SHORT STORIES FROM 2020

The last short story collection I read in 2020 was The Last One Out Shut Off the Light by Stephanie Soileau, which was published this year. After reading the first two stories in the collection, I thought it was going to be a stereotyped look at Louisiana and its inhabitants. I remember years ago in Sunday school, Sam Brouillette, our director would tell “Boudreaux jokes,” stating that it was not politically incorrect because he was a Cajun himself. We looked forward to these, similar to dumb blonde or Aggie jokes, each week. However, I was not willing to read eleven stories that would put my Louisiana-born-or-bred friends down. What the book actually turned out to be was “a portrait of the last-chance towns of southwest Louisiana…” which is a “…place continually in flux.” It is a story of this region of the South and its people.

Many of the character studies, which are marvelously done, are dark, and many are humorous. The author leads us to understand that this region is “as much a state of mind as it is a place on the map.” I loved the hints at the Cajun language and the fact that we could “hear” the sounds with our “mind’s ear,” but in all cases understand what was being said.

One of my favorite stories was “Poke Salad.” A message, probably a phone call, from a dad to his daughter, goes something like this, “I walked through the flames, baby doll, and I survived.” It describes in humorous fashion a man’s near-death experience after eating poisonous greens.

“Mr. A,” another story is of a darker nature. It describes a pedophile, who leads a choir and acting troupe of 5-18 year-olds on tour throughout the region. “Mr. A, their gallant captain, their pied piper, small and dapper, straight-backed and trim extending an arm left or right to steer his trusty procession…” is an example of the wonderful writing throughout the stories. I enjoyed Soileau’s writing style as I read through the character-driven stories. My only complaint about this collection was that it ended too soon!

It’s about time to read another group of short stories. Any suggestions?

SUNDAY (EVENING) POST

Back to my traditional format for the Sunday (Evening) Post.

Books I have finished since the last post:

Emerald City, a book of short stories by Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach (to be reviewed this coming week)

Boy, Snow, Bird, a strange, really different novel (also to be reviewed this coming week)

Uncommon Type, short stories by Tom Hanks (reviewed recently on this blog)

Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen, author of “Rissoli and Isles,” TV series (book to be reviewed soon)

Barkskins  by Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News

Continuing to Read:

Finishing Strong

Anticipating Reading: End of Life Book Club, recommended by a blogger friend; and Where’d You Go, Bernadette, my Third Tuesday Book Club selection for March

To be completely honest, I had started several of the books finished earlier in my down time when the start of my semester was delayed by icy weather, but once the semester was underway, much of the time I would have used for reading was spent grading, planning, and creating and typing handouts. We hosted our Bible Study/Support Group on Thursday, and a day was dedicated to shopping for new slacks for school, then returning two of the pairs two days later. It was a busy week, but My Better Half and I accomplished two major projects, including a session with the plumber and a session with our “computer guy”/ friend who checked out our security and “got us up to speed.” It promises to be another busy week, and I can hardly wait to see my class Wednesday and tell them what a wonderful job they did on the three minor writing assignments they did last time. It always is a blessing when you have such wonderful “raw material” to shape into excellent writers. Enjoy your week and KEEP ON READING!   

 

Tuesday Teaser

The goal of the meme hosted by The Purple Booker Is to tease other readers into adding one’s current read to their TBR list.  One does so by copying two or so sentences from where they left off (avoiding spoilers). Be sure to include the title and author of the book you are featuring.

Here are a few lines from Barkskins by Annie Prolux:
“In high school teachers talked of careers. Jeanne learned that botanists lived in a world of stem and leaf. There would not be an oil or gas job…for Felix… he intended to go into forestry…The cousins set the goal of getting into university.  They had to complete two years at the community college before they could apply.  The odds were against them.”

This is a formidable book at 717 pages but one that can sweep the reader away from time to time. I am nearly done and am so glad I tackled this novel.

A SHOUT OUT TO JAMES J. CUDNEY, BLOGGER AND AUTHOR EXTRADONAIRE

I have just finished listening to a 2017 audio book, Beartown, by Fredrik Backman which was recommended to me by blogging friend, James J. Cudney of This Is My Truth Now, one of my favorite blogs that I follow. I recently reviewed his debut novel,Watching Glass Shatter, on both this site and my “accidental blog,” blogging807.wordpress.com. I gave his novel a 5 out of 5 points, and have been recommending it to all my discerning reader friends who want a “good read” to give to someone for Christmas (after reading it themselves first, of course). I have told people that they will love the characterization skills James demonstrates as he deals with the members of the Glass family, all flawed characters, but unforgettable, and ones we can relate to. Cudney weaves the braid of the  family’s dynamics and relationships from the individual complexities of each character, none of whom we fail to care about. He has mentioned in his blog that he will make an announcement on This Is My Truth Now early in 2018 as to whether there will be a sequel.  I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed and will be first in line to purchase a copy!

TAGGED

HOW I CHOOSE MY BOOKS

James Cudney at this is my truth now recently was tagged and answered these questions.  I chose to participate in this tag some time ago, but I’m just getting around to participating. If you would like to answer these great, but sometimes hard to answer questions, just put them in the Leave a comment box.  It will expand to allow you to write all you wish.

The questions are paraphrased at best.

  1. Find a book on your TBR shelf that has a blue cover.  What made you pick up this book?    I found The City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (has to be a pen name!). It was at Half-Price Books, and I chose it because of the gorgeous cover that included the words, “madcap novel,” and ” [includes] “a misanthropic Beethoven and a dwarf with an attitude.” I may not get to it any time soon, but I am sure it will be a “different” kind of read.
  2. What was a book you didn’t expect to like but did? Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was something I felt I should read, but I was not looking forward to any non-fiction book.  Boy was I surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
  3. Pick a book at random.  How did you discover it? I Can’t Believe My Cat Did That, part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.  It was a gift.  It is still in the wrapper, but I know I will enjoy it, and it be the perfect pick-up-put-down book.
  4. Pick a book that someone personally recommended. What did you think of it? Debbie Nance, who writes Readerbuzz and is a personal friend recommended Lab Girl. I enjoyed it so much that I joined her in recommending it to our Third Tuesday Book Club we both belong to.
  5. Discuss a book you discovered through YouTube or a book blog. My blogging friend at Brainfluff recommended Keeper of Lost Things, a 2017 publication on her blog.  Am I ever glad I took her advice.  See her review of it or mine (on this site) fairly recently.
  6. What is a book with a one word title, and what drew you to it? Commonwealth is my choice.  What drew me to it was that I was raised in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I knew from Deb Nance’s review part of the story was set in Virginia.
  7. What is a book you discovered from the TV or film adaptation?  I honestly can’t think of one.
  8. What are your all-time-favs? When did you read them and why did you pick them up?  You really don’t want to read another ten or twenty pages, do you?  What I’m reading at the moment is my “temporary” favorite.

A Hard-To-Classify Novel: A Review

The Keeper of Lost Things, a 2017 debut novel by Ruth Hogan, is extremely hard to classify.  It is a love story, a mystery, a ghost story, a good “recipe” for a “good read.”

Take a large portion of characterization equal parts of Anthony Perkins, once a celebrated author of short stories; Laura, his recently betrayed assistant, who is struggling both financially and emotionally; and Frank, handsome but scarred (literally) gardener…

Pour mixture into a large old house with a locked study filled with…what? and add a dash of a teenage Downs  Syndrome girl named Sunshine, a pinch of a grumpy ghost, a dollop of short vignettes inspired by sometimes sad circumstances.

Mix with a wooden spoon until the plot thickens (pun intended), and ladle into a baking pan. Bake in the heat of a sexual attraction until humor is emitted from the touch of a finger, and the reader has a story about “second chances, endless possibilities, and joyful discoveries.

Promise from the recipe writer:  The results will be most enjoyable!

 

THE DEVIL’S HIGHWAY: A Good Non-Fiction Read

Non-fiction is not my first love, not my favorite genre in which to read. However, Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway kept me turning pages like any good novel.  It is excellent investigative reporting on the US border policy.  The readability is probably what made this book a Pulitzer Prize finalist. It deals with illegal immigration, specifically from Mexico and South America into Arizona, California, and Texas.

The author tells the story of a 2001 crossing of the desert which contains the area known as “The Devil’s Highway.”  The author expresses his own “outrage tempered with concern.” As one critic explained, Urrea writes with “tragic and beautiful intimacy.” Dealing with hyperthermia and how people die in the desert, the author traces a group walking across and down the Devil’s Highway seeking a better life in America. It is at times, “artful, powerful, and shocking.” It is a border story written by a self-proclaimed border son, a fronteriza.

The lasting impression this book will have on you is that it will haunt you.

Tuesday Teaser

This meme, hosted by the Purple Booker, asks readers to grab the book they’re currently reading, copy a few sentences in an attempt to get readers to show interest in your “read.” Why not play as well, put your sentences in the comments section, being careful not to give away anything vital–no spoilers. Please remember to include title and author.

Here is mine for this week: From Taylor Caldwell’s Tender Victory

“They had finished dinner and the children were in bed, and there was the good hearty sound of Mrs. Burnsdale, washing dishes in the kitchen.  Dr. McManus and Johnny sat in the study-parlor; the muggy air barely stirred in the close confines of the room. The doctor laid down a heavy brown paper parcel of x-rays.  He lit one cigarette after another, his big face moving, his eyebrows jerking, his mouth pursing.  Johnny waited, his hands clenched on his knees, praying for some hope in the older man’s verdict. But the doctor continued to sit there, dropping ashes on his thighs, muttering in his squeaky voice, scratching his ear.  Four hospital calls had come for him, but he had snarled into the telephone, and had suggested aspirin or a “jolt of morphine, and tell him to shut up,” and he still sat there, the mound of ashes increasing on his soiled light suit.  There were great sweat marks under his monster arms, and his shirt collar had become gray.”

What a way to build suspense; they don’t write detailed description like they used to.  This reader, for one is waiting with held breath to see if an operation can help Johnny’s young foster soon. Caldwell’s old-fashioned novel does everything right and keeps the reader turning pages and staying up late to read another chapter.

Now add your teaser. Scroll down to “About the author” and type your teaser underneath into the box provided.

MANY WATERS by Madeline L’Engle: A Review

Published in 1986       Takes place sometime after the Wrinkle in Time Trilogy

Sandy and Dennys Murry, twin brothers of Meg and Calvin Wallace Murry (from A Wrinkle in Time) are the “dull,” “ordinary” ones in the family until they interrupt their physicist dad’s computer experiment.  Then, they are in trouble, not just with their dad, but in cosmos-changing trouble.  Many waters were coming soon to the dessert oasis where they “landed”, and stories their mother told them as small children from the Bible, as well as many mythologies and folktales of a world-wide flood come rushing to their minds.

Unknown to them, their dad was experimenting with time travel, and the Genesis (from the Bible) people’s reaction to them, as well as their reaction to the people of “this other place” is the premise for the story.  Unicorns, mammoths (miniature size ones), seraphims, and nephils all appear in this book. Both boys, young teens, fall for the same girl, Yalith, and for the first time, the twins do not tell each other “everything.” Will they get themselves home in time to avoid the “many waters?”/The Great Flood? Will they get home, period? L’Engle’s philosophy shines through as the boys engage in conflicts both on a personal level and on a universal level.

The writing, plot, and characterization are brilliant. This is one of my favorite authors whether she is writing YA novels, memoirs and philosophy, or anything. I highly recommend this book.

WHO SAID I WAS UP FOR ADOPTION? A REVIEW

Colin Chappell, a blogging-world friend, has written a fine book which is “a story about one calculating dog…and one unsuspecting human.”  Published in 2016 and available in hardback, paperback, and on Kindle, it serves as a training manual for pet adoption as Chappell, who admittedly “has a soft spot for the underdog,” adopts a messed-up, confused dog of unknown background, and with the dog’s love and cooperation, turns Ray, the dog, into a loving, expressive, happy companion. What is amazing is how Ray altered Colin’s and Carols’ lives.

The book is written with a chapter narrated by Colin, then the same experiences, adventures narrated by Ray, to give the canine point of view. This is done so well that one wonders who is reading who’s mind, and who is “training” who.   The anecdotes are so many and so good, I couldn’t choose a favorite to recount, but early into the adoption when Ray receives a diagnosis of advanced heart-worms, it brought out the “Oh-no response” in me as I read. Because Colin had had the bad experience of having a beloved Siamese cat put down (a poem at the end of the book explores this) following the recommendation to euthanize his first dog, Ray, was not an option.

With love, medical treatment, and much financial cost, Ray is now a healthy member of the family.  You can read about Colin and Ray’s on-going, recent adventures at http://www.meandray.com   As Colin muses in the very beginning of the book, “Who would have thought living with Ray would force me to reflect on my own life?”  I highly recommend the blog and also the book.  It is a must read for anyone who loves animals and wants a story with a happy continuance, rather than a sad ending.