Singapore Noir (CBR8 #71)

Read Harder wanted me to read a book by an author from Southeast Asia. A little google sleuthing turned up the book Singapore Noir edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a native of Singapore, who in her introduction to the collection lays out the Singapore the world is familiar with as well as the Singapore explored in this work. What better way to complete the task than to read a collection of stories by authors hailing from, or simply familiar with, the area in question? And some are in Singlish (well, partly) which is another boon for me since I like works in dialect.

First, if you like noir, then this book is right up your alley. It’s actually the fortieth or so collection put out by Akashic Books which has apparently, unbeknownst to me, been putting out a series of original noir anthologies since 2004. In case you are wondering the noir anthologies are all geographically organize
d, thus Singapore Noir.singapore

What did I learn about myself as a reader during this adventure? That I will consume noir quickly if given the opportunity, but that I should probably limit myself to one or two stories at a time since the genre has very specific rhythms which get very repetitive, very quickly since in all the works the protagonist is either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Add in the fact that that protagonist is usually self-destructive and is dealing with the legal, political or other system that is corrupt is, leading to lose-lose situation.

Highlights for me:

Last Time by Colin Goh, which follows a lawyer attempting to free the arm candy of a mobster. But is that really what’s happening?

Smile, Singapore by Colin Cheong, we spend the night in an interrogation room with a man who has committed a crime, but feels little remorse for the position he was put in.

Kena Sai by S.J. Rozan follows the life of an expatriate couple from beginning to end.

Honestly, this book is probably a 3.5 overall, since there were one or two I couldn’t get myself to care about enough to finish them, I have rounded down.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Waiting for Clark & Served Hot (CBR8 #62-63)

Mrs. Julien’s review of Waiting for Clark reminded me that I had picked up two Annabeth Albert books following ellepkay’s reviews, and should probably read them in between library books. While owning my romance reading habits, I have also been attempting to be more LGBTQ inclusive in my reading overall (with varying degrees of success), and felt overdue in that department.

Let’s start with the good.

Image result for waiting for clark

Waiting for Clark is based on a prompt and image given to Albert as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s “Love is an Open Road” event last year where members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Albert got:

Dear Author,
My friends and I love cosplay, and this year we’re going all out for our city’s con. Yup, we’re going to go as members of the Justice League. I’m going as Batman, but I can’t figure out who’s going as a Superman. My friends are being a little cagey. What’s going on? How did I go from not knowing who Superman is to making out with the guy?

Photo Description:
In a cartoon drawing, Batman and Superman are locked in an embrace, kissing. Superman is taller and clutching Batman to him. Batman has more muscles and has visible tattoos on his arms. Superman has broader shoulders and dark hair. Batman is stretching up to meet him and has one foot kicked behind him. Behind them is a graffiti-covered wall, and Superman’s rainbow-lined cape swirls around them. The prompter specified that the picture is two men in cosplay costumes at a Comic Con convention.

Kept short and crisply paced, this story (under 100 pages) shows a balanced approach to its character development, giving us flashbacks to their college days and rooted in the here and now. Clark and Bryce (yep, Albert went all in on the Batman/Superman theme) had feelings for each other, but between not want to ruin their friendship and roommate relationship, dating other people, or living on different sides of the country if not ocean – things just didn’t work out. Enter our meet cute 5 years later, and Clark shows back up in his life, at a Comic Con with Bryce dressed as Batman and Clark as Superman.  Bryce doesn’t know how to trust it Clark, and Clark has to convince Bryce that they should give a relationship a try.

I appreciated the second chance tropes running through, the rounded out world of background characters, the steamy sex scenes (this does not have cuddling like The Hating Game), and the fact that both characters were out.

Three Stars

Image result for served hot annabeth

As to the less good, the other Albert short that I picked up based on ellepkay’s review was Served Hot, first in the Portland Heat series. This one is the story of Robby ad David. Robby is a coffee cart owner and David is one of his regular customers, who walks several blocks, past several other coffee options, to see Robby. Set up with seasonal check-ins, it’s the story of Robby and David dating and falling for each other, and unpacking ALL of David’s considerable small-town closeted baggage.

This one had too much angst for me, too much trouble with communication, and ultimately suffered at only being told from Robby’s perspective. I can appreciate that Albert is trying to tell a variety of experiences, and that Robby is a POC protagonist (woo!) but this one felt like a slog, and nothing cruising it at right around 100 pages should feel that way. I don’t know that I’ll be checking back in with Albert’s writing any time soon.

2 stars.

These books were read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

When the Women Come Out to Dance (CBR8 #5)

I’m continuing down my Elmore Leonard path and was off in search of the next Raylan story. Fire in the Hole is the third story, and it’s contained within this collection. When the Women Come Out to Dance is a collection of Leonard’s short stories, and since Audible suggested it and I’ve loved listening to the other Raylan stories: Pronto and Riding the Rap. (This collection of Elmore Leonard’s short fiction’s title was changed to Fire in the Hole capitalize on its connection to FX’s Justified.)

Let’s get the bad out of the way – this was far from my favorite Elmore Leonard experience. There are nine stories in this collection, and I’ll be honest a few of them I don’t remember 24 hours after finishing the audiobook. That has definitely affected my decision to rate this book at only 2 stars. It was merely okay.

Of the ones I remember  there were several of them were good, and a couple were quite good, and one or two I know I’m just missing  bigger story arcs because these are characters related to other Leonard stories. “Sparks” and the titular “When the Women Come Out to Dance” are solid works. Each cover women taking different illegal methods to get beyond a problem and each are well paced if slightly predictable and generally forgettable. I doubt I’ll be remembering them at all in a few weeks.

“Fire in the Hole” and “Karen Makes Out” each highlight some of Leonard’s most well-known characters: Raylan Givens and Karen Sisco. In “Fire in the Hole” Raylan returns to Harlan County and runs afoul of Boyd Crowder. You know the story if you’ve seen season one of Justified. “Karen Makes Out” happens after the events of Out of Sight, with Karen remaining unlucky as far as finding suitable law abiding male companionship. Each was good, but mostly because I was familiar with the characters.

My favorites in this collection were “Tenkiller” and “The Tonto Woman”. “Tenkiller” tells the story of Ben Webster (grandson of Carl Webster from The Hot Kid if you’re familiar – I was not) on his return to Oklahoma following the death of his fiancée. He runs across a family of criminals squatting on his family’s pecan farm and goes about getting back together with the first girl he loved and getting rid of the nuisance on the farm. Too long and meandering (like this review!) but still quite good. My favorite, a four star story on its own was “The Tonto Woman”. This had the crispest pacing and left the reader satisfied but looking for more. That’s my favorite balance in a short story. “The Tonto Woman” is a day in the life type story of a woman returned from twelve years of captivity and resettling amongst life as a literally marked woman. Or is she going to take up with a cattle rustler?

Amazon describes this collection as a series of short sketches that feature strong female characters in trouble. I don’t completely buy it. Most explicitly because there are no women focused on in at least one or two of the stories. Also, we aren’t given enough time with several of the women to really identify if they are strong or merely opportunistic. I know from my viewing of the Justified television series that I feel the Ava character in “Fire in the Hole” is strong, but I don’t know that I can feel that way simply from what we see on the page. Although, I am glad that the producers decided to keep Boyd around and that he was portrayed by the delightful Walton Goggins. I have the same lack of certainty with some of the others, including “Sparks”.

Read at your own choosing, you’ll be better able to tell your own interest level.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (CBR7 #92)

Confession time: I listened to this book solely because I decided that I would not be finishing The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for the Go Fug Yourself book club over on Goodreads. I spent two weeks actively avoiding listening to it on my commute to work, and on a three hour road trip to Philadelphia where I didn’t have a radio in the loaner car from work. I needed a palate cleanser, and I needed a moody atmospheric listen to go along with Halloween. Neil Gaiman sounded like a perfect idea.

And thanks to the fantastic review of Cannonball’s own Renton last year I had this on my to read list, and had downloaded it from Audible a few months ago when I saw it  Gaiman is in usual form here – he is playing with words, slowly releasing meaning in gradual layers. What I hadn’t remembered from Renton’s review was that part of it charm was in the artwork. To quote him “The most effective sections of the book have the text bleed into the artwork, as the story passes from paragraph to comic strip to full-page painting in one fluid movement.” Now, in listening to the Gaiman narrate the work I didn’t feel like I as missing it because as was also done in M is for Magic, the stories are interwoven with music to help create tension. That may have been what kept my rating down to a three and not up to a four like Renton’s.

So what was this novella all about anyway? Gaiman is at work with myths and lore again. We follow the tale of two men on a quest to the titular cave for gold, but it’s also rumination on what we do for love and greed. And also what we’re willing to sacrifice. A good read for anytime of the year, but definitely one suited to the fall and the shortening days.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Elephant Vanishes (CBR7 #84)

I’m at a loss for how to review this book. Earlier today on Facebook I quipped that some reviews just boil down to read it if you want, here’s a plot description. This might be one of those reviews. I had received suggestions to read Murakami based on other authors I liked and a sense of getting out of my own rut. Great! The suggestions were warranted. I did enjoy Murakami’s style, I just didn’t necessarily enjoy the fact that it was encapsulated in short story format.

I have struggled with short story collections in the past, and this year I gave it an honest try to attempt a variety and see if I couldn’t find something that worked. While I wouldn’t rate any of the ones I’ve tried this year below a three (Get in Trouble  and M is for Magic each have some great moments) I don’t love the style or methods that are often applied.  My roommate Ale suggests that people are either short story or novel writers, I also think we’re either short story or novel readers. I am a novel reader.

But, with my personal issues taken out of the equation I think this book is very likely worth your time and a good place to start. It does show its age in some of the technology referenced, but if you want to get an idea of Murakami’s style before diving into one of his novels, this would be a good way to do just that.

Okay, I think I’m done with this review, here’s your synopsis from Goodreads, and happy reading!

With the same deadpan mania and genius for dislocation that he brought to his internationally acclaimed novels A Wild Sheep Chase and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami makes this collection of stories a determined assault on the normal. A man sees his favorite elephant vanish into thin air; a newlywed couple suffers attacks of hunger that drive them to hold up a McDonald’s in the middle of the night; and a young woman discovers that she has become irresistible to a little green monster who burrows up through her backyard.

By turns haunting and hilarious, The Elephant Vanishes is further proof of Murakami’s ability to cross the border between separate realities — and to come back bearing treasure.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Get in Trouble (CBR7 #17)

I have a feeling that this book is a case of its not you, it’s me. In addition to my goal for Cannonball (65 books this year) I’m working on the Read Harder Challenge put on by Book Riot. As part of that challenge there are 24 tasks and one of them is a short story collection. I haven’t really done much in the way of reading short story collections so this was one of the tasks that truly felt like a challenge. Late last year I read the collection My True Love Gave to Me and I had a typical experience: inevitably there are some which are too long, and some which are too short. And some that are just, well, terrible. Of the stories which I loved from that collection one was Kelly Link’s The Lady and the Fox. Once I decided to do the Read Harder Challenge I went back to the stories I loved from My True Love Gave to Me to hunt up collections and lo and behold Kelly Link had a new collection coming out in 2015. I immediately signed myself up for the waitlist at the library. Challenge solved!

And if only it were so easy. Her latest work, Get in Trouble, comes highly rated with lots of awesome pull quotes on the back cover. And I thought this was going to be a case of discovering a new delivery method of awesome stories. This was going to be another experience with audiobooks! But, no. Don’t get me wrong, the writing – when it’s good, it’s really good.  But it’s also inconsistent. Some stories feel overwritten, some feel underwritten, and I have BIG problems with some of the formatting that happens in the stories.

There are nine stories included in Get in Trouble, and of those I enjoyed five. This simple math is what I used to decide to rate this book three stars instead of only two. But those four stories which didn’t work for me, REALLY didn’t work for me. Here are some of the issues I ran into:

  • It took me far too long to “get into” the universe of each story. By the time I found my footing the story was generally over. Or I wanted it to be.
  • Often the best part of the ‘bad’ stories was the mystery of what the heck the setting/interpersonal dynamics were. The plots held much less interest.
  • The further I read the more confused with the narrative devices I became. Was it symbolic? Or just random and nonsensical? For some of the stories I still don’t know.
  • Time jumps, POV changes, and other mechanics of storytelling are not delineated in the text. They just happen. Give me a font change, use italics or really anything to help the reader understand.

The stories which I enjoyed, and which worked for me, tended to have both younger protagonists, and to be playing with only a single idea. “The Summer People” explores the burdens of the responsibilities we take on, and the cost of friendship.  The one I enjoyed the most was “Secret Identity” and works through the differences between being who we are and who we want to be. With superheroes and dentists thrown in. “The New Boyfriend,” deals with ferocious jealousy and what love is. The adult protagonist stories I enjoyed were “Light” which struck a chord both because it deals with fraught relationships and is set in South Florida (it also includes pocket universes and frozen iguana, what’s not to love). Finally, there’s “Two Houses” which almost feels like a cheat since I skimmed through the ‘horror’ parts of it, but the ending was so poignant that it won me over. To say too much would give it away.

My prognosis: your mileage will definitely vary, but when Kelly Link is on, she’s on.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

NaNoWriMo 2014

Well, I’m doing this insanity once more. I really need to have my head examined. I have never finished a novel I have set out to write over the course of the last several years. But, I have had more success with short stories. So, this year I am writing a collection of short stories entitled Solar Powered Dog and Other Assorted Tales and am basing them off Erikson’s psychosocial development stages. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter dealing with Care and Generativity.

Holly was a nervous sort. She liked to claim that nervousness was her great aunt’s domain, but it was something that they shared, something that united them. Matilda hadn’t raised Holly from the time she was a small child, she had instead stepped in when Holly was in her teens and Holly’s father had decided that she needed a woman’s touch. It was perhaps an antiquated feeling to have, but Matilda was pleased to have the time with her great-niece.

There’s had never been a typical relationship; Matilda was not necessarily the mothering sort. Her own husband had died young; a victim of a car accident, and Matilda had never found the need to remarry. She had her friends, her family as it was, and her work which kept her occupied. But as she approached retirement and her nephew George had an existential crisis about raising a teenage daughter on his own, she was pleased to step into this new role.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that perhaps she had underestimated the work and emotional toll it would take raising Holly. Matilda had been under the misapprehension that a girl of 14 would be nearly raised, and would instead need a chaperone of sorts to help her make decisions about impending adulthood. This did not turn out to be the case.

Ten years later Matilda and Holly’s relationship had reached the place that she assumed it would have started, with Matilda weighing in time and again about various choices. She often wondered if she had made the best possible choices in her time with Holly, but she was certain that she had done her best. It certainly wasn’t a simple task helping a witch come into her own.

But now she had concerns, real concerns about how Holly would be able to balance life outside the one that she and Matilda lived in with the real world out there beyond their doors. Matilda had not kept Holly from the world, in fact she had made the clear and conscious choice to keep Holly mainstreamed in her education and away from those who would have kept Holly, and Matilda, ensconced in a coven. That was not a real path to life, to Matilda’s view, but now that her darling niece was making the transition from child to adult, she worried. She also worried about Holly dating someone whom she had not met. Matilda had always managed to screen possible boyfriends before. However this one had managed to sneak through.

Matilda knew better than to worry. But this was her Holly, out in the world with a stranger. It would be impractical for Matilda not to worry. So for now she waited for Holly to return home to her.