Monday, September 19, 2011

The Lake by Tananarive Due

The Lake is a part of the The Monster's Corner: Stories through Inhuman Eyes anthology, due out September 27th. When I found it available for online for free, I jumped at the chance to read it as it goes with the RIP Challenge, falling under Peril of the Short Story.

“The Lake” by Tananarive Due, tells the story of Abbie LeFleur, a lifetime Bostonian who hides her scales, webbed feet, and an incredible hunger for people. She’s relocated to Graceville to start her life anew when she sets her eyes on a young student in her English class.

Abbie Lafleur is a teacher who has relocated from Boston to Graceville, Florida for a fresh start. She left behind her parents and best friend Mary Kay, all of whom can't quite understand why Abbie wanted to go to rural Florida to teach. Abbie buys an old fixer-upper because it is on the lake and for the privacy it grants. She spends hot summer nights dipping into her own little piece of the lake. Soon strange things start happening to Abbie. Her body slowly changes, and her dreams are becoming vividly consumed by the lake. Abbie seems to enjoy the newness of her body, for aids her late night swims which she's enjoying more and more.

Abbie undertakes the help of one of her summer school students and his cousin. She pays the two to work on her house, meanwhile, her appetite for something more than every day food becomes overwhelming. The raw meat and fish she's been eating is no longer cutting it and she wants to move on to something bigger, something better...

The Lake was interesting. It wasn't creepy or haunting, something I was expecting from a story coming from this anthology, and Abbie was a left pretty much a mystery, which is strange since this is her story, through her eyes. In a way the story raises the issue of teacher/student relationships. There was no explicit relationship, but Abbie had a predatory nature about here where her male students were concerned. I'm not sure if that was entirely a side effect of the changes she was experiencing through the lake or if that was just Abbie. It didn't help that her best friend's name was Mary Kay (Letourneau, anyone?) and Abbie mused that a teacher/student relationship Mary Kay once had with a student ended up working out.

The fact that Abbie was not startled by the changes to her body also troubled me. If I one day woke up with webbed toes and gills, I'd be very concerned. I reason that her lack of care and easy acceptance could have been due in part to the seduction of the lake, but I still wish there had been a little more explanation.

In the end, I was left with more questions than answers, and that doesn't make for a very satisfying read.

If you're interested, you can read The Lake here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tea Time: Lipton Bedtime Story

I'm in the latter months of pregnancy and it is becoming harder and harder to get a good nights sleep. I normally stay up, staring at the ceiling, tossing & turning, and glaring jealously at the Hubster, who goes out like a light as soon as his head hits the pillow.

Since any type of sleep aid is out of the question, I'm constantly on the lookout for decaffeinated tea to help relax me enough so that I can get to sleep. I have a go to that works okay, but when I couldn't find that brand at the grocery, I reached for Bedtime Story - since in the tag line it expressed being Caffeine Free and made with Real Spearmint and Chamomile Flowers.

Upon opening the box, I was hit with the tingly scent of Spearmint. I brewed a cup, curiously wondering if the tea would be more minty than I wanted. After letting it steep for a few minutes, I added a little sugar, honey & lemon and sipped. Delicious! It's a relaxing blend of Chamomile with a soft minty note. The Spearmint is not overpowering like I had worried it might be.

The ingredients are listed as Spearmint Leaves, Chamomile Flowers, Peppermint Leaves, Orange Peel, Lemon Grass, Spice, Chicory Root. I would say that along with the Chamomile and Mint flavors, the Chicory Root, stands out, giving the tea a hint of earthiness.

Bedtime Story definitely relaxed me. I had no problem getting to sleep that night. It's become a part of my nightly routine and I've been sleeping like a baby (pun intended) ever since.

Next Book up for review: Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim

A Taste of Honey was an impulse buy for me. I saw the cover, the title, and that it was a compilation of short stories and thought, why not? I was expecting the stories to be stand alone, and I guess they could be if one read them at random, but to read them in sequence opens the reading experience and makes the book that much more poignant.

Set during the summer of 1967 in St. Louis, Missouri, A Taste of Honey begins like a nostalgic tale that your father, uncle or grandfather would recount to you of their childhood. It's personal, intimate, reminiscent. Set around the fictional neighborhood of Gateway City, it includes a cast of characters and their stories. Nine-year-old Crispus Jones is at the heart of it all. Struggling with being the youngest of three boys, Crispus can't help but feel lacking. Both his brothers seem to have gotten all the good looks, charm and bravery. Teased relentlessly by his handsome brother, Schom, a sensitive Crispus stumbles through his awkward pre-teen years.

There is Rose. Her beautiful singing voice can hush the birds twittering, and entrance a whole audience but behind closed doors she is the victim of abuse at the hands of her husband. Downtrodden and desperate, Rose is at her wits end when a blessing comes her way.

Then there is Roderick aka The Genius. Brilliant and young, Roderick is his reclusive mother's pride and joy. But being too smart in Gateway City makes him an outcast and he's picked on by a gang of neighborhood kids called the Decatur clan. An unlikely person helps the head-in-a-book Roderick realize that there's more to life than just books. Sometimes friendship can make all the difference.

These are just a few of the stories A Taste of Honey shares. There are more characters to get to know with stories, each one as wistful as the one before it, all of them threading together to create a look into a time period long gone. Coming in at 205 pages, A Taste of Honey reads like the title implies; to the point and sweet. The pages are filled with easy prose and vivid characters who are all, as Crispus Jones' mother would say, "going through changes." If you happen upon this book, don't hesitate to pick it up. You won't regret it.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Movie Review: The Forgotten

The Forgotten is my first movie for the RIP VI Peril on the Screen challenge. Since I normally watch movies that fit into the Peril on the Screen category this time of year, I figured tying them in with the challenge would be a good idea.

The Forgotten is the story of Telly, a grieving mother who lost her only son, Sam, in a plane crash fourteen months prior to the start of the movie. She is having a difficult time dealing with the loss and is seeing a psychotherapist to help her come to terms. Telly has shut herself off from the outside world and even her husband. She spends her days looking in old photo albums at pictures of Sam and watching family videos where he is front and center.

When all evidence of Sam's life begins to disappear from the albums and home videos, she is told by her therapist and husband that the son she believed she had never existed. Sam was made up by Telly as a way to cope with mental break. Telly is disbelieving and sets out to get answers. She seeks out Ash, the father of a girl who was killed in the same crash as her son, only to find out that he has no recollection of the crash or his daughter. After lots of convincing, she gets Ash to remember and together they set out to find out why the memories of their children are being stripped away.

I would classify The Forgotten as a mystery/thriller with very sketchy sci-fi elements. As a mystery, the movie works well. The initial set up is interesting and I was invested, trying to piece together the mystery from the beginning. It also works as a thriller as there was enough action, escaping and near misses to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Unfortunately, the science fiction aspect is where the movie starts to lose steam and essentially fall apart. There is little explanation of the whys and hows when it comes to the sci-fi elements. That element seems to have been added as a device to make The Forgotten more than just a mystery. The first hint of something otherworldly comes in halfway through the movie and it is then forefront with no real rhyme or reason. If I was a presumptuous person, I would say that the writers wrote themselves into a corner and used the sci-fi element as a way out. It comes off as a manipulation and not authentic in any way.

Because of my problems with the science fiction, this is not a movie I would watch again, nor would I recommend it to a true science fiction lover, for fear of being cursed. For me, The Forgotten was a nice rainy-day movie, full of atmosphere and suspense. Not horrible in the least, just not my cup of tea.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Review: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

As most all book readers know, Borders is going out of business. If your local Borders hasn't closed its doors yet, then it is inevitable that they will close soon. With 8 days left, my local borders has marked down books as much as 80%! I stopped by yesterday, as I have been doing once a week since Borders announced the closing, and browsed with a heavy heart. I'm sad to see it go and not just because it is the closest book store to me. I just hate to see the decline of such a staple. Who doesn't love a book store?

Unable to resist such deals, I picked up a few books and Silver Sparrow was one of them. The extend of my knowledge of the book came only from the couple times I'd come across while perusing Amazon. But when I saw it sitting there, stating at me, so pretty a cover at a fraction of the original price, I snatched it off the shelf and went to check out.

It turned out to be a great impulse buy.

My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother.

So begins Silver Sparrow.

Set in Atlanta during the 1980's Silver Sparrow tells the story of sisters, four months apart, Dana Lynn Yarbaro and Chaurisse Witherspoon, their father, James Witherspoon and their mothers Gwendolyn and Lavern.The story is told in two parts, starting with with Dana's first person narrative and then Chaurisse takes up the second half. The narratives, just like the girls, couldn't be more different.

Dana with her pretty looks and wise beyond her years demeanor is very much the product of living her whole life knowing that she was a secret and that her father had another wife and daughter that lived in the same city as she and her mother. Her matter of fact voice, frankly details the coming together of her parents, revealing how it came to be that her already married father ended up marrying her mother years later. There is a sadness to Dana that grips you through the pages. Her tough on the outside facade is a cover for the internal turmoil she struggles with. It is apparent in the first few pages that Dana, though her father's first daughter, feels second best in his heart.

In my mind, Chaurisse is his real daughter. With wives it only matters who gets there first. With daughters, the situation is a bit more complicated.

It would seem that with daughters it only matters if they were born to the first wife and in Chaurisse's case she reaped the benefits of being the daughter of James' first and real wife. Chaurisse, plain and plump is naive and almost innocent in her narrative. She and her mother are both ignorant of her father's double life. He has always been a loving father to her and a good husband to her mother. The bitterness that tinges Dana's narrative is nowhere to be found in Chaurisse's. She is less frank and more self deprecating, seen quite clearly in her description of her parents and in essence, herself.

If you saw them walking down the street, if you noticed them at all, you would think the two of them might produce invisible children.

If Chaurisse is invisible, she is that to everyone but Dana, who sees her in a way that she doesn't see herself. To Dana, Chaurisse has it all. A house, a family, but mostly, their father. She gets the recognition that Dana never has. She is able to go out with their father and be claimed publicly by him. She unknowingly gets first billing with everything, from what camp she can attend to what job she can have. If Dana happened to be accepted to something that Chaurisse had been also, Dana couldn't go. If Dana and Chaurisse got a job at the same place, Dana had to not accept. Their father, so bent on keeping his second life a secret, had forbid Dana from ever going anywhere near Chaurisse.

Due to the constant slights, an inevitable bitterness grows within Dana and she rebels, doing exactly everything her father has ever kept her from doing.

Silver Sparrow is a truly gripping novel. I sat down to read it early yesterday afternoon and finished it before sundown. Jones' writing is so crisp and readable that the pages seemed to turn themselves. I was completely engrossed in Dana and Chaurisse's lives and I was hopeful that somehow they would be able to make something good out of the mess they'd inherited.

The characterization is rich yet simplistic. The characters are not overdone, they quietly manifest through their actions and effortless writing. The premise of bigotry was taken on in a way that I haven't seen represented before. This is no Big Love where everyone is one big happy family. This has no religious backing. It is simply bad decision making and deceit. Tayari Jones took on the topic of bigotry and gave it a face, a family, and two innocent sisters. I enjoyed every minute of it.