Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for April, 2018

Once You Wake Up

51NTSaSA13LWhile You Were Watching the Waltons: A collection of essays and short stories by Gormla Hughes. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A short book, with short writings, and short powerful sentences. A brilliant writer. When scribes, and writing teachers, say, “make very word count”, they must have read the words of Gormla Hughes. While You Were Watching the Waltons combines fiction and non-fiction as few do, and uses every space to its full potential.

Here is a brief glimpse from the essay, Pink Ink and Cyberspace, which looks at the influence of media, role expectations, and maintaining the status quo. “Having stigma attached to you folds you up in eights as citizens. An invisible tagging system. One designed to keep you in line. In line long enough for the Power Holders to acquire more bricks for their empire. But, once you wake up. Once you wake up the anger is transformative.”

The story The Rocking Chair kept me on the edge of mine. There is tension, pain, an encroaching past, and constant threat of violence. “Sitting in the rocking chair, I pour the wine. I take three gulps. I need to numb the desire to kill. Me or Her. I lean back and rock. I like the motion. It makes me feel nurtured. What I think nurtured feels like. I can only speculate.” This tale is a perfect example of the author’s use of rhythm and precision. What could be simpler, or more menacing than, “I need to numb the desire to kill.”

Other stories include The Insemination, about Elsa’s hopes of getting pregnant; Elizabeth’s reaction to her mother’s death, with painful memories of abuse, and not believing, in The Funeral; and the final essay, My Disappearance, which describes the process of loss, discrimination, and finding one’s self beyond expectation. “But I have lost everything that kept me a visible part of humanity, and with it found a freedom. I know how polite works as a tool of subservience.”

While We Were Watching the Waltons is an affront – an affront to “normalcy”. It not only helps us see the world from other perspectives, but also challenges its readers’ to question authority, support those who do, and look inside and out, to see what lies and stories we believe and tell ourselves daily. Creating characters (real and imagined), and using words that have meaning and depth, is no easy task. Not many do it justice. Ms. Hughes is an exception to that reality. She does it very well.

 

 

What Might Be

51+1RXtBEpLspirits at the dawn of day by simon boylan.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Spirits at the Dawn of Day isn’t a light happy romance, or straight up suspense. It’s more like a search for meaning in an internal mystery. If you want fluff, or continued conditioning for an unconscious life, don’t read this. If, on the other hand (or two), you don’t mind looking inside and at the world, with new perspectives and insights, then climb aboard. The story literally crashes itself into existence and takes readers’ on an inner journey, by following the external travels of Josh, an Australian company CEO, who is leaving Japan after a business trip.

All Josh is thinking about is his usual drink, sex, money, and status. After a tragic incident turns his world inside out, Josh seeks out his old friend from college (Alex), and travels around the world looking for answers. He meets up with a philosophy professor on a New England farm (who is reminiscent of Dr. Richard Alpert, who left academia and became Baba Ram Dass); a Kundalini yoga teacher, at a retreat center in Sedona, Arizona; a doctor in Dalian, China; the doctor’s martial arts instructing wife; and a man in Japan; whom he had a connection with from the beginning of the story.

There are in-depth and far-reaching conversations and debates that take place between Josh, and each of those he meets, which include science, philosophy, spirituality, suffering, meaning, love, the environment, business, society, and how they all do, or don’t, intersect and effect one another. The dialogue is not stuffy, or the least bit boring. They contain many of the elements that exist within our lives when we talk personally with a friend, therapist, clergy, teacher, or relative. In many ways, these conversations remind me of the film My Dinner With Andre, in which two men sit down for dinner at a New York restaurant and talk about everything under the sun (and moon).

In Spirits at the Dawn of Day, Mr. Boylan has taken an honest and striking look at what might (or can) happen when the world (and our perceptions of it) becomes something different than we have previously known, or allowed ourselves to see. Perhaps, he may be asking, is it possible to awaken to our inner and outer environment without having to fall from the sky in order to do so? If so, how do we do that? If so, how can we use this story about Josh and his awakening in our own lives? The final question in this story says, “We are all creating the world of tomorrow… Are you consciously creating your part?”

Achin’ for Home

31bo-JcppuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Over the Pass and Other Stories by Susan Mary Malone. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

You can tell from the get go that this author is a native Texan. It ebbs from her stories like a hot wind in hell blowing across east Texas. This is indeed good news, as Over the Pass and Other Stories is better than a good bowl of panhandle chili (without the side effects). The leads in these tales are tough, hard-working, home-grown people from Texas, Montana, and Kansas.

The first story (Winter’s Prey) describes the feelings of Julie, as she poses before her sculpture husband Troy. “She is naked – not under his hands but before his stare.” Descent follows Julie and Troy on a trip through Montana. Over the Pass continues glimpses into their relationship with Julie realizing. “On a backroad byway between Idaho and Montana, through the Red Rocks Wildlife Refuge, I lost the feeling. My heart got out and took a hike and we were another day down the road before I realized it was gone.”

Other stories in this collection include a rodeo cowboy (The Demon On the End of the Rope); a father and son feeding wrestlers at a yearly retreat (Red Turns to Green); and Foster and Callie, who are in a long distance relationship, reluctantly attending a wedding officiated by Pastor Brown.

Some of my favorite lines are from Cowboys Over Ladies, when old Jim tells Sara, who he’s mentored for over 20 years, “You’re a achin’ for home.” He’d nick his chest with a gnarled fist. “That place inside ya. The one you boxed away a long time ago. So you put the nostalgia on like a blanket of a mornin’ to keep out the chill.” Another is from Two Hundred Miles to Dumas, “Mom glared hard at her, all the crow’s feet tying up around her eyes and making her look more ancient than Grandma, who was older than west Texas dirt.”

Ms. Malone’s understanding, and description, of place and people is spot on – tough, beautiful, barren, and spacious. Every story stands on its own, even though the first three have the same characters. Over the Pass and Other Stories will remind you of folks you know if you grew up in that area of the world, or make you think you’re one of the family, even if you’ve never stepped foot in that part of the country. These stories will stick to you like sweat inside a Texan’s jeans.

After School Class

51DkXJGlttL._SY346_Ninja School Mum by Lizzie Chantree
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Skye is not an ordinary mother in a small town, and it turns out not everyone else is either. Reluctantly, Skye (and her son Leo), allows herself to become friends with Thea (and her daughter Florence, and niece, Allie). She also becomes “very close” to the landowner (Zack). Nobody knows Skye’s work history (or so she thinks), and she wants to keep it that way.

Ninja School Mum isn’t strictly a romance, suspense novel, or mystery, but more of a delicious stew with all three mixed in. Told from different points of view by the main characters (Skye, Thea, and Zack), it feels like you’re being taken into their confidence. It is impossible to not like them all, and understand their motivations for what they do, and how they interact with others.

The writing is pragmatic, with thoughts, feelings, and situations, clearly defined and explained. There is lots of drama, tension, emotion, and humor within these pages. Soon after Thea has met Skye, and they are in a bakery with her infant daughter (“Flo”), Thea thinks, “Im lusting after a slice of cake while my breasts have a mind of their own and are ready to combust with enough milk to flood this shop.”

If you think you know who did what when, and whether someone is tracking down Skye because of her previous job, you should be forewarned to not make any bets on your conclusions. Ms. Chantree has taken several genres and story lines and converted them into something familiar, yet also entirely different. Ninja School Mum is entertaining, romantic, suspenseful, and well worth the money and time.

A Search for Family

51LrMG-G4QL._SY346_A Dangerous Secret by Peter Martin
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

There are so many things to like about this story. It is well written, nicely edited, and engrossing from beginning to end. A Dangerous Secret turned out to be somewhat what I expected (from the description) and a lot that I didn’t.

The beginning finds Garry dealing with the loss of his mother. The grief he experiences is very true to life and expressed with great depth and understanding. What he learns just before she dies however, puts the wheels of the story into motion, and the search that continues from that day on.

I don’t keep reading a novel very long if I don’t in some way identify with, or have some empathy for, the main characters. That was not a problem in this story. Garry, his wife Delia (Deel), and their family (Cassie, Tom, Chris, Adam), are not only likable, but also very believable.

A Dangerous Secret is a well paced story, which gives just enough detail for each scene, without lingering too long either. It is as much a search for family, belonging, and understanding, as it is a mystery, genealogical exploration, and a wee bit of horror. Without giving anything away, there are shades of the film Get Out, though not to the same extent as the movie.

As is obvious, I liked A Dangerous Secret. It took twists and turns that I hadn’t expected, kept me fully engaged throughout, and gave me a new appreciation for this genre of mystery and suspense.

A Book’s Fate

51Lxqzd5JpL._SY346_Being Indie: A No Holds Barred Self-Publishing Guide for Fiction Authors by Eeva Lancaster. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Ms. Lancaster states right up front that, “Books have a publishing standard, and Indie authors are accountable to their readers in making sure these standards are met or exceeded.” Being Indie explains how to meet that standard and provides steps for doing so. It also describes how to be a “savvy Indie author”, as opposed to simply getting your book published.

The author of Being Indie practices what she preaches. The book’s cover catches the eye, the layout and editing are well done, and the content very relevant. She also has an excellent on-line and social media presence. These are all aspects of being an indie author which are clearly defined and presented. This is an excellent resource for anyone considering, or in the midst of, publishing their own book.

There are three parts to this work. Part One (Pre-Publishing) includes sections on – From Manuscript to Book – The Editing and Proofreading Stage – What Type of Editor Do You Need? – How to Approach Cover Design – Book Design and Formatting – Fixed Layout or PDF. Part Two (Building Your Author Platform) has information on – Your Website or Blog – Guest Posting – Your Online Presence – Social Media Presence. Part Three (Post Publishing) is a recap of the first two sections.

What I appreciate most about Being Indie is the experience, and knowledge, the author has about the process and the honesty with which she speaks. There is no sugar-coating, or sells pitch, trying to get you to buy her products, or do it here way. Being an indie author takes a lot of hard work and diligence. Very few make a living doing so. Ms. Lancaster says, “Doing nothing, and leaving a book’s fate to the gods, will only ensure failure. It will not sell itself. No one will buy it if it’s less than a book should be. No one will notice it if it’s not attractive. That’s the reality. The sooner you realize this, the better.”

 

Short Story With Sass

51U3PLJtrILThe Blind Seer: A Cindy’s Crusades Story by Susan Jean Ricci. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

This short story has everything one could ask for – a clever beginning, entertaining middle, and surprise ending. The Blind Seer combines romance, mystery, and that little something extra, that makes it stand out in this very difficult and crowded genre.

Cindy, and her husband, Jay, stop at an old clairvoyant machine (called Zola) on the Atlantic boardwalk for fun. The card they are given is not expected, and turns out to be disturbingly true. Within the confides of this first person account, readers meet Cindy and Jay’s dog, Phoebe; their motor coach, Snark Ark; and a young psychic named Sophie.

Here’s a line from the book that captures some of the thoughts Cindy has, as she tries to find out why her husband has become so quarrelsome, distant, and agitated. “I’m sitting in a strange haunted-looking house, inhabited by a creepy old man, a blind psychic, and an overly friendly cat.”

After reading The Blind Seer, by Ms. Ricci, I look forward to reading more of her work in the near future. You may want to consider doing likewise. If you do, you’ll be in for a well-crafted short that is told with understanding, love, humor, and a little sass.

 

 

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