Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang

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“She looked like an alien. (But then again, I was an alien, too; that was the box I had to check on every form. Did aliens have unalienable rights? Were we entitled to liberty and justice?)”

Let’s get this out of the way, there are a couple of stories at the start of the collection that some readers may find disturbing, particularly the sexual encounters between Lucy and Francine and the horrible treatment of Frangie. In fact, some people will stop reading there. But not all the stories carry on in that vein and it would be a shame to miss out of Zhang’s solid writing. Too, the children running wild on the streets of Shanghai, coming into power, turning in parents, abusing and punishing their elders, naming any and everyone at their whim as a counterrevolutionary is beyond humiliating and horrific. History is not pretty. I will revisit this collection in coming months, because it’s not out until the fall of 2017 and I want to wait to finish my review when it’s closer to the release date. But I was riveted by their struggles against poverty, trying to acclimate to a completely new culture and how it touched the lives of their children. Every immigrant experience is different,  I have much more to say when we’re closer to the actual release date. These are not light stories. When I got deeper into the book, they changed tone- the characters were fascinating. Watch this space.

Publication Date: August 1, 2o17

Random House Publishing

Lenny

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Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

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“She intends to be a good girl, but shrubs and sheds and unlocked cupboards beckon.  In photographs, her eyes sparkle with unspent mischief; the corner of her mouth quirks in a grin. She is energy that cannot abide fences. When she sleeps, her mother smooths a hand over her cheek in affection and relief.”

I am not going to be alone in loving the first story  The Education Of A Witch in this collection.. In fact, is it crazy to cling to some malingering hope that Klages might be inspired to write a full novel about this wicked little girl?  In another story a girl tumbles into Clue and other childhood games and dice plays a wicked “ROLL” , another two little girls have a sleepover and explore a place in the closest with a strange man named Hollis. All of these stories have a strange little bend in them but the magic isn’t overwhelming, they are ‘curiouser and curiouser’ still. None are as fantastic to me as the first but all are playful in their own right.

In Singing on a Star one could easily manipulate the story, look deeper into it. Could it all be a fantasy a little girl conjured about the sleepover to explain what happened to her friend? That’s the fun part in reading these sort of tales. We can put any meaning we want on them or just enjoy their playfulness. The lovers in Echoes of Aurora filled me with tenderness. Is she in love with a real person or her youth? “Everything was as familiar at it was alien, and in that setting, in the early spring twilight, logic and Rory could not co-exist. Rory smiled, and logic lost.” Logic truly is the murderer of our fantastical childhood. I enjoyed the originality of this collection. So many lyrical/magical stories try too hard, just throwing in weird happenings for the sake of being weird. Not so here. They aren’t outlandish in the telling-they sit just right in their strangeness.

Publication Date: May 23, 2017

Tachyon Publications

The Stone Collection (The Debwe Series) by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm

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“We’re all relations you know. We got that blood, that same blood. Remember that. And remember the land don’t belong to anybody. We belong to her.”

The Debwe Series features Indigenous writing by authors in Canada. The Stone Collection has stories are about the modern day Anishinaabe.  There is loss, violence, death,  and stones. Stones that are full of spirit. The horror that happens to an old woman, who is like a grandmother to all the children is strange, and the suicide attempt isn’t the point in Justin Root’s tale- it’s what led him there. Salvation could be the earth, in a tree’s ‘weakness’. Some of the stories didn’t hold my attention and then I would read one that moved me. The story Chloe made me think about houses all over the world, the ones you stay away from, the poor children that are trapped in them and the world turns a blind eye to. I thought too about the men who ‘make your hair stand on end’. Men who have access to children, be them their fathers, stepfather, etc.  A brother who is looking for his sister he wasn’t strong enough to leave with, knowing she may have come to a terrible end. It’s a story the traverses all cultures, isn’t it? It’s a fast read and was a break from the short stories I’ve read lately. There is a taste of a different culture I knew nothing about. Stories about life on and off the rez. My favorite was Mashkii- akii because sometimes it’s beautiful to be saved by something outside yourself, like a tree.

Available Now

Portage & Main Press

HighWater Press

How To Behave In A Crowd: A Novel by Camille Bordas

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“Because what goes on in your head when you step out of the present is always richer and more satisfying than what you come back to when you’re done. That’s the sad part. That’s what’s at the core of melancholy, not the things you actually imagine. The present is disappointing in a way you can’t act upon while it’s happening. But once you’ve made a memory of something, you can throw away the meaningless parts and write better versions of it.” 

I am in love with this novel. There, I said it. At 11 years old, Isidore “Izzie”  Maza is the youngest of six children, all whose intelligent far surpasses his own. In fact, their intelligence surpasses most people, children and adults alike. Simone and he share a room, and though she isn’t much older, she is years ahead of him in school and already has plans for her success and has put Isidore in charge of collecting information about her to write her biography one day. While his siblings are in pursuit of vast knowledge and defending their dissertations, getting doctorates he is busy noticing all the details in life that are overlooked. Tragedy falls upon the family, but he is the only one that truly notices how it affects everyone. The siblings seem to go about life as usual, but there are cracks and Izzie is slipping in. Though he comes from a large family the house has never been one of excitement with his siblings living in their rooms in self-imposed exile. They have all the answers, but most of what Izzie knows are things his siblings don’t even realize they have missed. It’s a beautiful exploration on real intelligence and how striving to be the best comes at a cost.

When Izzie and Denise (another social outcast at school) become friends, the novel intensifies and breaks your heart at the conclusion. I felt sad for days after reading this gorgeous novel. It’s one of those stories that I don’t really care if anyone gets why I loved it. I think there is a bit of Izzie in all of us. He doesn’t know which way is up sometimes but he understands so much more than his older siblings do, yet he doesn’t even know he knows. I was thinking the author was going to fix people, and GOD I hate that. Real people know there aren’t any quick fixes for the big issues we face- death, depression, mental illness, old age. There is only learning how to go on carrying that weight, maybe hoping someone will come along and relieve it now and then. What happens with Denise was very well written, and terribly heart-wrenching. I read it two nights in a row, and losing sleep was no loss at all.

There is a charater named Daphné in the novel, so old young children are terrified of her but she is popular and celebrated for living so long. His encounters with her are a gem too, and the saddest quote in the book is how she describes living so long. I caught my breath, because it is what I imagine one who has outlived so many loved ones would feel. Of course, I can’t share that quote because this novel isn’t out here until August 15th of this year and I read an uncorrected proof. For me, this novel is perfection. Everyone in it is awful and beautiful. There is snobbery and a coldness in his siblings brilliance, but they haven’t really touched life yet, so buried in their books, music, etc. Much of what meaning they strive for crumbles in eldest sister (the one everyone looks up to and tries to be) Berenice’s life in Paris. But only Izzy is privy to the decline.

There isn’t much I can write without ruining the story. It is a beautiful dissection of one gifted family, and there are so many flaws in their perfection. Izzie humanizes each of his siblings simply by being different from them all. While he may not have an ease with educational pursuits, he is brilliant in his humanity and has things to teach his siblings that professors and books never will. I can’t gush about this novel enough. Read it! I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Camille’s writing! I think I have a new favorite author.

Publication Date: August 15, 2017

Crown Publishing

Tim Duggan Books

 

 

Extraordinary Adventures: A Novel by Daniel Wallace

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“You’ve always been exactly who you are. Hesitant. A second-guesser of second guesses.” 

This story starts off very slowly, so slowly the reader begins to feel they too are trapped in Edsel Broffman’s colorless life. Nothing happens to or for him, and it seems he lives life in suspended time. He doesn’t make anything happen, as so many others would at least attempt to do in a dull existence. Then, something finally does, he gets a phone call informing him he has won a free week in a beachfront condo in Destin, Fl but the catch? He has to bring a partner as it’s only for couples. This is a kick in the arse that Edsel needed to finally slink out of his loneliness. He has finally won something! Let the adventures begin.

Edsel is awkward and conflicted, and being a second-guesser has kept him from actually doing anything. His mother is slowly losing it, in fact I think she was the most interesting character. Her antics are both funny and achingly sad. Maybe it is true though, a little, that she should have ‘pushed you out of the nest with more vigor.’ Edsel is a kind man, but he is bland. Every other character is full of life, and I understand that is the intention. Edsel needs to find his fire. Fire comes in the form of Shelia, who starts as a friend. But Shelia isn’t everything she seems to be. I know some people are going to hate this about her. I think it was wonderful, someone like Edsel isn’t going to be savvy when it comes to women or men, honestly. He is the sort who can be and gets taken. Not everyone in the world has everyone around them pegged, though we like to think we do. Shelia, with all her issues, isn’t any better or worse than Edsel. What are but a collection of our successes and our failings? Edsel’s biggest demon is his lack of faith in himself.

The first half didn’t engage me as much as the second half. I didn’t love this, but there were things about all the characters that tickled me. I think a younger audience needs far more excitement in a novel that has the title extraordinary in it. What is extraordinary is that this man, so set in his slow life, breaks out and finally sees the light of day. It is extraordinary to change, we are creatures of habit. We come to accept all manner of things we shouldn’t. I took me ages to learn that because we always wonder why people put up with, or stay stuck in so many different situations. It’s because it’s easier to know what to expect, it’s the rotten truth that to change any situation requires responsibility. You are your salvation. So while his adventures are small such as encountering the underbelly of our times in his own slum-like apartment complex, attempting to date, and connect with people, they are still adventures with a capital A to someone as rejected from life as Edsel. If you have read Wallace before, you know strange unlikely things happen. It’s what has made some of his other work so unique. Who knows, life is stranger than fiction, you certainly notice these things as you collect years. Who knows, maybe women helping you have faith in the… errr…size of your manhood isn’t so ridiculous. Good but not my favorite Wallace. Again, I think it is better geared towards an older generation because they know that life knocks you about.

 

Publication Date: May 30, 2017

St. Martin’s Press

 

All The Galaxies by Phillip Miller

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He had the shape of a memory, but it was pale, uncolored.

This is a hard novel to describe because it is Sci-Fi, mystical,  but with an oppressive world thrown in, full of the sort of questions we ask ourselves hoping for and fearing the answers. The questions that swallow us, life and death and everything gooey in between. It is apocalyptic and dark, but I loved the father/son story. John Fallon  is a single father, a journalist, miserable. Scotland has fallen apart, those taking charge are corrupt, the future of Scotland , separated into states, looks bleak. Fallon’s son Roland has gone missing after student protests against the police have soured and become violent. Parallel to their story, a boy and his dog (spirit guide) traverse the universe, the afterlife looking for his mother. Is he real? How does the story of the young boy and his dog tie into the father/son? When do journeys begin and end? What do we understand of the world and each other?

It’s about a father’s failure in relation to his son, as much as the world around him is falling, failing. It’s about so much that I can’t even find the words to describe it. It engages the reader, leaving you a bit numb wondering about life, meaning. Time controls so much, we make so many mistakes with our loved ones. Can love traverse chaos, corruption, galaxies, time or death? This was sadder than I expected when I got to the end. It seems nothing is solid here, and what you think you know and understand shifts. Perfect for readers who like to question the universe and every creature inside and outside of it. While it is Sci-Fi there is a supernatural flavoring too.
Lovely.

Publication Date: April 6, 2o17

Freight Books

Sunshine State by Sara Gerard

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“Every day. Bob’s parent’s sued people- the city, other motorists, etc.- for a living.”

Essays, memoir, environmental… all these things make up this collection. BFF is a fantastic choice to start the book. It’s a raw, brutal bloodletting on friendship. It’s a give and take, it’s envy and love, it’s everything crazy, young girls are made of- it’s not sugar and spice my friends. Florida grown myself, having left, lived in other countries and traveled, I too have left people behind. The Florida I returned to is never the same one I left. It is a strange world made up of transplants (people) and fierce creatures that are like throwbacks from the prehistoric age. Reading about the cult like spiritual community her parents fell into for a spell, I too scratched my head in wonder as to why they fell for it? But then, why do we fall for anything? I vaguely remember hearing murmurings in my youth about Christian Science, as much as mystery to me then as Scientology is now and how the heck are the two the same and different? My knowledge, both have roots in Clearwater, Florida. Again, you can’t live in Florida and not hear rumors or stories about both. This up close account is enthralling, and people get a high from their beliefs. Everything has something positive, why else do people turn to it?

Then her parents get involved with Amway, and they’re prey to hope, seduced by a better life.  Which got me thinking about a friend of mine and her parents getting involved with some Malacca selling scheme in the late 80’s, but that’s another story. This is one of the strangest collections I’ve read. It’s not that Gerard is strange, just life, particularly here in the Sunshine State. The bad girl high school years, her drug and alcohol didn’t ruin her as it does other kids, which makes warnings sort of fall flat doesn’t it? Some people still come out of the muck of such things unscathed, it seems. Makes those after school specials a bit suspect eh? But friends, it’s not just a Florida thing. Drugs are in all corners of this country.

The part of the book dealing with substance abuse and homelessness is eye-opening. Painfully so. Safe Harbor and the many people waiting for disability bouncing from shelter to shelter is like a nightmare to someone like me, whose never gone hungry nor lived on the streets. Reading about the sort of women that end up in shelters… victims mostly sat with me for sometime. The Sunshine State is about a sanctuary gone awry, as best intentions often do. Ralph seems a strange, fascinating bird himself. How does hoarding come into it? Read on…

Aside from BFF I adored her writing on Rabbit about her grandparents and her husbands own medical struggles. Again the Velveteen Rabbit appears in my reading… it’s beautiful, just the very pacts made. This collection is strange, just as life is. A talent to watch!

Available April 11, 2017

Harper Collins