Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mini Reviews: Belly Laughs, The Boat, 20th Century Ghosts

I couldn't let the end of the year go by without tying up loose ends. I read three books earlier this year that deserve mention, even if in brief. Two are short story collections that have made an appearance here before when I reviewed a few of the short stories individually. The other is a book my friend Nicole gave me.

While Jenny McCarthy and I do not always see eye to eye on certain subject matters, I often find her to be entertaining and funny. In her book, Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth (Da Capo Life Long, 2004 - Nonfiction; 165 pgs), she is no different. McCarthy wasn't kidding when she said she'd tell the naked truth! She does so with humor, however, which makes it impossible not to laugh at even the worst of moments. While every pregnancy is different, there are enough similarities that just about every woman who has been pregnant can relate to. Although I'm not sure my husband appreciated it, I couldn't help but share some of the author's antidotes about her experience with him.

There was a time when I didn't especially like short stories. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate them more. It isn't easy to write a good short story. At times I think it must be more difficult than writing a novel. You have to use less words to say so much--and do so in a way that leaves readers satisfied.

I tend to prefer short stories that delve into the hearts and minds of the characters and that is exactly what Nam Le has done with his collection of stories in The Boat (Knopf, 2008 - Fiction; 272 pgs). I find his writing beautiful at times, while at others somewhat harsh harsh. The stories in the collection are all rather melancholy, the characters flawed and real. My favorite of the stories included the title story, "The Boat," about a mother and child who befriend a young woman traveling on her own. They are escaping Vietnam, hoping for a better and safer life. It is a heart wrenching story that continues to stay with me months after I read it. My other favorite was "Cartagena" about a 14 year old Colombian boy, a hitman, who has had to grow up all too fast. He goes into hiding after refusing to kill his most recent target. I found myself holding my breath near the end, knowing what was to come but wishing it would end differently. I came to really care for the 14 year old protagonist.

It sometimes takes me a while to get through short story collections. I tend to read a story here and there, set the book aside for a full length novel or two, and then come back to the short story book when I think about it, sometimes a month or two or three later. It was like that with The Boat as well as 20th Century Ghosts.

Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts (William Morrow, 2007 - Fiction; 336 pgs) was a book I had been anticipating for awhile. I loved the cover and was intrigued by the description of what I would find inside it's pages. Like with any collection of short stories, there were some I like more than others; but the author never failed to prove he is a gifted writer. Each story is quite different from the others. I wasn't particularly fond of the story about the young man who evolved into an insect--my appreciation for horror tends to lean in other directions--from the subtle to the psychological as opposed to the grotesque and bloody (although in this collection there isn't a whole lot of blood). Among my favorites in this collection was a story called "Last Breath" in which a retired doctor has a collection of the last breaths of the deceased. He has them on display in his mortuary like museum. A mother, father and son come to the museum. The young son is instantly taken by the exhibits, however his mother finds the entire thing beyond belief. The story itself has an eerie feel to it. It's one of those horror stories that creeps up on you, although you know something is about to happen--just what, you can't be sure. Another of my favorites is called "Dead-Wood", which is the shortest story in the book. It is one that resonates with me still. Can a tree leave behind a ghost? If you do read this collection, be sure and read on through the acknowledgments.

You can learn more about Nam Le and his book on the author's website.
And to find out more about Joe Hill and his books, visit the author's website.

Source: Belly Laughs was a gift from a friend. I purchased both The Boat and 20th Century Ghosts for my own reading pleasure.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Thanks for sharing even short reviews of these collections. The Boat is on the Vietnam War Reviews page...with this link.

    I really think that's a collection I would enjoy!

  2. The short story collection sounds like one I would enjoy. I can't remember much from my pregnancies...isn't that crazy???

  3. Both of the short story collections sound amazing! I have not read many short stories this year. I think only two collections, but I want to change that this year. I am going to be adding these to my list. Thanks for the excellent mini-reviews!!

  4. Serena - Thanks, Serena!

    Staci - There are things I hope to forget about my pregnancy. LOL I enjoyed both short story collections, although The Boat even more so.

    Heather - I've been working on reading more short stories, but they so rarely are my go to choice when looking for something to read. I'm slowly getting better, I think.


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