My Commonplace Blog

A blog about books: book reviews, book lists, quotes, books I want to read, books read and unread, real and unreal.

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Top Five Favourite Scary Short Stories

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Top Ten Tuesday is a feature/weekly meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is Halloween related freebie. I love a scary tale. Here are five of my favourite scary short stories. They’re all very different from

1. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson begins in summer, in a small village, “in the square, between the post office and the bank” and ends in much the same place and time. Everything is changed, though, especially the reader. When it was initially published in the issue of June 26, 1948 of The New Yorker, readers cancelled their subscriptions in droves. They were confused or angry. They wrote letters. Here [link contains spoilers] is a very interesting article about those letters, written by Ruth Franklin, who recently wrote a Shirley Jackson biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Listen to A.M. Homes discuss and read “The Lottery” for The New Yorker fiction podcast or listen to a full cast dramatization from Ecoustic Alchemy.

2. “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman is a very scary story about the appeal of stories that are “just a little bit scary.” Read it here or watch Neil Gaiman read it at the New York Public Library.

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“Waiting On” Wednesday: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

My “Waiting On” Wednesday pick is Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.
Cover of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Title: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publication date: February 7th 2017

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Pre-order: Book Depository | Amazon

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Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again. (From Goodreads.)

Mythology à la Neil Gaiman. I’ll read anything Neil Gaiman writes, really, so I can barely wait to see his take on the Norse myths.

What book are you looking forward to this Wednesday?

“Waiting On” Wednesday: An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

My “Waiting On” Wednesday pick is An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles.
Cover of An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles

Title: An Unseen Attraction

Author: K.J. Charles

Publication date: February 21st 2017

Publisher: Loveswept

Pre-order: Amazon

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A slow-burning romance and a chilling mystery bind two singular men in the suspenseful first book of a new Victorian series from K. J. Charles.

Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship. . . .

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding . . . it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts. (From Goodreads.)

Chilling mystery! Deadly London fog! K.J. Charles is one of my favourite writers and this book sounds like a great atmospheric read.

What book are you looking forward to this Wednesday?

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

My “Waiting On” Wednesday pick is Difficult Women by Roxane Gay.
Cover of Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Title: Difficult Women

Author: Roxane Gay

Publication date: January 3rd 2017

Publisher: Grove Press

Pre-order: Book Depository | Amazon

Add to Goodreads

Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State and the New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the elder sister’s marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July. (From Goodreads.)

This is going to be so good; I cannot wait to read it.

From Roxane Gay’s essay “Not Here to Make Friends” (also found in the brilliant Bad Feminist):

“As a writer and a person who has struggled with likability — being likable, wanting to be liked, wanting to belong — I have spent a great deal of time thinking about likability in the stories I read and those I write. I am often drawn to unlikable characters, to those who behave in socially unacceptable ways and say whatever is on their mind and do what they want with varying levels of regard for the consequences. I want characters to do bad things and get away with their misdeeds. I want characters to think ugly thoughts and make ugly decisions. I want characters to make mistakes and put themselves first without apologizing for it.”

The entire essay, about unlikable female protagonists, is well worth the read (as is Bad Feminist), and it’s one of the reasons I am so excited for this short story collection.

What book are you looking forward to this Wednesday?

Top Ten Harry Potter Villains That Are Not Voldemort

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Top Ten Tuesday is a feature/weekly meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is All About The Villains. My list is all about the worst (best?) Harry Potter villains. Yes, I’m that person.

Contains spoilery quotes.

1 & 2. Vernon and Petunia Dursley

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense. (From Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.)

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“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Elephants in My Backyard: A Memoir

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

My “Waiting On” Wednesday pick is The Elephants in My Backyard: A Memoir by Rajiv Surendra.
Cover of The Elephants in My Backyard by Rajiv Surendra

Title: The Elephants in My Backyard: A Memoir

Author: Rajiv Surendra

Publication date: November 8th 2016

Publisher: Regan Arts

Pre-order: Book Depository | Amazon

Add to Goodreads

Rajiv Surendra was filming Mean Girls, playing the beloved rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, when a cameraman insisted he read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. So begins his “lovely and human” (Jenny Lawson, author of Furiously Happy) tale of obsessively pursuing a dream, overcoming failure, and finding meaning in life.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I found myself standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. Far below me was an incredible abyss with no end in sight. I could turn back and safely return to where I had come from, or I could throw caution to the wind, lift my arms up into the air . . . and jump.” — From The Elephants in My Backyard

What happens when you spend ten years obsessively pursuing a dream, and then, in the blink of an eye, you learn that you have failed, that the dream will not come true?

In 2003, Rajiv Surendra was filming Mean Girls playing the beloved rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, when a cameraman insisted he read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

Mesmerized by all the similarities between Pi and himself—both are five-foot-five with coffee-colored complexions, both share a South Indian culture, both lived by a zoo—when Rajiv learns that Life of Pi will be made into a major motion picture he is convinced that playing the title role is his destiny.

In a great leap of faith Rajiv embarks on a quest to embody the sixteen-year-old Tamil schoolboy. He quits university and buys a one-way ticket from Toronto to South India. He visits the sacred stone temples of Pondicherry, he travels to the frigid waters off the coast of rural Maine, and explores the cobbled streets of Munich. He befriends Yann Martel, a priest, a castaway, an eccentric old woman, and a pack of Tamil schoolboys. He learns how to swim, to spin wool, to keep bees, and to look a tiger in the eye. All the while he is really learning how to dream big, to fail, to survive, to love, and to become who he truly is.

Rajiv Surendra captures the uncertainty, heartache, and joy of finding ones place in the world with sly humor and refreshing honesty. The Elephants in My Backyard is not a journey of goals and victories, but a story of process and determination. It is a spellbinding and profound book for anyone who has ever failed at something and had to find a new path through life. (From Goodreads.)

Memoir is my go-to genre for getting out of reading slumps, so I like to keep a nice list handy in case of emergency. The Elephants in My Backyard seems right up my alley, and maybe it’ll get me to read Life of Pi.

What book are you looking forward to this Wednesday?

Ten Books On My Fall TBR List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a feature/weekly meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is books on our autumn TBR list. I’m highlighting ten books I hope to read before December 21st. No overarching theme, but more than half seem particularly suited for autumn.

1 & 2. Two books about witch trials: one fiction, The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson, and one non-fiction, The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff.

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