Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town: A Review

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie Sue HitchcockIn a small town, you are forever defined by the worst thing that ever happened to you. Maybe your mother died and you’re so angry you see red every time you miss her. Maybe your best friend went missing, her body found two years later. Maybe you almost lost your little sister when a stranger approached her in the woods. Maybe your mother and father refused to listen when you tried to tell them what happened to you at church every Sunday in the confessional.

And maybe what happens to define you in your small town has an echo. A ripple when your best friend reinvents herself as the girl every boy wants. An attempt at justice that leaves you lighter and sparks a fire in your wake. A missed connection as you cross paths with a volunteer firefighter in the evacuation center.

Maybe this is all there is. All anyone in your small town will ever know about you. But maybe you’ll still die famous because doesn’t everyone die famous in a small town?

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town (2021) by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is a collection of loosely inter-connected short stories.

Find it on Bookshop.

Starting in Alaska the stories follow teen characters across the Pacific Northwest and Alaska as their lives cross paths in the aftermath of a devastating abduction, a sexual abuse scandal at a small town church, and a forest fire that changes everything.

Shifting viewpoints and locations slowly come into focus as readers find the core of the book where each story is a spoke around one (or all) of these events.

Standouts in the collection include “Alaska was Wasted on Us” and “The Stranger in the Woods” which serve as interesting mirrors with the two possible outcomes in the face of a near tragedy (Fiona realizing how wrong she is about Finn and Jenny realizing how close her family came to losing sister Jade forever).

Fans of Hitchcock’s previous Morris Award nominated short story collection will enjoy the similar structure found in Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town. Recommended for short story fans and readers of suspense.

Possible Pairings: Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Not If I Save You First: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterAfter six year living in an isolated cabin in the Alaskan wilderness with her Secret Service agent father, Maddie is used to being on her own. She has definitely given up on hearing from her former best friend Logan, the president’s son.

Maddie thought that she and Logan would always be best friends but it turns out a friendship is hard to sustain when only one of you ever writes letters without ever getting a response. Turns out getting used to having no best friend is a lot harder than adjusting to not having a phone, Internet, or any privacy.

When Logan does show up–six years too late–Maddie is ready to kill him. But a mysterious assailant forces Maddie to put that plan on hold when he pushes her off a cliff and drags Logan away at gunpoint.

Now Maddie has to save Logan. But once she finishes that she’s definitely going to kill him in Not If I Save You First (2018) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

In her latest standalone novel Carter brings together her signature combination of girl power adventure with the unforgiving Alaskan landscape. Maddie already knows that everything in Alaska wants to kill you from the weather to the wildlife so she’s ready when actual Russian gunmen are thrown into the mix. Maddie is a tough-talking heroine who uses bravado to hide her vulnerability and sparkles to hide her abilities. After all, no one ever over-estimates a flighty teenage girl, right?

In contrast to Maddie’s muscle and might, Logan is the one who needs rescuing. He is a quick thinker with a photographic memory. But it turns out that can only take him so far against a loaded gun and everything else Alaska has to throw at him.

Not If I Save You First is filled with action, chases, flirting, and just a little kissing. An unusual setting, some of my favorite characters, and a fast-paced story make this a must read. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a new adventure and an obvious choice for fans of the author.

Possible Pairings: All-American Girl by Meg Cabot, Right Where You Left Me by Calla Devlin, You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando, Liberty: The Spy Who (Kind of) Liked Me by Andrea Portes,  I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

Hard-Boiled Speculative Fiction—in Yiddish! (a review of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union)

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael ChabonJews, Alaska, chess, and murder: usually these subjects don’t have a lot in common. That is until you read Michael Chabon’s new novel The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (2007) where these elements come together to create the core of this quirky noir story.

Chabon’s novel is based on an interesting conceit: What if Jews had not been able to settle in Israel after World War II and, instead, were granted temporary residency on the Alaskan panhandle?

The original plan was set into motion around 1939 by Harold Ickes (Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior), in response to a plea from a Jewish community in the town of Neustadt requesting permission to settle in Alaska and escape the imminent threat of Nazi Germany.

The settlement was proposed in the Alaska Territory as a way to work around the United States’ existing immigration quotas, but fell through due in large part to a lack of political support and backlash from Alaskans who feared the prospect of foreign settlers for myriad reasons ranging from racism to increased competition for jobs.

In the novel, however, Ickes was successful in bringing his plan to fruition and Jewish refugees were given the Federal District of Sitka as a temporary settlement. That was sixty years before the start of Chabon’s novel when Sitka is getting ready to revert to the United States leaving the fate of the Alaskan Jews largely unknown.

Amazingly, all of these events are just a backdrop for Chabon’s actual story: an edgy murder mystery.

When Meyer Landsman moved into a local flophouse nine months ago he wasn’t looking to do much more than spend some quality time with his bottle of slivovitz and “the shot glass that he is currently dating” until Sitka finally reverts. Landsman’s plans change abruptly when the body of a local chess prodigy turns up in the hotel.

For reasons that elude even him, Landsman feels obligated to investigate the murder despite pressure from his new boss/ex-wife and other higher ups to drop the case. As the investigation continues, Landsman and Berko Shemets, his half-Tlingit partner, find themselves sucked into the underworld of the black hat community of the Verbover Jews and their nefarious undertakings.

Chabon also throws in several conspiracies, a cover-up scheme, a pseudo-terrorist plot, and lots of Yiddish phrases just to keep things interesting. This last touch is because the novel has the unique characteristic of being a novel written in English about characters who do not speak English: they all speak Yiddish instead.

So The Yiddish Policeman’s Union does require a bit of energy to read. At first, nothing is going to make sense. But Chabon eventually pulls it all together. The Yiddish phrases slowly start to become comprehensible, as do the various subplots Chabon incorporates into this very unique story.

Chabon’s prose has a strange charm, which might be expected from an author who won the Pulitzer Prize for “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” a novel whose plot largely centers around a comic book hero. The narration is hard-edged, often gritty, but always with a smile threatening to form. (Jews from south of Sitka are referred to as “Mexicans.”)

From the first line, this story will grab a reader’s attention. Written in the present tense, it has an immediacy fitting for a book that tries to recreate the style of Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective stories in a Jewish community.

Chabon starts off strong with a vision that he vividly crafts on the page. This vision begins to falter in the second half of the novel as Chabon becomes wrapped up in the complicated conventions common to noir stories. The explanations for several conspiracies come off as convoluted, if not entirely out of nowhere. The novel’s ending, too, is not as strong as its opening.

Shortcomings aside, Chabon has done a great service to the genre of speculative (or “what if?”) fiction by showing that it is possible to write a serious S. F. novel.