Book Review: This Year it Will be Different by Maeve Binchy

This Year it Will be Different by Maeve BinchyThis Year it Will be Different: What it is about

From the publishers: “This Year It Will Be Different brings us the magic and spirit of Christmas in fifteen stories filled with Maeve Binchy’s trademark wit, charm, and sheer storytelling genius. Instead of nostalgia, Binchy evokes contemporary life; instead of Christmas homilies, she offers truth; and instead of sugarplums, she brings us the nourishment of holidays that precipitate change, growth, and new beginnings.

The stories in This Year It Will Be Different powerfully evoke many lives during the one holiday of the year when feelings cannot be easily hidden: step-families grappling with exes; long-married couples faced with in-law problems; a wandering husband choosing between ‘the other woman’ and his wife; a child caught in the grown-up tug-of-war. The time of year may be magical, imbued with personal meaning, but the situations are universal, and Maeve Binchy makes us care about them all.”

This Year it Will be Different: What I thought

This is a typical Binchy read: full of family and friends, close and difficult relationships. It’s not a cozy Christmas book. Instead, it’s full of stories of people who have to celebrate Christmas in a way that they don’t really appreciate. Sometimes it’s because they have had the same Christmas for years, with the same difficult guests spoiling the day. In other stories, people are divorced and have to organise their Christmas plans around their exes, or they are on their own feeling sorry for themselves. Of course, the stories tend to end well although generally not in the standard whole-family-together happy-around-the-dinner-table kind of way.

I loved reading this book. So many different situations are described, and I love how the people in the stories start off with a problem: they don’t want Christmas – or not as they are expecting it to be. And then at the end of the story, they either get quite a different Christmas, or at least a Christmas they can handle.

While Binchy is happy to destroy a few Christmas traditions along the way, one thing is certain: the turkey is always part of the festivities. Even she can’t get away from that old beast, the turkey. I have had many Christmases in the UK, next door to Binchy’s Ireland, and there, too, the turkey cannot, I repeat cannot, be absent at Christmas dinner. Now, I’m sure there are people who don’t do turkey, but I swear, most do, and they can’t even conceive of a Christmas without turkey, sprouts and brandy butter. Oh well, we all have our traditions, I guess. Binchy certainly does.

Merry Christmas!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (good to very good)

Number of pages: 366

First published: 1996

I got this: via Bookmooch, a book swap site

Genre: short stories contemporary fiction

Book Review: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa LahiriUnaccustomed Earth: What it is about

The publisher says: “These eight stories by beloved and bestselling author Jhumpa Lahiri take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand, as they explore the secrets at the heart of family life. Here they enter the worlds of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers. Rich with the signature gifts that have established Jhumpa Lahiri as one of our most essential writers,Unaccustomed Earth exquisitely renders the most intricate workings of the heart and mind.

Unaccustomed Earth: What I thought

If I had known this was a book of stories, I would not have bought it, as I am not a keen short story reader. What a good thing I didn’t know! After reading The Namesake, I knew Lahiri could write a good story, and yes, that’s what she did again. Beautifully told stories all around the same topic: the lives of young Indian people whose parents had moved to the United States. Some people fitted in really well, others struggled.

This topic is approached in several different ways: a woman with a young family, whose Indian father may or may not move in with them now that he is older; a Indian friend of the (Indian) family who is having trouble settling in his US life (told from the viewpoint of the young daughter of the family), etc.

The last part of the book consists of three related stories: they are about the life of two people with Indian parents at different ages. I liked these stories best, as it was interesting to read how at different times in their lives the boy and girl/man and woman change and how their attitude towards each other changes.

These three stories came just in time, as I was getting slightly bored with the recurrent theme of Indian people trying to adapt to their new country.

The stories were all around 30 pages long, so while short stories, it allowed the reader to stay with the protagonists for a while. Recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (It’s good to very good)

Number of pages: 352 (Dutch edition: Vreemd land)

First published: 2008

I got this: from a second-hand book stall

Genre: contemporary fiction, short stories

Book Review: Fondly by Colin Winnette

Fondly by Colin Winnette
The publisher of this book is known (by me) for its quirky stories, always weird, and always captivating. So I read The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, about a boy with a very strange family, The Snow Whale, about a man who goes whale hunting and The Bee-Loud Glade, about a hermit. Fondly is presented as two novellas in one book, but I would say it contains a lot of short stories, followed by a novella.

Fondly: What it is about

The publisher says: “In two artfully crafted novellas, Colin Winnette offers a sly and sinister portrayal of lineage and loss, and the roles we all play in writing our own family history. Written in a seamless, entrancing style, Gainesville follows the twisted branches of a restless family tree in a small Texas town. As tragedy strikes each generation in increasingly skewed fashion, what remains is the relentless passage of time toward an eerily familiar pattern of violence.

In One Story, The Two Sisters is woven from an array of beautifully haunting short stories. It details the lives of two sisters, both cast as wildly imaginative entities, each more bizarre than the next. Winnette joyfully plays with life forms as he presents the sisters as (1) an olive at the bottom of a dirty martini; (2) Shel Silverstein; (3) transoceanic swimmers, and so on. The result is an entertaining, skilful meditation on art, love, family, the creative impulse, and what can and cannot be communicated in a single story, or a single life.”

Fondly: What I thought

As I’m not a short story lover, especially not the very short kind, I found the first part of the book, In One Story, The Two Sisters, a little bit challenging to read. Some of the stories are really very short and stop where maybe I had wanted more. On the other hand, the stories were very well written, they read almost like fairy tales, and the things that happen to the two sisters are so bizarre, it’s really amazing that an author can think them up.

I’m sure a short story lover who can enjoys some weirdness will love these stories, too. The sisters where quite similar over the different stories, but definitely not the same sisters in all the stories, if only because in one story they are two halves of an olive! Generally, they are quite different in what they want to achieve, but also similar because of their family bond and the fact that in many of the stories, it’s the two sisters against (or as opposed to) the rest of the world.

I liked Gainsville even better. This is the story of several generations of a family, who are struggling with low wages and violence. The people that are followed through the (four or five) generations either kill someone or are killed themselves and there is no happy ending for any of them. The ending, in fact, was rather ambiguous to me. I wasn’t sure how it fitted in the story exactly, and felt a bit of a let down.

I should have written a family tree for this family, as I moved from one family member to a next generation, to a step brother’s daughter, etc. I cannot repeat the story at all, there are just a few situations that I do remember, but in all, it was a very entertaining story.

For people who love quirky, well-written stories.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)

Number of pages: 246

First published: 2013

I got this: from Atticus Books for review

Genre: contemporary fiction, short stories

Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

I came across this book several times in the book shop and saw other blogger’s reviews. It seemed good, but… short stories? As you may know, I’m not a short story fan. But the book looked attractive, the reviews were good, and I previously read The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander, and enjoyed it lots. So, I went and read the stories.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: What it is about

From the publishers: “The title story, inspired by Raymond Carver’s masterpiece, is a provocative portrait of two marriages in which the Holocaust is played out as a devastating parlor game. In the outlandishly dark “Camp Sundown” vigilante justice is undertaken by a group of geriatric campers in a bucolic summer enclave. “Free Fruit for Young Widows” is a small, sharp study in evil, lovingly told by a father to a son.

“Sister Hills” chronicles the history of Israel’s settlements from the eve of the Yom Kippur War through the present, a political fable constructed around the tale of two mothers who strike a terrible bargain to save a child. Marking a return to two of Englander’s classic themes, “Peep Show” and “How We Avenged the Blums” wrestle with sexual longing and ingenuity in the face of adversity and peril. And “Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother’s Side” is suffused with an intimacy and tenderness that break new ground for a writer who seems constantly to be expanding the parameters of what he can achieve in the short form.”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: What I thought

I loved some of the stories a lot and others not so much. The title story was such fun! The subject is difficult: who would take you in and hide you (like Anne Frank) if a war broke out and “they” were after you? A very entertaining story.

Sister Hills was like almost like a fairy tale, about a woman who sells her daughter to her neighbor to save the child. It also tells the story of early Jewish settlers and the expansion of their settlement into a large town. This was beautifully written and entertaining.

After those two stories, I was not so interested anymore. How to Avenge the Blums is about some Jewish boys (in America) trying to fight off some anti-Jewish boys. Violence? The next is about a peepshow. It becomes surrealistic and I felt embarrassed on the main character’s behalf about what happened in this story. Nah. Not for me.

Really, I liked the first two stories, and after that, I wasn’t interested anymore. I think someone who enjoys short stories per sé will like this better than I did. The stories all had a Jewish theme but are very different, to a degree that you’d never mix up the different stories. I like that.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 216 (Dutch edition)

First published: 2012

I got this book: from the library

My edition: Dutch: Waar we het over hebben wanneer we het over Anne Frank hebben

Genre: short stories, contemporary fiction


Have you read this book?

What did you think?

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