Quick Reads

I was positively bombarded with excellent reading material this past week. I finished The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories, staying up until four in the morning, then read Michael Chabon's charming novel Gentlemen of the Road. That was a terrific read, about eighty kinds of fun all wrapped up in one slim novel. Then I zipped through the next book in the Princess Diaries series, the one where Mia wants to go to the prom but her boyfriend doesn't, and the prom gets cancelled because of a strike her best friend organizes, which was, if possible, even more fun than Gentlemen of the Road, albeit in a totally different way. Then I started Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, which I got through the Tor free book promotion. I was immersed in that when I got another email from Small Beer Press announcing that they were giving away another short story collection, this one by Maureen F. McHugh, called Mothers and Other Monsters. This is pretty impressive, especially since they released it only one week after their last giveaway. So I put Mistborn on hold and jumped into the new short story collection, partly because it's a quick read at less than 200 pages. But I also needed something to read when I'm away from my computer, so I finished Stephen King's detective story, The Colorado Kid, which was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because endings aren't his strong suit.

In his note at the end of Gentlemen of the Road Michael Chabon writes that the working title for the book was Jews with Swords, but he eventually abandoned that name because most people couldn't take it seriously. Instead of imagining historical Jews who have defended themselves with bladed weapons for thousands of years, he says we imagine Uncle Manny with his pants up to his armpits swinging from the chandeliers. He's got a point, but the moment you open the book and read so much as the table of contents all thoughts of Uncle Manny will fly right out of your head. You may think of A Thousand Nights and a Night or any of Andrew Lang's colored fairy tale collections, or any of a thousand adventure stories written in a bygone day but you won't be reminded of anything modern. The book tells the story of two old friends and thieves, Zelikman and Amram, whose fortunes and plans change when they end up in charge of a boy called Faliq, who is desperately trying to avenge his father's death. Although the two try very hard to keep Faliq from his suicidal mission events conspire against them and they end up on a march with a ragtag army. I loved this book so much that I handed it off to my middle son as soon as I finished it and, despite the fact that he should be studying for finals, I keep asking him if he's read it yet. It's possible that this novel may not bring about household peace, but it's got elephants, the plague, Vikings, scoundrels, a stallion descended from one the Prophet's mares, fighting and mayhem in it. How could I not want to pass it along? The book started as a serial that ran in the New York Times Magazine. You can read part one here.

Mothers and Other Monsters is aptly named. There are plenty of mothers in it, stepmothers struggling to find a balance in their new lives, mothers with dementia, mothers with partners with dementia, mothers with sick children, mothers who are sick themselves, tired mothers, angry mothers and one mother who discovers a secret power when she just can't face putting the groceries away again. I'm not sure if there are any actual monsters but there are certainly monstrous situations that in a perfect world wouldn't exist. Quite a lot of the stories deal with illness, devastating illness that brings pain to entire families. While many of the stories are grim, they are also powerful and compelling.

Stories I particularly liked include Wicked, which is a piece of flash fiction about the mother with the groceries. Like all good flash fiction it packs a tremendous amount into just a few words. Nekroplis is a detailed piece about a girl who lives in an Islamic society set far in the future who has complicated feelings towards another member of the household where she works. At first she is disgusted by this construct, an artificial creation who looks a lot like her brother, but as she gets to know him she starts to see him differently. It's a beautiful story and I would love to see these characters again, maybe in a novel.

You can download your copy here. Mothers and Other Monsters is released as a free download under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

The Colorado Kid, by Stephen King is an unexplained mystery story told by two ancient newspapermen to their summer intern, a very bright young lady who is thinking about staying beyond the summer. By telling her the story they're also bonding with her and learning more about some of her characteristics, including curiosity and puzzle solving. Like much of Mr. King's work, the novel is an engaging read with intriguing characters but it's very different from most of his work, not so much because there's nothing supernatural in it but because it's only 184 pages long. I think I've read prologues of his that were longer. You can read an excerpt here.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from The Editor, who watched the movie version of a famous videogame. "Silent Hill scared the deadline out of me. What a great ending it has, as mom and daughter go from the hellish radioactive mist of Silent Hill to the natural mist of foggy morning back home where dad is waiting-- only in dad's world it is a bright clear day and he never sees them!" Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.