Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski

Source: the author Janel Gradowski
Kindle ebook, 85 pages
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Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski is a “cake” sized novella and volume one in her Bartonville Series, which also includes not only recipes, but a couple of bonus stories.  Emma and Daisy live at the artist’s colony creating crafts sold in the gallery store, but their worlds are shaken by the presence of food trucks in the park, where most workers end up taking their lunch.  Emma, who makes fairy doors and jewelry, is shaken by a recent break up with a fellow artist, Max, and she decides that rather than follow the path of her mother, she’s swearing off men.  Wouldn’t you know it, that once she makes that decision, she meets Brad of The Sandwich Emporium.  Meanwhile, Daisy is wondering where to go with her creations that are selling at a slower rate, enlisting the innovative thoughts of her good friend, Emma.  She’s also crushing on another food truck foodie, Marshall of the Vegan Valhala, even though she loves bacon!

“Often her mind wandered as she created the miniature art, inventing a world inhabited by delicate fairies.  In that world everybody was happy and relationships never fell apart.”

To say that these women have commitment issues outside of their artistic passions is an understatement, but while Emma was shaped by her family history of dysfunction, it is unclear where Daisy’s self-esteem issues stem from, though it is clear she does not see herself as a beauty.  Gradowski has created not only realistic characters in these two women, but characters that feel like friends who need a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the pants sometimes.  Her situations are never far-fetched, and the only complaint could be that the story ends too soon, even though the ending is satisfactory.

“Chuck’s hair was always a crazy mess, whether he had just woken up or was going on a date.  His full beard was a thicket of ginger-kissed facial hair.  Emma wrinkled her nose.  ‘He kind of looks like a bear when he’s naked, too.’

‘Thanks for that visual.  I’m going to need a lot more alcohol to erase that image from my mind.'”

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski is a mouth-watering tale that will have readers salivating for the recipes in these pages, but also for more romance.  There are some great twists in this novella, and readers will be eager to learn more about the craftiness of these women and their evolution into strong women in search of love.  The author is a fresh new voice in fiction worth reading.

***Having met Janel long ago on the Internet at Janel’s Jumble, her own craftiness — particularly with beads — shines through in this novel, and if you follow her blog, you’ll see that she often shares some of her flash fiction and recipes.

Check out my other reviews:

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking and is fueled by copious amounts of coffee.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. She is the author of two series. Her first women’s fiction series is The Bartonville Series. Each volume contains stories ranging from flash to novella length. All of the stories are set in Michigan every volume contains accompanying recipes. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories that are based on the title’s theme.

Short Story Friday: Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan

It’s Friday again, and as promised, here is one of the occasional Short Story Friday features. Today’s feature will focus on Amy Tan’s e-short story, Rules for Virgins.

Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan is a short story in which a virgin courtesan is being told the ins and outs of the profession.  Set in 1912 Shanghai, Magic Gourd is explaining the ways in which courtesans gain favor with the wealthiest of men.  Violet, a young woman whose mother owned a similar house of women, is being tutored in the ways of beguiling and pampering not only the men they want to attract, but the other women in the house so that competition does not become deadly.

“While you are still a virgin courtesan, you must know all the arts of enticement and master the balance of anticipation and reticence.”

The way in which the story is told is in the form of teacher-student, and while Magic Gourd is harsh at times and provides unabashed detail about the expectations of men.  She exposes the inner workings of the house and the other women’s jealousies, but she also explains the function of the “mosquito press” in spreading rumors that build the reputations of new girls and houses.

“Few men are capable of preserving their ideal self.  If he is a scholar, what philosophical principles were sacrificed to ambition?  If he is a banker, what oath of honesty was dirtied by favors?  If he his a politician, what civic-minded policies were destroyed by bribes?  You must cultivate his sentimentality for moral glory and help him treasure his myth of who he was.”

The narration is reminiscent of Tan’s earlier work, but in this case, the women are not related by birth, but by situation, and the older, wiser Magic Gourd is imparting her wisdom to the younger courtesan.  Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan is a great look into this mysterious world of entertainment and enticement, but it seems too short and would have been great to see Violet begin to navigate this world at the guiding hand of Magic Gourd.

About the Author:

Amy Tan is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships. Her most well-known work is The Joy Luck Club, which has been translated into 35 languages. In 1993, the book was adapted into a commercially successful film.

The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield

The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield, which I first read about it on Beth Kephart’s blog, is lyrical, meandering, and informative not only about Haiku — the art, its origination, and its longevity — but also about one of the greatest poets, Bashō, who lived and breathed Haiku.  Knowing very little about this Japanese poet from the 17th century doesn’t mean you don’t know him because as Hirshfield points out, he infuses every Haiku with his soul and experiences.  Not only can readers live his moments alongside him, but they also can create their own experiences within the Haiku.

“To read a haiku is to become its co-author, to place yourself inside its words until they reveal one of the proteus-shapes of your own life.  The resulting experience may well differ widely between readers:  haiku’s image-based language invites an almost limitless freedom of interpretation.”

Like many poets, verse comes naturally and is less like a job or profession than it is like breathing.  With elements of Zen and Shinto’s spiritual traditions, the poet led a contemplative life focused on not only the natural world, but his experiences with it and as part of it.  At many points in his life, he is affected by events beyond his control, but his poetry never fails to account for these moments or to push him through those hardships — even though it doesn’t seem as though Bashō considered them hardships.  Hirshfield says, “He wanted to renovate human vision by putting what he saw into a bare handful of mostly ordinary words, and he wanted to renovate language by what he asked it to see.”

“Zen is less the study of doctrine than a set of tools for discovering what can be known when the world is looked at with open eyes.  Poetry can be thought of in much the same way, and the recognition of impermanence, ceaseless alteration, and interdependence–the connection of each person, creature, event, and object with every other–need not be “Buddhist.”  These elements permeate the poetry of every tradition. . .”

What is most beautiful about Hirshfield’s examination of Bashō is the reverence she pays to him and her passion for not only his work, but also his dedication to improving it even when near death.  And like many others, he remained focused on pushing his students to strive for more than even he could achieve, urging them not to be the “other half of the split melon” by mirroring his own work.  Hirshfield not only provides history and poetry in this essay, but she also pinpoints the evolution of Haiku and discusses its beauty and its endurance through the ages, even as a teaching tool.

The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield is a stunning examination of one Japanese poet’s work and his love of life and poetry.  Her narration provides a unique way of stepping into the life and thoughts of Bashō as writer, poet, teacher, and human being.

About the Author:

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. After receiving her B.A. from Princeton University in their first graduating class to include women, she went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her books of poetry include Come, Thief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), After (HarperCollins, 2006); Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Lives of the Heart (1997), The October Palace (1994), Of Gravity & Angels (1988), and Alaya (1982).

This is my 11th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Monsters in My Closet by Ruby Urlocker

Ruby Urlocker’s Monsters in My Closet is a collection of poems and short stories by a talented young writer with a fresh voice who explores the uncertainty of her teenage years and the harsh realities of adolescence.  She explores themes of growing older, losing one’s innocence, and battling inner demons.  Even though she deals with harsh realities, her images are playful and sometimes whimsical, like her short story about a banana dreaming of becoming human — reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis but in reverse.

From "Walking Around the World":

I walked across the world today
in my old running shoes.
Because I was free on a Saturday
And wanted to beat my blues.
From "Fallen Angel":

My shadow, hanging onto the wall.
I watched it turn to meet my gaze,
My eyes, a desperate wish.
Those stares, those sugar coated liars
Stealing away who I am.
From "The Storm":

There's a gust of wind inside my throat,
Hands clutching it tightly so as not to hurt anyone.
But I grow sick and weary of choking myself

Urlocker has a childlike way of expressing emotions, but she also displays a mature grasp of the darkness that lurks within all of us. Alongside the shadows and ghosts her narrators chase around corners and into the darkness, religious verse and stories ground the reader in a belief that there is something more to this life — whether it is a reincarnation of the same soul until the goal is achieved or the passage of the soul into the afterlife. Unlike other teenage writings that are often full of angst and despair, Urlocker infuses her stories and poems with hope and color — a beacon in the darkness.

One of the most surprising and most developed pieces is “Hidden People,” which is more than a homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. Urlocker talks about imaginary friends and growing up, which in some cases means leaving those beloved friends behind along with are more innocent selves. Even though this is a short piece, readers will become emotionally invested in the story the narrator weaves about her past and friends. There is a deep sense of regret and loss, but also the fondness of those memories.

Monsters in My Closet by Ruby Urlocker is a well crafted debut that explores themes of adolescence, lost innocence, and the hormonal battle that teens experience as they sort through friendships, memories, and love. The collection also includes illustrations, which merit a mention as they are unique and childlike, but also demonstrate a complexity that mirrors the work Urlocker does in prose and verse. She’s an up-and-comer with room to grow and surprise us.

If you’re interested in winning a copy of her book, enter the giveaway here.

About the Author:

Ruby Urlocker is a teenaged author, singer and songwriter. She has been writing and publishing stories since she was seven. Ruby lives with her family and dog, Rufus, a wheaten terrier.


This is my 1st book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013 and the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

The Marriage Price by Alma Katsu

The Marriage Price by Alma Katsu is another short story from The Taker series and it reunites readers with Jonathan’s hometown just before he marries child-like Evangeline.  Told from Evangeline’s point of view, readers will get a taste of her less than innocent side as she talks of the finery and the house that will be hers once she is married to Jonathan.  There’s is clearly not a love match in more ways than one as Jonathan’s family chose her for him, and she clearly has ulterior motives of her own.

She’s a naive girl who is chosen by his family to become his wife as Jonathan’s father declines in health. While Lanore from The Taker and The Reckoning does not appear in the short story, her presence is clearly felt by Evangeline, who — while naive about the sexual relationships between men and women — is not blind to the emotional connection between Jonathan and Lanore.

Evangeline’s character becomes more nuanced through this short story. Although she is portrayed as innocent in The Taker and even child-like, she is more of a strategist in The Marriage Price. She’s looking forward to the big house and the finery she can obtain through her marriage, and while Jonathan is preternaturally gorgeous, his behavior toward her is forward and aggressive by her standards. Their relationship is more student-teacher, though Evangeline’s eyes are more on the prize than on the “love” they can share together.

“Now, it was all she could think about, those shameful things Jonathan had coerced her into doing. That was why she was certain a woman would come forward on her wedding day: it would be a punishment for what she did with Jonathan before they were legally wed.” (Kindle short story)

Katsu creates a dynamic subordinate character that can stand on her own and gets a taste of what her married life will become.  Evangeline may have thought she would gain a great deal through her marriage, but she may have fooled herself into believing that what happened between them in the marriage bed would stay there.  The short story raises questions about arranged marriages, marrying for money and position, and the dark secrets that spouses can hide about not only their pasts, but also their passions.

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Check out this Interview With Alma.

This completes my first series for the Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2012.

Alma Katsu’s Short Story Free on Kindle…

Alma Katsu is at it again with more of her Taker series to tide us over until the final book in the trilogy hits stores next year.  She’s released another short story, The Marriage Price, for Kindle, and it is being offered free on Aug. 7-8.

Previously, she’s released The Devil’s Scribe in which Edgar Allan Poe meets Lanore McIlvrae.  If you’ve missed my reviews of this series, you can start with The Taker, and then move onto my review of The Reckoning and The Devil’s Scribe.

Today is the last day that you can download The Marriage Price by Alma Katsu for free.  If you’re interested in my thoughts on the short story, check out my mini review at D.C. Literature Examiner.

The Rose of Fire by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of The Shadow of the Wind, is like many other authors these days in that he is pumping out short stories for digital devices.  The Rose of Fire is one such story, but this story tells the tale of how the Cemetery of Forgotten Books was born at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century.  The labyrinth of books is an intriguing idea, and Zafón’s prose is at once lyrical and absorbing, transporting readers into another time and place.

As fear and suspicion are around every corner, many Spaniards keep to themselves in the hope that they will be spared the wrath of the church.  Raimundo de Sempere, who knows too many languages to stay outside the church’s suspicion, is a printer who is asked to translate a mysterious notebook found on Edmond de Luna, the only surviving man of a ship left battered and adrift near Barcelona just after a plague has ravaged the city.

“Edmond de Luna could see himself reflected in those eyes that resembled huge pools of blood. Flying like a cannonball over the city, tearing off terrace roofs and towers, the beast opened its jaws to snap him up.”  (ebook)

Zafón has created a tantalizing back story for his series of books about the library, and for those who have not read his previous books in the series, The Rose of Fire serves as an introduction to that fantasy world he’s created in which magic and nightmares come alive.  While the story is enchanting and absorbing, it is likely to leave readers wanting more in the way of character development that would likely come with a longer piece of work.  In many ways, this ebook release achieves its goal of ensuring the reader will look for more of the author’s work, but it seems to be a means to an end only, rather than a well developed short story.  With that said, Zafón is a talented author who creates believable worlds full of adventure and conflict.

About the Author:

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a Spanish novelist. Born in Barcelona in 1964, he has lived in Los Angeles, United States, since 1994, and works as a scriptwriter aside from writing novels.

This is my 53rd book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski is even more well crafted than the first volume of short stories and flash fiction, beginning and ending with a wallop.  Once again there are six stories in this collection: “Persistent Foe,” “Kaboom,” “Check Out,” “Inconvenience,” “Anniversary,” and “Addendum.”  Some are longer than others, but each is well paced, with only one typical revenge story — “Kaboom.”

Agnes from “Persistent Foe” is the neighbor you wish you could be when you have loud, inconsiderate neighbors of your own.  While she does not complain too much outright and doesn’t call the cops, she exacts her revenge little by little each day envisioning a big payoff in the end.  And the ending of this one is inspired and unique. Gradowski does a great job of foreshadowing in this short story as well: “She plucked the invasive vine out the basket and dropped it into the tangle of weeds flourishing on the other side.  ‘Time to join your ancestors.'”  Readers will be sitting alongside Agnes as she watches the show unfold in her neighbors backyard one late evening.

“Kaboom” was the most predictable of the stories, but what made this one heart-pumping was the descriptions Gradowski uses as she tells the revenge yarn from the point of view of the perpetrator as she’s performing the act of revenge on her ex.  Meanwhile, Josie’s revenge is only possible because of Erik’s pride in “Check Out.”  Working as a grocery store check out clerk can be incredibly mundane and tiring, but there are moments in life when even that kind of job can be satisfying, especially when you exact revenge on a boy who ditches you across town.  “Inconvenience” brings to the surface many of the emotions that swirled about following the financial crisis and the persistent unemployment born by much of the U.S. population in recent years.  With bills to pay, should the “breadwinner” in the family swallow his pride and take any paying job to support the family, or should he hold out for a better position?  The short story tackles this question and more, but the revenge exacted in this story will leave readers agape.

“Anniversary” is not the happy occasion you expect, but it twists the idea of a celebration into a revenge scenario that celebrates the ability to break free.  Gary has some serious concerns about his wife and his boss, but being an accountant, he takes stock of the situation — its pros and cons — and comes up with the best solution for everyone.  Bartender Amelia doesn’t have a clue how her luck is about to change when Gary walks into her bar.  “Addendum” is one of the longer short stories in the collection, and Karen is a bit of an enigma given her risk averse mentality when it comes to guys and her reaction to her boyfriend Don’s cheating ways.  In an apartment that has eyes and ears in the form of Mrs. Conway, its hard to keep secrets.  “She was either a gossip super hero or had bugged everybody’s apartments with microphones and hidden cameras.”  Living under a microscope must have added undue pressure on Karen.  There is a great deal at work in this short story, and could be a precursor to something longer from Gradowski.

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski is an even more well rounded collection of short stories and flash fiction pieces with characters that are dynamic and crafty.  The characters she creates in this collection will have readers snickering and smirking as they are reminded of the revenge plots they’ve created when wronged by lovers, neighbors, and friends.  Deliciously devilish, a joy to read.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes short fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories. Each volume will have six stories, a mix of flash and short fiction, that are based on the title’s theme.  Visit her blog, Janel’s Jumble.

***And yes, for those keeping track, this is the third item I’ve read on my Kindle.

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski is part of her six stories with one theme series and was the first she published as an ebook after much success in publishing her flash fiction in literary journals.  This collection is a quick read and can be read in about a day.  There is a surprising breadth of characters and situations representing the theme from a woman haunted by her jilted lover to a ghost unaware of his present state.

There are six stories in the collection: “Sequestered,” “New Friends,” “Retirement,” “Grandma’s Treasures,” “Uncleansed,” and “Strangers.”  Each cast of characters is haunted in one way or another whether by the past, the supernatural, or their deeds.  Among some favorites in the collection are “Sequestered,” “Strangers,” “Grandma’s Treasures,” and “Uncleansed” that have very dynamic characters in normal situations that turn a bit abnormal.  However, “New Friends” reminded me of other stories involving ghost children causing mischief in houses and mothers who don’t believe their children at first and think that their kids are exhibiting signs of trauma.  Readers may want a new twist in this kind of story, but the characters of Wendy and her daughter Mia are playful and have a charming relationship that makes them endearing.

In “Sequestered,” Stacie is jilted by her fiance and escapes to the woods to forget.  Haunted by a unrequited love and a future that can never be, she gets more than she bargains for.  The ending will knock the socks off readers, and there are some great descriptions in this short story.

“Naked trees contorted like tortured skeletons in the frigid, autumn wind.”

“Wisps of fog rose from the lake’s glassy water, materializing like an army of ghosts.”

Even in “Retirement,” Gradowski has a way of painting the scene so that readers are captured by the moment and emotionally charged.  “Autumn thunderstorms are always more vicious than their summer counterparts, like they are enraged by the cold air.”  She generates the heartache of Cecily as a palpable being that reaches beyond the page, haunting not only the character created, but also the reader.

Readers can identify with the oddities of family members from the crazy grandmother to the strange behavior of parents after a tragic event and the rituals they rely upon to keep their sanity.  “Grandma’s Treasures” and “Uncleansed” explore these relationships and their odd rituals in a unique way and each story uncovers family secrets that the protagonists Lindsey and Eva, respectively, never expected.

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski is an excellent debut from a talented flash fiction and short story writer.  Short story is a difficult form to generate connections between readers and characters, but Gradowski achieves this easily through her word choices and narrative flow.  Haunting prose, unique characters, and surprising twists will keep readers coming back for more.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes short fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories. Each volume will have six stories, a mix of flash and short fiction, that are based on the title’s theme.  Visit her blog, Janel’s Jumble.

***And yes, for those keeping track, this is the second item I’ve read on my Kindle.

This is my 44th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

The Devil’s Scribe by Alma Katsu

The Devil’s Scribe by Alma Katsu is an e-short story released by Simon & Schuster this month, and it’s the first thing I’ve read on my Kindle!  Can you believe it?!  What prompted me to finally read on the Kindle?!  You’ll never guess, well maybe you will by the end of this unconventional review.

“He fell on the bottle before he took a seat, pouring two fingers of whiskey into his wineglass, streaked with the last of a red he’d consumed.  Now that he’d gotten his invitation, his tentative edge fell away, replaced by relief.”  (from the e-story)

Lanore McIlvrae from The Taker (my review) meets with the one and only Edgar Allan Poe by chance in an expensive Baltimore hotel in 1846 after having been gone from America for the last 20 years.  Poe describes himself as an orphan and a widower able to support himself as the “devil’s scribe,” but Lanny seems passingly interested in his life story and the fact that he’s a writer.  However, in spite of her preoccupation with why she came back to America, she walks with this stranger through the streets of Baltimore, careful not to reveal too much of herself to him.

The story raises the idea of telling strangers secrets as a way to unburden the soul without having to deal with the same consequences one would have to deal with should they tell someone they know intimately or should they tell a family member.  It is reminiscent of the relationship between dying soldiers and/or patients and the priest that comes to hear their sins, though in this situation, Poe cannot offer Lanny absolution.

Even in this short story, Katsu is adept at creating tension and suspense as Lanny and her new companion make their way to Boston.  The story is predictable — though because I’ve already read The Taker — but well written.  Readers who know anything about Edgar Allan Poe should realize where the story is headed, but I’ll not give it away.  I really enjoyed learning more about Lanny and her fears, and it will likely play into Katsu’s next book, The Reckoning.

***Reading on the Kindle***

It wasn’t too bad with a short story.  I actually was surprised how I remained focused, but I’m not sure that I can remain focused for a full length novel.  I may try doing that soon, but for now, I’m still a fan of “real” books.

Mailbox Monday #135

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  This month our host is A Sea of Books.  Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.  Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  The Taker by Alma Katsu a win from TheBookTrib

2.  One Day by David Nicholls for review in Sept., but stay tuned for a giveaway in August.

3.  Kindle by Amazon, which I won from the Summer of Gomez event from Graham Parke

What did you receive this week?