when he kidnapped her and be a genuine good guy as it pertains to her. He is certainly not the strictly antagonistic Junior Rennie of the novel. The writers of the show would be hard pressed to take a turn that way as well, given the mysterious nature they have given him thus far.

There is no doubt that other differences are coming in the final episode of the season and in the season(s) to come. At this point, there is no telling what will happen, but feel free to note coming differences in the comments section here.

Shelly Barclay

My Favorite SCPs or Check Out This Great Website

If you have never heard of or read anything from the SCP Foundation, now is the time do it. I discovered this site years ago by chance and remember staying up extremely late that night reading entries. The premise of the site is that it is the database of a secret organization that catalogs and keeps strange objects and creatures. The "stories" on the website are written as entries in the database by SCP staff. There are a lot of these entries, so expect to spend some time there.

Each of the entries on the SCP Foundation wiki was created by a fan who took the time to carefully craft an SCP. Now, before you groan at the thought of user-generated content, let me tell you that the site is rigorously policed. If something is not up to par and done by the site's specific guidelines, it is gone. The result is a very consistent collection of SCPs. Now, my favorites, which is what we are getting to, are all scary or creepy ones, so if that is not your thing, head over to the site without my guidance. If you like scary, check these out.

SCP-173

This SCP entry is the highest rated on the entire site, so I guess I'm not the only one who likes it. It is brief, but brilliant despite its brevity. The picture (many of these entries come with a picture of an object or creature) is a strange humanoid thing in a room with what looks like brown gunk on the floor. It also appears to have blood on its face. Creepy enough, but kind of par for course when it comes to fright. It's the description and how this creature must be contained that will get you. Doctor Who fans will be reminded of "Blink."

SCP-231

This SCP is left up to the imagination for the most part. There are so many pieces of the entry left out on purpose and so much allusion to a horrific series of acts done for the greater good, so to speak, that the reader has to fill in many of the blanks. If you are anything like me, this will leave you with a chilling tale. Feel free to comment here about your thoughts on this SCP.

SCP-087

I both love and hate SCP-087. The set up for the chills is brilliant. The picture is perfect for the entry. There is a ton of extra content that is well worth the read. Of the three here, this one is my new favorite, if only for the amount of additional content that adds to the story so well. What you are going to get is a seemingly never-ending staircase down into nowhere, the sound of a baby crying and a menacing humanoid entity that makes me super psyched that this kind of thing is not real.

Please, if any of you ever try your hand at writing an SCP, share it here. I love reading these things and love being pointed in the direction of new ones. Also, good luck, whether you are a reader, writer or both.

Shelly Barclay

Short Story Review: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is one of the most chilling short stories of the 20th century. It is not horror, but it is horrifying. It is not religious, but it is a commentary on blind tradition. It is not violent, but it hints at a violence that is intolerable to most of us. All in all, it is just a few pages that are well worth the effort it takes to read them. The brevity itself lends yet another element to the story, as it amazingly needs no more words to say quite a lot.

This paragraph is going to be a bit of a spoiler. Sorry, it is hard to write about such a short story without spoiling anything. You can go ahead and skip to the next. I promise I will stop my spoiling short of the next paragraph. "The Lottery" surrounds an eponymous event that is described with such complete lack of emotional involvement by the writer that the reader is forced to draw all of their own conclusions about emotions and morality with the sudden realization that comes at the end -- these casually talking people are figuratively drawing straws on who is going to get stoned to death and no one is going to stop short of throwing stones, even if it is at Mommy. It adds up to a scathing, though utterly simple, look at the ignorance of blindly following tradition for the sake of tradition.

There is not much to say about "The Lottery" that the story does not say for itself. Jackson used as few words as possible to tell a story that is much more complex in its ideas than it is in its scope. It is one of the few stories that cannot be properly dissected in fewer words than the story itself. I really have no words for the level of sophistication in simplicity that she achieved and can only urge you to read this story, if you have not yet done so.

Shelly Barclay 

Short Story Review: "The Fog Horn" by Ray Bradbury

"The Fog Horn" by Ray Bradbury is quite short, even for a short story, but it combines several themes that result in a story that is both unusual and thought provoking. Anyone with a heightened interest in classic literature has come across the lighthouse keeper stories, sea serpent stories, man against wild stories and sad tales of a beast that is the last of its kind, but, to my knowledge, there is no other that brings together all of these elements.

It takes only a page for Bradbury to hint at something strange and perhaps one or two more to bring it right to the reader. There is no real interaction with the antagonist of the story. The narrator and his companion can only watch and experience the strangeness of an ancient beast and how a fog horn breaks its heart.

There are two reasons you should give "The Fog Horn" a chance. Firstly, this is Ray Bradbury. If he has ever had a miss, I have not yet seen it. Secondly, it is so short that you have barely any time to lose.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" by Douglas Adams


"The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" is a Dirk Gently novel by the science fiction and humor mastermind Douglas Adams. It follows the adventures of Dirk and a woman who met Thor while waiting to board a plane at Heathrow Airport as they mingle with gods, psychopaths, mechanics and eagles. Before jumping into this book, you should know that this is no "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," but what is? It still amounts to good, if not entirely comprehensible, reading.

One thing you will notice about "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" is that Douglas Adams' trademark sense of humor is present and accounted for. You will certainly get a laugh or two if you do not mind heads spinning on records and petulant gods saying things that do not make sense and will never make sense no matter how many pages you read.

A friend of mine, who happens to be British and we all know they love Adams, actually said to me that he loves Douglas Adams, but not Dirk Gently. He could never find himself enjoying the Gently novels. While I could definitely consume more than one, I was surprised at how easily I could put the book down and walk away. In fact, reading time during my dance with this book became nap time more often than not. You can decide for yourself what you think that says about it. The fact remains that it was written well and by a Shelly-appointed genius, so we really should not complain.

Shelly Barclay

Author of the Month: Suzanne Collins

Suzanne Collins
courtesy of Scholastic

Those of you that read Cracked Spines regularly, if there is any such person or persons, may notice that there has never been an author of the month on this blog. Therefore, you might be asking yourself why the title of this post contains the phrase. Well, being ambitious likely beyond what my schedule will allow, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about one author per month here on Cracked Spines. Why not talk about the people behind the books on a book blog? I'm starting with Suzanne Collins, an exceptional writer of children and young adult novels.

If you know Suzanne Collins, and you probably know at least her work, you likely know her as the woman who wrote "The Hunger Games" trilogy. This successful trilogy has been talked about on Cracked Spines before and with good reason. It's brilliant. The concepts are not exactly new, but the way she assembled them certainly is. Nonetheless, "The Hunger Games" is not all this talented author has conjured up.

Suzanne Collins began her career as a television writer. She did children's shows on prominent networks like Nickelodeon. In fact, I did not know it then, but I watched a show for which she was a writer when I was a kid, the totally lame but secretly loved "Clarissa Explains it All." In 2003, she transferred her talent to novels with the first installment of her popular "Underland Chronicles." The rest has been literature and Hollywood history.

Here's to you, Suzanne Collins. Thanks for writing children's books that are easily enjoyed by adults as well.

If you have a favorite novel or television show that she has been a part of, share it in the comments!

Shelly Barclay 

Novella Review: "Mile 81" by Stephen King


"Mile 81" is one of Stephen King's shortest novellas. Its scope is even small for a short story, but it packs the same punch as King's better works. Expect to read it in a single sitting and have a few, "Oh, King" moments when you read it. I should also point out that readers of "On Writing" will almost be able to see the advice King gives at work in "Mile 81." It might be the shortness of the novel or the smallish area of the setting, but he's bravely leaving a lot up to the imagination and this imagination took the bait.

This piece hearkens back to some of King's earliest works in many ways, but it also has some mentions more modern things than this reader of early backwoods King novels is used to. For example, he mentions the Facebook game "Words with Friends," and even has a cop playing it on an iPad. Slow down, Mr. King. I still want banana seated Schwinns from you, sir. Anyway, it all pans out in that eerie way that Stephen King makes you see a book as though through a '50s or '60s looking glass, and then, "Bam!" there's the token young man seeing a poster, but this one is shaved. (If you've read "Dreamcatcher," you know the kind of poster I mean!) It's a Burger King and not a vintage restaurant chain. It's an SUV instead of a pickup. Well, maybe that's me, but I liked the reminders of it being a modern time, as it contrasted with the novella's focal point -- a muddy station wagon.

When I say that "Mile 81" hearkens back to early King, I mean it in several ways, but none more than the monster car theme it has going. Part of me wonders what horrible or wonderful experience Stephen King had with a car when he was a child that made him able to imagine them in such a way. My favorite was "From a Buick 8," but the inevitable unanswered questions of such a short story make "Mile 81" tasty for me as well. I both love and hate unanswered questions in a story. Perhaps that is why I like King so much.

Before I go, there is one more thing I have to point out and that is that readers will likely appreciate the pace of this novella. Stephen King has a tendency to jump back and forth between dragging butt and hauling it in his full-length novels. Even some of his short stories are a little too verbose when I am chomping at the bit for something to happen, but not "Mile 81." Every break to a new chapter ends with something interesting and starts with the promise of the same. From a kid going to sleep on a questionable mattress in a questionable place to a couple of children stranded on the side of the road, there is plenty of suspense, but not one single pause before the suspense is satisfied.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King


"The Wind Through the Keyhole" is a novel in the Dark Tower series that many of Stephen King fans never thought we would see. It arrived in 2012, much to my surprise, and fits between book four and book five. Most of the novel is a recollection of Roland's containing both his first job as a gunslinger and a story his mother used to tell him when he was a child. If you are anything like me, you think these types of moments in the series are the best. "The Wind Through the Keyhole" keeps up this belief for me. I was hooked into each story within a story, of which there are three.

The first layer of this story within a story within a story is that of Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy. They meet an old man who drops hints to Roland that something is coming their way. Roland eventually catches on. I would rather not give away what happens, so let it suffice to say that the ka-tet winds up holed up in a deserted town together. It is here that the two other stories fold into the first.

Roland first begins telling a tale about an early experience in his gunslinger life where he went up against a skin walker. In this story, he tells a small boy another story and this is the heart of the novel and the eponymous story -- "The Wind Through the Keyhole." While this story is an ostensibly fictional tale from Roland's childhood, it also has familiar figures, one of whom signs his name "RF." If you know who this is, you should already be reading "The Wind Through the Keyhole." If not, start with the Dark Tower series up until at least book four. If you really want to do it right, read "The Stand" as well.

Bottom line: I loved "The Wind Through the Keyhole." It was a wholly unexpected treat with both the horror that makes King so skin crawling and the touching moments that make his work so approachable. I know I sing his praises a lot, but there are definitely novels by Stephen King of which I was not a fan. It's just that I really love the ones I enjoy by him, and this is undoubtedly one of them.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: "On Writing" by Stephen King

I'm sad to admit that this review is the first novel that I have read and reviewed for this blog in months and that it took me a few of those months just to finish "On Writing." I assure you, that fact has nothing to do with the quality of King's nonfiction work and everything to do with me slacking on my reading. Nonetheless, I am now done and have learned a few things about writing, but more about Stephen King.

The first part of "On Writing" is a mish mash of anecdotes from Mr. King's childhood, school years, early romance with Mrs. King, early marriage and early writing career. Some of you aspiring writers may read some of this and think, "Oh, crap! I didn't run a hodgepodge newspaper with my brother out of my mother's basement when I was a kid. I still had not thought of becoming a writer yet." Don't worry about it. I doubt Stephen King gave us a window into his life so we could compare him to ourselves. Besides, we can't all be Kings. There can be only one. (Yeah, I went there.)

After these characteristically brilliant disguised as blue-collar passages, Stephen King gets down to the writing part of "On Writing." His advice is rarely technical. You will only see a few words of advice about grammar. Apparently, Stephen King hates the passive voice. What you will see is advice about the meat and potatoes of your writing. He talks about the story. In short, he tells the reader to figure out what they are saying and say it. He says to be honest. Take these pearls of wisdom. They come from, in my opinion, the biggest oyster in the sea. Oh, and this is not a book about technical writing. Stephen King is not going to tell you how to go about writing a vacuum cleaner manual. You're on your own there.

Throughout the writing advice and beyond, Stephen King continues to add anecdotes about his life and career. He also adds bits that he has heard from other authors and even moviemakers. Then things get tough for Stevie (as he often refers to himself, but I only jokingly dare to refer to him). You see, while he was writing "On Writing," he was struck by a man driving a Dodge van and quite nearly died. He speaks about this harrowing experience near the end of the novel. Thankfully, he lived to write another day. Yes, I'm selfish, I know.

So, whether you are a freak that wants to read about someone's hardships, an aspiring writer or just a fan of Stephen King, get it, read it and let others borrow it. Now I'm off to read "The Wind Through the Keyhole" and then the list of books King suggested at the end of "On Writing." Get ready for more reviews!

Shelly Barclay

Website Review: The SCP Foundation


I believe this is a Cracked Spines first. Today, I'm going to give a little review/overview of one of my favorite sites. It has a user-generated content base with reading material ranging from science fiction/fantasy to horror. The site is called The SCP Foundation. I came across it by accident one night and spent a few subsequent nights reading as many entries as possible. Some of it is very good and the site is quite organized for the type of content it produces.

The SCP Foundation is a fictional organization that handles unusual objects and creatures. Think of it as a website version of that warehouse show, but obviously better or I would not be writing about it. Every item in the foundation's possession has a file on this website. When users generate a file, they have to follow a strict format that makes even me cringe and I have dealt with some lengthy client requirements in my day. I'm relatively sure that the users do this for a love of writing as well. If there is pay involved, I have not found a single word about it.

Now, each of these files can just be a description or it can contain notes that are like miniature short stories. Some of them are only a few sentences long. Others would amount to several pages in print format. There are files among them that were clearly written by very talented writers who, in my opinion, should really branch out from free content production. I've had my skin crawl more than once reading SCP. Nothing utterly rubbish makes it through as far as I can tell, but there are some blah entries. These don't even evoke the slightest curiosity. That is the worst. At any rate, there appears to be a filtering process in place that does a relatively good job. I can't even remember seeing a typo, but I'll admit that editing is not my strong suit.

If you are a fan of science fiction or you are a writer looking for a place to stretch your limbs, you might want to check this site out. It appears to have a decent-size fan base online and I'm definitely part of it at this point. Happy reading.

Shelly Barclay