Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories

by Kelly Barnhill
First sentence: “The day she buried her husband — a good man, by all accounts, though shy, not given to drink or foolishness; not one for speeding tickets or illegal parking or cheating on his taxes; not one for carousing at the county fair, or tomcatting with the other men from the glass factory; which is to say, he was utterly unkonwn in town: a cipher; a cold, blank space — Agnes Sorensen arrived at the front steps of Our lady of the Snows.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are more mature themes and some swearing (though I’m not remembering any f-bombs). It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

I have a tortured history with short stories. I want to like them, but I find them much like poetry: I don’t get them. They’re words, and often pretty words, but I just don’t… well… understand them. (Even Neil Gaiman’s stories, which I seem to have a bit more affinity for.) And this collection was more of the same: I liked the stories, but I need someone else to read them and then explain them to me. (Especially the title story. I know it’s a metaphor, and I’m sure I’ll smack my head when someone tells me what it’s a metaphor for, but right now, I’m a bit lost.)

Barnhill is a gorgeous crafter of sentences, and this is no exception. She has a beautiful way with words, and it does pull you into the story. I especially liked the final story, which is more of a novella (which could be why), because the world that Barnhill built — a comet flies by once every 25 years and endows pre-born children with magical powers which a minister then harnesses for his own means — was so fascinating, but also because the writing was just so beautiful.

And maybe, someday, I’ll figure out how to read short stories and actually understand.

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Audio book: Back Home at Firefly Lake

by Jen Gilroy
Read by: Karissa Vacker
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Listen to it through Libro.fm
Content: There’s mild swearing and one pretty graphic (but not distasteful) sex scene. It would be in the fiction section, if we had it in the store.

I needed a fluffy book, and when this one showed up, I jumped at it. It’s exactly what it looks like: Cat, a single mother, and adjunct history professor moves back to her hometown of Firefly Lake, Vermont. There she meets her high school crush, Luke, a former Olympic and NHL hockey player, who is still recovering from the sudden death of his wife, the love of their life.

Of course Cat and Luke have a thing for each other. Of course things — Luke’s dead wife, Cat’s daughter Amy — get in the way. Of course the sex was hot. And, of course, there’s a happily ever after. I didn’t listen to this because the plot was fantastic or the character development was amazing, though there was some growth in the characters, which was nice. No, I wanted pure fluff, and this delivered. Which was nice.

 

Enchantress of Numbers

by Jennifer Chiaverini
First sentence: “A piteous mewling jolts Lady Annabella Byron from her melancholy contemplation of the fire fading to embers though the evening is still young.”
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Content:

I picked this up because I think Ada Lovelace is the BEST, and there needs to be more about her. And so I was excited that Chiaverini wrote this historical fictional biography of her. Except. This wasn’t the biography I wanted.

This follows Ada Byron from her mother’s short marriage to Lord Byron through to… well… I don’t know because I didn’t finish it. I wanted to, I kind of liked what I was reading, but honestly? It wasn’t that great. It wasn’t bad. It was just long. And kind of boring. And I don’t know why I didn’t bail on it sooner. I guess I hoped it would get better. But, it didn’t, and even though I love Ada and think she’s a mathematical genius, I just didn’t like this book.

Oh, well. Can’t win them all.

Audiobook: Holidays on Ice

by David Sedaris
Read by the author.
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Listen on Libro.fm
Content: There was a lot of swearing. It’s in the holiday book section at the store every year.

Okay, yeah, so I’m starting the year off with a DNF. It’s not that I don’t like David Sedaris. I do. (Sometimes.) I like him a lot better on audio than in print, so I was hoping that this one would come off better listening to it. And the first one, his Santaland Diaries, kind of did. I didn’t really laugh (his humor is often too mean for me), but I was amused. But, by the third story, the Christmas letter where everything goes wrong, I was thinking that satire really isn’t my thing. I’ve learned this before; i just take things way too literally to be amused by satire. But I guess I thought maybe this one would be different. It wasn’t, though.

I had to abandon it to listen to a Cybils book, and was thinking I’d get back to this one. But, the holidays are over, I’m enjoying (for the most part) the other book, and I have no desire to listen to the other two stories in this one. So, I’m calling it a DNF and moving on.

Audiobook: Sing Unburied Sing

by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Kevin Harrison Jr, Chris Chalk, and Rutina Wesley
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Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, drug use, and violence. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s not often I end up reading the National Book Award winner for fiction, and to be honest, I was surprised that I did. (I started listening to it before the awards…) I picked it up because people were talking about it, because I’ve never read Jesmyn Ward before, and because I was curious.

It’s basically a slice of life portrait of Mississippi. A black woman, Leonie, takes her two children — Jojo, whose story this is, and Kayla — on a road trip from the Gulf to Parchman, where their dad is getting out of jail after serving time for drug charges. It’s a hot mess of a road trip, partially because Leonie is a drug addict, and partially because she just can’t parent, interspersed with reflections from Jojo, his grandfather (Leonie’s father), and Leonie. It’s about relationships — Leonie’s brother was killed in a race-related shooting by her boyfriend’s (and baby daddy’s) cousin — and surviving and growing up and expectations.

I enjoyed the narration; there were three different narrators, one each for Jojo (I liked him best), Leonie and a ghost who shows up halfway through, but I wonder if this was a book that would have gone down easier read than listened to. It’s not that I didn’t like it; I just felt like I missed things — connections, imagery, story — and I could have taken it slower in print than in audio.

Still, a worthwhile read.

Audiobook: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection

Verily a New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, The Jedi Doth Return
by Ian Doescher
Read by: Full cast
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Content: It’s Shakespearean English, but it’s also basically the movies. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

So, when I talked to my dad on his birthday, he gushed about these, especially on audio. And you know: he was right. They’re a LOT of fun, especially on audio.

The premise is thus: Doescher got approval from Lucasfilm to take the scripts (alas, they were the updated scripts so Jabba shows up in the first one) and then he worked them into a Shakespearean format: language, play structure (each book is 5 acts, which is a very Shakespearean thing), etc. It was actually kind of impressive! There were subtle differences: R2D2 didn’t just beep and whistle; he had asides where he commented on the action around him (Doescher said in the afterward to Jedi that R2D2 was the fool of the play, and I could see where he was going with that, though R2 had more lines in the first movie), and we got asides from pretty much all the characters. It felt a bit jarring at first with some of the characters (like, Han, for instance), but eventually, I became used to it and enjoyed it.

And it really was like listening to the movies. Doescher got rights to the music (yay!) and there were sound effects. And I know the movies well enough (I think it’s for those people who do know and love the movies) that I could picture what was going on while the play was going. (Though, I missed the “I love you!” “I know.” in Empire, but that’s because it wasn’t scripted.)

Oh: and stick around for the Afterwards. Doescher talks a bit about his methods and how he decided on different types of forms for each character (Yoda’s in haiku!), and a bit about the process working with Lucasfilms. It was an absolutely delightful book to listen to.

 

Hag-Seed

by Margaret Atwood
First sentence: “The house lights dim.”
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Content: There’s some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section, but it has crossover appeal for those who are theater/Shakespeare fans.

Felix is the best, most innovative, most desired director around, and he’s on the cusp of Something Great with his interpretation of The Tempest. But, just as he was getting started with that, an unforseen bit of treachery outs Felix from his role. He’s sent off to the wilderness, where he finds, eventually, a job as a theater teacher in a correctional facility. He finds enjoyment teaching the felons (it’s a minimum security prison) the ins and outs of Shakespeare. And then, he learns that those who betrayed him are coming to visit, and he realizes that his Time Has Come; revenge is nigh.

Yes, if this sounds like the plot of The Tempest, you are correct. Very much so. And, I think, the better you know the play, the better this book is. As one who has seen it (once), and knows the general plot, but not all the intricacies of the play, I… enjoyed it. I liked the Fletcher Correctional Players best; I liked how they interpreted Shakespeare, rewriting the play to fit them. My favorite part of the book, perhaps, is the end, when the players come up with plausible futures for their characters. So, it was accessible and enjoyable to someone with a passing knowledge of the play. I do wonder, though, if you’ve never been exposed to The Tempest at all, if you’d be able to get into and enjoy this. (Just wondering…)

Thoroughly enjoyable, especially if you’re interested in a different approach to Shakespeare.