Friday, September 16, 2011

Mothy Mae by Cee Martinez

New flash fiction has been posted.

Mothy Mae 

A story about the unexpected consequences of ostracism and bullying.

Mouseprose is a fledgling story forum. They accept stories in a great many genres and have already posted quite a few itneresting ones.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

DamnedDamned by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Keep exercising, taking your vitamins, and recycling. If you're lucky, you'll never die. Otherwise, don't swear, honk your horn excessively, or pee in swimming pools; accept Christ as your savior and you may just keep yourself out of Hell. This is the hard lesson pre-adolescent little Madison Spencer learns after improbably overdosing on marijuana in a hotel room while watching her celebrity mother present an Oscar on television. Now trapped in a greasy cell, watching demons devour the flesh of the screaming damned, Madison finds herself with an eternity of torment before her with which to reflect upon her short life.

The novel, told through Madison's voice, reads with all the authentic vinegar of an intelligent young girl who, lacking in prom queen good looks, has decided to define herself with intelligence and wit. She marches through Palahniuk's vision of hell, past waterfalls of human bodily excretions, past endless loops of "The English Patient", with all the stubborn innocence of a world weary child.

Anyone familiar with Dante or Chaucer, or even the purgatory of the wonderful film "Wrist Cutters: A Love Story", will feel right at home with this Hell which basically just serves as the backdrop for a story that is the bastard child of Judy Blume and John Hughes after an acid trip bender at the Westboro Church. The story is very meta, with constant references to its own similarities to "The Breakfast Club" and Judy Blume novels, and the novelty of that wears off pretty quickly. The reader is unfortunately left with a plot and collection of characters--the prom queen, the jock, the dweeb, the rebel--that veers into predictability. You know at the get-go that seemingly shallow character will rise to the occasion, and seemingly callous ones will show heart when the story asks for it. You know that this is a standard coming of age plot that will take the heroine on a quest of self discovery and purpose.

R-rated violence and a graphic oral sex scene would make me quite an irresponsible person to recommend this to older teens--but I'm going to do it anyway. In many ways, the prose and structure of this book is a classic young adult novel with valuable lessons about family and self esteem put across more honestly than a lot of current YA best sellers.

This novel could really resonate amongst disaffected teens in this convoluted modern world of short attention spans, apathy, cruelty, and terrorism. A girl could do worse for role models than the doggedly optimistic Madison Spencer who becomes consumed with a plan to meet and charm Satan. If one is stuck in hell, then one must make the most of it right? It couldn't be so bad to be a minion of the Dark Lord rather than an ant under his foot... erm... cloven hoof?

I really enjoyed the complex relationship Palahniuk creates between Madison and her Brangelina-inspired parents. The parents could have easily been relegated to one dimensional caricatures, the scapegoat for an adolescent "no one loves me" whine-fest. Her parents both neglect and over-nurture Madison in shockingly extreme ways, but they are not evil...they're just liberal, and Madison is not bitter and hateful to them over it, she's just rather resigned to their flaws. There is even a bittersweet affection in the way she reflects upon her mother's uneven, self absorbed lifestyle, and her father's dim witted affections.

The novel is epic in scope, traversing the scorching open wastelands of hell where big name demons roam ravenous, to the clerical offices where the files and appeal of the damned are kept and conveniently lost. Of course Halloween is honored here, with the damned allowed one night amongst the living. It's the best time to collect chocolate bars--the most valuable currency in Hell. Even demons have a sweet tooth.

Hell fast loses it's shock and terror through the eyes of Madison Spencer, and as the novel picks up speed so does the fun. It's a dangerously seductive premise, because if spending time in Hell meant becoming the best friend of this plucky heroine, then it doesn't seem like such a bad prospect after all.

My thanks to Doubleday Publishing for the advance reader copy. :)

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Monday, September 5, 2011

A Book Courtesy of My Friendly Neighborhood Specter Magazine...

Sally HemingsSally Hemings by Barbara Chase Riboud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

July 4th of this year found me seperated from fireworks and backyard barbecue, alone and in my livingroom with the laptop, and a History Channel marathon of The American Revolution. While running wild on Twitter and Facebook, I got to know better the editor of the brilliant new ezine, Specter Magazine, a Mr. Thomas D. DeMary II. I don't recall the exact details of the twit-conversation any longer, but the end result was that he had to pony up and buy me a book of my choosing off

Seeing as it was July 4th, I went Founding Father themed, and chose a title related to Thomas Jefferson. A paperback novel by Barbara Chase Riboud about the controversial enslaved mistress of Mr. Jefferson, Sally Hemings.

I've always been fascinated by Sally Hemings, the young one quarter African slave-girl who became the 15 year old mistress of Thomas Jefferson while he was stationed in Paris--Sally serving his daughters Martha, and Maria. She was the half-sister of Jefferson's dead wife Martha Wayles, and by all spoken accounts (for no portrait of Sally Hemings is known to survive)a beautiful young woman and the spitting image of her half sister. The fact that she was the aunt of the girls she was slave to, half sister to the dead Mistres of Monticello, and bound concubine of Thomas Jefferson whether she liked it or not seemed to sum up to me the epitome of slavery's absurdity.

The legend of the Hemings scandal, a huge story at the time Jefferson served as President of the United States, and chronicled by her own son Eston Hemings in an autobiography, faded over the decades. Covered in dust and the eventual sainting of Jefferson into a flawless man of marble.

This novel, I was pleasantly surprised to find, meticulously researched and wonderfully written, chips away the marble and granite of the beloved Thomas Jefferson, and breathes life into the breast of a slave girl who had only previously been immortalized in rude poems and brushed aside as a figment of legend.

The novel opens with a census taker in 1830 Virginia meeting an aged but still beautiful Sally Hemings, a freewoman living near the grounds of Monticello with two of her sons by Jefferson. The book almost lost me at the gate when the paragraphs breathlessly worship at the altar of Sally's "white" beauty. Great emphasis is devoted to her unlined skin, though she is past 50, her ivory complexion, her ebony hair and golden eyes that glow like a gemstone. Descriptive passages like this can sometimes leave me cold, as if to say the only woman worth writing about is one that never ages and is impossibly beautiful. I was afraid that this novel would go the way of a lurid romantic bodice ripper.

Sticking with it, however, paid off beautifully. Very swiftly Chase-Riboud takes the story of the infatuated census taker and the ageless Sally and smashes them together with a hard unflinching look of the the subject of slavery, race despite skin color, and Sally's complete embracing of her own identity as a woman of African heritage. Sally is an ageless doll at the opening, but that impossible beauty is quickly stripped away, as she begins to shed the skin of her emotional enslavement to the memory of Thomas Jefferson and Monticello.

Told from a variety of viewpoints, but mostly through Sally's, the novel jumps back and forth in time, and with great skill creates a Sally Hemings that is full blooded and real. One feels great sympathy for the fifteen year old Sally in Paris, beautiful and naive, and overcome with the love that Jefferson offers. Freedom from slavery in Paris is within her grasp, but adolescent infatuation is a stronger force that binds her to Jefferson and condemns her to a lifetime of slavery returned to Virginia. At no point is she a helpless, dim-witted concubine mistress as popular tales of the time had her. She is an intelligent, assertive, graceful woman who runs Monticello, and deftly dodges the venom sent her way by Jefferson's oldest daughter Martha.

Jefferson is shown as both the intelligent, innovative man he is famous for being, but his flaws are also not skimmed over. His inability to spend or save money properly, the hypocrisy of his idea of a free America but yet allowing slavery to fester and spread, and his selfishness in binding Sally Hemings and her children to him without ever giving them anything more than his curt acknowledgment.

This book is an important one, controversial at the time for its unflinching look at slavery, race relations, and the fallibility of a Founding Father.

Read the modern paperback edition of this book as it has an afterword by the author in it, detailing the pains she took in research, and the pain she endured upon publication of the book for being an African American woman who would dare pull back the curtain on the boudoir of an American Icon.


And I highly recommend everyone go and check out Specter Magazine at

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