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An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten Review by Patty Crane

Helen Tursten is a Swedish mystery writer with two very successful series featuring detectives. However, when asked to write a story for a Christmas anthology she decided to explore the other side of the law and Maud was born.

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good is a collection of five short stories featuring Maud, a wily, self-contained octogenarian. Maud leads a quiet solitary life in Gothenburg and that is just the way she likes it. Her large apartment is rent free and with shrewdly amassed savings she is able to live comfortably and travel when and where she wants.

The stories revolve around her determination to keep her life just as she wants it. In the first Maud finds herself the focus of a new neighbor, Jasmin Schimmerhof. Jasmin is the daughter of Swedish celebrities and has turned much of the space in her new apartment into an art studio. Her 450 square foot apartment doesn’t allow much room for the large sculptures she creates. After breezing her way in, it appears she thinks Maud’s spacious 1000 square feet is more suitable for her masterpieces.

When Maud’s father suffered a fatal heart attack the only thing he left of value was the apartment building they lived in. When it was sold the lawyer added a clause that allowed the widow and her two daughters, Maud and Charlotte, to keep their apartment and live rent-free for the duration of their lives. Maud is the only one left and has been triumphant in any challenges to her rent-free status. Jasmin seems to believe that the elderly Maud can be manipulated. To her peril she doesn’t realize what Maud is capable of in defense of her coveted thousand square feet.

Maud is not only protective of her space but also the people she loved. Before her father’s death, she was engaged to Gustaf and very happy. When her father died and was not the rich man he appeared to be, Gustaf’s family ended the engagement. He eventually married and was widowed.

In the second story, ‘An Elderly Lady on Her Travels’, Maud (who has always kept track of Gustaf) learns that he, now 90, is about to marry a woman 35 years his junior. Zazza, the bride-to-be, was once a student of Maud’s and she suspects that love is not the reason Zazza is marrying Gustaf. The wedding will take place at the Selma Spa. Maud has never been to a spa but immediately books a visit. The spa’s amenities are much to Maud’s liking and as it turns out provides her opportunity to ensure Zazza won’t be taking advantage of Maud’s former fiancé.

Maud is very resourceful in how she deals with problems. In story three the problem is her upstairs neighbors. The husband is abusive and all that yelling, crying and thumping is very disturbing. After the wife needs to be hospitalized for ‘falling down the stairs’ things are quiet for a few months. When the abuse begins again, Maud devises a simple but appropriate plan to make sure the abuse stops and quiet is restored.

The last two stories are connected.  The first, ‘The Antique Dealer’s Death’, begins with Maud’s discovery of a dead man in her father’s study. It unlike the other stories is not told by Maud but by the neighbor who identified the body and by the police. It appears the deceased may have been in the act of stealing the silver when he was attacked. He is identified as the local antique dealer. How did he know about Maud’s collection and if he had an accomplice, who is it?

The final story, ‘An Elderly Lady Is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma’, is back in Maud’s voice. We find out just how and why Frazzen, expert in gold and silver, came to be in Maud’s home. We also witness more of Maud’s cunning, ruthless style.

This a small book and a very quick enjoyable read, especially if you like unusual characters. As the author says of Maud, “I enjoyed every minute of her company. But let’s just say I would not like to have her for a neighbor or a relative!”

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Short Attention Span? Try These Short Stories, Films

I’m sure most people have been in a situation where someone asks them what types of books they like to read, and they meet their eyes with a blank stare, forgetting every book ever published. I have been experiencing that a lot lately.

Nothing can grab my attention for very long, so I don’t have an answer when I’m asked that question. It’s sad when that happens, but it is not always the book at fault. Everything has a time and place, but unfortunately, we don’t always have enough time to get to it all.

With my short attention span, sometimes the only thing that can keep my focus are short stories and short films. So I am going to recommend a few short stories and short films to shamelessly plug an event taking place at the Joplin Public Library.

Ray Bradbury wrote about 600 short stories and was writing pretty much up until his death in 2012, leaving behind a legacy with which few could compete. He once said: “The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week — it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing. And at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done.”

It’s that kind of mentality that made him such a prolific writer, implementing themes of sci-fi, horror, psychological thriller and even fantasy into his works. The library has several of his collections, including “The Illustrated Man,” “October Country” and “The Stories of Ray Bradbury.” Specifically, I am recommending the stories: “R is for Rocket,” “The Veldt,” “All Summer in a Day,” “The Pedestrian” and “The Small Assassin.” Now that fall is upon us, his stories are a great accompaniment to the weather change.

If you aren’t in the mood for reading, maybe try to watch a short film or two instead. Buster Keaton could be considered one of the best in the business, starring in 19 short films between 1920 and 1923. He was an actor, director, screenwriter, producer and stunt man.

If you have a chance, search the internet for some insight into how he performed some of his stunts.

Try out the “Buster Keaton Short Films collection, 1920-1923” DVD and watch some timeless cinema. The library also has a DVD collection of films from the Manhattan Short, a global film festival that the library is excited to be a part of this year.

The “Manhattan Short Film Festival” began in 1998 when Nicholas Mason screened 16 short films to a crowd of about 300 in New York City. Now, it takes place across six continents, in more than 350 cities. Each year, 10 short films are selected, and audience members are asked to vote for their favorite.

The library kicked off the festival on Sept. 26 with a reception and initial screening. If you missed that, you can still come in and watch the films for our repeat screenings happening on Tuesday Wednesday and Saturday. Come in, watch some films, vote on your favorite, and be a part of something global.

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Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson

Reading slumps aren’t uncommon. Lately, I’ve been starting books, only to return them unfinished. In times like these, I often turn to short stories to help me get back into the groove. Short stories take the pressure off of reading. I don’t have to track characters and plots for hundreds of pages. And this is where author Brian Evenson really shines. In his latest release, he builds worlds and characters in only a few pages.

SONG FOR THE UNRAVELING OF THE WORLD is a fairly short collection of stories at just over 200 pages. However, the collection contains 22 stories. I don’t have the space to review each story, but I’ve picked three that I think best represent this collection as a whole.

In the titular story, a daughter goes missing. Her father, Drago, searches the house but can’t find the little girl. Drago refuses to call the police for reasons the reader doesn’t immediately understand. But, as his search expands to include the surrounding neighborhood, the truth about Drago and his daughter is revealed. He will not call the police because he is living under a false identity. Why? Well, that would spoil the story.

“Room Tone” — Filip wants nothing more than to finish shooting his film. The only problem? The house he’s been using for filming has been sold and the new owner won’t let Filip in to complete the project. Filip isn’t happy with the sound of the film; the background noise is all wrong. He just needs in the house long enough to record a few minutes of silence. How far will he go to finish his film?

“The Hole” — A mission to explore a planet goes horribly wrong for those visiting the new world. Klim and the rest of the crew must search for Rurik, who has gone missing. Kim finds Rurik at the bottom of a large hole. There are only two problems: 1) Klim is also at the bottom of the hole and 2) Rurik is clearly dead, but still moving and talking. Can Klim escape? Even if he does, will he ever be the same?

Don’t go into this collection thinking you’re going to get answers. Much of the effectiveness of Evenson’s writing comes from what isn’t explicitly described in the stories. Evenson focuses in on the world of each story. With short stories, authors don’t have a lot of room for world-building. The challenge then becomes making these brief glimpses into the world fully believable. And this is where Evenson really shines.

Every story in the collection takes place in a distinct setting, each with its own history and set of rules. Even though several stories have similar themes or settings, Evenson made each one distinct. There seem to be nods to classic authors like Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. (In fact, Everson was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award in 2017.)

Evenson explores several themes throughout the collection. Identity and sense of self are perhaps the two most common themes. Can we change who we are? Is identity more than skin deep? Fair warning for the faint of heart, Evenson explores these ideas in a very literal sense. At times, he even uses a genre known as ‘body horror.’ If you’re not familiar with this genre, think of the movies The Fly and The Thing

Overall, I think this is a solid short story collection. Evenson’s masterful world-building goes a long way in making these stories successful. The stories overlap two of my favorite genres, Sci-Fi and horror, and though there aren’t any happy endings, this collection will make you think about bodies and identity in a whole new way.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

Star Wars : From a Certain Point of View by various authors

If you’re a nerd, there are pretty much two factions: Star Trek and Star Wars. I grew up on Star Trek. Sure, I watched Star Wars, but I was way more into Picard than Luke. However, I married into a Star Wars family. To keep up with family debates, I’ve had to do a little research into the Star Wars universe. When STAR WARS : FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW came across my desk, I knew I’d have to give it a look.

Star Wars : From a Certain Point of View is a collection of short stories from a variety of big name authors like Meg Cabot, Christie Golden, and Paul S. Kemp, along with a story from Wil Wheaton (who I know as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek). Each story is based on the Star Wars universe. In particular, this collection bridges the gap between the events of Rogue One and A New Hope. However, none of the stories focuses on the traditional heroes of the saga. Instead, we get the viewpoints of characters like a stormtrooper, Grand Moff Tarkin, and even the monster from the Death Star trash compactor.

Each story offers a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes events of the original trilogy. These aren’t just filler stories, either. The authors involved have taken care to delve deeply into the characters and show the emotional background to some of the events from the series. Since it would take a few more words than I have here to review all 35 stories, I’ll share my thoughts on a few from the collection.

“The Bucket” by Christie Golden — TK-4601 is a young Stormtrooper who has been given an amazing opportunity: capture the rebel Princess Leia Organa. He is full of excitement at the prospect of helping crush the Rebellion. But when he does encounter her, it will change him forever. As a huge Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia fan, I loved this story for the way Golden describes Leia through the eyes of an enemy. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Those who underestimate Leia soon regret it, a fact not lost on TK-4601.

“Stories in the Sand” by Griffin McElroy — The Jawa are a species that lives their lives scouring the deserts of Tatooine for anything they can sell. Jot is a Jawa who doesn’t quite fit in. Smaller but smarter than his peers, he discovers a secret compartment that lets him scavenge videos from the droids he scraps. But one day, he discovers a video stored in a blue and white droid. A video of a young woman in white asking for help. Will Jot erase the video and sell the droid? Or will he help set into motion the entire plot of the movies we love so much? McElroy does a great job of exploring a species that initially seems to have very little depth. He also reminds us that even the smallest of us can make a big difference.

“Laina” by Wil Wheaton — Ryland, a member of the Rebel Alliance, must say goodbye to his infant daughter. He’s about to go on a dangerous mission and needs to know Laina will be safe. She will go to live with her aunts. Fair warning, this is a heart-wrenching story. Wheaton examines why a single father would risk everything and join what might seem like a lost cause. What could bring him to risk his life? A fair amount of revenge and a dash of hope.

I should end this by noting that I’m a fan of the new Star Wars movies. I find they fill me with a sense of hope. And that’s a word I associate this collection. These are stories of the everyday person (or Jawa or droid). I think I “get” my in-laws love of Star Wars. Much like my love of Star Trek, it’s about heroes and hope. And these stories remind us that it’s not just the Skywalker family who can make a difference: it’s all of us.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes