Friday, December 15, 2017

Time Loops

Have you ever formed a time loop while tying your shoes? Probably not. But have you ever read a book or watched a TV show or film where someone experienced a day over and over again? It's more than déjà vu -- it's actually happening on repeat, sometimes with different results, sometimes with the same results, and it seems as if it will never stop repeating - until, of course, the character finds a way to make it stop.

Time loops are not to be confused with time travel, another of my favorite sci-fi plot devices. In time travel, one moves forward or backward in time, willingly or otherwise. Doctor Who has time travel. The Boys are Back in Town by Christopher Golden has time travel. Groundhog Day, however, has a time loop. This film is so well-known that he is often referenced by characters experiencing time loops; more than once, I've read or heard a character say, "This is like Groundhog Day," rather than, "Gee, I'm experiencing a time loop!"

Many movies and television shows have explored time loops. Consider, if you will, the episode "Shadow Play" on The Twilight Zone, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Life Serial," "Monday" on The X-Files, Supernatural's "Mystery Spot," or "And Those We've Left Behind" on Fringe. Some of these loops have been comedic, others dramatic, with the best ones (in my opinion) being those which deftly mix the two.

Another clarification: Plots such as those in the television series Tru Calling and Seven Days (the latter of which I sadly never saw when it aired) weren't considered to be true time loops: both shows had worked off of a second-chance premise, with Tru repeating a day in attempt to save someone's life, while Frank used the Chronosphere (also known as the Backstep Sphere) to go back in time seven days to "avert disasters."

I really enjoyed Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, an intriguing and inventive novel in which the main character, Samantha (Sam), is killed in an accident only 80 pages into the book - then wakes up in bed, unharmed, only to find that it's not the next day - instead, it's the same day, the morning of her last day. She relives the day, bewildered and disbelieving. That evening, tragedy strikes again. The day repeats again, and again, a few times over. Sam does different things each time, spending one day being more cautious, another throwing caution to the wind, still another being more appreciative. It's an amazing book, and I highly recommend it. (And no, I haven't seen the movie yet.)

Like the novel The Time Traveler's Wife, Before I Fall has no overt sci-fi elements: there are no gadgets or gizmos or time machines that the characters use, accidentally or otherwise. Neither of those books have wizened characters who assist the protagonists with magic or explain the rules of the game to them. Instead, Henry and Sam have to figure things out (or make things up) as they go along. However, while Henry has Clare to confide in, Sam tells no one; while Henry travels through time involuntarily, Sam keeps repeating the same day involuntarily.

The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende, the fantasy novel that has owned a piece of my heart since childhood, also employs a time loop. It is not the main plot, but rather just one of the many pieces of this elaborate and imaginative story. I don't want to give anything away; I'd rather encourage you to pick up the novel and discover things yourself. Whether or not you've seen The NeverEnding Story movie (which I think is wonderful) or the subsequent sequels or other film/TV attempts based on the book (which didn't compare), I implore you to read the original book.

Now, if you want to get technical, I haven't read the original, Die unendliche Geschichte, because it's in German, which I don't know. Instead, I've read the English translation by Ralph Manheim.

But I digress. Time loops are delicate things which not always treated so delicately, nor do they always have to deal with delicate matters. Time loops are not always handled or broken in the same way. Sam's story in Before I Fall is nothing like Phil's in Groundhog Day, and when they finally break their loops, they do so in completely different ways. The parameters and circumstances established by Danny Rubin in Groundhog Day do not apply to Sam. Likewise, though concepts such as chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and fate are discussed to different degrees in many time loop stories, they are never exactly the same - unless, of course, you personally choose to read that book or watch that episode or movie over and over and over again - which, in some cases, I wouldn't blame you for doing! When they're really inventive and strong, time loop stories can be fascinating. Some of these stories benefit from a second reading or viewing, because you notice things you may not have noticed the first time through.

Having a lackluster weekend? Go read or watch someone dealing with a time loop. Afterwards, you'll probably be happy that you are moving in a forward direction . . . or are you?

My Side of the Mountain

This has never happened to me before: I enjoyed the sequel more than the original! Be assured, though, My Side of the Mountain
is very good. Young Sam Gribley goes off to live in the wilderness quite comfortably in a huge hollow tree. He trains a young falcon he named Frightful:
"Every day I worked to train Frightful. It was a long process, I would put her on her stump with a long leash and step back a few feet with some meat in my hand. Then I would whistle. The whistle was supposed eventually to mean food to her. So I would whistle, show her the meat, and after many false flaps she would finally fly to my hand. I would pet her and feed her. She could fly fairly well, so now I made sure that she never ate unless he flew to my fist.
"One day at breakfast I whistled for Frightful. I had no food, she wasn't even hungry, but she came to me anyway. I was thrilled. She had learned a whistle meant 'come.'
"I looked into her steely eyes that morning and thought I saw a gentle recognition. She puffed up her feathers as she sat on my hand. I call this a 'feather word.' It means she is content."

I also enjoyed this, from near the end of the book: "I returned to my patch on the mountain, talking to myself all the way. I talk to myself a lot, but everyone does. The human being, even in the midst of people, spends nine-tenths of his time alone with the private voices of his own head. Living alone on a mountain is not much different, except that your speaking voice gets rusty, I talked inside my head all the way home, thinking up schemes, holding conversations with Bando and Dad and Matt Spell...
"I cooked supper, and then sat down by my little fire and called a forum. It is very sociable inside my head, and I have perfected the art of getting a lot of people arguing together in silence or in a forum, as I prefer to call it. I can get four people all talking at once, and a fifth can be present, but generally I can't get him to talk. Usually these forums discuss such things as a storm and whether or not it is coming, how to make a spring suit, and how to enlarge my house without destroying the life in the tree. Tonight, however, they discussed what to do about Matt Spell. Dad kept telling me to go right down to the city and make sure he published nothing, not even a made-up story. Bando said, no, it's all right, he still doesn't know where you live, and then Matt walked into the conversation and said that he wanted to spend his spring vacation with me, and that he promised not to do anything untoward. Matt kept using 'untoward' - I don't know where he got that expression, but he liked it and kept using it - that's how I knew Matt was speaking; everything was 'untoward.'"

What I liked there was that it seemed that author Jean Craighead George described how her stories got generated. Characters in her head interacted, and she transcribed what took place onto paper. I could be wrong, but maybe.

The sequel that I liked even more is called On the Far Side of the Mountain. There's a third book, Frightful's Mountain, but I have not read it yet. It's here at my desk, so it won't be long.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Lyrical, visceral, and wise, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz haunts the melancholy middle between heartbreak and hope.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork

9780545944472_mres.jpg (800×1209)Sara is a journalist who wholeheartedly throws herself into her work as a journalist for a newspaper in Juarez. Mexico however is a country where journalists sometimes do their work under threats to themselves and their families and going to the police is not always a good idea. Sara soon finds that if she wants to pursue this particular story she could be putting the lives of herself, her younger brother Emiiano and their mother in danger.

Emiliano is a soccer star at his high school and in addition to this he is also a member of a school group called Jiparis who do hikes through the desert in order to build character in the young men, some of whom were involved in unsavory activities before joining the group.

One part of the Jipari pledge goes , "I will be honest with myself and others". This is easier said than done especially in a city like Juarez. One of the characters tells Emiliano, "everything is a spiderweb" and the speed with which he is enveloped in said web is astounding. Emiliano tells himself that he wants to help his family and friends out but are those his real reasons? Like any teen he wants to be seen as cool and there is also the small matter of a girl he wants to impress.

The first part of the book is told from each character's viewpoint and the author weaves the tale together in a very credible way showing how circumstances

Make no mistake, Disappeared is not a peaches and cream, hunky dory teen novel. It is a gritty and very realistic novel with a ripped from the headlines quality to it. The city of Juarez and the violence there doesn't dominate the headlines as it did a few years ago, but Stork's novel is a timely reminder that evil still exists and that it takes many people working in tandem to defeat it.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

On behalf of Ballou Library in Washington DC, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

The final total of books gifted to Ballou Library via the October Book Fair & Cyber Monday  holiday shopping (which continued all week), comes in just over 200 titles! Thank you so much for buying books and helping to spread the word for this DC high school!

The wish list remains open year-round and there are a ton of great books on it, all of them chosen and approved by Ballou students. These are books the teens want and we so enjoy doing everything we can to get these books to them.

In the coming days I will be moving things around a bit on the list, getting series books together so they are easier to find. (I really really REALLY wish that amazon had "search by title" and "search by author" functions. So frustrating!) And we will, of course, be continuing to assist Ballou to fill its shelves next year and hope that you will return to the list and also help us spread the word about the amazing work done by librarian Melissa Jackson.

Have a lovely holiday folks, and thanks again for all you do to support this high school library.

Monday, November 27, 2017


While you fill your shopping cart at Amazon, please purchase a book or two for Ballou Sr. High School's library!

The wish list has many many (MANY) books that the students have requested.

This is the last chance this year to get them the books they want!

We hope you will shop the list & send a book (or more) to Washington DC so Ballou's AMAZING librarian, 


will have dozens of books to put on the shelves!

Follow @BallouLibrary & @chasingray for updates!

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Cyber Monday means Round #2 for the Ballou Book Fair!

We are getting ready to send more books to the library at Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC!

In two weeks last month you purchased over 135 books off the wish list for Ballou as part of our annual book fair. They included everything from novels to biographies to history to a couple of MCAT study guides that were particularly appreciated by this student:

With millions of people getting ready to shop this weekend, we are hoping to take advantage of your generosity one last time in 2017 and send even more books to Ballou. As you may know, students at the school suffer far too much from poverty and all its accompanying factors. They struggle to stay in school, to stay engaged in their studies and to persevere in the face of the area's violence.  They deserve every chance that we can give them and their librarian, Melissa Jackson, is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to going the extra mile for her students. We want to make it easier for her to do her job and the best way we can do that is to buy the books that those students want and need, (and in some cases positively pine for), to fill her library's shelves.

We buy books for Ballou!

There are several hundred books on the list at Amazon and for those folks who shopped last month, you will see that several titles have been added in the past few days. They are courtesy the most recent email from Ballou — books the students are excited about and asked if we would add. (And of course we did!) We also moved several books that are on sale to the top of the list as they are excellent bargains right now. We hope that you will take advantage of the low prices and buy one or more of these titles.

If you can't shop off the list, please help spread the word on social media. Here is the direct link: follow me (@chasingray) and Melissa Jackson (@Balloulibrary) on twitter for updates.

Have a great Thanksgiving and we look forward to an amazing next week of book buying for Ballou!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Collected Brevity: Anthologies and Short Story Collections

When my friend Christopher Golden announced the forthcoming The Twisted Book of Shadows anthology - which will start accepting submissions in February 2018, so mark your calendars! - I started considering what I could write and submit. That led to thinking about my favorite short stories, which is a pretty short list (no pun intended) as I tend to gravitate towards longer stories, full-length novels and serialized television. I started asking friends, colleagues, and patrons of all ages about their favorite anthologies and short story collections, and here's what we've got!

Jules, who runs the fantastic blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, loves Naomi Shihab Nye's Honeybee, which offers both poems and prose. She calls it "a rewarding read" - "the results are both striking and moving, yet she manages to throw some humor in there, too." Check out her review of the collection, which includes quotes from the text, with the author's permission. (I love this note from the author: "If I see a lone bee hovering in a flower, I wish it well.")

Allison seconds the recommendation for Naomi Shihab Nye, saying her work is "off all charts. I’ve never read anything by her that didn't have at least a touch of honeyed language. One of my other favorite short story/essayists is Bailey White who used to read her short stories and essays on All Things Considered. Her first book was Mama Makes Up Her Mind. Barbara Kingsolver and bell hooks are two others I love."

Author and artist Sarah Jamila Stevenson, whose novels include The Truth Against the World and The Latte Rebellion, enjoyed the anthology Slasher Boys and Monster Girls edited by April Tucholke. "This 2015 anthology featuring some big names in YA literature brings a fresh perspective to classic horror tropes - and it's not for the faint-hearted. I'll never think of the Mad Tea Party in the same way again, that's for sure..."

Rachel's favorite anthology is The Best Science Fiction of the Year 3 edited by Terry Carr. "This anthology got me hooked on science fiction and fantasy when I was around 12 or 13, and I have been hooked ever since," she said. It contains two of her favorite short stories, Of Mist, Grass and Sand by Vonda N. McIntyre and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin, both of which she considers "still incredibly relevant today." Prompted by our conversation, she looked up the full table of contents and added, "One of the ones I'd forgotten about, that hits me in a completely different way now, is The Women Men Don’t See, written by Alice Bradley Sheldon under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr." 

When I asked the aforementioned Christopher Golden to list some of his favorite anthologies, he included "all of Charles L. Grant's legendary Shadows volumes and Kirby McAuley's Dark Forces, which were all hugely influential on me as a teenager and into my twenties. The horror stories in those books inspired me as a writer and as a reader…and later as an anthologist in my own right."

As for collections, he said, "The easiest and truest answer is that Stephen King set the bar with Night Shift and Different Seasons. If you go back and read those today - the former a collection of short stories and the latter a quartet of novellas - you'll see the master at work. King didn’t realize it at the time, but those were STATEMENTS, establishing the benchmark for weird fiction. Years later, I wrote the introduction for Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts and I had no idea of his parentage. I should have known, reading those stories, because that set a bar for a new generation. Others that should absolutely be on your weird or horror fiction collection list include all six volumes of Clive Barker's groundbreaking Books of Blood, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories, and Robert Shearman's Remember Why You Fear Me. On the fantasy side, Robert Holdstock's The Bone Forest is an overlooked marvel, and Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen is remarkable."

Thanks to Chris for giving us so many recommendations -- and for giving me a segue to share my own! I really enjoyed Golden's fantastic short story collections The Secret Backs of Things and Tell My Sorrows to the Stones. The titles are fantastic and the collections fully deliver. He recently released Don't Go Alone, a collection of collaborations, which includes Joe Golem and the Copper Girl (co-written with Mike Mignola and part of their series of Joe Golem novels and comics), Ghosts of Albion animated films and books), and Wellness Check (co-written with Thomas E. Sniegoski and part of their fantastic dark fantasy series The Menagerie, which I really love).

Looking for books for younger readers and/or more classic fare? As a kid, there were collections of myths and scary stories that I read multiple times. Check out my booklist packed with short story collections and quick reads for elementary through high school readers. Have fun adding titles to your to-read pile, and feel free to leave your short story recommendations in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Extinction Trials by S.M. Wilson

Stormchaser is a teen who lives in a world ravaged by hunger and disease. Food is scarce, and an illness that starts with the blistering and peeling of one's skin soon leads to death.

In her world, a few dinosaurs still exist. Stormchaser has befriended a plesiosaur she's named Milo. This is a secret she must guard closely because dinosaurs are universally hated.

When the Trials are announced, Stormchaser enters on a whim; she doesn't have a family, doesn't have anyone dying from the plague like the others.

The contest is a deadly one: enter the area of the world known as Piloria, where the dinosaurs are abundant, and retrieve as many dinosaur eggs as possible. The winner will receive health care and food, two things essential in order to survive their daily nightmare.

She's joined on the Trials by Lincoln and Leif, two boys with a lot on the line. As the competition heats up, they must learn to trust each other if they're going to avoid being eaten alive. But as Stormchaser soon learns, you can't really trust anyone in the Extinction Trials and what she finds hiding under the surface of Piloria will change her life forever.

The Extinction Trials is a super fast action adventure that anyone looking for a strong female hero will love. It's got elements of The Hunger Games without a doubt, and that's a good thing because it means it will make my job as a School Librarian all the easier when I promote this book in the coming weeks. And promote it I shall, because it's got some great scenes, fully realised characters and a ton of action. Highly recommended, can't wait for the sequel!

Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

27426044.jpg (316×475)Emmett is a humble teen from Detroit. His family has been downtrodden for generations, working menial jobs after menial jobs and he isn't showing much to prove that he can break the cycle that has plagued his family.

One day however, he gets a chance to go to a strange planet to work with an alien people called Adamites. However, there's a catch- he is going to have to compete for his spot against teens from around the world each as hungry as he is to make the cut. Babel, the company who is sponsoring the trip promises a big payout if they can succeed.

Thus begins a gauntlet of events in groups and alone that sees the teens become hardened and their skills improve. The group has many distinct personalities some of which don't mesh and the inevitable conflicts arise.

The tasks the kids are asked to do test their limits in many ways but perhaps the most difficult is manipulating the alien substance, nyxia. For some reason the substance also reminded me of the alien symbiote that Spiderman encountered in his whole Venom story arc because soon the line between manipulator and that which is being manipulated becomes blurred.

Babel is a mysterious company and the folks in charge seem to have a ton of secrets themselves. There definitely seems to be some larger plan in place-the reason the kids have been recruited is because the Adamites like children. I can't wait to see what else is in store for Emmett on Eden. Some read alikes to this book are the Maze Runner series and Philip Reeve's Railhead.