Short Stories

Book Review: Ajax Penumbra 1969

Ajax Penumbra 1969
Author: 
Sloan, Robin
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

As I said in my review of Sourdough , I absolutely adored Robin Sloan's debut work, Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore. Since Sourdough didn't necessarily sate my appetite, I found Ajax Penumbra 1969 to be a light snack that brought me back into the world created by Sloan. Acting as a bit of a short story/novella prequel to the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 still maintains the themes common in Sloan's work: mainly, the combination and juxtaposition of analog and digital technology. In this case, the reader just happens to come across this dichotomy in 1969.

Following the titular character from the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 gives the origins of this mysterious character as he searches for answers and eventually ends up in San Francisco at a little 24-hour bookstore. The following mystery and intrigue are what I would expect from such a story, but the inclusion of the budding technological aspects of the late 1960's helped to show that not only was this character finding his way to an eventual life filled with books, but technology's infancy already had much potential at this early stage of development.

It's a little difficult to say much about this short story/novella since it didn't even take a full two hours to listen to. At any rate, it's a fun little side story for those who had picked up Sloan's first work and fell in love with the ideas and characters presented therein. While not necessarily a book that most people would pick up and read without having already read Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, Ajax Penumbra 1969 is required reading for anyone like myself who has become enamored with Sloan's writing style over the last few years.

A fitting prequel to the events of Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, I give Ajax Penumbra 1969 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Author: 
Rowling, J.K.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

"The Tales of Beedle the Bard" is a collection of bedtime stories from the Wizarding World, with commentary from Albus Dumbledore in between. This book was amazing! I loved getting a new perspective of the Wizarding World, even after the end of the Harry Potter series. I also enjoyed getting to read the stories that were mentioned in the series, such as Babbitty Rabbitty and the Cackling Stump. It is like a little taste of Hogwarts that will make you homesick. Each story is captivating and full of J.K. Rowling's trademark wit.
I would recommend this to people who love Harry Potter and want to return to the Wizarding World one more time.
Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: 
Gillian P.

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies
Author: 
Lahiri, Jhumpa
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This book was beautiful in the variety of characters portrayed in the short stories. All had a common thread of India and Indian culture, but each story was in a class of its own. It's hard for an author to really dig deep in short stories, but there is depth in these. There were a few that ended abruptly, but I loved each and every one of them and I learned a lot about Indian culture.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies
Author: 
Lahiri, Jhumpa
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories that reveal the immense cultural differences between America and India. Jhumpa Lahiri writes with such elegance that each individual story evokes a wide variety of emotions. My favorite part of this book is that all the stories come together to form a well-developed image of life in India compared to life in America. I also like that it does not portray one lifestyle as better than the other; rather, it just highlights the differences. Even in short stories, Jhumpa Lahiri has the ability of putting the reader in another person's shoes and immersing them in different cultures. Because of the beautiful writing, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in different cultures.

Reviewer's Name: 
Sabrina J.

Book Review: The Cask of Amontillado

The Cask of Amontillado
Author: 
Poe, Edgar Allan
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This isn’t a full length book but rather a short piece of writing - the first I read of Poe’s but by far the most entertaining. The piece is set in an unnamed Italian city during the Carnival season and depicts the protagonist, Montresor, inviting Fortunato, a former friend, to a wine tasting in his cellar. Fortunato previously insulted Montresor and this invitation isn’t one of forgiveness, but revenge. The language isn’t difficult to understand as most pieces from the 1800's are and there isn’t any research needed to be done beforehand in order to read this piece. The Cask of Amontillado possesses a dark, morbid theme which is entertaining depending on the audiences interests, for example, if increasingly horrifying character behavior is something that surprises you. I felt a range of emotions from suspicious to terrified throughout the piece and if there are any audiobooks you can get your hands on, that definitely assists in terms of establishing a more realistic setting. When I listened to the audiobook, echoes of their voices and droplets of water dripping from the ceiling of the damp cellar were included to contribute to an overall eeriness.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Isabella W.

Book Review: Holidays on Ice

Holidays on Ice
Author: 
Sedaris, David
Rating: 
1 star = Yuck!
Review: 

I listened to this book, most of which was read in a nasally, whiny voice. The initial stories about working as an elf at Christmas-time had tears of laughter pouring out of my eyes, Unfortunately, the book rapidly went downhill. This satire started out funny, but it kept going too long as if the author didn't know when to end the story. There were also some disturbing images that added absolutely nothing. The stories were sarcastic, but the bitterness in them really turned me off. Can't recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: 
Robin

Book Review: The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried
Author: 
Tim O'Brien
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories, written by the protagonist (Tim O’Brien), of self reflection about his experiences during the Vietnam War. O’Brien itemizes a list of the things, both tangible and intangible, that members of his platoon have brought with them to war. The plot follows the fate of the Alpha Company members both during and after the war, as well as adding O’Brien’s personal comments on the events he transcribes.

This book humanizes war. It’s no longer one side versus another, but actual people with lives and stories beyond the war. I really enjoy the style O’Brien uses, inserting himself into the story gives the novel verisimilitude. This book is very unlike books I normally read, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much it made me think.

Reviewer's Name: 
Emma

Book Review: Welcome to the Monkey House

Welcome to the Monkey House
Author: 
Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Much like short story anthologies by a single author (see Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors and Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun ), Welcome to the Monkey House is both quintessentially a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s biting wit and satire as well as an exploration of other genres not often associated with Vonnegut’s style. Fans of Vonnegut will likely have already read some of these short stories (like “EPICAC” and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”), but some of the other stories might have been missed and for a good reason.

Overall, Welcome to the Monkey House is a fantastic set of stories, but a few of them fail to have the impact to make them memorable. Granted, these stories are few and far between, and help to break up the well-written social commentaries presented in “Harrison Bergeron” and the titular “Welcome to the Monkey House.” Vonnegut’s ability to show the slippery slope of such ideas as “everyone is equal” and “sex is bad,” respectively, is just as poignant in short form as it is in his novels. The fusion of technology in these stories might seem dated by today’s standards, but they do reveal that Vonnegut was, inherently, a science-fiction writer.

What this collection does well is show that Vonnegut understood the importance of the characters in a story. One of the most entertaining in this collection was “Who Am I This Time?” which contained characters at such extremes of human expression as to be completely unrealistic but somehow relatable and entertaining. Stories like this, which don’t necessarily follow the political or societal commentary that the other stories provide, are nice breathers that give the reader a smile instead of drilling thought-provoking ideas into their skulls. It’s this balance that truly makes Welcome to the Monkey House a must-read.

Vonnegut, true to form as well as outside his element, I give Welcome to the Monkey House 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: Machine of Death

Machine of Death
Author: 
North, Ryan
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The concept is simple: a machine takes your blood and spits out a card with the means of your demise printed on it. In this collection of short stories, a variety of authors explore what this truly means for individuals, as well as society as a whole. Based off an idea by Ryan North (author of “Dinosaur Comics”), this anthology has plenty of different approaches to the concept that a machine could predict how a person will die. However, many of these ideas hit upon the same concepts and social implications, making the whole thought exercise seem redundant by the end of the book.

Part of me felt the idea itself was a little derivative of Death Note, but with a more ambiguous set of constraints. Each of the short stories included in this anthology had some unique twist on the idea, ranging from humor to romance to horror. Still, every author tended to agree: a machine of death would bring about a dystopian future in some form or other. From governments requiring a “death reading” to mitigate any national disasters to a school needing to know how their prospective students will die so they can save face, the real enemies of this idea tended to be the bureaucracies of humanity.

While I honestly enjoyed the stories included in this anthology, they all seemed to suffer from the “a priori problem.” With each story titled with some way to die, you half-expect the story’s main character to end via that method. The intrigue is more in the how and when; thus providing interest to the story despite practically knowing the ending before it even starts. Granted, that’s part of the appeal of the machine: the ambiguity is as freeing as it is constraining.

A morbid set of interesting short stories, I give Machine of Death 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

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