Art’s Place: Stories and Diversions by Michael Fedo review

Michael Fedo’s Art’s Place: Stories and Diversions is a short story collection due to be released on the 10th September. The 27 stories are mainly light-hearted and satirical, and tackle a whole range of topics. From a chance meeting between Jesse and Henry James to the titular Art’s Place, a bar where the locals discuss, well, art, all the stories have their own unique sense of humour.

The stories in Art’s Place are incredibly short and sweet. Fedo jumps straight into the narrative and takes the reader along with him, with the pace remaining fast throughout. This helps to keep the reader enticed but also allows for surprises in the narratives. Instead of being bogged down with information regarding this bizarre scenario, you are thrust into the middle of the action and kept enraptured. Another aspect I admired was Fedo’s ability to flit between narrative styles. In Art’s Place there is a mixture of first and third person, which again stops the collection from being staid.

In Art’s Place Fedo does play with our expectations and on many occasions subverts them. This play on society makes the collection really fun and refreshing, never completely predictable. An excellent example of this is the story, ‘The Ladies of West Rarington Falls Get Down’ which sees an increasingly exasperated blues singer attend a meeting of a group of dowagers who seem to have little knowledge of the musical style. Not only does Fedo nail the voices of both the singer and the ladies, but the narrative also appears as a not-so-subtle dig at class. Despite being well-intentioned, the women never grasp what they’re being told about expressing pain through music. That disconnect points to the wider disconnection between classes in society. So, despite the silly premises of the stories, many of them in Art’s Place also challenge and mock aspects that we will recognise.

Overall, Art’s Place was an enjoyable, light-hearted read. It is perfect for those wanting a pick-me-up or a less taxing read. The fast-paced, unique narratives help to make the collection as a whole very engaging, plus the plots are incredibly imaginative. A collection that you would dip in and out of to escape this world and abandon worries for a short time.

Art’s Place: Stories and Diversions is published by Black Rose Writing. This review first appeared on Readers Favourite. 

Good Americans by Tejas Devas review

Good Americans by Tejas Devas is a collection of short stories, mostly dealing with experiences of people of colour in the United States. Right off the bat, this collection won’t be for everyone. There is discriminatory language used throughout, as well as references to suicide and assault which may upset some readers.

However, as a whole, the collection works well. Having that core theme of immigration means the stories flow into each other nicely. The ones that stood out were ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘The Mountain’. ‘The Apprentice’ was wonderfully constructed; our narrator is a very engaging character whom you’re happy to go along with and the storyline builds up to a satisfying conclusion. It isn’t necessarily a happy ending – none of the stories have that – but it is a powerful one. ‘The Mountain’ is a very bittersweet story but at the heart of it is the friendship between Peter and Nilesh. They both contemplate their futures and how their expectations of it have been altered or thwarted entirely. Watching them contemplate their struggles whilst helping one another was very endearing, and I think would resonate with anyone who has felt anxious about their future.

Yet, as with all short story collections, some stories are weaker than others and Good Americans is no exception. In particular, ‘Malta: A Love Story’ didn’t work for me. Divided into three sections, it is the longest story here and its length can be felt. By the end, it was starting to drag somewhat, and I was beginning to lose interest. The main characters of Malta and Kunal were interesting enough, but the plot became so ridiculous it stopped being entertaining. What happens to Malta starts to become repetitive and border-lining on melodramatic, and it felt like the author wanted to shock people just because it was possible rather than it benefits the plot.

As mention beforehand, Good Americans won’t be for everyone. There are stories such as ‘Dhan’s Debut’ which will split opinion (I liked it due to that bizarre plot twist) and the themes and language used throughout will alienate some readers. Also, it has the most bizarre Prologue I have ever read that seems to parody a literary agent. But the collection does have some solid storytelling and is incredibly thought-provoking. The blurb compares it to the works of Mark Twain and William Faulkner, but a few of the stories reminded me of Ottessa Moshfegh’s writing. It is a very provocative, grimy, hard-hitting collection, and one that will certainly divide readers.

Good Americans is published by The New Wei and you can find more information here. This review was first published on Readers Favourite. 

No God Like the Mother by Kesha Ajose Fisher review

Being in the mood for some short stories when I noticed that Booktasters had a copy of Kesha Ajose Fisher’s No God Like the Mother, I jumped at the chance to read it. As you can guess from the title, all nine stories tackle motherhood in some shape or form, despite taking place in wildly different locations and cultures.

Fisher tackles the subject of motherhood with great aplomb. Either the narrators have children, or a character close to them becomes a mother figure. This allows Fisher to tackle different aspects of the subject, such as the juggling act between a woman’s own dreams and desires and those of her children. The collection is very open about the highs and lows of motherhood, and I found that very refreshing to read about. Another subject that Fisher tackles is immigration. After finishing I discovered she works with African immigrants and refugees which you can tell given how knowledgeable she is. She really goes into depth about the immigrant experience, both in the US and Europe, and the struggles that come with trying to establish yourself in a foreign country, as well as the prejudice people face. The stories that focussed on immigrants were eye-opening and felt incredibly relevant.

It is remarkable how Fisher discusses these complex, heavy subject matters in such a short book (my copy was around 178 pages) and with such rich, beautiful language. Her imagery is very evocative and she is able to successfully capture different places like a suburb in the US, the crowded streets of Paris, both city and country life in Nigeria. There is a real sense of time and place which helps to draw the reader into the stories, which is achieved through Fisher’s carefully selected word choice and wonderfully crafted imagery. Despite the lovely flowing language, No God Like the Mother isn’t necessarily a book for everyone. There is a lot of disturbing content in here, such as death and sexual assault amongst others so caution is advised. These topics never feel exploited or mentioned simply for shock value; Fisher doesn’t tackle them light-heartedly. But they are present if people are wary of reading about subjects like this.

At first glance, No God Like the Mother can appear a bit of a mash-up. The theme of motherhood and having mothers as narrators or important secondary characters is reminiscent of Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. The exploration of Nigerian society and immigration from the country is similar to the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Whilst Fisher is perhaps not as accomplished as the aforementioned writers, there is a lot of promise here. For a debut short story collection, No God Like the Mother is wonderfully executed, with beautiful language and interesting characters. A raw, shattering, honest look at what it means to be a mother and an immigration (or both in cases).  I can’t wait to see what Fisher writes next.

No God Like the Mother is published by Inkwell Press and you can find more information here.  

 

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh review

I had no idea I had picked up Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh until I got home. My local bookshop has recently set up a ‘Blind Date with a Book’ – six books have been wrapped in newspaper and only a two-sentence summary was provided for readers to choose. And I picked the short story collection. I have never read Moshfegh before, though I had heard of both Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation and was eager to try her writing.

Moshfegh knows how to construct an opening line. She instantly draws her reader in and introduces her characters in a really engaging, absorbing manner. Sometimes the opening lines far exceeded the rest of the story, but I will mention my issues a little later. Another positive for me was the characters. They weren’t necessarily likable, but they were a joy to read about. Moshfegh gives them enough development that you root for them, even if their actions are questionable at best, yet they are ambiguous enough that they linger in the mind long after the story has finished.

Or, some of them do. I thought the narrators in ‘Bettering Myself’ and ‘Nothing Ever Happens Here’ were brilliant and those stories were my favourites in the whole collection. There was a sense of humour and pathos running throughout those two, and Moshfegh handled that balance beautifully. Yet, for a handful of others I couldn’t even determine who the narrator was, because they blended in with the previous narrator. Moshfegh uses the same narrative tone, and the majority of the stories follow a similar structure. They are told in first person narrative and they revolve on our main character reflecting back on a failed relationship. 9 times out of 10 both people are seen as eccentric or social outcasts. Some are told from third person narrative, but most I would say were in first. It made it harder to decipher who was who. At one point, I wondered if Moshfegh had returned to a previous narrator, and these stories were snapshots of their lives. Yet this seemed unlikely, given what the reader is told.

I do Moshfegh is a clever writer, and when her stories land, they were incredible. Yet at times I was a bit bored, mainly due to most of the stories following a similar pattern. It is obvious why they were all selected together for a short story collection, but more variety might have kept it more exciting and engaging. If you haven’t read Moshfegh before, then I reckon this collection is a good way to experience her writing style and see if it is something you enjoy, before committing to a novel. Certainly I am tempted to try out one of them now, as I can see her writing working well in a longer form.

Homesick for Another World is published by Vintage and you can find more information here.

The Family of Blackbirds and Other Stories by Chika Echebiri review

Hi everyone! Today I’m reviewing The Family of Blackbirds and Other Stories by Chika Echebiri, which has kindly been sent to me by the author and Booktasters. This is a short story collection (surprise, surprise) for children. As there are 5 stories in the book, I might talk generally at the beginning of this post, and then mention specific stories later.

Echebiri’s a really great children’s writer, managing to entertain and educate kids yet not condescend to them. The plots deal with issues that children can relate to, such as the first day of school or relationships with friends and family. The language is easy for the most part, but there are some challenging words that children can learn. However, I wasn’t 100% sure on the images that accompany each story. They are a mixture of illustrations and photographs, and I’m not sure what the purpose of that is. It was almost jarring. It perhaps would have worked better if Echebiri had picked one medium to help tell the stories, or even having a different visual style for each story.

Out of all them, ‘Emeka’s Bravery’ is probably my favourite from the collection. It combines a lot of things would appeal to younger readers – there’s a sense of magic and drama. It also looks at another culture that maybe some people are unfamiliar with, and gives children a chance to see how other people live. I think in Echebiri’s best stories (I read another collection of hers last year) she creates an interesting adventure whilst also broadening children’s mind. I also found both the titular ‘The Family of Blackbirds’ and ‘Susan’s First Day at School’ to be very charming.

Not all stories worked as well as these. ‘Gerda and the missing ring’ which has a Cinderella-esque plot, feels like it could have been fleshed out more. Also, an image doesn’t really match up with the text, which threw me a bit (the photo shows a young woman smiling yet the text is referencing the death of her parents). Also some commas are used unnecessarily throughout. There are quite small, nit-picking details; overall I think The Family of Blackbirds and Other Stories is a very sweet collection for younger readers.

The Family of Blackbirds and other stories is published by Xlibris and you can find more information here.

 

Listening In and Other Stories by Shauna Kelley review

Hi everyone! Today I’m reviewing Shauna Kelley’s short story collection Listening In which I kindly received from the author and Booktasters. It is a slim volume but the stories did leave quite a big impression on me.

Kelley’s writing style is very lyrical and evocative, making these narratives easy to visualise. I read another review saying that the stories are quite literary; which I agree with but I found them really accessible and would imagine those who aren’t into literary fiction will do so too.

Her characterisation is also impressive. In many of the stories – the most obvious being the eponymous ‘Listening In’ – have quite unusual narrators, which could lead to a reader feeling alienated from the story. However, Kelley does a great job of humanising them and making you care about these characters despite their odd quirks. Even if you disagree with their actions you understand their motives.

I also liked how Kelley weaves senses into the stories. As you can tell from the name of the collection there are plenty of references to them; sound, sight and smell all seem to feature in one or more of the stories. This helps to make the narratives more visceral and also helps to create really powerful imagery.

If I had to criticise, I did notice a few spelling mistakes. They didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book but they definitely did pull me out of the narrative for a few seconds. But apart from that there isn’t much to dislike here. If you’re a fan of literary short stories with some great characters and imagery then you might want to check out Listening In.

Listening In and Other Stories is published independently and you can find more information here.

Two Girls in a Cafe by Lawrence G Taylor review

 

Hi everyone! Today I thought I would review the short story Two Girls in a Cafe, which I kindly received from the author and Booktasters. Ruth and Felicity are chatting in a cafe when the conversation turns to a man they both know. Both have very different opinions about him, and throughout the story you wonder who is telling the truth.

Taylor successfully crams a lot of ideas into very few pages. Do you truly know a person? Do our opinions of others reveal more about us than them? The story gives you a lot to think about whilst also being incredibly readable. The prose is simplistic but that isn’t a bad thing; rather it allows the themes and ideas of the story to shine through.

The characters of Ruth and Felicity were also well done. Both have very distinct personalities and their different voices were clear, making it hard for the reader to get them mixed up. However, the waiter seemed a little unnecessary. He didn’t add anything to the story, and when we followed his perspective I wished we were back at the ladies’ table.

Overall, Two Girls in a Cafe is a solid short story. Taylor writes his characters remarkably well, and successfully weaves big themes and ideas into the narrative without becoming pretentious. My quibble about the waiter is a very minor one and I did enjoy the story.

Two Girls in a Cafe is published independently and you can find more information here.