Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review - The Quinx Effect by Tyree Campbell

When I picked up the slim novel The Quinx Effect by Tyree Campbell, I wasn’t sure what to expect. True, I do enjoy a good sci-fi story, yet my last couple of books was of the straight literary genre. Writing dark fantasy and psychological thrillers drives my reading interests in the other direction, yet I purchased the book to see what it was all about. Although slim, the novel is quite packed with adventure, drama, mystery and a warm hearted ending that made the entire book quite enjoyable. Quinx is a young woman who recently lost her family due to a horrible accident in outer space. A woman named Harper who is also an exile due to a crime with much consequence rescues her. From there begins an unlikely partnership and friendship as the two “orphans” make their way towards a better life while Quinx comes into her own not only as a young woman but a being of courage and spirit.
Campbell, owner of Sam’s Dot Publishing, publishes many good works by various authors of the speculative genre (me being one of them!) yet I never read any of his own work in the years I had known him. His writing is smooth and fluid and does not require further research into any of what he describes, plus he writes female characters quite well and does not lump them into the “faint at everything” category. All of the characters are flawed but that’s what makes the story interesting; they make choices that change their lives without regrets, even when one of the choices made leads to death. I will admit that my favourite character is Harper; thanks to a denied situation, she takes her life in her own hands in a very gruesome manner and suffers because of it. Yet, the suffering makes her into a character with less doubt and more dark confidence. She is a woman that will not allow anything to stop her in her pursuit of what she wants. When Quinx meets her for the first time, Harper’s hair is cut short and half of her face is heavily scarred as punishment for her embrace into insanity. I did not feel sorry for her, merely intrigued by her and, once again, the choices she made to get her to that point. Quinx, in my own opinion, realized her true motives and eventually does not treat her like a monster, as so many others did.
If you like a good story, no matter the genre, with strong female characters, The Quinx Effect is for you. And, if you purchase this book, tell Tyree that Kimberly led you to him. He would be pleased.

Book Review - Contains Scenes of Indigenous Nudity by Sheri L. Wright

Sheri L. Wright’s Contains Scenes of Indigenous Nudity is a book filled with dark, sensual and sometimes snarky poetry. The ”voice” of the poems is a being that has lived in the shadows for so long that anything else would seem futile. The words drip with memories untold and instances quite forgotten yet traces still linger in the recesses of the figure’s mind. Wright’s poems are bold and brash, ready to be devoured and savoured for their intensity. One such example is the poem The Ashes:

His smiles is too weak
To push up the corners of his mouth,
And we fear the weight of it
Will come crashing down around him
Like the roof did, that grief will
Strangle the air from his lungs
Like the fire he save himself from
And showed everyone that
Family does not always come first.
Now, he spreads himself like smoke
For the long, slow crawl
Through whiskey,
Prostrate through alleys
Lined with broken glass as penance.

Several of her poems, like The Ashes, made an impact with me; they read as though the shadowy figure witnessed such a tragedy and rather than inform others of the act and consequences, instead wrote it all down in their own words. No one else could describe what the figure saw; no one else could tell what it felt and thought. Another such example is Night Blooming Cerus:

When he walks
His back is stooped
As if to shy away from the sun;
A shade growing thing
Too delicate for brightness,
For the eyes of those
Who may discover soft petals
Laced with the scent of secrets
Meant for whispering to the moon
Over the heads of sleepers-
Those who would pluck them away,
Hold them too long
To scorch in the light
Looking for things best found
With eyes closed.

This is another fine example of the shadowy figure that witnesses all and never says a word. This figure is cautious, sly and more observant than the average person. They see what others refuse to see for they know that all beings are of light and dark. However, it is the dark the most overlook, leaving it for those who are blessed/cursed with such a talent. This is what Wright’s poetry/”voice” means to me; she is of both worlds and her voice is truly her own.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review - High Kings by H. David Blalock

H. David Blalock’s novella High Kings is a classic example of a What If: what if, thanks to technology beyond our wildest dreams, we can visit various places and people through history and change it? Such was the goal at the Institute for Historical Studies in Old Memphis in the Federated States in the year 2531. Dr. Satori and her teammates, with the “assistance” of TNF (Time Neutral Field), are set out to explore the highways of Time and “collect” various persons from history for further research and information. After “collecting” King Arthur from death in his final battle over Camelot, the scientific group focuses their energies on “Last Project”, releasing a can of worms that no one expected while giving way to answers to questions not considered possible. Add to the mix a former member of the team gone rogue while using TNF and High Kings becomes a story set out to make the reader think about the limitations of Mankind and what we can do to overcome them. What if, in humanity’s future, we finally invested time travel and were able to change the course of history for the sake of Mankind? Would it be like playing God? Do we have the right to conduct such experiments? Would it be for the better or worse of us all?

This book was basically a roller coaster ride from page one for me; I purchased the novella at Fandom Fest in Louisville, Kentucky and knew I was in for a treat. Blalock is one of the more solid writers of sci-fi and fantasy; every time I read his work, I know it will deliver quite an enjoyable reading time for me. High Kings is not bogged down with scientific highbrow words or complex theories, but rather a good story written by a top notch author with just enough science and magic to keep one interested beyond a mildly passing interest. When I finished the work, I read the ending twice just to make sure I was right in what I concluded, followed by talking to Blalock himself the next day and confirming my thoughts. The ending, although somewhat expected, still surprised me in how it was handled and how everything fell back into place after “Last Project”. I wish I could say just what “Last Project” is, but then I would be ruining the crux of the story. Do yourself a favour and visit Sam’s Dot Publishing’s website to order a copy of the book. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Matcha In The Morning - Grace Schulman

Crossing the Square
By Grace Schulman

Squinting through eye-slits in our balaclavas,
we lurch across Washington Square Park
hunched against the wind, two hooded figures
caught in the monochrome, carrying sacks

of fruit, as we’ve done for years. The frosted, starch-
stiff sycamores make a lean Christmas tree
seem to bulk larger, tilted under the arch
and still lit in three colors. Once in January,

we found a feather here and stuffed the quill
in twigs to recall that jay. The musical fountain
is here, its water gone, a limestone circle
now. Though rap succeeds the bluegrass strains

we’ve played in it, new praise evokes old sounds.
White branches mimic visions of past storms;
some say they’ve heard ghosts moan above this ground,
once a potter’s field. No two stones are the same,

of course: the drums, the tawny pears we hold,
are old masks for new things. Still, in a world
where fretted houses with fa├žades are leveled
for condominiums, not much has altered

here. At least it’s faithful to imagined
views. And, after all, we know the sycamore
will screen the sky in a receding wind.
Now, trekking home through grit that’s mounting higher,

faces upturned to test the whirling snow,
in new masks, we whistle to make breath-clouds form
and disappear, and form again, and O,
my love, there’s sun in the crook of your arm.

Grace Schulman, “Crossing the Square” from Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by Grace Schulman. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved,

Source: Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems (2002)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review - Dimanche and Other Stories by Irene Nemirovsky

After recently leaving the fractured yet beautiful novel Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, I decided to turn to another of her works to see if her magick still held. Reading the book Dimanche and Other Stories proved to not disappoint in the slightest. Within the book are ten stories of various French people, some good and some very, very bad, and yet one cannot help but want to read more of their life than what is offered on the page. Each story stands on its own merit and was a delight to read, not to mention enjoying the brilliant writing of Nemirovsky once more. For example, a hint of her world from the story The Spectator:

“It’s all so beautiful!” murmured Hugo. “Europe has the charm of those who are going to die,” he said, stroking the river’s gray stone parapet as he went on walking.

And yet another from the story The Confidant:

“…Just think, every time you play, there is at least one person in the concert hall whose voice you become, for a few moments. People are dumb, monsieur. We’re like trees or plants. We suffer and die and no one hears our cries. Still, you know all that.”

My favourite story is Those Happy Shores for a very ironic reason; one of the characters, Ginette, is a “lady of the evening” and currently down on her luck. Men have treated her like garbage and yet she still hopes for the one who will possibly change her current fate. She meets a young woman named Christiane in a bar on a random chance and strikes a friendship and bond with the woman, or so she thinks. Ginette is at the bottom of her barrel and speaking with Christiane, a young woman of means and privilege, gives her more hope for her own life than ever. Towards the end of the story, the reader learns that her happiness is short lived and she returns to her natural state, one of misery, desperation and resignation. Reading about Ginette made the story come alive and showed the world for what it truly is – short, despondent and expected, especially those who have very little or nothing to give.

In my own way, I used this book as a probable filler for Suite Francaise; hearing Nemirovsky’s voice the first time in a broken state required me to give her more than perhaps she wanted in her own writing. Be that as it may, reading Dimanche is like sitting alone in a 24 hour coffee shop filled with colour with a single cup of java endlessly full and being happy about it while the world goes on outside in its forever black and white.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz - NPR

Last week, I watched a movie entitled Georgia O'Keeffe starring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. Before watching the movie, I knew very little of O'Keeffe yet after watching it, I felt I had known her for years. Since then, I have tried to locate as many books as possible about O'Keeffe and her art; thankfully, NPR just released an article regarding the letters between her and Alfred Stieglitz and the book My Faraway One that contains the letters for all the world the read. I will be purchasing a copy of the book soon and will review it as well. Click HERE to read the NPR article and Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Time to Gloat

Spin Street, a used and new CD/DVD/vinyl/whatever shop in Memphis, is one of my favourite places to go to when I just want to walk around. Tonight, the store had a major markdown and clearance sale and I racked up BIG points! Yes, I just purchased the Criterion Collection Akira Kurosawa Samurai Box Set and I am more than stoked! Let the sleepless nights begin!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review - The Portrait by Iain Pears

Iain Pears’ novel The Portrait intrigued me from the word go the first time I read it years ago: an artist in self-imposed exile invites his friend, who was once a major art critic, to his home in order to paint his portrait. The novel is set up as a monologue as the artist spends his time reminiscing about their lives in the past and how and why he is now in exile. What later unfolds is a story about love lost and destroyed, dreams crushed and thrown away and sweet and pure revenge. Although this is a short novel in pages, the story is dense and not one to take lightly. When I first read this work years ago, I loved it. However, when I returned to the same piece years later, I found myself wanting it to simply end. Perhaps it is because I am now an author myself; the story could have easily been a short story with just enough “punch” to deliver the cruel message to not only the readers but to the doomed art critic as well. There was also one two-line paragraph on page 95 in which the art critic actually speaks then it returns to the artist and his monologue. In all honesty, I did not realize that had occurred until I read someone else’s review of the book.
When I completed the book, I found myself not caring about either of the characters; there was no emotion for either of them and when that does occur for me, it usually means that I did not enjoy the book. Will this book appeal to those who love art history? Yes. Will this book appeal to those who pine of the days when creative people truly lived the life of bohemians? Yes. As one who does enjoy reading art history and bohemian life, I did enjoy the book for those merits, yet as stated before, this was a short story that was stretched and weighed down with too much pensive thinking to make the story truly stick. In my opinion, this is nothing more than another version of Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, and a lesser one at that. Yet, as strange as this sounds, reading the novel a second time did make me realize that Pears can write and it intrigued me long enough to at least finish the book. Sometimes, while the plot may be contrived, the writing is strong enough to stand on its own. For me, The Portrait does just that.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review - Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Irene Nemirovsky’s unfinished novel Suite Francaise is a dream within a nightmare. This wonderfully engaging novel has a sad truth behind it; the author, while working on this piece, tried to flee Paris from the oncoming Nazis in 1942. She was caught and sent to Auschwitz, where she later died. Thankfully, her manuscript was discovered by a relative and published for the world to read and enjoy. This was my first encounter with Nemirovsky’s work and I must say that I am enchanted with her. The “novel” is of two parts: “A Storm In June” consists of various Parisians leaving Paris during the massive exodus in 1940 and their stories before, during and after the nightmare. “Dolce” tells the story of a small town in France occupied briefly by Germans and the tensions between the soldiers and the townspeople that later lead to curiosity, a hint of romance, anger and bitter regrets. Following the two parts are notes and letters written by Nemirovsky to various individuals of her thoughts during the real event. The one matter that bothered me somewhat was the fact that she wrote of the exodus before it really happened and she wrote of it with such chilling detail. I kept flipping through the pages, wondering if perhaps there was a trick to it all; perhaps it was something I had overlooked in my reading of her tale. I was severely wrong and instead fell in love with her words, her detail and the author and the life she lead.
She wrote with such a delicate truth that one couldn’t help but fall into step with the characters and assist them in living out their lives, no matter how sordid or righteous. There is an obvious feminine style in her work and yet there is also a steel rod that lies just in reach if matters get too out of hand. Nemirovsky does not remind me of anyone I have ever read and that is a good thing. Sometimes, it is good to read a “new” author whose words are like a breath of Spring air or a cool glass of water on a hot day. In these times, it is good to read someone who has their own voice, someone who does not remind anyone of anyone. After reading Suite Francaise, I did something I very rarely do; I ran out and purchased another of her books recently translated. Because of this unfinished book, I wanted to know more about Nemirovsky. I wanted to feel that feeling of lightheadedness again after reading her work. So, I am now reading Dimanche and Other Stories and it is proving to be just as excellent as Suite Francaise, if not better. She had such a voice; such a shame it was snuffed out too soon.

Matcha In The Morning - Erik Satie

As a new week begins, remember to take some time out for yourself to relax and enjoy the moment. Here is Gymnopedie No. 1 written by Erik Satie. Listen to the music with a cup of Earl Grey tea and a good book. . . . . and relax.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lunchtime Adventure - Cotton Museum

For my lunchtime excursion today, I decided to visit the Cotton Museum on Union Avenue in Downtown Memphis. Cotton, as many people might know, was and still is quite a cash crop in the South. Without the industry, Memphis would not be what it is now. The museum proved to be well worth the $10 admission fee, for it is divided between two rooms: the history of cotton in the South and the importance of cotton today. The entire museum can be viewed in about an hour with time to spare to walk through the gift shop and to take many photos of the bales of cotton lying around. You can also touch several samples of cotton in its various forms. During my initial visit, I learned about the importance of cotton as well as the many, many uses of cottonseed, like being an ingredient in nail polish, cosmetics, cooking oil, feed for livestock, plastics, topsoil and others. Blues and Country music stemmed from poor whites and blacks whose lives were influenced by cotton and even our Carnival Memphis was based from an effort to increase cotton usage by the masses. Make a plan to stop by the museum and take a trip through cotton history!

Matcha In The Morning - A Myth Frozen In Time

This was taken at the Dixon Gallery in Memphis, Tennessee.