Tag: Short Stories

an Other North American Stories

by Kel McDonald, Kate Ashwin and Alina Pete, editors

Eight stories from different indigenous cultures. I thought they would all be older fables, but some had a distinctly modern feel. It was a very uneven read for me. I didn’t enjoy the first few much and was going to put it back on my return stack as ‘abandoned’. But then ended up waiting for something so idly picked this up to read anyway. Not very impressed. They’re all heavily illustrated (graphic novel format), each one by a different artist and that was nice for variety. However the quality varied a lot. Some it just seemed to be talking heads, looking at each other over and over, so I had a hard time following what was actually happening (because it seemed that nothing did). Others had beautiful, decorative and elaborate pictures that were a joy to look at, even if the story itself was very short, or without much text.

Well. There’s an origin fable that involves “two-spirit” people (of both genders) being told to a trans child (who in the picture look far too old to be sitting on someone’s lap for storytelling). A Chickasaw story about animals wearing beautiful coats and some envy others’ and the rabbit Chokti gets into a competition with Otter and looses his glorious bushy tail. I was so confused through most of this story wondering why in all the pictures (until the end) Rabbit had a tail like a fox or squirrel- because it didn’t preface with any kind of statement like ‘this is how Rabbit lost his tail’ or ‘when all the animals had beautiful coats Rabbit had a long fluffy tail’. Maybe I shouldn’t have needed that pointed out to me, but apparently I did. I had similar issues with some of the other stories- where I felt like part of the tale was missing, or the illustrations weren’t clear. Several I just thought: eh, what was the point? I did kind of like ‘Into the Darkness’ even though that one also seemed a bit pointless. My two favorites were ‘Rougarou’ about a child who finds a monster in the forest that can’t be looked at, and discovers how it came to be that way, and how to restore it to human form. And ‘By the Light of the Moon’ which was just about the moon falling in love with Octopus Woman, pouring his light all over her but it also infused smaller creatures which became bioluminescent. That one had really cool artwork by Alina Pete.

The stories are from Cree, Ojibwe, Taíno (Arawak), Navajo, Métis and S’Klallam traditions. The book is part of a series- Cautionary Fables and Fairytales- there’s one of Asian stories, one of European, etc. According to other reviews, the previous compilations were mostly of scary stories, so this one was a disappointment to other readers for that reason too.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5
120 pages, 2022

More opinions:
No Flying No Tights
the Pullbox
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Tales from Around the World

by Gerald and Loretta Hausman

It’s just what the title says- a collection of dog stories sourced from many different cultures. The species featured include basenji, akita, husky, bloodhound, saluki, shar-pei, curly-coated retriever, spaniel, rottweiler and wolfhound. Most of the dogs are in a supportive role- or at least friendly to humans. There are origin stories of the beginning of the world, where dog brings fire to man, or introduces death. In one tale it is a coyote whose mistakes bring about good things. There are dogs who help young men meet and marry their loves, and dogs who steal the wife or earn the princess’ hand. There’s a desert dog who guards young men fleeing war. A dog and cat who retrieve a magic ring, a poodle who can shapeshift, and so many more. I didn’t expect so many of the dogs to be magic workers. These are all old tales but they were new to me. I liked the additional little explanations following each story, that had something about the origins of the myth, or history and characteristics of the dog breed. The artwork by Barry Moser is beautifully rich in color and expression.

Rating: 3/5
86 pages, 1999

by Jerry Spinelli

Warning for SPOILERS.

Four stories about kids whose lives are changed by finding a library card. You’d think I’d love this book, but I didn’t. The stories were all just a little odd, with a sense of something slightly magical or surreal happening with the library card. This didn’t draw me in with a sense of mystical fun, but made me feel puzzled and outside the story. Somehow I just couldn’t relate well. I know I’m not the target audience though . . .

“Mongoose”: two boys, close friends, run around town causing trouble. Weasel starts stealing stuff and egging Mongoose on to do the same- then spray-painting graffiti all over the place. And dreaming of someday owning a sports car. But then Mongoose goes into the library to look up a fact, and becomes fascinated by all the amazing things he can learn from books. So much so that he wants to share the trivia with everyone. The two start drifting apart. The story’s closing scene has Weasel alone, feeling like he owns the town since he quit going to school and roams around at will. But you get the distinct sense that it’s really Mongoose who will find the world opening to him.

“Brenda”: this one felt like a really forced fable. Girl is obsessed with television. The family participates in a week of NO TV, and Brenda thinks she will perish of boredom. She’s tormented by not knowing what’s happening on her favorite shows. Brenda dreams that she finds a book in a library that details her whole life, up to the point where she started watching TV all the time. Then it’s blank pages. So she rushes out to do things, experience life, and then comes back to see the pages in the book filling up with her story again.

“Sonesray” lives out of an old car with his uncle since his mother died, constantly moving from town to town. The uncle can get and hold jobs, but the boy winds up in so much trouble they always have to leave. Sonesray is always eyeing the interactions of other children with their mothers in public, secretly missing and longing for his own mother. At the end of the story he miraculously encounters a book his mother used to read to him as a child- in a children’s library storytime- and it’s not a children’s book, but an adult romance novel.

“April Mendez”: a girl lives on a mushroom farm and gets teased for it. And she hates the smell. One day trying to escape stuff she walks as far as she can and then jumps on a strange bus. It’s a bookmobile that’s been hijacked by an angry teenager. Lots of interaction between the two- April learns why the older girl is running away, then they reluctantly exchange info (encouraged by the bus driver/librarian) and wind up being pen pals.

The mushroom farm details were fun, for being different. And one story had a boy hearing about how his mother once tried out old-fashioned roller skates on the street. She slid out of control bouncing from telephone pole to doorframe etc, while her companion took to it right away and just cruised up and down. Amusing. I didn’t at all expect to encounter roller skates in this book!

Rating: 2/5
150 pages, 1997

More opinions:
Elena Reads
anyone else?

True Stories of the Horses We Rescue and the Horses Who Rescue Us

by Callie Smith Grant

The stories in this book are pretty short- most just a few pages long, all with the theme of being rescued. Wide variety of situations and types, the common thread being (of course) horses, and that all the authors are women. They’re all good stories, that warm your heart. Some are about horses taken from abusive or neglectful situations, and brought back to health. One is about a horse adopted from the BLM program that rounds up mustangs to control the population numbers. There are horses with behavior problems that needed careful re-schooling, unhappy or unwell children and women who were helped by working with a horse, old horses that needed a companion in their retirement, younger ones that just hadn’t found quite the right owner yet, and so on. It was nice to see that not all the stories had a happy ending for the writer, per se. There was more than one story about a struggle to work with a certain horse, and it just wasn’t going well, so finally they sold the horse or found it a new home, all to the better. It’s not all strictly horses, either- there are quite a few donkeys featured, and one zebra! The people are all different too- from new riders to experienced ones, competitive professionals and those who simply enjoy trail rides. There are women who were on horseback since a young age, and others who learned it as a new skill well into adulthood. I liked all the stories, I just didn’t find them very memorable- when done reading, I couldn’t put my finger on any one in particular to summarize for you in detail. But that’s okay, it’s staying on my shelf for another read someday.

I received my copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5
192 pages, 2023

by Ben K. Green

More short stories about cowboy work by one of my favorite authors. The accounts are always interesting, sometimes funny, engaging and well-told all around. In this case though, the focus isn’t horses, it’s cattle. The stories are from a time period when as a young man, the author frequently took jobs hunting wild cattle that had eluded roundups, hiding in thick brush and ravines. So a lot of the stories are about how he outsmarted them, which I really enjoy. Also about his dealings with other cattlemen, traders and bankers (so often about making a deal or outsmarting other people, too). About how he worked with his horses, treated minor wounds, camped out on the range, dealt with tough situations. Not for the squeamish- one time a bull got his leg with its horn, and it started to fester. Instead of going into town to find a doctor, he seared the wound with hot metal- held in the campfire. Yikes. Also sometimes the cattle are not treated too nicely– I understand these were different times, and it’s one man on a horse trying to outmaneuver and subdue a large, belligerent and dangerously strong bovine. Some of them had very nasty tempers and were very determined to avoid capture. It’s one thing to read about him tying them up short and sawing off the tips of the horns to make his job safer. It’s quite another to read about things like whittling little pegs and piercing holes in the cows’ eyelids to force them to keep their eyes open so they’ll be afraid to get near brush on the side of the road or trail, and thus become more docile and easy to handle. (He says he had no qualms about doing this because he knew well they would kill him and his horse in a flash if they got the chance, and the piercings healed up quick enough once the cattle were confined in the stockyards and the pegs removed. And I think he only did this once, with some particularly difficult and volatile animals. But still, hard to read).

Well, I found a lot of it interesting, reading how he would utilize the landscape, the weather, and his knowledge of bovine behavior to do his job, usually solo (sometimes he had assistants or other help, but often not). There’s also some musings on how the beef industry and cattle breeding changed over the decades, how mechanized equipment affected his job as a cowboy, and small details about things like what type of rope is good for what task, etc. I enjoy Ben K. Green for an easy, lively read any day- right on par there with Gerald Durrell in my book (delivery and subject matter a bit different, but my pleasure in reading them very much of the same quality). My personal copy has the cover show top left of this post, but I also like this one which I found online, and the many illustrations by that artist Lorence Bjorklund in the interior. Most of the stories in here are good long chapters, some are just a few pages.

Rating: 3/5
306 pages, 1969

by Ben K. Green

Sequel to Horse Tradin’, an old favorite of mine. Can’t believe I let this one sit so long on my shelf unread. Amusing and interesting stories about horse and mule trading in Texas, just before automobiles started to replace them for ranch and farming work. The main character in the book (I’m assuming it was the author, I get the impression these stories are semi-autobiographical if not outright fact) is a young man but knows livestock well and uses his smarts to get the better of most horse deals and sales he makes, although sometimes the tables are turned on him. Which only makes the reader chuckle, because he well deserved it- considering how many people he knowingly sold half-broken or problem horses. It really is clever the way he masked or avoided mentioning these issues when making a sale. But you have to feel bad for the folks on the receiving end. On the other hand, the times he was able to change an animal’s behavior really interested me, for what it revealed about both equine intelligence and how the man used that knowledge.

Unfortunately in a lot of cases his remedies sounded harsh. One reviewer elsewhere expressed their opinion that this book is “mean-spirited” and I know what they’re getting at. Getting a horse to quit lying down in a stream and roll on him by shoving its head underwater until it chokes, or curing a horse of pulling back on a rope by suddenly cutting the line and letting it fall backwards off a steep bank into a river, are just two examples. There was also a story about a little girl with legs weakened from a long case of illness in bed- the doctor confided to Ben that he felt the parents had overdone it in their care for the girl, not letting her get up and use her legs to strengthen them again. Ben put a mare in a pasture backing up on the girl’s yard- this horse had foundered and couldn’t walk well. He encouraged the girl to hobble on her crutches alongside the horse leading it to water and such, mighty pleased with himself to see the girl grow stronger and the horse slowly improve as well. Then weeks later he decides it’s finally time to trim the horse’s badly overgrown hooves. I was a bit taken aback at that. Why didn’t he fix the mare’s feet far sooner? I’m not that knowledgable about the animals- maybe it’s a case where they had to recover to a certain point before they could be trimmed? but I got the impression he just didn’t bother to do it yet. Anyway, most of the stories are good fun and plenty interesting if you like reading about animal behavior and what things were like about a hundred years ago.

Rating: 3/5
255 pages, 1970

Volume 2

by W. Somerset Maugham

I really enjoyed these short stories- except for the ones I skipped! More on that in a moment. My opinion of Somerset Maugham’s writing remains the same: his characters are interesting, the setup slow but detailed and deliberate, the endings often leave you wondering something or chuckling at an irony, very satisfying either way. Most have some shrewd observations on human nature. All very well-written. I’d like to find the other half of this collection, but now think I’ll probably get some overlap, as the fourth volume of collected stories I read earlier, was from a different compliation.

The stories in this book were set in England, a few about individuals who travelled abroad, some sounded like the narrator was Maugham himself- staying in a hotel, or talking to someone on a train journey. Often the first few pages would tell how he met someone, and then that someone would relate the interesting story about a friend or acquaintance. They are stories of relationships, of people living in a manner that defies their social class or expectations, of characters that are happy when everyone expects them to be miserable, or unhappy in what look like perfect circumstances from the outside. There’s a story about a popular female writer, all highbrow and artistic, who subtly snubs her quiet husband in the background- but in the end it turns out he does what he likes and is the better for it. Another is about a young man whose wealthy family has educated him to take a position in politics, but all he wants to do is be a professional pianist. There’s an apparently contentedly married woman who writes a very popular book of poetry, the husband is befuddled by it because he doesn’t understand poetry, but when he finally reads it to see what all the fuss is about, realizes it’s telling the story of an affair his wife had. In another, an important man in government is troubled by dreams where he’s in terribly embarrassing situations, and then the next day something always occurs which convinces him another person knows of the embarrassment- was it real? or just coincidence? My favorite was probably the story of the vicar who couldn’t read or write- in fact I re-told it (in much simplified form) to my husband on a drive.

The stories I skipped- a half dozen in the middle of the book- are probably the ones that would interest other readers most. They were all about a character named Ashenden, who is a spy. A quiet, aloof man who does his assignments never really knowing how the information he gathers relates to the larger picture. Each story is about some incident or mission he goes on. I read the first two in here, realized that espionage (for some reason I can never explain) actually bores me, and started skipping them- it only takes half a page to realize it’s an Ashenden story. I did read in entirety the one where he’s in a sanatorium recovering his health, more about the other patients around him and their relationships, than it is about himself actually.

Borrowed from my brother-in-law.

Rating: 4/5
518 pages, 1951

50 Dispatches from the New Farmer's Movement

by Zoë Ida Bradbury, Severine von Tscharner Fleming and Paula Manalo (editors)

Just the kind of book to get me hopeful and interested in gardening again, after a difficult summer. (I’m mostly ripping out diseased and bug-ridden plants now, hoping for better next spring). This book is a collection of thoughtful essays – just a few pages each- by small farmers new to the endeavor. From young couples to those starting out in their forties and fifties. People who inherited a small family farm or scraped together whatever they had to buy a piece of land or worked on leased soil not their own. Every kind of organization from tight-knit groups of volunteers and employees, to cooperative community workings, to a partnership that refuses to do anything requiring them to go beyond the power of their two pairs of hands. What they have in common is the effort put into growing good food. And what an effort it is. Economics, capricious weather, equipment troubles, financing woes, you name it. Then there’s the backbreaking work itself. The aggravating realities that most small farmers face, needing an off-the-farm job to make things work. The ideals they hold, the reasons they’re committed to keeping their operations small, to growing organic, to selling local. Mishaps, neighbor troubles, pest issues, struggles to deal with livestock as a first-timer- it’s all in here. Such a myriad of voices, but all on a subject I’ve been deeply interested in for a long time. The more I read about it the more I doubt I’d make it as an actual farmer, even though I love putting my hands in the soil and doing the hard work- so much of it is a balance of running a business and staying ahead of trends, there’s skills way beyond me and it’s all I can do to find time and solve the problems my little garden has! But I’m full of admiration for what these people have picked up, in the hardest time ever it seems. I’m inspired now to go to my local farmer’s market again – haven’t been there in a long time.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
256 pages, 2012

Transgender Teens Speak Out

by Susan Kuklin

This book has the stories of six transgender teenagers, narrated in their own words, from interviews with the author. Four of them contain photographs, a fifth has pictures that don’t show the face, and the sixth one requested no images at all. They were all in different stages of the transition process when the book was written. Some male to female, some female to male. One teen was non-binary and another intersex (very interesting to me, was reading the part where they described several doctors’ tests that showed they had a physiology not quite male or female, but literally something inbetween). These stories are so individual. Reading them will make you realize that of course, trans kids don’t fit any stereotype (no more than anyone else does!) Some of them came from well balanced, supportive families. Others struggled with bullying at school, family members who refused to speak to them, or couldn’t accept it when their child came out. Some had caring friends, others got the cold shoulder and had to forge new relationships. There’s kids in here who knew they were different from a very young age, and others who only realized it when they hit puberty. Their awareness and decisions on what to do about it all took different paths, too. One teen delves a lot into definition of words and muses on the injustice of how society defines things. Then you read about another who doesn’t care about that stuff at all, just wants to be a person happy in their own skin. That’s the common thread here. How they felt different than what they looked on the outside, and needed something to change about that. And how things became better, when that finally happened. For the most part.

There’s also an interview in the back, with a doctor who works at a trans clinic in New York. Only one chapter felt awkward to me, the final one, where the author interviewed the teen at a theater venue where he was performing. It didn’t feel as coherent and thorough as the other sections. Honestly, a few of the attitudes and opinions in this book took me by surprise, but overall I think it’s a great insight into what teens who don’t fit the binary role go through. What their daily lives, relationships with family and friends, and struggles to fit in are like. They just want to be themselves.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
182 pages, 2014

More opinions: Lindy Reads and Reviews
anyone else?

by Karen Russell

I was looking forward to this one, but ended up disappointed. Read the last story (which gave the book its title) first. It’s about a group of girls from a werewolf pack who are being assimilated into human society by a bunch of nuns. It was a great comparative read to Into That Forest, especially the girls’ wolflike behavior- pushing their ears into positions to communicate, lifting their hair up with hands to be like bristling fur. Made me think of Julie. It had interesting conflicts (one girl refuses to follow the nuns’ teachings and becomes outcast by the other girls, who are all in their way trying to adjust), and a satisfying enough ending. The rest of the stories in this book, well they just didn’t work for me. They were like urban fantasy gone feral, weird and twisted in a unique way. Something about them all reminded me of Geek Love (which personally, is not really a good thing). Just did not appeal here.

I tried, though. But in the end I only read two stories all the way through: the titular one about the wolf-girls, and one in the middle called “from Children’s Reminisces of the Westward Migration” about a pioneer family traveling in a wagon train- and the father was a minotaur, pulling his own wagon. I actually liked that one, strange as it was. The rest, couldn’t get more than a few pages in. There’s a family living in a Florida swamp with two sisters who wrestle alligators, an overnight camp for people with odd sleep disturbances, a community of retired people who live in decrepit houseboats and sign up with a program to receive visits from delinquent teenagers, among other strange settings. Just too strange and dark for me.

Rating: Abandoned
242 pages, 2006

More opinions:
Shelf Love
Vulpes Libris
The Reading Life
anyone else?

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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