Island Fog by John Vanderslice – Review

About Island FogIsland Fog

• Paperback: 288 pages
• Publisher: Lavender Ink (April 28, 2014)

Island Fog is a thematic, novel-length collection of stories, all set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Nantucket as we know it began as an English settlement relatively early in the colonial period of the United States. In the heyday of its nineteenth century success as a whaling center, the island, for being as small as it is, was quite the cosmopolitan center. Sailors from across the globe mingled with a mixed local population of descendents of the original English settlers, black Americans, and Native Americans. Today too Nantucket is known as being especially open to visitors from around the world. When one travels there, one feels that one is no longer in the United States but in a culturally indistinct, in-between land, somehow equidistant from North America, the Caribbean, and Northern Europe.

Island Fog captures the physical, social, and political atmosphere of the island from both historical and contemporary perspectives. It is divided into two halves, with the first half containing five historical fictions and the latter half containing six contemporary ones. The first historical fiction is set in 1795, only a decade removed from the young America’s formalized independence from Britain, and the last historical fiction is set in 1920, one year after America’s passage of the infamous Volstead Act (prohibition). The middle three historical stories are set, respectively, in 1823, 1837, and 1846, the period when the whaling industry enjoyed its greatest profitability and the island its greatest wealth. The set of contemporary fictions begin in the late twentieth century and continue into the middle of the first decade of this century. Thus the stories of Island Fog bridge four centuries of Nantucket history.

The first story, “Guilty Look,” fictionalizes the real life Nantucket bank robbery of 1795, an event that famously divided the heretofore peaceful “paradise” into warring factions of Quakers and Congregationalists, Jeffersonians and Federalists. The other historical fictions—through first, second, and third person narration—depict a fraught and potentially violent friendship between a self-assured white adolescent and the half-breed son of the last full-blooded Wampanoag on the island (“King Philip’s War”); the trapped existence of a whaling widow, who while she waits for her disappeared and likely deceased husband has begun to waken to her latent lesbian nature (“On Cherry Street”); the tortured inner life of an ex-captain who has never gotten over having to become a cannibal to survive during one particularly harrowing whaling expedition twenty-eight years earlier (“Taste”); and the exasperation of a lonely African-American school teacher who despite being born and raised on the island still does not feel, and is not allowed to feel, like a native (“How Long Will You Tarry?”).

The six contemporary stories examine a variety of island lives, some of them Nantucket natives but others visitors for whom the island is either a last refuge or an existential prison. Along the way, we meet a carpenter whose wife deliberately jumped off the Nantucket to Hyannis ferry, drowning herself and her infant child (“Morning Meal”); a couple in their thirties who has not recovered, and will not recover, from a series of tragic miscarriages (“Beaten”); a retired businessman who feels thoroughly caught by his marriage to a dominating, materialistic woman (“Newfoundland”); a fortyish leader of ghost walks who is haunted by both a literal ghost and a communication from his former lover (“Haunted”); a Jamaican family trying to establish quasi-American lives for themselves on the island, an effort that a new tragedy at the mother’s workplace threatens to unhinge (“Managing Business”); and, finally, an American student who has given up on college and goes to Nantucket for a prearranged summer job only to find a different job there, one that forces him to reconsider everything he thought he understood about himself, his life, and the island (“Island Fog”).

The focus of every one of the eleven stories in the collection is on the characters populating them: their latent desires and disappointing pasts, their future hopes and drastic, misguided decisions.  These are stories, not treatises on American cultural history. Yet by gathering together in one place all these pieces, a provocative and even cutting picture of Nantucket—its physical beauty, its social tensions, its preening hypocrisies—inevitably arise, making Island Fog far greater than the sum of its gorgeous, sorrowful parts.

Buy, read, and discuss Island Fog

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About John Vanderslice John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas, where he also serves as associate editor of Toad Suck Review magazine. His fiction, poetry, essays, and one-act plays have appeared in Seattle ReviewLaurel Review, Sou’wester, CrazyhorseSouthern Humanities Review1966, Exquisite Corpse, and dozens of other journals. He has also published short stories in several fiction anthologies, including Appalachian Voice, Redacted StoryChick for a DayThe Best of the First Line: Editors Picks 2002-2006, and Tartts: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers.  His new book of short stories, Island Fog, published by Lavender Ink, is a linked collection, with every story set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.


My Thoughts:

From the opening chapters of the first story in this collection (“Guilty Look”) to the last words of the last story, I was hooked on John Vanderslice’s writing voice, and on his description of Nantucket as it developed from a small village to a thriving community. Admittedly, my own bias made it difficult for me to see a Quaker as a ‘bad guy’ (although all of Vanderslice’s characters are more complex than such a label would imply), and that made the first story a bit difficult for me, but the storytelling won out in the end, and I remained engaged.

The rest of the stories in this collection, linked by their setting and their populations of imperfect, all-too-human characters, were also fascinating, compelling reads. “Beaten,” which involved a couple who had suffered multiple miscarriages, struck particularly close to home for me (I’ve had two.)

If you’re one of those readers whose only knowledge of Nantucket comes from Elin Hilderbrand’s admittedly-addictive beachy novels with their interchangeable pastel-clad husbands and fantastic restaurants, this book will be a wake-up call to a much grittier, more realistic, and more diverse version of the island.

There’s room for both types of story, of course, and one doesn’t compete with the other at all, but given the choice, I’d pick Vanderslice because every single character felt three-dimensional, flawed, interesting, and really real to me, and because the glimpse at the long history of this community – from settlement to whaling mecca to tourist destination – was also a fascinating glimpse into a distinctly American culture.

This was my first introduction to Vanderslice’s work. I hope it won’t be my last.

Goes well with a steaming bowl of New England clam chowder, and a local micro-brew beer.


John’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour organized by TLC Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.

Monday, January 5th: The Year in Books

Tuesday, January 6th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Wednesday, January 7th: Books on the Table

Thursday, January 8th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Friday, January 9th: The Book Binder’s Daughter

Monday, January 12th: The Discerning Reader

Tuesday, January 13th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, January 14th: Lit and Life

Friday, January 16th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, January 20th: Bibliotica

Thursday, January 22nd: A Book Geek

Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, by S. R. Mallery (@sarahmallery1) – Review

About the book, Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads Sewing Can Be Dangerous

  • Publication Date: December 16, 2013
  • Publisher:Mockingbird Lane Press
  • Formats: eBook, Paperback, Audio Book
  • Pages:
  • Genre: Historical Fiction/Short Stories

The eleven long short stories in Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads combine history, mystery, action and/or romance, and range from drug trafficking using Guatemalan hand-woven wallets, to an Antebellum U.S. slave using codes in her quilts as a message system to freedom; from an ex-journalist and her Hopi Indian maid solving a cold case together involving Katchina spirits, to a couple hiding Christian passports in a comforter in Nazi Germany; from a wedding quilt curse dating back to the Salem Witchcraft Trials, to a mystery involving a young seamstress in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; from a 1980s Romeo and Juliet romance between a rising Wall Street financial star and an eclectic fiber artist, to a Haight-Asbury love affair between a professor and a beautiful macrami artist gone horribly askew, just to name a few.

Watch the trailer for Sewing Can Be Dangerous

Buy, read, and discuss Sewing Can Be Dangerous

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Buy the audio version of Sewing Can Be Dangerous

Amazon | Audible.com | iTunes


About the author, S. R. Mallery S.R. Mallery

S.R. Mallery has worn various hats in her life.

First, a classical/pop singer/composer, she moved on to the professional world of production art and calligraphy. Next came a long career as an award winning quilt artist/teacher and an ESL/Reading instructor. Her short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt.

Unexpected Gifts, her debut novel, is currently available on Amazon. Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, her collection of short stories, was released in Jan. 2014. Both books are from Mockingbird Lane Press.

Connect with S.R.

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


My Thoughts

I don’t sew. I mean, I can hem pants if I really have to, and I can sew a button on, or make basic curtains, but I don’t have the love of fabric that real sewists (my mother’s word) have. I grew up in a house, however, where going barefoot meant you’d probably end up impaled by a straight pin, or three, and background noise nearly always included the cozy hum of a sewing machine’s flywheel punctuated by my mother’s cursing whenever something didn’t go according to plan.

Despite not being a creator of fiber arts, myself, I have dabbled in crewel embroidery (and still do on rare occasions), I’ve tried to learn to knit (I had an excellent teacher, I am incapable of relaxing my grip enough), and I’m fascinated by quilting, and really will try it one day. The mostly-straight lines I can cope with, but quilting also involves math, and geometry was never my favorite subject.

Reading about sewing, and other kinds of fiber arts, however, is something I love to do, so when I had the chance to review Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, I asked for it in paperback, partly because I knew the short stories would make the perfect “bath book,” and partly because I knew I could pass it on to my mother. (It’s part of her Christmas present this year. Shhh! Don’t tell her!!)

I planned to read this book in the bath over a few days, but the first story hooked me so deeply that I was absorbed by Mallery’s prose and forgot to fill the tub. Also, like potato chips, you cannot (well, I cannot) read just one short story, so I had to keep going. Before I knew it, I’d read away a whole night, and only the fact that I didn’t have a bright enough light made me put this book down.

My favorite piece is the the second story, which is about quilts and curses, and appealed to my love of all things spooky and dark, but every single story is a gem – or, more accurately, a hand-sewn bead among a collection of hand-sewn beads. Mallery’s voice is clear and consistent even when moods and tones are radically different, and it was lovely having so many different women as protagonists. Many of these stories could easily be expanded into longer works, if the author chose to do so, but they also stand well in their current format.

Read this for yourself, even if you don’t sew. And buy a copy for a woman in your life who does sew, because she’ll love it.

Goes well with Bold dark coffee laced with egg nog and mince pie served slightly warm.


Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads Blog Tour Schedule Sewing Can Be Dangerous Blog Tour

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.

Monday, December 1
Review at Unshelfish

Tuesday, December 2
Review at Bibliotica

Wednesday, December 3
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, December 4
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews and More

Friday, December 5
Guest Post at What Is That Book About
Interview at Dianne Ascroft Blog

Monday, December 8
Review at WV Stitcher

Tuesday, December 9
Review at 100 Pages a Day – Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Wednesday, December 10
Review at A Book Geek

Thursday, December 11
Review at Book Nerd

Friday, December 12
Review at Based on a True Story

Monday, December 15
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, December 16
Review at Book Babe

Wednesday, December 17
Review at Just One More Chapter

Friday, December 19
Review at Book Drunkard

The Dunning Man, by Kevin Fortuna – Review

About the book, The Dunning Man The Dunning Man

• Paperback: 140 pages
Publisher: Lavender Ink (October 19, 2014)

The six stories in Kevin Fortuna’s hilarious and gripping debut story collection, The Dunning Man, feature anti-heroes who reject society’s rules, and often show a gritty, Irish American take on the worlds in which they live. Characters from all walks of life—a rogue hip-hop star, a blackjack dealing mom, a middle-aged drunk plowing through his inheritance, and an empty nester housewife trying to make peace with the past. They each exist in the here and now, living for what’s possible and what’s left—not what they’ve left behind. Redemption awaits all, but only along the rutted, gut-churning path of honest self-examination. Age quod agis.

Set in Atlantic City, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., the Hudson Valley and Manhattan, Fortuna’s stories depict the violent clash between society’s expectations and the chaotic arc of individual destiny. These are powerful tales of truth seekers imbued with larger-than-life personalities and the all-consuming need to find something worth seeking.

Buy, read, & discuss The Dunning Man


Amazon
| Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Kevin Fortuna

Kevin Fortuna lives in Cold Spring, New York. He obtained a Bachelors degree in English Literature from Georgetown University, where he graduated summa cum laude. He is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, the Quicksall Medal for Writing, a Fellowship in Fiction at the Prague Summer Writers Workshop and a Full Fellowship in Fiction at the University of New Orleans, where he received his MFA.


My Thoughts

I really enjoy short stories because they have to be so well crafted from start to finish or they just don’t work. Economy of phrase is essential, but not just economy, also precision, and style.

Kevin Fortuna’s collection of stories, The Dunning Man has all three.

I enjoyed all of the pieces in the book, but the first one, which took place en route to Atlantic City, resonated most with me, probably because I know the Academy Bus gates at Port Authority so well, and understood the frustration of the crowded queues for certain routes.

Every tale in the collection is absolutely worth the read, and what I particularly appreciated was that Fortuna’s voice changes slightly for each story, to better match the protagonist he’s depicting, but still remains discernable as being the same author writing. It’s a fine line, but it proves that his point of view is clear and strong, and I look forward to more from this author.

Goes well with A slice of Famous Ray’s pizza and a cold beer.


Kevin’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a book tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For the list of tour stops, see below, or click HERE.

Tuesday, October 28th: A Dream Within a Dream

Thursday, October 30th: Built by Story

Monday, November 3rd: The Book Binder’s Daughter

Monday, November 10th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Thursday, November 13th: Bibliotica

Monday, November 17th: Conceptual Reception

Tuesday, November 25th: guiltless reading

Tuesday, November 25th: Read a Latte

Friday, November 28th: Walking With Nora

Saturday, November 29th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf