Tag Archives: short stories

Endless Summer by Elin Hilderbrand

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Endless Summer by Elin Hilderbrand

Hilderbrand, Elin. Endless Summer. Little, Brown, 2022. 368 pp. ISBN 978-0316474528 $31.00

**1/2

This collection of stories riff on Hilderbrand’s published novels and offer alternative endings, scenes left off the page, and things that happened before or after the timeline of the previously published novel. Some of the stories have been previously published and available as single digital downloads.While some might see this as a money grab, I am choosing to view it that like me, Elin has characters that she just can’t let go of. Each story is preceded by an author’s note, providing a little inside baseball.

The Nantucket settings, musical references, interconnected relationships, and mouth-watering descriptions of food are hallmark’s of Hilderbrand’s writing and are a satisfying kind of fan service (I forgot to notice if water always had a slice of lemon in it). We get to reconnect with Dabney and Clen from The Matchmaker at the famous Harvard-Yale game–the last time she ventured off campus–and Ursula de Gournsey (Jake’s presidential hopeful wife from 28 Summers after she has declined the Attorney General Position, and get to watch Mallory Blessing decide she wants a divorce from Fray, the surfer husband who is better than she deserves and who just doesn’t match up to Jake McCloud. The rest of the collection did not hold my interest – a novella and a short story set in the Summer of ’69 universe. Diehard fans will want the hardcover copy (conveniently published in time for holiday gift-giving) but most will be happy to re-read “The Sixth Wedding” on our Kindles or check Endless Summer out of the local library.

Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell

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Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell

Rowell, Rainbow. Scattered Showers. St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books. 282 pp. ISBN 987-1-250-85541-1. $24.99

*****

This stellar collection brings together four orphan stories previously published and five brand new ones, including a new story set in the fictional Simon Snow universe constructed in Fangirl. Fans who ordered autographed copies also received a limited edition Simon and Baz fanficlet, My Rosebud Boy that pitches Simon as a florist crushing on a – so sweet considering the title!). Romance and all manner of geekery collide in equal measures of angst and adorableness. Each story has a little sunshine and a little rain that combine to make something beautiful.

My two favorites were “Winter Songs for Summer” and “If the Fates Allow.” In “Winter Songs for Summer,” Summer can’t stop crying when she pre-emptively breaks up with Charlie, her first love, when she senses his waning interest. She’s listening to Tori Amos’s “Silent All These Years” on repeat until her downstairs dorm neighbor knocks on her door to ask her to cease, then slides a mix CD of sad songs he will find tolerable under her door for her to listen to, instead. His music makes her cry, too, but there is something a little different about the playlist that the young man curates for her. Another follows, and another, and they get to be friends, and his music, his assertion that her ex is a dipshit help her to frame her grief, heal and move on. Tori Amos, soft serve ice cream, and the promise and potential of new love after someone who wasn’t quite right brought me right back to my 1990s college experience. The playlist is available for listening to during your own heartache on Spotify.

By contrast, “If the Fates Allow” has a much more contemporary feel, and it features a grown up Reagan (also from FanGirl) in a pandemic world. Home for the holidays, she reconnects with a neighbor who is taking the masking, testing and distancing as seriously as she. I’m sad the retro Jell-O salad recipes were not included, but a quick Google search revealed many recipes for both; the raspberry Jell-O with cream cheese and pretzels seems so Reagan–a pleasing combination of a little sweet, a little salty, and a little funky.

In “Kindred Spirits,” a lifelong Star Wars fan decides to camp out in line to get tickets to the next sequel, and makes friends and maybe more. To her surprise, dismay and relief, there are only two other fans, both men, who coach her in line etiquette and accept her for her love of the fandom while her mother circles the block like a shark daily to make sure her daughter is okay.

In “Waiting” characters waiting to be added to a story connect, disappearing from their shared world when they are scrapped, or when they appear on the page. It’s clever, and filled with yearning. “Midnights” is also yearnful: a teen is in love with her best friend who never has a shortage of other girls to kiss at midnight while she watches from the sidelines. “Snow for Christmas” puts Simon at Baz’s home for the holidays. I didn’t care for “The Prince and the Troll” as much as the rest.

We need to talk about how satisfying the design is. The hardcover is solid and slick. The page edges are tinted a perfect shade of blue. The end papers are deep purple polka-dotted with white raindrops. A satin ribbon bookmark is stitched in to mark your place (or favorite tale). Each story has an illustrated flyleaf in shades of plum and teal. The font is deep plum on creamy paper. It’s a total package!

Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 8 edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

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Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 8 edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Bussel, Rachel Kramer, editor. Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 8. Cleigh Press, 2022. 284 pp. ISBN 978-1627783156. $18.95

*****

Just in time to sexily stuff a holiday stocking, this eighth book in a popular series of erotic stories is the best collection to date in that I found something to love in every one of the 21 play-themed stories. There is a wide range of play, from play-fighting to running around in the woods while cosplaying to watching a literal play to playing with consent, group sex, and BSDM.

Situations run the gamut of some light ordering around in a curtained theatre box in the mid-eighteenth century, to a futuristic tale of an expert in mating habits of intergalactic species meeting her match and mate in a dynamic alien lover. Characters are musicians, LARPers, vampires, swingers, parents, queer, straight, new lovers and long married and everything in-between.

It is an art to write about sex well. The writing in these stories is uniformly excellent: strongly voiced, exquisitely and lushly detailed, and edited to the essentials to hold the story and the sex together.

I read a lot of romance novels, and have been happy to see a evolution in the last thirty years from virgins who come from penetration to sex encompassing conversations about past partners, preferences, and safety; destigmatizing of experience, and normalization of non-penetrative sex. All are true in this collection as well.

What makes this a collection for women? The primary focus is women’s consent and pleasure, but only a handful of the stories are sapphic; and I think the appeal is unlimited. The authors identify as she or they, and the brief bios at the end of the volume are the launching off point for going down (ha!) a rabbit hole of more stories of love, lust and desire. I’ll be in my bunk.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheBestWomen’sEroticaoftheYearVolume8 from #NetGalley.

Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys edited by Jon Scieszka

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Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys edited by Jon Scieszka

Scieszka, Jon, editor. Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys. Viking, 2008: 978-0670011445 $9.99

*****

The favorite authors of young men write about guys being guys in all their smelly, funny, gross, heartwarming, fear-filled, fear-inducing glory. Crossing over formats and genres, the book contains short stories, memoirs, poems and articles and artwork from writers, illustrators and editors for teens, adults and children. Each piece is under four pages, making the book easily digestible in small chunks.

How could a boy not want to devour titles like “Boys, Beer, Barf and Bonding,” “Bombs, Girls” and “Dead Body?” Darren Shan’s “GUYManifesto – Who We Are!” empowers boys to embrace their hairy, toe-nail biting, scratching, sniffing, farting selves – or, any piece of that self, while an excerpt from Esquire Magazine’s popular “The Rules” column offers advice tidbits such ranging from “It’s always unaceptable to refuse a woman’s request to dance” to “when in doubt, pick “C.”

Dav Pilkey thanks his parents for not allowing him to bring his comics to school, and Daniel Adel wonders why the same themes keep showing up in his illustrations. Daniel Handler writes about standing up for what you believe in, while Gary Paulsen explores the peeing on the electric fence rite of passage. Will Weaver’s brilliant essay “Taming the Bear” offers strategies for toning done the testosterone, while Matt Groening illustrates that Life is Hell.

Dav Pilkey thanks his parents for not allowing him to bring his comics to school, and Daniel Adel wonders why the same themes keep showing up in his illustrations. Daniel Handler writes about standing up for what you believe in, while Gary Paulsen explores the peeing on the electric fence rite of passage. Will Weaver’s brilliant essay “Taming the Bear” offers strategies for toning done the testosterone, while Matt Groening illustrates that Life is Hell.

Mostly nonfiction, with illustrations every 5-7 stories, this is the perfect book for reluctant guy readers. Truly, there is something in here for everyone – even a girl who might want to know how guys think (why they think the way they do is yet to be determined). One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of the book foster editor Jon Scieszka’s website Guy Reads, which contains even more stories and recommendations. The site has picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult fare; Guys Write for Guys Read is appropriate for ages 11 and up.

Review by Beth Gallaway

Mostly nonfiction, with illustrations every 5-7 stories, this is the perfect book for reluctant guy readers. Truly, there is something in here for everyone – even a girl who might want to know how guys think (why they think the way they do is yet to be determined). One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of the book foster ediotr Jon Scieszka’s website Guy Reads, which contains even more stories and recommendations. The site has picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult fare; Guys Write for Guys Read is appropriate for ages 11 and up.

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted at http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com

You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs

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You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs

Burroughs, Augusten. You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas. St. Martin’s Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0312341916 224 pp. $

***

I really enjoyed with holiday collection of stories; Burroughs has a great self-deprecating style. I liked the childhood centered tales the best. In one, he thinks Jesus and Santa are the same person (horrifying his grandparents) and spends Christmas day getting his stomach pumped, and another year, he deviously asks for something ridiculously expensive and impossible, thus ensuring he gets everything else on his list.

Later stories are well told, insightful, humorous, not as cheery, and more adult in nature, dealing with such plots as the death of his lover’s boyfriend, and facing up to his alcoholism after waking up at the Waldorf in bed with Santa. There are lot of pop culture allusions, but they are thoroughly accessible.

Enjoy with Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

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American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Campbell, Bonnie Jo. American Salvage.  Wayne State University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0814334126 170 pp. $18.95

***

The overall theme seems to be unfortunate accidents and circumstances beyond our control, and what remains (salvageable?) after: a family’s vacation cottage is violated and desecrated by drug addicts; a hunter hits a 13-year old girl out for an early morning walk; a young guy who is upset over his dad’s remarriage sets himself and his vehicle on fire; a man has a boating accident and has his own private pity party…

I found one story, “The Solution to Brian’s Problem” (his wife is a drug addict) pretty brilliant for it’s style, written as a list of ways to confront, kill, save, or just escape her. It was a lone standout.

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories by Kevin Wilson

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Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories by Kevin Wilson

Wilson, Kevin. Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories. Ecco, 2009. ISBN 978-0061579028 208 pp. $13.99

*****

Caveat – I LOVE short stories 😉 As a young adult librarian, I always included a few collections in my book talks, because it’s a great way to discover new writers, and they are a good fit for a teen’s lifestyle, which is often lacking in time for leisure reading. A short story can be devoured in one sitting on the bus, before bed, in study hall – and you don’t have to keep track of plots and characters if you don’t have a chance to pick the book up again for weeks.

This was an absolute GEM of a book for me. Honestly, I kept having moments of “Why didn’t I think of that?!” as I was reading, especially with “Grand Stand-in” and “Worst Case Scenario.” While I don’t like magical realism much, I do like the juxtaposition of the absurd with the “normal,” and there was a lot of that here.

I didn’t read this collection straight through, but skipped around. Some of the stories border on speculative and experimental, yet are highly accessible. The characters resonate and linger, made real because of their quirks and flaws, not in spite of them.

My favorite story was “The Dead Sister Handbook: A Guide for Sensitive Boys” — it was just breathtaking. The style, as a novel, would be overdone, but it worked so well. Amazing attention to relevant detail, and I love how the narrator reveals himself, as he talks about his sibling. The central metaphor of “Mortal Kombat” might have been a bit unsubtle, but the intensity fit the age of protagonists.

I majored in creative writing as an undergrad, and have a healthy respect for what it takes to pare a story to its essence and still make it unique and engaging. I especially appreciated the author’s note at the end on the spark behind each tale, and that each one was inspired in part by another writer or story. The cover art, of a disassembled model car, fits the theme of pieces that fit together being deconstructed to understand.

Alone With You by Marisa Silver

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Alone With You by Marisa Silver

Silver, Marisa. Alone With You. Simon & Schuster, 2010. ISBN 978-1416590293 176 pp. $

****

Marisa Silver’s protagonists reflect on a variety of life issues–divorce, grandparenthood, depression–from a uniquely not-quite-middle-aged female perspective. The writing is predominantly excellent, with a lovely subtlety to it; Silver can extend a theme without hitting the reader over the head with it. The themes of sex, love and death have universal appeal. The abrupt endings with their notes of commencement feel so deliberately crafted as to make me think the author has really studied the American Short Story, but at least the conclusions aren’t predictable, and each tale leaves the reader with something to think about.

In “Temporary,” Vivian recalls her mother’s long illness and her bolder roommate as she contemplates the transparency and transience of relationships amidst her day job as an office assistant at an adoption agency. “Three Girls” is a snapshot of a family at holiday time, attending a Christmas party and helping some strangers during a blizzard, that focuses on the role each sister has in the family unit. The disturbing “Pond” is about a girl with who gets pregnant, and the responsibility for raising her child, a bright and adorable boy, rests with her aging parents. The title story is about a middle aged mom, recovering from a failed suicide attempt with a backpacking trip with her husband, son Teddy, and Teddy’s new girlfriend Elise.

The standout story for me was “Leap.” It’s finely crafted and balances life and death, reality and possibility through plot (Sheila’s dog attempts suicide, reflecting Sheila’s own state of mind, as her husband has just confessed an affair. Devastated, she sustains a heart attack and he nurses her back to health after a bypass), character (Sheila is a guidance counselor and suspects one client, teen outsider Morton, is gay and maybe suicidal), and setting (Sheila’s flashbacks include to an odd situation with a patron of her pubescent lemonade stand is vivid, and a recollection of her experience on the high school diving team: “occasionally she dreamed of diving, not of meting the water, but of the seconds before, when the possibility of disaster was unimaginable.”)

“How bad did a thing have to be before it was something you would never get over for the rest of your life?” is a central theme. There are some truly wonderful lines, too: “Their marriage felt like the waiting room at the vet’s office–everyone waiting in a in expectant tense.” and, to convey a young woman with baby fat: “Vanessa carried the flesh of her late childhood with her into adolescence just in case, as though she had overpacked, not knowing what she would need.”

Small Avalanches and Other Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

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Small Avalanches and Other Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

Oates, Joyce Carol. Small Avalanches and Other Stories. Harper Teen, 2004. ISBN 978-0060012199 400 pp. $

***

Oates’ collection of previously published short stories thought to have teen appeal is dedicated “for the bad girls.” Quite fitting, for protagonists include sisters who deliberately destroy their twice-divorced mother’s relationship with a new potential mate; Melissa, who willingly trades a friend’s life for her own; Sunny, whose refusal of a marriage proposal drives a boy to suicide; and Melanie, who lets her beautiful but naïve cousin Steff take off with a man she meets on the Internet. Stranger danger abounds in these stories as girls on the brink of womanhood lose their innocence through interaction with pedophiles, crazy neighbors, and other shady characters.

Oates adeptly portrays that tensions of wanting to be a grownup and a little girl all at once, and chronicles the way girls change sleekly change personas, depending on whom they are talking to. The literary merit of the collection is to be expected from the winner of the Pen/Malamud Lifetime Achievement Award in Short Fiction; the language feels surreal in most stories, and dialogue is not typical casual teenspeak. The stories are technically flawless, but wouldn’t be my first choice for a booktalk; 4 stars for writing, 2 for teen appeal = 3 stars.