While I’m currently reading Ivy Ngeow’s Overboard, which might turn out to be the best Indie book I’ve read yet and will most certainly warrant its own in-depth post, here’s a rundown of some recent Indie books I finished and the reviews I posted on Goodreads:
The Hanging Artist by Jon Steinhagen (novel)
The Hanging Artist is a very specific kind of entertainment. If the premise (Kafka awakes in a sanitarium to meet a giant talking bug and then is sucked into a bizarre murder mystery) sounds too strange, then it probably will be for you. But if it sounds great (like it did to me) then by all means buy, buy, buy.
Kafka makes for a great amateur detective, and apart from the inherent absurdism of the premise, Steinhagen’s greatest treat for this reader was the screwball detective dialogue between Kafka and the giant bug, and Kafka and the Biede character (an investigator from the mysterious society that wants to employ Kafka’s skills). Then there are all the suspects and various theater folk, each uniquely drawn and memorable, and the playful “nocturnes” following a Hanging Artist performance where acquaintances of theater patrons are dropping dead. The mystery actually had me guessing, and the solution to the crime is appropriately bizarre.
Witty, dark, and sometimes silly, The Hanging Artist makes for smart, surreal escapism.
Susan M. Lane has given us quite an interesting and psychologically rich collection of short stories with Secrets. Admittedly, I was turned off by the opening story about a serial killer that was so well done as to almost give me a panic attack. I wasn’t sure I could handle the collection if all of the stories were that intense. But I persevered, and I’m glad I did.
There are a number of stories about people queued up in lines: at the grocery store, a fast food drive-thru, a bank…and Lane is quite adept at capturing the banal tension of these everyday occurrences, how the act of waiting and observing other people can be stressful, and sometimes the smallest misunderstanding or slight could be triggering. In these stories Lane head-hops from person to person, diving deep into their fears and worries and pasts, revealing the secrets behind the everyday people we encounter…secrets we’ll never know just by observing them.
Misunderstandings (and prejudices) that lead to violence (the closing story is all too relevant today) is another key theme running through many of the stories.
Not all of the stories hit home for me, and some of the more noir ones, though fun, seemed like throwaways. But Lane’s craft is…crafty. And I would highly recommend her collection for those who enjoying reading stories that highlight the darker side of humanity and revel in twists of fate.
The Pup and the Pianist by Sara Flower Kjeldsen (novella)
Fascinating, quick-paced adventure novella about a young lad named Max and another unlikely survivor stranded on the Galapagos after a disastrous naval skirmish during the Napoleonic wars.
Vivid descriptions and judicious use of metaphors overcome some odd wording and grammatical puzzlers. The author was clearly trying to capture the spirit of the era both in the writing style and tone.
The character development is excellent and heads in directions I did not anticipate.
Secrets is a terrific collection.
I know, right! I thought of you and your stories as I read it…some very similar in style and just as good!