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Samurai’s and Dildos

Hot Love Inferno – Prophecy Allocation Series Book Two by Nicky Blue.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41qmTGabhiL._SY346_Once again, Mr. Blue provides a wonderfully creative, bizarre, and entertaining tale, that has the awkward hero and gardener, Barry, using his debatable ninja skills to fin an attempt to rescue his girlfriend Flo from the Pleasure Factory, where she has been taken by three seven feet high, helmeted samurai warriors from a different dimension and time. Luckily, Barry is not alone in his quest, as he is assisted by a dog named Keith, Dr. Harper, and an ancient Goddess called Mrs. Jittery Twitch.

Hot Love Inferno is a cosmic compilation of every genre imaginable – sci-fi, fantasy, horror, humor, family saga, romance, satire, and other indescribable categories. The narrator in the book says it is “savory sci-fi”.  If you took Mr. BeanBruce Lee, Mr. Ed the Talking Horse, and Maude (from Harold and Maude), and threw them all into a Monty Python movie, you’d have an inkling of this series. An added kick are the footnotes at the end of each chapter. These aren’t ordinary footnotes, but humorous explanations and thoughts about British people, food, and slang. The notes are as funny as the main course.

Here is an excerpt from chapter ten (Be Careful What You Wish For).

Barry flapped open his kimono to reveal his portable cassette player, took a deep breath, and hit play. ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred came blaring out of the speakers, and Barry launched into some furious body-popping. A bit rusty at first, he soon began to find his mojo. His routine started with the classic two-step, progressing into the robot. As his confidence grew, he went down for a bit of floor work. An awesome back-spin took him into a position known as the freeze which set him up for a moonwalk to the bottom of the staircase. The routine may not have won Barry first place at a New York dance-off, but it served it purpose. Above him, the samurais looked confused as hell.”

Nicky Blue’s ability to write characters that are believable, different, and set in situations that are far from the ordinary, is remarkable. The predicaments, reactions, and combinations of science, fiction, fantasy and various cultural euphemisms, is fantastical, yet somehow grounded. It all makes sense, even though it is bizarre, weird, shocking, and out of this world. Only in Hot Love Inferno (and the Allocation Series) will you find an elder mother who loves death metal; an adult boy/man who still lives at home, is a terrible gardener and sees himself as a skilled ninja; a dog from another dimension; and Mrs. Garrett getting half of her body stuck in one world, and the other half in another.

Staring at the Door

Yasodhara: A Novel About the Buddha’s Wife by Vanessa R. Sasson.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51I1VkEDTUL._SY346_The name “Yasodhara” means. “She who is full of splendor.” This novel, about the woman who became known as Buddha’s wife, is as splendid as the person on whom it is based. The story is told in the first person, with Yasodhara telling her own tale. She describes her birth, early childhood, friendship with her cousin (Siddhattha) and other members of the royal family, as her father’s brother is the king (Suddhodana). It takes place in what is now known as Nepal, or northern India.

Ms. Sasson doesn’t pretend that everything in the book is factual and does a wonderful job in the afterward informing readers’ about what is her imagination, and what is based on historical records, or writings, in each chapter. There is actually very little known about Yasodhara, other than some fables, and stories, which were written down in Sanskrit and Pali at least 500 years after she lived. It is believed that she and Siddhattha were born on the same day, married at age sixteen, and were together twelve years before having a son (Rahula). It was the day following their son’s birth, that Siddhartha left Yasodhara, and everything with palace life, to search for the meaning to life.

Here is a touching excerpt from that time in the story.

“I always prided myself on being strong. I might have had a temper, but I managed despite it. I could make my way across any hurdle like a well-trained athlete. I never knew myself in any other way. Until, that is, I found myself alone in my room, nursing a newborn while I stared at the door.

Sidhattha and I had been together for such a long time. Our togetherness had always seemed timeless to me, as though it had been threaded from past lives into this one. We were not just husband and wife. We were everything to each other.

Or at least he was everything to me.

I could not understand why he walked away, so I stared at the door, day after days, wondering if it would ever open again. I lay on my bed, my baby beside me, utterly oblivious to his little cries.”

Yasodhara is an excellent contribution to literature about those that surrounded the man known as Gotama, The Buddha. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in, and historical nonfiction works about, Yasodhara, as well as several fictional accounts. Ms. Sasson has studied and taught Buddhism for a number of years, as well as now written this fictional version, which is well told. The characters come to life and after a short time begin to feel like family.

If you enjoy Yasodhara, you may also be interested in another work of fiction about her life, which is called Buddha’s Wife. Ms. Sasson’s story focuses on the childhood and married life of Yasodhara, whereas, Buddha’s Wife, concerns itself with her life as a nun and the memories she has of her husband (now The Buddha), as well as what she has learned about intimacy, family, and community. It also mixes fact and fiction.

Make No Apologies

Bonds That Bind: A Short Story Collection by Austin L. Wiggins.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41khyPzdn8LMost of these stories are about people who are alone and isolated, and/or lonely. The writing is flawless, and you can feel the pain, sadness, despair, and hopelessness, seeping from each character. With Bonds That Bind, Mr. Wiggins has compiled an array of men and women who bleed metaphorically and literally. Each story in the collection takes us inside the head and heart of someone who has nothing left to lose. They live within their self-imposed box of how they see the world and themselves.

Here is an excerpt from The Outsider, where a marginalized tuba player expresses his dissent the only way he knows how. “It took him until mid-afternoon to regain composure. With cloudy eyes, Derek glared at the tuba and scolded it for mocking him, but the cumbersome heap of brass pipe would make no apologies. Like his playing ability, the tuba had gathered a thin, palpable layer of dust that had been piling up since Christmas. ‘It’s been two months,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to start practicing again.’ By this small, noncommittal decision, the mere spark in Derek’s chest became a storm. The first notes blared like a horn of war, and they didn’t stop. He channeled the fury in his tempest heart, and it was only then that Derek knew he was angry.”

This collection includes a foreboding tale about a young man who joins his brother Dave in a failed quest for a fast buck (The Bird That Flew Overhead); an insurance agent who helps his brother, which results in his becoming a life-long target (One Man’s Sin); a meticulous office worker, George, who is oblivious about his home life until it’s too late (Radiance); a shunned tuba player (The Outsider); a lonely teacher with a bad addiction (Of Flowers); and a counselor who takes matters into his own hands (What Ails Us).

Bonds That Bind is not a feel-good, romantic, or inspiring set of tales. If it tried to be, it would have failed. The author doesn’t shy away from emotions or situations that are uncomfortable – all signs of a writer who knows what they are doing and isn’t afraid to reveal what we often sweep under the rug. The icing on the cake is that in spite of their flaws, thoughts, and deeds, Mr. Wiggins has captured traits and feelings with which readers’ can identify. Though we usually don’t go to the extremes of his characters, we care about what happens to each one.

Gods Travel to Mangina

41OEBYgH4XLTritonium: Greek Gods In Space by Yelle Hughes.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

The entire premise of Tritonium is so outlandish, that it caught my attention as soon as I saw the title. Greek Gods In Space… that’s original. Who thought of that? Well, it turns out that Yelle Hughes wrote this creation. She is an author that is deep into Greek mythology, and this book is an introduction to some of the gods and goddesses, and of her other titles. This story was short, funny, and entertaining.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the beginning, where Poseidon enlists the help of his son to go retrieve Namakai’s (sea goddess) twins. “In the warm, aqua water of the Aegean, bubbles drifted around two figures in an undersea palace. “My Lord, help me understand correctly. You wish for me to board a spacecraft, travel to the planet, Man-Mangina? And, I’m to retrieve Zeus twins?” Triton freely floated in front of the god, Poseidon.”

Each of the immortal’s that go on this journey takes a nickname, such as “Erok” for Eros, and “Zeke” for Zephyrus. They banter and joke around like the crew from Guardian’s of the Galaxy, and learn how to fly the ship with the help of C.H.A.N.E.L., which stands for Computerized Heuristic Avatar and Navigational Embodied Loudmouth. Tritonium: Greek Gods In Space takes readers’ where no man, woman, or immortal being has been, which is easy to do because it takes place in the future and humans are not aware of its existence, let alone that the Greek gods exist.

Visions & Visitations

51bI14kqjwLThe Wall People by AnneMarie Dapp.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Moving away from San Francisco to a small cabin in the Napa hills was the perfect choice for Katie. She meets wonderful neighbors Camellia Sanchez, her husband Steven, and their three children, and gets to know people in town. Then, strange images, visions, and visitations to and from the past in Kinvara, Ireland began to invade her newfound serenity. The Wall People brings Katie’s Irish ancestors to life and places her in the middle of a fight between good and bad, abusers, and saviors.

Ms. Dapp writes in great detail about the daily life of Katie after she has moved to Napa, and describes the landscape, environment, people, and seemingly mundane events, with beautiful clarity and precision. Here is a wonderful example of her prose. “The sharp aroma of the grand oak trees filled her senses. The mid-morning sun gently caressed the moist, forested canopy. Steam rose from the rain-soaked flora. The natural beauty of the forest would have normally filled her heart and mind with happiness and peace, and yet on this sad morning she observed the miraculous scenery with a numb indifference.”

I really enjoyed the way the author introduces each of the characters in The Wall People and how they care for one another. Her neighbors, the Sanchez family, are especially well fleshed out and could be seen and heard through the pages. The primary protagonist, Katie, also comes alive with understanding and empathy. Both Camellia and Katie’s past experiences of abuse are also sadly relevant. Readers’ don’t need to believe in the supernatural to appreciate the conflict, people and settings within this story.

Rites of Passage

41uBGeLbd8L._SY346_Midnight and Holding by Joyce DeBacco.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Midnight and Holding is a lovely collection of stories that include a woman daydreaming about the past, which helps her see the present clearly (Rubies and Other Gems); a shed which brings together a husband and wife (The Shed); a carefree youth who awakens dreams and desires of an older woman (Rainbow Years); a humorous account of a wife’s suggestion being taken to extremes (Mad Dogs and Fisherman); a parent’s rite of passage (Midnight and Holding); and a woman who buys her husband a new suit for his last big occasion (Harvey’s New Suit).

Ms. DeBacco has a wonderful sense of home, place, family, marriage, and a life of raising children. Themes of loss, living for others, and losing one’s self, run throughout these tales. In Midnight and Holding a mother speaks about waking up in the middle of the night to a quiet house, once the children are gone away to college. “It’s the middle of the night and, unable to sleep, I wander through the quiet house. Unshackled from the invisible chains tethering me between laundry room and kitchen, I now seek to busy myself with something, anything to keep my mind from dwelling on their absence. Reluctantly, I strip the beds on which they’d slept, my fingers pausing over the deep indentations in the pillows. The neatness of their naked dressers and floors assaults my eyes.”

It is a rare writer that can take the ordinary, and everyday family life, and stretch it just enough to be familiar, yet daring and different from our daily routines and expectations. The author of Midnight and Holding has this ability – the ability to nurture reality, blur the lines and witness characters gaining insight and/or having a transformative experience in the process. At first glance, this collection of stories is about the mundane, but upon reading it becomes clear that each one is a unique creation. They feel authentic and take one to the core of time passing, and the impact those in our lives have upon us.

Extreme Confrontations

City Lights & Side Streets by Patrick Brown.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51guT-D0OYLPatrick Brown has put together an interesting collection of short stories (and one novelette) that focus on family, friends, and lovers, and pushes ordinary life events to extreme confrontations with self or others. City Lights & Side Streets has a story about teens in the eighties, who take an unstable young man to a niece’s birthday party; a busy family of four who hire a scheduler; a young woman coming to terms with the loss of her father; a group of marginalized individuals and their misfortunes; and an extension of a previous series about a private investigator named Salem Reid.

Here’s a slice from The Scheduler, when Leo, the person Lesley convinced her husband to hire (and move in with them), to help make sure everything got done on time, is speaking to ten-year-old Jenny. “Your science project is due Friday. Spend an hour on it tonight, so you are not rushing on Thursday to get it all done. If there are any other supplies you need, tonight is the night to inform your parents, as I have allowed for thirty minutes of variable time. The weather looks clear for Thursday so your dad will be doing yard work and your mom has a tennis match at 6:30. Asking for supplies tomorrow will throw them off schedule! We don’t want that, do we? Jenny stared at our guest like he was from outer space, but Leo remained unfazed by the reaction our daughter had given him.”

All of the tales in this collection has some unexpected, or surprise, turn of events, which will catch you off guard… in a good way. Mr. Brown is very skilled at capturing moments, events, and describing people and places. All of his characters are well rounded and believable. The novelette (Lab Rat: A Salem Reid Novella) could be taken straight out of a detective film from the forties and fifties. Hard-boiled, but loyal, clever, and honest detective, has a private love interest and works with colleagues and friends to solve the crime. Some of the dialogue sounds like it could come straight out of Humphrey Bogart’s mouth in The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. When all is said and done, City Lights & Side Streets is well worth the ride.

Marked by The Goddess

Intrigue In The Summer Court by Mistral Dawn.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51YeDoxp13LI never thought I’d find myself intrigued by an erotic fantasy that takes place in a land called Fairie ( which is populated by fairies, fae, humans, brownies, goblins, magic, spells, etc.), and whose royal couples (Princess Roni and Prince Uaine, The Huntsman and Cassie) enjoy intense, graphic BDSM lovemaking that will make your nerve-ends tingle (along with other parts of your body). Neither fantasy or BDSM is high on my “to read” list, but somehow Intrigue In The Summer Court pulled me in and kept me bound throughout.

There is a plethora of characters, and terminology, in the tale that took me a while to figure out and keep straight. Little did I know, until the final page, that there is a literal Who’s Who at the end of the book, with character descriptions, and a section on terminology, flora, and fauna in the land of Fairie. Nice to know it was there, but not knowing everything at the beginning didn’t take anything away from the story. Most of the actresses, actors, and nongendered beings are introduced in the first chapter.

Here is a sample. A Fae named Angelica is trying to convince Jillian (who serves Queen Briallen) that there is a plot to kill Roni and Uaine on their honeymoon (who have been ordained by The Goddess to rule the land). “The small Fae sat on the tabletop and crossed her legs over each other. Taking a deep breath, she said, ‘I’m old enough to remember Fairie before the Courts were formed. While I haven’t been happy with the way things have been in The Summer Kingdom for quite some time, ‘ she threw a less than friendly look at Briallen, ‘I’m not willing to allow things to go back to the way they were.’ She gestured at Roni’s left wrist where the goddess had marked her. ‘Besides, you seem to have the goddess’s approval, which she doesn’t bestow lightly. If something were to happen to you, there’s no guarantee that another as qualified would be found to fill your position.'”

Perceptions of good, bad, right, wrong, justice, intuition, and forgiveness are observed throughout, as well as truth-telling, protection, pain, and revenge. There is a sense of freedom, and fluidity with the love scenes, and an honoring of differences and similarities between sexual desire and expectations. Sex is presented as a mutually satisfying activity, with partners honoring, and respecting one another’s wishes. Oh yeah, there is also a pixie (Ciane), who has love and lust magic, which can cause intense uncontrollable orgasms with her touch. You’d think that would be wonderful, but she uses it to control and enslave others against their will.

Intrigue In The Summer Court has many familiar beings of historical magical kingdoms, but they do not always act as they do in those well-known tales from the past, yet they feel just as authentic, perhaps more so. Ms. Dawn has established herself as a talented writer who I see has a number of other adult stories (which come before and after this one), which include further flights of fancy, domination, love, and spells. If erotic fantasy isn’t your usual cup of tea, I’d invite you to take a sip. You might be tantalizingly surprised, and find yourself submitting to its magic.

The Nature of Being

51cq5sixWzL._SY346_The Mystery: Zen Stories by Dan Glover.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Unlike my book of satirical stories (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), which was a take-off on the insightful wisdom stories in the classic collection Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Mr. Glover has put together a serious, and in-depth look, at the nature of our being, by presenting eighty-one stories in eleven sections. Here is a glimpse from the introduction, of what The Mystery: Zen Stories lays bare.

This book seeks to illuminate the subtle relationship between the unknowable world and what we know by experiencing the world. It is based in part upon ancient texts written down some two thousand five hundred years ago brought up to date so as to be more applicable to the present day Western culture. In many respects, these tales sound autobiographical, though no one person has “likely” experienced everything within.

The different sections, which are titled as a season (Breath of Spring, Autumn Giving Way, etc.) each begin with a beautiful haiku, then dive into topics such as acceptance, loss, water, stillness, perception, and non-attachment, but in the context of stories and experiences. Mr. Glover has a delicious way with words and is able to see things from many perspectives, and not what may always be expected.

“I once heard of a man who was said to be in possession of a great understanding far surpassing any other. Making many inquiries I discovered where this man lived. The journey was long; the way very difficult and arduous. After months of travails, I reached this man’s abode. He seemed to have been expecting me; looking delighted to see me standing at his door he waved a hand for me to enter.

Without saying a word he brought refreshments. Sitting silently together we ate and we drank. When the meal was finished I got up and I left. When I arrived back home my wife inquired if I had found the man who I had been seeking for so long. I nodded my head. She asked if he had shared his great understanding with me. I smiled at her and looking into her eyes I could see she knew without being told.”

There is so much to be said about this book, yet I am hesitant to say anymore, as my words seem insufficient to describe the breadth and depth of its spirit. I think it best, at this moment, to let The Mystery: Zen Stories speak for itself.

“I hold that we come forth without roots. We enter the world by no aperture. We have real existence but this has nothing to do with place, such as our relation to space; we have continuance but it has nothing to do with beginnings or ends, such as our relation to time. The door of the mystery is non-existence. All things come from non-existence; non-existence is the same as not existing. This is the secret of the ages.”

A “Real” Cowgirl & Her Dog

Romeo, Juliet, Petie & Me by Melinda Matthews.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61zgBqTDlxL._SY346_The narrator tells the tale of her dog Petie and she, as they move from Georgia to Hurley Mississippi in 1961. She’s a young girl, and Petie is a young collie. She has two older sisters, and parents who let her roam free on their property in the countryside. Romeo, Juliet, Petie & Me called forth my childhood and swept me into its bosom. It is very well written. Whether taken from real life or completely fictional, becomes irrelevant.

She imagines being a cowgirl and having a horse. It’s almost like being in the kitchen and watching her act out her dreams. “I thought it a very useful and productive thing, my walking them. A real cowgirl must do what a real cowgirl must do, right? I’d spent HOURS in our big kitchen riding the broomstick astride like a horse around the kitchen table, dark ponytail flying like a flag, making little clucking sounds for an even more realistic ambiance, and the occasional nay or snort added reality to my virtual, as appropriate.  AND I practiced my cattle calls, gleaned straight off Bonanza and Rawhide, so I was qualified to steer cattle, I was sure.”

It turns out that Petie isn’t any ordinary dog. He saves the storyteller from a Brahman bull, walking into the street when a toddler, and growls accordingly when there is danger present. As both ages, Petie begins to slow down and inevitably comes to the end of his dog days. The day it happens is the same day the girl’s older sisters, and Mother, are going to see the film, Romeo and Juliet. The grief and family reactions are palpable.

With Romeo, Julie, Petie & Me the author has shared a part of life that feels so real, vivid, and emotional, that readers’ will feel like part of the family, and as attached to Petie as much as anyone. Though a lot of years pass in the narrator’s first-person account of her relationship with Petie, the story feels complete and significant. Someday, when Ms. Matthews goes to heaven, I’m sure Petie will be at her side once again (imagined or not).

 

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