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The Maladjusted – Derek Hayes

14 Aug

Publisher: Thistledown Press
Released: September 15, 2011
Genre: short stories
Review copy from publisher

These urban, commuter-friendly stories capture quirky events in satisfying ways. Their dark undertones and sharp-witted ironies employ familiar settings such as apartments, lofts, studios and city streets , but use unusual and unexpected urban moments as backdrops to outré characters and their given idiosyncrasies.

Some of Hayes’ characters are on the social fringe, such as the mentally challenged narrator of the title story who finds his way through urban life with the aid of his seventy-year-old neighbour and the possibilities inherent in a game of chess. Some obsess privately, such as the protagonist in “The Runner” who becomes neurotically repulsed by the hair follicles on his girlfriend’s upper lip, while others, like the proven street ball “cager” of the story “In the Low Post” stews over his eroding prestige and control on the inner-city basketball court.

Edgy, smart and unpredictable, Derek Hayes’ stories bend linear story-telling, and shift the narrative voices with such an energetic frequency that readers will want to go back again just to them just to see how he does it.

From Thisteldown Press website.

Maybe it’s because I’m more than a little off-centered myself, but I love reading about weird, awkward, marginal characters. And Derek Haye’s The Maladjusted is filled to the brim with them.

I think it’s so cool that the way he wrote each short story was so straightforward and open that just the telling was enough for me be sympathetic towards the characters.  He didn’t delve too much into explaining why a certain character was on the fridge: he told their story and just the simple fact of seeing how they handle themselves in a certain situation was enough to get a solid feel for the character.

And he never made any of the characters a caricature.  There were no arch-types in this book, nope. And I loved that sometimes the one that you thought was the maladjusted actually wasn’t.

I have no problem admitting that I identified with quite a few of the characters and what they were going through and how they were dealing with it. And I think that’s part of the brilliance of this book. Cuz really we’re all a little maladjusted.

A Certain Grace – Binnie Brennan

30 Apr

In the tradition of short story writers Alice Munro and Carol Shields, Binnie Brennan examines the minutiae of ordinary life. During a tipsy night out escaping the frustrations of daily routines, two middle-aged school teachers try their luck at scoring a joint. A long-haul trucker drives an injured butterfly to its breeding ground in Florida, giving them both a much-needed migration. And while struggling with the death of her ex-husband, a single mother questions her place in her family’s lives. A Certain Grace is richly told in spare prose and woven with vignettes of a much-loved grandfather’s life. 

Binnie Brennan’s pitch-perfect stories chart with a musician’s precision the beats between tenderness and cruelty, between innocence and understanding, in the gulf between what we long for and what is. Centred on the rifts between partner and partner, parents and children, acquaintances and strangers, they hover on the cusp of loss and the quiet deliverance of words themselves, to pinpoint the moment, brimming with possibility, when everything changes. 

— Carol Bruneau, author of Glass Voices

I met Binnie last September and bought her first collection, Harbour View, from her at Word on the Street. I pretty much bought it because Binnie is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met and I love supporting local authors.  And if you’ve read my review of Harbour View, then you know I fell in love with Binnie’s writing and imagination. So I was a happy little booknerd when Quattro Books sent me her latest book, A Certain Grace.

The stories in A Certain Grace are wonderful little snippets of people and of life, in general. I think my favorite thing about this collection is that most of the stories don’t end. Well, they obviously end, but there isn’t a lot of closure. Things aren’t wrapped up all nice and neat.  They are truly snippets. Kinda like going to a cafe by yourself and eavesdropping in on the tables around you. You get some beginnings, some middles and maybe some ends, but usually not all three. And that’s how Binnie’s stories are. And it made me happy, guys. So happy. I loved that I didn’t know how things ended. I could imagine what happened next, play around with endings on my own. I find that I often gravitate towards this writing style. I know it ticks some people off, but for me it’s wonderful.

Something else that’s wonderful is the Five Miniatures at the end of the collection. I loved the tone and voice of these mini stories and they were written in such a personal manner that they seem like diary entries or memories.

A Certain Grace was just a lovely collection of short stories. I enjoyed them all.

Ring Around the Rosie – Jen Wylie

18 Apr

Aaron is a normal boy fascinated with music. He loves playing his flute so much he doesn’t even mind lessons over summer break. When he meets a strange boy at the park who seems to be just as obsessed they spend summer days entertaining children in the parks woods. But friends often have secrets, music can be magical, and even the most innocent of children’s games can be more than they appear.

Ah, the creepiness! The mystery! The spine-tingling GOODNESS of this short story. I mean, from the beginning I was all like, “WHAT the heck is going on?” I knew it was something devilishly good, I had a sneaking suspicion, and I was kinda right, but I was also way, way off. Which I LOVE when reading creepy stories like Ring Around the Rosie.

I loved how right from the get-go I had an uneasy feeling about the boy in the park and I wanted to scream at Aaron to STAY AWAY! Not that he would have listened, though. He was as entranced with the boy as the children in the park were. Have a mentioned how creepy this story was? I have? Okay, I just wanted to make sure. Cuz it was CREEEEEEEPY.

And the ending! Oh, it’s one of my favorite endings, I think. I won’t ruin it for anyone, but it was pretty cool. And like the rest of the story, there wasn’t any over explaining or filler. That’s the thing I liked most about Jen’s writing. It was tight.

This was just a great YA short story. I rarely ever read YA short stories, but I think I need to start delving into this genre more.

Thanks so much to Jen for the review copy.

Harbour View – Binnie Brennan

12 Dec

Harbour View is the story of six people whose lives intersect in a nursing home overlooking Halifax Harbour. Memories draw the residents, staff, and family members from rich and diverse pasts to a present filled with grace and poignancy. Threaded with music and connected by themes of dislocation, family legend, and longing, Harbour View offers a glimpse of the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.

Know what’s awesome? When you meet someone, discover they’re an author, pick up their book and absolutely fall in love with it. This is what happened with me and Binnie Brennan’s beautiful collection of short stories, Harbour View. I met Binnie back in September over in Halifax on my bookish weekend and bought Harbour View. Man, am I glad I did.

This was just a wonderfully flowing, beautifully written collection. I loved how each story was connected, but at the same time they were stand alone tales. So you can pick up the book and start with any story and not be lost. I sometimes like to do this with my short story collections, so I appreciate it.

Harbour View takes place in a nursing home and the fact that I read it shortly after a visit to my grandmother at her senior’s residence really made the stories hit home for me. Each story touched on a different aspect of life, of growing old and living so it was quite an emotional read, but in a good way. I love the fact that even though I am far from future days in a nursing home I could still identify and empathize with the characters in the book.

I loved Harbour View and it will take a prized place on my reread book shelf. And I wait impatiently for more from Binnie.

The Magnificent Steam Carnival of Professor Pelusian Minus:First Flight by Sean and Connor Hayden

3 May

Publisher: Quake Books
Released: March, 2011
Genre: MG steampunk, short story
For review from author.

When Professor Pelusian Minus’ steamsmith dies, he needs another one quickly. He sends his giant henchman out to complete the task. The professor is not at all happy when Abraham Lincoln brings back two small twin babies. Soon though, he discovers they are just what he needs; he just has to wait for them to grow up.

For years, the twins, Dade and Paige, have been slaves to Professor Minus and his carnival. Now, the professor wants them to build him an army of minions, they just want to escape. With some clever planning, they build what the professor wants–kinda.

Then, Dade finally comes up with a plan for their escape. They think they have it all figured out. But things go terribly wrong and now Dade has to put aside the escape to save his sister’s life. Has Professor Pelusian Minus finally found a way to keep Dade and Paige at his Magnificent Steam Carnival?

From Quake website

OMG I loved this story. I am in no way a young or a reluctant reader, but if you are or know one you should totally get them First Flight. I was hooked from the get-go and can’t wait to dig into the second story in this series.

I don’t read a lot of steampunk, but I think it is a genre I need to become a lot more familiar with. The steampunk elements in this story, though, weren’t what I loved the most about it. That would be the characters.

Dade and Paige are just great characters. Smart, resilient and funny, I think they are both amazing heroes for young readers to look up to. And the professor! So, evil! So nefarious! So much fun to read! His ego-centric plans had me all a giggle and I love how the twins were constantly thinking of ways to outsmart him. But just when I thought things were all clear, bam! the authors introduced a twist that I didn’t see coming at all.

This was just a really interesting, fun read. I think adults and kids a like will love it. And the fact that Hayden co-wrote this with his young son, Connor? Well that’s just sweet and awesome all at the same time.

Dust to Dust: Stories by Timothy Findley

26 Aug

Published by HarperPerenial Canada, 1997

In Timothy Findley’s collection of short stories, Dust to Dust, the theme of death flow through each story, intertwining with the theme of creativity. While these are two very contrasting themes, Findley presents them in such a way that they end up Dust_to_Dustcomplementing each other and often switching places, with death representing life and creativity representing an end.

Findley is my favorite writer and what I love most about his writing is its diversity. Even though the short stories in this collection all had common themes, each one was uniquely written. The volume also includes stories in several different genres, including murder mystery (Abracadaver, The Madonna of the Cherry Trees), love (A Bag of Bones) and horror (Hilton Agonistes, Americana).

While most of the characters were flawed, they were flawlessly written, their love and hate and lives jumping off the pages. There wasn’t one story in this collection that I didn’t enjoy, and quite often I was left wanting to know more about the places and people and situations Findley wrote about.

This was a great read, as all of Findley’s books are. If you haven’t read any of his books, Dust to Dust is a great place to start.

Click here to find out more about Dust to Dust.

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