Buddy read – American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

March 2016 – Janelle’s choice

American Housewife: Stories

by Helen Ellis

american housewife

Published January 2016

Genres: Fiction / Short Stories / Humour


Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it’s a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven.
These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop.

Mel says…

Reading through this collection of short stories had me laughing out loud, cringing at stereotypes and wondering if women like the characters in each story actually exist.

I loved the differing perspectives of writing for each story and think that Helen Ellis nailed the variety of styles in each story. In one story you are reading it from a characters living perspective, the next through emails from differing characters and the next via a list of must-do’s.

If you are looking for an easy and quick read, this book is a must. It is light and funny and a good book to break up what can sometimes be an intense time in reading, when you have a long ‘to read list’ and just need a bookish holiday. This book keeps you turning pages until the very end. It is non-committal as protagonists constantly change and you aren’t required to make any emotional commitments to them, through their experiences.

This is one for the lady-on-the-go who needs to fill in a small amount of reading time.


Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Janelle says…

I do love a short story collection. Especially when the other book I have on the go is almost 1000 pages long. Anything to distract me from the massive commitment staring at me!

Short story collections are the anti-commitment books. Perfect “in-between” books, and great for when you’re busy. This collection had me at the title. American Housewife? Say no more, just hand it over. At 185 pages long, I can practically fit it in my back pocket.

I was expecting a snappy little collection of witty, humorous stories about the stereotypical housewife, perhaps a story or two that dared to smash that stereotype by exposing “the truth” of how much work is actually involved in being your average housewife (note: not your rich and privileged housewife) (ie. a lot). Fast forward to the contents page, with story titles such as “What I Do All Day”, “Hello! Welcome To Book Club”, and “How To Be A Grown-Ass Lady”. Oh yes, this was going to be good.

And it was good. Just good. Not fabulous. I laughed (“The Wainscoting War” – I could have read a whole book just of that one story!), but I also meh’d (“Dumpster Diving With the Stars” – which just happened to also be the longest story in the collection). I wasn’t expecting that this collection would touch on some of the not-so-funny realities of being a housewife. Like loneliness, and jealousy, and subservience. I think it’s great that it did though. That’s real life.

But I did find myself at times thinking, “ho-hum”. So for that reason, I’m ranking American Housewife in the middle, with 3 stars out of 5.


Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Read by Janelle: August 2015 – Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress

by Margaret Atwood


Published 2014

Genres: Fiction / Literary / Short Stories / Suspense

You believed you could transcend the body as  you aged, she tells herself. You believed you could rise above it, to a serene, non-physical realm. But it’s only through ecstasy you can do that, and ecstasy is achieved through the body itself. Without the bone and sinew of wings, no flight. Without that ecstasy you can only be dragged further down by the body, into its machinery. Its rusting, creaking, vengeful, brute machinery.”

Janelle says…

Stone Mattress is a collection of 9 short stories – 3 of which are connected. Within this collection you have suspense, murder, revenge, themes of ageing and self-examination, and a lot of imagination and a hint of crazy. I love stories that take a seemingly everyday scenario, and then throw in a completely fantastical element to turn everything on its head. That’s what this collection does.

In the first three stories, we follow Constance who is learning to depend only on herself and examining her worth after the death of her husband, Gavin who is Constance’s ex and appears to be having some kind of mid or late-life crisis, and Jorrie, a former fleeting affair of Gavin’s who answers to no one but is about to be stopped in her tracks. All three characters are in the last phases of their lives and questioning their decisions of the past, including the ones relating to each other. Even in their old age, many years since they were closely connected to each other, they are still affecting one another in different ways.

Then we have “Lusus Naturae”, the sad story of a young girl with vampire tendencies that cast her out from her family and community.  “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” was probably my least favourite story in the collection. It’s a story about relationships and friendships and the two “ships” colliding. For some reason I just didn’t connect with it as much as the other stories.

In “The Dead Hand Loves You”, a celebrity horror-novel author broods over the unwise, snap decision he made over the distribution of profits from his book sales. In the title story “Stone Mattress”, an aging seductress crosses paths with someone from her disturbing past who she would rather forget, while on an adventure cruise holiday. Consequently, she takes her revenge. And in “Torching the Dusties”, we watch from the POV of a visually-impaired elderly woman as a raging protest mob surrounds her retirement village and barricades the residents in, in order to carry out their evil intentions.

My favourite story of the collection is probably “The Freeze-Dried Groom”. The idea of it is just so crazy, you could almost imagine seeing it as a headline on the nightly news. It’s the kind of bizarre “what-if” scenario I create in my head all the time, and then quickly dismiss as being totally outrageous. I really should start writing them down, there could be good material there.

Basically, in The Freeze-Dried Groom an antiques dealer goes along to a storage locker auction, with a shady ulterior motive of securing a particular locker that’s related to some dodgy criminal stuff he’s involved in. He wins a number of lockers at the auction, and later when he is looking through them all, he finds the contents of one to be just slightly disturbing. I’ll let Margaret explain…

“He’s getting a very odd feeling. He squeezes in past the dress. If what he’s thinking is right, there ought to be some champagne: there’s always champagne for weddings. Sure enough, here it is, three crates of it, unopened. It’s a miracle it hasn’t frozen and burst. Beside it are several boxes of champagne flutes, also unopened: glass ones, not plastic, good quality. And some boxes of white china plates, and a big box of white napkins, cloth, not paper. Someone has stored their entire wedding in here. A big-ticket wedding.

Behind the cardboard boxes there’s some luggage – brand-new luggage, a matched set, cherry red in colour.

And behind that, in the farthest, darkest corner, is the groom.”

That’s right, he finds THE GROOM in the storage locker too! WHAT KIND OF CRAZY WORLD IS THIS?? I love it. I’m not going to share any more with you, there is more to the story but you’ll just have to find out for yourself if you really want to know what happens. You do, don’t you? Why is the groom in there? Who put him there? What happened to him? WHYYYYY?

More than one of these stories ends in an utterly unfinished fashion, leaving you staring at the pages in disbelief that there is no more to be found, but leaving your own mind to decide how you would best like the story to continue.

I have read various occasions that Margaret Atwood doesn’t waste a word. Having now had my first Atwood experience, I would agree that that is an absolutely accurate statement to make about her writing.


Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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