The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

  • the assassination of marg. thatcher (sept)Title:  The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
  • Author:  Hilary Mantel
  • Genre:  Short Stories
  • Published:  September 2014 – Henry Holt
  • Source:  Publisher

Publishers Description:  One of the most accomplished, acclaimed, and garlanded writers, Hilary Mantel delivers a brilliant collection of contemporary stories

In The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel’s trademark gifts of penetrating characterization, unsparing eye, and rascally intelligence are once again fully on display.

Stories of dislocation and family fracture, of whimsical infidelities and sudden deaths with sinister causes, brilliantly unsettle the reader in that unmistakably Mantel way.

Cutting to the core of human experience, Mantel brutally and acutely writes about marriage, class, family, and sex. Unpredictable, diverse, and sometimes shocking, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher displays a magnificent writer at the peak of her powers.

My brief take:  I want to begin with a disclaimer: I haven’t read any short story collections that wowed me so I tend to avoid reading them. Why did I accept a review copy of Hilary Mantel’s latest collection? Because I haven’t read her books and wanted to sample her writing. In hindsight, I probably should have read a chapter or two in one of her chunky historical fiction novels. I like historical fiction. At any rate, all of the stories in the collection are immensely readable. If pressed to name a favorite in this collection I’d say it was How Shall I Know You? in which an author honors a commitment to a book group despite being quite ill.

The title story was not included in my review copy (embargoed until publication date) so I can’t speak to that.

I think if you enjoy the author and short stories you’ll probably like this collection.

It is also available in audiobook from Macmillan Audio

 

Waking Kate by Sarah Addison Allen

waking kate

  • Title:  Waking Kate
  • Author:  Sarah Addison Allen
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction; Short Story
  • Published:  December 2013 – St. Martin’s Press
  • Source:  Free download

Synopsis:  From the beloved author of Garden Spells, comes Waking Kate, a story about a woman who soon will face an unforseen change in her life. One sticky summer day as Kate is waiting for her husband to come home from his bicycle shop, she spots her distinguished neighbor returning from his last day of work after eighty-six years at Atlanta’s oldest men’s clothing store. Over a cup of butter coffee, he tells Kate a story of love and heartbreak that makes her remember her past, question her present, and wonder what the future will bring.

My take:  This short story from Sarah Addison Allen (one of my favorite authors) serves to whet the appetite for her forthcoming novel Lost Lake. And that it did! There is something about her writing that mesmerizes me. Her descriptions of setting and characters draw me in completely. I can’t wait to find out what happens next to Kate and her daughter in Lost Lake. I won’t have to wait long because it publishes in a few weeks. 

Last Chance Summer: A Short Story by Hope Ramsay

last chance summer

  • Title:  Last Chance Summer: A Short Story
  • Author:  Hope Ramsay
  • Genre:  Contemporary Romance; Series
  • Published:  August 2013 – Forever Yours
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  It wouldn’t be summer without the Watermelon Festival, and single mom Amanda Wright is looking forward to a carefree day eating funnel cakes and sipping sweet tea. But with her inquisitive son and elderly grandmother in tow, she’s not in the mood for carnival rides or the kissing booth, until she hears a charming, funny voice over the loudspeaker. 

Grant Trumbull is the new DJ at the local radio station, and his deep, booming cadence has all the ladies of the church auxiliary atwitter. Even without seeing his face, Amanda can’t help but wonder if he’s the one for her. When she finally comes face to face with the man behind the mic, summer is about to get a whole lot hotter in little Last Chance, South Carolina. (publisher)

My take:  Last Chance Summer is a short story about Amanda Wright, her young son, and her grandmother who spend the day at the Watermelon Festival. It’s an annual event that the community of Last Chance, South Carolina look forward to the entire year.

When Amanda’s grandmother and then her son both go missing Amanda is beside herself with worry. Everyone looks for the pair and the new radio DJ who’s been broadcasting at the Festival all morning becomes part of the search. Like it or not, Amanda is about to meet the man with the attractive voice on the radio.

This is a very short story that ends on an abrupt, high note. Last Chance Summer is like a cold glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of the Last Chance series.

News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh

news from heaven

  • Title:  News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories
  • Author:  Jennifer Haigh
  • Genre:  Short Stories
  • Published:  (expected) January 29, 2013 – Harper
  • Source:  Review copy from Harper

Synopsis: Set in Bakerton, Pennsylvania— the company town that was the setting of Jennifer Haigh’s award-winning bestseller Baker TowersNews from Heaven explores how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become. Through a series of connected stories, Haigh brilliantly portrays this close-knit community from its heyday during two world wars to its decline in the final years of the twentieth century. Exploring themes of restlessness, regret, redemption and acceptance, she depicts men and women of different generations shaped by dreams and haunted by disappointments.  A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City. A long-lost brother makes an unexpected and tragic homecoming. A woman must come to terms with a heartbreaking loss when she discovers a shocking family secret. A solitary middle-aged woman tastes unexpected love when a young man returns to town. And characters familiar to fans of Baker Towers—indomitable Joyce Novak, her eccentric sister Dorothy, and their mysterious younger brother Sandy—return for an encore performance. Written with poignant realism, News from Heaven deftly captures our desire for escape and our need for connection, and reveals the enduring hold of a past that remains ever present in the lives of ordinary people struggling to understand themselves and define their place in the world. 

My take:  I shouldn’t be surprised that Jennifer Haigh’s collection of short stories made me rethink my automatic response to the format. Normally I don’t care for them at all. I find them bleak, depressing, and a chore to read. Not so with News From Heaven. Reading each story was like paging through a scrapbook. There’s history, relationships, celebrations, heartbreak, regrets, and even a bit of optimism. 

Bakerton, Pennsylvania was home to the coal mine that employed most of the men from town. Once the mine was mined out the jobs were gone and the town was thrown into hard times. Haigh’s connected stories cover the ups and downs of the townspeople – from the  mine owners to the workers and everyone in between.

I grew up in a small town so I could identify with the aspect that Joyce in “Desiderata” acknowledged of everyone knowing your story – or at least thinking they know. I don’t live there anymore so they don’t know the rest of my story. That’s not the case with the older residents in Bakerton. More than likely they were born there, raised families, and will eventually die there. Their complete stories known to all.

My favorite story (if I must choose one) was Broken Star. It’s about Regina, a girl in her early teens, and the summer her young aunt and cousin came to visit.  I also liked the final story in the collection: Desiderata. The high school principal died a few months earlier and his wife is sorting through his things. Poignant, relatable, uplifting. Really, though, I enjoyed each story.

Jennifer Haigh is one of my favorite authors. I know it’s only January but I expect News From Heaven to be on my 2013 Favorite Books list. It was a pleasure to read.

Note:  I read Baker Towers several years ago (the month it was published) and although I remembered the general story there was a lot I forgot. If you haven’t read Baker Towers I recommend doing so before News From Heaven. It’s not imperative but it could help in your overall enjoyment of these connected stories.

Reading William Trevor

My daughter gave me William Trevor’s Selected Stories for Christmas a couple of years ago. I put it on the bookshelf and then forgot about it. So. I’m going to make it a goal to read the collection in 2012. I’ll list the title here as I read each story and then do a wrap-up at the end of the year.

About William Trevor (from the book cover): William Trevor was born in Middletown, County Cork, in 1928 and spent his childhood in provincial Ireland. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin. He is the author of fourteen novels and twelve collections of short stories and has won many prizes, including the Hawthornden Prize, the Yorkshire Post Book of the Year and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He lives in Devon, England.

♦  ♦  ♦

1. The Piano Tuner’s Wives

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Short Story: The Cupcake Witch by Sharon Galligar Chance

Title:  The Cupcake Witch

Author:  Sharon Galligar Chance

Genre:  Short Story

Published:  October 2011

My take:  Summer Garner owns the Sweet Tops bakery. Her cupcakes are known for the effect they have on anyone who eats one – it’s magical! Summer senses that change is in the air so she’s not surprised when she discovers that customer Nick Wilson is a private investigator sent to check out her shop. What she doesn’t know is who sent him and why.

The Cupcake Witch is a cute short story. Sharon Galligar Chance’s descriptions created an exact picture in my mind of the shop, the characters, and the cupcakes. I seriously wanted to find a bakery and indulge my sweet tooth while reading!

The story itself is sweet and the premise is fun. As a reader I’d love to see it developed more – possibly as a cozy novel but for now it was a great way to spend time in a bakery without the calories :)

Source:  I bought it

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Bookflap: From the internationally best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a superbly crafted new work of fiction: eight stories – longer and more emotionally complex than any she has yet written – that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they enter the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers.

Up until now I’d never met a book of short stories that I liked. Up until now. I read Unaccustomed Earth over two days. The final three (they are linked) took my breath away. I think this collection deserves all the acclaim it has received.

The Whore’s Child and Other Stories by Richard Russo

The Whore's Child by Richard Russo: Book Cover

Back of the book: To this irresistible debut collection of short stories, Richard Russo brings the same bittersweet wit, deep knowledge of human nature, and spellbinding narrative gifts that distinguish his bestselling novels. His themes are the imperfect bargains of marriage; the discoveries and disillusionments of childhood; the unwinnable battles men and women insist on fighting with the past.
Even my favorite author couldn’t make me a fan of the short story. That said, I was intrigued by The Whore’s Child which is about a nun who attends a college Fiction class (without enrolling) and writes about how she ended up at a convent. I think Poison is a great idea for a book. Another story, The Farther You Go, was worked into Russo’s book Straight Man (if I remember correctly). I really liked that book (much more than the short story). My issue with this form is I’m always left wanting more – that there’s something missing. My problem, I know.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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In the town of Crosby, Maine lives a woman named Olive Kitteridge. She’s a tough nut and most people avoid contact with her. She’s a retired 7th grade math teacher and she taught many of the people of Crosby. This book of linked stories (yes, I read another book of short stories!) involve Olive in one way or another. To quote the book jacket: “As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life – sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition – it’s conflicts, it’s tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.”
I enjoyed reading this book if for no other reason than to see how Olive would figure into each story. I found several stories depressing, yet thought provoking. I’m still not in love with short stories but this book was better than the other collections I’ve read in the past several weeks.
Olive Kitteridge would be a good book club selection. Discussion could go in so many directions.

The Hill Road by Patrick O’Keeffe

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I’ve concluded the month of March with another book about Ireland. The Hill Road consists of four short stories that are set in the rural southwest of Ireland. Here I go again describing a book as mostly bleak. That said, O’Keeffe’s writing is very good. He had me drawing parallels to my own life – especially the car ride to Sunday Mass in the story “The Hill Road”.