Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review - Home Leave by Brittani Sonnenberg

I consider myself to be a lucky bibliophile; I have several really good indie bookstores within driving range of where I live. There's Booksellers at Laurelwood in East Memphis, Burke's Books in Midtown Memphis (where I live) and Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, of which is only an hour and thirty minutes away. Whenever I drive to Oxford, I always make the most of the drive and consider it to be a mini vacation of sorts. Once I reach the town, I feel as though I have traveled back in time - the houses with their Southern charm, the trees that seem to be too perfect to be real and, of course, Rowan Oak, the house of author William Faulkner, of which I try to visit every time I am down there just to say "hello".

So it was that I drove to Oxford on a Saturday to hear and meet author Brittani Sonnenberg, author of the book Home Leave, a delightfully well written story of a global traveling family. I will admit that I was unsure as to whether or not I would enjoy this book, yet once I began reading it, especially after hearing Sonnenberg read the first chapter out loud, I knew that I was in for a treat.

Meet the Kriegsteins - Chris, the father; Elise, his wife; and their two daughters Sophie and Leah. Because of Chris' global career, the family moves from city to city, country to country, never truly setting their roots in one place. They are a family on the move that must adapt to the constant change that their lives encounter. However, when tragedy strikes the family, it is that very change that will both bring them closer than ever while at the same time drive them apart. Secrets will be created while truthful thoughts, no matter how painful, arise to the surface and remain there until either handled or simply ignored all the while knowing that they will never go away.

Sonnenberg writes with confidence of this global family, especially since her life consisted of moving from country to country with her family. Her voice is strong, of which you can clearly hear in the pages, and it changes quite well when the character focus shifts from daughters to husband to wife. Although the Kriegsteins live the ultimate life of seeing the world, one can also feel sympathy for them as well. It is not an easy life to never be in one place and call it home. Sonnenberg's words make you feel sorry for the Kriegsteins as well as envy them, a paradox that is both expected and envied.

Home Leave is a fantastic debut by a fantastic author who is also a very kind soul. I felt honoured to have met a fellow author whom I know will make her place among those who are masters of the Written Word.

From one author to another - thank you for Home Leave.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wanderlust and a Chronicler - An Idea

Yesterday, after helping a friend move into her new life, I saw something that made me pause and wonder. As I stopped at a traffic light, I turned to my left and saw a young woman dressed in flared and worn jeans, a dark green sleeveless shirt and a backpack. I had no idea about her shoes. She stood there in the middle of all the traffic and held a simple cardboard sign that I was not able to read. As I stared at this woman, my mind began to roam with thoughts: who was she? Why was she standing there holding a cardboard sign? At one point, she raced over to a truck to receive some money; I saw her lips move as she thanked them for whatever they gave her. She then made her way back to the concrete and continued to hold her sign in silence. The light changed to green and I drove towards home, yet she remained etched in my mind. I wanted to turn around and give her money as well as give her something to eat, yet I could not and did not.

So, here it is, a day later, and she is still on my mind. Rather than buzz my brain with questions that will never be answered, I decided instead to write about her. Perhaps this will make up for what I did not do.

The sun blazed overhead, causing Zaira to squint and shield her eyes with her tanned hand, knowing all the while that it did no good under the overpowering rays. She wanted to find a place to sit down and cool off, yet knew that she had to move on. After all, she had a job to do. Zaira allowed her hand to fall limply by her side then looked around at her latest surroundings: another city, another place filled with people who refused to look at her, much less acknowledge her. To them, she was nothing more than another piece of paper that someone had thrown out their window on the way to their next meeting or on the way home. Zaira grinned in spite of herself; she checked the straps on her trusty backpack, making sure that it was nowhere near falling apart on her. With one more glance up towards the sun, she set off. Although she had been in the city for three days, she had recorded enough and was more than ready to unload it all at the next Threshold. Zaira was a Chronicler, one of the highest titles given to those who became afflicted with Wanderlust. To the rest of the world, wanderlust meant nothing more than traveling to a tourist drenched place, enjoying expensive drinks and spending money for souvenirs, only to return home and resume their stress filled lives. However, there were others, those who had been born already afflicted with something that set them apart, who would be overcome with Wanderlust and it changed them, causing them to evolve in ways that others never dreamt of.
These people were infused with magick and were driven to areas known as a Threshold, a city of sorts that existed beyond the sight of the rest of the world. In these places, people from all backgrounds, gender and even species would barter, trade, live, educate and, like Zaira, study extensively to become a Chronicler. The Chroniclers were forever travelers, off in search of knowledge not gained by normal means. Their bodies, due to their training, caused them to survive and thrive in every possible weather condition and then some. They traveled in search of words, phrases and anything that they could sell to the highest bidder who resided in a Threshold, rest and recharge for several days then strike back out into the world. They could never stay in one city for too long; their bodies were designed that way. Zaira was tired of her current city and was ready to get to the next Threshold to rest. She made her way down one of the main streets that led the way of the city, ignoring the cars that whizzed by her and the occasional cat calls and honking horns. Her bag sagged a bit with phrases, notes taken, photographs, dreams sampled and tasted and her growing collection of notebooks.
She ran her fingers through her hair, hoping like hell it wouldn't knot up. The next Threshold and her latest destination known as Cintar, was only a day's walk from here. She reached for a rubber band from her jeans pocket then pulled back her thick purple and red streaked hair into a ponytail and hoped for the best. She looked at her suntanned arms, brown and reminding her of cinnamon, and tried to remember what her skin had looked like only a month ago when she traveled through one of the many portals that led to a snow covered world. Being a Chronicler did not limit her excursions to just Earth; sadly, the majority of the world had no clue that Earth was not the only inhabited planet or realm. Through her years of being a Chronicler, she discovered many places that were the remains of dreams thrown away and nightmares that had yet to begin - one of the many reasons why she carried a spelled knife as well. One never knew what one had to do in order to get what she needed.
Just then, she noticed out of the corner of her eye a car slowing down next to her. The driver rolled down the windows and yelled something at her. At first, Zaira wanted to ignore the person, hoping like hell they would just drive off. However, they continued to try to get her attention. She removed the inner block, therefore allowing the sounds to return to a normal level to her ears, when she heard the words, "Are you hungry?" Zaira stopped and looked at the driver, who turned out to be a woman with a slight grin on her face. She stared at the woman in her car, not sure of what to do next.
"Look, I can get you some food. Are you hungry? Do you speak English?" Zaira nodded while trying hard not to laugh at the naïve yet well-meaning woman; she knew over 1000 languages and at least 50 dialects.
"Yes . . . . ," she said as she moved a little closer towards the car. "I am hungry." Her deep and melodic voice tinged with spices and sand caused Julie’s eyes to widen slightly. Clearly, she had never heard such a voice, one that commanded power with barely any effort.
"Look, there's a place right up here. I'll buy you some food, okay?" Zaira nodded and the woman drove up and into the parking lot of a fast food place. She got out of the car and waited for Zaira to make her way across the parking lot in a slow and unhurried manner. She noticed that the driver wore simple jeans rolled up, a white shirt that showed off her arms and her long and thick black hair that framed her very beautiful face and deep brown eyes. Zaira enhanced her senses and smelled her lotion, clean and like linen, realized that she was on her menstrual cycle and that she was a bit tired. Once Zaira walked up to her, the woman stuck out her hand.
"I'm Julie."
"Zaira." They shook hands, with Julie wincing at Zaira's strength. Julie then made her way inside the place with Zaira following her with a guarded yet fascinated tone. This woman is not afraid of me, she thought as the air conditioning hit her warm skin, causing steam to faintly rise. The two women walked up to the counter and to the sleepy young girl dressed in a brown and yellow uniform. Julie turned to Zaira, awaiting her order. She ordered a simple hamburger with lots of tomatoes and onions, plus the largest French fries they had and a large cup of water. Julie ordered the same and then leaned against the counter as she handed Zaira a cup. Ten minutes later, their food was ready and Julie took the tray to an out of the way table and sat down. Zaira filled up her cup with ice and water, knowing that she had to make it last for a while. She then sauntered over to Julie and took her food from her.
"I thank you, Julie."
"No need to thank me. I don't normally do this, but you . . . well." She looked away.
"What?" Zaira but into her hamburger and chewed thoughtfully. It felt good going down her throat. Julie turned to face Zaira’s eyes and dared to speak the truth.
"Well, call me crazy, but I just felt that you were different. You weren't like other homeless people."
"You think me to be homeless?" Zaira arched an eyebrow.
Julie blushed. "God, I'm so sorry. That's what I get for putting my foot in my mouth. Damn. I guess you're traveling, right?"
"You could say that." Julie bit into her hamburger, her appetite now returned from making such a fool of herself. "I'm on my way somewhere."
"A town. Hardly noticeable. A matter of selling items."
The two then continued eating in silence.


So, that is all I am going to do right now. If you like what you have read, PLEASE let me know.

This story will be continued. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Welcome to my Realm.

This Realm exists solely through me and within me, as I am both its creator and source of torment.

(laying down the sticks to make them glow)

The trees sprout from under the ocean, green, waving towards the too blue sky.

(a fallen one speaks now; hush, slow and whispered standing)

This is my place, my home – madness in simple forms.

I did not create it.

(Yes, yes I did)

I keep forgetting.

(She wants to think differently, you know)

She wants to make you blink faster.

Inside of this I wonder just why I see things that no one else can. Why do I hear the birds chirping at night when the rains have finally come? This Realm, my land, my home, solitude of a stranger, I still come forward, kneeling with thick tongue in my mouth and fallen lashes.

(She thinks, she whispers. I can no longer see Her. Are you there? Whisper your name)

I stand in the middle of a valley, under the trees that bear such red apples. Forgive me, I say as I pluck one from the branches the shiver and tremble at my touch. Seductive. A promise of more. I want to give more yet I am afraid.

(A hand given freely, separated from the body. Come now, will you dance with me?)

I think in my library, walls of books that stand in the middle of the city, the city, yes there is one. Filled with colourful people who wear funny hats and drink rainbows.

(Everyone here is mad)

Everyone hears whispers in different languages. I can watch the words float from one mouth to another’s ear, nimble and quick before I pluck them like the apple, yes the apple that came before it all.

(He touched me. So help me god. He touched me)

Told me I was pretty. The pretty. One.

The one with the dark eyes and mouth that he longed to kiss. I am naked.

The city stretches for miles and miles, each direction as far as I can see. I can hear the bricks being laid, one . . . one. . . one . . . one.

Step closer, bend down to the streets. Do you hear them now?

(Suffer. Wretched human. My skin will tear and burn. Reach out to me. Feel the dust)

My lover with dark red hair waits for me in a window that is not open. He sits and waits for me because that is his raison d’etre. Raison d’etre. Without it, said that one woman long ago, I have nothing.

(He kisses me tenderly. Oh god . . . . I want to wake up)

My eyes find him under the street lights. I find him because I can see him and hear his heart beating ever so slowly. He nods and then I hear it skip.

Did he die? I want to touch him. Touch him now.

(Suffer, little one. In this time, I am No One. I am nothing. I want to break the bones made into a lovely prison)

I come forward, naked. This city, this place is mine. The trees that grow from the ocean, the sky too blue to be there, the city that waits like a dead animal. I want to know more. I want to return to my library. Where it all began. Where I once knew myself.

(I was never here. I used to be there. I am double, falling. My blood given freely)

Welcome to my Realm. I hope you will like it here.

I am silent. 

(painting by Salvador Dali)

The Professor and Preseren

I am lucky to know many people from all walks of life: artists, photographers, musicians, authors, poets, tea drinkers, Decadents, and so on. It is because of them that I learn so much about the world, adding my new information and collected data to the constantly growing library in my mind. I think I have about five rooms so far with room to grow.

One such friend is the author/professor Michael Williams; although he and I have only met twice, I consider him to be a great friend, one that has shown me much about the world through the realms of history, literature and culinary delights. So it was that in his latest post of his blog, Mythical Realism, that he spoke of a poet named France Preseren. Of course I had to look him up and read some of his work. And I did. And I love it.

This is one of the poems I just read and I can still feel the words buzzing on my tongue.

Thank you, Michael.

Mid Wastes of Africa A Wanderer Sped

Mid wastes of Africa a wanderer sped:

He found no pathway; night was now afield.
Through clouds no stealthy glimmer was revealed;
Craving the moon, he made the grass his bed.

The heavens opened, moonbeams then were shed;
He sees where poison-serpents are concealed,
And where their brood of cubs the tigers shield;
He sees the lion upraise his wrathful head.

Thus 'tis the wont of youth perforce to view
What now befalls, so long the veil yet drapes
The future from the road he would pursue.

Clearer has grown the night, and from it gapes
Loathing of life; of pangs and griefs not few,

The deep abyss from which none e'er escapes.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Me and Vivian Maier

9:00 PM.

I am finally in dry clothing and waiting for my kettle to sound off so I can prepare my cup of relaxing tea, yet I am still in amazement as to what I just watched. In thanks to the Brooks Museum of Art, I was introduced to a woman that was an amazing photographer - Vivian Maier.

I first learned about Vivian Maier this morning, as I perused the Brooks' website for their events listings. When I saw that they would be showing the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, I knew I had to go, simply because I knew nothing of her and her work yet something about her interested me greatly. I began searching for her work on the Internet and was surprised that I recognized many of her photos . After speaking with a friend, award winning photographer David Lee Black, about the documentary, he informed me that he had seen an exhibition of hers and that it was quite amazing. So, I knew then that I had to watch the documentary.

Unfortunately, as I drove to the Brooks, it had begun to rain and I found myself wondering if perhaps I needed to just stay at home. Yet, the call to become more acquainted with Maier's work compelled me to continue driving through the torrential rain that seemed to get worse as I finally pulled into the parking lot behind the art museum. Testing my resolve, I opened my car door, opened my umbrella then with me screaming, "This is for ART, dammit!," I raced through the downpour and made it safely inside, complete with soaking jeans, hair, shirt, sneakers and socks. How marvelous.

Vivian Maier was a recluse and barely told anyone about her life, yet thanks to a coincidental auction purchase made by director John Maloof, the world now knows of her photography and the woman who stored over 100,000 exposures plus many hundreds to thousands of undeveloped rolls of film. Her photographs were beyond just random shots; each one told a story, a history that, once caught and frozen by Maier, became immortal. As the documentary showed her photos and her home movies of the children she supervised as a nanny, there were also interviews of the children now grown up and their parents telling their tales about Ms. Maier. When I learned that she was born on February 1st, I grinned in the dark; that is my birthday and in my own way, made me feel closer to Maier.

Maier collected newspapers and was a pack rat. She requested having a padlock on her bedroom door with every home she lived in. She spoke with a slight French accent that while some claimed to be the real thing, others vehemently stated that it was quite fake. She wore big floppy felt hats and over sized coats to hide herself from the world, yet at the same time she revealed her inner self through her camera. She also had a dark side, one that came out in the form of abusing some of the children she took care of, or having an unnatural fear of men. In the end, she died alone and no one knew about it.

I am so glad that James Maloof purchased those boxes of negatives; thanks to him, Vivian Maier will never die.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Book Review - Small Wars by Sadie Jones

Attending a library book sale is like being told you're about to go on a treasure hunt: so many books that you've either heard of or not and you hope like hell you've brought enough bags to carry them all to your car. After going to library book sales for many years, I have learned to do such a thing. However, the sales are truly treasure hunts; I never know what I'm going to find and I never know if I'll find a book that I've never heard of before that I will later read and love. Such was the case with the book Small Wars by Sadie Jones.

Let me just say that I'd never heard of Jones until I purchased her book, yet when I began reading the book, I honestly could not put it down. She is a talented author who, like so many others who have mastered the Written Word, make you feel as though you're right there with her characters as they face their day to day lives. In this case, we are with British major Hal Treherne and his wife, Clara, as they transfer from England to Cyprus in 1956. At once, we are thrown into turmoil, bloodshed, longing for jolly ol' England that never leaves them and a constant string of choices made with such dramatic consequences to follow. While Hal does all he can for the Crown, Clara tries to live out her life as a wife and mother of two little girls, all the while becoming acclimated to the Cyprian heat and suffering in silence befitting of a British woman.

When the twist that was not really a twist occurred, I actually smiled when it happened; I wanted the choice made to be a good one, no matter of the rippling consequences that continued to do so even after the final page. The wars that constantly surrounded the British as they remained in Cyprus were nothing compared to the inner "small" wars that battled Hal and Clara. To leave or to stay. To speak up or to remain quiet. To love or to just walk away. The one scene that grabbed my liver and shook it ferociously was the shooting scene in which Clara and Gracie, a friend, were caught in the crossfire. It was both terrifying to read and to imagine yet as I read on, it proved to be the catalyst for the twist that was not really a twist later in the book. Once again, the choice later made, in my opinion, was a good one, no matter the consequences.

Thank you, Sadie Jones, for Small Wars.

Happy Reading!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Book Review - Demian by Hermann Hesse

Reading Hermann Hesse is like climbing the mountain to seek a holy man for wisdom and guidance. His words are filled with the knowledge that in order to awaken to one's self, one must open their eyes to the world and see what is before them. This was the case with Emil Sinclair, the narrator of the novel Demian, as he shrugged off what was expected of him to face what he could truly become, thanks mostly to his friend and guide of sorts, Max Demian. Demian lives beyond the rules set for the rest of the world, because quite simply, he is both of this world and of another that carries a different yet still important set of rules. It is through Demian that Sinclair learns how to become himself, whomever and whatever that may be. The words give rise to the soul finally waking up and moving forward that only few could ever understand and comprehend and yet Sinclair dives into it with at first trepidation then finally acceptance and indulgence. The end leaves us wondering if in fact the gods do have a sense of humour; at least, that was how I walked away from this book.

The first time I read Hesse was years ago when I read Steppenwolf. To be quite honest, it both terrified and fascinated me, so much so that I did not read Hesse for many years until I located this book in a used bookstore and decided to return to this mystic and his words that rang like a deep bell within me. When I told my friends that I was reading Demian, I had many of them inform me of their overall love of Hesse's work and I had to agree.

Demian, while slender, is not for those who want a light read. As much as I sound like a book snob (and at times, I am!), Demian is for those who question and wonder about not only of the world but of themselves as well. Demian, along with Hesse's other works, could be construed as philosophy and I am sure there are many out there who would both agree and disagree. The whole concept of the Mark of Cain was enough for me. 

To end this review of sorts, I would like to quote a particular paragraph that caused me to stop and read again. It had hit me just that hard:

So that's what I looked like inside! I who was going about contemtpuous of the world! I who was proud in spirit and shared Demian's thoughts! That's what I looked like, a piece of excrement, a filthy swine, drunk and filthy, loathsome and callow, a vile beast brought low by hideous appetites. That's what I looked like, I, who came out of such pure gardens where everything was cleanliness, radiance, and tenderness, I, who had loved the music of Bach and beautiful poetry. With nausea and outrage I could still hear my life, drunk and unruly, sputtering out of me in idiotic laughter, in jerks and fits. There I was.