May 17, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 17 May 2011

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Walkups, by Lance Blomgren

Walkups
By Lance Blomgren
conundrum press

This is just one of a whole series of incredibly good-looking books I've received in the last few years from various Canadian small presses, one of the many benefits of living in a country that spends so much government money on the arts (nearly all of these books have the Canadian Council on the Arts listed on their copyright pages as a part financier of their projects); this one, for example, written by Goodreads regular Lance Blomgren and put out by the always excellent conundrum press, is a series of "micro-stories" that are all conceptually based around a sequence of walk-up apartments and stores and their resulting interior environments, telling a nebulous tale of relationships and alienation among a group of urban ne'er-do-wells that isn't exactly traditionally linear, but unlike more experimental work can at least be narratively followed from one short bit to the next. The story itself, although not bad, is no great shakes either, the kind of thing you'd expected from a typical clever MFA student; but Walkups is getting a few extra points today simply for being designed and outputted so incredibly sharply, one of the few saving graces among trade paperbacks these days that's going to allow a select amount of them to still be financial successes. It comes recommended to those looking for something unusual and of high quality.

Out of 10: 8.4

Black Orchid Blues, by Persia Walker

Black Orchid Blues
By Persia Walker
Akashic Books

It's true that I've been disappointed lately in a whole string of titles from the usually excellent Akashic Books, not exactly bad reads but just not up to their usual exacting standards; but I'm glad to say that the latest by them, Persia Walker's Black Orchid Blues, is a great return to form, I suspect because of it being in a style that Akashic really excels at, noir tales with a unique, interesting bent. In this case, the gimmick is that all these "Lanie Price" tales (this is the second in the series) are set within the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, a brief time in this New York borough's history when affluent blacks were able to build a vibrant, opulent community of warm brownstones and hot clubs; and this turns out to be an excellent milieu within to set a rat-a-tat-style traditional crime thriller, with Walker using her obvious love for these years to inject all kinds of history lessons along the way, from looks at the neighborhood's real architecture to its infamous pre-Stonewall gay community. Now, to be fairly warned, you're going to need to be a big fan of writers like Raymond Chandler to find this book redeemable at all -- it's essentially a direct homage to that style, which will get your eyes rolling all the way to the back of your head if you're not already an admirer -- but for those who are, this brisk, informative novel is a real delight, and a burgeoning franchise you'd be wise to be following from here at its start. It comes strongly recommended to these particular types of readers.

Out of 10: 8.9, or 9.4 for fans of noir detective fiction

The Summer We Read Gatsby, by Danielle Ganek

The Summer We Read Gatsby
By Danielle Ganek
Viking / Penguin

I picked up this breezy beach read literally on a whim the other week, after spying it on the "New Releases" shelf at my neighborhood library, suspecting the entire time that it might turn out to be an inexorable piece of chick-lit; and indeed, while author Danielle Ganek admirably attempts to add as much cynicism and dark touches as she can to her story of two mismatched half-sisters who inherit a wacky aunt's rundown bungalow in Long Island's the Hamptons (setting of The Great Gatsby as well, for those who don't know), she unfortunately cannot completely hide her love for all things pink and shiny and expensive and WHEEEEEE!, resulting in sometimes unintentionally hilarious scenes where our anti-Hamptons main character will go on and on about how little she follows or cares for fashion, while simultaneously describing both the style and brand name of every single piece of clothing being worn at the party where she's letting everyone know how little she follows or cares for fashion. The whole book is like this, to tell you the truth, an attempt to fight against the stereotypes of chick-lit while then wallowing in these very stereotypes just a few pages later; and it leaves the manuscript a schizophrenic read by the end, which I suspect will disappoint both the readers looking for such stuff and those looking to avoid it. It's a shame, because Ganek is a decent writer; and in the future, I'd encourage her to really go for broke either one way or the other, and not try to both have her cake and eat it too like she does here.

Out of 10: 7.8

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:39 AM, May 17, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |