Posts Tagged ‘Short Stories’

Best New Books of 2014: Kerri H’s Picks

December 15, 2014

I read everything… fiction, nonfiction, short stories, young adult fiction. Happy books, sad books, disturbing books, thought provoking books. I try to round out my reading experience each year with a variety of genres and themes.

RedeploymentRedeployment by Phil Klay
This is an important, thought-provoking, disturbing and humbling collection of stories. They are written by a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Iraq during the surge. Each story is told from the viewpoint of a different character… a chaplain, a Foreign Service Officer, a Mortuary Affairs Marine and many others. Descriptions evoke the grit, stench, claustrophobia, nonsensical situations, and collateral damage both physically and emotionally found in twenty-first century war.

Best to LaughBest to Laugh by Lorna Landvik
You will laugh at the quirky cast of characters and fun storyline. Candy Pekkalo is living a non-descript life in Minnesota when her cousin calls to see if she would like to sublet her Hollywood apartment. Once there, Candy thrives. She meets a diverse group of neighbors who become family, and works an odd, yet interesting, assortment of temp jobs. She even succeeds in the male dominated stand-up comedy world of the late 1970’s. You’re going to have fun living Candy Pekkalo’s life vicariously.

Dept. of SpeculationDept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill
If you’ve ever experienced infidelity, bedbugs, motherhood, or feel like your brain goes from one random thought to another… this book is for you.  Written from the perspective of “the wife” it’s a collection of random thoughts and famous quotes.  It sounds disjointed, but it flows together perfectly.  It’s also about teaching college students, ghost writing, general discontent and hope.

JackabyJackaby by William Ritter
This young adult novel enraptured me. I read this fast-paced mystery with evidence of the supernatural in two nights.  In 1892, Abigail Rock arrives alone in New England from Ukraine via a boat from Germany. She’s in need of a job, room and board. After applying to an advertisement for an investigative assistant, she begins working for the eccentric R.F. Jackaby. Together they investigate a series of murders. This is a funny, rollicking read about a serial killer. I know it seems strange to call a book about a serial killer funny; but trust me, there are some hilarious scenes and dialogue in the book. This is the first book in a series. I anticipate this will be the next big young adult series.

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
An autobiography in verse which resonates with readers is an amazing feat! Jacqueline Woodson elegantly portrays her childhood; evoking the love her family poured on herself and siblings. She perfectly distills the reality of the civil rights movement and her experience being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. These poems merge to form a fluid and beautiful story.

Best New Books of 2014: Martha S’s Picks

December 11, 2014

I enjoy reading realistic fiction, with some humor thrown in from time to time, and and occasional work of nonfiction.  These are my picks for best books of 2014:

Chestnut StreetChestnut Street by Maeve Binchy
The final work by the late Maeve Binchy, Chestnut Street is not strictly a novel, but short  stories about a variety of characters who all have a connection to Chestnut Street in Dublin. Binchy’s trademark gentle storytelling and likeable characters combine for an enjoyable read.

 

My Accidental JihadMy Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
Soon after Krista Bremer moved from California to Chapel Hill, she met Ismail, an older man from Syria. Though from very different cultures, they became a couple, eventually marrying. This is the story of their marriage. She is spiritual, he is a devout Muslim. The differences between them are mainly cultural and she describes them with humor and sometimes frustration. The growth of their relationship and the compromises they make, and the growth of Krista as a person make for very good reading.

ByrdByrd by Kim Church
This is the tenderest of books with an unforgettable main character. Addie’s botched abortion means that the baby survived and he is placed for adoption. She names him Byrd and from the time of his birth until she is in her forties, Addie writes letters to Byrd that tell him how much she loves him. Meanwhile, Addie forms a life of meaning, despite her longing for Byrd. Familiar locations in Raleigh added to my enjoyment of the book.

Getting LifeGetting Life : An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace by Michael Morton
Michael Morton was convicted in Texas on flimsy evidence for the murder of his wife. Twenty-five years later he was exonerated by DNA evidence and the efforts of the Innocence Project. Two things stood out for me in this book; he was seen as innocent by all his fellow prisoners and he wrote the book himself. Morton occupied his time wisely in prison, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature. A spellbinding account of how the justice system can fail.

All I Have in this WorldAll I Have in This World by Michael Parker
Marcus and Maria who both have messy histories and who have now ended up in a town in Texas, meet over the hood of a much-used Buick Electra, which has its own history. They buy the car together and it succeeds in helping each of them toward their individual destinies.

 

Best New Books of 2014: Sarah K’s Picks

December 5, 2014

Identity and struggle are the themes of five of my favorite books from 2014. How does adversity shape who we are? How much do we control our identities and how much are we shaped by external forces? I invite you to check out these following titles

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Kidnapped by an armed street gang in Haiti, Mireille trusts her wealthy father to pay ransom to return her to her fairy tale existence with her husband and baby. When Mireille’s father refuses to capitulate to her captors, she must find the strength to endure days of torment while trying to maintain a connection to the woman she was. Gay’s frank treatment of rape and its aftermath with clean understated writing adds to the intensity of this book.

On the RunOn the Run by Alice Goffman
As an undergraduate, Alice Goffman moved into a neighborhood in Philadelphia and began taking field notes as she fully immersed herself in the lives of the families living there. The War on Drugs had created a culture of constant police surveillance of the lives of the residents there, especially among the young men, many of whom were in some sort of entanglement with the legal system. Goffman witnessed arrests, escapes from the police and how police use employment and familial relationships as leverage against suspects. Goffman has written an insightful and sobering critique of the policing of poor neighborhoods and the human toll that it takes on the individuals living there.

The Empathy ExamsThe Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
From the confinement of illness to the traps of poverty and prison, Leslie Jamison’s clear-eyed and far-ranging essays explore the intersection between empathy and pain. If you only have time for one essay, read “Fog Count,” which begins with a prison visit, but then expands to include the larger picture of the prison-industrial complex, strip mining and the economy of West Virginia.  Her curiosity about the human condition brings into sharp focus the capacity and limitations of compassion. She deftly weaves personal experience with the universal to create a collection that rivals early Joan Didion.

The Other LanguageThe Other Language by Francesca Marciano
A woman writes about the ideal Italy while homesick in New York. Another seeks out an old companion on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean; while a third buys a Chanel gown on a frivolous whim. In this collection of nine stories, Marciano travels across countries and cultures with a knack for capturing settings and tone. She vividly captures the lives of her characters at moments of transformation with lovely and fluid storytelling that keeps the pages turning.

How to Build a GirlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Eager to escape her lackluster existence as a working-class teenager in the Midlands of England, and her unfortunate Scooby-Doo impersonation on local television, Johanna Morrigan decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde, music journalist. After gaining the attention of a London-based music magazine, Johanna/Dolly embarks on a series of professional and sexual misadventures as she tries to figure out how to build her new life. If you were a teenager in the early 1990s, or enjoy bold raucous humor, chances are you will love this book as much as I did.

Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle

November 12, 2014

Going Away Shoes is a collection of eleven short stories written by North Carolina’s own Jill McCorkle.  McCorkle has written several acclaimed novels and short story collections featuring Southern women of different ages and stages, and exploring the deeper meanings in their everyday activities and relationships.

The stories in Going Away Shoes are multi-layered and thought provoking, some of them heartwarming, and some heartbreaking. The first story in the collection is “Going Away Shoes.” It portrays a single, middle-aged, daughter who is the caregiver for her elderly mother. She ruminates about her family’s history, which she recalls by remembering her mother’s different shoes and purses, while watching soap operas and tending to her mother’s gradual decline.

Another of the stories in this collection, “Magic Words,” takes place one evening while a mother ferries her children to the movies and a party – a typical suburban weekend. She is also on her way to embark on a long-anticipated illicit affair, until she notices a young girl desperately in need of help. Meanwhile her husband is at home worrying about coyotes recently seen in the neighborhood, while another type of predator, a vengeful teen, is on the prowl in this complex story.

My favorite story of the collection is “Midnight Clear,” featuring a lonely and unsure newly divorced mother who is overwhelmed with household issues, most notably the strong smell of her septic tank which appears to be overflowing on Christmas Eve. Help and encouragement arrives with humor and grace from an unexpected source.

I especially enjoy McCorkle’s use of language and shrewd observations of character. Her writing is literary without being long and cumbersome, packing a subtle punch.

Jill McCorkle is one of several North Carolina authors visiting our regional libraries in November. You can meet her and learn about her work at the Eva Perry Regional Library on Thursday, November 13, at 2:00 p.m.  Click here to register.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich

October 23, 2014

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love StoriesThis is not your traditional book of short love stories. Is there a traditional one of those? I don’t know, but this definitely isn’t it.

Simon Rich is a very funny man. I was first introduced to his writing through Elliot Allagash, his first novel, back in 2010. I did a lot of giggling. So when I saw this collection of short stories on the shelf, I wanted to give it a go.

I tend to like a short story collection, which I know not everyone does. I generally prefer to space out my consumption of the stories — I have trouble staying engaged reading an entire book of short stories at once. For The Last Girlfriend on Earth, though, this was not the case. Some stories are as short as a page and a half, others are somewhat longer, but each is a quick read that will have you wanting to move right on to the next.

The stories are broken into three thematic segments; Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, and Boy Loses Girl. Classic tales of love and heartbreak, you might be thinking. But you are incorrect, dear friend. Rich’s plots and characters vary wildly, from the “girl” in question being your basic under-the-bridge troll (think: short, hairy, speaks in grunts) to the “boy” being Hitler, now aged 124, wheel-chair ridden, and hitting the party scene with his new gal in New York.

It’s all really very silly, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

October 21, 2014

RoguesThis collection includes 21 Fantasy short stories from authors such as Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Joe Abercrombie, Gillian Flynn, and Patrick Rothfuss. As my coworker Keith mentioned in his review of this book for LibraryReads,

“This anthology is worth reading for the Rothfuss story alone! ‘The Lightning Tree’ follows Bast spending a day outside the tavern, which left me anxious for Kingkiller Book 3 to come out.”

I couldn’t agree more! Some of the other stories are also set in worlds we know and feature characters we love – such as Neil Gaiman’s follow up to his popular novel Neverwhere, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.” So there you go, read this book and get a couple of very amazing stories from two of the masters of modern fantasy, Rothfuss and Gaiman. What’s that? You want more? Okay, how about these:

Joe Abercrombie’s story “Tough Times All Over” in which a package is stolen from a courier, only to be re-stolen and appropriated over and over as it changes hands multiple times during its journey across the city. We’re treated to multiple viewpoint shifts of the colorful cast of ne’er-do-wells and blackguards as the package shifts from one person to the next. Action, world-building, and witty dialogue are among Ambercrombie’s trademarks demonstrated here.

Carrie Vaughn‘s story “Roaring Twenties” is set in a hidden watering hole and gambling den frequented by villains and scoundrels. In this magical speak-easy one old practitioner of nefarious magic has come to confront a rival and hopefully reach an understanding. However, as with any gathering of rascals, magical or otherwise, everyone is looking out for themselves and watching their own backs, and when the fur starts flying, understandings are hard to come by.

Garth Nix‘s story “A Cargo of Ivories” features his knight and sorcerer duo Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. In this entertaining story, the pair are sent to recover ivory figurines which contain energy anchors for minor gods. When we meet them here, Sir Hereward and his former teacher Mister Fitz – who happens to be an enchanted puppet – are doing a bit of burglary to recover the figurines from the magically protected home of a rich collector. Naturally, their plans go awry. They meet another thief ransacking the house and the trio pair up to pursue one of the escaped godlets before it can wreak havoc.

One of the best things about short story collections is that they expose you to newer authors or authors you just haven’t gotten around to reading yet. After reading Scott Lynch‘s story “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” I decided to bump his novel The Lies of Locke Lamora higher on my “to-read” list. If you like short stories by Fantasy authors, also check out the Martin & Dozois edited Dangerous Women, released last year.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night edited by James Patterson and Thriller 2: Stories You Just Can’t Put Down edited by Clive Cussler

August 6, 2014

ThrillerFans of suspense and crime fiction will love two anthologies aptly titled Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night and Thriller 2: Stories You Just Can’t Put Down. Some of the greatest contemporary mystery, suspense, and fictional crime authors came together and created an organization called International Thriller Writers Inc. The writers in this group each contributed original short stories to be included in the first Thriller anthology.

The first anthology contains over thirty short stories that often include some of the writers’ well-known characters from popular series. The stories vary and cross multiple genres including historical, mystery, and science-fiction. All are fast-paced heart racing reads. Some of the authors included are Michael Palmer, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Denise Hamilton and John Lescroart.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Thriller 2Thriller 2 (published in 2009) also includes over thirty short stories. Almost all of the authors in this follow-up anthology created stories with completely new characters that are not found in any of their series. Some of the contributing authors of this volume are Ridley Pearson, R.L. Stine, Jeffrey Deaver, Carla Neggers, Lisa Jackson and Phillip Margolin.

What makes the Thriller anthologies special is that the stories are edited by two masters of the thriller genre. James Patterson edited the first Thriller and Clive Cussler edited Thriller 2. Patterson and Cussler provide introductions to each story which give the reader insight into the background of the authors and their characters as well as elements of their writing styles. Both Thriller anthologies have something for every type of thriller enthusiast. These books are a great way to try out some new authors or revisit your favorites.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith

July 1, 2014

The Frangipani HotelI picked up this book on a whim, and as I casually read the inside cover, I was a bit intrigued. Once I turned to the back and read the author bio, I knew I had to give The Frangipani Hotel a try. The author, Violet Kupersmith, is just in her early 20’s and a recent college graduate.

The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of short stories that are based on traditional Vietnamese folktales, but Kupersmith has reworked them to be both contemporary and relevant. They are all ghost stories, if you will, but not the typical “Boo!” or jump out of your seat variety. Some are eerie, some unsettling, and all are unexpected in their plot and conclusion. They often start out in the mundane world and then some supernatural element is woven into the plot. The Vietnam War and its haunting aftermath also makes an appearance in many of the narratives.

Although united by these common themes, each story is unique and Kupersmith writes comfortably with a diverse cast of characters. My favorite story was entitled “Skin and Bones”. This was about a Vietnamese American teen who is sent with her older sister to stay with their grandmother in Vietnam. Thuy is sent away by her mother in hopes she will lose weight, as Thuy has become addicted to American junk food. However, Thuy soon finds a strange little sandwich shop that she sneaks to when her grandmother and sister nap into the afternoon.

Overall, call me impressed by Violet Kupersmith’s wise-beyond-her-years literary debut. I highly recommend this original, captivating work. Kupersmith is a rising young star, and I look forward to seeing where this gifted writer will go from here.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

 

Greatest Hits: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

January 2, 2014

Join us the next eight days and kick off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2013!

I had known of Sherman Alexie as a Poet, but until I saw the movie “Smoke Signals” and noticed in the credits that it was based on this book, I had never read Alexie’s short stories. I seldom read fiction at all, but upon starting “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”, I was immediately enthralled. The book contains 22 short stories, which take place on or near the Spokane Reservation in Washington State. In “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven“, Sherman Alexie does for reservation life what Jack Kerouac did for the Beat Poetry movement in novels such as “The Dharma Bums“.

The main characters are Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, two very different people. Victor, a former high school basketball star is a popular figure, while Thomas is a storyteller looked upon largely with contempt or amusement. Still, their lives are intertwined with each other and everyone else on the reservation. Through stories of their families and relationships, Alexie paints a vivid picture of the reality of modern Native American life on and off the reservation. Powwows, fry bread, and fancydancing are interspersed with basketball, alcoholism, and poverty in stories that invoke strong feelings of poignancy and longing; along with fatalism and injustice. Even within the reservation community, tensions are present between traditionalists and non traditionalists; urban and reservation dwellers; employed and jobless. Yet a close sense of identity surges through the stories like a tide. Even those who leave the reservation are pulled inexorably back.

With a backdrop of wit and bleak humor, Alexie masterfully uses dream sequences, flashbacks, and diary entries. Narratives will seem surreal and random, and then suddenly merge into the same tale. His stories are as deeply moving and lyrical as his poetry. “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” will resonate strongly with anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, or who wants a glimpse into the world of contemporary reservation life.

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Tenth of December by George Saunders

November 20, 2013

tenthdec“Having felt that abyss, I basically said, ‘O.K., capitalism, I have seen your gaping maw, and I want no trouble with you.’ ” – George Saunders
My heart leaped when I saw that George Saunders had a new story collection coming out this year. Ever since reading his story, In Persuasion Nation, back in 2005, my love for his work has continued unabated and I urge you, blog reader, to grab a copy of Tenth of December immediately.
For those unfamiliar with Saunders, his work uses satire and the surreal to capture the strangeness and unrelenting brutality of modern American corporate culture where cruelty is wrapped in management speak. His stories are dark and sharply funny, yet carry a deeply moral bent. In Escape from Spiderhead,a human test subject experiences a series of increasingly ruthless Milgramesque experiments to which he must decide to comply or resist. While in The Semplica Girl Diaries, a father struggles with providing for his family. When he wins the lottery he fulfills his daughter’s dream of having a set of Semplica Girls, which turn out to be a type of living lawn ornaments that reflect our ever growing globalized economy. The title story is a lovely showstopper combining the crossed paths of a man seeking suicide after his cancer diagnosis and the nerdy boy who sets out to save him.

Though many of Saunders’ characters seem to be caught in situations without escape, there is an undercurrent of grace and hope that persists despite the characters’ bleak situations.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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