The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff

Source: NetGalley/Kindle
ebook, 21 pages
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The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff is a complementary story to her new novel, The Winter Guest (my review), in which Maria finds herself married and estranged from her father in rural Biekowice, Poland, during WWII.  Maria, who is married to Piotr, finds that she is an outsider at her in-laws home, and is unable to share even her sense of loss with them after he was conscripted by the Germans.  She fills her days avoiding the scrutiny of her mother-in-law, and dreaming about what life will be like when her husband returns.  She feels alone now that she’s severed herself from her father, whom she caught selling information to the Nazis.  However, her father’s betrayal is the least of the secrets she will uncover.

“War had nipped at the edges of their tiny village, Biekowice, changing little things first, like the requirement of registration cards.  Later had come the food requisitioning that left the market so bare.  Piotr’s family had not been affected as badly as most — the farm produced enough simple fare to keep their stomachs full.”

While she lives in relative comfort, Maria must remain strong for herself and a young Jewish girls she discovers hiding in the family barn.  Maria is a young wife who is still finding her place in her new family, while at the same time trying to make sense of the families around her who turn in their neighbors or make other deals with the Nazis to survive.  When she is faced with the dilemma of a little Jewish girl, it is clear that her father’s betrayal propels her to take a different action.  The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff expounds upon a minor character in her novel, The Winter Guest, giving readers a glimpse into how much the paranoia and fear had begun to permeate even the smallest villages as Nazis traipsed through the city squares and fought through the countryside.  It’s too bad that this story is so short; it would make a good novel.

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.  Visit her Website and Facebook page.

22nd book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Poland)




32nd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





27th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

A Hero for the People by Arthur Powers

Source: Author and Book Junkie Promotions
Paperback, 190 pages
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A Hero for the People by Arthur Powers is a quiet collection of short stories about the Brazilian backlands that examine faith and perseverance among people who were downtrodden and beaten down by their richer brethren off and on between 1964 and the early 1990s.  In this crucible, men and women are either made stronger or they are broken by the land, the people, and the government.  Powers uses sparse language and thrusts the reader in the middle of situations, but there is enough background given so that the reader understand each character’s position in the towns they visit — from the Brother sent to help an older priest live out his final years before the parish is closed and finds himself becoming a people’s hero to the young wife and mother who dreams of escaping her life as a wife for a passionate love affair.

“She turned and walked inside.  She would miss this house.  The house where she had grown up had been made of wattle — mud and sticks — plastered over in parts where the plaster hadn’t worn through.  Its floor had been dirt, pressed hard enough so that you could sweep it almost clean, but turning muddy when rain leaked through the old tile roof.  In this house, when water leaked through the tiles in the hard rains, it could be swept off the floor.  And here there was a pump in the kitchen; she didn’t have to walk to the river for water.”  (from “The Moving”, page 96)

While Powers begins his collection with a note about the political and social environment during the time in which these stories are set; it is hardly necessary because it is clear that those factors influenced the lives of his characters.  At the heart of these stories are families trying to make their way in the world and keep what little they have, but there are the missionaries who come from the outside world to help them and there are the wealthy landowners and their gangs who try to take it all.  Powers’ style is reminiscent of the stories told by the fire before televisions were prevalent in homes, and these stories will transport readers outside of their own lives into the lives of these Brazilian farmers and ranchers.  As they struggle, readers will feel the tension grown, and when they fall, they will cheer them onward.

A Hero for the People by Arthur Powers is a powerful look at a less affluent society that is no less worthy of prosperity and happiness than the next.  Hearts will break, families will falter, but in the end faith and love hold them together through the toughest parts of their lives.  Powers has crafted harrowing stories that dig at the root of all human societies when they are beginning anew.

About the Author:

Arthur Powers went to Brazil in 1969 and lived most his adult life there. From 1985 to 1997, he and his wife served with the Franciscan Friars in the Amazon, doing pastoral work and organizing subsistence farmers and rural workers’ unions in a region of violent land conflicts. The Powers currently live in Raleigh North Carolina.

Arthur received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, and 2nd place in the 2008 Tom Howard Fiction Contest. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many magazines & anthologies. He is the author of A Hero For The People: Stories From The Brazilian Backlands (Press 53, 2013) and The Book of Jotham (Tuscany Press, 2013).

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads





55th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.






28th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen

Source: Kindle Freebie
e-short story, 40 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen follows her short-e-story All Is Bright (my review), telling the other side of the story from Ilsa Brown‘s point of view, rather than that of Elise Andrews.  Between these two short stories, the love triangle between these characters is real, but not as fleshed out as they would be in a full-length novel.

Ilsa Brown is a veterinarian and she meets Grif by chance in a park where his foster-dog, Fabio, has been injured.  They grow fond of each other, but Ilsa is cautious when her sister’s solid marriage loses its footing.  It makes her wonder how much Grif regrets his past break-up with Elise.  Pekkanen is adept at navigating the fragile balance of male-female relationships, especially when a break-up has recently occurred and one of the pair is still healing.  Ilsa is a strong woman, but she also realizes that the past must be embraced in order for the future to be clear.

“To hide her confusion, she did what came naturally: She reached out with her strong, thin fingers–the two crescent-shaped scars on the back of her right hand gleaming pale and smooth–and began to examine the little mixed-breed dog.”

Both new to Los Angeles, Grif and Ilsa hit it off over their love of animals and pizza, and their relationship moves at a fast pace.  But Ilsa is never more aware of taking things one step at a time as when she talks with her sister, Corrine, about him or when her sister talks about her marriage.  Pekkanen’s prose is simple and captivating in building up the romance in a short amount of time, but it’s her characters that will keep readers engaged because they are not two-dimensional.  Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen is about how love can hit at the most unexpected times and how it needs to be nurtured and understood in order to flourish.  Readers may want more from these characters, and perhaps the author will weave them into a full-length novel.

About the Author:

Sarah is the mother of three boys, which explains why she wrote part of her novel at Chuck E. Cheese. Seriously. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true. At least some dreams – Brad Pitt has yet to show up on her doorstep wearing nothing but a toolbelt and asking if she needs anything fixed. So maybe it’s only G-rated dreams that come true. Please visit her Website.

All Is Bright by Sarah Pekkanen

Source: Kindle Freebie
E-story, 47 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

All Is Bright by Sarah Pekkanen is an e-short story about a young woman, Elise Andrews, who lets her childhood sweetheart go because she cannot bring herself to say “Yes” to his marriage proposal.  Visiting over the Christmas holidays all the way from San Francisco while her father is away on a whirlwind world tour, Elise hears a voice from her past, Janice, her ex-boyfriend Griffin’s mother.  Elise is there to check on the house and visit her Nana in the nursing home.  Chicago is much colder than her new home, but she misses it still.  Growing up without a mother, Elise leaned on Janice quite a bit, and whether or not she was in love with Griffin — with whom she had an on-again, off-again relationship — she’s always felt a connection to his mother.

“Another Janice memory: Her questions tumbled over one another like socks in a spinning dryer.”

Her time in Chicago is short, but she reconnects with Janice, only to feel that their connection is being ripped away.  While the story ends on a hopeful note, it feels like there is more to this story.  What happens to Janice and Elise’s relationship now that she’s no longer with Griffin, and will she and Griffin remain friends even as they both move on?  All Is Bright by Sarah Pekkanen touches upon the connections we make and the love we share with others, as well as how those relationships change over time.

About the Author:

Sarah is the mother of three boys, which explains why she wrote part of her novel at Chuck E. Cheese. Seriously. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true. At least some dreams – Brad Pitt has yet to show up on her doorstep wearing nothing but a toolbelt and asking if she needs anything fixed. So maybe it’s only G-rated dreams that come true. Please visit her Website.

Incendiary Girls By Kodi Scheer

Source: Little A/New Harvest and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 192 pages
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Incendiary Girls: Stories by Kodi Scheer (on Kobo) mixes dark humor — really dark humor — with scientific and anatomical knowledge that makes some of these stories even more creepy.  Like the title suggests, a spark is lit in each of these stories that leads these protagonists to re-examine their lives, relationships, and their perceptions of reality.  From a woman whose Muslim boyfriend turns into a camel to a mother who believes her daughter’s horse is her own mother reincarnated, Scheer expects her readers to be open-minded and willing to think outside the box.  While she explores the notion that the body betrays us, she also sneaks in some sly sympathy and humor at our own inevitable fates, which could be missed upon first reading.

“‘Pose for me,’ you say.  Not that he’s moving much anyway.  Pull out a sketch pad and charcoal, then sit across from him.  Forming the shapes first, the underlying structure, is difficult.  This body is unfamiliar. A cylinder, no, an oval for the main part.  Then there is the question of the hump.  Should you add a half sphere on top?

The sketch looks like a cross between a horse and a llama.” (page 70 from “When a Camel Breaks Your Heart”)

Readers will never forget these stories, like the peeling back of skin to reveal muscles in “Gross Anatomy.” But there is more here than the detailed images that will be etched forever in the mind; Scheer raises questions about identity, genetics, family secrets and more.  When tragedy strikes, people spend an inordinate amount of time making things as good as they can for their own children while burying the hurt of the past, and there are those that prepare for the worst before it even strikes through a series innocuous habits and rituals.

Incendiary Girls: Stories by Kodi Scheer is a small, powerful collection of short stories that hits like a sucker punch in the gut, leaving readers questioning their own emotions and world views.  Like the surgeon cutting along the skin to reveal the muscles below, Scheer sheds light on the disembodiment of humanity by war and science amid the absurdity of our conventional lives.  Unsettling, inventive, grotesque, but ever thought-provoking in her use of magical realism.  Something readers are unlikely to forget by a young, female Kafka that even Gregor Samsa should fear.

About the Author:

Kodi Scheer teaches writing at the University of Michigan.  For her work as a writer-in-residence at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, she was awarded the Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service.  Her stories have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Iowa review, and other publications.


23rd book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

Source: Random House and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 256 pages
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The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith is a fresh short-story collection that spans the Vietnamese culture, myths, and the immigrant experience, straddling reality and the magical.  The Vietnam War hovers in the background of the characters’ lives as the mothers struggle to garner U.S. visas for themselves and their children born of American soldiers in “Guests” or in “Boat Story,” where a grandson asks his grandmother to explain her escape from Vietnam during the war.  Kupersmith’s style is clear and engaging, and the myths and magical moments are told in a storytelling style that is reminiscent of the oral traditions in Vietnamese culture.

“Whatever spirit had reanimated the corpse must have been a feeble one, for the body moved clumsily, legs stiff but head dangling loose as it struggled to keep its balance on the angry waves.  Grandpa sank down to his knees next to me, and we peered over the gunwale in helpless horror as the body tottered closer and closer.” (Page 8 ARC)

From ghosts in the Frangipani Hotel to the spirits in the woods, Kupersmith weaves in magic and myth seamlessly with reality. Her characters are oddities and not; they are rational but also open-minded about the unseen.  From the twin girls who border on feral to the young man who finds a ghost in the hotel, her characters are both real and unreal — they have a mystical quality.  The prose is witty, with a few moments that will leave readers chuckling.  At other times, the stories tackle serious issues like immigration and the soldiers who leave women behind with babies when the war is over, though with a sense of irony that never feels misplaced.

She can lull readers into a sense of complacency before her prose unsettles their world, and the mark of a great storyteller is one that can shift from male and female points of view with ease and who can create stories that will stay with readers long after they’ve been read.  The stories in The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith shift in setting and time, but the roots do not change, merely grow and curl as the tales unfold.

***U.S. residents can enter to win 1 copy of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel by leaving a comment by March 10, 2014, 11:59 PM EST.***

About the Author:

Violet Kupersmith was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1989 and grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her father is American and her mother is a former boat refugee from Vietnam. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College she received a yearlong Fulbright Fellowship to teach and research in the Mekong Delta. She is currently at work on her first novel.

7th book (Vietnam War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.



6th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





10th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber

Source: TLC Book Tours and Linda Bamber
Paperback, 256 pages
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Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber is a collection of eight short stories that give new life to Shakespeare’s plays, Jane Eyre, and American artist Thomas Eakins.  Whether Desdemona is chair of the English Department and in charge of diversity or a professor sees herself as Jane Eyre, Bamber has created stories that are unique but not beholden to their original texts and plot lines.  Bamber clearly has an academic background and offers readers enough of the original background to provide them with guidance on where her story comes from and where it could go.

“Jane lies faint, sinks in deep waters, feels no standing.  As far as I can make out, Jane has an orgasm of grief.  Can I tell them that? Maybe.  It depends on the atmosphere.” (page 77)

The strongest of the short stories is “Playing Henry,” in which a stage actress Clare has to come to terms with not the leading role in the season’s fare but a more subordinate and less desirable role as Henry — from Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV Part One and Henry IV Part Two, and Henry V.  Clare comes across as a real actress who is finally tested by a role she is given, and this is a test that she could fail.  It’s a struggle of her desire to remain an actress versus the subconscious doubt she’s carried since she was a young adult and her father tried to push her into something aimed at changing the world.

Some stories are likely to resonate more with readers than others, which is generally the nature of short story collections, but none of these stories will leave readers stranded or wondering where the inspiration came from, and none would be considered mere re-imaginings.  However, there are some stories where there seems to be too much explanation or backstory, like the author is making sure the reader is still where they should be and forces stories that should evolve more organically.

Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber is refreshing, imaginative, and fun, but it is also serious and reflective.  Bamber clearly flexes her academic muscles in these stories, but she’s also gifted at creating situations and characters that challenge readers’ preconceived notions about the source material.

About the Author:

Linda Bamber is a fiction writer, poet, and essayist and a Professor of English at Tufts University. Her recent fiction collection, Taking What I Like (David R. Godine), includes re-inventions of six Shakespeare plays, a riff on Jane Eyre, and a fictional look at the work of Thomas Eakins. She is the author of Metropolitan Tang: Poems (David R. Godine) and the widely reprinted Comic Women, Tragic Men: Gender and Genre in Shakespeare (Stanford University Press). She has published extensively in literary journals such as The Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and Raritan, as well as traditional media such as The New York Times, The Nation, Tricycle, and Tikkun.  Visit her Website.

4th book for 2014 New Author Challenge

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Vol. 3 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Source: It Books
Hardcover, 128 pages
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The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Vol. 3 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a collection of stories from 82 contributors out of the 35,905 contributions to the Tiny Stories collaboration on hitrecord.org — and the profits from the sale of the book will be split among the 82 contributors, which include writers and artists, and the Website.  Some of these stories are so small, they consist of just one sentence, while others are several sentences.  All of them are accompanied by an image, which is an interpretation of the words on the page or vice versa.  Some images and stories together will make readers laugh, but most of these stories are guaranteed to generate at least a smile.  Here are a few of my favorites:


There are very few images with color, but those that do have color, do so for a purpose relevant to the story they portray.  The book is clearly a winner, especially for those that have very little time to read or even look at art — this book combines both, and there are some talented artists in these pages with varied imaginations.  The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Vol. 3 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great diversion when there is little time between appointments or tasks.

About the Author:

HitRECord founder and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting career has managed to garner a massive popular appeal while maintaining a widely respected artistic integrity. He recently starred in Christopher Nolan’s Academy Award-nominated Inception and received Golden Globe, Independent Spirit and People’s Choice award nominations for his performance in (500) Days of Summer. Currently earning rave reviews for his performance in 50/50, also starring Seth Rogen, his upcoming films include David Koepp actioner Premium Rush and Rian Johnson’s sci-fi thriller Looper, with Bruce Willis.

Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel

Source: K.E. Semmel, translator
Paperback, 110 pages
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Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel is a collection of short stories translated from Danish to English.  This slim collection is not only nuanced, but powerful in how it uses stripped down prose to examine complexities in human relationships.  From the brothers who clearly have become estranged and strive to rekindle their brotherhood to a young poet coming to terms with a professor who is not as he remembers, these short stories are subtle enough to get under the skin and powerful enough to make an impression on the psyche.  Fruelund’s stories are short but no less indelible than a well-written novel; and at no point in the English translation will readers feel that something isn’t right — in fact, these stories seem both distinctly Danish and English.

Many of these stories seem to touch upon what the cover suggests — spilt milk.  The idiom everyone knows is “There’s no point crying over spilt milk,” but how true is that saying…should we not cry over the adversity we face and simply move on or is it okay to dwell and cry over those events even if they cannot be changed.  For instance, in “What Is It?,” a father helps his son from a second marriage move out of his shared apartment and into another, thinking all the while about failed marriages — of which the father has had three — and how similar patterns can play out in the lives of loved ones.  What advice could he possibly offer his son; how do they relate knowing that the father left his mother for a third marriage; and how does the son move on from one relationship to the next without questioning it?  Although some of these questions may not be answered, Fruelund provides the reader with enough to chew on.

From ” Hair”:  “Frands stands and goes out to the yard.  Yellow apples lie in the grass.  He walks to the garage looking for something to sit on and finds an old recliner.  With some effort he hauls it outside.  He sits facing the house and takes a nip from the bottle.  He lets his eyes wander over the house’s whitewashed facade.  Even in the half-dark it seems stained and porous, and he can see spots where the plaster has been cracked by frost.  The real estate agent had talked for a long time about how charming the house was.  An artist villa, he’d called it.  With space for children.  It was exactly what they were looking for, Mette had said.” (page 40 ARC)

Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel, is about ordinary people facing some pretty typical situations, but what makes each one unique is the parts outside the stories that we cannot see and that are only hinted at.  Fruelund explores not only jealousy and infidelity, but also regret and many other complex emotions that each of experiences with not only family but wives, husbands, lovers, friends, and neighbors.

About the Author:

Since the publication of his first book in 1997, Simon Fruelund has been one of Denmark’s most delightfully entertaining writers. He possesses a rare gift for creative reinvention. From his early realist-inspired stories (“Tide,” “What is It?” and “Hair”) to his later “pointillist” work (“Man on the Bus,” “Civil Twilight”), Fruelund finds new ways to express and shape his ever-developing artistic vision. He is the author of five books, among them Mælk (1997) and Panamericana (2012). His work has been translated into Italian, Swedish, and English, and his short stories have appeared in a number of magazines across the U.S, including World Literature Today, Redivider, and Absinthe.  For nine years Fruelund worked as an editor at Denmark’s largest publishing house, Gyldendal, but is now writing full time.

About the Translator:

K.E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, the Washington Post, Aufgabe, The Brooklyn Review, The Bitter Oleander, and elsewhere. He is the Publications & Communications Manager of The Writer’s Center, an independent nonprofit literary organization based in Bethesda, MD that offers over 300 workshops in writing annually and hosts around 50 literary events a year. It was recently named by Poets & Writers Magazine as one of 8 “places to go nationwide for writing classes”. For his work translating Simon Fruelund’s fiction, he has received a translation grant from the Danish Arts Council.

This is my 75th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham

Source: Public Library, though Beth Kephart’s review had me seek it out.
Hardcover, 208 pages
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The News from Spain: 7 Variations on a Love Story by Joan Wickersham explores what it means to love in its many forms, and how that emotion can be caught up with and distorted by other emotions and desires.  From the woman whose husband is a serial cheater even as she lays partially paralyzed and dependent upon him to the woman who is drawn again and again to a co-worker who is just out of reach, Wickersham demonstrates the power love has over our bodies and the helplessness we feel as we try to fight off that power.  Each story is titled “The News from Spain,” harkening to the segues used in conversation to divert attention or change the subject from something more personal and deeply wounding, as if calling attention away will make relationships and connections easier to bear or ignore.

“What they had together was pleasant.

But still that word continued to bother her, whenever she thought of it.  The fact that it appeared to be lauding, but the thing that it praised was a limitation.”  (Page 40)

There are characters here who are emotionally detached for a number of reasons, but even they find themselves in the midst of relationships, waffling through the navigation of their emotions.  Each character is seemingly stuck in a pattern of love, and these patterns continue infinitely through time as some of them long separated from these emotional or physical affairs continue to mull them over and remember them either fondly or quizzically.  Wickersham explores what it means to love and be loved, but also what it means to hurt the ones we love, to struggle in the quest for giving and receiving forgiveness, and also what it means to move beyond the hurt and pain to find peace and fondness without the bitterness and regret.

In one story, the narrator talks of unrequited love and the emotions running throughout her body becoming an unruly mob when she tries to rein them in after confessing to the man.  And this frenetic movement within her is reminiscent of those first flushes of love — requited or not — and the passions they inflame, but as she professes to continue to love her husband, readers may begin to wonder if it is love she feels at all for this other man or a want for those feelings of passion to reignite her life.  The News from Spain: 7 Variations on a Love Story by Joan Wickersham is at times an emotional roller coaster and at others a dark comedy on the passions of love, but her characters struggles are brought to life in a way that will leave a lasting impression on readers.

About the Author:

Joan Wickersham was born in New York City and grew up there and in Connecticut. Her new book of fiction, The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story, will be published by Knopf in October 2012. Her memoir The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order (Harcourt 2008) was a National Book Award Finalist. She is also the author of a novel, The Paper Anniversary.

Please visit her Website and her Facebook page.

This is my 49th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan is stunning, absorbing the reader into the lives of her characters — animal and human — and forcing them to contemplate wider questions of what it means to love, change, and grow.  The collection melds nature and human nature flawlessly as Ryan explores the parallels between the natural world and the human world.  For an example of this, please check out my short story spotlight of the story “Greyhound.”

There are moments when characters connect with animals in ways that are astonishing, like a goose that follows a human who never feeds it in “Migration,” and the love between a woman and an an octopus in “A Sea Change.”  But each of these stories is more than a moment in time, and in some cases, they examine a lifetime in just a dozen or so pages.  Ryan has a gift for creating characters and relationships that are realistic, without leaving the reader wondering what’s next by the end of the story.  Encapsulating the right moments and memories, she demonstrates her short story creating skills in a way that ensures readers remember her characters vividly.

“She had read that many Canada geese were no longer bothering to migrate, particularly those in populated areas.  The margins between people and wildlife were beginning to blur, and there was something unnerving about the intersection:  pigeons living on dropped French fries; raptors nesting on sooty skyscrapers; geese, sated and lazy staggering through city parks.  How many generations would pass before their wings grew stunted and useless?  Fly, she thought, staring at the flock.  Fly before it’s too late.”  (page 69 ARC)

There are so many well written and emotional stories in this collection, and it’s clear that Ryan is a observer of not only nature and how it operates, but also how humans have shown similar attributes and skills.  But these characters are more than just studies in how they interact and resemble other animals in the wild, they live and breath the calm experiences of the world around them, sometimes without even realizing its influence.  There are subtle messages about slowing down, enjoying the moment and loved ones while they are here, but there are also calls to action.  Act on that love or that need for change, do more than just survive, which is interesting given that one of the stories is called “Survival Skills.”

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan, which will be published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press on paper from Sustainable Forestry Initiative Certified sources, is a highly enjoyable collection that will get readers thinking about their own lives, the nature around them, and even their own pets, but most of all, readers will be entranced by these stories.

***If you haven’t read novels or short stories from Ashland Creek Press, you are missing out on some really great finds.  Might I suggest you start with Ryan’s collection?***

About the Author:

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California.  A horticultural enthusiast and chef of many years, Jean’s writing has always been her favorite pursuit. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Blue Lake Review, Damselfly, and Earthspeak. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister.  Visit her Website.

This is my 17th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Short Story Friday: Greyhound by Jean Ryan

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan is a slim volume, but each of the stories packs a visual and analytical punch as she draws parallels between what it means to be human and the behaviors found in nature.  While I’m still absorbing these stories at a slow pace, I wanted to share a bit about the short story, “Greyhound.”

The narrator seeks out a gift to cheer up her significant other, and finds herself at a greyhound rescue.  These dogs are retired from dog racing after just a few years and mostly due to injury, but Clara’s Gift is special because she chose to stop running at a young age.  While she is like the other greyhounds, shying away from human touch and affection at first, there is a certain intelligence in her eyes.  She meets her new owner, Holly, and the home they will all share, but coaxing does not win the dog over. Ryan paints a cohesive picture of this new family and its tentative steps around one another, but she also draws parallels between Holly and the dog — both wounded and unsure — and how they need to be approached to come out of their shells.

“…she rarely imparts information about herself; most of what I know about her I’ve had to piece together.  If she has fallen short of her goals, if she yearns for something more than me and this house we’re constantly mending, she doesn’t burden me with it.”  (page 10)

Wounded animals generally have a couple of base reactions — lash out or retreat — and in the case of “Greyhound,” retreating seems to be the best option.  While the narrator enjoys fixing things, like the house, there are some things that cannot be fixed, but must heal on their own.  The experience with the new dog teaches her to back away, to patiently wait on the sidelines, something that she’s clearly not accustomed to doing.  Even her role as a homeopathic seller imparts to the reader her desire to fix things, to offer comfort to others, and to provide aid where needed, even if it isn’t.

Ryan’s subtle style builds with each page of this story, and her links between nature and humanity become stronger with each connection.  “Greyhound” is just one powerful story, and I look forward to finishing this collection.

What are your thoughts on short stories?  Do you find them as powerful as novels?

About the Author:

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California.  A horticultural enthusiast and chef of many years, Jean’s writing has always been her favorite pursuit. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Blue Lake Review, Damselfly, and Earthspeak. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister.  Visit her Website.