Review: Bream Gives Me Hiccups

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*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Bream Gives Me Hiccups

Author: Jesse Eisenberg

Publisher: Bond Street Books

Publication Date: September 8, 2015

ISBN: 9780802124043

Bream Gives Me Hiccups

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups moves from contemporary L.A. to the dormrooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, reimagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions. In one piece, a tense email exchange between a young man and his girlfriend is taken over by the man’s sister, who is obsessed with the Bosnian genocide (The situation reminds me of a little historical blip called the Karadordevo agreement); in another, a college freshman forced to live with a roommate is stunned when one of her ramen packets goes missing (she didn’t have “one” of my ramens. She had a chicken ramen); in another piece, Alexander Graham Bell has teething problems with his invention (I’ve been calling Mabel all day, she doesn’t pick up! Yes, of course I dialed the right number – 2!).

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I’ve been trying to get a little more into short stories these past few years and I was interested to see what kind of a work Jesse Eisenberg would produce. While I thoroughly enjoyed the opening and title story, “Bream Gives Me Hiccups: Restaurant Reviews from A Privileged Nine-Year-Old,” I can’t say I was too impressed with the rest of the stories. I connected right away with the title story, sympathizing with the character and enjoying his stream of thought, but I felts as though this collection placed it’s strongest story first, and it was downhill from there.

The remaining stories have little meaning, are frustrating, or really don’t align with my own sense of humour. I know Eisenberg’s stories are supposed to be funny, but I don’t think I found myself laughing once. The collection as a whole is disjointed, the stories not flowing into one another or fitting together at all. It seems scattered and it seems to be trying too hard to be comical. The story in particular that that I found frustrating was “My Roommate Stole My Ramen: Letters From a Freshman.” The humour was cruel and a bit ridiculous and I couldn’t find it funny. Another, “An Email Exchange with My First Girlfriend…” was more like the author venting his own frustrations at an ex-girlfriend. The book as a whole had many stories that seemed angry, rather than funny. I couldn’t connect.

Review: Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami

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*I received this book from Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Wind/Pinball: Two Novels

Author: Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Bond Street Books

Publication Date: August 2015

ISBN: 9780385681827

Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The debut short novels–nearly thirty years out of print– by the internationally acclaimed writer, newly retranslated and in one English-language volume for the first time, with a new introduction by the author. These first major works of fiction by Haruki Murakami center on two young men–an unnamed narrator and his friend and former roommate, the Rat. Powerful, at times surreal, stories of loneliness, obsession, and eroticism, these novellas bear all the hallmarks of Murakami’s later books, giving us a fascinating insight into a great writer’s beginnings, and are remarkable works of fiction in their own right. Here too is an exclusive essay by Murakami in which he explores and explains his decision to become a writer. Prequels to the much-beloved classics A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance, these early works are essential reading for Murakami completists and contemporary fiction lovers alike.

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I find it difficult to review these two early short stories from the prolific writer, Haruki Murakami. I will never turn away from a Murakami read. I love his style (which he discusses in this book’s introduction), and his stories are always absurd, contemplative, and lovely. Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball provide glimpses into the early writing mind of Murakami, showing us where he began and what started his writing career. Many reviewers have hinted that the author did not want these books published because he thought them unfit for translation. I have to disagree. I’m grateful that the time and effort has been put in to translate and publish these two curious tales.

Murakami’s writing, even in the beginning is not excessive. It’s decided and thoughtful. Every sentence, however trivial it may seem, is contemplated in the context of the text around it. Even his early writing seems purposeful. Although these short stories are not exciting thrill rides, they give one pause to thing and feel. There are no profound moments, nor any exciting twists, but they are full of quite contemplation of life just the way it is: generally mundane with blips of excitement and difference here and there.

These stories lead me on a quest for meaning. In their own simple and somewhat fantastical way, the characters seem to be searching for more in life, to find out what’s out there. In Pinball, for instance, Rat says, “I’m leaving town […] And I know the situation may be no different wherever I go. But I still have to leave. If it turns out to be the same, I can live with it” (225-226). This has to be one of my favourite lines in the book, because not only does it really capture the essence of these two stories, it captures the essence of life in general. We move around in this world, as the characters move around in theirs, not always with a sense of purpose other than to see what’s different and to try new things, although it might be very much the same. And that’s okay. Opportunity may await us in new experiences, or it may not, but we need to try and see, because if we don’t we’ll never know.

Review: Pauls by Jess Taylor

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*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Pauls

Author: Jess Taylor

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: October 2015

ISBN: 9781771661683

Synopsis:
Pauls, the debut short-story collection by the exciting young writer Jess Taylor, is about people: the things that remain unseen to them; how they cope with their unforgettable pasts; the different roles they take in each other’s lives; how they hurt each other; how they try to heal each other; the things they want to learn; and the things they’ll never discover. At the same time, Pauls is a portrayal of the world as these people see it—they all exist in a universe that is strange and indifferent to those within it. Coincidences, relationships, conversations, and friendships all pose more questions than answers.

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Pauls is a short story collection that’ll take your breathe away. These stories are open, raw, and truthful. They do not shirk away from tough topics and seek to portray reality as it is: harsh, tough, and unforgiving. The Pauls in this short book do not have easy lives. They struggle with abuse, depression, pain. But they also find love, friendship, and healing. This collection moved me and more than once, it took my breath away. Taylor’s writing style is coaxing. She writes with the power of experience. She made me feel as her characters feel. I understand their sadness and their hurt, their need to love and protect, their desire to find contentment. Taylor’s writing made me feel like I knew these experiences. In a few short pages, I felt like I knew the characters intimately. Pauls is a window into the lives of strangers, that could so very easily be our own. Few stories have happy endings, but all stories share their lives as they really are. They don’t try to hide or alter. It’s an excellent collection.

Funky Cover Friday

Hello all! It’s Funky Cover Friday once again. As you all probably know at this point, I’m a fan of any cover that can also be considered art wort. The cover for The Things We Thought We Saw in the Water by C. Frazier Jones could be a very melancholy print. Any time I see a book cover that could be framed on my wall at home, I’m immediately drawn to it. As was the case with this book. I’ve added Jones’ collection of stories to my to-read list on Goodreads. I was drawn to the book’s page because of this cover. It’s one I wanted to share with all of you.

What do you think? Do you like Jones’ cover? Do you prefer covers that can double as a work of art or do you prefer covers that are more text heavy?

23731257Things We Thought We Saw in the Water | C. Frazier Jones | 9780984347797 | October 2014

Review: Alphabetique by Molly Peacock

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*I received this copy free from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review. See author Q & A below.*

Title: Alphabetique

Author: Molly Peacock

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Publication Date: November 4, 2014

ISBN: 9780771070150

Alphabetique, or Tales of the Lives of the Letters

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“Alphabetique,” ” or Tales from the Lives of the Letters “is one-of-a-kind, but nevertheless fits perfectly with Molly Peacock’s extraordinary body of work, drawing on the same wellsprings of creativity and artistry as her poetry and her nonfiction, especially “The Paper Garden.” These 26 charming, incisive, sensual stories of love, yearning, and self-discovery are complimented by Kara Kosaka’s layered, jewel-bright collages.

I really liked this book. I can’t say that I loved it, but it was cute, fun, and extraordinarily unique. I’ve never read anything quite like it. Alphabetique brings our alphabet to life, one letter at a time, through quirky stories and breathtaking images. I can’t say that I loved it because, as I’ve stated before, I’m really not a short story person. I enjoy reading new stories like this just to try something new, and I was definitely pleasantly surprised. Alphabatique will have a special place in my home where it can be displayed, whether that’s on my coffee table, or at the forefront of my bookshelves. It’s a book to be looked at, to be touched, and to be studied with an artful eye. Each story can be read individually, but it is best read, um, alphabetically (ha!). The illustrations add a sense of life to the stories, giving you a peek into each letter’s existence. It’s printed on lovely paper and is full of colour. It’s vibrant and beautiful. The stories are light-hearted and enjoyable, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth. Very charming!

Check out what Molly Peacock had to say about it:

 

  1. Why do you love tiny things?

I love miniatures because they can’t pretend to be more than they are. The tiny and detailed thing draws your attention because it is a little world in itself. You enter that world without pretense.  That’s why I love the short tales of Alphabetique.  They’re magic, not big and tragic.

 

  1. What’s the importance of noticing in our everyday lives?

When you notice something, even if it’s only a button or an orange or the pattern in a sidewalk grate, it’s as if someone has handed you a rarity. Attention creates luxury because it stops time. For a suspended moment you are calmly energized by what you are seeing, hearing, and touching. It brings you back to your senses.  Even the gravel beneath your feet becomes a marvel of a mosaic.

 

  1. How did you get the idea for Alphabetique: an Advent Calendar on www.tinyletter.com?

Kara Kosaka, the illustrator of Alphabetique, and C.S. Richardson, the Art Director at Penguin Random House made little morsels of details from the illustrations, and I thought, “I’ve got to share these!” Then I realized that 26 letters = 26 days, almost like an Advent calendar. If I started a very select e-mail list through TinyLetter, for people who have things to say, I could show the list these adorable details & I could excerpt a sentence or two from each story to illustrate the illustrations.

It’s amazing:  every day I have more subscribers.  And even after the Tiny Letters stop on November 26, you can subscribe to see them at https://tinyletter.com/mollypeacock

or go to the website: http://mollypeacock.org/advent.html

 

  1. Pencil or pen?

Pencil for poetry on blue lined pads.

Computer for prose!

 

  1. Do you get jealous of other writers?

Sure, but then I remember Jean Rhys who said, “we’re all just drops in the ocean of literature.”

 

  1. What’s your motto:

Go with the Flaw.

 

  1. What words do you try to live by? 

 Only do what you can only do.

 

  1. What is the mantra you’d tell a young woman to keep saying to herself?

 In the attempt is the success.

 

  1. What’s your practical philosophy for writers?

Keep your expectations low and your standards high.

 

  1. Is it ever time to take a break from writing?

Of course—every fertile field has to lie fallow.  The trick is not to think you’ve got writer’s block just because you need a rest.

 

  1. Name a single quality that is BOTH your best and your worst quality:

Whining. It’s time to stop thinking that whining is annoying! Whining is like opening a window and having a sea breeze swoop all the stale air out of a room.  Stop whining, I tell myself, and then I think of the greatest whiner of all:  William Shakespeare. He whined about his love life in the greatest sonnets ever written.

Review: Paradise and Elsewhere by Kathy Page

18406310Title: Paradise and Elsewhere

Author: Kathy Page

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: June 2014

ISBN: 9781927428597

Paradise and Elsewhere

 Synopsis from Goodreads:

The rubble of an ancient civilization. A village in a valley from which no one comes or goes. A forest of mother-trees, whispering to each other through their roots; a lakeside lighthouse where a girl slips into human skin as lightly as an otter into water; a desert settlement where there was no conflict, before she came; or the town of Wantwick, ruled by a soothsayer, where tourists lose everything they have. These are the places where things begin.
 
I’ve said it before that I am not a fan of short stories, but Kathy Page has made me love short stories with this wonderful, visceral, and sometimes disturbing collection. I’ve highlighted more passages and dogeared more pages in this book than in anything I’ve read since graduating from university. I discovered this book through Quill & Quire‘s Cover to Cover feature the development of the cover of this unique set. The stories are surreal and strange, with a strong undercurrent of human emotion coursing through it and the cover captures this feeling so completely. The writing is elegant, reflected in the careful typeface, but often fills you with disbelief, much like the cover image. The book, as a whole, is a work of art.

I was shocked by the story We, the Trees. A young man takes a course with a teacher known for her open-mindedness, however he never shows up to class. He promises a final project unlike anything she’s ever seen. With his perpetual absence, she’s pushed to fail him, but holds off in anticipation of the anticipated final assignment. I won’t reveal to you how the story ends, but it’s brutally shocking and disturbing, but moving and utterly powerful. The conclusion took my breath away. I found many of the stories in this book had this effect.

I want to share a passage with you from one of my favourite stories, Of Paradise: “she was just a little different, not enough to make her completely other. We had recognized her as human from the start. Differentness was not the point, some said. It led both ways. Rather, the issue was that she had come from elsewhere and so we did not know her story or her intention” (31). This observation for me was the perfect description of what it is to be human, to recognize that others are similar to us, but there is always this sense of “otherness” that we struggle with because we do not understand where others come from or the stories they are living. In the same sense, we can always relate because the human experience is always the same; we all feel happiness, sadness, anger, elation. It’s beautiful.

Short story lovers, this one’s for you. I promise you’ll enjoy it!