Showing posts with label short story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label short story. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December Minis: A Library, A Bazaar, and Earthquakes

Yup, it's that time again.  More mini-reviews!  I am enjoying this format for the time being, and I hope you all are too.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Crown, 2015
borrowed from the library

While this book doesn't seem to be super widely-known, several bloggers that I love and respect were singing its praises, so I had to check it out.  That said, I was a little nervous, because many reviews mentioned "magical realism" and "fantasy", two genres with which I haven't had much luck.  But, I gave it a go.

Quick synopsis: Carolyn and a dozen other children were "adopted" long ago by the mysterious Father.  Each child was taught one category of Father's knowledge over the years.  Now, it's 20 years later, and Father has disappeared.  Carolyn & co now have to fight to see who has the power (and the knowledge) to take Father's place.

You guys, THIS BOOK IS AMAZING.  Yup, it's full of fantasy and magical realism and things you would never believe in real life, but Hawkins wrote it so well that it DOES NOT MATTER.  It is horrifying and hilarious and mysterious at the same time.  The story unravels in such a way that there is always another piece of information you need, that you can't put down the book for, and as such you will indeed never put down the freaking book.  Full disclosure: I did not love the ending (it was less explosive than the rest of the novel, and as such felt unfitting), but I still recommend it.  Highly.  (As long as you can take some gore.  A lot of gore, actually.)

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
Scribner, 2015
borrowed from the library

It's been a while since I ran out and read the latest King release, but I knew that a new collection of his short stories was a good excuse to do it.  My love of SK began with his short stories.  Where his novels, while often excellent, can enter the territory of being overly verbose, his short stories are more concise, hitting readers hard and fast right between the eyes.

This collection is no exception.  While not every story worked for me ("The Bone Church" was one--more of a poem, and an odd one at that), I was wow'ed by the majority of them.  I know many people hear Stephen King and immediately think horror, but that is not the overarching theme here.  (Though some are certainly horrific..."Mile 81" comes to mind immediately. Avoid if you're queasy, or if you dislike children in distress.)  Instead, I'd say there is a general sense of unease in each of these stories.  Questions of morality, of good conscience, of what it means to be just.  You are left feeling disturbed, rather than scared.  And if the stories aren't enough, the book is made even more amazing by the notes King has left before the start of each one, giving you the background on what inspired it and how he wrote it.  Is there anything better than a Stephen King introduction?  And now you get 21 of them.  Winner winner, chicken dinner.  A great read for die-hard King fans and newbie SK followers alike.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Random House, 2013
borrowed from the library
The latest pick for my MOMS Club book club.  Discussion is this Sunday, and I think it's fair to say there'll be a lot to discuss!  Basic premise: Kate and Vi are twins who were born with psychic abilities.  As they get older, Kate distances herself from these "senses", while Vi embraces and hones them over time.  Now in their 30's and living in St. Louis, Vi predicts very publicly that a disastrous earthquake will soon hit the city, throwing Vi, and Kate, into the spotlight.  Kate is forced to reconsider her own abilities, as well as her roles as sister, daughter, wife, and mother.

I am a Sittenfeld fan (Prep and American Wife are truly excellent reads, if you haven't gotten to them already).  That said, the novel started out very slowly for me, and I felt like the narrative was wordy and jumpy for no discernible reason.  Plus, I found Kate to be positively grating.  She's weak, whiny, impulsive, dispassionate, and seems to be just going through the motions in what boils down to a very comfortable life.  (It could also be that I hate the picture she portrays of stay-at-home moms.  She makes us look ridiculous.)

However, Kate finally does something so outrageously stupid that it makes the last quarter of the novel completely un-put-down-able.  I ATE IT UP.  So I'm not sure if I should love this book because I was so entirely enraptured by it for the second half, or if I should dislike it because the protagonist is godawful and it's her ridiculous godawful mistakes that make the second half of the book worth reading.  I don't know.  I guess I need to discuss that at book club.  :)

What did you read so far this month?

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Post-Thanksgiving "What Are You Reading?"

Howdy, reader friends!  I hope all my American readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We had a phenomenal time celebrating with my crazy family in Connecticut.  There was much food, and football, and more food, and wine, and all that good stuff.  With the holiday, and all the travel it involved (7+ hours each way with a 4- and 1-year-old, FUN!), plus a terrible stomach bug I endured the week before, blogging fell a bit by the wayside.  However, I am back in the saddle with a quick reading update.

What am I reading now?  That would be The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King's latest release.  It's a short story collection, and I have long been a fan of SK short stories.  I'm about 2/3 done at this point, and still mulling over what I think of the collection as a whole.  Though there are some common themes, each story is so different and elicits such a varied range of reactions from me that it's hard to review!  But I'll have my thoughts posted here soon enough.

Up next?  I'll be tackling Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, the next book chosen for my MOMS Club book club.  The summary sounds intriguing and I've enjoyed many of Sittenfeld's other novels, so I have high hopes here.

Okay, back to my short stories!  What are you reading this week?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent


Title: Mendocino Fire
Author: Elizabeth Tallent
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

The son of an aging fisherman becomes ensnared in a violent incident that forces him to confront his broken relationship with his father. A woman travels halfway across the country to look for her ex-husband, only to find her attention drawn in a surprising direction. A millworker gives safe harbor to his son's pregnant girlfriend, until an ambiguous gesture upsets their uneasy equilibrium. These and other stories—of yearning, loss, and tentative new connections—come together in Mendocino Fire, the first new collection in two decades from the widely admired Elizabeth Tallent.

Diverse in character and setting, rendered in an exhilarating, exacting prose, these stories confirm Tallent's enduring gift for capturing relationships in moments of transformation: marriages breaking apart, people haunted by memories of old love and reaching haltingly toward new futures. The result is a book that reminds us how our lives are shaped by moments of fracture and fragmentation, by expectations met and thwarted, and by our never-ending quest to be genuinely seen.


My Review:

I am so impressed by this collection of short fiction.  While some short story collections show a great deal of variety in tone, in Mendocino Fire, Tallent has put together a cohesive group of tales with such similarity in atmosphere that the transition from one to the next is incredibly smooth.  However, just because the overall feel of each story is similar, does not mean that they all don't have unique subjects and merits.  While many themes recur throughout the book (marital strife, loss, familial discontent), each story has a perspective that's all its own.

I enjoyed the subtleties in Tallent's writing style.  I found myself re-reading passages at times in order to make sure they could fully sink in.  While the primary 'moral' of each story is made quite clear by the time you reach the end, there are always several smaller, less obvious lessons for your brain to chew on as well.  I never object to a book that makes me think!  Each story explores a different aspect of romantic and family relationships--often aspects that are uncomfortable, or difficult to admit to.  Even so, Tallent approaches each one with an impressive level of thoughtfulness and depth.

If I had to pick a favorite (because don't we always have to pick a favorite in a short story collection)?  I'd have to go with "Mystery Caller".  A woman (divorced, but now remarried with kids) occasionally calls her ex-husband, but never says anything when he answers.  The result is surprising, sad, but a little bit comforting as well.

Fans of short stories need to put this one on the radar.  It's certainly not an uplifting read (that atmosphere I talked about before?  Pretty heavy.), but if you don't mind that, this is an excellent collection to devour.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.
Elizabeth Tallent

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman


Title: Trigger Warning
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction--stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013--as well "Black Dog," a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In "Adventure Story"--a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane--Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience "A Calendar of Tales" are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year--stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother's Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale "The Case of Death and Honey". And "Click-Clack the Rattlebag" explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we're all alone in the darkness.


My Review:

When I saw this on the Recent Releases shelf at my library, I figured I could not go wrong with a collection of Neil Gaiman short stories.  My attention span has been so limited lately that some short fiction sounded perfect, and my two forays into Gaiman's work thus far have been positive.

Unfortunately, this one fell into the so-so category for me.  I KNOW.  I'm just as surprised as you are.

Even so, there were a lot of great things about this collection, because it IS Neil Gaiman.  All of his stories are subtly unsettling, a writing tactic that I came to love in Neverwhere.  He skips the obvious, sometimes gory, horror of a Stephen King novel, and instead leaves you with a vague chill in your bones at the end of each tale.  That certainly did not disappoint.

And some of the individual stories were pretty great, all on their own.  "The Thing About Cassandra," "A Calendar of Tales," and "A Lunar Labyrinth" were my favorites, all excellent stand-alone stories that left me with much to ponder afterwards.  I also loved Gaiman's introduction to the collection--he explains his thought process behind each story (helpful for me as a reader), and also makes some really spot-on points about whether or not books should include "trigger warnings" to warn readers of possibly-sensitive material.

That said, there were two main reasons why I felt lukewarm on this book.  First (and Gaiman does acknowledge this in the introduction), the genre of the stories jumps around way too much for my liking.  There's horror, sci-fi, fairy tale retellings, a Doctor Who-based story...some prose, some poetry...they are all so vastly different.  This is the first short story collection I've read that jumps around so much in genre, and it made for a very choppy reading experience for me.  Though the tone was fairly similar between stories, I would have liked a little more continuity in the genres as well.

The second issue I had is that so many of the stories require previous knowledge of other stories.  As I mentioned, there is a Doctor Who story (which I actually liked more than I thought I would, though I probably would have enjoyed it even more if I'd ever seen the show), a Sherlock Holmes tale, two stories that are based on Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, respectively (I had to brush up on my fairy tales to understand them), and a story related to American Gods, a Gaiman novel that I've not read yet (so I don't think I fully appreciated the story).  Again, this made for a very choppy reading experience as I was constantly Googling information about these other sources in order to understand the story at hand.

Overall, if you're a Gaiman fan to begin with, and have good background on the original tales he spins off from, then this book is likely a win for you.  But otherwise, I think Trigger Warning has the potential to be a rougher read than what you may expect from short fiction.

Have any other Neil Gaiman fans read this one yet?  What did you think?
And can anyone tell me what the draw is to Doctor Who?  Because seriously, fans of that show are HARDCORE.  This was my first experience with a TARDIS.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: Man V. Nature by Diane Cook


Title: Man V. Nature
Author: Diane Cook
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

A refreshingly imaginative, daring debut collection of stories which illuminates with audacious wit the complexity of human behavior, as seen through the lens of the natural world.

Told with perfect rhythm and unyielding brutality, these stories expose unsuspecting men and women to the realities of nature, the primal instincts of man, and the dark humor and heartbreak of our struggle to not only thrive, but survive. In “Girl on Girl,” a high school freshman goes to disturbing lengths to help an old friend. An insatiable temptress pursues the one man she can’t have in “Meteorologist Dave Santana.” And in the title story, a long fraught friendship comes undone when three buddies get impossibly lost on a lake it is impossible to get lost on. In Diane Cook’s perilous worlds, the quotidian surface conceals an unexpected surreality that illuminates different facets of our curious, troubling, and bewildering behavior.

Other stories explore situations pulled directly from the wild, imposing on human lives the danger, tension, and precariousness of the natural world: a pack of not-needed boys take refuge in a murky forest and compete against each other for their next meal; an alpha male is pursued through city streets by murderous rivals and desirous women; helpless newborns are snatched by a man who stalks them from their suburban yards. Through these characters Cook asks: What is at the root of our most heartless, selfish impulses? Why are people drawn together in such messy, complicated, needful ways? When the unexpected intrudes upon the routine, what do we discover about ourselves? 

As entertaining as it is dangerous, this accomplished collection explores the boundary between the wild and the civilized, where nature acts as a catalyst for human drama and lays bare our vulnerabilities, fears, and desires.


My Review:

Potentially the best book I'll read in 2014.  Just wanted to state that up front.

When was the last time I read a collection of short stories?  (That question was going to be rhetorical, but I just looked it up, and it was This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, which I also loved.  Why am I not reading more short stories??)  Anyway, it's been too long, because Diane Cook has reminded me how amazing shorter works can be.

Each of the stories in this book tackle a different aspect of human nature.  How do social status and power affect our animal instinct to survive?  What is the stronger human desire, monogamy or strong offspring?  If we come into good fortune, is it our obligation to share that with those less fortunate?  The list goes on and on.  (That's not an exaggeration, I will gladly show you the excessively long note on my iPhone that I created while reading and mulling everything over.)  No matter what the focus, every story sucked me in immediately, and had my wheels turning all the way to the very end.
What makes these tales exceptional is that they are concisely written (no long, boring passages to pull you out of the action), but are still crafted in such a way that the "moral of the story" is not always obvious.  You will most definitely be contemplating this book long after you put it down.  (Or, you can do what I did, and start a Facebook message with another reader (Hi, Monika from Lovely Bookshelf!) to discuss all your philosophies and WTF moments along the way.  This would be an amazing book club book for the discussion possibilities!)

If I had a choose a favorite story from the collection, one that is sure to stick with me, it's "Somebody's Baby."  In it, new mothers are left in constant fear as an unknown man camps out in their yards and threatens to steal their babies.  If I have ever read anything that better encompasses the intense worry that women have as mothers, I'm sure I don't remember it.  "She felt shot at every day of her life since she'd begun having children."  Yes, every bit of that one resonated with me.  And even if that doesn't sound like it would be your particular favorite, I'm sure there's one in this collection that will touch you just as deeply.

I'm all done gushing.  If you have any doubts left about my opinion on this book, I'd be amazed.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Diane Cook on Twitter.




Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Top 10 Things That Make Me Tell A Book To TALK TO THE HAND.

Back in April, I participated in The Broke and The Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday topic: Top 10 Words/Topics That Instantly Make You Buy/Pick Up A Book.  I had fun with that one, and today, they're doing the opposite:

Top Ten Words/Topics That Will Make You NOT Pick Up A Book

I felt it was only appropriate that I cover both sides of the coin.  So, without further ado...

1. Faeries, vampires, and werewolves, oh my.
I'm just not into the paranormal/fantasy thing.  I read the Twilight series because I felt it was my duty as a reader to do so, but I didn't get a lot of enjoyment out of it.  I haven't been motivated to try much else since then.  Is Harry Potter considered fantasy though?  Because I would totally make an exception for that.

2. A cheesy tagline.
Or any tagline, really.  Why does a book need a tagline?  Can you imagine if Jane Austen sat around coming up with taglines?  If you've already chosen a good title, let it speak for itself.  I feel like taglines are just the author saying, "Okay, the title might not have drawn you in, but wait wait wait!  Don't walk away yet noooooooo..."  I don't want to be sold that hard.
Wow. That's crazy. Tell me more.
3. "New adult".
I don't understand this new genre.  Honestly, it seems like they just didn't want to say "erotica for the older YA's".  Yes?  All I know is, my early 20's were not nearly as racy as these authors seem to think.

4. Part 2/3/4/etc of a series.
I am way too type-A to start a series midway through.  I have to start with Part 1, or I'm not starting at all!

5. Fiction written by a "celebrity".
I side-eye anything written (or that claims to be written) by a celebrity (other than biographies/memoirs).  Lauren Conrad writes books?  Whaaaaaaaaaa?

6. Short story collections.
This is one that generally turns me off, but I DO make exceptions.  I greatly prefer novels to short story collections, because I like to really steep myself in a book...short stories pull me out of the plot too quickly.  That said--I will read ANY short stories that Stephen King writes, and I will try other authors if I hear enough good hype about their work beforehand.  (Jhumpa Lahiri, I'm coming for you.)

7. Hey look, boobs!
Erotica is just not my thing.  Much like "new adult" novels, I find them a little ridiculous and hard to take seriously.  WHATEVER, I'M A PRUDE, I KNOW.

8. A message from...above.
Apparently I am a middle-of-the-road reader, because just as I'm not a fan of erotica, I'm also not a fan of the opposite end of the spectrum: Christian and LDS fiction.  I'm not an atheist or anything like that, but if I want religious inspiration, I prefer to get it from sources other than my fiction novels.

9. The title is too similar to another well-known novel.
It's not that I avoid books with similar titles--it's just that most times, I honestly don't realize that they are two different books, thus causing me to not read one of them.  Do you know how long it took me to realize that Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Shadow and Bone, are NOT THE SAME?

10. Mass-published fan fiction.
Just no.
In my search for a cutting meme about 50 Shades, I found this instead, and it was way better.
Readers: what words/topics are total book turn-offs for you?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Title: This Is How You Lose Her
Author: Junot Diaz
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness--and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

My Review:

At its core, This Is How You Lose Her is a book about love.  But it's not a happy, squishy, feel-good love story.  No--the book is actually a series of short stories, dealing with the messy, deceitful, and heartbreaking consequences that can come from love gone awry.  Central to most of the stories is Yunior, who (if you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) you may remember as Oscar's sister's boyfriend in Diaz's last novel.  Yunior was the narrator for part of that novel as well, but in this story, his history is fleshed out much more.  I like how Diaz created that sense of continuity between the two books.

Yunior is an interesting character.  Yes, he is a cheater--and a pretty consistent one, at that.  But he's also constantly regretful of his transgressions.  So throughout the novel, you're left wondering--why?  Why does he continue to break the hearts of others, especially when his heart often ends up broken as well?  Is it an example learned from his father, who ran off so long ago?  Or from his brother, who brazenly jumps from woman to woman with hardly a second thought?  Or is it entrenched in his culture (as one girlfriend, Magda, seems to think)--did he learn to behave this way from his Dominican upbringing?  Obviously, none of these things end up providing a clear answer to the question, but they all came together to provide a illustrative backdrop for the details of Yunior's life.

One story that stuck out for me was "Otravida, Otravez", which centers on a woman who is the mistress to a Dominican man (unrelated to Yunior, as far as I could tell).  The man's wife lives back in the DR, while he is in the US working and setting up a life with this other woman.  It's the only story without a direct relation to Yunior's life, but I think it serves to broaden the book's perspective--giving a female point of view, and a look at the other side of an unfaithful relationship.  It caught me off guard at first, but this is the story that made me realize this is not a book about Yunior, but a book that is trying to encompass larger themes about love and loss.

But the best part about these stories?  Yunior's voice.  Remember when I went to that Junot Diaz reading last month?  I mentioned that Diaz had everybody cracking up as he read from the "Alma" chapter--his voice is raw, humorous, and distinctively Dominican in flavor.  That carries throughout the entire book, and makes it stand out from any other story collection I've read.  It made me wish I could hire the guy to sit in my living room and read me the whole thing.  Diaz writes with his Dominican background at the forefront, and he does it like a master.  (But, a note to the other blanquitas out there, like myself: you better have Google Translator handy so you can figure out some of the Spanish phrases!  Ha.)

This is one of those books that's short on length, but big on contemplation.  You'll read it quickly but spend a lot of time mulling it over afterwards.  Great collection of stories, but I'd still probably recommend reading Oscar Wao first--just so you can get introduced to Yunior there before finding out his whole story here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Deja Vu Review

The Deja Vu Review is a new Sunday feature by Brittany at the Book Addict's Guide.  It's an opportunity to do mini-reviews of books that you read in your pre-blogging life.  Which basically means I could be doing Deja Vu reviews for the next 10 years of Sundays, and I STILL wouldn't cover everything...but I'll give it a try.

Two mini-reviews today...I picked one book that I 5-starred on Goodreads, and one that I 1-starred, just to mix things up.

(*Apparently, I scheduled this post before I realized there was a specific topic for the week. Rookie mistake! Ah well, I'll be on top of it next time.) :)

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (5 stars on Goodreads)

This is a short-story collection published by King in 2010.  My first ever SK read was The Shining, some 15 years ago, and after getting hooked on that, my next pick was Four Past Midnight, one of his earlier story collections.  I've been in awe of his shorter works since then.  Stephen King crafts masterful novels, with more detail than you could possibly imagine, and yet he still knows how put together a short tale that gets you in the gut (sometimes literally, given the genre).

This book includes 4 stories: 1992, Big Driver, Fair Extension, and A Good Marriage.  In the afterword, King says he likes writing about "ordinary people in extraordinary situations", and that is what these four tales are all about.  Yes, they're terrifically creepy, but as I read each one, at some point I couldn't help putting myself in the main character's shoes and wondering what I would do in their situation.  He gets you emotionally involved...even as you're ready to jump out of your skin.

If you've never tried any SK short stories, start with these; you won't be disappointed!

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk (1 star on Goodreads)

I wanted so badly to like this novel, which I read back in 2010.  It came highly recommended by a friend, and I'd never read any Palahniuk, though I knew he was the mind behind Fight Club and Choke (both high on my TBR list).  However, this was the wrong one for me to start with.

The plot centers around a group of people who have all answered an ad for a writer's retreat.  But once they arrive, they are instead locked in a theater without food, water, or power.  They are in a fight to be the last survivor.  Each of the 23 chapters is told from a different POV as the characters reveal the stories that led them to this point.

While the premise does sound like something I'd be into, the content of this book is, in a word, disgusting.  I know Palahniuk was trying to make a point here about human nature, but the gore and violence in this book just felt pointless and over-the-top.  I'm all for blood and guts when it's called for (see above review, and basically every other King novel), but this was extreme for no reason.  My stomach still turns recalling some of the stories...eck.  So yeah...no recommendation from me on this one.

Have you read either of these books?  Any recommendations for me so that I can see a better side of Palahniuk's work?
 
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