Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sliding Past Vertical - Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers -- and I say that not just because we're both on the Indies Unlimited staff, but because she's so terrific at what she does.

Her new novel, Sliding Past Vertical, is the story of Sarah, a young woman who screws up everything she touches, and Emerson, her best friend. Em and Sarah met in college at Syracuse; they dated for awhile, then split up. Sarah moves on with her life: she graduates and moves to Boston, where she works at a print shop and makes spectacularly bad choices in men. Em stays in Syracuse, where he works as an orderly in a hospice, writes porn for men's magazines, and not-so-subtly carries a torch for Sarah. Sarah always turns to him when the latest jerk breaks her heart, and he is always there for her.

When the most recent jerk turns out to be selling drugs and the print shop burns down, Sarah decides to take her long-ago diving coach's advice, and rewind her life to where she began to slide past vertical -- the point right before things went bad. So she moves back to Syracuse, into Emerson's spare room in the rooming house where he's lived since college. Em and Rashid, who also lives in the rooming house, drive to Boston to help her move. Rashid's parents back in India have picked out a wife for him, and he is happy to have the decision taken out of his hands. Until he begins to spend time around Sarah.

And of course, the druggie boyfriend and his "pals" manage to track Sarah down.

I admit I had a lot of empathy for Emerson; I too have been known to invest too much time in hopeless relationships. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but I will say that Sliding Past Vertical ends on a better note than any of my hopeless relationships ever did. It's not necessarily a happy ending, but it's a hopeful -- and hopefully older and wiser -- one.

Note: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Seamstresses - Elle LaPraim

First: this is a short story. Amazon says the whole thing, front matter and all, is 18 pages. But it's only 99 cents. And it's an interesting and original fantasy.

The tale opens with Yin waking up after she has died. She finds herself in an afterlife that begins in her grandmother's sewing shop in San Francisco's Chinatown. Snow is always falling, and her older sister -- who is also dead -- is there. Yin starts out by following her sister around, and realizes that her work in the afterlife -- their work -- involves stitching together the relationships of the still-living when those relationships come apart.

Sometimes, the job involves not stitching together certain relationships, and Yin has to learn that, too.

I enjoyed LaPraim's writing style, and I'm thinking now that I need to find more of her work.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip - David Antrobus

I hope you're not sick and tired of 9/11 commemorations yet, because I had to mention this book.

One of these days, I might write my own memoir of where I was on September 11, 2001, and how it affected my family and me. (The Reader's Digest version: I was already at work when the plane hit the Pentagon, having switched from bus to Metro there maybe half an hour before. My kids, at school just a few miles away, heard the boom.) But I don't know that I have anything profound to say about it, other than "I remember that."

Antrobus, however, does. He conceived of the trip as a way to come to terms with some trauma in his own life; serendipitously, he picked 9/11 as the date to begin driving from Canada's Pacific coast, where he lives, to New York City.  So he was not in the city when the planes hit the World Trade Center, but he arrived a few days later. He was the quintessential stranger in a strange land, having spent the previous week not glued to his television as the rest of us were, but driving across North America with his own thoughts and observations for company. And when he arrived, he found himself amidst kindred souls who had suffered trauma of their own. And so he listened, and watched, and hoped even the quiet ones would find a way to process what they had lived through.

Antrobus is a gifted writer. I found the book to be tough going in some places, but that was because of the subject matter and my own 9/11 experience, not because of the prose. The story of his trip back home I found to be somewhat anticlimactic -- but then, this is real life, where the plot isn't always resolved in the penultimate chapter, and "aha!" moments can't be programmed to suit.

In all, I found Dissolute Kinship to be a well-written, worthwhile read. I'm grateful to Antrobus for giving us the opportunity to see this seminal event through his eyes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Triple Dog Dare - K.S. Brooks and Stephen Hise

Full disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book. Also, Brooks and Hise dole out the gruel, among other things, at Indies Unlimited. Neither of those facts affected my review.
The subtitle for Triple Dog Dare is, "Three dogs. A world of trouble." That just about sums it up.  The story is in the tradition of the old screwball comedies.  Beautiful Bianca, a former journalist, is living in California with Lars, a fashion photographer with a shady past, and Lo-Lou, her West Highland terrier and their meal ticket.  Bianca only wants to write stories that will help people; instead, Lars has her writing children's books featuring photos of Lo-Lou (as well as a generous helping of Bianca's cleavage -- for the dads, you understand).

On the other side of the country lives Stuart Hockersmith, the milquetoast heir to his family's fortune and head of a major show dog competition. Lo-Lou -- more formally, Lord Louis Hockersmith -- is from his family's litter of show dogs.  Stu, smitten with Bianca, gave her the dog, in clear violation of the competition protocol -- and Stu's worst enemy is trying to use that to get the Hockersmiths thrown out of the show dog association.

Bianca realizes Lars has been lying to her about a lot of things; she leaves him and takes Lo-Lou with her, and in the process, gets into an accidental partnership with a photographer and former co-worker, Terri, who secretly hates her. Lars, now short of the dog he needs to clinch a possible film deal, picks up a badly-behaved Westie from the pound. And Stu tries to stave off his troubles by engineering a swap with Bianca of Lo-Lou for his runty brother, Lord Robert -- a.k.a. Lo-Bob.

Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

Triple Dog Dare is a delightful romp, with enough complications to keep you guessing until the very end.