Pub Day Repost: Like a Champion by Vincent Chu

Like a ChampionLike a Champion

by Vincent Chu
eARC, 238 pg.
7.13 Books, 2018
Read: January 31 – February 2, 2018

The man across from Henriette read a book. It was a very big book, a Hunger Games or Game of Thrones kind, with a sword and flame and chess piece on the cover. Dean had never read such a big book. The man was on the very last page and Dean felt guilty suddenly for spying on him during this personal moment, but he did not stop. It was not often, he reasoned, that he would get the opportunity to observe another person at the exact moment they finished a book, a big one at that. But, after the last page, the man, without so much as a satisfied nod or pensive stare, shut the thing and immediately put in his iPhone buds. This disappointed Dean.

That’s just one of any number of paragraphs throughout these stories that don’t advance the plot, reveal or describe much in the way of character — but man, the little bit of flavor they add to the story makes it worth it. And don’t you just want to shake the man who finished the book by the shoulders and ask what is wrong with him? The guy appears for one paragraph, and I have a strong reaction to him. With short stories, you don’t typically get to do that kind of thing the way you can with novels, because every word has to count — and typically, that’s what Vincent Chu does, but every now and then, he stretches a bit. Typically, like the best short fiction writers, Chu gets his bang for his buck when it comes to his words — tight, economical prose that strikes just the right tone each time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Like a Champion is a collection of eighteen short stories featuring all sorts of people — underdogs in one sense or another — getting a taste of victory. Some of this victory is very short-lived, some is quite Pyrrhic, but it’s there. The stories are varied in tone, in voice, in setting, in types of character — and that’s such a strength. Some will make you smile, some laugh, some are sad, some are tragic, some are somber, all are incredibly human.

There’s a lot I could talk about — if I could, I’d spend a few hundred words on “Squirrels”, the fourth story in the collection. I don’t know why, but that one sealed me appreciation for this book, and it stands out as a high point for me. There’s just something about it that worked for me, the same kind of thing that lead me to write three papers for three separate courses in college about one Updike short story. There were a couple of other stories that I could point to that were as as outstanding, but I’ll stick with “Squirrels” — a story about one man’s childhood basketball triumph in the midst of defeat — because I enjoyed it more.

With one exception (at least one that I noticed, I might have missed others), these are independent of each other. The two stories that are connected are so different in tone and subject matter that it takes you by surprise when you notice the connection — but it really works (and the connection is of a lesser importance, that not much changes if you don’t make the connection). It was a nice little touch, I would’ve liked a part three, however.

I’m not crazy about Chu’s depiction of older characters. Maybe if I only got one of the stories in this collection featuring an older character — I wouldn’t have commented. Or if I took a few more days to read this than I did, it wouldn’t have stood out to me as much, but when you get the same note or two being played so often with elderly characters it sticks out.

I don’t usually spend much time talking about the publisher of the books I post about, but when it comes to some indie presses, I should. A couple of months ago, I know I posted a link to a profile of 7.13 Books in a Saturday Miscellany, and before that I talked about another short story collection they put out. And come to think of it, I have one more book from them on my schedule in the coming weeks. If Like a Champion is indicative of what they are publishing (and it seems to be), there’s something in the water there, folks, keep an eye out for their books.

Like with every collection — be it full of short stories, essays, poems — there are some in this collection that don’t work for me — two because I didn’t get what he was going for; a couple that I’m pretty sure I got what he was going for, and just didn’t care for it. And I’m very sure that many people will get those I didn’t and will like the ones I didn’t care for — and even dislike the stories that I enjoyed, and maybe even someone’s nuts enough to not care for the ones that filled me with joy. There’s enough variety in these to appeal to all sorts of tastes — and that’s a compliment, Chu’s nothing if not versatile. But on the whole, this is a great collection of short stories, full of compassion, humanity, and talent. You’d do well to grab this one.

Note: I received a copy of this eARC in exchange for my honest opinions as expressed above.

—–

4 Stars

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Like a Champion by Vincent Chu

Like a ChampionLike a Champion

by Vincent Chu

eARC, 238 pg.
7.13 Books, 2018

Read: January 31 – February 2, 2018

The man across from Henriette read a book. It was a very big book, a Hunger Games or Game of Thrones kind, with a sword and flame and chess piece on the cover. Dean had never read such a big book. The man was on the very last page and Dean felt guilty suddenly for spying on him during this personal moment, but he did not stop. It was not often, he reasoned, that he would get the opportunity to observe another person at the exact moment they finished a book, a big one at that. But, after the last page, the man, without so much as a satisfied nod or pensive stare, shut the thing and immediately put in his iPhone buds. This disappointed Dean.

That’s just one of any number of paragraphs throughout these stories that don’t advance the plot, reveal or describe much in the way of character — but man, the little bit of flavor they add to the story makes it worth it. And don’t you just want to shake the man who finished the book by the shoulders and ask what is wrong with him? The guy appears for one paragraph, and I have a strong reaction to him. With short stories, you don’t typically get to do that kind of thing the way you can with novels, because every word has to count — and typically, that’s what Vincent Chu does, but every now and then, he stretches a bit. Typically, like the best short fiction writers, Chu gets his bang for his buck when it comes to his words — tight, economical prose that strikes just the right tone each time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Like a Champion is a collection of eighteen short stories featuring all sorts of people — underdogs in one sense or another — getting a taste of victory. Some of this victory is very short-lived, some is quite Pyrrhic, but it’s there. The stories are varied in tone, in voice, in setting, in types of character — and that’s such a strength. Some will make you smile, some laugh, some are sad, some are tragic, some are somber, all are incredibly human.

There’s a lot I could talk about — if I could, I’d spend a few hundred words on “Squirrels”, the fourth story in the collection. I don’t know why, but that one sealed me appreciation for this book, and it stands out as a high point for me. There’s just something about it that worked for me, the same kind of thing that lead me to write three papers for three separate courses in college about one Updike short story. There were a couple of other stories that I could point to that were as as outstanding, but I’ll stick with “Squirrels” — a story about one man’s childhood basketball triumph in the midst of defeat — because I enjoyed it more.

With one exception (at least one that I noticed, I might have missed others), these are independent of each other. The two stories that are connected are so different in tone and subject matter that it takes you by surprise when you notice the connection — but it really works (and the connection is of a lesser importance, that not much changes if you don’t make the connection). It was a nice little touch, I would’ve liked a part three, however.

I’m not crazy about Chu’s depiction of older characters. Maybe if I only got one of the stories in this collection featuring an older character — I wouldn’t have commented. Or if I took a few more days to read this than I did, it wouldn’t have stood out to me as much, but when you get the same note or two being played so often with elderly characters it sticks out.

I don’t usually spend much time talking about the publisher of the books I post about, but when it comes to some indie presses, I should. A couple of months ago, I know I posted a link to a profile of 7.13 Books in a Saturday Miscellany, and before that I talked about another short story collection they put out. And come to think of it, I have one more book from them on my schedule in the coming weeks. If Like a Champion is indicative of what they are publishing (and it seems to be), there’s something in the water there, folks, keep an eye out for their books.

Like with every collection — be it full of short stories, essays, poems — there are some in this collection that don’t work for me — two because I didn’t get what he was going for; a couple that I’m pretty sure I got what he was going for, and just didn’t care for it. And I’m very sure that many people will get those I didn’t and will like the ones I didn’t care for — and even dislike the stories that I enjoyed, and maybe even someone’s nuts enough to not care for the ones that filled me with joy. There’s enough variety in these to appeal to all sorts of tastes — and that’s a compliment, Chu’s nothing if not versatile. But on the whole, this is a great collection of short stories, full of compassion, humanity, and talent. You’d do well to grab this one.

Note: I received a copy of this eARC in exchange for my honest opinions as expressed above.

—–

4 Stars

The Unbelievable Story of How I Met Your Mother by Preston Randall

The Unbelievable Story of How I Met Your MotherThe Unbelievable Story of How I Met Your Mother

by Preston Randall
Kindle Edition, 40 pg.
BookRix, 2016

Read: January 20, 2018


Daniel Zurenski is 40 (or so) and lives in the same basement room he’s been in since he moved out of the crib, he has an okay job (not that many coworkers are aware he exists, but the job is okay), and is pretty out-of-shape. He seems to be an all-right guy who maybe has a problem with emotional eating, zero love life, and a less-than-healthy attachment to his mother. He’s on a little bit of a fitness kick at the moment — he ran a 5K with people from his office a few weeks back and now finds himself signed up for the city marathon.

But before he can get there, comedy strikes. Poor Daniel. But ultimately, good for Daniel (see the title, you know it’s going to have a happy ending). But before the good, comes a lot of . . . well, things he can laugh about later — and the reader can laugh at now.

Before we get to that, however, we have to get through some more character introductions, which are really just ways for Randall to set up some dominoes to knock over when the time is right. This is done pretty well, at a certain point, you understand just what he’s setting things up for, and the details approach overkill. But stay with him — they’re really not that bad, and everything he sets up has a purpose. Once he starts knocking over dominoes, it’s all worth it.

The humor is gross, quite simply. And very slap-sticky. But if you can handle the gross, and enjoy the slap-stick, it’s really well done (not the easiest thing in the world to pull off, either). And then after the slap-stick comes the title event, which is nice. I think the epilogue-esque material could lose a couple of paragraphs and be better off for it, but that’s a minor quibble.

It’s short, it’s cute, it’s more narratively satisfying than another recent work with a similar title. Randall’s short story is worth the time, give it a shot.

—–

3 Stars

Planet Grim by Alex Behr

Planet GrimPlanet Grim

by Alex Behr

eARC, 222 pg.
7.13 Books, 2017

I’ve been dreading the day when I had to write about this book for a month or so now — I just don’t know that I’m up to it. While I can’t say that I enjoyed every story, there was something in each of them that impressed me. I’d do better discussing this book over a beverage with someone who’s read the stories rather than in the abstract.

In a few sentences — at most a couple of paragraphs — Behr gets you into a world with fully realized characters, completely different situations — many of which you’ve never even thought about before. You will be disturbed, moved, saddened, surprised, fascinated, and occasionally, struck by a darkly comic moment.

I want to stress the “dark,” — Planet Grim is probably underselling it. There’s not a lot o flight to be found in these pages. I’m not suggesting that you’ll end up depressed at the end of every story, but you won’t be chuckling or uplifted. These are real people going through some pretty real problems and situations. It’s hard to slap a genre tag on these — there’s the barest hint of SF (but not really, you’ll see); these would all nicely fit in with a noir novel (without the knight errant); technically a lot would fit in “Women’s Fiction” (but . . . no); so I guess you stick it in the “General Fiction” section, but hopefully that doesn’t mean you overlook it.

A piece of advice: do not read more than two or three of these stories in one sitting. Actually, I think the volume of stories in this collection is the biggest problem with it. If there were seven of these stories in one volume, I’d probably be raving about it and demanding more. As it is, I was a little overwhelmed — there’s just too much to deal with (which is why it took me 5 weeks to get through it).

I’ve said it before here, and I’ll probably say it again, I”m not a huge short story guy. A few more collections like this could change me. There’s not a dud in the batch — there are a couple that I think I didn’t fully appreciate (or even “get”) for one reason or another — but there’s not one that’s not worth a second or third read. Alex Behr can write, period. If you give her a chance, she’ll convince you of that. I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, I don’t know if I liked it, but man, I was impressed with it, I’m glad that I got to read it, and I know it’s some of the best writing I’ve come across this year.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

Wait for SignsWait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire

Hardcover, 183 pg.
Viking, 2014

Read: August 28, 2017


We’ve got a collection of twelve stories here — 1 new story and 11 previously published, with a nice introduction by Lou Diamond Phillips. As Johnson describes the collection, “some are mysteries, some have mysterious elements, and others are no mystery at all, just glimpses into Walt’s life.”

That’s pretty much all you need to know — if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll find plenty to appreciate. If you’re new to the world of Walt Longmire, I’d try the novels first.

There are a couple of stories that deal with Walt’s ongoing grief over his wife, Martha, one of which I found pretty moving. There’s some decent action, a good deal of Walt being really clever. All the regulars make an appearance (however brief in some cases): Sancho, Lucian, Lonnie Little Bird, Cady, Vic (less of her than you’d expect), and lots of Henry. There’s not a loser in the bunch — yeah, there’s a couple that could be better, but even they were enjoyable. “Messenger” is quite possibly the funniest thing that Johnson has written to date — and that’s saying something. Ridiculous — yet with a little bit of good action.

Perfect for those who need a quick fix of Absaroka County, Wyoming’s Sheriff.

2017 Library Love Challenge

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3.5 Stars

The Last Resort by Steph Broadribb

The Last ResortThe Last Resort

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #.5

Kindle Edition, 55 pg.
Orenda Books, 2017

Read: August 22, 2017


So, Steph Broadribb has put out a short story pre-quel to one of my favorite debuts of the year, Deep Down Dead — which is numbered 1, so there’s likely more on the way. The Last Resort is a short story that gives a glance into the early days of Lori’s training to be a bounty hunter, and an early case she worked.

Let me start with the reasons I didn’t want to read this (keep reading, or skip this if you want to get to the positives): I don’t typically like prequels, especially prequels that tread the same ground as the original stories. Deep Down Dead talks about Lori’s training, about the relationship she has with her trainer — and I liked the way it did that. I didn’t want this to take anything away from the way Broadribb opened up the relationship throughout the novel.

Here’s why I’m glad I read it: It. Rocked.

While that’s all I need to say, I should expand a bit: Lori’s a rookie, she makes rookie mistakes, but she’s got the same heart, the same moxie, and (probably more importantly) Broadribb writes with the same panache and apparent sadistic glee in seeing her creation get beat up. And, it doesn’t trample anything from the novel. So forget about that objection/caution.

This is listed everywhere as 55 pages — it’s not. There’s some promotional material/samples of Deep Down Dead and the like. I’m not sure exactly how long it is — but it’s pretty unimportant. You’re not going to put it down once you start and it’ll be too short. Even if it was 55 pages, it’d be too short. Because once you step into Lori Anderson’s world, you don’t want to leave. Fast and furious, this’ll help readers remember why thy fell for Lori — or will convince new readers that they need go get the novel. Either way, it’s a win.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Besieged by Kevin Hearne

BesiegedBesieged

by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #4.1, 4.2, 4.6, 4.7, 8.1, 8.6

Hardcover, 235 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2017

Read: July 25 – 27, 2017

“Tell me about the old days, Atticus, when you were wee and had to walk both ways uphill in feces because no one had toilets.”

Granuaile’s request for a story around the campfire during her training sets the stage for this collection of stories from The Iron Druid Chronicles, primarily about events that took place prior to the first time we meet Atticus. Thankfully, we don’t get as much fecal matter as she suggests (although, it is there).

We see Atticus in San Francisco during the Gold Rush; in Egypt, annoying that pantheon (and setting the stage for complications in a previously published short story); in London, meeting and influencing a certain Bard of Avon; we also get a bit of post-Tricked action and learn why Atticus doesn’t spend much time in Nebraska. I enjoyed all of these — I don’t know that I got amazing new insights in to any of the characters, it was just nice to see them in low-risk adventures. Time with Atticus and Oberon (and the rest) is almost always time well spent.

Not all of the stories were from Atticus’ perspective. These weren’t as appealing to me, but I did enjoy them. I wasn’t crazy about the story featuring Flidias and Perun — the setting was pretty off-putting for me. Although I did enjoy Perun’s narration and in the end the story won me over. There’s a story from Granuaile’s perspective about enforcing the agreement to rid Poland of vampires. This was the most I’ve liked her since Trapped, which was quite a relief. Of the two stories told from Owen’s perspective, the one set post-Staked worked better for me than the one about his life before he became anyone’s archdruid. I really like watching Owen try to train this group of children while attempting to keep from recreating the mistakes of the past.

I can’t say much about the last story, because it takes place immediately before the series finale, due next year. It whet my appetite for the last book, for sure (not that I needed it) — and reminded me that I might need to keep a supply of Kleenex handy.

Not as good as a novel, but a satisfying collection of tales in this world. A must for fans — casual or die-hard.

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4 Stars