Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “short stories”

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #27 – In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson

In Flight Entertainment is a collection of short stories, mainly about relationships.  My husband bought this for me after hearing a glowing review on NPR, which is as good a recommendation as any, I suppose.  Unfortunately, sad stories about sad, self-centered, lonely, depressed, abandoned, abandoning, cheating, awful people – and environmental damage – do me no good.  As I’ve said before, I read to escape. Stories about real life and all of its harsh realness just bring me down.

I had originally read one of the stories, “A Diary of an Interesting Year,” in the New Yorker.  It’s very well written, in diary form, from the point of a young woman who is one of the few survivors after an apocalypse.  I won’t spoil anything, but I’ll just say that the story is almost too real in its depiction of her life and the dangers she faces.

Another story, “Squirrel,” takes place during breakfast at a normal suburban breakfast – if the normal suburban breakfast involves discussions about literature, whether or not to kill a trapped squirrel, and thoughts of extra-marital affairs.

For me, I thought the language too precious, too studied, too much. Others clearly loved it (see the NPR review, NY Times, etc.). Maybe I just don’t get it, but I was not entertained.

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Blythes Are Quoted: Anne of Green Gables Series, Book 9 by L. M. Montgomery

The Blythes Are Quotes coverI was excited to finally get to this after having been a fan of the Anne of Green Gables series for as long as I can remember. The Foreword says, “The Blythes Are Quoted is the last work of fiction the world-famous author of Anne of Green Gables prepared for publication before her untimely death on April 24, 1942…. The typescript was delivered to Montgomery’s publisher on the day she died—by whom we do not know; Montgomery evidently intended it for publication, since it is amended in her hand-writing.” This is the first printing that includes Montgomery’s entire manuscript. It is speculated that earlier printings removed some things that were felt to be anti-war at a time when patriotism was heavily favoured.

I had read enough about this last book beforehand to know to expect something very different. That certainly was the case. Calling it “Book 9” in the series, is really only because of when it occurs chronologically and that the Blythe family is connected in some ways. However, if you expect a continuation of the stories in the vein of the rest of series, you will be disappointed.

Rather than a novel following the Blythes as they grow up, this book is a compilation of short stories and poems. Most of the short stories are about people unrelated to the Blythe family who gossip about the Blythes at some point to keep that connection to Anne. In true gossip fashion, some of it is true and some not, but if you know the rest of the series you will know which is which. Sometimes a family member is also a very minor character. The poems are scattered in the gaps between short stories and are mostly attributed to Anne in little scenes of discussion about the poem and family with Gilbert and the beloved family housekeeper, Susan. The others are attributed to Anne and Gilbert’s middle son, Walter.

Even though it is not a true continuation of the series, it makes the most sense to read this after the others in the series to know who the Blythe family is when they are mentioned and to understand the grief of the family that is mentioned when talking about a lot of the poems. You have to be paying close attention though to get the details about marriages and grandchildren that are scattered throughout.

Read the rest of the review at Loopy Ker’s Life

CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR4 Review #43: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

I read this short-story collection around Halloween, in order to get into the spirit of the holiday.  I’m really just not the biggest fan of the short story. I like to get into a long novel and watch character development.  Most of these were horror stories, but a few definitely weren’t.

My favorite stories were:

Pop Art – A boy makes friends with a balloon boy.  It sounds weird, but it’s actually very touching.

The Black Phone – A boy is kidnapped by a serial killer and locked in a basement that has a mysterious black phone.  Even though it is disconnected, it sometimes rings.

The Cape – Takes the idea of a little boy playing superhero with his favorite blanket and gives it a sinister twist.

Voluntary Committal – The longest of the stories, it was very original and unsettling.

All in all these stories were good.  I think that I just prefer to read one story a day so I have time to digest it, rather than reading several of them back-to-back.

4/5 Stars

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #26 Spiral Bound

I expected (when I was my student’s age) that I would settle for nothing less than a life on the stage or screen. That creating characters and delivering speeches was the only way to make me come alive. I thought that it was all about the art.

That’s one reason I so enjoyed the brief collection of stories and poems collected in Spiral Bound by Minnesota Hip-Hop Icon Dessa. My wife adores Dessa and really all of Doomtree and it was through her that I found and fell for their whip smart lyrics and whip crack beats (yet another thing that I love about my wife). Spiral Bound isn’t the foundation for any album, but it’s still a great glimpse into the life of an artist as she muses on the stories and images that have made her career what it is.

There are intimate personal stories as she recounts being trapped in the hold of a creaky boat with her father, or hot footing her way around South America on the Hippy Highway, or just living with a little brother. Each of these mini-memoirs, these personal reveries, comfort and combine her life with the audience’s, hitting common experiences with deft word choices and beautiful imagery. Her other pieces (including poetry and poetic prose on removing your mind from yourself or trying to fall asleep) showcase other skills, encapsulating complexity and complicating simplicity.

At a slim 66 pages, the only complaint is that you wish she had included more, that you could hear her read the poem rather than seeing the art confined to black and white of a page when it could be sung, or rhymed, or shouted from a stage. Still, Dessa’s done a marvelous job of capturing the essence of her art, and taking the reader along for the ride. It’s a beautiful experience that leaves you eager for more.

To want more art, to want to live IN art, is an amazing feeling. And it’s a feeling I get, not just from the rush of acting or the pride of writing, but from the moment to moment thrills of teaching. I’ve said before that teaching is less a job and more of an art. I love the challenge of it, the creativity it allows/demands and the people I interact with throughout it.

(With that I hereby finish my half cannonball. I may try to include reviews of other books I read this year…assuming my negative reviews of George RR Martin and Veronica Roth haven’t yet rendered me persona non grata among my fellow cannonballers.)

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #49: The Kissing Game by Aidan Chambers

“From the master storyteller, Aidan Chambers, comes a collection of Stories of Defiance – moments in life, realisations, insights and sudden revelations. Mixed with longer stories are some ‘Flash Fictions’ – very short but complete stories that reveal, as in a flash of light, a moment of awkward truth in the life of their characters. Prepare to be amazed, enchanted and to gasp with shock. In ‘Kangaroo’, a girl loses her humanity when she takes an unusual summer job. In ‘The Tower’, a boy rescues a girl from a fiery death, only to have her disappear. And in the unforgettable title story, a seemingly innocent game between a boy and a girl takes a horrific turn. Once again Chambers treats his readers to his intelligent prose, playfulness of form and incisive understanding of the wonderings of young people on the verge of adulthood.”

It’s difficult to review a book of short stories as they are obviously varied and different, these particularly so. Chambers tries a variety of different style, ideas and tones throughout the book so it is pretty much impossible to characterise the whole book in a few words. I found many of these very effective, especially the modern retellings of fairy tales and the titular The Kissing Game is particularly powerful. Some of them fell a bit short for me though and elements didn’t quite feel authentic. Nonetheless, I enjoy it when authors play with language and form and I also like it when teenage authors don’t patronise their readers so all in all, this is definitely a success in my book. Also, I love Aidan Chambers – I’ve heard him speak at several library conferences and the man is inspiring!

First Line: “Enough! She said to herself.”

Why I read it/Full Disclosure: The author bought a copy of this book for me.

Who I would recommend it to: If you enjoy authors playing with what fiction is, trying new versions of old stories or just trying new things.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #19 Bamboo Among the Oaks

Bamboo Among the Oaks certainly offers a wide array of talented, but lesser known authors in the emerging Hmong literary scene. With its rapid expansion throughout the upper midwest there are many assumptions and stereotypes about the Hmong people and Bamboo Among Oaks does its best to confront them through an anthology of short stories and poems that capture the experience of first generation Americans caught between an intensely traditional culture and a rapidly evolving America.

The works within the anthology are wildly uneven. Some offer gorgeous retellings of personal experiences, others simply dwell on stereotypes in unexplained native dialects. Though all the authors have grown up with the challenges of life as Hmong-American kids, their writing often adopts the tone of paternalistic or lecturing adults (a sure-fire way to frustrate current teenagers). As befits a group of “young writers” the style of most pieces is still developing, soon to be great, but still a little way off from that.

Still there are some great individual sections particularly Va-Meng Thoi’s scathing satirical skit “Hmoob Boy meets Hmong Girl” and Ka Vang’s great short story “Ms. PacMan Ruined my Gang Life”. These stellar selections are great glimpses into a vital new voice in what some scoff at as “the bland mid-west” and I look forward to seeing more from Hmong writers in the years to come

pyrajane’s review #33: In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss

I’m madly getting caught up on reviews.  I’ve got some late library books that need to get written up and returned to the shelves before the fines force me to sell a kidney.

In the Forest of Forgetting is a collection of short stories, retold tales, and fairy stories.  Like all short story collections, there were some I liked a lot and others were just OK.  I picked this up because Terri Windling wrote the intro, and as far as I’m concerned, that woman is magic.  Her collections have introduced me to many of my now favorite authors, and if she tells me to read something, I’m going to read it.

If you would kindly follow me over to my blog, I will tell you about my favorites.  It’s a short entry, but feel free to hang out for a while.  There are drinks in the fridge.


Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #39: PANK 5 edited by M. Bartley Siegel and Roxane Gay

edited by M. Bartley Seigel and Roxane Gay

Forgive me, I read PANK 5 a few months ago, and because there is so much content within its 250 pages, I will perhaps not do the publication justice. Still, this print edition of the online magazine is quite excellent, and my memory and slowness should not temper your interest.

I bought 5 instead of 6 because of the number of writers whose work I already knew somewhat, including Jamie Iredell, J.A. Tyler, xTx, Brian Oliu, Kyle Minor and Deb Olin Unferth. Jamie Iredell’s contribution comes from The Book of Freaks, which has since been published by Future Tense Books. I haven’t read the book, but I’m always curious about what sort of changes transpire between an excerpt printed in a journal or online and the final product.

Brian Oliu’s “O Self Extracting Executable” reminds me a bit of Alex Shakar’s Luminarium, in that it is framed around a computer program and poses thoughts about the nature of life. Oliu’s lyrical style is quite lovely:

This is how technology and you and I and there have drifted; the desire to put more into smaller things, to crunch, crush and raster in search for a resolution, the spreading of air, plates both tectonic and served at meals where we would sit across from each other or at a right angle, water glasses filled with reckless abandon like storms in water glasses, teacups, even, though the water encompassed by glass was not heated, cold, cold from a cold sink, processed from water elsewhere, plants elsewhere, and brought here, cold. We crash our crystal-capsized ships together, ringing true like it once was, delicately.

Speaking of a story framed within computer programming, Kaitlin Dyer’s poem “He’d Leave Her Notes in Code” is excellent. I know just enough about CSS coding that I understood the creativity she uses to talk about a relationship.

/*CSS Document*/
body {

background-color: translucent white skin against my chest makes me feel tan;
font: veins drawn up your arms in aquamarine are plump and spongy;
background-image: auburn ringlets twist off my fingers;
margin: your legs span my lap;
background-repeat: please;


I love the “please” at the end of that stanza.

I also really liked that the editors included two translation pieces — in this case, Toshiya Kamei translating two poems by Mexican writer Isolda Dosamantes — with the Spanish and English side by side. Because I know a little bit of Spanish, I like to match up the words and increase my knowledge of the language, as well as see how one person might translate a line that another person might do a different way. Obviously, one can’t do this with a whole novel, page by page, but in poetry translations, I think it’s the best approach.

Another highlight: Janey Smith using song titles from The Smiths in her “Vignettes: Short Fictions on My Life as a Cheerleader.” She also has a short piece that makes fun of purposely vapid, stoned hipster art with, “Bedtime Stories for Hitler (Or How to Sell Your Next Book to Urban Outfitters).”

Probably my favorite story was Teresa Milbrodt’s “Blue,” about a woman whose saliva is blue to the point of staining clothing, silverware, and boyfriends’ lips. She starts doing drastic things to her appearance to distract people from noticing her “Grape Lips.”

It was her nails that gave her the inspiration, how easy it was to distract from one garish thing with something even more garish, cover the light blue with emerald or orange. She got the rest of the idea from a joke she’d heard, how Eve was not Adam’s rib, he was her third tit. It seemed the way to go. If people wanted to stare, she’d give them something to stare at. She wanted a new start, a new job, a new town. It wasn’t hard to convince her husband to move. They bought a van and a secondhand trailer, had both repainted before they went on the road.

She glued the prosthetic breast to the middle of her chest, used an adhesive the woman in the costume shop said would last for a week. The breast looked perfectly natural, right down to the nipple.

Her methods only escalate from there. When I finished reading “Blue,” I literally said aloud, “Now that’s a story.”

Really, I enjoyed most everything offered in PANK 5 with only a few exceptions, and it certainly made me want to buy other print issues of the magazine when I’m able to do so. In the meantime, I will continue to catch up on some of their online archives. I hope you will too.

(#39: This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.)

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #13: A Goose on Your Grave by Joan Aiken

I have grown increasingly appreciative of the layers, tensions and humour of Joan Aiken’s YA and children’s books through the 25-odd years that I have been reading them. The couple of adult books of hers I’ve read have by contrast seemed pretty standard psychological thrillers – as if the landscapes of childhood and adolescence offered more scope for her wild, dark and lilting imagination. Her most famous series are probably the “Arabel and Mortimer” books for young readers (Mortimer is a raven who only says “nevermore” and Arabel is a spritely six-year-old) and the Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence (also referred to as the “Dido” books), starring the intrepid urchin Dido Twite in an alternative-history-somewhat-steampunk Regency-ish era. Dido’s adventures span the globe as she outwits various sinister governesses and kidnappers and Hanoverian plotters (in this world England is ruled by good Stuart kings) and deserve whole reviews of their awesomeness, but here I will review my rereading of A Goose on Your Grave: Stories of Horror, Suspense and Fantasy.

The collection as a whole feels cohesive; there are recurring themes such as time travel, the capabilities of the human mind to create and accept the extraordinary, a love of animals, particularly cats, and odd things in science and nature. Motifs from Aiken’s entire YA and children’s oeuvre are touched upon, such as the problems and inadequacies of well-meaning bureaucrats when it comes to children’s welfare and different ways of escaping from and revenge on oppressive guardians (of all ages) and systems (from schools to societies). Within Goose on Your Grave, an image from one story occasionally resurfaces in another; in “The Old Poet” our suspicions as to why the rowan tree was significant for the one-eyed stranger in “Snow Horse” are confirmed. (“The Old Poet,” by the way, about a young college student encountering an unexpected element of his great-grandfather’s legacy, satirises the literary establishment with sardonic glee and contains one of the most surprising pieces of poetry criticism I’ve come across: “I did read the lyrics, on the plane going to Heathrow. They were very lyrical but quite dry–half Coke, half lemon. (71)) Mythology and modernity mingle with the Gothic and the traditionally ghostly to occasionally surreal effect. Few of the stories end happily; some end on a note of ambiguity and some downright sadly. Aiken has a bleak vision and an icy pen at times; she skewers the pretensions of the type of boys who casually torment their fellows, leaving no visible marks, in the name of good clean boyish hi-jinks in “The Blades,” for example, and excessive psychological jargon without actual insight in “Aunt Susan” (a startlingly grownup tale in the vein of Roald Dahl’s cruellest). “Potter’s Grey” subverts the idea of “rose-coloured glasses” in an extreme way, and “The Last Specimen” is delightfully English and gently sorrowful – but I can’t say why without spoilers.

I would perhaps have to say that Bundle of Nerves (which I would recommend to any fans of Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors) is my favourite from her “supernatural” story collections, but Goose on Your Grave is still very good. While the sequence shows occasional flashes of the homeliness and comfort that pervade her work for slightly younger readers (although even into these the eerie and tragic are occasionally allowed to enter), the overall sense of Goose on Your Grave is decidedly and deliciously unheimlich.
“But I hadn’t enough money to pay for the return ride, so I thanked the boatman, hoisted my pack, and set off through trees to the dimly glimpsed mansion.

As I drew near I could hear the sound of the chain saw: a malevolent, high-pitched shriek. The sound was ominous in those terribly silent woods. The trees were enormous. Under them grew a little grass, thin and moss-infested, like the sparse dandruffy hairs on an old man’s head. There was a kind of path, and then a smallish open space. Beyond it I could see a side of the house, with a terrace and a row of windows; opposite the house lay the shore of the loch, which curved round here in a small bay. On the rocky shoreline grew a huge tree: it spread out like a hand, not a single trunk but about six of them, grey and smooth fingers reaching upwards. ” (“The Old Poet,” 73).

Joan Aiken. A Goose on Your Grave. London: Lions Teen Tracks, 1987.

Note: Aiken was very prolific, and wrote for all ages. The website for her books gives some idea of which series are suitable for which age group.

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #35: Crack the Spine: 2012 edited by Kerri Farrell Foley

Crack the Spine (cover)Crack the Spine is a weekly online magazine that specializes in poetry and short fiction. The printed anthology, published through CreateSpace, collects a season’s worth of their best material and lets the reader embrace the tactile sensation in its title. I brought this book on vacation, figuring that I was given permission to let it get banged about in my bag.

And how was it? Fairly good, though a bit uneven in places. My full review appears at Glorified Love Letters.

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