Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum

Ryan Mecum’s Vampire Haiku mixes humor and poetry in diary form for vampire William Butten, who was turned in 1620.  He falls in love with a beautiful woman on the Mayflower named Katherine, who turned him into a vampire.  Soon he’s parted from his love to roam America on his own and make his own friends.  There are tales of some well known historic figures from Davy Crockett to Amelia Earhart and famous events in history like the Civil War and Woodstock.

Readers may initialy be attracted to the cover haiku, which also appears on page 37:

“You know that your drink
is down to the last few sips
once the toes curl up.”

Butten has a twisted sense of humor, but readers will enjoy is little anecdotes about becoming a vampire and bumbling around learning how to feed, etc.  Mecum uses his linguistic and historic knowledge to create fun and witty haiku.  Although they are not precisely haiku in the traditional sense, they mostly adhere to the form’s syllable count.  It is fun to see Butten reveal insider knowledge about the deaths of Davy Crockett and other major historical figures.  In some cases, the poems will have readers cringing in disgust.

“Discarded band-aids
are rare unexpected treats.
My version of gum.”  (page 113)

There are even moments in the book where the vampire makes fun of the modern vampire crazes from the goth kids to the latest vampire movies.  One of the best haiku in the book is about the Twilight movie:

“Those were not vampires.
If sunlight makes you sparkle,
you’re a unicorn.”  (page 117)

Will Butten ever find his true love, Katherine, or will he stop searching for her and settle down? Overall, those interested in humor and vampires will find Vampire Haiku to be a treat.  I’m looking forward to reading Ryan Mecum’s Zombie Haiku next.

I’m counting this as my 11th book for the poetry reading challenge.

By the way, I unintentionally read 100 books this year and reviewed all 100!  This is quite an accomplishment for me, since I’m a slower reader than most.  Yipee!

FTC Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! by Michael P. Spradlin, Illus. Jeff Weigel

The holidays are a time for merriment and getting together with family and friends to celebrate and share.  Part of the holidays has always included caroling, at least for some people.  My husband and I love to sing, though we don’t sing well, but we like to make up lyrics from time to time.   It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! by Michael P. Spradlin and illustrated by Jeff Weigel is the perfect collection of remastered Christmas Carols to liven up the holidays.  There’s even an introduction by the witty and dark humored Christopher Moore.

First, can you tell what classic novel this line’s beginning resembles?

“It is universally acknowledged that there are very few literarypursuits which cannot be improved with the addition of zombies, which are to the written word as cheesy goldfish crackers are to life in general; those little cheesy goldfish crackers also improve nearly everything.”  (Page VII)

Christopher Moore certainly has a unique perspective on literature and how it can be improved, but in the case of the zombie Christmas carol book, he may be correct.  Spradlin’s lines are well placed and maintain the rhythm of the original carols.  Family members young and old will love to sing to these revised songs —  from It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, I mean, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies to Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly, oops I mean, Deck the Halls With Parts of Wally.

Zombie, the Snowman (Page 39)

Zombie the Snowman was a jolly, happy ghoul,
With a corncob pipe and some boy’s nose
And two eyes he got at school.

Zombie the Snowman is a fairy tale, they say;
He was undead, it’s so,
But the children know how he came back to life one day.

There must have been a virus in
That old silk hat they found,
For when they placed it on his head,
He began to dance around.

Oh, Zombie the Snowman was alive as he could be,
And the children say he ate brains all day,
And they ran from that Zombie.

Thumpety, thump thump,
Thumpety, thump thump,
Look at Zombie go.
Thumpety, thump thump,
Thumpety, thump thump, 
Over the hills of snow.

Zombie the Snowman knew the brains were fresh that day,
So he said, “Please run, because it’s lots more fun when I eat your brain that way.”
Down through the village with a femur in his hand,
Running here and there all around the square,
Sayin’, “Decapitate me if you can!” 

He chased them through the streets of town 
And at a traffic cop,
And he barely paused a moment when he heard the cop’s brain pop!

Zombie the Snowman
Had to hurry on his way,
But he waved good-bye, sayin’, “Please do cry,
I’ll eat your brains someday!” 

At a short 81 pages, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! is a fun read and will have you giggling and guffawing and singing.  Chock full of gruesome and surreal drawings of zombies in Santa Claus suits and other holiday outfits are eye-catching, and add additional verve to the carols.  This humorous Christmas carol book would make a great stocking stuffer and an after-holiday gift.  Heck, it would just be a fun gift for birthdays, anniversaries, and any other occasion.

FTC Disclosure:  My husband purchased this copy for me.  Clicking on title or image links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Words That Burn Within Me by Hilda Stern Cohen

Hilda Stern Cohen’s Words That Burn Within Me is a collection of photographs, essays, stories, snippets of interviews, and poems detailing Cohen’s experiences during WWII and the Holocaust as a German resident.  (Please check out a recent reading from the book at The Writer’s Center).  Cohen’s husband, whom she married in Baltimore, Md., in 1948 following her release, discovered her notebooks after her death and set about his journey to have his wife’s writing translated from German and published.  In some cases, the poems are included both in English and in German.

“Our physiognomies were ageless.  There were wild, unfocused eyes, silent, indrawn lips, and haggardness around the cheek and neck . . . only defined and exaggerated by hunger.” (Page 49)

This harrowing story follows Hilda through her early years in Nieder-Ohmen, Germany, and her transfer to schools in Frankfurt as the Nazis gained power.  From Frankfurt, she is transported with her family and young beau Horst to Lodz, Poland, only to face devastating circumstances, the loss of Horst, and more and be transported to Auschwitz.  In a series of essays and interviews, Hilda talks about happier times in her village and with her sister, the trials of childhood and being bullied, but soon the reality of politics sets in and her family is forced to leave their ancestral home.

Forced Labor (Page 54)

My numbed brow drops on the machine,
I fold my captive, tired hands.

A dangling yellow bulb sheds smoky light,
Dusk falls, the day grows pale.

The harried working hours are almost done,
The evening mist is waiting to embrace us.

What binds us in our common chains
Will only hold us while we work —
Night will find each of us in separate gloom.

Cohen’s writing is sparse but detailed in its observations of those around her in the ghetto and the concentration camps.  Her keen eye examines the impact of starvation on her fellow neighbors and on her family members, and it also sheds light on how well her family and herself cope with their situation.  She eventually teaches herself Yiddish after joining a literary group because she only speaks and writes German, which is not what the majority of the Lodz Ghetto understands.  Readers, however, will note a sense of detachment in her writing, almost as if she is reporting the events as she observed them rather than as she felt them.  On the other hand, they will hear the anger and disappointment in her voice, especially when she speaks of the last words her father utters about her mother upon her death.

“There was a strange role reversal that took place psychologically, as it did also later in the camps.  Adults who had lived a life from which they had gained certain expectations were suddenly confronted with an abyss.  There were no signs, no gateposts, none of the usual milestones that one could follow.  Everything had fallen away.”  (Page 33)

Words That Burn Within Me is well assembled mixture of interviews with Hilda Stern Cohen’s essays, stories and poems.  While the collection does illustrate one Jewish woman’s journey during WWII and the Holocaust, it stands as a testament — a record — of how inexcusably these humans were treated and how their debasement impacted their lives, their relationships, their faith, and their souls.  Through well tuned description and controlled emotions, Cohen takes the time to record everything she saw during the war and the Holocaust to ensure that it becomes a warning to others.  A powerful collection and a must read for anyone learning about this time period and the horrors that should never have happened.

This is my 10th book for the WWII Reading Challenge at War Through the Generations!

I’m not sure if this will qualify for the Poetry Review Challenge, but if it does, this will be book #10.

 FTC Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Words That Burn Within Me from The Writer’s Center following a reading by Hilda Stern Cohen’s husband and her interviewer Gail Rosen.  Clicking on image and title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchases necessary.

When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge

Jennie Shortridge’s When She Flew is a beautifully written novel about pivotal decisions and their unexpected consequences.  Told from the point of view of Officer Jessica Villareal and Melinda aka Lindy Wiggs, the novel shifts from the legal ramifications of Villareal’s decision not to split up Melinda from her family and Melinda’s experiences with her Iraq War veteran father, her drug addicted mother, and her new home.  The novel is peppered with beautiful imagery and a number of passages with birds, which emphasize flight and escape.

“Pater keeps looking out the windows, walking from on to the other, hitching up his pants.  he reminds me of a finch, all nervous and fidgety, eyes darting this way and that.”  (Page 255)

Lindy’s narration focuses mainly on the love of the forest in which she lives, of her father, and even of her mother whom she left behind, but there are glimpses into the terrible events of her life under the guardianship of her mother while her father served his country.  She misses her mother, but for the most part there is a sense of contentment until one day she follows a blue heron too far.

“The central library was my favorite building.  It’s like going to a palace full of books.  I feel like a princess or an important person when I walk up the steps toward that huge brick building with its pretty windows and a roof that looks like a steeple, and go inside the tall oak doors, and the man in uniform smiles and says, ‘Good afternoon.’  I feel even more like royalty when we glide across the shiny stone floor.  Everything is so elegant that I want to just stand and look but Pater always says to hurry along.”  (Page 14)

Officer Villareal is a mother who hasn’t exactly lived up to her own expectations as an officer or as a mother, but she copes with her circumstances by working and burying herself in memories of her daughter Nina, who escaped her mother’s tight supervision to live with her father and raise her own son.

“The dirt dwellers she dealt with were like subterranean worms and bugs:  drug dealers and pimps, abusive parents, gangsters and thieves.  She had tried for years not to notice them when off duty, but she couldn’t help it.”  (Page 5)

Shortridge’s prose is gorgeous and immediate, sucking readers into the world she’s created in the wilderness of Oregon and the small town outside the forest.  When She Flew is about finding one’s convictions to break the mold and follow the right path.  It is about striving to be better and to find the freedom to grow.  Shortridge’s writing will blow readers away.

As an additional treat, later today, Jennie Shortridge will visit with us and talk about her writing, so stay tuned.  Oh, and there will be a giveaway!

FTC Disclosure:  Thank you to Jennie Shortridge and Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting fpr sending me a free copy of When She Flew for review.  Links to book images and titles will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchases are necessary.

Ivy + Bean: Doomed to Dance by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall (Illus.)

Normally, I don’t review children’s books here on the blog, but I’ve made an exception (yes, they do happen).  I remember buying a set of Ivy + Bean books for The Girl from Diary of an Eccentric because one of the books had to do with dinosaur fossils and I had read on someone’s blog (not sure who) that these books were fantastic.  The Girl, suffice to say, loved them and told me all about the straws up the nose (actually it’s the mouth) and other little tidbits from her books.  Before I dazzle you with my review, interview with The Girl, and the giveaway, let me show you a little video:

Ivy and Bean are typical second-grade girls who are willing to try just about anything, and they sometimes find themselves getting into trouble or at least over their heads.  In Doomed to Dance, the girls read a book about ballet and decide that they should take ballet, so they can become ballerinas in Giselle.  The only problem is that ballet is not as fun or easy as it seems.

“‘She doesn’t leap like a kitty.  She leaps like a frog,’ Bean whispered to Ivy.”  (Page 24)
“‘We can’t be squids if we break our arms,’ said Ivy.  ‘Remember what Madame Joy said? We’re supposed to wave our tentacles gently to the passing tide.  No way can we do that if we’ve got broken arms, Right?'”  (Page 40)

While Ivy and Bean get into trouble — and what kid doesn’t? — they always manage to find the positive in their situation or make amends.  Some of the funniest scenes in this book are when Ivy and Bean try to get sick on purpose, having other kids cough and sneeze all over them.  Young readers will laugh out loud at the antics of these young girls, and parents will enjoy these books because of the lessons they teach about responsibility and imagination.  Ivy + Bean:  Doomed to Dance is a fun read at nearly 130 pages, and these characters will worm their way into kids hearts easily.

Onto my interview with The Girl:

Which girl would you rather be, Ivy or Bean?  And why?

I would you like to be Bean because she is funniest.

Why do you think Bean packed salt in her backpack before they went to the aquarium?

Because you need salt to stay alive and helps the blood flow.

What would you have packed in your backpack for the aquarium trip?

I would pack clothes, food like sandwiches, water, juice, and ice pack.   If there is still room, I would take some small books.

Would you ever take ballet? Why or why not? What type of dancing would you take?

No, because I’m not into ballet.  I would take tap dancing because the noise from the shoes is cool, and it looks like fun.  You have to have skills for it, and I have skills.

Which of the Ivy + Bean books have you enjoyed most?

The book with the ghosts — The Ghost that Had to Go, Book 2.  Break the Fossil Record, Book 3.

To learn more about the series, check out the Website.  If you’re looking for crafts and fun activities, go here.

To enter the giveaway for 1 copy of Ivy + Bean:  Doomed to Dance (US/Canada):

1.  Leave a comment here about why you want to win the book.
2.  Become a follower and leave a comment here for another entry.
3.  Tweet, blog, spread the word and leave a comment here with a link.

Deadline Dec. 28, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

FTC Disclosure:  I want to thank Chronicle Books for sending me a free copy of Doomed to Dance for review.  Clicking on title and image links will go to my Amazon.com Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Holocaust Poetry Complied by Hilda Schiff

Holocaust Poetry compiled by and introduced by Hilda Schiff is a collection of poetry dealing with World War II and the Holocaust.  The compilation is divided into six sections:  Alienation; Persecution; Rescuers, Bystanders, Perpetrators; Afterwards; Second Generation; and Lessons.  There are well-known poems in this collection and poems from young children.  A few of the poems in this collection already have been featured on the blog as part of the Virtual Poetry Circle; check out “If” by Edward Bond and “The Butterfly” by Pavel Friedmann.

Each poem in the collection uses all-too-familiar images to demonstrate connections with family, friends, and strangers. and as each poem unfolds readers feel the devastation and hopelessness of each narrator.  Schiff says in the introduction, “The more or less contemporaneous literature of any period of history is not only an integral part of that period, but it also allows us to understand historical events and experiences better than the bare facts alone can do because they enable us to absorb them inwardly.”  More or less, readers of poetry will find these observations valid, as will readers of fiction.

However, there are moments of levity when narrators poke fun at the devastating events of Nazi Germany’s actions.

The Burning of the Books (Page 8)

When the Regime commanded that books with harmful knowledge
Should be publicly burned on all sides
Oxen were forced to drag cart loads of books
To the bonfires, a banished
Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the
Burned, was shocked to find that his
Books had been passed over.  He rushed to his desk
On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power.
Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me.  Haven’t my
Always reported the truth? And here you are
Treating me like a liar! I command you:
Burn me!

Beyond the poems in the collection depicting the horrors and the losses of persecuted people in Germany, the poems of bystanders, perpetrators, and others are surprising.  They talk of how they stood by and did nothing, how they want to help even if they are too late.  Despite the time for help being long passed, these narrators express not guilt so much as regret — a deep regret at having been so paralyzed by fear that they did nothing or acted contrary to who they believed themselves to be.

I Did Not Manage to Save (page 86)

I did not manage to save
a single life

I did not know how to stop
a single bullet

and I wander round cemeteries
which are not there

I look for words
which are not there
I run

to help where no one called
to rescue after the event

I want to be on time
even if I am too late

The poems selected for the “Second Generation” section will tug at readers heart strings, deepening the sense of loss.  An emptiness is present in some of these poems.  Short biographies are included at the back of the book for readers interested in the poets’ lives and connections to WWII and the Holocaust.

Holocaust Poetry is a collection that should be read in chunks rather than all at once.  Readers may succumb to sorrow if they attempt to read the entire collection in once sitting, but even then, readers will fall into the darkness and emerge in the light.  Overall, the collection is a must have for anyone interested in this time period and learning more about how WWII and the Holocaust impacted individual lives and families.

This is the 9th book I’ve read that qualifies for the 2009 WWII Reading Challenge.  Though I officially met my goal of reading 5 WWII-related books some time ago, I’ve continued to find them on my shelves and review them here.

This also qualifies as my 9th book for the Poetry review challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Holocaust Poetry compiled by Hilda Schiff at the local library sale.  Clicking on title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page, no purchase necessary.

Nadirs by Herta Muller

Nadirs by Herta Muller, who recently won the the Nobel Prize for Literature (click for my article), is a collection of mostly autobiographical short stories about surviving a communist regime and personal drama.  This 120-page work is translated from her native German language, and is one of only a few of her works that have been translated into English.  Muller straddles the surreal and reality in her stories, and in some cases this balance is executed better than in others.  However, her concise and detailed language paints vivid pictures for readers of harsh conditions and deep sadness and other emotions.

“In all the pictures, Father was frozen in the middle of a gesture.  In all the pictures, Father looked as though he didn’t know what to do.  But Father always knew what to do.  That’s why all these pictures were wrong.  All those false pictures, all those false faces chilled the room.  I wanted to get up from my chair, but my dress was frozen to the wood.”  (from “The Funeral Sermon,” Page 2)

In many ways these short stories are more like long, narrative poems filled with imagery, metaphor, and illusion, but there are occasions when Muller clearly outlines what is happening in these families and how it impacts each narrator, who in many cases is a young girl.  In “Rotten Pears,” the young narrator travels with her father and her aunt to a village to sell their vegetables and fruit, but staying overnight in a strange village reveals dark family secrets and alludes to other possibilities.

“I walk through the cemetery gate and the bell is in front of my face.  The stroke of the bell is under my hair.  The stroke is in my pulse next to my eyes and in my weary wrists under the tangled fern.  The knot that dangles from the rope of the bell is in my throat.”  (From “Oppressive Tango,” Page 86)

With stories ranging from just a few pages to 60 pages or more, Nadirs has something for the quick trip on the subway or the long leisurely moments on the couch, though many of these stories deal with deep sadness and betrayal.  Muller also is clearly a poet, economizing her words to create images that will burn into readers minds and remain there for many hours, days, weeks, and months.  She uses repetition and juxtapositions of black and white, noise and silence, and other techniques to peak readers’ curiosity.

“Their velvety bulging bellies popped and sprinkled white milk on the floor.  Then loathing crawled up on me from my shoes and put its tentacles around my throat, and its hands were gaunt and cold like the hands of the old people I saw in those beds with lids in front of which people would sit in silence and prayer.”  (From “Nadirs,” Page 18)

Overall an excellent collection to get a sense of Muller’s style, and many of these stories resemble nightmares from a child’s point of view.  Unfortunately, the short story from which the collection’s name is taken was the least engaging and overly surreal.  With “Nadirs” (click the link for a definition) being the longest story in the collection, it was tough to get through and ultimately some readers (including me) may give up and skip to other stories in the collection.

FTC Disclosure:  I borrowed this copy of Nadirs from the library.   Clicking on title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page, no purchase necessary. 

Dragon House by John Shors

“Iris felt as if a unique cultural experience occurred on the back of scooters.  She reflected that in America, people drove their cars and rarely even opened their windows.  Within cars people tended to be isolated, listening to the radio or maybe talking on the phone to a friend.  Cars were people’s places of refuge, highly personalized sanctuaries within which Americans often sought escape.  Driving a scooter in Vietnam was a completely different experience.  In addition to the ease of conversation, the lack of lanes and laws almost mandated that people acted in cooperation.  Drivers didn’t cut one another off or blast their horns.  Though they drove quickly, always looking for the fastest route, if an old woman was trying to cross an impossibly busy street, people braked and weaved around her without a second glance.”  (Page 184 of ARC)

Iris is just one of the main characters in John Shors’ Dragon House and she’s had a tough childhood with a mostly absent Vietnam veteran father.  Noah, her childhood friend and also a veteran but of the Iraq War, accompanies her to Vietnam as Iris strives to fulfill her father’s dream.  Through a shifting narrative, readers are shown glimpses of what it means to live on the streets of Vietnam as orphan children with Mia and Minh or as a grandmother Qui raising her leukemia-ridden granddaughter Tam by selling books to American tourists.  Dragon House examines how these cultures are misunderstood on both sides and how they clash with one another even in times of peace.  Shors deftly mixes sadness with hope to reveal the beauty beneath the grime and compassion inherent in humanity.

“Iris thought about her father, about how he also came home shattered from a war that wasn’t of his making.  A marriage and a daughter hadn’t saved him from his demons.  Why would Saigon save Noah? Though Iris was unsure, she knew what her father would say, knew he’d want her to bring Noah.”  (Page 13 of ARC)

Readers will be blown away by the vivid descriptions of Vietnam and the evolution of the novel’s main characters as they find themselves in a foreign land and repurpose their lives to meet the needs of others and fulfill a dream.  Shors uses description in a way that conveys deep emotional scarring and how that damage is repaired over time.  

“The city was a kaleidoscope of old versus new, memories versus ideas, stone versus chrome.”  (Page 15 of ARC) 

Mia and Minh, who sell fans and gamble with tourists over games of Connect Four, display strength amidst adversity, but like Noah, even the strongest of us have our breaking points.  Qui and Tam also display significant strength.  In a way these characters offset the deep desolation felt by Noah because they continue to survive and hope, while Noah is steeped in blackness and hopelessness, finding solace in whiskey and pain pills.  There is more going on in Dragon House than meets the eye with Iris and Noah preparing a children’s center for opening and these children living on the streets.  Readers will be absorbed in Shors’ world and turn the pages hoping for the best resolution possible.

If you missed my interview with John Shors and the giveaway for Dragon House, please check it out.

John Shors’ novel would make an excellent gift for the holidays for the readers among your family and friends, and a portion of the proceeds from book sales are shared with the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (click for more details).  Also, check out this write up in the Denver Post about the charity.

FTC Disclosure:  I want to thank John Shors for providing me with a free copy of Dragon House for review.  Also, thanks to Diane Saarinen of Book Blog Tour Guide for setting up the blog tour. Clicking on images or titles will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase required. 

Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is the screenplay for the revenge war film of the same name.  Moviegoers love Tarantino’s films for a multitude of reasons or they hate them for a multitude of reasons, but the screenplay provides a whole new insight into the filmmaker and his work.

Author David L. Robbins says in the forward, “The script remembers, too, the classic propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels.  It glimpses the faces of Hitler and Churchill and the interior of a wartime movie house in Paris, and zooms in on the horrors of close combat, the mania of vendetta.  . . . Inglourious Basterds does not indulge in lampoonery or mere cobbling.  It is reverently authentic as a war story, working the same tense, edge-of-the-seat magic as the best of the genre, book or movie.  At the same time, it’s Tarantino, its own thing.”

There are two main storylines in the film — one deals with the death and ultimate revenge plot of Shosanna Dreyfus and the other follows the basterds through Germany as they take on the Nazis and bumble around during secret missions to win the war.  In typical Tarantino fashion, the script bounces from each group and several moments in time, quilting together the larger arc of the story and conclusion of the war.

The script includes little tidbits about the characters that are never seen or talked about on screen.  Readers will be amazed by the depth of detail Tarantino provides in stage direction, the description of the scene, and explanation.

“Lt. Aldo [played by Brad Pitt] has one defining physical characteristic, a ROPE BURN around his neck — as if, once upon a time, he survived a LYNCHING.”  (Page 19)

“WE SEE all the pagentry below.  Tons of SPECTATORS.  Tons of guests dressed in Nazi uniforms, tuxedoes, and female finery, walking up the long red carpet (with a big swastika in the middle, naturally) leading into Shosanna’s cinema.  The German brass band omm-pa-pa-ing away.  German radio and film crews covering the event for the fatherland back home.  And, of course, MANY GERMAN SOLDIERS providing security for this joyous Germanic occasion.”  (Page 125)

Although the script does not depict the true conclusion of World War II, Tarantino illuminates the horrors of war and creates an atmosphere of the ridiculous in its revenge themes.  Watching the film is fast-paced, hilarious at moments, and gruesome, but reading the script plunges readers into their own personal version of the events and enables them to sink their teeth into Tarantino’s witty and poignant dialogue.  The basterds’ dialogue drips with disdain and self-righteousness, while Col. Hans Landa, or the Jew Hunter, uses language to demonstrate his superiority, even though his outward actions border on comedic.

Lt. Aldo:  Well, Werner, if you heard of us, you probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business.  We in the killin’ Nazi business.  And cousin, business is boomin’.  (Page 28)

FEMALE SGT. BEETHOVEN and STIGLITZ bring their guns toward each other and FIRE.  They BOTH TAKE and GIVE each other so many BULLETS it’s almost romantic when they collapse DEAD on the floor.  (Page 108)

Overall, Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino is an excellent specimen of a screenplay from its detailed stage direction and description to its witty and insightful dialogue, it will capture readers imaginations just as the film did on screen.  There are portions of the script that did not make it onto the big screen, but that’s to be expected with any film; there also are scenes in the movie that are not in the script.  The beauty of a screenplay is that it is not a stationary work of art, but one that evolves from page to screen under the guidance of its maker.

This is my 9th book for the WWII Reading Challenge 2009.  I can’t believe I’m still finding these on my shelves even now in December.  There may have to be a time when we revisit this war.

Additionally, I would like to thank Hachette Group for sending me a free copy of Inglourious Basterds for review.  Clicking on title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page, no purchase necessary. 

Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen

Mary Lydon Simonsen’s Searching for Pemberley starts was a premise many interviewers often ask authors about their fiction:  “Are any of your characters based upon real people?”  Did Jane Austen use real people to write the great love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy?  Simonsen’s book may not offer the truth behind Austen’s characters, but it does spin a unique mystery tale through which one possible reality of Mr. Darcy and Ms. Bennet are discovered.

“‘Mr. Crowell, you don’t know me.  I’m Maggie Joyce, but I was wondering if . . .’  But that was as far as I got.

‘You’re here about the Darcy’s right?  Don Caton rang me to let me know you might be coming ’round.  Come through.  Any friend of Jane Austen’s is a friend of mine.'”  (Page 12 of the ARC)

Maggie Joyce is the main protagonist and an American from a coal mining town in Pennsylvania.  She quickly leaves her hometown of Minooka for Washington, D.C., to help with the government with its World War II-related administrative work.  Eventually she is stationed in Germany and later in England following the end of the war.  She meets a fantastic family, the Crowells, who help her unravel the real family behind Jane Austen’s characters.

“Beth gestured for me to follow her into the parlor.  She had a way of carrying herself that was almost regal, especially when compared to her husband, who reminded me of a former football player who had taken a hit or two.”  (Page 25 of ARC)

Told from Maggie’s point of view, the novel grabs readers with its immediacy as Maggie moves through war-torn Europe and reads through a variety of diary entries and letters to uncover the origins of Pride & Prejudice.  Readers who have read Austen’s novel once or more than a dozen times will recognize echoes of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy in the Crowells and may even find parts of the mystery obvious.  However, this story is more than a look at where Austen may have found inspiration, it is about a nation (England) and its people in the midst of rebuilding after the devastation of the German blitzkrieg and World War II.  There also a healthy dose of romance between Maggie and two beaus that add to the tension.

“‘Nightmares from the war that I hadn’t had in ten, fifteen years came back.  Jesus, they all came back,’ he said, massaging his temples as if the act would block out any unwanted images.  ‘Picking up bodies and having them fall apart in my hands.  Stepping on limbs.  Being scared shitless during barrages.'”  (Page 254 of ARC)

Simonsen does an excellent job examining the shell shock felt by airmen and other military personnel and how their war experiences could impact their relationships with family, friends, and lovers.  While there are some occasions in this nearly 500-page book that are bogged down by too much detail, Simonsen’s characters are well developed and the twists and turns as Maggie unravels the mystery of the Bennets and the Darcys are fun.  The aftermath of World War II is well done and rich in emotional and physical detail, showing Simonsen’s deft research and keen eye.  Searching for Pemberley is an excellent addition to the every growing market of Jane Austen spin-offs.

This is the 8th book I’ve read that qualifies for the 2009 WWII Reading Challenge.  Though I officially met my goal of reading 5 WWII-related books some time ago, I’ve continued to find them on my shelves and review them here.  I’m sure there will be more, stay tuned.

Searching for Pemberley is the 6th item and fulfills my obligations under the Everything Austen Challenge 2009.   I hope that everyone has been reading along for this challenge.  It has been fun to see the mix of books and movies that everyone has reviewed.  I may even read another book before this challenge ends, since my main goal in joining was to read Persuasion, one of the only Austen novels I haven’t read.

Have you missed the giveaway for Searching for Pemberley?  Don’t worry there’s still time to enter.  Go here, and comment on Mary Lydon Simonsen’s interview for an additional entry.  Deadline is Dec. 14, 2009 at 11:59PM EST.


Additionally, I would like to thank Mary Lydon Simonsen and Sourcebooks for sending me a free copy of Searching for Pemberley for review.  Clicking on title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page, no purchase necessary. 

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen

the woman in the shower (Page 36)

the woman in the shower washes herself constantly and never ages.  she
scrubs her nails, shampoos her hair, lathers her body.  she’s attractive, and
many serenade her, offering love songs in various languages.  newspapers
send interviewers to ascertain her greater mission.  she receives letters from
admirers around the world.  political and religious leaders pay a visit.  a few
crazies try to break into the shower stall and molest the woman, but guards
throw them out.  one man masturbates, shooting his seed onto the glass
before he is arrested.  nothing, though, distracts or fazes the woman in the
shower.  she keeps lathering and scrubbing and rinsing.  generations pass;
the woman is considered a saint of sorts, her shower stall a mecca.  it’s 
assumed, finally, that the woman in the shower, the woman who never 
stops washing, has always been, always will be.  she’s a timeless fact, like air
or war or hunger or god.

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen conjures profound statements about the human condition often from unusual or incongruous elements in nature, pop culture, and religion.  Many of these poems comment on the darker side of humanity, and the narrator tends to seek out destruction and mischief.  There are some longer poems in the collection that could become tedious for certain readers, but taken in slowly — one section at a time — readers can delve deeper into the verse.

“. . . Mary plants clematis and bougainvillea.
I’m writing ballads on a ’71 Gibson.  We’re purchasing
mulch, two tons of soil.  We’re collecting ripe moments,”  (Portraits of Mary, Page 43)

Vivid images and situations permeate these pages, and Amen is a poet prepared to comment on the taboo or the elephant in the room.  Several poems titled “missive” address unknown recipients and offer harsh criticisms in which the sarcastic undertones is palpable.

“Had I known you were more concerned with baubles
than the outcomes of the election, I’d have planned
to craft a wreath for the occasion.  Bless tabloids
and puppet governments, I take my salvation as
I can get it.”  (Missive #12, Page 68)

Musical elements also weave their way into the poems, much like they did in Amen’s More of Me Disappears (click for my review).  Entwined with these musical lines, readers will note an atmosphere of self-deprecation created by the narrator’s repentance or observations.

“Forgive me for eating this bountiful meal.
Forgive me for sleeping beneath this roof.
Forgive me for making love to my wife.
Forgive me for everything I fail to see and do
and avenge.  Forgive me for this insular life.”  (Rampage, Page 24) 

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen is a collection that readers will need to let simmer, breathing in each line like an exotic incense.  Readers can read each poem in this collection more than once and still uncover new layers of meaning.  From short poems to long poems, this collection has a variety to please a multitude of readers. 

***On a side note, At the Threshold of Alchemy is published on acid-free, recycled paper.***  Ever since the Green Books Campaign, I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on my books to see what their “green” properties may be.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of At the Threshold of Alchemy from the poet John Amen for review.  Additionally, title and image links will bring readers to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases are necessary, but are appreciated to cover the costs of international giveaway shipping.

I read this book as part of the recent Thankfully Reading Weekend Challenge.  Did you participate?  Which books did you read?  I only read two.

This also qualifies as my 8th book for the Poetry review challenge.

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White pits Melanie Middleton, a Realtor who guards her emotions like most would protect buried treasure, against Jack Trenholm, a confident author and potential suitor, and elements of the supernatural.  Melanie must face her fears about her abilities and the truth behind the break-up of her family when her famous mother and opera singer returns to Charleston, South Carolina.

“We stood gaping at the marble-tiled floor with the faux-zebra shag area rug galloping down the middle of the hall.  The elegant egg-and-dart carved cornices had been painted black to offset the fuchsia hue of the walls.  Lime green beanbag chairs with legs offered seating to anybody with enough taste to make their knees go weak upon viewing the psychedelic colors of the hallway.  (Page 44-45)

White creates an intricate mystery that Melanie must unravel for herself without relying heavily on Jack, as she did in the previous book, The House on Tradd Street (click for my review).  White’s characters are vivid; so much so, that readers may want to smack Melanie through the pages and tell her to get a grip.  The beginning chapters spend a bit of time with Melanie as she attempts to sort out her feelings for Jack, her mother, and her abilities.  In some cases, Melanie’s whining may be a bit much for readers, but the action picks up and the knotted lives of Melanie’s ancestors will hook readers until the very last pages.

“I didn’t wait for a response, and was glad he didn’t show any resistance as I dragged him toward the back door.  . . .  I gave a brief wave and had pulled Jack through the door and closed it before my mother made it into the kitchen.

‘I think I like it when you’re rough,’ Jack said.”  (Page 143)

White introduces new characters, like Rebecca Eggerton, and resurrects some of the older characters, like Sophie and Chad, from the first book.  This provides readers with new relationship triangles to navigate, while trying to work through the paranormal mystery.  If readers have read and enjoyed The House on Tradd Street, they will enjoy this tale.

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White is an entertaining and a good second book in this paranormal-gothic romance-mystery series.  At times, readers could find the repetitive elements in Melanie’s narration distracting, as she repeats her grudge against her mother and her indecision about letting go of her self control where Jack is concerned.  It is clear that this is a second book and that there is more to come given the final lines of the book.

Stay tuned tomorrow, Dec. 1., for a guest post from Karen White about her writing.

FTC Disclosure:  Clicking on images and title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchases are necessary.  I received my free review copy of The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White from the author and Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting.

I read this book as part of the recent Thankfully Reading Weekend Challenge.  Did you participate?  Which books did you read?  I only read two.