Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for September, 2018

Twins Break Stereotypes

41+p5TChekL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Love Club by Donna Faulkner Schulte.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Whether The Love Club is based on real incidents, or completely fictional, becomes irrelevant as one reads the pages. It is rare to have teens portrayed as being good, feeling good, and doing good. This story, by Ms. Faulkner Schulte, is one of those rarities. It is a refreshing twist on what high school students can do, and how they treat one another, and help others.

Identical twins (Mariah and Miranda) return home from there first day of high school. They look upset. There mother (Sandy) asks them about it. “Ok. What happened that took those pretty smiles off your faces? Was someone mean to you? Were the older kids bullying you?”

No mom, everything went fine at school. It was what happened on the way to school that bummed us out.” Miranda said. “We just saw a man sitting in the woods licking a cracker wrapper and you could tell he was so hungry, but we didn’t know if we should offer him half our lunch or would he be insulted?”

It isn’t long until Mariah and Miranda enlist the help of their friend Ebony at school, and get the ball rolling on how to start a club that will provide the most benefit to help people that are homeless. The story also involves the girls first dates, and prom night, and how they develop healthy friendships with there peers.

The Love Club includes a number of references to church, God, and the Bible, but does so as part of the characters beliefs, and not in a way that is asking anyone else to convert, or believe likewise. Ms. Faulkner Schulte’s story is inspiring, and provides practical things people, and communities, can do to assist those living without a home. Just one day can change everything. None of us are immune to being in the same situation.

 

Something Dangerous

51YshZA25gLA Risky Christmas Affair by Nina Romano.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Serena is married to Walter. They have a jewelry store in Rome. They’ve traveled the world. Their marriage is complicated. A previous loss effects them deeply. Walter wants Serena to take one more trip (a flight alone, to London, to make a deal), before they spend more time together, or she goes back to school. She doesn’t want to go.

One of the treats about A Risky Christmas Affair is its solid sense of place. “For centuries, the castle had been a place of refuge for Popes, and the sight of the fortress gave her the strength she needed to rid herself os something dangerous. When she had the miscarriage, she had stayed at Our Lady of Angels Hospital, which overlooked this same castle.”

A lot happens in this story in a short time. There is mistrust, resignation, attempted robbery, an unwanted gun, expectations, a car wreck, meeting a member of parliament,  remorse, and jealousy. Ms. Romano is an excellent storyteller, and it shines through with this tale. Though it is fiction, it felt like A Risky Christmas Affair could be true.

Gaea Cleans House

518hlTbe79L30 by Arthur Butt. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

What a great opening line. “The day the human race died started typically enough.” Thus, begins 30. A perfect short story with a powerful punch. Mr. Butt has crafted an excellent end-of-the-world scenario, with an unexpected character, and unanticipated ending.

The tale is told in the first person by Artie, who discovers that nobody else is on the Long Island expressway, as he’s making his way to work. No one accept a lone hitchhiker. Artie picks her up, and learns that her name is Gaea (Greek Goddess for earth).

The story reminds me somewhat of a play I wrote a few years back, which was produced and performed in New York. It is called The Goddess of Cancer. The play has a variety of women with cancer, who meet her (cancer) in person and discuss their predicament.

30 doesn’t take long to read, but it will leave you thinking. How did everybody die? What are we doing to the planet? If we call this globe “Mother Earth”, why don’t we treat her like one? Arthur Butt has created a memorable short we should all digest and ponder.

Emily Meets Emma

51TBGBOEH2LThe Gift by Casi McLean. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Savannah (Savy) and Ryan are very much in love, and planning on taking the next step, when Savy panics and takes off in her car during a snowstorm near Atlanta on Christmas Eve. When her car gets stuck in a ditch, she makes her way to a cabin off the road and meets an older woman (Emma) who lets her stay the night.

The Gift, by Ms. McLean, is a novelette that takes a sweet romance, with expected outcomes, to a different realm, and makes readers’ think twice about the choices we make. What would happen if we chose differently, or took a right turn, instead of going left? If our life is a matter of many moments, and decisions, how do we decide?

The author writes, “Collapsing on her bed, she stared at the ceiling. Had her entire Christmas Eve been a dream or some psychotic hallucination? Maybe the exhaust fumes had seeped to her brain. Oddly though, whatever happened to Savy in the last twelve hours had changed her perspective. Flashing on Emma, Savannah bolted up with a jolt.”

Casi McLean has written a contained, and thought-provoking, long short story that makes one ponder. The Gift reflects on relationships, family, career, living alone, and discovering what one believes are the most important things in life. There are no set answers, but every choice has consequences. Choose wisely.

Is He or Isn’t He?

41Ks4pk78-LJacqueline and the Judge by Jaye C. Blakemore.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

I don’t recall any murder mystery that has a judge as the suspect. Their surely must be one, or some, but Jacqueline and the Judge is the first one I’m aware of. Wether it is the first, or one of many, it is a damn good story. The style of writing, by Ms. Blakemore, reminded me of some of the best films from the forties and fifties, where an innocent man is accused of murder and must prove his innocence (or is found to be guilty).

This contemporary tale is told from the perspective of Judge Luca Valentino, whose wife has just died in a car accident. He is deep in grief, and the Judge’s mourning is portrayed with great insight and understanding. Here is an example. “It felt like someone had reached into his stomach and pulled his guts out. A whoop of air came out of his mouth and before he knew it, he was hunched over and uncontrollably weeping.”

In the beginning, it is clear that the judge is grief-stricken and truly loved his wife (Sylvia). He is soon spending time with a younger woman (Jacqueline), whom he happens to meet at the diner he and Sylvia frequented. Jacqueline is upset over a breakup. Luca tries to comfort her, as is his custom. His wife said he always had a soft spot for those in trouble. Jacqueline and the Judge become friends and talk frequently.

Then, out of the blue, shit hits the fan. Detectives (Teagen and Smith) show up at the judge’s house, incriminating evidence is found, and Judge Valentino’s entire life comes into question. Jacqueline and the Judge is a great story. If I didn’t have to sleep, I would have kept reading it nonstop to the end. Jaye C. Blakemore is a very good writer. I’d suggest you get a copy of this story and find out for yourself who is, or isn’t, guilty.

 

Prizes Among the Dirt

51xH8YMzYQLThe Boy With The Coin – A Short Story by Christina van Deventer. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

An old man tells his story about a boy he watches across the street, who finds something in the mud and then leaves. The man goes over and finds fifty cents atop a small mound. He is not sure when, or if, they boy will return to collect his find. In the meantime, it becomes clear that the narrator (an older man) has a strained relationship with his daughter (Allison), and doesn’t have long to live.

The Boy With The Coin is a well told short story that keeps the vague past present, and an edge to the tale that is palpable. Is forgiveness, or redemption, possible? Does anyone deserve, or not deserve, to die? Ms. van Deventer asks these questions in the context of the story, and with honest speculation. Does life and death “mean” anything? If so, are we responsible for our actions, or in-actions?

Here is an excerpt, with the narrator being reminded of his childhood joy of living, and present lack of such. “I don’t know what prompted me to cross the street to where the boy had been playing. Curiosity, I suppose. I was once a child myself, but I have long since lost my ability to find joy in the small things, the prizes among the dirt, and I wondered what the boy had found that could be of any consequence to his heart.”

Ira Smiled

41OhZONgcvLIt Started With a Cup of Coffee by Sudesna Ghosh.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Ira is a writer. She writes in a cafe in Kolkata. If you are a writer (or reader) you’ll relate to her and It Started With a Cup of Coffee. What starts out as work, becomes personal. What becomes personal, becomes fodder for fiction. Here’s a brief excerpt from this intimate short story.

“One bite into the cherry red cream cupcake got her started. ‘God, this tastes like heaven,’ Ira smiled. Ira rarely smiled unless she felt obligated to. Or if she met a dog or a cat. The cupcake was special. What she didn’t notice was that she was smiling at the person sitting across from her – the gentleman with nice eyes and lashes. Uh oh.”

Though Ira is writing a romance in her favorite coffee shop, which is due to her editor (Lisa) within a month’s time, she’s not feeling very romantic. Trying to listen in on couple’s conversations at other tables helps a little, but isn’t always possible. Perhaps the main character in Ira’s story is herself.

Ms. Ghosh’s It Started With a Cup of Coffee is a relatable tale, especially if you see yourself as a scribe, and well worth a few rounds of caffeinated inspiration.

FALL… In Love

A Compilation of Higher Thoughts – Volume I: Takeoff
by Bryan Thorne. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41b3A5FuI0L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_These poems, short stories, and explanations, are from the awakened mind of Bryan Thorne, starting when he was but twelve years of age, up to the publishing of this book (2012) when he was eighteen. A Compilation of Higher Thoughts is especially impressive for his limited experience at the time these were written, and the ideas one his age usually are not aware of, let alone able to express poetically.

This insightful passage is from the beginning. “The first step to making your dreams come true is waking up, because a dream can only take you so far.”

Interspersed between poems, and poetic short stories, are the author’s explanations of what he was thinking at the time, or what had just taken place. This was especially helpful to provide context, and an even deeper understanding, of each section. When speaking of love, loss, death, racism, loneliness, or friendship, the poem had further resonance knowing where it came from.

Mr. Thorne is a wordsmith who is able to look at words from different perspectives, play them against one another, and incorporate thoughts and feelings into focus, for an interesting read. A Compilation of Higher Thoughts is impressive. Here is one of my favorites of the collection.

 JUST A THOUGHT

 It’s funny
how people
fall
in love.

FALL… in love.

As if love is a trap
Something unexpected.

Something one
Would try to prevent.

Something one
Would try to aoid.

Something one
Wouldn’t want to happen.

Something one
Wouldn’t notice until it’s too late.”

 

A Golden Process

The Dream Alchemist: A Woman’s Search for Love, Bliss, and Freedom Across India, Time and Dreams – A Memoir by Anna-Karin Bjorklund. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51yhA4S1y4LThere’s a lot of insight, love, clarity, visions, and bliss in The Dream Alchemist, and it all feels genuine. This journey, by Ms. Bjorklund, isn’t always a piece of cake. It takes courage to be with oneself and see what is present. She never turns away, gives up, or blames others. Whenever in conflict, confusion, or difficulty, the author turns within.

“This book,” Anna-Karin says, “is a memoir of my own adventure at a small ashram in India, and the philosophical remnants that followed – a golden process of soul growth, the majestic journey of stepping into my own power, and finding the path of self-love.” Thus, she describes her stay at Brahman Sanctuary in southern India.

She describes the people she meets, what she learns, and the experiences that stayed with her. Most of the retreat is done in silence, accept for meeting with her Dassas (guru’s helpers). The guru’s (teacher) name is Brahman, though they only see him briefly on the last day. Fellow followers include Nicolita, Richard, and Ananda.

“Every day in our sessions with the dassas we’re reminded to observe our thoughts, breath, and emotions. This is a good exercise. After all, the most profound insight came to Buddha just from observing and being in this in-between state where he was simply not trying anything to hard. Every now and then I manage to float away and just observe, which is an amazing feeling. Sometimes I struggle more – thoughts swirl around in my head. At the end of the day, this meditation technique is all about being in a state of observation and being aware of our perception. This applies to suffering as well!”

How Ms. Bjorklund lives, and adapts, to her life in the “outer world”, when she returns from her time in India, is just as interesting as the original retreat. Job, immigrant status, relationships, school, and pregnancy, all play big parts in her new found awareness. The Dream Alchemist takes readers’ on a reflective journey inside and outside our selves, and a part of the world we may never personally visit.

In Front of His Eyes

41Dgm0NQNALMane of Redemption by Aaron D. Brinker.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Good and bad. Right and wrong. Angel and fallen angel. Jesus and the devil. The contrasts in Mane of Redemption are clearly defined, as are the main characters (Jude and Adam). This short story, by Mr. Brinker, sees evil for what it is, and leaves the door open for change and redemption. It’s also about the choices we make and the resulting consequences.

Adam is confronted with choosing whether to keep his promises or have a change of heart and have his life upended. “Adams mind started spinning. He thought of what kind of torture and punishment Lucius had in store for him to witness. He couldn’t bare anything happening to Jess or the kids, let alone it happening in front of his eyes and knowing he could have prevented it.”

Both Jude and Adam are given special powers to assist their respective angels, and able to change into powerful creatures. They both relish the power, but must practice to have their new identities become fully manifested. A number of questions in Mane of Redemption are left open until the ending scenes, when it becomes clear who must fight whom, and what the victory will cost.

 

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