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.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sunday Roundup: Links of Interest

The Library by Jacob Lawrence

Welcome to Sunday Roundup where I share some links of interest. I will try to make this a weekly thing, where we kick off each new week with some knowledge from the blogosphere.

Leslie Esdaile Banks aka L.A. Banks, passed away August 2, 2011 after a battle with adrenal cancer. She was 51. Banks was in part responsible for the flourish of the African American Paranormal boom with her acclaimed Vampire Huntress series.Tarajah from Rebel Artistry has a very nice write up about Banks titled Black People Read Science Fiction Too.

I came across an interview with author, Katrina Parker Williams on her newest release Trouble Down South and Other Stories. The questions asked are insightful. Check it out if you have the time.

There is a great write up and discussion on Romance University entitled, In His Shoes: Race and Gender in Romance by Wayne Jordan, where author Wayne Jordan talks about being a black, male romance writer. I would say this is a must read for all romance readers.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Exploring: The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

I first read The Upper Room in high school and remember ending the book feeling confused. Sure, I comprehended every word and read every thoughtfully crafted sentence and chapter, but I still felt like I hadn't even touched the surface of understanding the story. There was more, a message perhaps that if I went back and reread, I would probably get, but I had other books to move on to so that was the last of The Upper Room for me.

While going through unpacked boxes from my recent move the other day, I came across The Upper Room. My first instinct was to toss it aside and find Avatar, since that was what I was looking for. And I almost did, but then it struck me, that odd, old feeling that I had upon first finishing the book almost 10 years ago, that there was something more to the story than I originally took from it. So I set it aside for later reading.

Last night, I finished The Upper Room and was left troubled. These characters, who had been written with such care and attention to detail, this story that was so vivid and lively, left me, well, empty.

I fell asleep thinking about the book and still searching for the greater meaning. I mean, with a story as depressing as The Upper Room was, there had to be a reason to the rhyme, right?

Maybe, maybe not.

Warning: Since this an Exploring topic and not a Review, there will be spoilers included in the discussion.

Set in the mid 1960's, The Upper Room tells the story of Maureen growing up with a mother like Mama Ruby. Mama Ruby is a huge woman, described a morbidly obese. The floor is said to shake when she walks across it. In a descriptive passage where Ruby is being assisted by her 11 year old son, Virgil, off of the couch, she is described in such a way:
Ruby set the empty beer can on the floor and rose up from the sofa with great difficulty. Virgil ran across the room to assist her. He grabbed her arm to steady her, almost falling himself, for even with years of practice, balancing this elephantine woman was no easy feat. The boy's arms ached and he gasped.
Not only is Ruby a large presence physically, she's also a strong willed woman who is more likely to break a person in half before she bends to their demand. Ruby uses her belief in God as a crutch to not only herself but to those around her. She reasons her most heinous acts away with religion. The one thing she doesn't reason away is her problem with alcohol. Instead when she is asked by her best friend if the devil is the reason she drinks so much, Ruby frankly says no, that she is just an alcoholic with no one to blame but herself.

That is the one bit of self awareness Ruby shares with the reader throughout the whole story. She is otherwise, a highly enigmatic presence who is somehow able to rally the people of the town of Goons around her in both fear and admiration, maybe a little awe, too. It is almost sad to see how easily Ruby's neighbors are swayed by her. They do her bidding, worship her, and believe that she is the be all that in all in their small town. It seems that no one wants to point out to Ruby her many wrongs, instead pretending like they never happen or simply whispering about them behind her back. The one person who does, her son Virgil, either gets hit or Ruby reasons with him that everything is Gods doing.

He may be the one person who truly sees Ruby for who she is and yet he is still under her spell, which is understandable, she is his mother after all. Virgil knows all of her secrets. From the people she's killed and buried in the hot Florida swamps, to in Ruby's mind, her most deceitful crime, stealing her best friends infant child and raising the baby girl as her own.

Maureen was thought to be born dead. Ruby helped deliver her to her best friend since childhood, Othella, and when Maureen entered the world without a sound or a movement, both women believed her to be stillborn. Ruby was in charge of having the child buried but when she left Othella's place and got back to her own, the baby came to life. Instead of taking Maureen back to Othella, Ruby decided to keep her as her own because she always wanted a baby girl and this one looked just like the baby she had envisioned: Brown and dimpled with thick, jet black hair. Ruby could not give her up even with Virgil prompting her to. Instead Ruby took Virgil and infant Maureen and skipped town to Goons, Florida where she found a house with just one room upstairs that would be Maureen's.

Maureen spends her whole childhood under Ruby's watchful eye and thumb. She is treated as Ruby's prized possession. As child, she basks in that attention, knowing that she has Ruby as her protector gets her just about anything she could want. As she gets older, her thinking changes some. She begins to see Ruby as less of a magnificent figure and more as someone who is simply feared. She begins to realize that the so called respect that the townspeople have for Ruby is more fear than anything else. Maureen dreams of leaving Ruby and a few times tries to leave but she never gets far. Unlike Virgil who was able to get away due to the war, Maureen is truly stuck, more mentally than physically, but stuck just the same.

It takes a tragedy that shakes Maureen to the core to get her out from Ruby's rule and even then she is still not free.

Ruby is this great, larger than life figure in She almost seems unbeatable. She does what she wants an is never punished for it. Throughout the book, I kept waiting for Ruby to get what was coming for her and when it seemed like it was coming in the form of Othella, that went sour. In fact, that ended on such a bitter note, I almost stopped reading. The book was filled with happenings that went beyond real into the supernatural. Ruby ripping a man's arm clean off. Her ability to be stabbed in the chest multiple times and not flinch, then go on to choke someone off their feet. The way people went missing around her, never to be seen again. No one seemed bothered by any of these occurrences, the whole town was so utterly fearful of her that no one questioned a thing.

I don't know if one could truly be satisfied with the ending of this book. Maureen never finds out who she really is, who her real mother was. Instead, she is left believing that Othella was just a crazy woman who got what was coming to her for messing with Mama Ruby. Virgil, even though it seems that he wants to tell her or someone the truth, chickens out and never does.

I was left wondering if Ruby ever got her comeuppance. I guess if I look at Maureen finally leaving her as a punishment, then maybe she did? But since Ruby never thought that she had done wrong, even when she clearly had, then was that even a punishment? Not really, when she made it all about Maureen who had in some way done her wrong by leaving.

In the story, we never see Maureen recover from being Mama Ruby's prized child. Though the story is left on a note of promise of something new for Maureen, as a reader I'm not sure if Maureen could ever be truly be free of Ruby. Physically, yes, but mentally, Ruby was there to stay. You wonder how Maureen's life would have been different if she'd been raised by Othella, but then in some twisted fashion, because of what happened to Othella's other kids, you are almost happy that she hadn't been, because what if?

The Upper Room was truly a fascinating story about a sick minded woman and her daughter, Maureen. On the surface, it is interesting, well written, funny and full of wit. It's only when you dig a little deeper does it become something less than savory, a little bit miserable, and wholly unfulfilling.

Note: The Upper Room was originally published in 1985, yet doesn't feel dated in writing style. The prequel, Mama Ruby, was released July of this year. I may pick it up to garner a better understanding of the abominable Ruby. Maybe it will put The Upper Room in a new perspective. I can only hope.

Friday, September 02, 2011

RIP VI Challenge

My favorite time of year is fast approaching! Too bad I will not be able to see the leaves turn and feel the first bite of crisp Autumn air this year since I moved back to Hawaii in July. I can, however, read a couple of good, haunting books and light a pumpkin scented candle to put me in the Fall spirit. Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has just the challenge for someone like me, who loves a little spookieness this time of year, his great RIP Challenge. This is the 6th year he's hosted the challenge and my second time participating. It runs from Sept 1st to October 31st.

Carl was nice enough to give levels or participation or perils, as he calls them, to the challenge for those who may not have the time to read a certain amount or aren't as into the horror, mystery, dark fantasy, etc. as others. This year I've taken on the Peril the Second, which challenges the reader to read two books of any length that they believe fit within the challenge categories.

Easy peasy.

The two books I'll be reading for the challenge this year are The Good House by Tananarive Due and one other scary tale I have lying around in my TBR pile that will be determined at a later date. For the fun of it, I'm also going to do a flashback read with my 7 year old to a book I first read in third grade: Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hawn and maybe a few short's from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alan Schwartz, also a throwback for me.


About Me:

I'm Brie, a very avid reader and creator of the now defunct reader review blog, Musings of a Bibliophile.

I have a flair for the dramatic, a dry sense of humor, passion for all things literary, an active imagination, a desire to write a novel, a heart filled with love for my family, a sweet tooth, love of hot teas, adoration for lady bugs, and a loud need to quietly express myself.

This is me, welcome to my little nook.