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BOOK REVIEW: The Boat by Nam Le


Nam Le took the literary world by storm with the publication of his debut collection of short stories The Boat. Collecting together seven stories that present disparate views on the world, The Boat presents Le’s versatility with narrative voice and subject matter.

The opening story “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” is the most self-conscious and potentially autobiographical of the stories, featuring a young writer named Nam who is working Iowa Writer’s Workshop master’s when his father comes to visit. Urged to mine his personal story for material, Nam writes his father’s story prompting a conflict between the two, and contemplation on the nature of truth and memory. As a reader, this is the story which felt most contrived which may have been Le’s intention. It reads like a writing exercise from the very program he writes about and has none of the emotional depth of the six other stories. The critics raved about this story and its ties to the other stories (a character in “Love and Honor…” suggests to the fiction Nam Le: “You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing. But instead, you choose to write about lesbian vampires and Colombian assassins and Hiroshima orphans — and New York painters with hemorrhoids.”). Le covers several of these topics in later stories: Colombian assassins in “Cartagena,” Hiroshima orphans in “Hiroshima” and New York painters in “Meeting Elise.”

The strongest story in my opinion is “Tehran Calling.” In a few short pages, Le produces many fully realized characters that all have incredibly distinct voices. The sense of menace experienced by Sarah during her visit to Tehran leaks from the page and affects the reader’s mood and pace of reading. I became jumpy while reading and the feeling of unease remained even when I returned to the story a second reading. The characters are sympathetic yet repulsive at the same time, a difficult feat for any writer and astonishing in one as young as Le.

Nam Le shows his muscle in The Boat and it will be interesting to watch how he matures as a writer. From the promise shown here, he is without doubt a writer with great promise.

ISBN10: 030726808X
ISBN13: 9780307268082

288 Pages
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: May 2008
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier


The new short story collection from Kevin Brockmeier, The View from the Seventh Layer, is difficult to pigeon-hole for these stories defy ready classification. Not strictly genre fiction nor completely science fiction, the author describes the collection thus: “The View from the Seventh Layer is not strictly or even primarily a work of science fiction; in a collection of thirteen stories, I would say that four of them fall squarely within the science fiction and fantasy tradition, four of them squarely outside, and the other five straddle the border, some leaning most of their weight toward realism, some toward fantasy or science fiction.”

It’s difficult to fully explore a collection of stories in a limited review; therefore, I’ve chosen to focus on two that stood out on initial reading. “A Fable Ending in the Sound of a Thousand Parakeets” is barely eight pages long and yet it hits with enough force to bring the reader to a full stop. The first story in The View from the Seventh Layer shares a mute man’s experience of living in a town where everyone communicates through song. He is “…the only person who was unable to lend his voice to the great chorus of song that filled the air.” Is this deceptively simple tale of the ultimate outsider placed here to invite readers to slow down and savour Brockmeier’s tales or, by beginning his collection with a story of a man who can’t speak, is he raising flags to remind readers they need to look beyond the basic meaning of his words?

“The Air is Full of Little Holes” explores the life of a woman pictured in a “magazine with a yellow border around the cover.” The gentle story of a family is at odds with the ugliness which appears when western expectations meet a traditional ways of life.

The thirteen stories in The View from the Seventh Layer reflect a writer comfortable in his skin, unafraid to take risks with his characters and plots. These aren’t simple stories yet readers who invest their time will be richly rewarded.

Kevin Brockmeier’s possible playlist to accompany The View from the Seventh Layer (from Large Hearted Boy) can be found here.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0375425306
ISBN13: 9780375425301

288 Pages
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publication Date: March 18, 2008


BOOK REVIEW: Sisters on the Case: Celebrating Twenty Years of Sisters in Crime edited by Sara Paretsky


It’s astonishing to think that not long ago female mystery authors had difficulty staying in print, being purchased for library collections or getting review attention from mainstream media. In response to these disturbing facts, a group of 26 female authors came together in 1986 to found Sisters in Crime, an international organization designed promote female mystery and crime writers. Now, on the 20th anniversary, Sisters on the Case: Celebrating Twenty Years of Sisters in Crime has been published to mark this important milestone and highlight some of the writers integral to the success of the collective.

When faced with 26 short stories, it is difficult to select only a few highlights; however, even in this strong collection there are few stories which stood out from the rest. “Not Just the Facts” by Annette Meyers features an innovative approach to the structure of a short story. Meyers chose to break her story into sections which mirror the segments of a police investigation. Each section begins with a heading to indicate the perspective it provides: The Medical Examiner, The Witness, The Interviews, part I, etc; providing insight into the anatomy of an investigation and encourages readers to see beyond the facts of the case.

“The Whole World is Watching” by Libby Fischer Hellman provides an alternative perspective of the social movement of the late 60s – that of the police rather than the usual viewpoint of the demonstrators. In this story, Fischer Hallman examines the concept of duty through the eyes of Kevin, a police officer assigned to crowd control during one of Martin Luther King’s rallies. Her story is remarkable for the significant growth Kevin achieves in only a few pages without the story ever feeling forced or “off-pace”.

“The People’s Way” by Eve K. Sandstrom stretches the definition of what a “mystery” story is/should be and was the only story in the collection which brought me to tears. “Guardian Angel” by Rochelle Krich deserves a mention for writing which evokes true “creepiness”.

Sisters on the Case is the perfect way to discover new voices while revisiting the work of favourite authors. These sample-size stories will have you saying “just one more” long into the night.

ISBN10: 0451222393
ISBN13: 9780451222398

Mass Market Paperback
352 Pages
Publisher: Obsidian
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: The Best Place to Be by Lesley Dormen


Lesley Dormen’s novel in eight stories, The Best Place to Be, provides snapshots of the life of Grace Hanford. In the first story “The Old Economy Husband,” we meet Grace at “fifty and holding.” Each of the other seven stories explores pivotal moments in her life and how they lead her to change her views and marry Richard.

The strongest stories are those which delve into Grace’s relationship with her brother Alex. The dysfunction of their childhood carries on into adulthood. In “Gladiators,” Grace describes their dynamic: “The thing about a brother? You live your whole life knowing there’s a surprise witness waiting right outside the courtroom ready to testify. You just don’t know which way.”

Grace and Alex are tragedy hounds, bound together by the scars of their mother’s failed marriages. It is only in difficult situations that they reach for each other, finding space within the tragedy to interact. Despite the conflicts they may experience, Alex is still the person Grace looks to for approval – and with whom she competes.

Dormen’s writing tends toward the “stream of consciousness” style, perhaps most clearly exhibited in “The Old Economy Husband.” Despite the long sentences (which some may view as a bit run-on), her prose evokes images in a unique manner. “Being 50 give or take was like being an original Supreme” is a sentence most writers would never think of creating but provides immediate recognition for the reader.

It is in the “quieter” stories where readers will sense Grace most clearly. These narratives have less of the rambling language, allowing readers to find their own Grace within the space.

ISBN10: 1416532617
ISBN13: 9781416532613

192 Pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 3, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: Just One Sip by Katie MacAlister, Jennifer Ashley & Minda Webber


Judging solely on the cover of this new paranormal romance anthology, Just One Sip should have been a summer release. All three stories are fun romps filled to the brim with sexy paranormals that, while satisfying, definitely leave you wanting more.

The best known of the three authors is Katie MacAlister. Her story, “Bring Out Your Dead,” fits into the world of her popular Dark Ones. Belle is a tattu (possessing two souls), a counselor for the Society for the Protection of Revenants (zombies) and is now being pursued by a demon lord. MacAlister has introduced some delightful new beings to her universe in this story and this reviewer hopes that Belle, Sally (Belle’s spirit guide) and the revenants, are featured in future works.

Minda Webber’s offering, “Lucy and the Crypt Casanova,” considers what happens when the scoop of your life, which can make your career, is being investigated by the vampire cop who broke your heart. With strongly drawn characters and an interesting setting, Webber’s story holds its own against the better-known authors. Her unique perspective and the crazy characters featured on Lucy’s talk show, help Webber’s playful voice shine.

Of the three stories, the pack leader by a slight margin is Jennifer Ashley’s “Viva Las Vampires.” Her premise is unique; a vampire-themed casino owned by a real vampire in a Las Vegas run by two vampire cartels. Ashley has taken the vampire stereotypes and turned many of them on their head, creating sunbathing vampires who walk around in the Nevada desert. As the lead story in the anthology, her unique perspective is the perfect one to set the tone for this fascinating collection.

New York Times bestselling author Katie MacAlister writes historical, contemporary, paranormal, and young adult romances (as Katie Maxwell), paranormal thrillers, and historical mysteries. Light My Fire, the next Aisling Grey romance, will be published on November 7, 2006 and Last of the Red-Hot Vampires, the next Dark Ones romance, will be published in May 2007.

Jennifer writes historical, contemporary, and paranormal romance as Jennifer Ashley, historical mysteries under the pseudonym Ashley Gardner, and erotic paranormal romance as Allyson James. The Mad, Bad Duke, her next historical romance, will be published in December 2006.

Minda Webber’s first novel, The Remarkable Miss Frankenstein, won Best Historical Vampire Novel from the Romantic Times Book Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The third in the series, The Reinvented Miss Bluebeard, will be published in July 2007.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 050552659X
Publisher: Love Spell
Publication Date: October 3, 2006
Binding: Mass Market Paperback

Katie MacAlister’s Website:
Jennifer Ashley’s Website:
Minda Webber’s Website:


BOOK REVIEW: The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D’Ambrosio


Charles D’Ambrosio’s second story collection, The Dead Fish Museum, is a collection of eight short stories, six of which were previously published in The New Yorker. D’Ambrosio has masterfully captured human misery, exposing the darkest place of the human soul to the light of day. Reading some of these stories can be likened to picking up a rock and finding maggots, except in this case, what the reader finds are realities most wish to hide from themselves.

In The Dead Fish Museum, normal lives and healthy relationships are an illusion. D’Ambrosio’s characters are the forsaken, the lost and the marginal of society. A consistent theme found within his stories is despair, often beyond that felt by the “average” person.

Within these eight short stories, individuals are mired in lives where hope barely exists. In ‘Screenwriter,’ the narrator meets a ballerina in rehab, a young woman who burns her flesh to put “the pain in a place I can find it. On the outside.” The narrator suffers from despair; however the ballerina, while appearing to be on the road to recovery, suffers from a deeper anguish which is continually exposed through her attacks on her skin. Ramage, the protagonist of the collection’s titular story, ‘The Dead Fish Museum,’ carries with him a gun which is both his adversary and his passion: “a theater where he poured out his lonely ardor, rehearsing scenarios, playing with possibilities.” While in his mind Ramage still believes he will use the gun to end his life, in reality the gun has become a talisman with all the same comforts a security blanket cedes to a child.

The agony with which D’Ambrosio infuses his stories is almost unbearable, yet there is beauty to be found in his evocative descriptions and word choices. In ‘Screenwriter’ he describes the ballerina’s grandparents: “…with their hopeless, past-tense faces and their old leafy clothes; standing beside them in a gauzy spring dress, the ballerina seemed a mere puff of self, passing like a spirit out of their heavy Old World sadness, whatever it was about.” He shoots out words until their sharp edges almost wound the reader. In ‘Drummond & Son,’ Pete suddenly confronts his father with the statement “Jesus Christ was brain-dead,” a phrase which stops readers dead, like a slap in the face. With one simple, yet aggressive phrase, D’Ambrosio pulls away from the comfort provided by the straightforward narrative, and forces readers to feel Drummond’s despair and loneliness.

Charles D’Ambrosio is the author of two short story collections, The Dead Fish Museum and The Point, as well as Orphans, a collection of essays. A finalist for the Pen/Hemingway Award for his first story collection, D’Ambrosio is known to many as a “writer’s writer,” one who continues to plow his own path, writing essays and stories about what interests him in the world. As he shared in an interview with Dan Wickett (Emerging Writers Forum): “Stories strike a more resonant chord in my soul and wrestling with them I usually come out the other end feeling renewed; essays leave me feeling a little ragged.”

D’Ambrosio is not an author who hawks his work, in fact he is leery of the entire business of promotion. For Orphans, he sent copies of the collection to some bloggers: “The only thing I did on my own was share the book with various bloggers. I’d never heard of these things, these blogs, until the book came out, but my name came up on a few, and I got a quick education, and it immediately seemed like a place where the whole conversation of books, largely an underground thing, these days, was still alive and even thriving. I can’t say I sold any books because of blogs but I don’t really care –things circulated, and that’s enough for me.”

The Dead Fish Museum has garnered a great deal of attention in the blogosphere and quickly became a favourite, promoted on most of the highly respected litblogs. However, no litblog explains D’Ambrosio’s standing as a writer as well as this review by Kirkus Reviews: “Though D’Ambrosio is hardly among the most prolific writers of the contemporary American short story, he ranks with the best….”

Read the review at ReadySteadyBook.

ISBN10: 1400042860
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: April 18, 2006
Binding: Hardcover


BOOK REVIEW: The Dodecahedron; Or, A Frame for Frames by Paul Glennon


Dodecahedron: A Platonic solid composed of twelve pentagonal faces, with three meeting at each vertex. It has twenty vertices and thirty edges. Definition from

Paul Glennon’s The Dodecahedron or A Frame for Frames: a novel of sorts is composed of twelve short stories, each representing one of the pentagonal faces of a dodecahedron. The key to understanding this unique work is in the subtitle: “a novel of sorts.” Instead of creating a series of unrelated short stories, Glennon has added a new dimension to his work by applying Oulipian principles (OuLiPo is a group of French authors who create literature based on arbitrary constraints of their own making) to his collection. Glennon explains these principles in the book’s afterword:

“Each chapter was to be as self-contained and whole as any short story. As in a story cycle, each story would cast a new light on the ones that preceded it, and promote a novel-like unity of themes. What I did not want to write was a cyclical book, in which the final story is the final word, a story with more authority than all others, one that casts a sort of judgment on the rest…I envisioned a book in which each of the twelve chapters or stories represented a face of the dodecahedron…In A Frame for Frames these sides represent a relationship to an adjacent story…Each story must refer to or be referred to by each of the five stories adjacent to it.”

A further constraint Glennon puts on his work is also best explained by his own words:

“A dodecahedron has twenty vertices, points where three sides meet. In A Frame for Frames these vertices are represented by certain repetitions and recurrences in each of the three stories that meet in these points. If the elements that represent the vertices were extracted and placed in the order of their first appearance, they would form another text of sorts, which might provide another perspective for evaluating the whole.”

Glennon’s stories cover a wide range of genres; diaries of adventurers, conspiracy theories, academic essays, all leading to unexpected connections. The stories, as stand-alone tales, are entertaining but it is in their interlacings that they become luminous. A Frame for Frames consists of stories about stories, adding both a platform on which to build this three dimensional creation, and the invisible conception itself. Readers will be tempted to create a dodecahedron of their own to unravel Glennon’s creation.

The ethereal creations arise, like the shadow child in “Why Are There No Penguins?”, taunting the reader with half-realized ideas. Even if the reader never sees the creation Glennon intends, the hallucinatory threads invented by the mind are magical in their own right.

Hallucination and dream states exist throughout these stories, most apparently being in “Tenebrian Chronicles” where monks spend months each year dreaming the histories and world events they later inscribe as fact.

Glennon introduces his readers to a profound journey of the mind and senses; one that will remain in their minds as clearly as if they had eaten the pages of this mesmerizing book, like the hero in the lead story “In My Father’s Library.” The quote by Francis Bacon, which prefaces “Library,” could easily be applied to the entirety of A Frame for Frames: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

No matter how the reader dips into The Dodecahedron or A Frame for Frames: a novel of sorts, this book will remain with them long after the final page is consumed.

See the review posted at ReadySteadyBook.

ISBN10: 0889842752
ISBN13: 9780889842755

Publisher: The Porcupine’s Quill
Publication Date: September 2005
Binding: Paperback

The book’s cover image is a photograph of a room in the Collegium Maius, Cracow, Poland, where Copernicus studied in 1502, taken by Erich Lessing. The dodecahedron illustrations are from

Related Books:
* 3 by Perec (Includes La Disparition [The Void], a novel written entirely without the letter E) by Georges Perec
* If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller (Se Una Notte d’Inverno un Viaggiatore) by Italo Calvino
* Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn


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