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My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due

My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due is the fourth book in her immortals series and is set in the year 2016 when governments are striving to keep terrorists at bay and plagues secret to reduce the threat of panic.  Glow, a type of blood that is warm to the touch, is being touted as the solution to the pandemic and disease problem, but the United States has banned the drug for its terrorist ties and unknown origins.

Fana, an immortal, and her father, Dawit, hope to help the human race by offering the healing powers of their blood, but they are stopped at every turn by a rival faction of immortals who oppose the sharing of blood with mortals, led by Michel.  Complicating the situation even further is Fana’s attraction to mortal Johnny Wright and her betrothal to Michel.  Due has crafted a unique world in which these characters struggle not only for the life and death of humanity, but with greater questions of acceptance and compassion.  She even sprinkles her novel with technology gadgets that could be in our very near future, which is a nice touch.

“Fana was grateful that Mom had raised her with mortals in her family, closest to her heart.  Her cousin, aunt, and best friend were all mortals, so she hadn’t grown up with the feelings of superiority shared by her Life Brothers, and even her father.  She tried not to feel it, anyway.  Fana always began her meditations by asking for humility so she would not lose herself.” (page 64)

While readers will enjoy the intricate details throughout the novel about the Immortals and their way of life, something is missing — it is hard to connect with the characters without having read the previous books in the series.  Complicating matters is the emergence of Phoenix, a former music star, and her family, who are dealing with the deaths of a fraternal grandmother and maternal father that haunt them.  As quickly as readers become involved in her story, they are quickly shifted away from it and immersed in the immortal world.  When readers are returned to Phoenix’s story, they may feel like they have to flip back to recall what has happened to her.  This format does a disservice to the character — whose story line does intersect with Fana’s early on — and makes it difficult to reconnect with the character and her story and how it connects to the Immortals story line.

Due has a talent for creating other worlds, environments where immortals are gods, but have secreted themselves and their innovations away below the ground.  There are some that want to save humanity, and others that see humanity as ants to be squashed.  Through a great deal of biblical allusion, she creates an allegory for the Book of RevelationsMy Soul to Take is a slowly, unwinding battle of wills, but mortals refuse to sit on the sidelines and watch.  A pleasurable read that could be enhanced by reading the previous books in the series.

About the Author:

Tananarive Due (pronounced tah-nah-nah-REEVE doo) is the American Book Award-winning author of nine books, ranging from supernatural thrillers to a mystery to a civil rights memoir.

She has a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Leeds, England, where she specialized in Nigerian literature as a Rotary Foundation Scholar. Due currently teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Due has also taught at the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s Writers’ Week, the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and the summer Imagination conference at Cleveland State University. She is a former feature writer and columnist for The Miami Herald.

Due lives in Southern California with her husband, Steven Barnes; their son, Jason; and her stepdaughter, Nicki.

This is my 63rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Mr. Darcy’s Undoing by Abigail Reynolds

Mr. Darcy’s Undoing by Abigail Reynolds is the latest in her “What If?” series of Pride & Prejudice variations that seeks to uncover how far Darcy will go to woo Lizzy if after his disastrous proposal she accepts one from another man.  Darcy has made his arrogant speech about loving Lizzy against his better judgment and has proposed they get married, and she has refused by the time this book opens.

Lizzy has a dilemma before her; she had hoped to marry for love, but with her sister Jane’s hopes of marrying Mr. Bingley dashed and her continued depression about losing him, Lizzy realizes that she no longer has the luxury to marry for love and must find a suitable man with means to save her family from ruin upon the death of her father.  She takes the responsibility on when a family friend Mr. Covington begins to show interest in her.  After accepting his proposal and resigning herself to a marriage based on necessity and fondness, which she hopes will grow into love, Mr. Darcy arrives on the scene with Mr. Bingley and things get more complicated as she realizes her true feelings for Darcy.

“He inquired after her family as Darcy looked on sardonically, wondering what Elizabeth could possibly see in this dull fellow.  It grated on his nerves every time Covington called her by her name or allowed an admiring look to rest upon her.  Nevertheless, he gave no thought to leaving; as vividly unpleasant as this might be, nothing would induce him to leave Elizabeth alone with Covington while he had a choice in the matter.  There was a certain ironic humour, he reflected, in finding himself as her chaperone.” (page 68-9 ARC)

Told from both Lizzy and Darcy’s point of view, readers get a well-rounded glimpse at the feelings and frustrations they feel about their situation, especially after Lydia runs off with Wickham.  What’s new here is that Lizzy is deflated and more vulnerable, but she remains strong at her core in her convictions.  Scandal has hammered her family’s reputation and she realizes that she is at the center of it and believes that everyone would be best off without her.  Darcy must not only convince her of his love, but that she has not permanently injured her family’s reputation and that she is not a pariah who can destroy his reputation.

“The two men eyed one another for a moment, then Darcy said in a more normal voice, ‘Do you still object to Georgiana’s presence here? I would like her to have the opportunity to get to know Elizabeth.’

‘Good God, Darcy, are you actually asking my opinion? There is a first time for everything!'”  (page 176 ARC)

Reynolds introduces Mr. Covington, Mrs. Covington, and makes sure that fan favorites, like Mr. Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam, are as bright as Lizzy and Darcy.  Each character is vivid and dynamic.  However, Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins, and Charlotte Lucas do not make appearances, but are talked about in passing.  Reynolds is a master at throwing Lizzy and Darcy into new situations that threaten to keep them apart, but the overarching theme is always that love conquers all.  Austen would be proud that Reynolds has taken her characters, helped them evolve into better versions of themselves, and taken them on new journeys.

Mr. Darcy’s Undoing by Abigail Reynolds is infused with bawdy conversation, conflict, societal disapprobation, and classic characters with modern sensibilities.  Darcy and Lizzy are no longer pinned down by Regency norms, but are pioneers of modernity and unbridled love and passion.  Reynolds is masterful in her homage to Austen and her wit, while catering to readers’ desire for romance and strong protagonists.  Likely to be one of the first Austen spinoffs to make the end of year “Best of” list.

Her Sister’s Shadow by Katharine Britton

Her Sister’s Shadow by Katharine Britton is aptly titled given that Lilli Niles has always felt like she is living in the shadow of her “perfect” sister Bea.  Bea takes on a guardianship role when Lilli is about 15 after their father dies and their mother loses touch with reality.  Lilli resents her “perfect” sister’s hold over the family and is even more angry about how Bea lords it over her when she wins crew races and is considered perfect by her mother.  Couple all of that resentment with hormones of adolescence and you can imagine the volatility.

Told in alternating chapters between the past and the present when Lilli returns to White Head, Mass., after 30 years when her sister Bea calls and needs her, Her Sister’s Shadow vividly tells a story of healing after a significant rift between sisters.  Readers will feel the angst of a young Lilli who has just discovered boys and wants to grow up more quickly and the awkwardness of Lilli and Bea who attempt to reconnect after 30 years.

“When she was a girl, after the accident, she would go down onto the rocks, pick her way carefully along their slick surface, and shout her grief and guilt into the deep bass notes of that foghorn.  Her kitchen, all stillness in pools of white light, offered no such camouflage.”  (page 4)

Britton creates characters that are real, flawed, and seeking redemption through their actions even if they are unaware of it.  While Lilli’s relationship with Bea is strained, her relationship with Dori, her younger sister, is sweet and unbreakable.  Lilli’s relationship with Charlotte is more like a mother-daughter dynamic in which Charlotte is a caretaker and empathetic.  There is a great deal at work in these female relationships; their complexity is stunning and palpable.  Each sister is drawn realistically, causing readers to become attached to each one.  It is through this relationship with the reader, that Britton tugs tears out and causes wistful smiles to curl.

Bea’s shadow is not the only one looming over this book.  Britton has crafted a devastating novel through which readers and characters must journey to reach out of the fog and into the light.  Her Sister’s Shadow has a gorgeous setting steeped in coastal imagery that mirrors the churning ocean waves of these relationships which every so often smooth out to reflect the stars and beauty of calm.

About the Author:

Katharine Britton has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. Her screenplay, Goodbye Don’t Mean Gone, was a Moondance Film Festival winner and a finalist in the New England Women in Film and Television contest. Katharine is a member of the League of Vermont Writers and PEN New England. She teaches writing at Colby-Sawyer College, and is an instructor at The Writer’s Center.

When not at her desk, Katharine can often be found in her Norwich garden, waging a non-toxic war against the slugs, snails, deer, woodchucks, chipmunks, moles, voles, and beetles with whom she shares her yard. Katharine’s defense consists mainly of hand-wringing, after-the-fact.

Please follow her blog and Facebook.

To Enter for 1 copy of Her Sister’s Shadow by Katharine Britton: (US/Canada only):

1.  Leave a comment about what kind of relationship you have with your sister or whether you would enjoy having a sister if you don’t have one.

2.  Follow Katharine Britton on Facebook and leave a comment for another entry telling me you did so.

3.  Facebook, Tweet, or Blog about the giveaway and leave a comment with each for up to three more entries.

Deadline Oct. 28, 2011, at 11:59PM EST

 

To visit the other stops on the TLC Book Tour, click on the icon at the right.

 

This is my 62nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu’s The Taker has received a number of rave reviews and some unfavorable reviews, and it was recently listed in BookList’s Top 10 Debut books.

Lanore, “Lanny,” shows up in her northern Maine hometown covered in blood, and the police say that she has confessed to killing a man and leaving him in the frozen woods.  ER doctor, Luke Findley, becomes the recipient of a Gothic fairy tale that is more dark and sinister than full of fairy dust, unless that fairy is an evil alchemist and sodomite.

“The stranger had appeared suddenly, at the edge of the gathering that evening.  The first thing Adair noticed about him was that he was very old, practically a shrunken corpse leaning on his walking stick, and as he got closer, he looked older still.  His skin was papery and wrinkled, and dotted with age spots.  His eyes were coated with a milky film but nevertheless had a strange sharpness to them.  He had a thick head of snow white hair, so long that it trailed down his back in a plait.  But most notable were his clothes, which were of Romanian cut and made of costly fabrics.  Whoever he was, he was wealthy and, even though an old man, had no fear of stepping into a gypsy camp alone at night.”  (page 162)

The Taker is a story within a story, within a story, spanning from the dark ages through the present day, and Lanny claims to be immortal, but do not be mistaken into thinking she’s a vampire or werewolf.  She is neither.  Her unrequited love for the town pretty boy, Jonathan St. Andrew, is the main crux of the story and how it brings about her downfall that leads to her life as an immortal.  Katsu spoke recently at Novel Places about the book and revealed that the story of Pinocchio is the backbone of her novel, which is clear in how the desire to grow up and become a woman with her own life separate from her family propels Lanny to be easily led astray.  However, that is where the similarity ends.  Katsu’s novel is ripe with sodomy, rape, kidnapping, murder, and more, which is why it would be a perfectly dark book to read this season as Halloween approaches and is what would once have been considered horror (rather than the popular category of paranormal, which has a “lighter” tone to it).

Lanny tells her story to Luke in the present day, but a more effective approach would have been to have her merely tell her story to the reader.  As many know story framing or using one character as a plot device for another character to tell his/her story is bothersome if the character/plot device is not well developed.  While Luke does have a back story here, it fails to round out the character enough, leaving him flat and boring compared to the characters of Lanny and Adair.  Even Jonathan is little more than a caricature of the pretty boy of the town’s founders, and it would have served to have more of him and Lanny’s interactions in the book at the beginning of their “romance” to demonstrate their affection for one another.  However, being told from Lanny’s point of view, it is incredibly difficult to demonstrate Jonathan’s perspective on their relationship and oftentimes he comes off as a callous womanizer who is incapable of love.

With that said, however, Katsu is adept at time shifts within the story that keep the pace of the novel moving quickly.  Moreover, she creates a deeply atmospheric novel where readers are combing through the mist to grasp the truth of Lanny’s story and to unravel the mystery of her immortality.  Some have said this is a romance; it is not.  Most will debate who is “The Taker,” but there is certainly more than one, and it will depend on your personal perspective as to which you believe is the taker.  They all are takers in their own way — taking what love and affirmation they can, taking the loyalty of others by forcing their hands, and taking pleasure in the act of taking.  Readers who shun violence in books, particularly against women should steer clear.  Katsu’s The Taker is dark and decadent; an excellent debut novel for those looking to tantalize their darker senses with interminable consequences.

Stay tuned for the next two books in this series; I know I will be waiting on the edge of my seat. I’m always on the lookout for horror books, as I’ve grown tired of EMO vamps and werewolves.

For a chance to win my gently used ARC (which has a signed bookplate), please visit this post about Alma Katsu’s reading near me.  If you’re looking for another bonus entry, leave a comment on this review.

Alma Katsu (right) Me & Wiggles

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Watch the book trailer or this one.

 

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Katsu has worked in Washington, D.C., and now resides in Virginia.

 

 

This is my 61st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Out of Breath by Blair Richmond

Out of Breath by Blair Richmond is a young adult novel that will have readers quickly turning the pages to find out what secrets Kat Jones is hiding and why the town of Lithia where she ends up seems so ethereal and mysterious.  Kat arrives in Lithia, where she was born, after running from something that happened in Texas, and everyone in the town is incredibly friendly and welcoming.

Richmond’s sparse narration, plus the focus on running races, ramps up the suspense as Kat’s secretive nature enables her to blend in and adopt a new life.  However, this new life quickly becomes more than she can handle, enticing her to strap on her running shoes and get out of town fast.  She’s a young woman who’s budding college life is cut short, and she turns to the only activity — running — that gives her solace to escape.  A vegan in a town of tree huggers and other like-minded nature and running enthusiasts, Kat is at home and relatively at peace.  However, the rivalry between Roman and Alex and their secrets threaten to disturb the tenuous life she’s starting to build.

“Since I was eight years old I’ve been a runner.  Not a jogger.  A runner.  I was always the fastest girl I knew, and, during junior high, was faster than any boy I knew.  I ran cross-country in high school and I won state during my junior year.  A scholarship to a major college seemed all but inevitable until my dad backed the car up over my left foot the summer before my senior year.  It’s funny how quickly dreams can be crushed.  Just as easily as my left foot.”  (page 3)

Like many other young adult novels on the market, Out of Breath has a touch of the paranormal — vampires and ghosts — but there is an unexpected twist here.  Vampires are actually dangerous, and certain vampires have quirky eating habits.  The ghosts play more of a role in the latter pages, and likely even more of a role in the other two planned books for the trilogy.  Yes, this is the first in a series — a series that focuses on nature, saving the environment, and vegan/vegetarianism.  Although the vegan/environmental angle can be heavy handed at times when Roman and Kat converse, it serves a purpose for the plot and can be overlooked by readers that may feel as though Kat is preaching to them.

Out of Breath by Blair Richmond is an eerie novel that takes a look at the consequences of our actions and how we cannot right the wrongs of the past, but only  strive to change our futures.  Readers will enjoy the mix of paranormal, young adult coming of age story, romance, and suspense mixed with a theme of environmental conservation and appreciation.  Even better is that unlike other trilogies, Richmond’s novel does not leave the reader with a major cliffhanger, but provides a modicum of resolution and leaves the reader with a stronger version of Kat.  An intriguing mix of themes and characters that creates a mystical world in the forest anchored in the reality of today’s environmental concerns.

About the Author:

Blair Richmond is the pen name of a writer living in the Northwest, where OUT OF BREATH is set. She is currently working on THE GHOST RUNNER, the second book in the trilogy featuring Kat and the mysterious town of Lithia.

Ashland Creek Press is hosting a Halloween virtual book launch party with an author Q&A, book giveaways, and more.  Mark your calendars

 

This is my 60th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington is a coming of age story about a teen girl growing into adulthood at a time when her father, Matt, is sent to Iraq and her mother, Angie, is not dealing with his absence as well as Alice thinks she should.  The blissful life her family has had up until this point is turned around and twisted as Alice takes on more of her mother’s duties — making dinner, washing clothes, getting her sister’s (Ellie) lunch ready, and getting her sister to school.  She’s constantly worried about her father not returning home, about how she seems not to be anyone’s favorite, and the changes she sees in her friends, family, and Henry (her neighbor and friend).

Harrington creates a world and cast of characters that grab your heart and don’t let go.  The Bliss family story will have your tearing up right from the beginning when the father is first setting his affairs in order and explaining to Alice what she’s to do while he is at war.  Yes, he says, he is coming back, but readers know about the uncertainties of war and so does Alice, which makes his parting all the more heart-wrenching.  Alice only finds solace when running, like her mother finds solace when swimming, but they are too alike to find comfort in one another and often find themselves at odds.  Dynamic characters young and old tackle difficult questions of how to go on without a loved one, who often calmed the waters and even when that situation is expected to be temporary.

“This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone.  She is fourteen, barefoot, her sneakers tied together by the laces and slung across her shoulder so she can feel the soft, sandy dust of the single-track road between her toes.  Her sister fell asleep halfway through the square dance, dropping from hyperexcited to unconscious in a flash.  Her father carries Ellie draped over his shoulder, and casually, or so it seems, her mother says, ‘Come home when the dance is done.'” (page 1)

While Alice is a strong, young woman, she is also timid when it comes to her changing relationship with Henry and volatile when it comes to her relationship with her mother and sister and her schoolmates.  Alice’s life spirals out of control while she’s daydreaming and running away, but there are moments of hope when letters arrive and broken up phone calls pepper their days.  Alice is growing up before readers’ eyes.  She’s learning that her friendship with Henry is more complicated than she expects and at a time when she wants it to stay the same.  She’s flattered when a popular senior asks her to a baseball game, and she’s disenchanted with high school society when her childhood friend Steph remains distant even when it is obvious she needs someone to lean on.  Her sister Ellie tries to act more mature than her sister, and does on some occasions, but she’s still just eight and what’s important to her — a new haircut, new clothes, a nice lunch — skirts the realities of their lives without Matt.

Uncle Eddie and Gram are the rocks of the family that help hold up Angie, Alice, and Ellie — keeping them from imploding.  Harrington has created a wide cast of characters who evolve steadily throughout the novel.  Despite the third person omniscient point of view, Harrington’s narrative evokes an emotional connection between the characters and the reader.  The distance often felt with this point of view is not present here in the least.  Readers will feel the loss, the waiting, the anger, the sadness, and the confusion all at once — just as the characters do — while cheering them on to remain positive that Matt will return home.  This is a young adult novel adults will praise for its realistic portrayal of adult themes, while young adults will praise the relate-ability of its teen characters and their situations.

“Even though Mrs. Grover wears those awful sensible shoes and has gray hair that she wears in a bun, Alice thinks that maybe Mrs. Grover is still young in the ways that are important.  Like she’s not so serious all the time, and she sings and right now she’s teasing a cardinal.  Whistling in response to its call and damn if that cardinal doesn’t whistle right back.  Alice’s mother doesn’t even have a clothesline, let alone stand outside and lift her face to the sun and sing and whistle to the birds.” (page 101)

Harrington is talented at creating a world that is real — a small town where everyone knows one another and feels as though they are under a microscope at home and school — and generates an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty — in the silence of waiting.  What are those keepsakes that we hold dearest? What are those memories that we hold onto tightest? Alice and her family find these answers and more, making the novel even more suspenseful.  Alice Bliss not only tracks the evolution of Alice from child to adolescence and the bumps along the way, the novel teaches readers about heartache, compassion, and strength.

About the Author:

Laura Harrington’s award winning plays, musicals, operas, and radio plays have been widely produced in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Harrington is a two time winner of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Award in playwriting and a two time winner of the Clauder Competition for best new play in New England for Mercy and Hallowed Ground.

“Alice Bliss”, a novel, published by Pamela Dorman Books, Penguin/ Viking, will be on sale spring 2011. She is currently writing a new novel, “A Catalogue of Birds,” as well as a song cycle with composer Elena Ruehr, and a series of choral works with composer Roger Ames. Ms. Harrington teaches playwriting at M.I.T and is a frequent guest artist at Tufts, Harvard (where she was a visiting Briggs Copeland Lecturer), Wellesley, University of Iowa, and other campuses.

Please also check out this great Q&A, an excerpt from the novel, and her blog.

 

This is my 59th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

Alice blissI took part in the experiment to see where this book would end up once I read, reviewed, and released it into the world.  So, here’s a picture of me releasing it into the wilds of Maryland (Ok, its a Safeway/Starbucks Cafe).

I toyed with releasing it in a bookstore, at the library among the library sale stacks, and finally decided to release it in the Safeway near my house in their Starbucks Cafe.  It was done surreptitiously and I was incredibly self-conscious.  Nevermind that this is a book I really didn’t want to let go because I loved it so much.

I may just have to buy my own copy of this book to add to my shelves and read it again.  It was THAT GOOD!

 

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler With David Dalton

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler with David Dalton is my first rock n’ roll memoir.  Steven Tyler, lead singer for Aerosmith, always struck me as very Bohemian, and he even says as much in his memoir.  Readers will be surprised to find that the memoir is Steven Tyler telling his story and not some writer’s idea of what his story should sound like.  It’s not prettied up.  As the pages turn, readers will find that Tyler remembers a great many details, even street names and house/apartment numbers.

(Aerosmith was considered a Boston band, and many were thrilled when the band set up Mama Kin Music Hall.  The band was often considered the bad boys of Boston, and the closure of the club caused some angst among followers who felt the band had snubbed its nose at the hometown.  But I digress.)

There is a no-holds-barred quality to the writing and the story in this memoir, but that’s just how readers would want it.  From his early influences of piano played . . . more like breathed . . . by his father to his drug use and religious upbringing as a Bronx native who summered in New Hampshire, all sides of Steven Tyler are exposed.  His childhood seemed pretty typical for any boy with artistic parents, with summers in the country, a love of animals, hunting and fishing, and being overzealous about girls and just about everything.  His family moved to Yonkers and he was enrolled in a private school.

Tyler’s memoir is a bit of back and forth as memories seem to crop up and send him off in new directions, but readers will get a good sense of how he is on a daily basis with this kind of narration.  Drinking, drugs, and girls are his main vices, but the music is a constant as he jams with his father’s band as a young teenager on drums and eventually grows into his own as a musician.

Tyler loves capitalizing words for emphasis and he does “talk” to himself from time to time.  Readers put off by swears and other vulgar language may find the memoir to gritty, but for a rock n’ roll artist, what else can be expected.  An unexpected surprise throughout the book are snippets of poems, though it is not clear when exactly they were written or why.  Readers also will learn about musical terms from dissonance to fifth notes, etc.

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? provides readers with an inside look at what it means to be a rock musician, what makes them great at what they do, and how they can maintain their success over the long term in spite of the downfalls and obstacles they face.  Steven Tyler offers more than just an inside look at his life; he’s offering an inside look at music, artistry, and the drive to succeed along the way.

 

This is my 58th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

Seeking help at a drug abuse treatment center is necessary for people who have been abusing drugs for a long time.

The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa

The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa — broken into three sections — challenges the mind and the internal rhythm of our souls.  It challenges our preconceptions about everything from music to what it means to be an African American.  In the form of aubades and odes, Komunyakaa evokes song throughout the collection, which have readers very focused on how the rhythms of the poems impact them beyond the words spoken.  The poet is striving to reach not only the logical mind here, but something deeper, ethereal, like a soul.

There are allusions in this volume that are religious, musical, and mythological, but these do not detract from the poems’ power.  “Kindness” (page 28), is one of the most dense poems in the collection, filled with a number of allusions including the consumption of salt as a sign of friendship.  However, even if not all the references are clear at first glance, it is clear that kindness is often recognized even in the bleakest of moments and in the darkest of places even if someone has been a “stranger” to it.

There are a range of emotions and thoughts in this collection, the narrator of these poems changes like the lizard, adapting to the moment and blending into the environment he finds himself in. The cover is reminiscent of the dark jungle of our lives as we try to navigate our way sometimes in the shadows for the silence of observation, but oftentimes to hide from the actions and decisions we have made or are frightened of making.  Meanwhile, other decisions seem inevitable and natural.

Excerpt from:  Conceived in a Time of War (page 37)

Because your mother & father kissed
beneath a hail of Roman candles,
you crawled out of one thousand
tiny deaths, stubborn as aster
in stony clay.  A goddess of dawn
scooted under a zing of barbed wire
to witness your birth. . . .

Komunyakaa’s poems have a musicality equivalent to Jazz.  “Jazz has space, and space equals freedom, a place where the wheels of imagination can turn and a certain kind of meditation can take place.  It offers a meditational opportunity,” he once said.  His poems are just like this, providing moments of pause, allowing readers to interact with the lines and images.  “How many ghosts followed us/into the basement to Muniak’s bepop gig/to hear the saxophone argue with the piano?/” from “Aubade at Hotel Copernicus” (page 33-4).

Komunyakaa is paying homage to all forms of the human spirit — good or bad — in The Chameleon Couch, but the poems are never indifferent. In “A Translation of Silk” (page 17), “One can shove his face against silk/& breathe in centuries of perfume/on the edge of a war-torn morning/where men fell so hard for iron/they could taste it. Now, today,/a breeze disturbs a leafy pagoda/printed on slow cloth. A creek/begins to move. His brain trails,/lagging behind his fingers to learn/suggestion is more than radiance/” Some poems are about the legacy we leave behind, the anger about historical events like the Holocaust, and the quieter moments each of us shares with our lover or family. Another extraordinary candidate for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards and the “best of” list.

Also please check out the poem from this collection that I featured in the 117th Virtual Poetry Circle.

About the Poet:

Yusef Komunyakaa is an American poet who currently teaches at New York University and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Komunyakaa is a recipient of the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, for Neon Vernaculaand the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He also received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Komunyakaa received the 2007 Louisiana Writer Award for his enduring contribution to the poetry world.

His subject matter ranges from the black general experience through rural Southern life before the Civil Rights time period and his experience as a soldier during the Vietnam War.

This is my 26th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Waking by Ron Rash

Waking by Ron Rash — a collection of poems broken up into five parts — and the cover’s barren landscape with its snowed in vehicle is a perfect depiction of the desolate landscape presented in the first selection of poems.  From “Woodshed in Watauga County” (page 7) “as mud daubers and dust motes/drifted above like moments/unmoored from time, and the world/” and from “Junk Car in Snow” (page 8), “No shade tree surgery could/revive its engine, so rolled/into the pasture, left stalled/among cattle, soon rust-scabs/”   Rash does desolation and emptiness well, but he also just as easily paints vivid imagery reminiscent of lucid dreams and the lingering impression of those dreams during the stages of waking.  In “Milking Traces” (page 5), “those narrow levels seemed like/belts worn on the hill’s bulged waist,/if climbed straight up, tall steps for/stone Aztec ruins–though razed/”

In section two, many of the poems focus on farming and the hard work that comes along with cutting through the wilderness to build a life.  In many ways, this could be construed as the cloudy ascent from sleep or the struggle of growing up from childhood into adolescence and adulthood.  Each journey can be arduous, but the destinations can be well worth the struggle or so Rash’s poems suggest.  In “Pocketknives” (page 18), “vanity of men caught once/when dead in a coat and tie,/so ordered from catalogs,/saved and traded for, searched for/in sheds and fields if lost, passed/father to son as heirlooms,/like talismans carried close/to the bone, cloaked as the hearts/”  But there is a subtly to the hope in these poems.

Each poem in this collection relies heavily on nature imagery and the suppositions the poet makes, and Rash seems to be reflective and regretful in some, while content and accepting in others.  Many of these poems can weigh heavily on the reader, especially if read in sequence.  The prologue poem really sets the tone for the collection, which can fulfill a dreary day or provide a modicum of solace for those who are feeling reflective.  The poem suggests that readers pause, reflect on their lives and moments with family and friends to see the true nature of them rather than rush through daily activities and becoming absorbed in the mere movement of life.

Resolution (page xi)

The surge and clatter of whitewater conceals
how shallow underneath is, how quickly gone.
Leave that noise behind.  Come here
where the water is slow, and clear.
Watch the crawfish prance across the sand,
the mica flash, the sculpen blend with stone.
It's all beyond your reach though it appears
as near and known as your outstretched hand.

Waking by Ron Rash is a solid collection of poems that shifts between reality and dreams and nostalgia and how things are.  Readers interested in the Southern traditions and culture will see a brighter presence of the majestic mountains and sparkling rivers.  They will see nature as it is and how southerners interact with it and build lives from the frontier that still exists.

About the Poet:

Ron Rash is the author of three prize-winning novels: One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; three collections of poems; and two collections of stories. A recipient of the O. Henry Prize, he holds the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University.

This is my 25th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 57th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Mr. Darcy’s Bite by Mary Lydon Simonsen

With Halloween and all of the blog-related events — RIP, All Hallow’s Eve, Frightful Fall Read-a-Thon, and Halloween Hootenanny — I’ve selected a few fun horror/spooky reads for October.

I have not officially joined any of the challenges or read-a-thons just because I never know how much reading I can do these days, but I am hosting Stephen King’s IT read-a-long with Anna in which we discuss the 1,000+ page book once per month through the end of the year.

First spooky read for October is Mary Lydon Simonsen’s Mr. Darcy’s Bite, which I shamelessly admit attracted me with its ominous cover.

Simonsen’s latest Pride & Prejudice incarnation, Mr. Darcy’s Bite, begins after the reunion between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy at Pemberley.  However, not all is pleasant in paradise because Darcy’s behavior has become peculiar, and he visits her at Longbourn for several months, though with long gaps between visits.  Lizzy’s mother keeps pressuring her about when she’s going to get engaged, and Lizzy is becoming concerned that Darcy’s affections for her are not as strong as she had thought.  She has plenty of time to stew on her speculations about his behavior, but just as she is about to call him out on his absences, he invites her back to Pemberley.  This is where everything changes for them and the challenges begin.

“‘You are very bossy.  You order people around with your harsh tone of voice or by pushing them about with your muzzle.  You may be the master of Pemberley, but you will not be the master of me.  I must be free to speak my mind.’

‘When have you not spoken your mind?’ Darcy stepped away from her, and with his hands behind his back, he recited word for word a part of Elizabeth’s refusal of his offer of marriage.”  (page 69 of ARC)

A dark secret is revealed, and Lizzy must determine whether in addition to their class and social differences, this secret changes her feelings for Darcy.  Can she overcome the secrecy, live with keeping secrets from her family and friends as a member of the Darcy family, and the monthly absences of her husband?  Simonsen captures Lizzy and Darcy’s characters so well from their moments of pride to their moments of misunderstanding.  Like her other novels, obstacles are thrown in the path of our love birds, and new characters are introduced, including the conceited Lady Helen Granyard who could rival Austen’s Lady Catherine in pride and social engineering.

Lizzy’s jealousy of Helen’s beauty pales compared to her worries that Helen’s intimate knowledge of the Darcy secret could supplant Darcy’s love for her.  What’s also a nice surprise here is that Georgiana gains strength in social encounters, enabling her to confront Lady Catherine at one point when she normally would have demurred.  Simonsen evolves the characters of not only Darcy and Elizabeth in this paranormal tale, but that of her secondary characters Georgiana and Anne de Bourgh.

If you’re an Austen purist who can let their hair down a bit, Mr. Darcy’s Bite could fit your need for the paranormal this Halloween season without scaring you senseless.  Simonsen’s work is always a delight to read, and Mr. Darcy’s Bite is no exception.

About the Author:

Mary Simonsen has combined her love of history and the novels of Jane Austen in her first novel, which explores universal truths about love and conflict that cross generations and oceans. The author lives in Peoria and Flagstaff, Arizona.

Check out the rest of the stops on Mary’s tour.

Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud

Are you looking for an edgier Lizzy and Darcy story? Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud is the hot little number for you.  The stage is set with furious rock and roll, sex in all positions and places, and yes, even drugs.  If you don’t like foul language or graphic sex, you won’t want to read this one because rock stars are living on the edge and rough around the edges.

Rock and roll is a hard business and in it band members are chewed up, spit out, and often become divas or broken down.  Darcy already has made the big time with his band, Slurry, but unlike the loving family he had in Austen’s novel, Pride & Prejudice, his parents were too busy to raise him, but when Georgiana was born, things changed.  Meanwhile, the main Bennet girls — Jane and Elizabeth — are in an up-and-coming band, Long Borne Suffering, with Charlotte Lucas.

“He realized he was being a voyeur, watching an intimate act.  She was making love to her instrument.  He knew he should look away,but he couldn’t.  His eyes were locked on the way her hands caressed the strings and pulled the wooden body closer to herself.  When she started singing softly, he was lost.”  (page 137 ARC)

Some readers may find the graphic intimate moments between the characters too much to handle, and some scenes may be over the top and unnecessary.  While in most instances the graphic and almost-masculine descriptions of those scenes work for the casual sex scenes, readers may find they are too harsh for the love of Darcy and Lizzy.  However, the look at the rock star world is eye-opening in terms of hard work, time management, PR, and emotional toll for Lizzy, Jane, and Charlotte.  Even veterans like Darcy, Charles Bingley, and Richard are affected by the touring schedule and the press hounding them. Wickham makes an appearance as a former singer for Slurry turned music video director/producer, and he’s even more sinister than he was in Austen’s novel.  His characterization here is exceedingly sinister, but necessary in this brash modern world created by Rigaud.

While Rigaud’s characters stray far from their Austen origins, particularly the character of Charlotte, the playful banter found in Austen remains, though taken up by Charlotte and Richard as they navigate the fine line between relationship and backstage fling.  Lizzy and Darcy step aside to give equal time to Charles and Jane and Charlotte and Richard, and the musical talents of all three shine individually and together on stage.  Adding to the conflict is the desire of these young women to make it on their own without the media thinking they are sleeping their way to the top with Slurry.

“‘Charlotte muttered.  ‘You know what a perfectionist Jane is, and she wanted Charles to know the songs for your set, so they started playing your songs, then they started on her songs, then they were playing their favorite songs.’

‘Eighties music?’ Richard interrupted her.

Charlotte nodded, her eyes bugging out in mock annoyance.  ‘I swear they were doing Prince when the bus finally pulled up.’

Everyone smiled.  ‘That’s Charles,’ Richard confirmed.

‘Oh my God!  I was ready to gnaw off my arm and beat them both over the head with it.’

Richard laughed.  ‘A one-armed drummer?  Now who’s living in the eighties.'”  (page 141-2 ARC)

There is a great deal to love about this novel, but it also has flaws from dialogue that goes on too long about mundane details and goodbyes to too many sex scenes in a row.  Readers will be captivated by the tension created by the music world and what it does to the relationships of these characters, especially as Richard’s sexual prowess is ramped up a few notches as a rock star drummer.  But even Rigaud’s characterizations of tensions within a band — from the jealousy drummers feel about the frontmen/women to the worries of female bands about making it without being asked for sexual favors — ring true.

Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud has created a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice, but Austen purists beware, this is not the same chaste Darcy and Elizabeth you know from Austen’s novel.  Many of the elements that keep Darcy and Elizabeth apart are still here — misunderstandings and words spoken without much thought injure each of them quickly — but Elizabeth is not as self-assured as she is in Austen’s work and Jane is more confident here.  Charlotte is the most changed, cast as a wild woman who secretly wants a fairy-tale ending, though with herself in charge.

Readers looking for a hard and fast look at the music world and the corruption and benefits it can bring will enjoy Rigaud’s unique perspective and characterizations.  Take a ride on the groupie bus and enjoy the Slurry and Long Borne Suffering tour.  Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud is a whirlwind of emotions, sex, and satisfaction.

About the Author:

Heather Lynn Rigaud spends much of her time thinking about how Regency-era characters would exist now, and how a wife and mother would have lived in the past. She is a professional writer with degrees in music therapy and teaching who lives with her husband and two sons in Kingston, New York.

My God, What Have We Done? by Susan V. Weiss

Normally, I’ll write up my own summary for a book, but this week has been hectic, so I’ll provide you with summary from Amazon:

“In a world afflicted with war, toxicity, and hunger, does what we do in our private lives really matter? Fifty years after the creation of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, newlyweds Pauline and Clifford visit that once-secret city on their honeymoon, compelled by Pauline’s fascination with Oppenheimer, the soulful scientist. The two stories emerging from this visit reverberate back and forth between the loneliness of a new mother at home in Boston and the isolation of an entire community dedicated to the development of the bomb. While Pauline struggles with unforeseen challenges of family life, Oppenheimer and his crew reckon with forces beyond all imagining. Finally the years of frantic research on the bomb culminate in a stunning test explosion that echoes a rupture in the couple’s marriage. Against the backdrop of a civilization that’s out of control, Pauline begins to understand the complex, potentially explosive physics of personal relationships. At once funny and dead serious, My God, What Have We Done? sifts through the ruins left by the bomb in search of a more worthy human achievement.”

My God, What Have We Done? by Susan V. Weiss combines two seemingly divergent topics under one roof — a marriage and the making of the atomic bomb — and readers get to watch it build to a crescendo and explode.  Told in first person point of view, readers get a real taste for how obsessed Pauline is with Oppenheimer, so much so that her honeymoon with Clifford is spent in Los Alamos where the atomic bomb was created.  This is where readers first meet them, and may be stunned by the emotional distance between the newlyweds.  As the story begins unfolding, Pauline continues to exhibit emotional distance, as if she is disconnected from her feelings and every moment of her life must be plotted and thought out thoroughly before she acts.

The stories of Pauline and Clifford’s marriage and how it builds is in parallel to the third person POV tale about the building of Los Alamos and the atomic bomb.  While Weiss uses an interesting premise, particularly the bomb itself to signify the creation of relationships and families and their destruction, the first person POV of Pauline’s life is more captivating.  She’s pulled between her desires to be a wife and mother and her old life, feeling a disconnect from her friends and life in Philadelphia, but there is a greater desperation within her.

“Although I envied his serenity, I sometimes wished I could get him to grab onto some of my challenges, to declare himself, to fight back.”  (page 12)

While Clifford is often compared to Oppenheimer by Pauline for his angular facial features and his bookish intelligence, she acts more like the scientists as she parents her son.  Like the atom bomb they created to end the war — all wars — Jasper is an experiment to be tinkered with and nurtured.  Readers will often question Pauline’s emotional state and whether she has the depth necessary to care for a child, herself, and her husband.  She’s an enigma, much like Oppenheimer was.  Readers easily find the parallels in this narrative, but Weiss’s characters appear to be more like caricatures of people, rather than complex human beings.

My God, What Have We Done? by Susan V. Weiss is an attempt to draw wider conclusions about logically minded people, and will prompt readers to self examine.  However, the struggle through the shifting points of view and story lines may bog down some readers’ enjoyment of her tale.  Ultimately, the premise was unique, and the struggle of a new housewife was interesting, but the Oppenheimer sections were a bit dry and read like a laundry list of encounters rather than a fictionalized account of true events.

 

 

Please check out the rest of the stops on the TLC Book Tour by clicking the tour host icon at the left.

 

 

About the Author:

Susan V. Weiss is a writer and a teacher who lives in Burlington, Vermont. Her stories have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies. In addition to teaching adult literacy and expository and creative writing, she has initiated community-outreach writing projects for offenders, refugees, and homeless people.

 

 

This is my 56th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.