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review 2017-10-12 22:05
The Best of Saki
The Best of Saki - Saki

I picked up this book after reading “The Open Window” online; the strong writing and clever twist made me curious to read more from Saki. These are bite-sized stories, only a few pages long, but this doesn’t prevent them from feeling complete and being quite engaging. Though their subjects are well-off Englishpeople at the turn of the twentieth century, they aren’t as tame as you might expect: common subjects include elaborate practical jokes and people (including small children) being killed by animals. A few even have an unexpected supernatural bent.

There appears to be more than one collection with the same title but slightly different tables of contents (stories cited by other reviewers here are absent from the volume I read), so I’m not sure if the book I will be describing is the same one you’re likely to read. But I have some doubts about whether the volume I read actually contains the “best” of Saki’s short stories: it includes a selection of 38 stories from five different collections, which improve markedly as the book progresses. The first three, very brief, stories are simply monologues from a clever and smug young man. After that the stories quickly develop tight plotting, which remains the case for the rest of the book. They are often quite clever, though emotionally cold; only in a few places in the collection does one character seem to genuinely care for another, and without the story making it ridiculous. A long stretch of stories feature the aloof, sardonic Clovis, a practical jokester with as much regard for others as your average sociopath. Toward the end the stories seem to be thawing a bit, as well as diversifying. Unfortunately, the author was killed in World War I, so we don’t know what he might have written next.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection: the stories are well-written, interesting and clever, although often darker than expected. And this particular grouping allows the reader to see a writer’s development if nothing else. I would read more from Saki, but I would choose his later collections.

 

 

The table of contents from the version I read:

Reginald
Reginald at the Theatre
Reginald on House-Parties
Reginald’s Drama

Reginald in Russia
The Reticence of Lady Anne
Gabriel-Ernest
Cross-Currents
The Mouse

The Chronicles of Clovis
Esme
The Match-Maker

Tobermory
The Background
The Unrest-Cure
The Jesting of Arlington Stringham
Sredni Vashtar
The Quest
The Easter Egg
The Peace of Mowsle Barton
The Talking-Out of Tarrington
The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope

Beasts and Super-Beasts
The She-Wolf
The Boar-Pig
The Brogue
The Open Window
The Schartz-Metterklume method
The Seventh Pullet
Clovis on Parental Responsibilities
A Holiday Task
The Stalled Ox
The Story-Teller
A Defensive Diamond
The Elk
The Lumber-Room

The Toys of Peace
Louise
The Guests
The Penance
Quail Seed
The Seven Cream Jugs
Hyacinth

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review 2017-10-12 19:58
House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk
House Of Day, House Of Night - Olga Tokarczuk

Finally I found a book set in Poland by a Polish author that isn’t 500+ pages long. This is apparently an award-winner, but to me it often seemed bizarre; perhaps something is lost in translation. The book is divided into many short segments, moving between a nameless narrator and embedded short stories, a few of which the book revisits in multiple sections. The thread binding it all together is the setting of Nowa Ruda, a town on the Czech border that was transferred from Germany to Poland after WWII. The German residents were forced to leave, to be replaced by Poles transferred from land that went to Russia, an upheaval that still echoes in the 1990s when the narrator and her husband buy a farm there.

The short stories are fairly good, though melancholy. They are set in the area of Nowa Ruda throughout its history, from the life of a medieval saint to a late-medieval genderqueer monk who wrote about her, from a man who turns into a werewolf after eating human flesh during the war to the narrator’s neighbor who goes searching for a man who professed love to her in a dream. Magic realism characterizes many but not all of these stories, which are generally interesting in their own right.

Unfortunately, the stories comprise only around half of the book. The rest of it occurs in the narrator’s head, which is taken up by lengthy descriptions of dreams (her own and other people’s, culled from the Internet), flights of fancy, housekeeping minutiae, and mushroom recipes. It is hard for me to fathom the narrator’s purpose, as the author tells no particular story about her: she faces no challenges and experiences no change. Only at the end does she make a startling, though unexplored, discovery about her elderly German neighbor, whose daily habits are also tediously described throughout the book. In the meanwhile she occupies herself with detailed fantasies about being a mushroom or containing a house.

This book has a definite ambiance, and I do like the way it unfolds the history of a place. If it had been a collection of short stories alone, I’d probably have given 3.5 stars. The stories suffer no lack of plot and are often evocative. But as is I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you are the sort of reader who actually enjoys dream sequences.

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review 2017-10-12 17:34
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir - Sherman Alexie

This is an unusual book and not what I expected, so my rating may not predict yours (as readers so far have loved it wildly, it probably doesn’t). I hadn’t read anything by Alexie before and chose this over Part-Time Indian because I enjoy memoirs but not YA. But this is far from a typical memoir, which tells the story of the author’s life – usually focusing on a particular aspect or theme – in chronological chapters. The first chapter, which has 19 pages and focuses – despite various digressions – on a crucial event from the author’s childhood, fits into that pattern and had me enthralled. But this is in no way representative of the book as a whole. It consists of 156 chapters, ranging from short to extremely short (though the page count may appear long for a memoir, I’d guess the word count is in line with that of your typical 250- to 300-page book). Half of the chapters are poems. The prose chapters are sometimes only a paragraph long, more commonly 2-4 pages.

These brief essays and poems don’t exactly tell the story of Alexie’s life. He wrote the book while grieving for his mother, and much of it revolves around her, but much of it (especially the poetry) is about grief itself. Another big topic is a brain surgery he had a few months after his mother’s death. So much of the book comes across as the author reflecting on his life as it is now rather than telling the story of where he’s been. To the extent it’s about where he’s been, information about his childhood is scattered throughout the book, while everything after that is even more partial and fragmented. Or maybe it’s just that the information about his adult life didn’t answer the questions I had: he mentions only in passing that he struggled with alcoholism as a young adult, causing him to change colleges, but writes an entire chapter about how the laundry room in his current home was extremely cold until he finally bought some curtains for the basement.

Meanwhile, I have little appreciation for poetry, particularly free verse, which much of Alexie’s poetry is. If there’s something to be said for free verse, it’s that it is a recognized format in which to briefly encapsulate a moment, a thought or a feeling. But this is a large book; I didn’t want brief. And I didn’t want fragments. This book is made up of fragments, which is a deliberate and valid artistic choice: Alexie writes about how much of his history – personal, familial, and cultural – has been lost, and leaving holes is his way of representing that. For me though, the effect was to leave me disconnected from the work, which lessened the impact of the artistic choices.

All that said, this is in no way a bad book. It is well-written and engaging. It is raw and personal and feels emotionally honest. I zoomed through it in a few sittings, not only because bite-sized chapters are addictive but because it is so personal and emotionally intense. It certainly provides some cultural education for the non-native reader: the author grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation, where much of his family still lives, and writes about his Native American identity. Although it left me somewhat dissatisfied, I am glad I read this book and wouldn’t discourage others from reading it, particularly those who enjoy poetry.

(As an aside, a brief mention in this book alerted me to the danger of indoor radon, so who knows, Sherman Alexie may have saved my life.)

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review 2017-10-11 18:50
Review: "Nightfall" (The Chronicles of Arden, #2) by Shiriluna Nott & SaJa H
Nightfall - SaJa H.,Shiriluna Nott

 

~ 4.5 stars ~

 

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review 2017-10-05 22:50
Book review: Hot Winter Nights: A Racy Regency Christmas Collection
Hot Winter Nights - Tammy Andresen,Amy Rose Bennett,Heather Boyd,Dawn Brower,Amanda Mariel,Nina Mason,Christina McKnight,Lauren Smith

Lovely Christmastide stories from start to finish! I loved how each story described the Holidays in its own unique way and yet they shared one unique trait. It was like partaking of one grand feast only at different locations. 
I think what’s best about reading collections is that even if you don’t love one story you can always jump to the next one without breaking pace (or your budget) but always ending up feeling satisfied with your read. 
I read all the stories in this set and I’ll be honest, some had a much more complete storyline as well as complex plot and characters for such short stories I had to rate them higher than others; however that Christmasy and romantic feeling was consistent through and through each one of them. So in short, if you are in the mood for a spicy Christmas read that will get you ready for the Holidays, then this set is your fix. 

** I received this book from one of the authors at no cost to me and I volunteered to read it; this is my honest opinion and given without any influence by the author or publisher. ** 

 

 

To celebrate the release of this must-read anthology, the authors are holding a giveaway. The grand prize is an e-book of Hot Winter Nights, plus one other book by each of the eight authors (that’s nine free books, romance fans!). Two copies of Hot Winter Nights as second and third prizes.

The giveaway ends Oct. 10, so enter now so you don’t miss out.

 

Check out the Release Day Blitz and Giveaway link here: 

http://joread.booklikes.com/post/1604951/hot-winter-nights-a-racy-regency-christmas-collection-release-day-blitz-and-giveaway

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