I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest, nonreciprocal review.
Generally, I do not read short stories. I find that when I meet a character I like, I want the story to go on. I want to follow that person, get inside his head, discover what happens next. . . . Because short stories are just that—short—that part of the reading experience is not present with a short story. But, I discovered something with Sun. Sun revealed to me that it is for precisely this reason that short stories are so well liked. It is because the characters cannot be followed for the long term that the well-written character stays with the reader. There is a skill and a beauty to that fact, which Howard has captured.
The Sun is an anthology of short stories published on behalf of the Saluki Welfare Fund. There was another thing I learned with Sun. I had never heard of a Saluki before. A breed of dog, also known as the Gazelle Hound, it seems Salukis have come upon hard times. Howard’s anthology was published on their behalf. If they could know it, they would be proud of that fact.
Howard introduces her stories with an invitation to relax with your beverage of choice and “peek into the lives of the people who populate” her imagination and so, I did.
For me, Howard’s characters seemed like real people and I did enjoy the peeks into their lives. In Polly Polo, Julie writes her parents that, because of some odd event that had just transpired, she is feeling “quite blonde.” I expect this is precisely how a grown child might communicate with her parents. Julie, on her way to work in her “elderly car,” that engages in “a bit of asthmatic wheezing on the hilly bits,” runs into some trouble. She struggles with getting a number on her cell while speaking on it to someone at the same time—who hasn’t had that happen?—then resolves her problem. All in all, I identified readily with Julie—and I quite enjoyed the differences between the English of the UK and of the US!
I especially liked Emily’s Hat. I was reminded of times when my son, at 6’4,” was concerned about “standing out.” I told him that since he couldn’t hide, he should walk into a room like he owned it, like he meant everything he wore and was doing, like any attention that came to him was, perhaps, due him—that to do otherwise would make him stand out anyway-but not likely in a positive way! This is precisely what Emily did when she donned her hat and discovered that she could use the brim to allow others to see her or to hide from them completely. “With my hat I can be whoever I wish to be,” Emily said, and in that moment, Emily grew, while still maintaining her own unique, base personality. I think I enjoyed Emily the most of all of the Sun’s characters.
Howard exercises colorful language and descriptions. An example: “She stood on the kerb and gathered her courage around her, but it felt more of a wet paper bag than protective armour.” That single line provided deep insight into Emily. Or, how about this one: “And I have to giggle when Mam and Da go out: from behind they look like Laurel and Hardy.” A great word-picture, that. Or: “The only bright thing in the place was the gleaming, steaming, coffee machine, snorting exuberant steam at the cups.” Those coffee machines do rather snort, don’t they?
Overall, the stories were engaging, picturesque, no-nonsense, and insightful. There were numerous gems of wisdom sprinkled throughout. From a non-short story reader, a sincere congratulations for a job well done.
AS THE CROW FLIES tells the tale of Crow, a witty, sarcastic thief who steals your heart from the earliest pages. Truly, there are so many things to love about As the Crow Flies, that it is hard to know where to begin.
The author’s characters are neatly drawn and are given quirks and manners of speech that are unique and consistent. The reader will never forget that Crow is a thief, for if not his first, then his last thought in nearly every situation in which he finds himself, will be Crow’s consideration of what he can do to “re-arrange” the goods of others. Likewise, Tanris, a man who for years had pursued Crow to bring Crow to justice, but who is now Crow’s partner in a quest, is always the consummate law-and-order man. We get glimpses into his personal life from time to time that make him more real and more loveable as events unfold.
I note that As the Crow Flies is told in first-person. I must say that I’ve rarely read a story told from a single character’s perspective that didn’t leave me aware of that fact all the while--but Robin made it seem effortless and it was, throughout, seamless, consistent and fun!
One of the things I liked best about As the Crow Flies, was the author’s wit. Robin is quick! From the opening scene when Crow refers to the wife of the target of his intended theft in the same manner in which does her husband (“'Your turn, Darling,'" Crow says as he prepares to tie her up) to the last when Crow realizes that his scathing look at Tanris did not turn Tanris to ashes (“but rather produced a curious noise I realized was laughter”), the author kept me laughing.
All that said—here is my favorite thing about As the Crow Flies: it has to do with voice. Have you ever heard an old movie running on your television in the background and you suddenly said, “I know who that is! That’s. . .that’s. . .that’s. . . ,” and you search your memory for where it is you had heard the voice before. Or, it happened to me when I took my son to NYC some years ago. We picked up last minute tickets for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with John Lithgow, and Leo Norbert Butz (and laughed until we were sick)! When the female lead first entered the stage and spoke, my head jerked up! The voice was so distinct. There was no mistaking who she was or where I had heard that voice before. “That’s Sherie Rene Scott!” I gasped to my son. “I didn’t know she was going to be in this! I saw her as Princess Amneris in Aida! She’s fabulous!” Well, I tell this story because voices often seem to blend in with others—but once in awhile one comes along that has a unique resonance, a startling clarity, a rhythmic musicality—or something—that makes it stand out from amongst the crowd. It is a rare thing—but now and again, an author will come along with a voice that you think you will never mistake for another. This is what Lythgoe has—voice. It comes from a choice of playful words and phrases, like “the steady rising of the sun was making my hiding place less and less ‘hidey’ by the moment,” or “eyeballs and elixers and other wizardly knickknacks,” or “careful, Crow, you fly a very fine line,” or “victims of recent precipitation,” or “there were personal belongings amongst the crowd to rearrange.” The voice is also heard in Crow’s way of naming things (Horse? Girl? Not-an-Egg?). Finally, there is unique voice in the character’s internal thoughts, such as in “at least we could enjoy spring on the return trip—flowers budding, birds singing, poison creeping inexorably through one’s system, and all of that,” or “ending my life as a snack did not come high on my list of glorious ways to die” or when referring to his new hat that had already managed to become mangled, Crow notes that “only a few short minutes in my possession and already it was achieving character.” Yes, Robin has voice—a voice I want to hear sing again.
Finally, I must say that I’ve read a fair number of indie-published works of late. This work stands out as one that any major publisher worth its salt ought to know what to do with—publish it and promote it.
Well done, Robin! Very, very well done, indeed!
(For more about Robin and my interview of her, see: http://www.oathtaker.com/2/post/2013/....)