Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘family’

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.

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).

 

Running Into the Past

Life Happens On The Stairs by Amy J. Markstahler.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61yvbeR9oJL._SY346_Seventeen-year-old Elsie’s dad is dying, she’s falling for an amazing guy (Tyler), and the divide between rich and poor in Hardin County Tennessee has never been wider. Elsie’s mother (Claire) cleans the house of stuck up and wealthy Mrs. Vaughn, and Tyler is her smart-as-a-whip grandson. Life Happens On The Stairs has hints of the classic The Prince and the Pauper, with an intense love story in the contemporary south. Ms. Markstahler takes us into the mind, heart, and body, of this young teen whose father brought her and her family back from Illinois to his families land.

Here’s a little of what happens when Elsie fills in for her mother at Mrs. Vaughns and meets her in the hallway. “For the next few hours, I vacuumed, dusted, scoured the bathroom and polished the glass on the upper level. Mom always cleaned when she was mad or frustrated. Now I understood why. As the day moved on, I started feeling better. At one-thirty, I walked down the hallway towards Mrs. Vaughn’s bedroom. The passage seemed to narrow as apprehension overwhelmed me. I slowed my steps. Why did I feel like sprinting out of the house? A doorknob clicked. The hair stood up on my arms. That’s why.”

The tension and conflict between Elsie and her mother, and Elsie and her brother (Mark), are spot on and completely relatable. The growing bond between Tyler and Elsie is well developed, with each of them pushing the other to experiences, and memories, they may never have explored, or remembered, left to their own devices, family backgrounds and expectations. Ms. Markstahler also knows how to describe what it’s like when carrying for someone you love who is dying. Life Happens On The Stairs is an excellent story about love and family, for both young and older adults.

Like Night and Day

41sUKwJHjgLA Secret Love by Brigitta Moon.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A Secret Love is told from Christina’s and Derek’s perspectives about their marriage, and events before Christmas, with one another and their family. They have two children, and Derek is a successful stockbroker. Christina’s feelings and behavior towards Derek change dramatically, without any rhyme or reason (to Derek). There’s also another persons perspective, which is shared much later in the story.

Ms. Moon has written a clever tale that doesn’t make much sense, until it does. It’s a hard act to bring off, and she does so with depth and precision. Reviewers often say that there are “a lot of twists and turns” in this or that book. This tale goes beyond twists and turns to inside out and upside down. Nothing is as obvious as it seems. Secret, threatening calls to Christina, and Derek’s jealous secretary (Frannie) add to the mix.

When everything comes out in the wash, it is quite a load to try to separate, fold, and put back together. A Secret Love is not quite like anything I’ve read, or thought of before, and that’s good. If you’re ready for something completely different, and unexpected, this is a book for you. Just when you think you know who your partner really is, you discover they aren’t quite the same person you married.

 

 

Midwife Murder Mystery

Death Of A Sad Face  (A Serafina Florio Short Mystery)
by Susan Russo Anderson. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51oL7gL-3fLShe’s gotta knack. A real knack for wonderful writing. In Death Of A Sad Face, Ms. Russo Anderson takes readers’ to the end of the eighteenth century, to a small town called Oltramari (on the coast of Sicily), where we meet midwife, and sleuth, Serafina Florio. Serafina is a mother of six children, and an orphaned 10-year-old child (Teo). Teo’s sudden disappearance the previous night, may have some connection to the murder of Cecco, the butler for Barron Ignazio Lanza, and his very pregnant wife Lucia.

While investigating who killed Cecco, and Teo’s whereabouts, Serafina comforts Mrs. Lanza, gets gossip from her lifelong friend (Rosa), and questions how much she really understands her own family. “Of all her children, Maria was the most puzzling, not at all like her siblings. She had adult responses to most situations and was concerned only with her piano. Seemingly unaware of her talent, she was kind, humble, gracious – or was Serafina blind? As her daughter stood before her, Serafina realized that she could cajole or insist, but in the end if Maria didn’t want to do what her mother suggested, Serafina had little recourse. She could solve most murders and already knew who had killed Cecco and why and where to find him. But her children? They were difficult. She felt helpless.”

One of the highlights of this story, is how intricately the characters interact, and know one another. A small town has its advantages, and disadvantages, as does a large family. Serafina doesn’t just go off by herself to track down Cecco’s killer, but gets information from various village members, the head of the local orphanage, and enlists her own family in catching the culprit. Even though she is a midwife, and amateur detective, Ms. Florio doesn’t see herself as special, just good at what she does. The author (Susan Russo Anderson) of Death Of A Sad Face is similar to Serafina – she’s good at what she does.  

Voodoo, Sex & Murder

517ndEmmrJL._SY346_Inside Sam Lerner by Gwen Banta.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Gwen Banta has it nailed to the floor. Inside Sam Lerner is a delightful, and descriptive, murder-mystery that doesn’t pull any punches. Combine the best of Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, stir them up in some gumbo, and you’ve got a first-class tale that keeps you rooting for the ex LA cop (Sam), and his close friends in New Orleans. Before Sam knows whats hit him, he’s embroiled in looking for Madsen, who has gone missing.

The place, people, atmosphere, and actions, of all those involved in this story, jump off the pages and linger inside your head. Here’s a glimpse of the writer’s  style. “When he arrived at the corner of St. Claude and Ursulines, Sam parked on the street and stared at a stately guest house known as Maire’s Gentlemen’s Club. A soft pink glow backlit the windows, and the sound of Fats Waller clung to the thick air like the smell of sex.”

Sam’s old flame (Maire), who is the madam at Maire’s Gentlemen’s Club, has reignited the fire she and Sam had in their younger days, letting him momentarily forget the loss of his wife, who died in Los Angeles. There are a few people that Sam trusts without hesitation – his Mami (Jem), his best friend’s father (Antoine), and old buddy, a New Orleans cop (Leon Duval). There’s also the sadistic killer, who is known early on.

To find out who is who, and who comes through, get yourself a copy of Inside Sam Lerner, and treat yourself to a nail-biting finish. In the process, enjoy some fine dining on The Big Easy’s hot, wet environment, sexual appetites, and underlying beliefs in voodoo. Just when you think you know what’s what, and which way is up, you get taken for a ride. Trust me, and trust Ms. Banta, this story smolders.

 

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