Mini Reviews: The October Country, Code Name Verity and Song Yet Sung

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The October Country
by Ray Bradbury

I’m not a huge fan of short story collections, but this is by far one of my favorites. I love Bradbury’s work and these 19 stories are a stellar example of his skill. Equal parts creepy and poignant this stories dive into the dark hearts of ordinary people. From the terrifying look at parenthood in “The Small Assassin” to the aching desire to be someone other than yourself in “The Dwarf” I couldn’t put it down.

“The Lake,” “The Scythe” and “The Emissary” are all eerie tales you could tell around a camp fire. In “The Wind” I could feel my pulse quicken as I turned the pages. Bradbury has a way of writing such vivid descriptions you feel like you’re sitting right there experiencing the story alongside the characters. Read this paragraph and tell me it doesn’t paint an incredible image in your head…

“She ripped a dog-eared packet of cheap cigarettes like it was a bone with meat on it, snapped one of the cigarettes in her smeared mouth and lit it, sucking greedily on the smoke, jetting it through her thin nostrils until she was a feverish dragon confronting them in a fire-clouded room.”

BOTTOM LINE: Just fantastic! Short stories aren’t for everyone, but these gems are worth trying out. This would be a perfect book to pick up around Halloween.

Complete list of stories in this collection: The Dwarf, The Next in Line, The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse, Skeleton, The Jar, The Lake, The Emissary, Touched with Fire, The Small Assassin, The Crowd, Jack-in-the-Box, The Scythe, Uncle Einar, The Wind, The Man Upstairs, There Was an Old Woman, The Cistern, Homecoming, and The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone

Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein

This one isn’t a mini review because I didn’t enjoy it. Instead I just feel like it’s been reviewed to death by others. I loved it!

This poignant story of friendship takes place during World War II. It’s presented as letters and forced journal entries written by a prisoner of war. This alone is interesting, but I wasn’t completely hooked until it switched to another person’s point of view about midway through the book. At that point everything changed. All of a sudden we had context and depth of character and I couldn’t put it down.

It’s so rare to find a book that focuses on women during World War II who aren’t waiting at home for their husbands and lovers. This book is not only about women in WWII, it’s about female pilots and spies and the wonderful friendship that was born between Verity and Maddie during that dangerous time. Any romantic subplot is secondary and I thought that was a refreshing change. I won’t say anything else about the plot because the pacing and twists are part of what make it such an enthralling read.

BOTTOM LINE: Loved it. Beautiful story, fascinating historical detail, characters that broke my heart; you can’t ask for much more than that!
Song Yet Sung
by James McBride

This is the fictional story of a runaway slave named Liz in Maryland. She dreams of the future as she tries to escape those who pursue her. She learns a “code” to find people who will help her and her path crosses with a strange collection of slaves and slave-owners.

The story itself fell flat for me. There was a huge emphasis put on Liz’s ability to see the future in her dreams. That element felt forced and I was more interested in some of the peripheral characters than I was in Liz. The most horrifying part of the story is the character of Miss Patty. She was a real person who kidnapped free black people and sold them into slavery at the beginning of the 19th century.  

BOTTOM LINE: Skip it and read the nonfiction memoir The Color of Water by the same author or Kindred by Olivia Butler.


The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I adored Code Name Verity too-favorite book of 2012! I adored the focus on female friendship and made all the most important women in my life read it.

Sarah said...

Aw, I had been eyeing that James McBride book for a while because The Color of Water was so good, but I wasn't sure how well he'd do with fiction. Too bad. And I really, really need to check out Code Name Verity. Great mini reviews!

Jason C said...

Awesome, glad you liked October Sky. Bradbury is a master of writing short-stories and this is one of his better collections: The Scythe and The Small Assassin are outstanding and personal favorites.

Nikki Steele @ said...

I love Bradbury and need a bit more short stories in my life. Will have to pick up around Halloween!

Amy said...

I agree with you about Code Name Verity: I wasn't hooked until it switched to Maddie's point of view, but then I couldn't put it down! Really, really great!

Belle Wong said...

After reading Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors recently, I've definitely caught the short story bug again. I just downloaded the Bradbury's 100 short story collection - hopefully I'll be able to read all of them before I have to return it to the library!

Kristi said...

The pacing in Code Name Verity was tough in the first half. By the time I hit halfway, I didn't want to put it down. It was worth it, though. Glad you enjoyed it. I read about a year ago and I still think about it. I bought the audio recently and am hoping to listen to it soon.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bookworm1858 - I need to make more people read it. It's so good!

Sarah - It could work for you, I just wasn't a fan. I really liked The Color of Water though!

Jason C. - Oh man, I was thinking about both of those for a few weeks after I finished the book. I tried to explain The Small Assassin to someone the other day and they looked at me like I was crazy.

Nikki - I may have to re-read a few of them in October, perfect atmosphere.

Amy - I'm so glad the author decided to switched narrators. I think we needed Maddie's softer look at the situation.

Belle - Enjoy! He really is excellent. I've read Gaiman's Fragile Things, but haven't read Smoke and Mirrors yet. I've been saving it!

Kristi - I felt the same. Once you hit that certain point and seitch narrators it just flies by.

The Relentless Reader said...

I've been meaning to get to Verity for a million years (or so!) I'm glad to hear that you liked it so much!

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed the Bradbury collection. I've been slowly working my way through his collection "The Illustrated Man" for several months now. I may take your advice and mark this one for an October read.

You may already be aware, but there is a "Center for Ray Bradbury Studies" at IUPUI right here in Indianapolis(!) It's director, Jon Eller (who wrote a biography of Bradbury) is happy to give "tours" if you call in advance.


Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jennifer - I kept hearing such great reviews. It's one of the few books that lived up to the hype for me.

bibliophilica - I really enjoyed The Illustrated Man collection! The Veldt and Marionettes, Inc. are two of my favorites. I had no idea about the Center! I'm so glad you shared that!