The Sharks of Al Jubail And Other Stories by John Gifford is a collection of short stories that have a unique charm about them. Each story is a small peek into a different character’s life, giving us a series of concise but engaging narratives. The first story, entitled “What Money Won’t Buy” follows a recent high-school graduate as he grapples with the question of how much his reputation is worth after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This heavy theme, coupled with a very natural-sounding first-person narrative voice, makes for a satisfyingly introspective story that makes excellent use of the uncanny ability books have of making readers feel like they are actually in the story. As someone who typically reaches for books in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed these short stories. However, if you’re looking for something to read with fully fleshed-out characters and lots of detail, this book might not be for you. These stories are short, sweet, and will leave readers pondering their ambiguity for a little while after completing them. That being said, The Sharks of Al Jubail is excellent for readers who don’t want to commit to a 300-page novel, but still enjoy a good story.
The two words that sum up John Calvin Hughes’ The Lost Gospel of Darnell Rabren are said by the main character himself: “redneck poets.” This book is wild from start to finish, chalk-full of redneck aphorisms and references to classical poetry alike. These are two elements I never expected to see side-by-side in a book, but here they are, making an odd but enjoyable pairing. The book begins with the main character, Darnell introducing himself and his friend, Jud. Then, Darnell hops into Jud’s baby blue Impala and the two of them drive off, beginning their search for the meaning of life. Once this story starts going, it doesn’t slow down. The pace and often absurd nature of the narrative makes for an entertaining read, but it is easy to get lost in this book. Not lost as in the way that some books have the ability to transport readers to a new place, however. I would often have to pause my reading to look back and figure out what exactly was happening and how the characters got to this point. This book would be a good fit for readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories, especially those with a unique twist.