Title: Spelling V
Author: Meb Bryant
I finally found a cover for my kindle – one that fits, one that I like. It’s a little brown leather ditty with quotes embossed in ink-black cursive. Finally, it has the feel of a book rather than a device; something I can set down and not tuck away in the box it was shipped to me from Amazon.
I bought the cover at Half Price Books last night. First thing this morning I charged my kindle and chose what book to tackle first.
Then I remembered Meb Bryant.
“She had an orange belt in karate… he had a leather belt in the loops of his jeans.” I read that and snickered. Good one, Meb.
Bryant is clever and has a way of writing something shocking with prose that urges you to continue to read something horrific and not be shocked. Think Nabakov writing Lolita – except with stories Bentley Little would be proud of. The only way Spelling V could be more disturbing is if Bryant had lingered over the story for a few hundred pages.
Bryant artfully maps out the lifetime of a control freak, a codependent, and psychopath, and it’s pretty darn riveting. I especially love that one of the characters reads Bryant’s novel Harbinger of Evil. I’m a huge sucker for when authors do this. I like the idea of one interconnected world within an authors fantasies.
Give the best holiday gift this season: buy yourself a short story to read in between holiday meals and excitement and leave a review. You deserve a break and indie authors thrive on reviews.
Author: Peter Devine
My first Peter Devine book was True to the Code, a series of short stories that were as much historically educational as philosophically motivating. As much as I enjoyed my first taste of Devine’s prose, Havana Treatment was infinitely more riveting.
Peter Devine has an uncanny ability to put you in the middle of a character’s big moment only to take you right back out again. Each short story in Havana Treatment introduces you to a whole person in a just a few moments or hours, leaving you with a solid understanding of who they are, but wanting more of the story. Described as an exploration of the shelf life of a romance, Havana Treatment doesn’t disappoint, and each story is as compelling and oxymoronically uniquely typical as the next.
The human race is completely infatuated with the idea of love, and after spending time with Devine’s characters, it is easy to see why. A moment with someone can become a lifetime of dedication. A person’s soul can be boiled down to one momentous story that could have seemed so unimportant at the time, but because the encounter was so genuine it shapes someone forever.
Devine has such a strong grasp on these realities. His experience and all the people he has met in his life shape the wisdom in his tales; but in all his travels and worldliness, Devine still captures Americana and our ideas of romance like no other.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller came out a while back. I watched it. Five times. I cried. Five times. It’s a beautiful story of a man lost in his own imagination. Missing out on real life from time to time due to his passion for his work and his ironic ability to zone out – dreaming up the most extreme and exciting versions of his reality while the world around him keeps turning.
I love this story.
I had no idea that it was based on a five page short story written by James Thurber in 1939 (it first appeared in The New Yorker on March 18th) and adapted into a movie starring Danny Kaye (probably best known today for his role in White Christmas) in 1947. I discovered the short story last week at work, and while reading it on lunch this afternoon got in a conversation about its history and development with a fellow co-worker. Apparently Thurber greatly disliked that original film, but I still find myself wanting to watch it so I may do a comparison myself. His complaint on the ’47 film was that it had nothing to do with the story he wrote.
Thurber died in 1963, so we will never truly know what he thinks of the Ben Stiller version – but I’d like to think that the screenwriters did the best they could off such a smidgen of a scene presented by Thurber. Even though in Thurber’s short, Mitty is married and disappearing in his mind to avoid mundane activities his wife presents as necessary, and the 2013 film is mainly about Mitty getting the girl. The common thread is the mental escape from reality spawned from a small detail in the character’s presence, a rich imagination, a desire in Mitty to not be oppressed by the world around him and instead thrive as a hero.
As a writer, often caught lost in thought, this story – in all its versions – appeals to me.
Most people dive into their drug induced literature in the high school and college years. I didn’t have time for all that – I was in school, a lot of school, back then. So now, in my early thirties – I’ve stumbled into a curiosity I didn’t really have before. I’m not curious enough to DO the drugs – just enough to read about people doing them. Sure, I read James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces back in the day. Requiem for a Dream… Fight Club… I’ve read the usual suspects. But sparingly, and not in the same year.This year, however, I noticed a trend. And it wasn’t purposeful. First, Philip K. Dick and then some. Then, this week, City of Dark Magic
by Magnus Flyte and Screw-jack by Hunter S. Thompson.
What is real? What is not real? These are the hard questions for a fiction writer from a long line of dementia patients. But for all my solid grounding in cold hard facts and realism, I’ve always steered pretty clear of drugs and enjoyed the fantastic staying between the pages of a book and not parading around my living room.City of Dark Magic is weird. Really weird. The storyline travels and veers and rants, and I love that about it. No strictly linear annoyingly plot pointed story here. So much so, I refused to shelve it in Fantasy at work, instead I placed it in the literature section, hoping someone would pick it up for the same reason I did – historical dives into Beethoven. Time-travel? Is it? You’ll have to read and find out. I can’t say without spoiling it, but I will warn you, it involves ingesting the genius musician’s toe nails.
Screw-jack was a nice little taste of Hunter S. Thompson. I’d never read anything by him, and obviously I know who he is and what he stands for – because I don’t live *entirely* under a rock – but I’ve managed to never finish any of the stellar movies made about him or his work either. A fan over heard this at work, and handed me Screw-jack to devour over lunch. What a trip! It’s about a 45 minute read (it’s only three short stories), and let’s just say, I hope that last one was really about his cat or I might have some trouble digesting his bio later.
Author: Meb Bryant
Genre: Suspense / Short Stories
Format: Kindle Ebook
Doubles Match KILLED me! It’s so good! I have to warn mothers, however, that little Emma reminds me so much of my kiddo that the kidnapping was a rip through my gut.
Spoiler: It works out in the end – read the whole story!
Definitely worth the 99 cents as a nightcap, although I admit I received mine as a gift from the author. I’m enjoying my kindle specifically for these short gems that I’d otherwise miss.
Title:A Fancy Dinner Party
Editor: Hilary Comfort
Publisher: Grey Gecko Press
Genre: Thriller/ Horror
Length: 184 pages
For nearly two years now, I have had the joy of being acquainted with a small, local publishing company called Grey Gecko Press. As a whole, they are fun and spunky, and I enjoy both hosting events for them and attending ones where they are present.
At one of the more recent signings, Jason Kristopher handed me a copy of A Fancy Dinner Party. I was warned not to read it too late at night – or when I was alone.
I took my time with it, limiting myself to only one or two stories per sitting. The anthology features ten different authors, a fantastic forward by Jonathan Maberry, all neatly packaged and edited by Hilary Comfort and the folks at Grey Gecko Press.
I did read it at night. But I did not read it alone!
These stories are a lot like the group who wrote them, spunky and fun – even when they’re scaring the crap out of you. I enjoyed the anthology, I love that I have a copy signed by all the contributors and would highly recommend it to short story lovers…
and science fiction lovers… and readers of fantasy, and horror, and thrillers…
As the back jacket says, there’s even a bit of Americana and Japanese folklore. The book has so much to offer and is a prime example of Grey Gecko Press, yet again, putting their best foot forward. I especially liked the dedication at the front: “For all the new and still-struggling authors whose stories have yet to be told.”
With the chapters arranged like a menu and a forward urging us to “Sit back, tuck in your napkin […] and dig into this bizarre feat,” the book keeps the menu theme alive from start to finish. Well done.
As a reviewer of an anthology, I can’t just stop there and fail to mention one crucial point – my favorite course, of course!
GGP managed to save the best for last: George Wright Padgett
I loved his story The Arrangement and it was truly the cherry on top of a very disturbing dessert!
The ebook of A Fancy Dinner Party is $2.99, well worth the download. Good luck reading alone.
Author: Paulette Camnetar Meeks
Publisher: Xulon Press
Genre: Memoirs/ Short Stories/ Christian Living/ Large Print
Length: 496 pages
Paulette Meeks stood at the table of books at the bookstore after her signing, “Pick one you think you’ll like.” She is in her seventies, has several titles out, and has recently become a writing machine though she’ll tell you, “I never thought I’d be a writer, but God gave me these stories.”
I looked over the books. One is fit for a Sunday School class, one looks fun and spunky featuring a nun zooming by on a motorcycle. I picked Been There, Done That, Really! It has an elderly couple, the sort you imagine have grown old together, looking off into the distance over what I presume is a cup of coffee (could be tea, but I’m partial to coffee drinkers). Obviously, this appeals to me.
I always thought there were two kinds of people in the world – those that prefer the very young and those who prefer the very old. I’m of the old variety. I love my child, but I’ve never been a natural nurturer to children. To me they are just little people who haven’t learned how to function well in society. They don’t yet look beyond their own noses, they are selfish and self-serving. Thanks to hormones and motherhood that view has changed a bit – my daughter is indeed a little person, but I can see the wise woman she will one day be. And the cute, snuggly factor helps.
The elderly, though, have always intrigued me. Even as a very small child, I preferred white hair and wrinkles to the company of my peers. I learned to count by playing SkipBo with a woman who was born at the turn of the century – the 1899 to 1900 one, I realize I have to specify these days. In high school when I did community service projects, I always opted for cleaning homes for assisted living homes in low income neighborhoods over playground session with tiny people. I enjoyed the conversations. Then and now, I like hearing the stories.
If you’re one of those people too, the kind who likes to hear about a lifetime of adventures from someone interested in sharing them, Paulette Meeks’ collection of stories are for you. They are sweet, simple tales from people who just want to talk about their lives a little bit. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
My favorite story was Paulette’s own: Never Too Old to Be Smitten. There is a picture at the start of the story of Paulette and her husband Bill on their wedding day June 29th in 2001. I found the idea of finding love in your sixties so wonderfully sweet. Bill was a widower before Paulette, and I hope that if I die first, my husband finds someone to keep him company before he leaves this world. (We wives like to believe our men can’t live without us. ) More than anything, the word ‘smitten’ is a magical word and it is easy to get caught up in the romance of the meaning while you read the story of their first meeting and first date.
Reading through these stories reminded me of another book I’ve reviewed here before, Rich Fabric, a series of stories about quilting. The proceeds of Rich Fabric go to the Twilight Wish Foundation, and if you’ve read it I think Been There, Done That, Really! will appeal to you.
A Short Story by A.K. Klemm
The fawn folded its new legs beneath the soft tuft of its under belly, collapsing ever so gently into the pallet of leaves under the shadow of the thicket. It was vulnerable, but strangely content, hidden from the dangers of the world beyond the green. The chin rubbed against one of its three hundred white spots, the eyes drooped closed, and the fawn went to sleep.
The doe left her baby tucked in the thicket, confident it would be safe but leery nonetheless. A mother could never be completely sure their babies were safe, but she’d done this before and this was the routine. She wouldn’t be more than a hundred yards off and the fawn would be asleep while she was away, so it wasn’t likely that it would make any noise that would give away its location.
The mother darted off, never to return, unwillingly surrendering her offspring to the woods.
When the fawn awoke, each sound, each danger, the wind, the rain, and all other possible threats forced the deer’s ears to flicker and head to lie flat against its own back. Eyes peered through the foliage, searching for its mother, longing for some kind of nurturing love, while the world outside continued to call its name. Here, little deer, come, come, now little deer…
Leaves rustled, dark turned to dawn and the sun shining through the thicket lent itself to flickering shadows and tricks of light. The spots were an effective camouflage, something to help keep it hidden from the world, but it didn’t fool the eyes of the seasoned hunter.
He approached the thicket in the early light, hoping a doe would dart out so he could shoot. He needed something to bring home to his family, and he was here hunting with others. They were off in the distance, sticking to the trails and paths to the water, following tracks. He was different, he sought out the ones hiding in safety, tucked away.
Quickly, he realized there was no doe. He saw only a small baby deer, shivering in the fog. The shake of the skin rippled up its back, causing the spots on its back to look like a flicker. These spots may seem to be a blemish to such a smooth finish, a lovely coat, but they generally kept the creature preserved for the future. Out of sight. Safe.
The hunter watched for a moment. He and the baby deer made eye contact, taking each other in. She was frightened, of course, but as he lowered his gun she seemed to relax. Somehow she knew what the hunter knew, no harm would come to her while he was present. The hunter’s brow furrowed as a shot cracked in the distance. The fawn ducked her head low with a squint.
For most, a fawn alone does not mean it has been abandoned; its mother is always within earshot, there to protect and guide. Fawns are supposed to learn from their mothers. Sure, like any mammal, they are born with innate survival skills, but their mother is the one that shows them the way. They rely on them completely. But this fawn’s mother was gone. Both fawn and hunter knew that she was suddenly alone. Very alone.
Tiny and frail and being sought out by predators in the wood, the hunter winced at his own involvement. He wanted to protect this tiny thing and here he was – part of the problem. He moved a branch, tucked a few sticks around the opening, and ensured no one else would see what he had seen. No one else would be led here, no one else could spy on his baby deer. Because she was his now. He became territorial. He loved her.
He went home with his party, hung his gun above the mantle, and sat with his family by the warmth of the fire. He didn’t share his adventures in the woods with them, he didn’t tell them what he saw there. The fawn was his secret. He heard a howl in the night and thought of the wolves in the dark. They were rabid and forbidding, the hunter’s mind raced, they’d be looking for meals for their own young. The hunter looked out the window and saw the telltale signs of ice soon to fall from the sky. He imagined what would happen when his friends went out the next morning… Boots tromping down trails, crunching leaves and snow drift, breaking icicles off limbs, destroying what was essentially the little mammal’s front porch… and he vowed to go check on her. The weather itself was a threat. No one is there to keep the baby warm, it must rely on burying itself in leaves, its nest, its nook.
The Hunter’s lover called from another room and, distracted, he left the window, forgetting the baby deer and his promise to himself to check on her. His mind was on more important matters of the heart and she was forgotten.
Despite all that, despite being unguarded, an easy target, improperly instructed on the ways of life… this fawn did not lack instinct. Instinct that told her to lie low, to blend in, become one with its environment and do her best to not raise a fuss or get noticed. She belonged to the woods, and ultimately, she knew that the woods were her threat and her home, her danger and her safety.
It takes a strong backbone to wait so patiently, and the little fawn indeed had a strong one.
Storms raged all around the wood, but the deer had found shelter. Through rain and wind, through lightning storms, and crashing tree limbs, through fires erupting from natural electricity, she knew when to wait… when to hunker down and muster up calm when terrified. The deer, alternately, also knew when to stick her neck out finally and forage for sustenance; and as a three week old could already out run most the dangers the woods threatened. Once fed, she kept a steady habit of retreating back to her nest to rest and save energy to grow. So that she would continue to survive.
The hunter had a caring heart and between distractions would come back to the deer in the wood. He found her nesting place undiscovered by foes and kept a periodic eye on this seemingly timid creature. Every now and then he thought he should try to save her, momentary lapses in judgment urged him to want to take her home. Feed her warm milk, offer the nurturing she had always lacked. Loving souls long to save and be needed, to protect small animals from the scary evils of their existence. Loving souls long to offer shelter, to provide consistency and warmth.
The deer would appreciate comfort and protection; it missed the nurturing it never received. But both hunter and deer knew removing the deer from the wood would be unwise. Left alone she would still manage to grow into a strong force of the forest.
Over time, she found other deer; a herd, a few who accepted her and looked out for her, some of her own kind who she could also look out for. They helped each other the best they could, as a herd will do, though the moment a sound startled them it was always every one for themselves, rather than one for all and all for one. Instinct required this. Survival of the fittest ensued.
To be rescued would have been lovely. To grow up as a pet near a fireplace, cozy and well taken care of, patted and loved like a hound. But then the deer would have been denied the strength gained from stretching her legs. She would have never found her herd, really grown into the doe of the forest she was meant to be. She would have never worked her muscles and grown keen eyesight from fighting for her life every day.
She thrived in the treachery of the forest. She taught herself what was edible and what was not, she watched and learned from the herd what she could when her own experience was lacking. She found her own streams; she frolicked in her own meadows. She found coziness where there seemingly was none. She dodged the bullets of the other hunters and the sharp teeth of the wolves. Time and time again she escaped the terror, found her way to safety some how.
By the end of summer, the deer stood proud. She had lost her spots and earned the right to stand there so tall. She never became the most beautiful – she did not stand out from the forest or her herd; she did not grow to be the strongest – having missed out on important protein from her mother’s milk. But the deer made it. She learned, she grew, and she can protect herself now. She has strong hooves, powerful kicks and she can keep predators at bay.
One day the hunter spotted her in a clearing. She saw him see her, she knew him by his scent. She found a way to both stiffen and relax, comfortable with his presence, but terrified some day soon he wouldn’t lower his gun the same way. There would be mouths to feed, the lover who distracted him that night in the cabin would take priority, something or another would simply be different. They made eye contact, two souls lost in a moment…
She was never rescued, but after all she didn’t need to be – not really. She belongs to the woods.
Title: True to the Code
Author: Peter Devine
While reading Peter Devine’s new book True to the Code, I realized that this is not a book to read in one sitting. Instead, it should be divided up over time and each story discussed in a club or an ethics class along with that portion of history.
Devine has married ethics, history, and the over all culture of America into a book that defies category. Novel? Not really. Collection of short stories? Probably the most accurate, but still not quite how I’d like to label it. Philosophy? Yes, but easier to read.
So where do you put this in a bookstore? My easy solution… up front with the author.
Devine is most engaging when interacting with other readers. His lovely wife pours lemonade and serves cookies while he pleasantly gets to know those around him. It’s impossible not to feel like you get to know him a little back.
He has the air of being well traveled and well researched. He has a comfortable patriarch mentality to him splashed with a bit of edgy hippie. He is fun, endearing, knowledgeable, and a joy to have in a bookstore. Although I met the man at a very informal event, I imagine he could make a cozy guest speaker at a gathering similar to the ones Mensa is known for.
I plan to keep his book True to the Code on hand and place the stories as supplemental reading for the kiddo’s homeschool curriculum. After kiddo has read all the stories in chronological order of their place in history side by side her research, I’d like her to review them as a whole.
This is a great book to keep around for students… of both the traditional and world variety.