Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘father’

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.

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.”

I Almost Fell Over

513qrbXXhOLWhere We Belong by Fox Brison.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Hope you don’t think I’m an eejit, as a bi-sexual wanna-be lesbian Yankee (22% Irish I recently discovered with DNA), when I say how much I fawned over Where We Belong by Ms. Brison. What is their not to like about this story? It takes place in one of my favorite parts of the world (near Westport, Ireland), is about family, helping kids, and has two beautiful narrators who fall deeply in love. There are so many twists and turns, I almost fell over (and I was sitting in a chair while reading). Oh yeah, the love scenes and romance are also very hot, and intricately interspersed throughout.

Bri (who thinks she’s straight), finds out she’s adopted, and takes a construction job in Ireland to get away from her ex-boyfriend and look for her birth mother’s family. Upon arrival, she meets the administrator of the new home being built for dis-advantaged children, Elisha. Elisha falls for Bri (short for Brianna) upon first sight, but doesn’t want to cross the line of hitting on a straight woman. In the meantime, Bri’s feelings for Elisha are running rampant, but she doesn’t know what to do with her knew found urges, and attraction, or how to tell Elisha.

Without giving anything away, here are some lines from the beginning of this book, when Bri finds a letter in her parent’s attic. “Intuitively I knew that this simple piece of stationary was about to take the very fabric of my being and tear it asunder, thread by thread, still I slipped a finger under the seal anyway.” Not only does the letter change her entire life, it prompts her to move to Ireland and throw everything she knew about herself out the window. The people she meets in Ireland, Elisha (and her sister and father) and her neighbors (Patrick and Bridget “Biddy”), become like family, and that’s just the start of it.

This book includes all the aspects that draw me into a story. It is written well, has believable and likable characters, lots of romance, a wonderful description, and sense, of time and place, and makes the reader feel like you know these people inside out. If I met the author (Fox Brison) in person, I’d give her a big hug and thank her for writing such an entertaining and heartfelt tale. There is a lot of lesfic fiction these days (at least a lot more than their ever was in the past), and like other genres, some of it is good, some bad, and some so so. Where We Belong is very good.

Whatever It Takes

Love Feld by Virginia Alanís.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61eBvpsjijLA high school sweetheart, who becomes as possessive as hell, a patriarchal Mexican father, and a prejudiced school counselor, can’t stop Laura Cano from following her dream to be a lawyer and gain independence. She also learns when, and how, to connect with family, and to appreciate all those who help her along the way. Love Field, by Virginia Alanís, gives readers’ insight into growing up in a Mexican-American family in Texas, and if it isn’t told from her personal experience, reads like it is. Her parents, sisters, and grandmother, all sound familiar, comforting, and often controlling.

At age 17, Laura is looking forward to graduating from high school, and applying to college. Since she was young, she thought about being a lawyer to help others. Especially after she witnessed a tragic event from a next door neighbor’s abusive husband when she was a child. Lucky to get a job at a law office, with Vanessa Hamilton, and support from her Godmother, Toni, the narrator of this tale fights to find her way in spite of a father that believes women are only meant to be wives, and her newly married husband, Edward, who does not trust her and threatens to ruin everything.

If you (or someone you know) has ever been in a possessive, and/or abusive, relationship, what transpires between this young couple (Laura and Edward), may feel uncomfortably familiar. What first appears to be support, love, and care, slowly gets twisted and subverted, until Laura must make a choice and risk leaving the young man she once loved, without being harmed (or killed) in the process. She does everything she can legally, and gets help from her retired English teacher, Elisabeth, her mentor at work, Vanessa, and Godmother Toni.

This story encompasses a number of themes. What is family? How much does one owe family, and what parts do you leave behind? Are there any signs that someone will turn out to be abusive when you first meet, and if so, what are they? How does one safely escape from a violent, or threatening situation, without jeopardizing themselves or others? Is family history something that should be respected at all costs, or left behind when it becomes overbearing? If you like the recent memoir of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomeyer (My Beloved World), you’ll enjoy Love Field by Virginia Alanís.

A Gradual Awakening

Kellcey by Kacey Kells51-mxCqbmHL
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Kellcey reads like the personal journal of a teenage girl, and is in fact, the true story of Kacey Kells. Ms. Kells writes this memoir in the first person and describes in detail her happy life as a teenager in Vancouver, Canada, her family, and friends. Later, she must confront family turmoil and an event that shatters her understanding of human nature, and a safe world.

If you want to get inside the head of your teen, and want an honest look at the feelings, thoughts, actions, and insecurities that may exist, read this book. It is frank, sincere, and has no filters about what should or shouldn’t be said. It was also written fairly recently, as the author is still in her early twenties, and close to the age range within which this story takes place.

There is not only a wonderful explanation for the ups and downs, and worries, of a teen, but also some insight into the differences between genders (expectations, biology, and emotions), and what it feels like when you have your first love, and someone says they want to be with you, and will love you forever. As times goes on, it also conveys some of the behavior to look for that may be warnings signs of the possibility of abuse.

Kacey begins to become aware of her boyfriend, Ben, and his friends, and changes in how they treat her at a party. “It is distressing to see how some people can change when they’re under the influence of drugs and alcohol! After the first euphoria, which corresponds to the release of all inhibitions, comes the metamorphose; however, instead of a lovely and innocent butterfly, this is a monster that pops up.”

At first, Kacey is ashamed to tell anyone about the abuse and rape she experienced at the party, and begins to withdraw, and feel completely alone. She trusts no one. Slowly, with lots of support, she tells her friend, her grandmother (Joanna), and her mother. After moving to London with her mother, she gets help, and inspiration, from a doctor, rape crisis center, counselor (Sybill), new friend (Jean), an Afghan war veteran (female), and her college drama class.

Kellcey provides a perspective on violence, and rape culture, which is often missing – the direct effects on a young woman, as experienced, and told, from her perspective. There are no sudden flashes of insight, or knowing all the right things to say, but a gradual awakening to how things are, what we do when something terrible happens, and how we can survive and make choices to love again. By writing her story, Ms. Kells has opened the door for further conversation and provided hope for survivors.

 

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