Monday, June 27, 2016

The Armless Hero of Africa!

I'm a sucker for adventure stories - Indiana Jones was my idol when I was a child. I loved that man so much that I created my own version of him - Indiana Kim - complete with my whip (jumping rope), my lucky hat (my granddad's hat), terrifying animals of the jungle (my stuffed animals and a cassette recording of me making bird noises), and my journal (my spiralbound notebook). Thanks to Pro Se Publications, Indiana Kim grew up to become Agnes Viridian (her first story is in Black Pulp!). Although I can watch Raiders of the Lost Ark over and over, I'm always in the mood for new adventure stories.

Well, brother, did I ever find one.

Deep in the jungles of Africa is a man so courageous, so terrifying, so brave, that even the natives tremble when they hear his name. Okay, not really, but I'm in the mode now - work with me! Welcome to the world of Armless O'Neil - a feisty Irishman in the time of World War II and Nazis all contained within the Dark Continent. I had never heard of Armless until I purchased my book from my publisher, Tommy Hancock, yet when I began reading the book I knew I was in for a treat!

"Blood-Price of the Missionary's Gold" is just one of five stories that make up this book - although Armless is the same rough and tumble kind of hero in all of them, each author lends his voice to their story, truly creating original adventures that do not disappoint. The book begins with "There's Always a Woman Involved" by my friend, the wildly talented author Sean Taylor; dark humour, not really a dead women, and Nazis make up a grand entrance into Armless's world. The other stories are just as fantastic, yet I have to say that my all time favourite story in the book is the title story by I. A. Watson. Quick and filled with action, suspense, monkeys, Nazis as the enemy, and good ol' Armless leading the way, you can't go wrong with this story. Yet, even though I picked a favourite, the entire book is BEYOND AWESOME.

Yep, I used caps. I liked the book just that much.

I can't wait to read more about Armless; I'm sure Tommy has the list.

PS -  . . . and within two seconds, I located this book! Yeah, baby!


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Literary Force Named Clarice

Clarice Lispector is a force to be reckoned with. I had first heard about her several years ago while searching for another author. I'd never heard of her and at the time, did not want to read her work. I finally decided to take the chance and read her first book, Near to the Wild Heart (a line taken from Joyce's book A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). I will freely admit that it took me several pages to get "comfortable" to her style of writing. I had read that she was considered to be a Modernist author - as much as I love Virginia Woolf, it still takes me time to fully immerse myself in her words. Such was the same for Lispector yet once I did, I found myself rereading passages just to hear her words in my mind. When I finished the book, I knew that I was hooked.

Lispector was born on 10 December 1920 in what is now known as Ukraine yet her family moved to Brazil when she was barely a year old. When her family arrived in Brazil, they changed their names - her original name was Chaya. When she was 23 years old and a law student, she published her first book, Near to the Wild Heart, causing quite the sensation in Brazil. For the most post, no one had ever heard of this woman, yet her words made such an impact that the public only wanted more.

(taken from the website

The story is thus: we are witness to the life and mind of Joana, a woman who appears to be a mild and reserved woman yet she carries a fierce storm inside of her. As a child, she was restless and her mind took on many thoughts too complex for a child; her family, especially her aunt, saw her as evil and vile. Her father was aloof to his daughter and placated her when she pestered him too much. When she is older, she eventually gets married yet the marriage is completely a sham. Joana seeks something different than what is expected of her. She yearns to answer questions not yet asked. She is a wild thing that refuses to be tamed. The novel is not written in a linear style, but more like vignettes of her life, flashing back and forth between distinct points in her life. I especially loved the sections regarding her and "the man" who is both obsessed and fearful of her. When she finally breaks free of that which has held her back for so long, we see her transform into something else, something that she must become - "I will rise up as strong and beautiful as a young horse". 

As I read this book, I kept thinking of Sylvia Plath's book The Bell Jar - the woman whose mind is lit with a desire that couldn't be put into words, yet succumbs to their power and is rendered broken. We see Joana on that same pathway yet she is strong enough to not become a victim of her circumstances, unlike the other characters such as her husband Otavio or Lidia, his mistress. Their thoughts and feelings limit them to what they immediately need in their life and that satisfies them.

To read Lispector is to read poetry; her witting comes at you like waves in the ocean that are relentless. I will freely admit that I developed a Literary Crush; I look forward to reading more of her work and even her biography. I like it when an author takes me by the hand, tells me to "hold on" with a grin, and then we dive into the sea of words and emotions. Lispector is a storm, one that I am willing to embrace over and over again, like Margaret Atwood, Iris Murdoch, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Toni Morrison, Ian McEwan, Isak Dinesen, and many others. Rather than drown, I shall swim.

Obrigada, Clarice.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Justine -

(photo taken at Adam Shaw's studio, Memphis, 2015. Thanks, Adam!)

She felt it within her chest - her heart that beat to an erratic song. Justine placed a hand upon her chest, took a deep breath, and then lightly touched the blank canvas with her brush dipped in the virgin colour. One singular stroke, made with viridian, a colour not many knew of, yet here it was hers. Soon, the bold stroke became several and soon again, the singular colour created the pathway for others. Justine watched the brush dance along the canvas as she gave birth to what was in her mind. The colours led her on a dance and she willingly gave up what little control she had.  Something greater. Something more powerful. Her multicoloured eyes took it all in while glancing around her studio every so often. More paint, different brushes. She wiped a hand across her forehead, leaving a streak of purple. Justine felt the cool paint on her skin, adding to her instructions in her mind. She could barely hear the world outside, even though she kept all of her windows open to allow breezes to float through. Outside, the world, her world, flowed along with its continual display of colours and dreams still not considered by the Human side of the Veil. Just then, in the middle of the sounds of the world, came the single and distinct sound of a flute. Justine cocked her ears to the sound, then turned around to face her windows. She slowly walked towards them, ever drawn by the flute. When she reached the open space, she braced herself against the sides of a window then leaned out. The soft coloured sky with red sun hanging high greeted her, letting her know that the day was in full effect. She then turned her gaze to a single person who sat under her tree who created the music. Justine smiled as she closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift away by the music. It was low and on purpose, as if the player had tenderly given birth to each note. Justine opened her eyes again and realized that the person came from the town on the other side of the valley. It was a small town inhabited by artists and dreamers, those who left the Human side of the Veil in search of something else. As the person continued to play their haunting tune, Justine, Painter of the Otherworld, finally began to dream a new dream.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Gentleman Thief of France

I will freely admit that I'm a Francophile, although I think most of my close friends know this fact. I have probably bored many a person while talking (in depth) about a French film I recently watched, some chanson that I listened to over ten times, or even a book that made me want to move to Paris or New Orleans (ahem). In any case, Vive le France for everything!

Thanks to my publisher Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Productions, I learned of a character and series of books that I knew I had to read for a myriad of reasons. Thanks to Tommy, I was introduced to author Maurice Leblanc and his genius of a character Arsene Lupin!

(the author - taken from the Wikipedia page)

Monsieur Lupin is quite the suave and dashing fellow, yet beware while being around him, especially if you wear fine jewelry or have a taste for fine art. He does as well and would be more than happy to take it from you all the while engaging you in pleasant conversation about the latest play. Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief is an introduction to Lupin and the France of his time. Gaiety, much decadence, and much, much finery. All ready to be plucked by Lupin. As the blurb on the back of the book states, Lupin was created in response to the popularity of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, one of the stories, "Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late", has the two fictional characters meeting each other for the first time. Lupin even steals Sherlock's pocket watch. Clever devil. Lupin is not an evil man; on the contrary, he is "chaotic good" - he steals for fun and enjoys giving what he steals to those less fortunate. Other times, however, he keeps his bounty for himself. One of the stories has him writing a letter to a Baron Satan, advising that he loves the art collection the Baron has collected and that it would be better if he just sent it to him. If not, he would steal it right from his house. And so he does, all the while still in prison. Like I said - clever devil.

The collection of short stories provides an excellent view of Lupin; however, Leblanc treats him the way Fitzgerald treated Gatsby - you never know what he looks like. For the most part, Lupin is described as suave and refined, yet there are no physical descriptions of him at all. And honestly, doesn't that just add to the mystery? Also, Lupin has a habit of wearing disguises, all the while conversing with people about that "scoundrel" Lupin!

I recently learned that there was a 2004 film based on several Lupin stories. In fact, I watched it last night. Much to my horror and joy, the entire film is in French. With no subtitles. At all. Merde. However, if you have a basic grasp of French, you can pretty much figure out what's going on in the story. And, might I add that Kristin Scott Thomas and Eva Green (from Penny Dreadful) are both in the film?  A very good film to check out when you can. There's even an anime based on Lupin's grandson, Lupin III.

I did have another reason for reading this and many other Lupin books, but I'll save that conversation for late this year/next year.

Vive le Lupin!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Are You Sure You Want To Mount That?

Today was a perfect example of a "not so pleasant" day that left me feeling frustrated and downright grumpy. As I raced home, I muttered under my breath about the little things that, at the time, felt much larger than life. However, after ten minutes of arriving home and settling down with a book to read for half an hour, the time sped along nicely; by the end of my reading hour, I was in a much better mood.

I first met author Jim Hodgson at Midsouth Con several years ago and since then, have considered him to be a friend as well as talented author. He was gracious enough to submit work to my literary journal, violet windows, and I have to admit that it was quite a funny piece (read the Inaugural Issue!) So, it came as no surprise that I would literally devour his book How To Mount Aconcagua while smiling and laughing. If you like stories of adventure, mountain climbing, and good humour, then this book is definitely for you.

(photo taken from the Wikipedia page)

In the book, Jim tells of his experience in climbing Aconcagua, the tallest mountain beyond that of the Himalayas; the ordeal in getting prepared for such an excursion, the actual climb to the summit, and the descending trek in the return to civilization and hot showers. However, while other explorers and mountain climbers may pack a book with much detail and personal reflection, Hodgson does that as well, wrapped with lovely wrapping paper of his sarcastic humour. One you read his book, you'll be grateful for the "luxury" of toilets and will never scoff at Snickers bars or cookies shaped like flowers. Or even Tang. I can't forget the Tang. I actually want to purchase Tang now. Thanks, Jim.

In any case, the slender book is at least an hour read yet by the end of it, whatever bad mood you were in will have disappeared. Even though the book is laced with much humour, Jim is also quite the well experienced adventurer and it shows in his descriptions and experiences, especially the ill effects of mountain sickness on a "fookin" American. He even adds a nice Appendix regarding the tools and gear he used during his trek, should you find yourself bitten by the mountain bug and suddenly want to climb something.

See you soon and thank you, Jim!


Thursday, June 16, 2016

To Be Forbidden is To Be Free

As I have said repeatedly this year, I love it when a book grabs me and refuses to let go. I love the feeling of continuously turning the pages, all the while forgetting to look at the clock. I will read any book, so long as it is well written and gets its point across without being either too descriptive or stark and dull. I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is neither but rather a book that takes a look into a sect of Hasidic Jews that most do not know about - the Satmar.

I Am Forbidden tells the story of Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community in Transylvania, and his relationships with Josef, a boy who witnesses his family being killed by the Romanian Iron Guard; and Mila, a girl who also watches her family get killed as they attempt to reach the Rebbe who they thought would lead them to a better life. As Josef is rescued by a Christian woman named Florina, who in turn "makes" him Christian so as to avoid death, Mila is raised in Zalman's family and forms a special bond with Atara, Zalman's daughter. The years pass and the girls, now young women, face a life of marriage and child rearing in the Satmar way, yet Atara dreams of something more for her life. Mila, on the other hand, is reunited with Josef and soon becomes his devout wife. The book then shifts dramatically as choices are made and secrets remain buried under religious ways. One moment of indecision turns into a lifetime of regret and shame while another choice becomes freedom that is carefully guarded.

Anouk Markovits was raised in France in a Satmar home, yet left at the age of nineteen in order to avoid an arranged marriage, according to the dust jacket flap. The experiences one reads about in this book flow like poetry with the occasional darkness thrown in. She writes knowledgeably about the family and their practises without being too heavy handed in "preaching" to the masses or being aloof. The book is one long poem and when I changed my brain to that "sequence", the initial questions I had disappeared. This is a story to listen to while drinking a cup of tea and knowing that you have nowhere else to go for several hours. You stay and listen because you want to and in the end, you will be better for it. Highly recommended.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Taunting Death a Second Time!

First, let me just repeat what I had said on my Facebook post regarding this book: when I figured out the murderer, I literally yelled for five minutes straight in my living room. I was both shocked and happy that I figured it out with Detective Rodger Bergeron. I was tricked into thinking one way and the book went in a completely different direction.

Well played.

Now for the review: Sins of the Father Book Two: A Life Without Fear by author Leo King, published by Grey Gecko Press, makes the first book look like a warm up, of which it is. However, the second book not only wraps up many loose ends but also presents a new situation to both frustrate and terrify the main character, Samantha Castille. In the first book, The Bourbon Street Ripper, we learn that Samantha's grandfather, Vincent Castille, was a legendary killer who roamed the streets of the French Quarter. Now, after many years have passed, a new killer wearing the name of the Bourbon Street Ripper has returned to wreak havoc on not only the citizens of New Orleans, but also Samantha and her lover, the author Richie Fastellos, and the police. In the second book, the action does not slow down; in fact, it speeds up as Rodger and his partner Michael LeBlanc race against time to solve the identity of the killer while protecting Samantha from either being killed or becoming the target of those who think she is the legendary murderer.

King has once again shown that he is quite the master of suspense and thrillers, creating many moments of, "What the F$*%?", that I had while speed reading this book. I know this will sound cliche: once you begin the second book, you will not want to put it down. Lies are revealed, secrets rise from their graves, and all is not what it appears to be as tried and true friends suddenly become fierce enemies under the unforgiving gaze of Death.The ending threw me for a loop, giving me more than enough to know that the third book, Face Behind the Mask, will bring this terrifying yet VERY satisfying trilogy to a close.

This reminds me of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - although I have not yet read the book (and I actually checked it out of the library then got caught up reading something else - what can I say?!), the Swedish film was filled with edgy characters, deceit all around, and frozen memories returning to life against the backdrop of Sweden. I'm actually proud to say that I have watched that movie probably over thirty times. Yep. Proud.


You have done it again, Leo. I can't thank you enough. Looking forward to Book Three!


Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Feeling of Falling. Then Black - flash story

(photograph by Kimberly B. Richardson, 2016)

A tear slid down her cheek as Olivia stared into her empty plate. He was gone, she thought for the millionth time that day. He's truly gone. I still can't believe it. It was literally yesterday when she had last spoken with Charles during their usual coffee time in their favourite coffee shop. He held her hand and she kissed him on the cheek. He told her that he loved her and she replied with the same words. They finished their coffees then went their separate ways, knowing that they would see each other later that day. A phone call came two hours later and Olivia remembered only falling followed by black. When she heard the news, the only words she heard were car and blood. The next day, today, met her with an otherwise delicious lunch that turned into sand in her mouth. She knew she had to eat yet the process, the simple act of raising the fork to her lips, felt like torture. As she laid her utensils on the plate, she wiped the tear from her face then looked up, only to gasp. There, standing in the middle of the restaurant, was Charles. She squinted: it looked like Charles and yet . . . He wore the same clothes from yesterday, yet they were coloured a deep bluish grey. His normally white peach skin had now taken on a bluish hue, and his bright green eyes were a dull blue. She stared at him, realizing that he was staring right at her. Olivia looked around and wondered if anyone else could see him, only to gasp again when a young couple walked right through him without a second glance. Olivia gripped the sides of the table - surely, she was going mad. Charles took a step towards her then held out his hand. Come with me, she suddenly heard in her mind. I miss you. Olivia shook her head no, not caring if anyone saw her do such an act, then willed for this thing to just go away. Come with me, darling, the voice in her mind said again. Please. I miss you. I still love you.
You are dead, she whispered out loud, to which the spectre laughed yet his mouth did not move.
Yes I am.
Am I going insane?
Why are you here?
Because I love you. Come with me, please. Olivia looked around then returned her gaze to the outstretched hand. She closed her eyes then opened them as she got up and walked towards him. As she approached him, Charles began to smile.
Is this really happening?
What will happen to me?
Only love, my darling. Only love.

A feeling of falling. Then black.