Review and Giveaway: Pictures of the Shark, by Thomas H. McNeely

BNR Pictures of the Shark

 

About the book, Pictures of the Shark

  • Short Stories / Southern Fiction / Coming of Age
  • Publisher: Texas Review Press
  • Date of Publication: July 12, 2022
  • Number of Pages: 205 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Cover Pictures of the SharkA sudden snowfall in Houston reveals family secrets. A trip to Universal Studios to snap a picture of the shark from Jaws becomes a battle of wills between father and son. A midnight séance and the ghost of Janis Joplin conjure the mysteries of sex. A young boy’s pilgrimage to see Elvis Presley becomes a moment of transformation. A young woman discovers the responsibilities of talent and freedom.

Pictures of the Shark, by Houston native and Dobie Paisano award-winning author Thomas H. McNeely, traces a young man’s coming of age and falling apart. From the rough and tumble of Houston’s early seventies East End to the post-punk Texas bohemia of late eighties Austin, this novel in stories examines what happens when childhood trauma haunts adult lives.

PRAISE FOR PICTURES OF THE SHARK:

  •  “McNeely’s brilliant stories are filled with delicious menace and heartbreaking hope.” – Pamela Painter, author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers and Fabrications: New and Selected Stories
  • “In these gorgeously crafted interlinked stories, Thomas McNeely demonstrates once again an uncanny ability to illuminate the darkest emotional corners of his characters with a vision that is as tender and compassionate as it is unflinching.” – Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, author of Barefoot Dogs
  • “With masterful prose, McNeely draws you down into emotional depths where your ambivalence and confusion show you at your most profoundly human. These stories hook you quickly and deeply and keep you even after they end. – C.W. Smith, author of Steplings, Buffalo Nickel, and Understanding Women

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Thomas H. McNeely

Author Photo McNeelyThomas H. McNeely is an Eastside Houston native. He has published short stories and nonfiction in The Atlantic, Texas Monthly, Ploughshares, and many other magazines and anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories and Algonquin Books’ Best of the South. His stories have been shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories, and O. Henry Award anthologies. He has received National Endowment for the Arts, Wallace Stegner, and MacDowell Colony fellowships for his fiction. His first book, Ghost Horse, won the Gival Press Novel Award and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize in Writing. He currently teaches in the Stanford Online Writing Studio and at Emerson College, Boston.

Connect with Thomas:

WEBSITE  |  FACEBOOK  |  TWITTER | AMAZON  | GOODREADS

Connect with Texas Review Press

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK  |  TWITTER


My Thoughts

MissMelissI love short stories. I mean, I love novels and biographies, but it takes a special kind of talent to tell a complete story in a relatively few words. In his eight-story collection, Pictures of the Shark, Thomas H. McNeely shows that he has a great amount of talent, and is using it wisely.

To be honest, he had me at the word “scraggly,” used to describe someone’s beard. I use that word, but most people I know (and most people I read) do not, so when I saw that word in the opening story, “Snow, Houston, 1974,” I knew that I would love the language this author uses, and I was not wrong. His stories are somber, even dark, but his prose rises from the page, and grabs you by the wrists demanding that you pay attention.

I found myself shivering when six year old Buddy Turner experiences his first snow in 1974. Having lived through two extreme winter storms in Texas (Dallas county, in my case, but still rare) I was hit in the gut with the description of the aftermath:

“Now, the weatherman reported gas fires and burst water mains and houses whose roofs had caved in. Some neighborhoods, he said, were without electricity or telephones. Buddy began to worry about Grandma Liddy. Grandma Liddy and he made plans to buy a cassette recorder with cigarette coupons, to write President Nixon and ask him why he lied, to build a miniature city out of matchboxes and toilet paper rolls. They had already started the city, chalking streets on the threadbare carpet in his mother’s old room.”

It’s simple language, matter of fact, and almost Hemingway-esque at times, but it’s effective.

In addition to McNeely’s use of language, I also appreciated his ability to find and convey the emotional tone of every piece. The early stories in Buddy’s life (though not necessarily in the book, as it jumps around in time a little) have threads of hope running through them. The stories where Buddy is older and disillusioned feel darker and have a bitter quality. The pieces where we see Buddy as a young man are laden with sadness and wasted possibilities. And yet, not a single story was dull or made me want to skim it. Rather, I was riveted. “Hester,” especially, had me fascinated because it’s really the only story where we have another perspective, and see Buddy through another person’s eyes.

Speaking of people, Buddy, his mother (Margot) and his father (Jimmy) are the central characters, and each one is interesting on their own. Buddy, of course, is the boy whose family is unhappy, and who seems to know too much and not enough, afraid of becoming his father, but also so close to doing so. Everything I learned about Margot made we wish for a collection from her perspective – her youth and young womanhood. Jimmy is a perfect tragic figure, and some of the scenes, where he seems about to resort to violence, but doesn’t, had me flashing back to my own memories of an abusive partner my mother once had.

In fact, the only reason I didn’t read all eight of these stories in one sitting was that the emotions were so vivid and plausible that I had to step away.

In the beginning of his book, Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In Pictures of the Shark, Thomas H. McNeely has given us a visceral look at an extremely unhappy family, and shown us how that unhappiness echoes through all their lives. This is made most evident in the final entry in this collection, “Little Deaths:”

“I’d come to the University as a National Merit Scholar, but now lived off my mother’s credit card. I never visited my mother, because she reminded me both of my rotten childhood and my receding promise: my AP classes, my high school English honors, the expectation even by my family that I would become a writer.”

Buddy Turner may never have become a successful author (or maybe he did, that’s for another collection) but his creator, Thomas H. McNeely has given us a masterpiece in gray tones and grim feelings.

Goes well with: black coffee and anisette toast.


Giveaway

FOUR WINNERS! 

2 winners: autographed copy of Pictures of the Shark
2 winners: autographed copy of Pictures of the Shark

+ editorial critique of an excerpt (up to 20 pages) from an unpublished short story or novel.
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 7/15/2022)

 

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CLICK TO VISIT THE LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE TOUR PAGE FOR DIRECT LINKS TO EACH POST ON THIS TOUR, UPDATED DAILY, or visit the blogs directly:

7/5/22 Excerpt Shelf Life Blog
7/5/22 BONUS Promo Hall Ways Blog
7/6/22 Review Boys’ Mom Reads
7/6/22 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
7/7/22 Guest Post All the Ups and Downs
7/8/22 Review Bibliotica
7/9/22 Excerpt StoreyBook Reviews
7/10/22 Playlist Forgotten Winds
7/11/22 Review Jennie Reads
7/12/22 Author Interview Rox Burkey Blog
7/13/22 Review Reading by Moonlight
7/14/22 Review The Book’s Delight

 

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Review: Shapeshifting by Michelle Ross

ShapeshiftingAbout the book: Shapeshifting: Stories

  • Publisher: Stillhouse Press
  • Paperback: 232 pages

The fourteen spellbinding stories in Michelle Ross’s second collection invite readers into the shadows of social-media perfectionism and the relentless cult of motherhood. A recovering alcoholic navigates the social landscape of a toddler playdate; a mother of two camps out in a van to secure her son’s spot at a prestigious kindergarten; a young girl forces her friends to play an elaborate, unwinnable game. With unflinching honesty and vivid, lyric prose, Ross explores the familial ties that bind us together-or, sometimes, tear us apart.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Goodreads


About the author, Michelle Ross

Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections, There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award and Finalist for the 2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, Shapeshifting, winner of the Stillhouse Press Short Story Award (forthcoming in 2021), and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (forthcoming in Spring 2022). Her fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, The Common, Epiphany, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, TriQuarterly, Witness, and other venues. Her fiction has been selected for Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and the Wigleaf Top 50, among other anthologies. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review and was a consulting editor for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology. A native of Texas, she received her B.A. from Emory University and her M.F.A and M.A. from Indiana University. She currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband and son.

Connect with Michelle:

Website


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellMichelle Ross’s collection of short stories, Shapeshifting, is a haunting, provocative anthology focusing on motherhood and womanhood, and how the two are intertwined.

These  fourteen stories are not shiny, fluffy, stories about how becoming a mother is the be-all and end-all of life. Rather they are  often hilarious, sometimes dark glimpses at the struggle to retain oneself within the context of being responsible for another human being.

Rather than the retouched moms and tots we see on Instagram, these stories show a mother sleeping in a van with her still-nursing baby to get her other child into the right school, while her husband can’t even feed said child dinner because he’s busy running parenting support groups and offering advice. Ross also shows us a mother separated from her adult daughter and the bitter, skewed images each has of the other, and the collection goes on – different mothers, different stages of motherhood, all flawed and dimensional and real. All individual women.

What I loved about Ross’s writing, in addition to her brutal clarity, was the detail she put in each story – the way mothers will extend their arms to keep their children safe in their plane or car seats, even though they have seat belts – something my own mother still does when we’re in a car together even though I’m now fifty-one.

Motherhood is often called a transformative experience. Ross’s stories look at the truth of those transformations, these shifting shapes of our bodies, our minds, and our souls and reveal the parts we think, but don’t share. They are compelling mirrors of the lives of women.

Goes well with: hot coffee, a cinnamon pastry, and twenty minutes of solitude.


00-tlc-tour-hostTour Stops

Monday, January 3rd: Lit and Life

Wednesday, January 5th: @purrfectpages

Wednesday, January 5th: @openbookbyleila

Thursday, January 6th: @nurse_bookie

Friday, January 7th: @webreakforbooks

Monday, January 10th: Stranded in Chaos and @sarastrand9438

Tuesday, January 11th: @secretreadinglife

Wednesday, January 12th: @lyon.brit.andthebookshelf

Wednesday, January 12th: Bibliotica

Thursday, January 13th: @mommaleighellensbooknook

Friday, January 14th: 5 Minutes for Mom

Monday, January 17th: The Cozy Book Blog

Monday, January 17th: @nerdy_book_lover_1987

Tuesday, January 18th: Forever Lost in Literature

Wednesday, January 19th: Musings of a Literary Wanderer

Thursday, January 20th: @megsbookclub

Friday, January 21st: @kristens.reading.nook

Friday, January 21st: @wonderousreads

Monday, January 24th: Reading is My Remedy

Tuesday,  January 25th: Run Wright and @karen_runwrightreads

Wednesday, January 26th: @kelly_hunsaker_reads

Review & Giveaway: A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers by Babette Fraser Hale

BNR A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers

About the book, A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers

  • Publisher: Winedale Publishing
  • Pages: 216
  • Pub Date: March 1st, 2021
  • Categories: Short Stories / Literary Fiction
  • Scroll for Giveaway!

Cover A Wall of Bright Dead feathersEach of the flawed, fully human characters we meet in these twelve stories faces a moment of life-altering transformation. Most are newcomers to the scenic, rolling countryside of central Texas whose charms they romanticize, even as the troubles they hoped to leave behind persist.

A young pianist struggles to keep her emotionally fragile boyfriend alive; a displaced New Yorker’s ambivalence with guns results in two fractured families; an oil man gambles on his estranged daughter’s integrity. The complicated history of this German-Czech region, where the stories are set, anchors the experience of two young artists who make a costly decision in 1862.

In graceful and precise, often lyrical, prose, Fraser Hale immerses us in lives whose superficial privilege provides no real protection against the unexpected.

* * *

When women are alone, unencumbered and unbeholden to anyone, they engage in intense internal reflection and show reverence for nature—and during these scenes, Hale’s language is luminescent (Kirkus Reviews).

Praise for this book:

“Hale shows a great respect for her characters and for the difficulty of their deceptively ordered existence, as well as for the problems they suffer because so much cannot be spoken.” — Francine Prose, on “Silences”

“A vivid set of tales about connection to other people and to the natural world…Hale’s lovely prose shows a keen eye for detail…” – Kirkus Reviews

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Brazos Bookstore | Winedale Publishing | Goodreads


About the author, Babette Fraser Hale

Author Pic G. HaleBabette Fraser Hale’s fiction has won the Meyerson Award from Southwest Review, a creative artist award from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, and been recognized among the “other distinguished stories” in Best American Short Stories, 2015. Her story “Drouth” is part of the New York Public Library’s digital collection. Her nonfiction has appeared in Texas Monthly, Houston City, and the Houston Chronicle. She writes a personal essay column for the Fayette County Record.

Connect with Babette

Website | Facebook | Blog


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI love short stories. They really show off an author’s range and adaptability, and when they work, they sing in ways that novels don’t. This collection, A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers, sings in many ways.

Most obvious is the author’s use of language. Kirkus reviews calls it both “precise” and “lyrical” and those are words, I too, would use to describe Fraser Hale’s writing style. She doesn’t just give you text, she wraps her words around you like a cloak and lets you steep in them, experiencing different characters and scenarios.

In this collection, while there was no real connection between the different characters all of the stories included people who were new to Texas, and that choice let  Fraser Hale’s writing really shine, because she made Texas itself if not a character, certainly more than a setting, and just as the author’s dialogue was perfect for the various times depicted, so, too, was her vivid description, from the house in the very first story in this book, on through the rest of the tales.

What I appreciated about A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers is that while the stories varied in length, none felt over-long or too short. Some were deeper than others, some were lighter, most involved strong women facing problems, whether they solved them or not, and there is no wrong note in this symphony of stories. If I had to pick a favor, it would be the fourth story in the book – “Silences,” which juxtaposes a mother’s day-to-day life with a husband who isn’t that great, with her son who is adjusting to country life in less healthy ways than she’d like.  It opens with a description of  morning and “the hum and chortle of birds” and closes with an abrupt, horrific twist, and in between those two things is a perfect example of how seemingly mundane activities can be made fascinating by a writer with talent and skill.

Overall, this is a collection of short stories to savor, the kind that makes you want to fill a bathtub with bubbles, and bring a mug of tea or glass of wine into it with you, while you soak and read.

Goes well with: Black Forest ham, Havarti cheese, olives, and a glass of Topo Chico with lime.


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Visit the Other Great Blogs on This Tour

Click to visit the Lone Star Literary Life Tour Page for direct links to each post on this tour, updated daily, or visit the blogs directly:

3/23/21 Author Video The Page Unbound
3/23/21 Excerpt Texas Book Lover
3/24/21 Review Book Bustle
3/24/21 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
3/25/21 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
3/25/21 Author Interview Chapter Break Book Blog
3/26/21 Review Missus Gonzo
3/27/21 Excerpt All the Ups and Downs
3/28/21 Guest Post The Clueless Gent
3/29/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
3/29/21 Author Interview Hall Ways Blog
3/30/21 Review Reading by Moonlight
3/31/21 Review Bibliotica
3/31/21 Guest Post Librariel Book Adventures
4/1/21 Review It’s Not All Gravy
4/1/21 Review Forgotten Winds

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Review: The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station and Other Stories, by J. Reeder Archuleta – with Giveaway

El Paso Red Flame Gas Station

About the book, The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station and Other Stories

El Paso Red Flame Gas Station

  • Genre: Fiction /Short Stories / Coming of Age
  • Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing, LLC
  • Date of Publication: December 8, 2017
  • Number of Pages: 132

These short stories are about coming of age in rural far West Texas.  The stories are about the people who have come to stay in a remote part of Texas with a climate that can be harsh and unpredictable and that is demanding and unforgiving.  The stories are told through the eyes of Josh, a young boy, who finds himself alone in a small farm and ranch community and who realizes that he will have to make his own way in this place.  Along the way he meets a group of characters with different takes on life.  Some try to help shield him from the chaos of the world, some try to add more chaos. But all of them, in their own distinct way, through jobs, advice, or actions, play a part in his life.

Praise for The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station:

“Punchy, plainspoken dialogue…colorful and charismatic characters…The result is an atmospheric Texas…reminiscent of Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show.” — Kirkus Reviews

“The universality of Josh’s journey gives it a timeless quality…a rich tapestry…The stories are conveyed in lean, elegant prose reminiscent of Annie Proulx and Cormac McCarthy” — Blue Ink Review

“Archuleta’s collection offers poignant and hopeful stories of determination in the face of need. Thoroughly engaging…narrated with passion and eloquence…” — The Clarion Review       

Buy, read, and discuss The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, J. Reeder Archuleta J Reeder Archuleta

The author was raised in far West Texas and five generations of his family are in their final resting place there.  His great-grandfather is buried in Concordia Cemetery in El Paso within spitting distance of the grave of John Wesley Hardin.

Connect with J. Reeder:

Website | Amazon Author Page


My Thoughts

I love short stories. I love how much talent and skill it takes to tell a whole story in a relatively few words. I love the way they force writers to distill their ideas to the most important, the most vivid, the most visceral.

This collection of short stories by J. Reeder Archuleta, The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station and Other Stories, is one of the best representatives of this art that I’ve seen from a contemporary author. Archuleta is specific with regard to detail – brands of whisky, kinds of beer, types of toys. His use of language is earthy and real, as gritty as the air during a windstorm on the plains. His dialogue makes you really see his characters.

I liked the way the young boy Josh, whom we meet in the first selection in this book, becomes the POV character, the thread that ties all the stories together. From the first time we see him, scared and young, being pulled away from the life he knows by is desperate mother, through the entire collection, we seem grow and change, and yet, because this isn’t a novel, it’s possible that he isn’t exactly the same Josh, that rather, he’s reflections of the original, each incarnation slightly different from the previous and the next.

I’ve lived in Texas for nearly fourteen years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere, but I don’t really know Texas. There’s so much of it I haven’t seen, certainly, except for when we drove through to Dallas from California, I’ve never experienced West Texas, and yet, from time spent in Colorado as a child, and South Dakota as a young wife, I feel a kind of kinship with the landscape Archuleta describes.

I went into this book afraid I might be turned off, and was surprised to find that I really connected with the easy storytelling and honest portrayals of real-seeming people.

Archuleta is a modern Hemingway. A Texas treasure. And these stories? They should be shared as far and wide as possible.

Goes well with: barbecued brisket and cold beer.


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APRIL 17-26, 2018

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Visit the other great blogs on this tour

4/17/18 Promo The Page Unbound
4/17/18 Bonus Post Hall Ways Blog
4/18/18 Review Books and Broomsticks
4/19/18 Author Interview Texas Book Lover
4/20/18 Review Forgotten Winds
4/21/18 Excerpt Book Fidelity
4/22/18 Promo The Love of a Bibliophile
4/23/18 Review StoreyBook Reviews
4/24/18 Notable Quotable The Clueless Gent
4/25/18 Character Interview That’s What She’s Reading
4/26/18 Review Bibliotica

 

Review: Concepción and the Baby Brokers by Deborah Clarman

About the book, Concepción and the Baby Brokers Concepcion and the Baby Brokers

• Paperback: 236 pages
• Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (March 15, 2017)

In nine thematically linked stories set largely in Guatemala, Concepción and the Baby Brokers brings to life characters struggling with universal emotions and dilemmas in a place unfamiliar to most Americans. From the close-knit community of Todos Santos to the teeming danger of Guatemala City, to a meat-packing plant in Michigan and the gardens of Washington DC, Deborah Clearman shows us the human cost of international adoption, drug trafficking, and immigration.

A Cup of Tears, the opening novella, reveals a third-world baby farm, seen through the eyes of a desperate wet nurse, a baby broker, and an American adoptive mother. In “The Race” a young man returns to his native village to ride in a disastrous horse race. “English Lessons” tells of a Guatemalan immigrant in Washington DC who learns more than English from a public library volunteer. A teenage girl tries to trap her professor into marriage in “Saints and Sinners.”

With searing humanity, Clearman exposes the consequences of American exceptionalism, and the daily magic and peril that inform and shape ordinary lives.

Buy, read, and discuss Concepción and the Baby Brokers:

Rain Mountain Press | Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Deborah Clearman Deborah-Clearman-AP-Photo-credit-Douglas-Chadwick

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.

Connect with Deborah:

Website


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I approached this book with some trepidation because I knew the subject would be both gritty and dark. I wasn’t wrong: it is both of those things. It’s also powerfully moving, heartbreaking, and something I feel should be required reading in women’s studies and contemporary literature courses throughout the Western world.

Rather than taking the stories individually – because this book is really a novella with supporting side stories – my thoughts are on the collection as a whole. Clearman, who lives in Guatemala part of the time, writes with the intimate familiarity that only comes from being steeped in a culture. I don’t want to say that I enjoyed her work, because these stories aren’t escapist fiction or light reading, but I appreciated the strong characters – mostly female – she created.

It surprised me, actually, that the baby brokers were predominantly women. There’s a sense of betrayal that comes when women work against each other, though perhaps that’s a cultural bias of mine – I was privileged to grow up in a supportive, feminist environment where women were encouraged – are encouraged – to support each other.

The women in these stories, however were a mixture of all types of people – some incredibly sympathetic, apparently believing they were saving babies, and some were ruthless, only involved in the baby trade for the money. Some were victims of circumstance, others the engineers of their own fate.

While there were male characters in all of the stories, it is the women that really stood out for me. I think it makes sense, though, that so many of the main characters were female – it provides a perspective that men just don’t have.

Well written and incredibly compelling, this collection of stories, Concepción and the Baby Brokers is a must-read.

Goes well with a bean and cheese burrito and whatever beer you like.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 10th: A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, April 19th: Eliot’s Eats

Monday, April 24th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, April 27th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Monday, May 8th: Lit and Life

Tuesday, May 9th: Bibliotica

Monday, May 15th: Bookish Way of Life

Thursday, May 18th: 5 Minutes For Books

Monday, May 22nd: Bibliophiliac

Tuesday, May 23rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Review: By the Wayside, by Anne Leigh Parrish

About the book, By the Wayside By the Wayside

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Unsolicited Press (January 31, 2017)

Marvelous. Honest. Generous. From the first story to the last, “By the Wayside” catches your attention and demands that you give into its every whirl. Each character unfolds with a precision that will have you wondering how Parrish managed to create such real-to-the-bones people within a world that captivates you with ease.

Buy, read, and discuss By the Wayside:

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Anne Leigh Parrish Anne Leigh Parrish

Anne Leigh Parrish is the author of All the Roads That Lead From Home, stories (Press 53, 2011); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel (She Writes Press, 2014). Her new novel, Women Within, is forthcoming from Black Rose Writing in September 2017.

Connect with Anne:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I love short stories.

As a writer, I love the way short stories give you the freedom to experiment with different styles of writing – voice, narrative style, POV, genre. In this way, short stories are like play.

As a reader, I enjoy seeing what individual writers do with various literary forms, but I also appreciate pieces that are short enough to read in one sitting – one cup of tea, one good soak in the bathtub.

The stories in By the Wayside include all the things I appreciate as a reader. Deft use of language, clever turns of dialogue, interesting characters. I particularly enjoyed “How She Was Found” and “Artichokes,” but the rest of the collection was equally compelling, sometimes sad, often poignant.

I enjoyed the different characters author Parrish let us meet, by the different lifestyles we were able to glimpse. In addition, I found that Ms. Parrish is incredibly adept at subtly twisting expectations. In “The Professor,” the young girl is NOT seduced, for example.

By The Wayside is a collection of stories worth reading. Keep it in your bathroom or on your nightstand and savor the tales, one at a time. You won’t be sorry.


Anne Leigh Parrish’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours - By the Wayside

Monday, April 3rd: Dwell in Possibility

Wednesday, April 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, April 6th: Lit and Life – author guest post

Monday, April 10th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, April 12th: Mama Vicky Says

Thursday, April 13th: Bibliophiliac

Monday, April 17th: Books ‘n Tea

Wednesday, April 19th: Susan Peterson

Thursday, April 20th: Dreaming Big

Monday, April 24th: BookNAround

Tuesday, April 25th: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, April 26th: Maureen Downing

Thursday, April 27th: Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Monday, May 1st: 100 Pages a Day – author guest post

Wednesday, May 3rd: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Thursday, May 4th: Seaside Booknook

Friday, May 5th: Readaholic Zone

Buzz! They Were Like Family to Me, by Helen Maryles Shankman

Like Family - Postcard

Critically praised, beloved by readers, In the Land of Armadillos has an evocative new cover and title, They Were Like Family to Me. Now in Paperback! Available October 4.
1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish citizens. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival often demands unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire—a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town. We meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the Jewish creator of his son’s favorite picture book; a Messiah who appears in a little boy’s bedroom to announce that he is quitting; a young Jewish girl who is hidden by the town’s most outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are two unforgettable figures: silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker, struggling to survive.

Channeling the mythic magic of classic storytellers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and the psychological acuity of modern-day masters like Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander, They Were Like Family to Me is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.

“One of the most original and consistently captivating short story collections to have appeared in recent years…(They Were Like Family to Me) is a singularly inventive collection of chilling stark realism enhanced by the hallucinatory ingredient of top-drawer magical realism, interrogating the value of art, storytelling, and dreams in a time of peril and presenting hard truths with wisdom, magic, and grace.” —Jewish Book Council

“Moving and unsettling…Like Joyce’s Dubliners, this book circles the same streets and encounters the same people as it depicts the horrors of Germany’s invasion of Poland through the microcosm of one village…Shankman’s prose is inventive and taut… A deeply humane demonstration of wringing art from catastrophe.” —Kirkus Reviews

“…by turns forthright and tender, oblique and intimate, brutal and ethereal…Though each story stands beautifully on its own, it is the completed tapestry of interwoven details that finally reveals the entire picture and provides the full emotional depth of the collected stories…The author’s greatest accomplishment is in leaving the horror to speak for itself, and instead giving voice to the enchantment.” —Historical Novel Society


More about They Were Like Family to Me They Were Like Family to Me

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (October 4, 2016)

1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its monstrous power, Hitler’s SS fires up the new crematorium at Auschwitz and the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish citizens. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival depends on unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire, a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

“Filled with rich attention to the details of flora and fauna and insightful descriptions of the nuances of rural and small-town life” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town at a crossroads: we meet an SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book; a Messiah who announces that he is quitting; a Jewish girl who is hidden by an outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are the enigmatic Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker and his family, struggling to survive.

Buy, read, and discuss:

Amazon | Books a Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About Helen Maryles Shankman Helen Maryles Shankman

Helen Maryles Shankman’s stories have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s Story Contest and earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers competition. Her stories have appeared in The Kenyon ReviewGargoyleCream City Review2 Bridges ReviewGrift, Jewishfiction.net, and other publications. She is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Color of Light and the story collection They Were Like Family to Me. She lives in New Jersey, with her husband and four children.

Connect with Helen:

Website | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

 


TLC Book Tours

Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier #review #tlcbooktours

About Reader, I Married Himthe book Reader, I Married Him

• Paperback: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 22, 2016)

This collection of original stories by today’s finest women writers takes inspiration from the famous line in Charlotte Brontë’s most beloved novel, Jane Eyre.

A fixture in the literary canon, Charlotte Brontë is revered by readers all over the world. Her books featuring unforgettable, strong heroines still resonate with millions today. And who could forget one of literatures’ best-known lines: “Reader, I married him” from her classic novel Jane Eyre?

Part of a remarkable family that produced three acclaimed female writers at a time in 19th-century Britain when few women wrote, and fewer were published, Brontë has become a great source of inspiration to writers, especially women, ever since. Now in Reader, I Married Him, twenty of today’s most celebrated women authors have spun original stories, using the opening line from Jane Eyre as a springboard for their own flights of imagination.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Featured Authors

Featuring:

Tracy Chevalier – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Sarah Hall – Website | Facebook

Helen Dunmore – Website | Twitter

Kirsty Gunn – Website | Facebook

Joanna Briscoe – Website | Twitter

Emma Donoghue – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Susan Hill – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Elif Shafak – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Evie Wyld – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Patricia Park – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Salley Vickers – Website | Twitter

Nadifa Mohamed – Twitter

Esther Freud – Website

Linda Grant – Website | Twitter

Lionel Shriver – Facebook

Audrey Niffenegger – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Namwali Serpell – Website | Twitter

Elizabeth McCracken – Website | Facebook | Twitter


My ThoughtsMelissa A. Bartell

I’ve had a long relationship with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It began when I was pretty young –  nine or ten, I think – and found it on the shelf above my bed in the room I always used when I visited my grandparents over the summer. I remember reading it during a wild summer storm, and rereading it again several years later. It’s one of those novels I go back to, every so often, finding something new in it with every visit, as if it’s the book that’s changing, instead of me.

When I was offered the chance to review this anthology of short stories, all by women, inspired by Jane Eyre’s iconic line, “Reader, I married him,” I knew I had to read this book.

It’s a funny thing. I write short stories, but I don’t often read them any more. So first, this book reminded me that short stories are a great way to sample the work of a new author, or at least, an author who is new to me.

The stories in this anthology range from close interpretations (Grace Poole’s version of the story is especially poignant) to stories that only have unconventional marriages, or vague hand-waving in Jane’s direction to connect them with the original work.

I couldn’t possibly review all of them, but five of my favorites were:

  • “Dangerous Dog,” by Kirsty Gunn – a woman saves a dog and introduces would-be bullies to the joys of Jane.
  • “Reader, I Married Him,” by Susan Hill – about a rather famous unconventional marriage involving an American divorcee and an abdicating ruler.
  • “The Mirror,” by Francine Prose – a dark look at what happens in Jane and Rochester’s marriage after the novel ends. A concise, compelling, psychological thriller.
  • “Dorset Gap,” by Tracy Chevalier, who edited the anthology – Ed and Jenn met at a rave the night before, and now they’re on a hike.
  • “The Orphan Exchange,” by Audrey Niffenegger – re-sets the novel in a contemporary, albeit war-torn, country, with an ending that I’ve always suspected was a possibility.

But those five stories are only a representative sample… this collection looks at marriage from so many angles, and uses Jane Eyre as the connecting tissue, even if sometimes it’s not obvious.

What I loved is that each of these twenty-one tales was written by a woman, and each was completely relevant to modern readers, in a way the Brontë sisters’ work was to their contemporaries. As well, I’m tickled that there was diversity – older women, young girls, gay men, and lesbians, several religions, and many cultures (including one story about an Argentian-raised Korean woman in New York) were represented.

What I didn’t love is that there were only twenty-one stories. I’d love to see more. I’d love to see an annual contest sort of like the Strange New Worlds contest that used to be run every year for Star Trek fans, where aspiring writers could write their own short stories inspired by Jane.

Still, if the worst thing you can say about a book is that it left you wanting more, I think the author – or authors, in this case – has done their job.

Whether Jane Eyre was a literary companion of your childhood, or you met her later in life, there’s something for you in this collection, Reader, I Married Him.

Goes well with, a proper English tea, or a bowl of venison stew served near a crackling fire on a cold and rainy day.


 

Tour StopsTLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, March 23rd: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, March 24th: A Bookish Way of Life

Friday, March 25th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, March 28th: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, March 29th: Raven Haired Girl

Wednesday, March 30th: BookNAround

Thursday, March 31st: Reading Reality

Friday, April 1st: View from the Birdhouse

Wednesday, April 6th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, April 7th: Bibliotica

 

Mendocino Fire, by Elizabeth Tallent #review #TLCBookTours #MendocinoFire

About the book,  Mendocino Fire Mendocino Fire

• Hardcover: 272 pages
• Publisher: Harper (October 20, 2015)

The long-awaited return of a writer of rare emotional wisdom

The son of an aging fisherman becomes ensnared in a violent incident that forces him to confront his broken relationship with his father. A woman travels halfway across the country to look for her ex-husband, only to find her attention drawn in a surprising direction. A millworker gives safe harbor to his son’s pregnant girlfriend, until an ambiguous gesture upsets their uneasy equilibrium. These and other stories—of yearning, loss, and tentative new connections—come together in Mendocino Fire, the first new collection in two decades from the widely admired Elizabeth Tallent.

Buy, read, and discuss Mendocino Fire

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Elizabeth Tallent Elizabeth Tallent

Elizabeth Tallent is the author of the story collections Honey, In Constant Flight, and Time with Children, and the novel Museum Pieces. Since 1994 she has taught in the Creative Writing program at Stanford University. She lives on the Mendocino coast of California.


My Thoughts MissMeliss

Even though Elizabeth Tallent is, by no means, a new voice in American fiction, her work was new to me, and I really enjoyed getting to know her through Mendocino Fire. I find that short stories are an excellent way to find out if you’re responding to a specific author, or jut a specific story. As well, I think they give authors a way to stretch – try on different voices. In this collection of ten stories, Tallent does both: she shows off her versatility, but she also gave me the ability to determine if I wanted to read more of her work (yes, I do.)

Critics have referred to Tallent’s short stories, particularly those in this collection, as “elegant” and “perfectly made,” and I have to agree. Though most, if not all, of her characters – a young man trying to start a life while also accepting that he isn’t the son his father wanted, a young girl exploring her sexuality and forging a future while also facing the fact that futures cost money, a woman still processing her divorce – the list goes on – are demonstrably imperfect, the author has told their stories with grace and not a little bit of dark wit.

I was particularly drawn to Tallent’s use of language throughout the collection. The way she describes David Merson, the protagonist of “Tabriz,” (one of my favorites of the bunch) as “heartsore in the way of old activists,” really struck a chord with me, perhaps because I know so many aging hippies, but that’s just one example of the way she mixes description and social commentary into a satisfying blend.

Of the collection, “Tabriz” and the titular “Mendocino Fire” were the two I most responded to, partly because of the language, and partly because the characters resembled people I’ve encountered throughout my life, which made them seem the most “real” to me.

I had several false starts reading the very first story in the collection, ‘The Wrong Son,” but not everyone will respond to every word any writer offers. Even though I didn’t truly connect with it, though, there were a couple of moments  – Nate’s internal reflection about wondering if he and his young family will ever get out of the trailer he’s renting from his father, and into a real house.  I remember when Fuzzy and I were first married, and facing the reality of what you can actually afford when you’re young and just beginning your adult life.

Overall, this collection is truly compelling, with stunning use of language, vivid descriptions, real, flawed characters, and a theme of broken people becoming whole that I found incredibly interesting and engaging.

Goes well with bean and cheese burritos and Indio beer.


Elizabeth’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, October 20th: Books on the Table

Friday, October 23rd: Bibliotica

Monday, October 26th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, October 27th: Back Porchervations

Wednesday, October 28th: Olduvai Reads

Thursday, October 29th: she treads softly

Friday, October 30th: M. Denise Costello

Tuesday, November 3rd: Read. Write. Repeat.

Wednesday, November 4th: Worth Getting in Bed For

Thursday, November 5th: Imaginary Reads

Friday, November 6th: Raven Haired Girl

Monday, November 9th: Lavish Bookshelf

Tuesday, November 10th: Dreams, Etc.

Wednesday, November 11th: You Can Read Me Anything

Thursday, November 12th: The Well-Read Redhead

Friday, November 13th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

 

Clownfellas: Tales of the Bozo Family, by Carlton Mellick III (@carltonmellick3) #review @tlcbooktours #giveaway

About the book Clownfellas: Tales of the Bozo Family Clownfellas

  • Publisher: Hydra (July 14, 2015)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC

“Carlton Mellick III goes past silly, through weird, detours around dumb, blasts through bizarre, and gets to a place where the normal physics of narrative no longer apply. You will never be the same.”—Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and Homeland

In a topsy-turvy world where clowns are killers and crooks, Little Bigtop is a three-ring circus of crime, and no syndicate is more dangerous than the Bozo family. From the wildly original mind of Carlton Mellick III comes the short-story collection ClownFellas—an epic mob saga where life is cheap and the gags will slay you.

For years, the hard-boiled capos of the Bozo family have run all of the funny business in Little Bigtop, from the clown brothels to the illegal comedy trade. But hard times have befallen the Bozos now that Le Mystère, the French clown Mafia, has started moving in and trying to take over the city. If that weren’t enough, they’ve got to deal with the cops, the Feds, the snitches, the carnies, the mysterious hit man Mr. Pogo, and the mutant clowns over in the Sideshow district. With the odds stacked against them, the Bozos must fight to survive . . . or die laughing.

Buy, read, and discuss Clownfellas: Tales of the Bozo Family

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million  | Goodreads


About the author, Carlton Mellick III Carlton Mellick III

Carlton Mellick III is an oafish gentleman with the stylishest of sideburns. He is one of the leading authors in the bizarro fiction genre—a booming underground movement that strives to bring weird, crazy, entertaining literature to the masses. Imagine a mixture of David Lynch, Dr. Seuss, South Park, and Troma movies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Connect with Carlton

Twitter


My Thoughts MissMeliss

Publisher’s Weekly described Clownfellas: Tales of the Bozo Family as “Mario Puzo meets Barnum & Bailey” and that’s about as accurate a description as I can think of. Make no mistake about it, this collection of short stories is hilarious – clowns as gangsters? really?? – but it’s also dark, gritty, and disturbing.

In the world this book inhabits, Clowns are a kind of metahuman mutant, and each faction has different characteristics. The Bozo family is comprised of traditional American-style circus clowns, while other factions include the French Le Mystère (who are not, apparently, mimes, though I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were – a further tale, perhaps?)  and deal with attacks from the Jugglers.

The author, Carlton Mellick III has taken every gangster trope and every clown trope mixed them up and come up with something fresh and fantastic (in all senses of the word). In one story a coulrophobic (coulrophobia is fear of clowns) veterinarian is dragged to Little Bigtop to save the life of Don Bozo’s pet lion. In another, a human Associate is resisting the serum injection (Happy Juice) that will turn him from Human to Clown because he’s terrified of becoming a statistic. In the universe of Clownfellas, it seems, one in ten people become Sideshow Freaks instead of true Clowns, and are sent off to fend for themselves in the Sideshow without rights or recognition.

(A part of me wonders if that one-in-ten number was just for convenience, or if it was chosen specifically because that statistic is a popular (if not necessarily accurate) representation of the segment of our population that is LGBT.)

Whether you read it for a deeper cause, or simply enjoy the sendup of every mafia movie you’ve ever seen, this collection of tales is entertaining and thought provoking: what is normal? What constitutes crime? Would we be better off if we really could kill someone with a C4-loaded pie to the face and guns that used lethal BANG! signs instead of conventional bullets? Is it true that all you really need in life is “…a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants…?”

Goes well with popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy, hot dogs, and beer served in a dangerously flimsy plastic cup.


Giveaway Clownfellas

This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a HYDRA mug and a copy of the book!

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Carlton Mellick III’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, July 13th: For the Love of Fictional Worlds

Wednesday, July 15th: PromoteHorror.com

Wednesday, July 15th: Wildfire Books

Monday, July 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, July 21st: Wag the Fox – author interview

Thursday, July 23rd: The Qwillery

Friday, July 24th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, July 27th: W. A. R. G. – The Writer’s, Artist’s & Reader’s Guild

Tuesday, July 28th: The Horror Honeys

Wednesday, July 29th: Mallory Heart Reviews

Thursday, July 30th: Bibliotica

Monday, August 3rd: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, August 5th: It’s a Mad Mad World

Friday, August 7th: Life is Story

TBD: The Scary Reviews

TBD: Bell, Book & Candle

TBD: Kari J. Wolfe