(5 / 5)
In Enough! Thirty Stories of Fielding Life’s Little Curve Balls, Caroline Taylor has compiled some of the best of her short stories into one captivating, memorable volume. The majority of the stories are explorations in alignment—Do I choose to align with what others demand of me or with my own desires, my own truth? What are the consequences of living a life that lacks integrity? What happens when I only go halfway? Some of the characters are quietly strong and defiant, as are the ones in Alley Cat, Departure, and the eponymous opening story, Enough! In ways both subtle and blatant, they define for themselves what is acceptable, and what will not be tolerated. In others, such as The Business of Business, Briar Patch, and Maude’s Makeover, they take full advantage of the opportunities they’ve created for themselves: all desperately, one maliciously. And then there are the narratives of Noise, Bonnie, and Plain Vanilla. The people in these stories have made their proverbial beds and now have to decide whether or not they want to lie in them. It may or may not be too late for them to change their minds.
Taylor’s execution of stories that cross gender, age, time, and space (literally) is skillful and imaginative. Her characters’ vivid inner lives are what give their external actions such depth of meaning. She has a particular talent for conveying the tension and unease that exists within a person when wrestling with the idea of taking a step (or three) outside one’s comfort zone. Combine that with occasional wry humor (Rules for the Company Picnic, for example), and you’ve got a superb, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read. While many of her characters are learning how to say “Enough!” in their own lives, Caroline Taylor’s Enough! will make you want to say “More!”
(4 / 5)
What do you do when you wake up one morning and every thought and physical sensation of those around you makes you feel nauseated and dizzy and completely overwhelmed? You probably don’t think, “Yay! I have superpowers now!” Like Transference’s leading lady, Janet Buckmann, you might be more likely to think of it as a super-curse and hope that it will just go away. Unfortunately for her, it doesn’t, which leads her to seek out the assistance of therapist and neighbor, Dr. Derek Verbenk.
Derek has issues of his own, starting with an inappropriate relationship with a patient that leads him to being fired from the therapeutic practice his grandfather started. He is simply going through the motions in his own private practice when Janet shows up. While Derek is grappling with how to help Janet cope with her newfound ability, Janet’s telepathy mirrors back to Derek the person he has become, and it’s not someone he likes. Could the relationship possibly be curative for both of them? Maybe, if they don’t drive each other crazy first.
Transference is a punchy, bright read from first-time novelist but long-time writer Kate Jonuska. The dialogue and chemistry between Dr. Derek Verbenk and Janet Buckmann (and between Derek and himself) is sharp and delightful and provides a strong backbone for this sometimes funny, sometimes serious, most often captivating story. When we first meet them, Janet is as combative and frenetic as Derek is myopic and stagnant. How each person evolves, and hence how the relationship develops, is clumsy and real and enjoyable to read. Jonuska deftly creates two people, that although initially unlikeable, unwind enough of their own dysfunction to become charming and appealing through their flaws and humanness. You can see the beginnings of an interesting relationship forming, and the author adroitly keeps that tension throughout the novel, without projecting too far ahead or playing coy with what might or might not happen between the two. Kate Jonuska has a keen, witty, unique voice that will likely only get more incisive and vivid with time. In this case, you don’t even need superpowers to see that.
(4.5 / 5)
With a push or two and a ‘hee-hee-ho’, we are propelled back into the delightfully crazy world first imagined by author Linda Joffe Hull in Frog Kisses. Over the Moon picks up with Sunny St. Clair-Dey giving birth to her second child with husband, Adam. Of course, it being Sunny, adding another member to her family is just the tip of the iceberg of the chaotic, occasionally neurotic, swirl that is her life. First, there’s the presumably well-intentioned but intimidating and overbearing mother-in-law that comes to stay with Sunny and help out with the new baby. Then there’s a gigantic business deal for Sunny and her sister, Luna, that has the potential to make all of their monetary dreams come true. Or so it would seem. Third, there are those pesky emails that seem to suggest Adam is having an affair. He wouldn’t, would he? He has been gone a lot and has been quite evasive lately. . . I haven’t even mentioned The Cream, Jake’s startling psychic visions, Atlas’ odd lack of them, or the Next Mrs. St. Clair. Oh yeah, and the super yummy ex-boyfriend who wants Sunny back in the worst way. Whew!
Linda Joffe Hull does a beautiful job of creating very human characters who are likeable, flaws and all. They are down to earth and talk the way real people talk, which is easier said than written. The problems her characters face are honest and they are tackled in real and imperfect ways. Her writing is infused with engaging whimsy and wordplay that comes across as fun and natural, not contrived or cringe-inducing. One of the best parts about reading Over the Moon is that you feel as though Sunny could be someone you know – that smart, pretty friend who is a bit high-strung, a little myopic and always trying to juggle too many things at once, but nevertheless is good-hearted and is someone you’re glad you have in your life. Or maybe she’s you. Either way, the continuing adventures of Sunny St. Clair-Dey and her clan will leave you smiling and glad that you’ve invited them into your life to stay.
(3.8 / 5)
The self-effacing, chaotic, past-his-prime, doubtful, ambivalent, awkward, sometimes arrogant, but usually humorous main character in Zach Boddicker’s novel The Essential Carl Mahogany, is at the proverbial crossroads. What direction should he go in his life? And besides the van named Percy who should Carl bring with him? Carl’s mission is to figure out how to get his shit together and to find his soul which he lost working in the country music industry, except Carl perpetually gets sidetracked by…pick something. Anything. This is why Carl isn’t all that famous of a musician. Sometimes life just happens.
There is no dire conflict within the story. No swashbuckling. No hero action. All of the conflict is the soul-sucking daily kind, but Boddicker tells his tale with so much broken self-awareness that you are drawn in by the prose. The story is an oddball, misfit kind of thing that is difficult to categorize as other than a fictional memoir, but the moodiness of the setting and the narrative tickles your ear like a beloved old country song you forgot you knew.
(4.5 / 5)
Freelance writer Hannah has a predilection for the unwanted and for distancing herself from others (with the exception of her cat), so when she comes across a Victorian era house for sale located in the wilderness outside of Calgary, she knows she’s found the perfect place. Tucked an hour away from everyone she knows, she soon discovers that it is someone else’s place as well—the resident ghost, who has scared off all previous owners of the beautiful, lovingly crafted home. But Hannah is as intransigent as the ghost and refuses to leave her newfound sanctuary. The two battle for control; all changes to the home are met with door-slamming and the knocking over of lamps, and even her cat starts behaving strangely. When Hannah’s journalistic drive leads her to discover what motivates her spooky companion, she finds a commonality between the two of them—and wonders if the ghost’s fate may also be hers.
Judith Docken paints the small town of Spruce Valley and its denizens as well as the quiet beauty and solitude of the woods outside Calgary in a way that makes the reader visualize it all perfectly. She possesses a strong voice as a writer, as shown by the subtle details of her characters, all who feel like distinct personalities. Hannah, the protagonist, is an independent, stubborn, and completely relatable woman in her early thirties with a penchant for wine and an equally independent and stubborn cat named Jimi (for Jimi Hendrix, whose black hair the cat resembles, which I found to be a nice touch). Any cat owner will chuckle knowingly at Jimi’s antics, as well as Docken’s deadpan humor, which contrasts perfectly with the heavier aspects of tragedy and loss that pervade the story. Ghosted is a strong debut novel from Docken, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
(4 / 5)
“It’s the end of the word as we know it, and I feel fine.”
Sometime in the near future the world has become a dystopian society where apocalypses of all sizes and magnitude are a normal part of life’s routine. Unlike other post-apocalyptic fiction, the world of Apocalypse All the Time is collapsing from every kind of imaginable horror – impact apocalypses, nuclear, climate change, zombie, and even alien invasion apocalypses. Marshall is sick of it. Life is constantly in danger and continually disrupted by one apocalypse or another, but nothing significant ever changes and no one seems to die. Ever. The emergencies are always handled by the Apocalypse Amelioration Agency and their Wizard of Oz-like leader, Malcolm. Like the best heroes of fiction, Marshall is out to change that. But instead of saving the world, he sets out to stop the reign of apocalypses.
Quirky and entertaining, Apocalypse All The Time paints a vivid picture of a world gone weird and one man’s daily struggle to manage while life crumbles around him on a regular basis. What makes Apocalypse All The Time unique isn’t the subject matter. The end of the world has been coming in literature for years, and America as we know it has been decimated and destroyed repeatedly by plagues, disease, explosions, and the un-dead. What makes this book different is that while Doomsday keeps coming, the world averts disaster over and over until one man decides he has had enough. In Not Quite So Stories, Atkinson examined society’s need to explain and demystify the world through short stories that concluded that life is so absurd, it is beyond our comprehension. In Apocalypse All the Time he explores the impact an allure with apocalypticism can have on the way we live our lives and the effect it has on us. It is an absurdly funny exploration of society’s fascination with the end of the world and the trend of endless apocalypse predictions.