Monday, December 17, 2012

Coloured and Other Stories" by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Coloured and Other StoriesColoured and Other Stories by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a slim collection of short stories, the trials and triumphs of life as a South Indian immigrant in the United States are told. A young girl, American educated and Indian born, the only daughter in a family of boys, learns exactly how precious she is to her parents. A young English schooled Indian man learns the stark realities of racism in a Texas bar. A young woman feels so racially intimidated that even warming up her curry in the workplace microwave becomes a daily fear for her. A new bride struggles with the stigma of being childless and the temptation of forbidden American men.

Each story carries its own distinct flavor and protagonist, weaving its prose into your heart without using extreme shock tactics or exploiting easy avenues like shaming white Americans or spitting upon life within a conservative Indian family. Yes racism happens in some of the stories, to varying degrees, sometimes violent but mostly of the cold condescending sort that is quite familiar to anyone of color who has had to endure it in school or at work. (It's a sort of racism that the perpetrators often do not realize they're inflicting, one I am quite familiar with experiencing and actually am quite delighted to see so accurately portrayed in some of these stories.) Yes, also, there are stories portraying an Indian protagonist feeling a level of embarrassment at their own culture, yearning for their families to "be more American" so they would fit in better with their peers, but there is no hint of whining self pity about it. It's part of what makes each of these stories so very readable and approachable. It's possible to sympathize with these characters without feeling put on the spot, or judgmental of them.

I can't say I felt let down by any of these stories. In fact, these are the sort of stories I would liked to have read as a teenager. I felt a distinct kinship with the protagonists in the stories "Food" and "Down". It about brought tears to my eyes at memories of similar experiences, yet neither story is about an "us against them" pity party with no solution, but instead highlights the strength of finding one's own character within the trial. I do have to say "Dasi" and "Truth" hit me in the gut hardest and are probably the two most emotionally staggering stories of the group.

None of these stories rings "false" or "forced". They are honest and filled with characters you can root for or are at least fascinated with. I would not mind reading these stories over again and I recommend them to anyone who is in the mood for a good intelligent and eye opening read.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I am posting this blog meme a wee bit late but better late than never. If you are a writer with a blog please leave me a note and I'll tag you, and link to your blog, then next Wednesday (or any belated day after) answer these questions, blog em, post em, tag away!

The purpose of this meme is to let everyone know a bit about what you got cooking--novel wise. So, here are the beans on the manuscript I have that is the closest to completion. Cheers!

I was tagged by the lovely and talented Rebecca Emin whose blog can be found here.

What is the working title of your book

For right now. "Blood Brilliant" although that is very much a working title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The main idea came from an image I had in my head of a woman struggling with a man who snaps her neck. It came from a nightmare I suppose, but I began to wonder what circumstances led that woman there and what could I build around it.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult paranormal.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh dear! Let me think. For the lead, Talitha, I would really like an unknown. She's a temperamental  tough, Texan who does not fit the stereotypical svelte body of a Hollywood ingenue and I'd hate to see the role go to someone who is just wearing a fat-suit or gaining weight for the role. I'd like her to be played by someone authentic.

Her father, Ethan Curie, however is totally Brenden Gleeson. Nuff said.

For Robert Christobel I'd love to see a young Spanish or Mexican actor.

Danielle Blakely I'd love to see played by Kat Graham.

Lena Mirinova would be brilliant for Olga Kurylenko and Antonius Merryn is perfect for someone like Bill Nighy.

Amy Ryan would be awesome for Annie and Rose Byrne would be a great fit for Miranda.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young girl suffering from a lifetime of loss and self loathing is ripped from her shell as she is forced to fight for the life of her new best friend who has been kidnapped and held hostage by vampires.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am still considering self publishing but the prevalence of good indie press out there has me really loving the idea of submitting to small market publishers. I am not at all concerned with money or instant prestige so much as I just would love to have my story out there.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft took about one year to write before edits. I sat on the IDEA for about 11 years, haha, before actually rolling up my sleeves and doing it, however.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I feel it is a lot closer to the young adult books I read growing up, like "The Silver Kiss" and "Blood and Chocolate" by Annette Curtis Klause, and "The View From the Cherry Tree" by Willo Davis Roberts. There is a combination of paranormal and suspense thriller to it that I think matches well with those types of books. It's the element of a young person suffering who is still forced to take matters into their own hands when things go over their head.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I think my inspiration to write it has always been my love of reading, above anything else. I grew up devouring books and I loved being a reader but then I began to feel the urge to create something of my own for someone to read. I remember being frustrated at times however, as books geared towards my age group often were 90 percent love triangle and 10 percent action, and so I began by writing the story I would like to read.

Also, I am a rabid fan of the vampire genre, and the beautiful thing about that genre is that the author has the freedom to create whatever world they please. The trend right now is towards a beautiful, romantic sort of hero, and that's fine. What I wanted to create however, is a vampire who is more an unabashed villain, someone pitiless and cruel. My protagonist is a teenage girl who despite all her emotional ills and traumas has a solid core that she needs to rediscover for herself. The vampires in this case serve as the rat in the grain exposing that core, but they are not the crutch for her to create a new sense of self.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I think it will appeal to the reader who is looking for a dark, vampire tale without all the sweetness of romance and longing. If the reader is looking for a lone-wolf style heroine and vampires that stay evil, well then, this book is for them.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Love Comes Later by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Love Comes LaterLove Comes Later by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An arranged marriage between Qatari cousins may not go on as planned when matters of heartache and rebellion come crashing into their mannered, conservative world. Abdulla--a widower still in mourning, is pressured by his family to marry his cousin, Hind, a young university student who has dreams far beyond what is acceptable for a Qatari woman of her rank and standing. Hind wins a stay to her "execution" by agreeing to marry Abdulla if she can at least finish her education in England. So, to England Hind goes, and in doing so she meets a young American of Indian descent, Sangita--a young women destined to change their lives forever.

The bare bones of this story are simple, and found in many a romance, the arranged marriage, the conflicted feelings, the budding love triangle. With that in mind, an author tackling the subject needs to be mindful to create a lively tale with characters one can root for.

Abdulla, could easily have been written as a villain, or as someone so dishwater dull he just asks to be flung over for another hunk. His story is written with grace, however, and he is portrayed as a decent, tenderhearted man still mourning the tragic death of his wife. Hind comes across initially as a snooty, prickly young princess, which in essence she is, but it is easy to sympathize with her fear of an eternity spent married to and breeding with a man she does not love with no option for a job or life of her own. A cage is still a cage, even if it is a golden one. When she meets Sangita, the two young women from seemingly different backgrounds, soon find the similarities in their conservative upbringing and hit if off quite well. Hind is constantly appalled or bemused by Sangita's brash American ways and Sangita has a curious fascination with Hind's privileged world.

The backdrop of large, controlling, conservative worlds is thoroughly covered here, with an authentic, and refreshingly balanced view of life as a Muslim. Sangita becomes the "cabbage head" as Hind is constantly reminding her that being Muslim does not exactly mean all the stereotypes a typical American would think. Still, the thrill of a young woman tasting freedom from her stifled, controlling family is tempered with the ever present cloud of being caught and destroying family honor. It's a theme that rang very close to me, and I think will resonate with anyone born into a tightly knit household, regardless of their religion. In fact, it goes a long way into showing just how similar the problems are for daughters born into these families.

There is no real condemnation however, of the conservative life. Rules are stretched but not snapped, and it falls upon the characters to find solutions to their own problems and hearts without shattering the walls around them. They become sneaky, resourceful, and discover their hidden strengths and weaknesses. As their lives become ever more entangled, I began to feel real worry for all three of them, as I realized I just wanted everyone to be okay!

All in all, I found this novel to be a satisfying, involving romance. It was not a lightweight tale by any means. Anyone up for a smart, classy read is in for a treat.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 6, 2012

For the Helpless, by Lori Boggs

For the HelplessFor the Helpless by Lori Boggs

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Kelly Lowe is a tough as nails, sassy, homicide detective juggling her job and a boyfriend who is more romantically inclined than she is. When young girls start disappearing and showing up brutally tortured and murdered, and the killer begins trading taunting phone calls with her, the story becomes a race against time for Kelly to find him without becoming a victim herself.

There is a lot of action and danger in this novel, all of it packed concisely into scenes that flick one to another with the breeziness of a made for TV crime thriller. Detective Lowe is a textbook composite of personalities suitable for "movie of the week heroine" and she wavers constantly between tough tomboy swagger and cat cuddling vulnerability. It was easy enough to like her, especially in scenes where she stood up to men twice her size, and bantered in a sibling-esque fashion with her seasoned partner. There was a lot of censored restraint exercised in writing her, however, and it showed bluntly in emotionally charged scenes where Lowe is reduced to yelling "Mother-effer" as she punches out in frustration or refers to people simply as "S.O.B's".

The bleeps are of course the writer's choice and violence and language is clearly kept to a PG-13 minimum. It does provide a refuge for a reader wanting a crime thriller without all the gory extras, but at the same time it gave me this feeling that Detective Lowe was merely a sassy teenage girl pretending to be a cop. The sharp edge of danger I wanted to feel just was not present in the book.

The plot is quite complicated and at times confusing, as there is little real face put to the villain or suspects, at least not until around the last third of the novel. There are the taunting phone calls to Detective Lowe and a twist or two but the energy spent on trying to untangle a pile of suspects who had no personality left me rather cold and not on the edge of my seat. That isn't to say the killer had no teeth, however. Innocent girls are murdered and in horrible fashion but the entire feel of it was as if it were "Seven" packaged for the Family Channel.

I can't say I hated this book because I read through it easily and with enough concern for Detective Lowe's fate, but I did not particularly like it either. I think the author does have a good knack for telling a story, but I really would like her to throw a little more snarl into the pot.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In Which Baking Happens...

Awrite, there's a diet for everyone nowadays, and no one (including me) can digest anything, and when you think about it, if any of us were born like 100 years ago or even 50 years ago, our parents would-a already left us to the woods for the wolves to clean up the weak, or in one of those weird cubicle buildings where children were sent when they exhibited symptoms that we know nowadays are related to environmental illness, or learning disability or, being a hipster or like... just not comprehending how to make your bed every morning, and using "bible" as a verb. (As in: Learn to bible and you'll see the path!) <---Note I have no issues with religion or the bible or anyone's belief system--unless yer a Nazi--in which case I have a face for you.... >:[

Anyhow, Mom delivers to me a recipe for flat-bread which was given to her by another friend who got it from someone--prolly off the internet. This is bread she can actually HAVE!!! *le gasp* So I made it today to give it a whirl.

The attraction of this bread is that it's gluten free and GRAIN free and yet still soft enough to have an enjoyable cold sandwich. It's also full-a flavor and good things like that. So here's the recipe and I shall include hastily taken last minute pictures as well.

Simple Flatbread--recipe credited to Kristin Kons

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour (I used ground almond, worked just fine)

3/4 cup tapioca flour

1/3 cup (2TBS whole seeds) ground flax or ground chia seeds (I used ground chia seeds which I got at Whole Foods)

1 tsp xylitol or raw honey, or 7 drops liquid stevia <-- I forgot to use any sweetener and the bread came out just fine. :)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp sea salt (I have a bad feeling I used one whole tsp of both the soda and salt but it seemed to have turned out fine. Just obey the recipe tho)

3 organic eggs

1/3 cup plain organic yogurt--preferrably low or full fat

Any dried herbs mixed with sea salt--Italian season, Frontier adobe seasoning blend, or whatever seasoned salt you like (I used a mix of dried Italian herbs and sea salt)


1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

2. In a large bowl, combine almond flour, tapioca, ground flax or chia, xylitol, baking soda, and salt

3. In a small bowl blend eggs and yogurt.

4. Add the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and use mixer to stir to combine it until it forms a sticky, wet dough. (I actually stirred the herbs into the dough here)

5. Pour batter in a 12x16 jelly roll pan/cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Smooth batter out with a spatula over the entire surface area, so it is thin and even.

6. Sprinkle herbs of choice and sea salt (if you are using a salt free seasoning blend) evenly over the dough.

7. On center rack of oven, bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Don't over bake or it will be too dry.

8. Cool and cut into desired size. I like using a pizza cutter to do this.

Notes: The bread stores best wrapped in parchment paper and sealed in a Ziploc bag. It keeps longer stored in the fridge and can be frozen.

I cut the bread into squares and it tasted great as a savory sandwich bread. It's soft and tasty. :) xx

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Disintegrating Bloodline Part 1 by Louis T Bruno

Disintegrating Bloodline Part 1, TheDisintegrating Bloodline Part 1, The by Louis T. Bruno

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chris Mangini, a young, powerful representative for the Mafia, has been hired by a gang-plagued high school to use his clout and muscle to pull the gangs into order. Corralling the rampant violence roaming the halls is a request Chris takes well to, and one fateful morning as he holds court in the high school cafeteria, he takes a bullied young student under his wing despite the misgivings of his faithful cohorts.

The young student, A.J., jumps eagerly into the arms of his dangerous new friends who not only offer protection and status, but they also lead him to cold, hard cash in amounts never before seen by the boy. This is where A.J. finds his crisis. He is a boy who both loves and respects his parents, and when the nature of his new lifestyle is questioned by them, the 16 year old is faced with the fateful decision--to hold onto what is left of his innocence, or to become the new favorite of Chris Mangini.

This tale, which is set in the 90's, is swift paced and full of dialogue and violence very reminiscent of the urban crime films from that period. Many of the scenes spare no dirty detail and the reader is immersed into this world of foul breath, angry sweat, smelly bathrooms, and the bloody reality of vicious assault and murder. A.J. is moved from scene to scene as he helps collect tribute from young gang leaders, deepens his bond with his new mentor Chris Mangini, and feels the throes of first love.

I especially found moving a scene between A.J. and his father over the meaning of what it is to be decent and moral. It's a poignant snapshot of a fraying thread between a loving father and son, and the war between spiritual ideals and the practicality of animal instinct.

Chris Mangini is also a fascinating character and as the story moves along, we catch glimpses of his past which helped to form his alternately brutal and magnanimous nature. He is a man who can kill with his bare hands, but at the same time show mercy to a bullied boy.

If there is a flaw to this story, it is far too short and I was left wanting to know so much more about A.J. and Chris. I would have also liked to have seen an expanded look into the various gangs that A.J. encounters rather than just a simple stereotype presented by the gang's leader. We do see glimpses into the minds of the doomed, their confused thoughts and resignations, and it served to whet my appetite for more.

In which case, I am happy to see this slim tale labeled as "Part 1".

I wholeheartedly recommend this colorful, violent tale to any fans of urban thrillers, organized crime, or unflinching coming of age tales. Fair warning though for the faint of heart--the dialogue is rough and raw, and the violence is harsh and unromantic.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Alice in Writerland by Elisa Hategan

Alice in Writerland:  A Writer's Adventures in the Ugly World of PublishingAlice in Writerland: A Writer's Adventures in the Ugly World of Publishing by Elisa Hategan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For all writers who think if their lives were just THAT much more interesting (like being born into a crime family, or recruited into the CIA as a super-secret child assassin for instance) they'd have a ready made book to sell--then this book is for them. For all writers who feel locked out of the world of face to face networking at writing retreats and long for the magical blessing of their very own agent, this book is also for them. Hell, if you're a writer, then this book is for you.

Every aspect of this book is written from the heart throbbing on the sleeve of Ms. Elisa Hategan. In breathless, fervent prose very reminiscent of Anne Rice or a Victorian scribe, Hategan spills to us a story that is part memoir, part cautionary tale. A girl born in Eastern Europe to emotionally distant parents, she endures trials and tribulation under an oppressive government and has to scrape out an emotional life before being moved to Canada. Once there, no Western Utopia awaits. She falls under very harsh times and is lost into the clutches of a White Supremacist militant group. Her story unravels to reveal that as a young teen, she becomes double agent, working for both the militant group and turning on them to government officials in a case that roots out the very corruption eating away within the Canadian government itself!

For a girl who at that age is already a budding poet and aspiring writer, this is an instant book deal, right?


Ms. Hategan's fascinating life is only a small portion of this tale which is the tale of the making of a nonfiction best-seller that never came to be. After going into hiding for the remainder of her teen years, she breaks free of the physical clutches of her past, but can't quite outrun the emotional resonance of it as she tries as hard as anyone can to break into the glittering echelons of the world of The Published Writer. With ever growing disillusion, she chronicles the world of applying for writing grants, entry into college writer's workshops, acquiring the holy grail of all aspiring writers--The Agent, and even the thrill of finally sitting at a negotiating table with a legacy publishing house.

Nothing ever seems to quite work for Ms. Hategan and she pulls no punches, and names names (gasp!) as she bluntly states her disgust and disappointment with the people and the industry around her. This is where her book both works...and doesn't. She unashamedly pours her emotion into her prose and states upfront within the pages that she does not care whether or not this book offends, as the main reason for this book's existence is to purge once and for all the woes weighing her shoulders and heart down. She is quite a good writer so her voice comes through loud and clear, to the point where it really does feel as if you're sharing a consolation drink with a weeping best friend and doing your best to just BE THERE for her. For that very fact, this book will either resonate powerfully for you, or it won't, depending upon your readiness to be that best friend. Make no mistake about this, Ms. Hategan has done something interesting in that the very way she has structured and presented this book gives the reader absolutely no choice but to BE her best friend and shoulder to cry on.

Now I give this book three stars. It is well written and quite engaging, but at the same time, the emotional weight of it initially drew me in and then repelled me. I kept finding myself at first sympathizing with Elisa on her journey but at the same time feeling a need to nag and counsel in a way reminiscent of my own mother. Perhaps it is because I am following quite a different path than Ms. Hategan in my quest to be a writer, and the idea of hunting for writing grants, getting into workshops, or even being validated with a big book deal, has never really been my goal. Ms. Hategan's boiling bitterness with everything about the publishing industry seemed almost like wasted energy to me at times as I kept wanting to reach through the pages and pull her by the hand and scream, "Who cares about shining book shelves and rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty world of fancy writers? Just write and let them all be damned!" Something to that effect (but let's face it I would never say that to someone's face.)

I did not find a thing wrong with Ms. Hategan's tale to tell, but I did feel a certain need to pull back from it as the venom rose with each chapter. In fact, I have let this book sit for quite a long while before getting this review out so I could take the initial emotions out of my own thoughts. I am glad I did.

I can now truly say that her book is indeed an important one and especially so for anyone thinking of getting into the writing business with the idea that gold lines their path, and trying to fit in with cocktail parties, agents, editors, and workshops is the only way to go. I now know that it is my own personal taste alone that initially made me feel cold to the book. So I say--go read this book, give it a try! Just be prepared to have a lot of tissues handy (for your best friend's tears) like any good shoulder to cry on has.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Writing Update Post!

I have a few wee stories at the ever awesome Short Fast and Deadly.

My shorts "Scarecrow Cherry Roll" and "Lingering Fling" are in the July Issue.

My short "Dear Sir..." is available in the August Issue.

They can be read for free of course, but if you would desire your very own hard copy of these issues, the purchase links are also available at the site.

My very first chapbook is also live! It is published by Deadly Chaps. The chapbook "Broken Butterflies" is a collection of 33 small prose and poem stories that reflect snapshots in the lives of three fictional sisters, Mari, Alice, and Brennan from their childhood to death.

You can read it for free of course, but if you would like to own your very own copy, it is only seven dollars and the purchase link is on the page. So do me proud and support the small press! :)

Love and hugs!


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Kennedy Brothers by Charles River Editors

The Kennedy BrothersThe Kennedy Brothers by Charles River Editors

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For all of John F. Kennedy's charisma, and Robert F. Kennedy's passionate idealism, their youngest brother Ted was the one who endured to leave the most tangible political legacy. A combination of John's vices and Robert's dedication to human rights, the Kennedy legacy is best showcased through Ted's colorful career.

Charles River Editors has written a clear, easy to read biography of the three Kennedy brothers, focusing mainly on their political careers, and while noting some of the more salacious details comprising their legend, he does not veer into gossip and scandal. (Although in regards to Ted, it is a bit impossible to find a reasonable length of time in his biography to avoid scandal!) The benefit of this is, you have a wealth of at-your-fingertips information about the Kennedy brothers--dates, events, life stories, political upheavals, and just enough personal and family information to appease the needs of any casual researcher or high school student needing to write a report.

This squeaky clean, spartan style, however, also leaves the book somewhat dry. Any reader eager to learn more about some of the more memorable Kennedy scandals will be disappointed to find not even a passing mention of someone like Marilyn Monroe, although there is a curt nod to acknowledge John's penchant for philandering. Some mention is made of Robert's devotion to Ethel, and Jackie O's reluctance to allow her children to play with Robert's, but no real mention of John-John, Caroline or the tragic miscarriage Jackie suffered while in the White House. Anyone craving the soap suds of Camelot will be better served elsewhere.

The write-up of Robert is quite good and really highlights his natural devotion to human rights and his stubborn nature about fighting causes, whether for his brother, himself, or suffering minority groups. Likewise, the write-up of Ted is very thorough and makes a note of Ted's enduring legacy despite the indiscretion and scandal that plagued his entire political career.

If anything, this book is a good stepping stone to whet the appetite of anyone interested in learning more about The Kennedys, despite the fact it's not a particularly inspiring volume on its own.

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Norwood Author   Arthur Conan Doyle And The Norwood Years (1891   1894)The Norwood Author Arthur Conan Doyle And The Norwood Years by Alistair Duncan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There have been a great many books dedicated to chronicling the life of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Whether it was his experiences at his own hand at being a consulting detective or his eventual immersion into spiritualism, Mr. Conan Doyle has been scrutinized to seemingly the last scrap of information available to the average Sherlockian. So what, one might wonder, is the use of a diminutive volume on Conan Doyle's brief time spent in the Norwood neighborhood in South London?

Alistair Duncan's meticulous research and obvious affection for his subject has led him to the years 1891-1894 of Conan Doyle's life in Norwood. We learn of cricket scores, and club meetings, real estate queries and letters to Mom. All of this could easily be an odd, tedious compilation of useless facts except that Mr. Duncan has done a superb job of throwing readable charm into the fray.

Who knew that Doyle co-authored a play with "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie? I found the parts concerning Doyle and his literary friends quite fascinating. Doyle blossomed as a writer whilst in Norwood, and there is much devoted to the tedious writing and submissions process as he sent manuscripts to various magazines and waited for reply. To any reader who is an aspiring or established writer, this would ring as quite a comfort to know that even the great Arthur Conan Doyle and his contemporaries suffered through the same writer's blocks, and submission jitters we do.

Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world while living in Norwood, and gained fame as a result. We learn about Doyle's feelings for his subject which often did not mirror the feelings of his adoring fans. Doyle's first possible forays into spiritualism are also covered, and we learn about a spirited and fascinating debate in one of the gentleman's clubs Doyle belonged to between a female guest and the club president on the subject of spiritual and psychic ideas versus Christian dogma.

A full portrait of Victorian life emerges from the pages as we read about Doyle's goings on in the various clubs he held membership to and his outings with his rather famous literary friends. This adds to the volume a gold mine of small historical facts for any writer researching Victorian life. It makes this book not only a fine read but something to keep on the shelf for further reference.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shifter by Steven D. Jackson

ShifterShifter by Steven D Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Davis might be losing his mind. He is a bored young man with a good job and a drinking problem. Could it be his malaise combined with the alcohol that is causing his mind to remember things differently when the world abruptly begins to change around him? He confides his fears to his psychiatrist and a dear friend, and then to a shy acquaintance. When he's done that, however, the cracking reality around him shatters.

The plot takes off running and we are quickly introduced to characters who are stuck in the middle of a cat and mouse game involving people called "Shifters" and "Recallers". A Shifter is someone who can change the reality of their surroundings at will, and a Recaller will remember things the way they were before the change. The events move so swiftly leaving only nuggets of explanation along the way that I found myself a little lost and confused at times and had to go back and re-read passages.

The action is quite good, however, with lots of gun-play, hand to hand combat, chases, and a good slow-motion explosion or two.

John Davis makes for a lovable scarecrow of protagonist. At the novel's start he is a confused, self-pitying mess, but the plot sweeps him up and sends him running and fighting for his life. His antagonists are Brice, and Kendra, two members of a shadowy organization hunting down Shifters and Recallers, using deadly force more often than not to subdue their prey. His allies are his psychiatrist, a man who may or may not know more than he lets on about Shifters, and Jenna, a shy colleague nursing an obvious crush on John.

A story like this, set in England, and full of colorful sci-fi fun is very reminiscent of something like "Dr. Who" and is sure to please any fan of the genre. I rather enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first, as the characters Kendra and Jenna blossomed and enriched much needed layers into the plot.

I could easily imagine this book as the pilot of a fun new television series and hope to see more like this from Mr. Jackson. As first novels go, this is a job well done.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 13, 2012

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Saving CeeCee HoneycuttSaving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CeeCee Honeycutt has spent her childhood worrying over and caring for her mentally ill mother. After her mother's tragic death, she is sent away by her emotionally distant father to live with her eccentric aunt Tootie in the luscious privilege of Savannah, Georgia.

Here, CeeCee's lonesome world becomes noisy with a cast of eccentric new friends and acquaintances. Besides her bubbly aunt, there is Ms. Goodpepper, a radiantly wild friend of Aunt Toots. Then, there is their racist busybody neighbor who has a habit of late night trysts with a local police officer. One can't forget to mention the fiery Oletta Jones, the queen of the kitchen who happens to have a soft spot in her heart for CeeCee.

CeeCee's voice is both strong and believable and carries the novel beautifully from beginning to end. Ms. Hoffman has done a wonderful job of creating a child protagonist who thinks and reacts as a child, and not as an adult written into a child's body. It's easy to feel heartache along with CeeCee as she suffers early on the trials of living alone with her mentally ill mother, and the joys of discovering a magical new life in Savannah.

Each scene moves smoothly to the other, ups and downs, comedy to tragedy, all swirling in a dazzling Southern world run completely by women. All in all the book is a lovely, smooth read which can be enjoyed not only by adults but by girls of all ages.

My main problem with the novel, however, is the character of Oletta. As lovely and caring a woman as she is, I still felt a bit soured over yet another "Mammy" caricature who hems and haws over her food, and serves mainly as the well behaved, suffering saint of the story. An interesting detour in the story does take place as we glimpse more into Oletta's world when CeeCee is taken onto outings with the beloved cook. It's a separate utopia again run by strong women, but I did find it a shame that the tradition of no positive black male characters, so common in Southern tales, continued in this novel.

Although, to be fair, there are actually no positive male characters of note in this story of any race.

The story-lines do follow a rather predictable nature. Pranks and comeuppance, themes of racism, garden parties, and dose after dose of shameless Southern quirkiness drip off each page. It makes for easy, breezy reading, but I did find myself somehow yearning for something more to elevate the three dimensional CeeCee even higher off the pages.

I do recommend this read with a whole heart, as it would be impossible not to smile while enjoying the book. I do, however, reserve myself a bit because I can't quit the nagging feeling that this somehow could have been a more complex novel. Don't let my nit-picking get you down however, because if you enjoy delightful coming of age tales with an authentic heart, you will be quite pleased with this.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Story Post: Poppy's Paradise

My latest story, "Poppy's Paradise" is now live in the June/July issue of Milk Sugar. It's the story of a desperate young woman doing her best to stay alive while working in a cult.

Hope you enjoy :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

When Dreams Come True by Rebecca Emin

When Dreams Come TrueWhen Dreams Come True by Rebecca Emin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlie is a young girl in year nine of school who has the perfect set of friends: Max and Toby who indulge her tomboy antics, and Allie, the classic girly-girl who is also Charlie's dear friend and confidante. Since the story begins this way, we know straight off everything will rapidly change and not immediately for the better.

The beginning of this novel is quite different from Ms. Emin's last work, as it lacks the ominous urgency of bullying. Instead we are first shown Charlie's aches at dealing with Allie's new found interest in boys, and her exasperation in Max and Toby who are also struck by puppy love. At first glance it begins to feel like a standard teen romance, which is not entirely my cup of tea but I was enjoying the seamless inclusion of things like text conversations and Facebook status updates that moved along as a natural part of Charlie's very authentic environment. Charlie is a modern girl after all, and like it or not, technology chatting is not going away.

Charlie's world becomes more complicated than just budding feelings of adolescent romance, however. She is becoming increasingly exhausted by a series of very vivid dreams that always involve the ones near and dear to her, including a few that betray Charlie's own curiosity about love and kissing. Then, her beloved Aunt Jenny falls dangerously ill, and the necessary move into her Aunt's fabulous country estate opens up a wonderful new world for Charlie and the reader.

Charlie's dreams become guides for her as she figures out her strange world. Issues like love, kissing, and dating are covered and with some valuable lessons for any young reader of this novel. There is also an element of gothic creepiness, the sort that always follows around a fabulous old house with unexplored nooks and crannies, and then there is the delicious issue of unspoken family secrets just waiting to be dragged into the light. It's easy to root for Charlie because she is so well written that one begins to remember their own curiosities and frustrations at that age.

This is a great book for any young girl to read, and it's also good breezy fun for the casual old gal like me.

View all my reviews

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blog Hop for Rebecca Emin: When Dreams Come True

This is a post to celebrate the release of my dear friend Rebecca Emin's latest novel, "When Dreams Come True". The theme of the day is making positive dreams manifest so I'll chat a wee bit about dreams.

I am a lucid dreamer, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the sort of dream one is having. It's rather a better time having a dream of a canoe trip down a rainbow river with Cillian Murphy feeding you grapes than say, a dream that involves a burning roof and a wheezing attempt at escaping a cheesy slasher movie fiend. As an adult, I find these dreams, both the good and bad, to be something to look forward to. It's a wonderful escape into fantasy and a great stress reliever, or on occasion problem solver to be able to dream like this.

As a child, however, the dreams could be confusing and not so fun, especially if there were periods of time when I couldn't quite tell if the tiger I'd barely survived running from was real or in a dream. The nice dreams, however, not only told me I could be anything I wanted, they also let me FEEL it. As a child, dreaming that I could be a pirate or gunslinger, Bond girl or international spy, were glorious reminders that I was not as small and plain and shy as I felt during the day.

I was often crippled by loneliness and shyness, even in the presence of friends as a girl, and sometimes even now, but the dreams never failed to energize and excite me. There came a point, when I was quite young, where I couldn't bear the period of forgetting that comes after waking from a dream. So I began to write them down, unicorns and dragons, Queens and attacking extra-terrestrials all began to appear within the pages of the spiral bound notebook kept by my bed. Of course I wanted to share the dreams with everyone else, and so the dreams soon became stories.

"You're going to be a writer!" People would tell me, and I would feel a rush of happiness and dare I say... pride upon hearing it, which is not a feeling I attached to anything else accomplished by my little hands at the time. I received compliments on imagination and creativity, and I never failed to point out that everything came from dreams, without them I'd have empty pages.

Such is the importance of dreams.

Another hearty congratulations to Rebecca Emin, an accomplished writer who is certainly fighting for her dreams.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sea of Trees by Robert James Russell

Sea of TreesSea of Trees by Robert James Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bill, a young American, and his beautiful Japanese girlfriend, Junko, travel deep into a dark forest littered with suicide notes and corpses as they search for any trace of Junko's missing sister. Along the way, the secrets of Junko's past unfurl and sink into the roots of the forest as Bill hobbles after her, a helpless observer. This harrowing tale is interlaced with short flashes into the days preceding the suicides of people from all walks of life, souls all destined to die alone in a sea of trees.

There are a few ways this subject matter could have been handled. It could have been a gothic horror, or slasher story. It could have been a brutal nihilistic tale about hopelessness. Instead, Mr. Russell has penned elegant little stories about individual sufferers and woven them into the larger tapestry comprising a forest of death, but without gratuitous shock or contempt. Depression is not a romantic thing, nor is it a pitiful thing, it is the beast of this almost fairy tale universe driving the lost into its jaws.

The prose is compassionate and achingly accurate to anyone who has suffered a serious bout of depression. The tales of the sufferers vary from those driven to sadness by their own mistakes, others by the coldness of their environment, and in others it's the monster living deep within them from birth. I found passages of it so affecting it was like staring into a cold, clouded mirror I've been running from my entire life.

"...And during her subconscious digging she unceremoniously realized it had always been there like a pit inside her--that she could remember ever not feeling this way. This realization was a comfort to her, of all things, knowing this was part of her, that, perhaps she had been broken since birth, and like that, a wave wobbling over her, the desire to end it all returned, but with less malice than before..."

At a slick, swift 105 pages, this story is no longer than it needs to be but it casts it spell, putting its cold fingers around your wrist and leading you into the forest where evermore macabre sights await. The character of Bill serves more as our avatar in the story, a man as innocent and wondering as the reader. Junko is by far the more dynamic character, a small beauty of stubborn strength and obsession, fearing neither ghost or the rolling darkness as she pushes deeper and deeper into the forest.

I applaud Mr. Russell for this gem of a tale.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken

Chariots of the GodsChariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if aliens visited this earth eons ago and started a breeding experiment with humans to create modern man? What if they have stopped by to visit periodically in the past to give technology to or even depopulate and tweak their creations? Has the evidence of it been right in front of us on cave painting walls, and in the design of fabulous ancient man-made wonders this entire time?

Erich von Daniken's book raises these questions and discusses them with enthusiasm and energy familiar to anyone who has ever spent a serious amount of time hanging with X-philes. Indeed, this book, with it's catchy hooks and easy to digest packaging is pretty much the granddaddy to all of modern pop-culture's most popular science fiction television shows and movies. It's quite easy to get sucked into the pages and pictures of this book for an afternoon read and to get that same entertained rush one gets when watching a thoroughly entertaining show or movie.

What of the actual science in this book?

Well, I am no scientist and all of that is up to serious debate. Daniken himself seems to have a past murky with scandal and rivalry. The community of "serious scientists" have all dismissed this book as flawed, fanciful, or a conglomerate of plagiarized ideas from more qualified men, but that has done little to stop the success of this particular tome and of the books that he has subsequently written as companions to this one.

Daniken raises a lot of questions and does his best to prove his points with photographs and examples of odd archaeological finds around the world. Some of it has been disproved over the passage of time (this book was written in the late sixties), some of it is pure speculation based on flimsy fact (but then the same can be said of many ideas and faiths), and some of it does strike a chord that could make you lift your eyebrow and go, "Oh... wow... what if...?" And it's rather fun to find yourself in a constant state of wanting to converse with the paragraphs either to debate, scoff, or raise your finger in surprised agreement.

Daniken's writing style is far from abrasive, in fact he seems to go out of his way not to offend anyone's set belief system by making it clear he is only raising the IDEA of something rather than invalidating the world view of anyone else. It's a brilliant tactic because it makes the book highly readable to anyone regardless of their set values.

I certainly enjoyed the ride.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dark River Road by Virginia Brown

Dark River RoadDark River Road by Virginia Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The write-up and prologue for this novel made me assume I'd picked a slick, Southern suspense thriller, dripping with sweat and molasses and dark family secrets. It seemed like the sort of thing you could read for cheap thrills on a train or plane, and that's exactly what I did. It took me two train rides, from Leeds to Glasgow and back, to read this dense, absorbing novel.

A cheap thriller this was not.

Chantry Callahan is a boy growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in his little Mississippi town. It's around the late 80's, early 90's, but thinking and social norm still seem to be stuck in the 50's. The entire town is run by one man, Bert Quinton, a soulless tyrant who has never had to face any opposition for his crimes until the day Chantry returns as a man to settle the score.

The beginning is very much a classic, borderline stereotypical Southern tale. Chantry goes about his day dodging his drunken stepfather, raising a magically devoted hunting dog, taking solace from the sage African American neighbor, exchanging punches with the town bully/pretty-boy, mooning after the golden-haired belle of the school, and bonding with his best friend who has dreams of achievement despite the restrictions set upon her race. I became so drawn into this part of the novel, that it easily could have ended halfway through with the plots involving the raising of the dog, his brother's illness, and the tangled youthful love affairs budding between Chantry and his peers being tied up.

Go two hundred pages beyond, however, and the plot barrels home. All of the characters are forced to face truth, and enemies are forced to make their final move. Through it all, Chantry remains a relentlessly likable tough guy with a heart of gold. Stubborn, and quick to violence, his fists remain clenched through the entire final act as he rips open the darkest secrets of his enemies and faces the uncovered truths of his own family. Along the way, his friends are drawn along and forced to go through new life changes of their own. Chantry Callahan is almost something more a force of nature than human, but man enough when needed.

I recommend everyone give this read a try.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Healing: A Novel by Jonathan Odell

The Healing: A NovelThe Healing: A Novel by Jonathan Odell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A little girl named Violet, and her mother who is dying from a botched abortion attempt, land at the doorstep of an elderly mid-wife named Gran-Gran in 1933 Mississippi. Gran-Gran cannot save the mother's life, which leaves her in charge of Violet, a twitchy mute with a hunger for the tales of Gran-Gran's life story.

Gran-Gran's tale begins when she's snatched from her enslaved mother's arms as an infant, and raised as a sort of pet to the derranged Mistress of the house, Amanda Satterfield. As a result, Gran lives caught between the line of slave and spoiled, a child with no idea of the realities of disfavor and hardship. Her life is forever changed, however, when Polly Shine, a slave with uncanny healing abilities is brought to the plantation to tend the plague stricken swamp labourers. Polly makes it her job is to strip Gran of her lace and delusion and apprentice her to the ways of healing. It makes for a luscious, attractive story where all of the senses are catered to.

The overall theme is one of self discovery, and holding onto one's identity once it's been found. It's about the blood that connects mother to daughter and the generations before. Polly Shine's arrival onto the plantation turns everyone's notions about class and religion upside down, from Master to slave. These changes seem the stuff of magic initially but then as Gran begins her first tentative steps into womanhood, these changes also mirror a dark, bloody new future on the eve of The Civil War.

It took me a day to read this thick novel because the gorgeous imagery, great prose, and fascinating characters kept me hooked. My only real complaint with the novel was that at times, I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the magic and sultry Southern secrets. That being the case, I realized how there was a nagging feeling I'd read all of the scenes in this book in other similar tales before. In fact, every element expected of this story appears: swamps, alligators, the magical slave kitchen with the Queen Bee cook, the plantation mistress who has lapsed into madness, psychic dreams, lecherous masters, poisonous vipers, healing potions, secrets, and revenge.
That said, the novel is highly enjoyable and readable, and the plot delivers a punch when Polly Shine reveals a rather ruthless nature in taking care of her own people. I found some of her actions unforgivable no matter the circumstances that led her to it, and I think that alone is worth the read for any reading group looking for a lively debate.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Story News.... stuff

First off an interesting experiment the24project has posted one of my old stories "Mothy Mae" . Read it now if you haven't before, as it will only be online 7 days before deletion, BUT if you've shared the story link with someone else who reads it, then that means you WON'T have to worry about that phone call that whispers "seven days...." in your ear. So get on it. Make me proud.

Secondly (as second off seems too odd a phrase) my short story "Maddie the Fool" is only available in print in the Literary Lab's anthology "Variations on a Theme". The story is a re-telling of Chekov's "The Huntsman" and the anthology is available for sale at the super cheap price of $8.56.

That is all.... I think....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: Sin and Sacrifice (The Daughters of Eve Series #1) by Danielle Bourdon

Sin and Sacrifice (The Daughters of Eve Series #1)Sin and Sacrifice by Danielle Bourdon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Evelyn Grant is one of four sisters, daughters of Eve blessed with immortality, and a divine secret so tantalizing the women live in constant flight from the all-knowing, all-seeing Knights Templar. Seperated from her sisters and on the run, her life lies in the hands of a mysterious CIA agent. For anyone who is a fan of high flying, globe trotting adventure, and conspiracy theories, this seemed like a pretty sure shot.

The novel opens up introducing the sisters as exotic, multi-cultural beauties who love night-clubbing, shopping, and sunning. Not much effort is put into establishing their characters other than quickly tacking on labels, a tomboy, a waif, a brain, etc... The main character, Evelyn, is described as a beauty who is a dead shot with a gun but faints at the sight of real violence... Oh boy.

The action strikes quickly, a murder, a kidnapping, torture, all vividly written I'll grant, and my hopes were high at that point. Evelyn is rescued from her tormentors, Knights Templars who treat her with all the tenderness of The Inquisition, by a hulking, leonine, green-eyed abs-monster named Rhett. He whisks her from her dungeon and into a car and on a breath-taking ride to safety. Rhett is CIA, he shows her his badge to prove it, and with all of her centuries of life experience, Evelyn takes one half hearted glance at the badge, accepts it, and proceeds to taunt Rhett's name. This of course sets it up so Rhett can taunt Evelyn's name, and they can banter, therefore establishing that sparks obviously are flying and we should be thoroughly amused.

My main problem with this novel, was the naive way Evelyn toddles through. She can't function emotionally without being behind Rhett's rock-solid V'shaped back, and she seems to fall into every trap and mistake in the book when not with him. I found it ridiculous a woman with her thousands of years experience would be so helpless. Even the one talent she is reputed to have, a dead-shot with a gun, is undermined by the scene in which she has to learn how to shoot a gun from Rhett as an excuse to get their yearning bodies pressed together.

Even more incredible, are the scenes in which supposedly seasoned Knights Templars, defenders of God and Faith, are clueless about bible history, and flip through it with ignorant wonder. Actually, even more incredible than that, is the assertion that the Templars are allied with the Church, considering it was The Church that had them excommunicated and destroyed some centuries back. A little historical research and flair would have seasoned this story at the very least.

The action scenes are written nicely, and the story itself certainly moves along without miring down, but overall I could not find myself enjoying this book, or even recommending it.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: 44 (#1) by Jools Sinclair

44 (44, #1)44 by Jools Sinclair

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Abby Craigers drowned in a frozen lake and was pronounced dead for forty four minutes before miraculously returning to life. There is a strange side effect to her rebirth, however, she can only see in black and white--save the colors of the "emotional auras" of the people around her.

The easy, breezy prose, and swift pacing marks this as young adult novel with a clear voice. Abby is a broken protagonist, who has lost her old friends, her star spot on the school soccer team and is struggling in her relationship with her best friend, and possible love interest, Jesse. Regular hospital checkups and psychiatric evaluations mark Abby's days but this depression only serves to paint the canvas of Abby's character, and does not drown the reader in histrionics.

The plot moves at a lightning pace, and is a bit of a familiar one. I think by this point we are all familiar with serial killers, and psychic dreams, and heroines no one believes. Abby confides in her sister, an up and coming reporter who is drowning in trivial small town stories. Abby is having dreams of murders before they happen, and her sister is upon each and every story. Together, the girls set upon investigating the murders themselves and with all the pluck and vigor of classic detective sleuths. A little boy trouble thrown into the mix doesn't hurt proceedings any.

I found this read fun and refreshing, if a bit light. I would have liked to have had a richer sense of surrounding with Abby's color-blind affliction. I was disappointed at an apparent "blooper" in the prose where Abby describes in 1st person the sight of a pink dessert box, which should have been impossible for her to do. (Unless the dessert box was emitting some sort of emotional aura, which would make an entirely different sort of story all together!)

I did find Abby and Kate spunky and likable enough to worry about their welfare, which is always a good thing.

There are no scenes of excessive violence, cursing, or sex. Although, Abby deals with the pains of love, it is not poured all over each page with the smothering treacle that many young adult novels seem to have these days. It really does make a great choice for a super picky parent overseeing their child's reading material.

As this book is the first of a series, the ending does leave off rather abruptly with a hook for more and I must say I won't mind taking a peek at future volumes.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Missionary and the Beast by John Kenworthy

The Missionary and the BruteThe Missionary and the Brute by John Kenworthy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The opening of this strange, cold tale set in the heart of sweltering Tanzania is a good one. Missionary Jadwin Ross is being pummeled in a creaky interrogation room, accused of a murder he did not commit. There is hardly a better way to open a book, and it hooked me instantly. Ross, as a character, is very clearly defined. Lusty, apathetic at times, and even mean-spirited, Ross is not your garden variety missionary.

He is in charge of a small village in Tanzania, and a flock of American visitors who range from the stereotypical dress-alike married couple, the mother with a problem goth-daughter, and a beautiful guest named Leah. Ross's peers also include a fellow minister, his beautiful bespectacled daughter Imura, and a misogynistic tour guide named Daud.
Imura and Leah are the best defined of the side characters, and both at times objects of Ross's lust. Daud is also well done, a vicious, sharp tongued sulker who becomes a thorn in Ross's side.

In between the day to day goings on of the characters, the story jumps forward to Ross's ordeal in interrogation. The story shines best with all the little details throughout. The Missionary work, Africa, traditions, local colloquialisms, scents, sounds, heat, sweat, smells, all of it shines through from an author who clearly has mastery of his setting and subject. I found it a personal joy to experience this detailed world I'd never previously put much thought to.

Ross himself, however, is a tricky fellow. A man of God, to be sure, and one dedicated to his work. This is outlined with a constant inner monologue, that, to be honest, got old fast for me. The florid quoting of scripture and lofty sentiments muttered over and over, comparing himself to martyrs and to righteous suffering became quite redundant for me to read.

The man of God lapses and quite often, I might add, into another man, an Earthy lusty fellow at that. A disturbing glimpse of his character is shown in a graphic sex scene where the woman in question is degraded to nothing more than a pliable sex toy to satiate Ross's lust.

The center of this novel is sprinkled with mystery and the specter of death. Nevertheless, it did sag somewhat for me. Although I did appreciate the flash-forward format, I still sometimes felt stifled by some of the pacing and befuddled by Ross's increasingly callous nature. I wanted a character to bond with, and Ross remained fiercely resistant to that, no matter how intriguing I found the plot.

A violent, surreal world spills across the pages in the third act however. Bloody, heart pounding, and heartbreaking, with just the right amount of twist, and with no regard at all for expectations, I found myself nodding and smiling at this brilliant final act. A few of the more "infuriating" points I found in the first two acts were actually cleared up for me with the final act and I am so glad to have stuck with it. "The Missionary and the Brute" is an offbeat, uneven thriller but the mastery Mr. Kenworthy has over his setting and the brutal confidence he has in presenting Jadwin Ross to the reader makes this a bizarre, deadly little read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 18, 2012

100 Horrors and Literary Lab's Variations on a Theme: Anthology News

Got some exciting anthology news! :)

I'm honored to be in company with a chilling group of writers, 99 others to be precise, in "100 Horrors: Tales of Horror in the Blink of an Eye". 100 horror stories bleed on each page, each up to 100 words long, no more or less. It's perfect bite sized horror fiction, packs a punch and worth every penny.

My story "The Hole" is available only in this anthology.

The anthology is available right now on Kindle for 2.99 American, and 1.69 UK plust VAT. It will also be available in paperbook soon.

Links to purchase:

USA: 100 Horrors

UK: 100 Horrors

Also, I was excited to read the news yesterday morning that I have made the cut in the Literary Lab's third anthology release, "Variations on a Theme" alongside a bunch of exceptional writers I'm honored to be in the company of. The anthology is a collection of stories that are retellings of two classic tales, Anton Chekhov's "The Huntsman" and Hans Christian Anderson's "The Tinder Box".

My story "Maddie the Fool" is a retelling of Chekhov's "The Huntsman" and only available in this anthology which will go onsale for Kindle and paperback on March 15th.

More information here: The Literary Lab

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Book Review: Trespass by Valerie Martin

Trespass (Vintage Contemporaries)Trespass by Valerie Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first shot fired in this multi-layered novel about battlefields and victims, is over a basket of rolls in an expensive New York restaurant. Chloe Dale has met her beloved only son Toby's new girlfriend, and his girlfriend's first crime is being named Salome Drago, her second, being foreign. Despite identifying as a liberal, and despite her endless reserves of love and devotion Chloe has for her husband and son, the woman still cannot shake the itchy hand of upper class prejudice as she appraises her son's latest paramour. To Chloe, Salome is a snobby, snotty, humorless trespasser.

Chloe's life at home is no easier. As she works on painting book illustrations at home, her mind spins ceaselessly over the intrusion of Salome into their lives, and also upon the ever increasing presence of a rabbit poacher on her extensive property. Confronting this poacher unsettles Chloe as she realizes he is a foreignor. In her mind this man is Lebanese, and a stereotypical Middle Eastern terrorist in her backyard.

The story-line involving the unraveling of Chloe's life to intruders might have been more sympathetic if Chloe weren't so damned shrill, racist, and insufferable. Despite all of her war protests, and declarations of empathy for the downtrodden, Chloe's America has no room for fiery, war refugees whose fathers call themselves, "The Oyster King."

The Dale's as a family unit represent the very essence of placid, saturated, liberal America. Sweet tempered Toby's desicion to bring the ascerbic Salome into his family's life brings with it a massive shock, forcing them to face the realities of the underprivileged, and the sorts of social situations they attend rallies and marches to bring light to. The worst trials the Dale family has seen up to this point seems to be having to deal with Toby's string of girlfriends who always seem to be unacceptable or eccentric.

By contrast the lives of the Drago family span war, the loss of a mother, and a brother, and a resettling and rebirth in the bayous of Louisiana. They live hard , scraping an earning as Oyster farmers with Salome's ambitions for good education and a good career being the pride and joy of her doting father, Branko. Salome is a daddy's girl, and Branko warmly welcomes Toby into his heart as his daughter's intended.

It would be giving too much away to discuss the events that spiral this story on its head. Every single character is forced to face a shattered new reality in the second half of this book. The reader is taken from the safety of affluent, suburban America, and the ideals of college politics, into a world of genocide, war, and rape. No punch is pulled in the recounting of brutal warfare against women, but the scenes never lapse into gratuitous explicit description.

The final act of the story faltered, winding down to a completely expected conclusion that seemed tacked on hastily, and offered no variety to Chloe's character. I can forgive it, however, because the powerful scenes and characters along the way to the end left me moved, and startled. This book is definitely worth the time to read and absorb.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Review: Love is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski

Love is a Dog from HellLove is a Dog from Hell by Charles Bukowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Don't bring a whore, I'll only fall in love with her."

The verse appears more than once in Charles Bukowski's set of poems, "Love is a Dog From Hell." The majority of the poems are devoted to the various muses of his life, lovers and exes, some of them overlapping. Each one of these women is studied, catalogued, screwed, licked, tickled, and nailed into this shadowbox of poems like spread eagled Monarch specimens, not a single detail or secret concealed.

The human condition in this volume is showcased not as spiritual, but as animal, where base urges and bodily distresses are discussed with uncensored aplomb. Masturbation, defecation, oral sex, the desire to hear a lover urinate, all get devoted verses, mirroring the poem in which he fondly remembers a poetry reading in which vomiting seemed the thing to do, but no one else seems to understand that.

In true Bukowski fashion, pretty rhymes are dispensed with and he goes straight to slashing open a vein and pouring whiskey over it. This is a man who can't quite understand how he is getting scores of women to roll around on his bed, but he ain't gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, and he sure as hell is gonna go charging in like a bull.

He freely discusses his own insecurities in poems where he describes his openly listed phone number and the calls he takes from strangers just to feel a connection. He even betrays sparks of softness in a poem written for his ex-wife, or one written for his daughter. There's an eerie sweetness to his poem "an almost made up poem" which chronicles the affection he had for a young aspiring poet he never meets. "I probably would have been unfair to you..." he writes of their unconsummated love as if her untimely demise is far more merciful than eventual heartbreak in each other's arms.

Reading these poems made me feel as if Bukowski had wrapped his arm around my waist and pressed me onto a chair and locked the door, and with the revelation of each passing poem I felt less and less inclined to escape.

View all my reviews