Juliana Rew, Editor – Keystone Chronicles.

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Keystone Chronicles – Juliana Rew, Editor (2016 Third Flatiron Publishing, Colorado)

Third Flatiron Publishing recently released another highly entertaining anthology, Keystone Chronicles, and once again, I’m delighted with the creative theme. For this volume, writers were encouraged to place a keystone object or concept at the heart of their stories and run with it – and they certainly did.  Standouts for me include Marilyn K. Martin’s walloping opener “Our Problem Child: Langerfeld, the Moon” (also available as a podcast here), Brandon Crilly’s dark and brilliant take on a VR world in “Coding Human,” Maureen Bowen’s delightful mythology of the Three Fates (“Splinters”), the gut-kicking development of Edward Palumbo’s “Desol8,” and Bascomb James’ “TANSTAFFL,” in which there are serious repercussions for tapping into resources of unknown origin. As always, the humorous flash fiction pieces that are included with every anthology are a treat; I especially got a good chuckle out of Larry Lefkowitz’ “Rejection” (the scourge of writers everywhere), and Damian Sheridan’s “Remembrance of Saint Urho” was laugh-out-loud fun. The diversity of style and voice and the solid talent of all of the writers involved makes for a fantastic read. Throw this one on your e-reader for the holidays, you’ll be happy you did.

 

Lee Kvern – 7 Ways to Sunday.

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7 Ways to Sunday: Stories – Lee Kvern (2014, Enfield & Wizenty, Winnipeg)

The dynamics of human relationships comes out in dark, often uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking ways in this powerful collection of shorts from Alberta writer Lee Kvern. Standouts for me include the heartbreaking “Snapshots (in Bed),” a catalogue of all of the losses of a dying woman, “LEAD,” a brilliantly-told vignette of a lonely teenager, and the title story, which recounts the unspooling lives of a selfish man and his family. These are not quiet stories; they crackle and explode with hard lessons and gut-wrenching surprises.

Rebecca E. Hirsch – Plants Can’t Sit Still.

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Plants Can’t Sit Still – Rebecca E. Hirsch (2016, Millbrook Press, MN)

You might exclaim “huh?” when you first glance at the title, but when you consider roots and shoots and flying seeds, it’s true – plants really can’t sit still. I love Hirsch’s lively perspective, and the book has a ton of excellent info for kids and adults alike.

Charley Harper – A Partridge in a Pear Tree.

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Charley Harper’s A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Charley Harper (2014, Pomegranate, Portland)

Charley Harper’s A Partridge in a Pear Tree is guaranteed to put a grin on the face of the adult reading it aloud – the humorous commentary regarding the growing list of gifts is absolutely precious. The little ones, of course, will like the counting and the repetition of the song. Add to that the almost-stick-figure crayon drawings that are brilliant in their simplicity. Track this one down for the holidays and enjoy!

Louise Penny – A Fatal Grace.

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A Fatal Grace – Louise Penny (2006, St. Martin’s Minotaur, New York)

A bizarre death by electrocution on a frozen pond in the middle of a Christmas Day curling tournament  leads Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team once again to the small Quebec village of Three Pines.  All the familiar faces are here in this second book of the series, and Penny delves deeper into their lives as she draws the reader into the unsettling dark secrets of this sleepy little settlement.  As with Still Life, I was smitten with the easy elegance of Penny’s prose and her development of the personalities and behaviour of her characters…even though the actual mystery was fairly transparent.

Lemony Snicket – File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents.

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File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents – Lemony Snicket (2014, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., Canada)

These bite-sized mini-mysteries tie into the series All the Wrong Questions and offer tantalizing tidbits about the residents of the almost ghost town Stain’d-by-the-Sea that might just become important later on.  (Or maybe not – how will you ever know?).  Dark, clever, and hilarious, as usual.

Alan Bradley – The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.

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The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Alan Bradley (2014, Doubleday Canada)

I fear if I go into much detail about The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, the sixth Flavia de Luce novel, I risk a spoiler, so I’ll tread carefully and just say that this is the darkest novel of the series to this point, with Flavia’s ordinary hijinks severely tempered by family matters. Of course, there IS a fresh murder – and a very high profile one at that – but strangely, it isn’t the focus of this mystery.  Bradley instead ties up a bunch of loose ends from the previous books, and takes Flavia into new, extremely interesting and dangerous territory, setting up for the upcoming stories about this irrepressible heroine.