Thursday, April 21, 2011

Separate Kingdoms by Valierie Laken

Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken
224 pages
Published February 2011 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

The loss of a young boy's vision at birth, the loss of a woman's limb in a car accident, the loss of a father. In this collection of short stories, Valerie Laken explores loss on many levels, both physical and emotional, short-term and permanent. The stories are set in both the United States and Russia, populated with characters who are emotionally scarred but ultimately hopeful.

As with any collection of short stories, there were some stories here that I enjoyed more than others. There were even a couple where I was not sure what, exactly, Laken was trying to say. But I enjoyed her writing in all of the stories; they are unique, emotionally touching and thought provoking. Laken also does not sacrifice on description to fit the story into short form, as in this passage from "Spectators:"
"...he had always appreciated the tidy green isolation of golf courses, the way people's voices dropped naturally to church tones, as if there were something in their midst to worship. He liked the cocktails and groundskeepers and the old-fashioned shoes, and the way serious adults could abandon the jagged concerns of their lives to focus for a few quiet hours on the flight of a small dimpled ball."
My favorite story was "Family Planning," the story of a gay couple who has traveled to Russia to adopt a child. But when they arrive and are given their choice of two children, instead of only the little boy they were expecting to met, the women realize that their hopes for the future are very different.

When I was approached about reviewing this book, I read only as far as the description of the title story. In fact, I didn't even read far enough to realize that this was a collection of short stories. I'm not sure that would have made a difference in whether or not I read this; I generally prefer to be able to read collections of short stores over a long periods. Fortunately, I didn't pass on this one.

Thanks to TLC for including me on this tour!


  1. Sounds like a good collection.

  2. I am not generally a fan of short stories but stories of loss like these are probably better taken in smaller doses. Thanks for the review!

  3. I haven't read any short stories in ages, but this book and it's themes of loss sound really intriguing to me for some reason. I am definitely going to have to check this collection out, and thank you for your fantastic review!

  4. I struggle with short stories sometimes - I'm often left wanting just a little more. Glad that you enjoyed this one.

  5. I'm not usually one for short stories but this really sounds intriguing Lisa. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. I love books of short stories! This one sounds wonderful. Thanks for an awesome review!

  7. I am like you. I prefer to read short stories in short bits here and there. I have been reading The Secret Lives of People in Love for six months now. I read a few paragraphs before bed. I love it and it works for me to read the collection that way. It was a review copy but that's just how I read short story collections.

  8. Sounds like you're glad you took a chance on this one, even if you might have felt a bit rushed to get it read for the tour.

    I do enjoy short fiction, but can see that a collection with the central theme of loss might need to be taken in small doses.

    Thanks for the review, I'll keep this one in mind.

  9. A few reviewers have mentioned that same story as being their favorite. I have to admit that particular story really intrigues me as well - I'd read the book just to get that one story.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and being on the tour.

  10. I enjoy short stories and always mean to read more. I've never read a book of short stories cover to cover in a few days. I prefer to read them here and there, over time same as you. This collection sounds worth while and captivating. I like Laken's topic choices and her writing is compelling. I've been wondering about this book and appreciate your terrific review.
    Thank you!