Michael Hainey, GQ editor, lost his father at the young age of six. For all of his life, the little he was told about his father death--dying alone on the streets of Chicago's North Side--never made sense to him. When Hainey turned 35, the same age that his father was when he died, he fell into a depression and then, his journalist nature kicking in, he began a quest to find out the real story. He returns to Chicago to visit his mother in the house where he grew up, a stone's throw from O'Hare airport, and he begins breaking down the walls of secrecy. In addition to being a memoir about family and secrets, it is also a story of old-time newspaper men (his father worked for the Chicago Sun Times), and life in Chicago. A great read.
We have seen a fair share of Snow White adaptations, some good, some not so good. Valente's Six-Gun Snow White happens to be an excellent one. Set in the Old West, Snow White is the half-Crow daughter of Mr. H, a wealthy white silver magnate and Gun That Sings, a beautiful Crow woman who was forced into marriage. After her mother dies giving birth to her, Snow White is kept on Mr. H's large and luxurious estate with only a bear, coyote and fox to keep her company. After her father decides to take on a new wife, a mysterious and beautiful woman from New England, Snow White's life changes. Her Step-Mother is both loving and cruel, practicing a strange magic that causes Snow White to flee into wild Indian Territory on her horse, Charming.
While outrunning the bounty hunter sent by Mrs. H to bring back her heart, Snow White searches for her identity and some semblance of hope. This novella is simple in its prose, yet rich in the atmosphere that it creates. Six-Gun Snow White is a fresh and inventive take on the classic.
Siobhan Quinn—who goes by Quinn—is the ultimate unreliable narrator. Homeless from a young age, an unabashed junkie, she’s gotten a reputation as a monster hunter. She’s taken out a few ghouls, a vampire or two, and is even friends with a bridge troll. Problem is, all of those confirmed kills were just pure accident. But still, there’s enough of a shine on Quinn’s repuation that an underworld crime lord, the mysterious Mr. B., has taken her under his wing for reasons of his own, which may or may not be the ones Quinn thinks. When Quinn manages to take out another vampire, this time on purpose, she makes herself a very dangerous enemy, however, and starts a chain of events that leads to being bitten by first a werewolf and then a vampire, making her something of an abomination even by supernatural terms. And to make it worse, she’s somehow being controlled by her vampire maker, known as the Bride of Quiet, who’s using her to exact a complicated scheme of her own. Now Quinn has to get a handle on her new life—or unlife, as the case may be—and fast, before she ends up dead for good.
Dark, gritty, with a wisecracking and foul-mouthed narrator who is a refreshing change from the norm, this novel turns the urban fantasy genre on its head and then kicks it in the teeth for good measure.
Fans of Ogawa’s novel The Housekeeper and the Professor (2009) will find the same simple, yet luminous and elegant, prose in this collection of short stories. However, the tone is decidedly different, as be inferred from the title. The collection begins innocently enough, with a woman going into a bakery to buy a strawberry shortcake for her son’s birthday—but then it is revealed her son has been dead for twelve years, perhaps a murder victim? Similar threads of darkness and obsession weave through the remaining tales, all of which are interconnected by the thinnest of margins. A character leaves something in a trash can in one story which is later seen by a character in another; the narrator of one story is mentioned by the narrator of another, and so on.
This collection, despite its sometimes macabre content, is exquisitely crafted, delicately presented, and arresting in its imagery. A small gem.
Tan Twan Eng wins Asia’s top literary prize for The Garden of Evening Mists.
The five shortlisted novels, selected from a longlist of 15, are:
-Between Clay and Dust- Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan)
-The Briefcase– Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)
-Silent House- Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)
-The Garden of Evening Mists- Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)
-Narcopolis- Jeet Thayil (India)
Pulitzer-winning novelist Russell (for Swamplandia, 2011) returns with her second collection of short stories, after St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, 2006. Her complex yet focused stories employ situations that are unusual or even outlandish to illuminate aspects of human lives and relationships. Such is the case in her title story, in which two aging vampires have taken up residence in a Tuscan lemon grove, finding the serenity of the place and the taste of the lemons the only thing that curbs their cravings. But it is obvious that their peace…and perhaps their marriage…are nearly over, as the narrator must come to terms with his own nature. Other stand-outs include “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979,” a coming of age tale with a non-traditional twist, and “The New Veterans,” a small gem about a veteran of the Iraq War and the middle-aged masseuse drawn into his journey to recovery in a most unusual way.
Dark and strange, yet ultimately enlightening, Russell’s short stories are imaginative and utterly unique. Fans of Aimee Bender’s short stories will find much to enjoy here.
Jess Walter's slim short story collection is filled with tales of broken people, such as drug addicts, runaways, prostitutes and con artists. The stories are often both tragic and comic, and Walter is such a master at developing multi-layered and complex characters that you will empathize even with those whom you might normally despise. Walter is the author of the highly acclaimed 2012 novel Beautiful Ruins and several other award-winning novels. This is his first collection of short fiction. Jess Walter is greatly skilled at capturing on the page, with humor and insight, all of contemporary life's unpleasantness. I recommend that you read at least one of his many wonderful works.
Johnson, Nathanael. All Natural: a skeptic’s quest to discover if the natural approach to diet, childbirth, healing, and the environment really keeps us healthier and happier
Johnson, a self-described skeptic, was raised by back-to-nature, hemp-and-granola hippie types. He grew up not wearing diapers, eating according to whatever nutritional trend his mother was onto that week, and subjected to an array of natural cures. But it is the nature of children to rebel, and Johnson’s rebelling took the form of an acceptance of modern technology, food culture, and medicine. However, he couldn’t really shake his roots and set out to do the research, do the leg-work, investigate the growing resistance to a technological way of life, and figure out just what is better for humans in the long run: Science, or nature? He doesn’t find many definitive answers in this always fascinating look into contemporary American culture. While modern medical care definitely means that the average pregnant woman is better off than her ancestors would have been, a growing reliance on Caesarian sections is leading to a new increase in maternal mortalities. Johnson finds similar seeming contradictions in all of the areas he investigates, laying out both his surface level findings and then digging beneath to expose possible reasons for the situation as it exists today.
Johnson owes an obvious debt, both in style and in content, to Michael Pollan, and indeed cites Pollan as not only an influence but a supporter of his work. Fans of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma will find much of interest here.
Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, Forney is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. With humor, humility, and insight, Forney chronicles this year and the years following as she tries to find the right balance of meds while also wrapping her head around her new diagnosis and what that means for her as an artist. Her drawings are amazing. If you truly want to understand the states of mania and depression, then you must read this book. It is a wonderfully funny and clever work, and it was considered by many professional reviewers to be one of the best graphic novels of 2012.
Two brothers cutting turf in a peat bog in rural Ireland turn up a grisly discovery in Hart’s debut mystery. It isn’t a body, as they originally think, but is the severed head of a red-haired girl. The problem is that peat preserves bodies so perfectly that it is impossible to tell how long ago the girl was killed and buried. So archaeologist Cormac Macguire and pathologist Nora Gavin travel from Dublin to investigate the find. Soon, however, they are drawn into a more immediate and gripping mystery: Will the bodies of the wife and son of a local landowner, Hugh Osborne, also be found in the depths of the peat bog? And if so, was it Osborne who put them there? These outsiders, both with baggage of their own that predisposes them to an interest in the case, are drawn into the often tumultuous, sometimes violent, internal doings of a small rural town and find themselves in danger as well.
Rich with atmosphere and detail about both contemporary Irish life and the history and archaeology of the country, this is a complex, multi-layered novel that goes beyond mere murder mystery into the realm of literary fiction. Highly enjoyable.