Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Prejudice: Stories About Hate, Ignorance, Revelation and Transformation, edited by Daphne Muse

(hb; 1995: children's story anthology)

From the inside flap:

"Prejudice.  It can be as subtle as a look, or as blatant as a fist in the face.  It's befriending an outcast only so long as no one finds out.  Or realizing that your teachers' expectations of you are based on your gender or the color of your skin.

"This collection of thought-provoking stories reveals many facets of prejudice.  In Fran Arrick's Chernowitz!, a young boy is bewildered by the hatred of an anti-Semitic schoolmate - and by his best friend's desertion.  In Jacqueline Woodson's Maizon at Blue Hill, a teenager begins to recognize her own ignorance when she confronts her assumptions about white people.  And in Flannery O'Connor's 'Revelation,' a moment of self-realization transforms a woman's complacent view of herself and her world.  Among the other selections are works by Lynda Barry, Sandra Cisneros, Chris Crutcher, and Ntozake Shange. . ."


Good, theme-focused, kid-friendly and instance-diverse collection that reveals prejudice - and sometimes its answer - in an entertaining, if often sad and/or provocative manner.  Stories/novel excerpts that stood out for their excellence: Lynda Barry's "from The Good Times Are Killing Me"; Mavis Hara's "Carnival Queen"; Marie G. Lee's "Finding My Voice"; Jacqueline Woodson's "from Maizon at Blue Hill"; and Chris Crutcher's "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune".

Worth checking out, this.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Violet Eyes by John Everson

(oversized pb; 2013)

From the back cover:

"The small town near the Everglades was supposed to offer Rachel and her son a fresh start.  Instead it offered the start of a nightmare, when an unknown breed of flies migrated through the area, leaving painful bites in their wake.  The media warned people to stay inside until the swarm passed.  But the flies didn't leave.  And then the radios and TVs went silent.

"That's when the spiders came.  Spiders that could spin a deadly web large enough to engulf an entire house overnight.  Spiders that left stripped bones behind as they multiplied.  Spiders that, like the flies, sought hungrily for tender flesh through Violet Eyes."


Violet is a good, old school-style horror novel - it's got bugs, an abusive spouse, a legitimate corporate conspiracy and it's set in Passanattee (fictional, I'm guessing), Florida, where there's plenty of the aforementioned bugs.  Everson's characters' actions and attitudes, if sometimes reader-frustrating, ring true - not only that, the author imbues these characters with surprising but believable character-balance impulses;  the kill-scenes are creative and impressively cinematically icky; the straightforward writing kept me intrigued. . . in short, Everson's solid and spirited writing made feel like I was reading some of the experimental-nature-gone-bloodily-awry novels of my not-long-ago youth.

I didn't care for the ending, but it wasn't out of squeamishness regarding certain characters, it was a preference on my part.  That said, it rang true - like the characters' behavior.

Worth owning, this.

Friday, November 15, 2013

**Peter Baltensperger's Far From the Leaking Stars was published on the Pink Litter site

Peter Baltensperger, whose Nocturnal Tableaux* graced the Microstory A Week site in October 2012, has had another microstory published: Far From the Leaking Stars, on the Pink Litter site.

Stars details, in sensory-intense fashion, a woman's sexual restlessness while riding on a train with her sleeping lover.  Fans of Baltensperger's previous works won't want to miss his latest microtale.  T
his work and the site are for adults only.

Check this story out!


*Nocturnal Tableaux also appears in Baltensperger's story/vignette anthology Inside from the Outside.

**Two of my erotic poems were republished on the Pink Litter site

Two of my erotic poems - Kyoto: chican and Worlds shown, worlds to come - were republished on the Pink Litter site. (Big thanks to Misty Rampart, who published it!)

Kyoto: chican sketches a carnal transaction between a school girl-outfitted woman and her client in a Japanese subway-themed club.

Worlds shown, worlds to come is a four-part poem that charts the emotional and sexual journey of a longtime punk couple, from youth to middle age.

Pink Litter is an adults-only site, so if you're under the age of eighteen you may want to skip these works. However, if you are a legal adult who appreciates (post)punky attitude, sensuality and poetry, check these poems out!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

(pb; 2010, 2011, 2013: nonfiction/memoir)

From the back cover:

"With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before.  But that past has caught up with her.  Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187-424 - one of the millions of people who disappear 'down the rabbit hole' of the American penal system.  From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules.  She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance.  Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman's story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison - why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they're there."


Good, interesting, waste-no-words and sometimes surprising - in pleasant ways - book.  There's plenty of heart and humor in this down-to-earth, non-flashy read.  Check it out.


Orange debuted as a Netflix series on July 11, 2013.  The show, which is scheduled for a second season in 2014, was created by Jenji Kohan (who also created the Showtime/cable show Weeds). 

Taylor Schilling plays Piper Chapman (fictional stand-in for author Piper Kerman).  Laura Prepon plays Alex Vause.  Jason Biggs plays Larry Bloom.  Natasha Lyonne, who co-starred with Biggs in the original American Pie trilogy, plays Nicky Nichols. 

Danielle Brooks plays Tasha 'Taystee' Jefferson.   Kate Mulgrew plays Galina 'Red' Reznkov.  Taryn Manning plays Tiffany 'Pennastucky' Doggett.  Michelle Hurst plays Miss Claudette Pelage. 

Michael Harney plays Sam Healy.  Pablo Schreiber plays George 'Pornstache' Mendez.

The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray, by Mitzi Szereto

(pb; 2013: erotic/supernatural novel)

From the back cover:

"Inspired by Oscar Wilde's classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mitzi Szereto continues where Wilde left off in her Faustian tale of a man with eternal youth and great physical beauty who lives a life of corruption, decadence and hedonism.  The story begins in the bordellos of Jazz-Age Paris, moving to the opium dens of Marrakesh and the alluring anonymity of South America.  Will love be Dorian's redemption or his final curse?"


Wilde is a focused burn-through-it read.  Szereto masterfully balances memorable characterization, supernatural (often horrific) elements, and a visually and exquisitely realized eroticism, bringing them together in a gripping book that actually had me rooting for Gray's underlying quest for redemption, despite his (emotionally) grotesque debaucheries and eras.  This is one of the best erotic-supernatural themed novels that I've read in a long while - and one of the few that may be worth re-reading, not only for pleasure but for pointers on how to write a character-rich, era-seamless tale that not only builds on a classic work but matches Wilde's Gray in its excellence.

Worth owning, this.

Friday, November 08, 2013

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

(hb; 2013: twenty-third book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"The first [corpse] was a local PI of suspect reputation.  He'd been gunned down near the beach at Santa Teresa.  It looked like a robbery gone bad.  The other was found on the beach six weeks later.  He'd been sleeping rough.  Probably homeless.  No identification.  A slip of paper with Kinsey Millhone's name and number was in his pants pocket.  The coroner asked her to come down to the morgue to see if she could ID him.

"Two seemingly unrelated deaths, one a murder, the other apparently from natural causes.

"But as Kinsey digs deeper into the mystery of the John Doe, some very strange links begin to emerge.  Before long, at least one problem is solved when Kinsey literally finds the key to the John Doe's identity.

" 'And just like that,' she says, 'the lid to Pandora's box flew open.  It would take me another day before I understood how many imps had been freed, but for the moment, I was inordinately pleased with myself.'

"In this multilayered tale, the surface seems clear-cut, but beneath them is a fault line of betrayals, misunderstandings, age-old resentments, unnerving complications, and outright murderous fraud.  And Kinsey, through no fault of her own, finds herself thoroughly compromised."


W is for Wasted is another engaging PI-suspense novel from Grafton.  She once again imbues her work with a palpable sense of anything-goes danger, and its white-knuckle climax and equally satisfying wrap-up left me impatient for the next Kinsey novel.

That said, I can see why readers who prefer Grafton's leaner, earlier writing might be put out by the last few books in the Kinsey series - yes, they're more chatty at times; yes, they cut between multiple POVs* (in W it's limited to two). These flaws - minor (for me) - didn't prevent me from enjoying W.

If you fall into the "Kinsey's gone to crap" camp, don't bother reading W or anything Grafton writes in the future. Move on, find other authors who make you happy - life, especially in this age of don't-think-just-immediately-respond technology, is negative enough without seeking/creating more unnecessary unpleasantness. . . Or, if you feel you must (try to) read W, check it out from the library. Then that way, you won't have directly spent money on it.

Followed by X.

[*points of view]

Monday, November 04, 2013

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

(hb; 2013: sequel to Damned)

From the back cover:

"The bestselling Damned chronicled Madison Spencer's journey across the unspeakable (and really gross) landscape of the afterlife to confront the Devil himself.  But her story isn't over yet.  In a series of electronic dispatches from the Great Beyond, Doomed describes the ultimate showdown between Good and Evil.

"After a Halloween ritual gone awry, Madison finds herself trapped in Purgatory - or, as mortals like you and I know it, Earth.  She can see and hear every detail of the world she left behind, yet she's invisible to everyone who's still alive.  Not only do people look right through her, they walk through her as well.  The upside is that, no longer subject to physical limitations, she can pass through doors and walls.  Her first stop is her parents' luxurious apartment, where she encounters the ghost of her long-deceased grandmother.  For Madison, the encounter triggers memories of the awful summer she spent upstate with Nana Minnie and her grandfather, Papadaddy.  As she revisits the painful truth of what transpired over those months (including a disturbing and finally fatal meeting in a fetid men's room, in which. . . well, never mind), her saga of eternal damnation takes on a new and sinister meaning.  Satan has had Madison in his sights from the very beginning: through her and her narcissistic celebrity parents, he plans to engineer an era of eternal damnation.  For everyone."


As darkly satirical, snarky, conspiracy-minded and voice-true as its predecessor novel, Doomed is a solid follow-up that expands on its source work.  I found myself semi-regularly cringing and laughing out loud at this zing-laden and otherwise fun read, which may put off some fans who prefer Palahniuk's earlier, edgier and considerably darker work.

It's not Palahniuk's best novel, but like Damned, it's notably different than the rest of his books, and still worth checking out - perhaps from a library, for readers who prefer the aforementioned edgier, earlier work.  (Be forewarned that the ending of Doomed leaves little doubt that there's a second Madison-based sequel forthcoming.) 

Lady Lack, by Misty Rampart

(pb; 2012: erotic poetry mini-anthology)

Overall review:

Lady Lack is a fifteen-page, excellent raunch-and-romance verse anthology, from its tell-don't-show pieces (e.g., "Puritanical Theories") to its visually-better pieces (see below) and its multipart mini-epics ("Fairy Tales").  Rampart, with engaging ease, pulled me into her thought-provoking work, whether she was blurring and challenging the lines of what (inherently) constitutes kink, how gender roles and carnal history really "mark" us as individuals, etc.

I didn't love every poem in this super-short collection, but every poem had some element - a line, a notion, a tone, whatever - that drew me in, sometimes challenged my outlook, and - more importantly - stuck  with me, as a reader.

Superb verse anthology, this - one of my all-time favorites, as of this writing.

Standout poems:

1.)   "Hallulejah Roughrider": Good visuals in this one.  This intense, effective poem contrasts the truth of a woman's sexual identity and desires versus her lover-perceived self and history. 

2.)   "It":  One of my favorite poems in this mini-anthology.  Swinging takes a toll on a couple - the last line caps the poem up with a stunning visual.

3.)   "Scar Tissue":  Sad-hued, semi-emotive revealing of a kink-minded and troubled sexual relationship.  Was immediately immersed in this one.

4.)   "Heart on a Chain":  A woman's erotic devotion to her man - and vice-versa - conjures deeper, (possibly) ambivalent wonderings.  Striking end-line to this.

5.)   "Over the rainbow":  Excellent poem about romance and raunchy familiarity with a lover.  This is also one of my favorite poems in this collection, with some especially standout lines ("You are meat muscle magic without the / music. / You are a throbbing holiday, / a celebration.")

6.)   "China Doll":  Headrush-style write, merging rough sex and art.

7.)   "The King Arises":  Shakespeare-referencing take on the (possible) cause and effect of lust and death.

8.)   "Pink Litter":  Lust takes an especially dark and line-scattered turn.

9.)   "The way of the world":  The thrill of the new, and relative monogamy - enjoyable or not - are tested and reinforced.  Incisive, effective.

<em>The Freak</em> by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome ) From the back cover “He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of ...