Review: Fables of Brunswick Avenue – Kathleen Govier

3.5 of 5 stars
Published in 2005

I read a novel by Ms. Govier last year and liked it (The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel). This year, for the Bingo reading challenge, one of the books to read must be short stories and Fables of Brunswick Avenue is just that. It’s a collection of 16 short stories. The book “blurb” describes them as being about the people who live in the neighbourhood around Brunswick Avenue, north of Bloor Street in Toronto. The stories reflect on the multicultural inhabitants of the neighbourhood in the 1970s, much as it was when the author herself lived there, or so she says in the pre-amble and first story which feels autobiographical but which may or may not actually be.

That’s not exactly the case. The first story is the one reflected in the title of the book and is about the people and the neighbourhood as it was when the author lived there in the 70s. Fair enough. The rest of the stories take place in various locations including Toronto and don’t really seem to be time-era-specific. The stories are not tales with twists or surprises, they are slices of life, character portraits, mostly women but some men as well. Some stories ended too abruptly for my taste, some just fizzled but there were a few stronger ones as well.

She’s a very good writer though I think I prefer her novels. That might be because she’d had more experience by then and because I prefer a longer lasting story. This short story collection will suffice to satisfy one of the Bingo challenge squares, as well.


Review: A Grosvenor Square Christmas

3 of 5 stars
Published 2013

This was another free or cheap Kindle Christmas themed book that I decided to read for the Goodreads CanadianContent December challenge. It contains four short stories/novellas centred on an elegant house in Grosvenor Square, London where Lady Lucy Winterston holds a Christmas Ball every year and every year, there’s a love match made. We dip into four Balls between 1803 and 1830, late Georgian England.

In one story, there’s a reunion between a middle aged woman and a younger man who helped her escape the French Revolution. Their re-acquaintance exposes their long hidden feelings for each other. An established gentleman falls for a woman who only cares to be friends. Can he sweep her off her feet? (of course he can! this is romance, remember!). Conversely, a young woman is only regarded as a friend so she endeavors to change in order to sweep him off *his* feet. A young woman who has dreams might find one of them coming true. And a long term friendship might just change into love.

Little romantic bites, a racy scene or two, quick reads. I like a little romance though don’t really care for a full novel of Georgian bodice ripping. It’s fun in a short story, however. Well written, believable dialogue and that’s an important thing because sometimes these sorts of stories can be cheesy. These stories were cheerful, not cheesy, predicable of course but fun, too. I liked that one of the characters was older. I thought I wouldn’t like that one woman thought she had to change to get her man but you take that in the time period in which it’s set and it was a transition from a gawky teenager to an elegant young woman which would have happened anyway even if there were no specific man behind it.

Three of the four authors are American with an Australian topping off the list.

Tis the season for free short stories

Heads up, readers.

Do you love short stories? I’m not an avid fan but I do like them now and then. Penguin Randomhouse has a great program where you can receive free short stories in your inbox in installments. Stories in the past have been written by a number of different authors, some very well known like Mona Awad, Yaa Gyasi, Jay McInerny and even Margaret Atwood. Each time they offer this, the stories are taken from books of stories by that author. It’s a sample and I suppose they hope you might buy the whole book.

The short story is divided into four parts and you will receive one part each day from Tuesday to Friday for three months. I did this last year. Some of them I liked though one or two weren’t to my taste. Everyone’s different, right? If you think you might like this, go to the website and sign up. You can read a little bit each day or save the four parts for the weekend and read the whole story at once. 

Review: The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

2017: 43
2.5 of 5 stars
Published January 2011

The Red Garden spans nearly 300 years telling the stories of the inhabitants of a small Massachusetts town, Blackwell. It’s really a series of connecting short stories about the descendants of the founding families, touching base every generation or 2 or 3. I had thought it would be a family saga, and it is, kind of, but on a higher level than I expected. You don’t really get to know the characters all that well because it covers so many of them over the years and it gets a bit more confusing to connect the characters to the original families as they intermarry and the names change.

Through it all is the garden, with red soil and where all the plants end up blooming and producing in various shades of red, including the old apple tree, the Tree of Life, that produced fruit during the year there was no summer, keeping the original inhabitants alive through a long, tough winter. Elsewhere, there is an element of magic, of the spirits, of folklore (Johnny Appleseed, the ghost of a child, a woman that may or may not be a mermaid).

I enjoyed the first story about the families that founded the town and the woman, Hallie, who was instrumental in keeping them all alive by hunting in the winter, and even milking a hibernating female bear. She lied and said she’d found a cow wandering. I wondered why the others didn’t ask her why she didn’t just bring the cow home? But I digress. Hoffman is a lovely writer but I’m afraid the characters and the stories felt more like snapshots. Though I liked a few of them, overall, they didn’t grab me. Perhaps it’s just that it wasn’t what I was expecting. I have read a couple of her books and I really enjoyed them so I think this is just an exception, for me. And only my opinion, of course. You may really like it.

Review: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

2017: 36
3.5 of 5 stars
Published June 2014

This is a novella or a long short story by Gillian Flynn, the woman behind Gone Girl, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, all of which I really enjoyed.

The unnamed narrator is a woman that has grown up running cons with her grifter mother and is now giving psychic readings in the front of the shop and hand jobs in the back. Most of the people that come in for readings are easy marks for someone that can read people well but when Susan Burke comes in, clearly upset, the narrator gets drawn into a tangle of a situation. Is Susan’s house haunted? Is her stepson evil or possessed? Is the con being conned? The story was pretty good, but the ending was a bit fast and loose.

Review: Doctor Who: The Legends of River Song

2017: 17
3.5 of 5 stars
Published June 2016
Authors: Jenny T. Colgan, Jaqueline Rayner, Steve Lyons, Guy Adams, Andrew Lyons

Dr. River Song is the erstwhile wife of timelord Doctor Who. If you have followed the tv series in the past 10 years, you’ll be familar with her. She’s brash, sassy and ever stylish. She is also in Stormcage prison for killing The Doctor. But that’s another story. River Song has kept a diary of all her adventures with The Doctor and solo as well and this book gives us 5 of them, a romp through space and time, adventures on her own terms.

Each of the stories is actually written by a different author. A couple of them also feature The Doctor, Matt Smith’s incarnation since that’s the majority of the time she was on the show. Some stories work better than others in both the story and in capturing the essence of River Song. It’s fun for fans of the show.