By Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown, 288 pages, $25.99)
How do you follow up an international best-seller like Room? With a collection of short stories inspired by snippets of history.
Astray is obviously not a book Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue wrote to build on the audience she gained from that chilling piece of 2010 fiction about a captive 5-year-old and his mom. But it shows her confidence as a writer, bringing to life the characters that piqued her interest in everything from 19th-century letters to a line in a New York newspaper in 1735.
All the stories are brief, featuring characters far from home who find themselves not just geographically astray, but morally, too.
Donoghue is gifted at imagining narrators from all walks of life. She writes one in the voice of a slave in 1864 Texas who murders his master and runs away with his wife: “She turn, she look in my face, she say I packed my bag. Her hand like a knot in mine.” Another tells the story of a pair of 1896 gold diggers in the Yukon who create their own Brokeback Mountain when snowstorms force them inside their tent for days at a time.
Anyone who appreciates a well-told tale will enjoy these 14 short stories. It’s perfect for the bedside table or the quiet commute — rich tales by a writer near the top of her game.
— Rob Merrill
Who Could That Be at This Hour?
By Lemony Snicket, with illustrations by Seth (Little, Brown, $15.99, ages 8 and up)
What is a bombinating beast, and why would anyone make a statue of it, much less steal it, in a city nowhere near an ocean that’s nevertheless known as Stain’d by the Sea? These, and other alliterative oddities, are at the center of Who Could That Be at This Hour? — a Pink Panther-esque page turner that marks the return of Lemony Snicket, who was last heard from six years ago with “The End” to his A Series of Unfortunate Events.
The events turn back the clock to a time when phones plugged into the wall, music was played on vinyl records and Snicket — self-described as an excellent reader, good cook, mediocre musician and awful quarreler — was just 12 years old. Snicket is an apprentice in a secret organization who, as he’s constantly reminded by his chaperone, asks all the wrong questions.
The kickoff to the new series titled All the Wrong Questions opens with this introduction: “There was a town, and there was a girl, and there was a theft. I was living in the town, and I was hired to investigate the theft, and I thought the girl had nothing to do with it. … I was wrong.”
So begins a contrarian story that unfolds near a sea with no water, a forest without trees and a city that’s mostly unpopulated. The few people who live there are, of course, strange. There’s typewriter-toting tween journalist Moxie Mallahan, “sub-librarian” Dashiell Qwerty and a pair of kids named Pip and Squeak who operate the town’s sole taxi.
The Snicket style is exceptionally literary and entirely singular. Characterized by linguistic playfulness and an appreciation for the archaic, Who Could That Be at This Hour? is frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. The black, gray and blue illustrations by celebrated cartoonist Seth only add to the throwback gumshoe vibe.
— Susan Carpenter
Los Angeles Times
Ne-Yo has said that the follow-up to his coolly received 2010 concept album Libra Scale represents a kind of creative retrenchment — an effort “to just get back to the basics,” as the R&B star recently told Vibe Vixen magazine.
You get some of that from the first two songs on R.E.D., both of which Ne-Yo co-wrote with Shea Taylor, who also produced. Cracks in Mr. Perfect and Lazy Love share an up-close intimacy with tunes Taylor has made with Beyonce and Frank Ocean, and the album’s third cut, Let Me Love You (Until You Love Yourself), seems designed to remind us of simpler times by recycling a portion of its title from the 2004 Mario hit that was one of Ne-Yo’s first big songwriting successes.
After that, though, R.E.D. doesn’t really stick to the idea of less is more. In Don’t Make ’Em Like You the singer teams with Wiz Khalifa for a relatively bumptious hip-hop track, while Forever Now and Shut Me Down extend Ne-Yo’s flirtation with pulsating dance music.
Tim McGraw even joins him for a lightly country-fried duet in She Is, repaying a favor Ne-Yo did McGraw on the latter’s Emotional Traffic. The sound narrows again in Stress Reliever, another lovely Taylor production built atop a minimal deep-space drum beat. But it only cleanses your palate for more flavors to come.
— Mikael Wood
Los Angeles Times