‘And now for something completely different’

“Let’s face it, writing is hell.”
~William Styron

writers almanacI thought it was about time to take a break from the book reviews, and my attempts at writing articles I think may interest people, and hand today over to those who actually know what they are about.  Today, Wednesday August 28, 2013, I am turning my blog over to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”.  For those of you reading who may not be familiar with this web site, it contains daily poems, prose, and literary history from Garrison Keillor, and other Authors.  Not only do these great folks keep this website full of wonderful tidbits, they also produce a podcast for us to listen to as we go about our day.  So, without further ado, take it away “The Writer’s Almanac”:

“Song of Smoke
by Kevin Young

To watch you walk
cross the room in your black

corduroys is to see
civilization start—
the wish-
whish-whisk

of your strut is flint
striking rock—the spark

of a length of cord
rubbed till

smoke starts—you stir
me like coal

and for days smolder.
I am no more

a Boy Scout and besides,
could never

put you out—you
keep me on

all day like an iron, out
of habit—

you threaten, brick—
house, to burn

all this down. You leave me
only a chimney.

“Song of Smoke” by Kevin Young, From Jelly Roll © Knopf, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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It’s the birthday of the father of German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , born in Frankfurt, Germany (1749), the author of the epic drama Faust.

He moved to Italy in 1786, and when he returned to Germany two years later, he fell in love with a woman from Weimer, Christiane Vulpius, a 23-year-old who was 16 years his junior. That year, he wrote her an epithalamium, a wedding poem, but he didn’t actually marry her; instead, the couple lived together for 18 years unwed. That is, until one night, Christiane saved Goethe’s life by driving off a band of Napoleon’s soldiers who had broken in their home. Goethe went down to a church the very next day and married her, his live-in girlfriend of 18 years.

In 1806, the same year of the home invasion and marriage, Goethe published a preliminary version of Part I of his great work, Faust, the story of a brilliant scholar named Heinrich Faust, who makes a deal with the devil. The great epic has it all: seduction, murder, sleeping potions, an illegitimate love child, a stray poodle that transforms into the devil, contracts signed with blood, imprisonment in dungeons, heavenly voices, and even redemption. Faust is often called a “closet drama” because it’s intended to be read, not performed. Goethe spent 50 years working on this two-volume masterpiece, finishing it in 1832, the year of his death.

Christiane survived for only a decade after her and Goethe’s wedding. In later life, after recovering from a heart disease that nearly killed him, the 73-year-old Goethe fell passionately in love with an 18-year-old woman, Ulrike von Levetzow, and was devastated when she turned down his proposals of marriage.

Goethe, who said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

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It’s the birthday of poet Rita Dove , born in Akron, Ohio (1952). Her father had a master’s degree in chemistry but had to work as an elevator operator because he was black. He eventually became the first African-American chemist to work for Goodyear Tires.

He encouraged his daughter to take advantage of education, and she was at the top of her class. She was chosen as one of 100 of the best high school students in the country to visit the president of the United States. Her parents assumed that she would go on to become a doctor or lawyer, so when she announced that she wanted to be a poet, they weren’t sure what to make of it. She said, “[My father] swallowed once and said, ‘Well, I’ve never understood poetry, so don’t be upset if I don’t read it.'” Her teachers at college told her that she was throwing her education away if she didn’t study something more practical.

But with her poetry collection Thomas and Beulah (1986), based loosely on the lives of her grandparents, she became only the second African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and she went on to become the first African-American national poet laureate.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Guest Host: Billy Collins
Host: Garrison Keillor
Writers: Betsy Allister, Holly Vanderhaar
Technical Director: Thomas Scheuzger
Engineer: Noah Smith
Producer: Joy Biles
Permissions: Kathy Roach
Web Producer: Ben Miller”

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‘You are NOT allowed to read that!’

bebelplatz-berlin-memorial-to-burned-books

Bebelplatz Book Burning Memorial

 ‘The fact that anybody wants to burn a book shows you how powerful the physical object is, both as itself and as a symbol’ ~ Chuck Wendig.

Until I married my American Husband I was not fully aware of the fact that there are people out there who want to restrict my access to the types of book I read, not just fiction but non-fiction as well.  I was also naive in thinking that book burning was a thing of history; for example the May 10 1933 book burning in Berlin, the monument to which I have visited.  Book burning is also a thing of the 21st century and takes places in America for various reasons; Non-approved Bibles, books and music in Canton, North Carolina in 2009; Tolkien’s works publicly burned in Alamogordo, NM, in 2001 as satanic.  Really?  In the 21st Century, here in America, intelligent people would fail to celebrate Tolkien’s masterful achievement and, instead, find it threatening enough to burn it?

I feel it would be amiss of me as a lover of the printed word not to write about this form of censorship and, how we are slowly creeping towards a more complete ‘Nanny State’ where we are told what is good for us, and how much of it we can consume.  I understand that there needs to be checks and balances in place for some things, but when it comes to art, and to me writing is an art form, personal choice needs to be allowed to run free.  If, after reading the synopsis of a book on a fly-leaf, we feel uncomfortable or it may be against our beliefs, we have the choice to put the book down and find something more to our tastes.

jailed-book1If you are completely confused by this topic, I’m referring to the upcoming Banned Books Week.  Whether you may be blissfully unaware, or choose to pretend it doesn’t exist, it does with challenged and banned books spanning all genres and reading age groups.  But what is Banned Books Week?  It is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read that is typically held during the last week of September and highlighting the value of free and open access to information; it brings together the book community, from reader to publisher, like nothing else can as they share their support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some may consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship, and all of the books featured during this week have been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools, by individuals or groups. While books have been and continue to be banned, the fact is that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available, unless you happened to be in Alamogordo NM, where not only Tolkien but the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling were committed to the flames.

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Although we are still a month out from Banned Book Week, I strongly feel it is an issue that needs to get publicity not just for one week of every year but all the time.  However, I know how difficult this would be so, in my attempt to stand up for an art form that gives me great pleasure, as well as broadening my mind and horizons, I am going to focus all of my posts for the week of 22-28 September 2013 with books that have been challenged since the beginning of the 21st century.  I will be choosing four books and proudly showcasing them on the blog.

I am giving you all advance warning of this, in case there are some people out there who would rather not see these books blazoned across their computer screen, and they will know to give my reviews a miss for that week.  I will not just be showcasing the books that week, but also listing why these books were challenged and also giving a little background on the Authors.  List of nominees for this week of challenged books are:

2001 – Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
2002 – Harry Potter (series)*, by J.K. Rowling (because I have never read any Harry Potter books)
2003 – The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1), by Jonathan Stroud
2004 – The Alice Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
2005 – Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
2006 – The Handmaids Tale, by Margaret Atwood
2007 – The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
2008 – His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
2009 – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, by John Berendt
2010 – Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
2011 – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, by Alan Moore
2012 – The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeanette Walls
*Please note, where books are part of a series, I will only be featuring the first.

One last thing to bear in mind, and an indication of just how out of hand some of these book challenges are becoming; in 2010 in the Menifee, Calif. Union School District pulled the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because a parent complained when a child came across the term ‘oral sex’.  Officials for the District said, at the time it was pulled, that they are forming a committee to consider a permanent ban of the dictionary; whether they went ahead with this is not known.

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Review: The Crying of the Children ~ Peggi Lennard

The Crying of the children19th century Britain; Joseph Skinner wanted Ellie to disappear and he didn’t care where to. He wanted Thomas to rot in the cellar, Little Will to lie silent in the mud, his workers to work harder and his wife to remain sedated in bed, where she could cause no trouble. But his wife fought back. Dr. Taylor helped her. Mandrake Jnr. was always on hand. And Ellie? Well Ellie had quite a journey.

 

3 Thumbs-Up

This Authors debut novel is definitely not a book for those who have a weak stomach, or are easily upset by the written word.  I’m not one of these types, but even I found that, at times, I had to put this book down and walk away to regroup my emotions and my mind; it is that disturbing in parts.

The locations for the novel is the very grim and very private world of Victorian England so, with this in mind it is not surprising to see there is very little real depth or back story to any of the characters; and this is how it would’ve have been in real life, Wives would have known little about their Husbands and the servants would have known how to keep their mouths shut.  In abiding by this social expectation, in her writing the Author actually paints in very vivid detail the personalities and traits that make up her characters; and there is a very large list of them ranging from a despicable wealthy man of society right down to the lowest of the low.

To live in poverty in 19th century Britain was not how we see living in poverty in 21st century Britain, and the Author has done an outstanding job of capturing the misery of those in this situation.  She has held back no punches when it comes to describing the choices open to these people, and what they had to do just to survive from day-to-day.  Her descriptions of ‘parental’ discipline are graphic and moving, and serve to illustrate that children were regarded as a disposable commodity.

There were places in this novel were the hand of a good proof-reader and editor would have come into play, and made the book even more haunting.  In places the Author gets her characters mixed up, and I found myself having to flip back the pages to get them straight in my own head.  This did detract from my enjoyment of the book, but still made it something I wanted to read on to the end to discover what the outcome would be.

I would recommend this novel to lovers of the history genre, both fiction and non-fiction as, at times, this novel becomes something more than just a story; it turns into a social commentary of the times it covers.

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Review: D*E*D Dead ~ Larry ‘Animal’ Garner

DEDD*E*D Dead is the tale of a man whose conscience makes him take on his motorcycle club for their manufacture and sale of crystal meth, coupled with their use of young girls to fill their pockets with cash. His efforts leave the Club in disarray, members hiding from the law and each other.

It’s 1990, before cell phones and the internet. Leaving Virginia with a vague idea of hiding out at a friend’s house in southern Tennessee, he’s on the run, hiding from the Club, the Cops, and the Feds, he uncovers a plot to upset the balance of power in the northern Alabama/southern Tennessee meth trade.

Joined by his old Navy buddy and a small group of locals, including a pair of strong, capable women, our protagonist is once again plotting ways to dismantle the Club’s illegal empire. This time, he has help!

Join in as this crew hits back at those who have ruined the lives of many of their friends, neighbors, and family.

One thing is certain; people are liable to end up dead, D-E-D, DEAD!

3 Thumbs-Up

If the thought of anyone dropping the F-bomb makes you die a little inside, then you are well advised to give this book a very wide berth.  If it doesn’t bother you all that much then put on body armour and jump right in, as this book has F-bombs exploding liberally throughout its pages.  The reason for this is quite clear, the book in set in the world of outlawed motorcycle clubs, think Sons of Anarchy but 100 times worse and depraved.  There is sex, drugs, strip clubs and violence; lots of violence and not pretty either.  There are scenes of gang rape and drug production; so you can see this novel is not for the faint of heart or people with a sensitive stomach.

There really isn’t a great deal of back-story to any of the characters in this book but then again they are all, for the most part, criminals and the readers probably know as much about them as the other members of their respective MCs know, as they progress through the novel.  I didn’t think this lack of character development detracted from this book at all, rather it added to its rough and gritty feel and to have ‘fluffed’ them out would have pulled some of the reality from the topic.  The main lead again is not very deep all we find out about him are bits and pieces, mainly that he’s ex-military.  The one thing I did find a little unbelievable was, after being involved with his club for so long, he suddenly gained a conscience and decides to act on morals that, up until this point he really had not shown.  I was hoping that because the book was written in the first person, present tense point of view I may have been able to pick up hints as to what the main lead was really like, but this was not to be the case.

The scene setting was excellently written but, I felt, that it did not make up for the length of the book which is 600 pages; and this is the major downfall of the book.  There are only so many diner meals we can read through without wanting to never visit any diner again; and does the reader really need a blow-by-blow account of the interstate route our main character is going to take travelling?  I feel a really good editor would have told the Author to lose at least half of the pages, and it would still have been a very good read.  As it stands it is fast paced and urgent in parts and almost comatose in others.   On the plus side though, the Author is one of a dying breed out there today, who actually writes in proper sentences bringing them to a conclusion not just chopping them off willy nilly.  This helps project a raw and reckless quality to the way the characters are living.  The Authors experience of this world, although not with an outlawed club, shines through in his writing and brings an extra touch of realism to the pages.

If not for the editing issues, and the sheer yawn factor of its length, I would have rated this higher; but I would still recommend it as a good adult read, but definitely not for the overly sensitive or the politically correct crowd.

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Review: Captured Lies ~ Maggie Thom

Captured Lies

She was kidnapped not once but twice and now someone wants her dead because of it….
Her life was a lie!
Bailey knew her upbringing wasn’t normal but she’s worked hard to stabilize her life. At 29, she finally has a good business, a stable home; her life is miles from that of her childhood. Then suddenly her mother dies, leaving a gaping hole and a discovery that they may not even be related. If Guy, the private investigator is to be believed, her life is a lie. Using the skills she learned on the streets, Bailey travels back through a sketchy and dangerous past, to find answers. Dodging bullets, staying ahead of those who want her dead and convincing Guy she can do it alone, are making it difficult to discover not only the secrets of her mother’s past but that of a family claiming she is theirs.
Everyone seems to have a story… but who’s telling the truth? And who wants her dead? Is Guy part of the solution? Or part of the problem? To discover the facts, she’ll have to untangle a web of deceit, lies, and secrets, dating back over thirty years.

3 Thumbs-Up

This is the debut novel for this writer, and indicates that she could be off to a promising start, with a little tweaking.

The novel is filled with a list of suspects as long as your arm, in fact for many people the list may be too long to keep track of.  This leads to a story that is surrounded by such a tangled web, it becomes unbelievable.  The characters are slightly more believable; although some of them do push the edge of that envelope in being so bad it would have been nice to have had some back-story to base their actions on.  The main female lead is a little wishy washy, in my opinion, given the hardships she had been through whilst growing up.  I felt that this aspect of the lead character could have been used in a more productive way to infuse her with a good strong willed and decisive personality.  The male lead was charming in the sort of way you would regard your eccentric uncle; he’s fun to be around but after a while he becomes a bit of a bore.  More time spent on character development would, again in my opinion, have added so much more depth to this novel.

The Author describes her books as”suspense, murder, mystery and romance all wrapped up in one…” fortunately there is a lack of romance in this novel, although it is hinted at in areas but, thankfully never developed.  As for the suspense, yes it’s there as is the murder and the mystery, but again so under-developed that, at times I felt I was reading an episode of a Mystery Machine cartoon.  One of the main suspects, after remaining in the dark and unnamed, for quite a few chapters is, for no apparent reason, suddenly revealed.  This really took the expectation of suspense out of the rest of the novel for me, which was so disappointing.  The ending was also a little sloppy; is there going to be another book featuring these 2 characters, or was this the way the closing was meant to be?

From the beginning this novel I had a nagging feeling worming away at the back of brain, that is resembled something else I knew of.  It wasn’t until I was a couple of chapters in that the Lindbergh baby kidnapping struck me.  I think this may have been entirely unintentional as the basis for the plot, at least I hope so.

Would I recommend this novel?  Yes.  If you are looking for a beach read, or something not too engrossing for a long haul flight, this would be the one for you, as long as you don’t open the cover expecting great things.  It’s the kind of novel you can dip in and out of, fall asleep over and not feel that you’ve been unfaithful to it while you weren’t reading it.  There are a few editing issues in the form of typos, extra commas and some grammatical errors, but these don’t get in the way of the story.  For me though, there were parts that I really loved, and others that just didn’t hit the spot.

 

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