Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado


Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Narrator: Amy Landon
Publication Info: HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books (2017)
Summary/Review:

This collection of short stories uses tropes of horror – and particularly body horror – to relate the struggles faced by women and LGBTQ people. Stories include allowing the woman with the ribbon around her neck from an urban legend tell her life story and what seems to be a list of sexual partners growing into a story of a nationwide plague.  One story is synopses of Law and Order: SVU episodes that grow increasingly absurd and macabre. That story, and some others, went on too long and I lost focus. But overall this is a creepy and sexy collection of stories.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: Stories


Author: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Title: Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: Stories
Narrator: Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Baron Vaughn, James Urbaniak, Kimiko Glenn, Colman Domingo, Natalie Morales,  Raúl Esparza, Will Brill, Stephanie Beatriz, Emma Galvin, and  Nicholas Gonzalez
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2019
Summary/Review:

This collection of short stories focuses on love, and the deep emotions and tragedies that go with it.  Bob-Waksberg is noted as the creator of BoJack Horseman, and his stories have the same mix of melancholy with the fantastical and a wry optimism.  He also enters his stories in creative ways such as a bulleted list, a missed connections personal ad, travel articles, and instructions for the party game Taboo.

Standout stories include:

“Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion” – a parody of the Wedding Industrial Complex where a couple’s attempts to have a simple wedding are upended by their families’ insistence on keeping with their culture’s traditions of slaughtering goats and exchanging commitment eggs.

“The Serial Monogamist’s Guide to Important New York City Landmarks” – a guide to the city where every landmark reminds one of a moment in a past relationship.

“Rufus” – written from the perspective of a dog who relates a story that touches on his man’s new boyfriend, a relationship that ends partially because of his man’s devotion to Rufus (although Rufus is not aware of this, he just wants the door to be open).

“You Want to Know What Plays Are Like?” – a woman caustically reviews a community theatre performance, slowly revealing that the playwright is her brother, and discovering that the story is based on their family’s tragic past.

“More of the You That You Already Are” – narrated by a man who works in a presidential theme park dressed in a large-headed mascot costume of Chester A. Arthur as he struggles to keep his job as management begins replacing cast members with genetically-modified mutant Presidents.

As weird as this all sounds, these stories are clever and heartfelt.  It’s definitely worth a read, or a listen.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: What is Yours is Not Yours  by Helen Oyeyemi


Author: Helen Oyeyemi
TitleWhat is Yours is Not Yours
Narrator: Ann Marie Gideon, Piter Marek, Bahni Turpin
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

What is Yours is Not Yours is a collection of linked short stories, all of the stories including keys as a symbol, with some characters from earlier stories reappearing in later stories.  Oyeyemi creates a wide diversity of characters and settings while keeping a natural flow that veers among the weird, humorous, and practical. The stories contain elements of magical realism and mythological ideas in a contemporary setting.  This is one of those books where I feel I missed a lot of things in the reading and would definitely be worth revisiting.

Recommended books: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Last Wolf  & Herman : The Game Garden, The Death of a Craft by László Krasznahorkai


Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Hungary
AuthorLászló Krasznahorkai
Title: The Last Wolf  & Herman : The Game Warden, The Death of a Craft
Translators: George Szirtes, John Batki
Publication Info: New York : New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2016.
Summary/Review:

This translated work by postmodern Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai contains two novellas or short stories. The Last Wolf is the story of a man telling a story in a bar about hunting the last wolf in Spain.  It’s written entirely in one loooooong sentence.  Herman is a story in two parts about a game warden tasked with trapping predators in the woods near a city who ends up going feral himself, trapping animals of all types, including domesticated animals.  “The Game Warden” portion is told from his perspective while “The Death of Craft” focuses on a group of young men and women traveling to the town and hearing the stories of Herman’s madness going on around them.  Both books focus on hunting and the animal nature within humanity. This is a challenging book to read, especially as an Around the World for a Good Book selection, because of it’s sparse narrative and experimental prose.

Recommended booksJerusalem by Goncalo M. Tavares and Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell


Author: Karen Russell
TitleSt. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Narrators:  Ariel Sitrick, Zach McLarty, Patrick Mackie, Nick Chamian , Jesse Bernstein, J. B. Adkins, Kathe Mazur, Arthur Morey, Kirby Heyborne, Deirdre Lovejoy
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2010
Previously read by same author: Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Summary/Review:

This collections of short stories deal with themes of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, loss and grief, and animal nature of humanity.  They are deeply in the magical realism genre as these coming of age stories include fantastical elements. My favorite stories include “Haunting Olivia” about two brothers looking for their lost sister who sailed away on a crab’s exoskeleton, “Z.Z.’s Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers” where a boy with prophetic dreams goes a camp for children with sleep disorders, “The City of Shells,” told from the perspective of an outsider girl who gets trapped in a giant conch shell,  and “From Children’s Reminisces of the Westward Migration” which is an ordinary boy’s perspective on a pioneer journey when his father is a Minotaur pulling the wagon.

Recommended booksThe Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill and Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer


Author: Z.Z. Packer
TitleDrinking Coffee Elsewhere
Narrator: Shirley Jordan
Publication Info: Highbridge, 2013
Summary/Review:

This is an excellent collection of contemporary short fiction.  Packer is great at quickly establishing characters, and while the stories tend to be more slice-of-life than a traditional beginning-middle-end format, they’re all the better for capturing the nuance of character developments.  Stories range from a conflict among troops of Brownies – one black, one white – to a teenage girl who runs away to Atlanta and is taken in by a pimp, to a boy forced by his father to try to sell birds at the Million Man March.  All the stories are from an outsider’s perspective and thus feel very relatable.  I’ll be looking out for future work from Z.Z. Packer.

Recommended booksKrik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat, Spunk: The Selected Stories of Zora Neale Hurston by Zora Neale Hurston, and Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Rating: ****

Book Review: I Think of You by Ahdaf Soueif


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Egypt.

Author: Ahdaf Soueif
TitleI Think of You 
Publication Info: New York : Anchor Books/Random House, 2007
Summary/Review:

This collection of short stories, some of which are connected around the same characters, tells stories of women coming of age in Cairo, London, and New York between the 1960s to 1980s.  As an expatriate tale it’s important to realize that these are the stories of a more privileged class than a representative Egyptian work.  Nevertheless, Soueif’s protagonists deal with struggles including discrimination, failed marriages, and miscarriage.  Souief’s writing style is spare and these feel more like vignettes  than stories.  Her lyrical approach seems to be trying to capture emotions more than stories, but doesn’t go far enough to make a connection with the reader.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann


Author: Colum McCann
TitleThirteen Ways of Looking
Narrator: Colum McCann
Publication Info:  Random House Audio, 2015
Previously Read by the Same Author:  Let the Great World Spin and Transatlantic
Summary/Review:

That Colum McCann sure can write!  This collection of four stories shows McCann’s skill at stringing together sentences, developing characters, and creating entire worlds through rich description in just a short space of time.  The stories include:

  • “Thirteen Ways of Looking” – recreates an elderly, retired judge’s last day shifting between his own perspective and what is recreated from surveillance video.
  • “What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?” – an author commissioned to write a New Year’s story begins with the concept of a solitary soldier on duty in Afghanistan but the spirals out control adding additional characters, details, and settings.
  • “Sh’khol”- a woman on the coast of Ireland loses her deaf and developmentally disabled son swimming in the ocean and reflects on her life as she devolves into panic.
  • “Treaty” – an elderly nun once held hostage by a guerrilla insurgency recognizes her captor, the man who raped and tortured her, on television posing as a peace activist.

This is definitely a good introduction to McCann’s writing and if you’ve enjoyed his other works a fine addition to his body of work.
Recommended books: Life Form by Amélie Nothomb
Rating: ****

Book Review: Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka


Author: Greg Rucka
Title:Star Wars: Before the Awakening
Publication Info:  Los Angeles : Disney Lucasfilm Press, 2015.
Summary/Review:

A companion piece to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this book contains three short stories about the protagonists of that film immediately before the events of the film.  Finn, then known as FN-2187, goes through rigorous training as a stormtrooper showing great skill and leadership, but the First Order are concerned that he has one flaw: empathy.  Rey discovers an entire ship among the wreckage she’s scavenging and works to get it into flying shape.  Poe, unlike the other who are orphans, remembers the stories of his mother the pilot and his father the foot soldier in the Rebellion, as he is recruited to join the Resistance.  They’re good, concise stories with a lot of insight into the characters.  This is a good book for a Star Wars fan or anyone who enjoyed The Force Awakens.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Walk the Blue Fields: Stories by Claire Keegan


Author: Claire Keegan
Title:Walk the Blue Fields: Stories
Publication Info: Grove Press, Black Cat (2008)
Summary/Review:

This is a collection of stories set in Ireland.  They are contemporary tales but set in rural settings so there are lots of traditional gender roles, repressed emotions, and outcomes that are rather depressing.  Fortunately, there is some humor in this stories that otherwise can be dour.  These stories are well-crafted but I can’t say that they moved me much.
Recommended booksValues, three one act plays by John B. Keane
Rating: ***