AT THE END OF THE LINE by Kathryn Longino

At the end of the lineThis was an interesting story of two women living in different parts of the country,  how they connect, and the civil rights movement,  spanning the years from 1958 through 1972.  (or thereabouts.  I kind of forget exactly.)

Adeline Stewart Garrison, Liddie to her friends, who married well, knows Joe Kennedy and the like, and lives in Boston, bored and disenchanted with her life.

Beatrice Mae Eddleston,  known as Beanie, at age 15 is forced by her Mormon parents to be the third wife of a much older man,  an Elder in the church in their town in Utah.   The despotic husband makes her give up her piano lessons because the teacher was allowing her to play jazz.  The teacher moves and gives Beanie her phone number on a music sheet, but the husband tears it up into little pieces.

After being abused for her miscarriages by the husband, (the abuse abetted by the sister wives trying to make their own lot easier), while cleaning, Beanie finds a shard of that phone number, missing two numbers.  She is determined to contact her teacher for help by calling variations of the number,  and by accident connects with Adeline, who sends her money via Western Union so Beanie can leave her abusive situation and go to Boston for a fresh start.  The husband discovers this, and she is unable to leave, practically held prisoner.  Through letters and phone calls, she remains in contact with Adeline, and they develop a long-distance friendship that continues for several decades.

Beanie finally escapes, gets a bus to Chicago which is as far as her money will take her, and serendipitously finds a job playing jazz piano in a bar, and a cheap apartment over the bar.  Through the Black musicians she performs with, she learns of the civil rights movement, and the rest of the book is the story of the two women’s disparate lives, and how they finally meet.

Kathryn Dionne and Abby L. Vandiver cowrote the book under the pen name Kathryn Longino, which would account for its sometimes choppy flow, and the occasional clearly different writing styles.  However, this does not seriously interfere with an excellent story about two women and of the country itself during those turbulent times.   There are characters to love, characters to feel sorry for, and for those of us old enough to have lived through those times, lots of …. well, I wouldn’t call it nostalgia, because Buddha knows those were sad years with the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and the disgraceful deaths of many civil rights workers, like Medgar Evers and  James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner.

As a side note, polygamy has been illegal in the US, but was practiced anyway in defiance of the law.  In fact, it is still practiced to this day in various states in the Western US.

(Cripanoony, I lived through the events in this book.  I can’t believe I am that old.  That was like forty years ago.  And here I am only 37.)

 

 

 

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THE INHERITANCE OF A SWAMP WITCH by Sonia Taylor Brock

Swamp witchFrankly, I don’t know what to make of this book.  The basic premise is that a young man, a free lance reporter, goes to the Lousiana bayou country to find the missing heir to a fortune, and possibly write the biggest story of his career.  The town is reticent to give him any information, but suggests he talk to an elderly lady living deep in the swampland, on an island in the middle of a lake.

That is the last sane episode of the book, which then takes off on a fantasy binge involving every mythological creature you can think of, gods, goddesses, shape shifters, dragons, and a dizzying rondelay of a battle involving creatures, swords of Poseidon, fire, wizards, witches, that I felt I was reading the description of a video game:  whack, thwack, crash, blood, red and green, and yellow, and on and on.

Frankly, although in it’s own way it was fun, basically, the whole thing made no sense, was incoherent and illogical, and yet I compulsively read on until the very last page.

I know I am one of the universe’s True Crabby Curmudgeons, so I thought I would check out what the folks had to say on Goodreads.  They LOVED it!  Loved it!   I was stunned.  Nobody seemed to think it was a bizarre and strange book.  I must live in an alternate universe.

Yet another reason I don’t read fantasy.  I like my stories to make some kind of frail sense.

 

APOCALYPTICON by Clayton Smith

apocalypticon-print-coverI’m calling this the best post apocalyptic book ever. (Please disregard the fact that I haven’t read all that many post apocalyptic books. Maybe fifteen?) But that does not deter me from standing my ground on this one.

It started with the attack of the flying monkeys, spreading a dust of some kind of chemical all over the world. Launched from Jamaica.  (Ok, Ok, calm down. I didn’t write this stuff; I’m just reporting the facts.)  The flying monkeys were actually a swarm of small rockets with monkey faces painted on them, hence the name. The dust stuff caused people to pretty much instantly melt from the insides out, and it wasn’t long at all before there were only a handful of people left on earth.

It is a funny book, both dry and laugh-out-loud funny. But there are undercurrents of sadness. And terror.

Patrick and Ben, native sons of St. Louis, were living in Chicago at the time, Ben single, and Patrick married with a 5 year old daughter. The wife and daughter didn’t survive. Hence the sadness, yeah, as if seeing every day the skeletons and remains of all those dead bodies weren’t enough. Not to mention the search for food.

Ben has set up a secret knock so he will know who is at his apartment door:

Three hard knocks, two soft knocks, one long knock, three short knocks, two and a half quarter rapid-fire knocks, one flat palm slap, four knuckle taps, another palm slap, seven knuckle taps, two long knocks, seven left hand-right hand alternating slap-pounds, three short knocks, one knuckle tap, two palm slaps, three hard knocks, two soft knocks, four hard knocks, one rippling knuckle tap, two palm slaps.

You just can’t be too careful in the apocalypse.

Patrick tells Ben he wants to go to see Disney World.

I survived M-day. I lived on for three years in this crumbling urban wasteland. I beat the Monkeys, fought crippling depression, and learned how to eat canned tuna without vomiting all over myself. It’s been a long, cold, miserable, broken-down, yellow-haze road, and, if I’m going out, then by God, I’m going out with some dignity. Benny, my boy, we are going to Disney World.

So off they go, after packing up their remaining food, and an assortment of weapons, which include a machete, a hammer and a wrench. They decide to take the Amtrak train as far south as it is running, and miracle of miracles, it IS running, kept on the rails by a despotic Conductor who rapidly rose in the ranks thanks to the demise of everyone else who worked for the railroad. He has assembled a team of Red Caps who act as security and crew for the train, which he is obsessional about keeping on schedule. This desire is constantly thwarted by blown up tracks, animals and people on the tracks, and other obstacles to maintaining a tight schedule. But Mussolini would have been proud!

It is a typical quest story, with our travelers meeting up with all kinds of weird and nutzo people on their route. (And by the way, they make it to St. Louis by rail, Buddha be praised.) On the train, the only other passenger is a young woman journalist who has made the astounding discovery that the only people left alive and seemly immune to the effects of the dust were those still living or who had grown up within 50 miles of the Mighty Mississippi, perhaps having survived due to the toxic wastes dumped in the river  from somewhere below ummmm…… oh I forget where. But kinda far north. So anyone they meet in say, Alabama, who is still walking around, grew up along the Mississippi.

As is de rigueur for a quest story, we have the strange fortune teller, Madame Siquo, who predicts their obstacle they must overcome:

The light bringer. The running man. The butcher. The mummer. The demon’s daughter. The siren. The fire drinker. Ubasti Tom. The hollow man. Perils all, and one must fall.

You will love some of the characters they meet along the way, such as the monk-like members of the Post-Alignment Brotherhood, led by Brother Triedit.   There was the ditzy chick floating down the river with the current in a motorboat without the motor running, planning on going to New York, in spite of the fact she was headed in the opposite direction.  “I am?”   There was the isolated family in the woods who seemed to be doing a reanactment of Leave It to Beaver.  There were lots more.  Lots.

Like I said, the BEST post apocalyptic book ever. With zero zombies.

 

DCI JONES CASEBOOK: ELLIS FLYNN by Kerry J. Donovan

dcijonesDCI Jones, a somewhat OCD kind of guy (think Monk lite), picks up another case, and this one is pretty eeeuuuuie.  (We first met the Chief Inspector in his casebook: Raymond Francis Collins.)  He is back, along with his attractive (and gay) female partner, a very competent chick from Sweden, who totally has his back.

A young teen girl, 13 years old, goes missing, but in searching her belongings, her parents find her passport is missing.  So did she run away, or was she abducted?

This is not a mystery, per se, because we know right from the beginning who dunnit and what they done did, and geez are they two of the most disgusting characters this side of …. ummm, well, Hades, I guess.   The story unfolds being told alternately from the disgust0’s viewpoint, and then from the side of DCI Jones.   What the book is is a combo of British police procedural and thriller, as the action moves back and forth between Britain and France.   Is the girl found?  Is she found dead?  Gives me the freaking shivers just thinking about this stuff.

It is the story of serial killers, and of …..  you know, this is just too yukky to discuss in detail.  You really must read it, because it is quite a ride!

I really am a wuss.  I like my murders bloodless, and the murderees unknown to me.  I am an Agatha Christie kind of mystery fan.  You know, where the deceased is usually already dead when we open the book, and the story is not so much about the gruesome murdering of it all but about the detecting. Yeah, they don’t call me PollyAnna for nothing.

Another well-crafted book by Kerry Donovan, with characters we certainly do love.  OK, not so much the obstructionist boss guy of Jones, and certainly not the perps, but in general.  You know what I mean.

Donovan is the author of the soon-to-be-released The Transition of Johnny Swift,  a paranormal-ish, sci-fi-ish tale of a race car driver and his cough cough ‘new friends’.

‘Scuse me, gotta go clean the daisies out of my shoes.  You know, from running down the sunny, daisy-filled hillsides.

INTERVIEW With FRANCIS GUENETTE

Francis Guenette - author photo

No, this gorgeous person is not me. I am not nearly that good looking or that young. Sigh.

This is a photo of  Francis Guenette, author of some great books, one of which I reviewed here,  The Light Never Lies.

She was kind enough to agree to an interview with me.   Brave soul,  since I haven’t a clue as to what I am doing.  I am not a professional interviewer.  I am just nosy.   So I ask questions to which I really want to know the answers.

Marti:     I admit it. I have the kind of admiration for writers that teen girls have for rock bands. I think it is because I cannot write fiction. I have no stories in me. You obviously have glorious stories in you. Have you always had these stories inside you screaming to get out?

Francis Guenette:  I’ve always had a very active imagination. For as long as I can recall, I’ve played around with ideas in my mind, letting them spin off into any number of scenarios – daydreaming or woolgathering or whatever one wants to call it. One day, I got to a place in my life where I gave myself permission to write some of those meanderings down.
Marti:   Do the events in your life prompt which story needs to be told next?

Francis Guenette:  A definite yes to that question. When I first flirted with the idea of writing fiction and the bare bones idea for Disappearing in Plain Sight came to life, I wasn’t a grandma yet. That life stage came during the years that it took to get my first book out. Lo and behold, along comes the next book and a baby makes an appearance. Between the first and the second books my father died – another major life experience that has shaped me. What I write is fiction but I think all fiction comes out of the boiling pot of life – albeit twisted and massaged into what the current story demands. The liberating thing about writing fiction is that it doesn’t always have to have been something that happened to me. I am quite capable of getting a lot of mileage out of other people’s experiences, too.
Marti:   You write what I call literary fiction. Do you consider it literary fiction? Women’s fiction? How do you categorize it?

Francis Guenette:  Wikipedia defines literary fiction as: complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas. I think I’m good with landing under this definition except for the word – literate. I’m not really sure what that might mean.   Richard Thomas writes that a literary work of fiction has aesthetic value, it stands the test of time, the reader will find layered characters with complex emotions. The work is character driven, not plot driven. I’m comfortable and highly flattered by all of that. I think where I fall short of the category is in his description of the writing style. You won’t be running to a dictionary to look up words you’ve come across in my novels, or seeing a lot of literary passages or poetic quotes alluded to. Though I do pay my dues to symbolism and there is something of the mystical finding its way into my stories, I wouldn’t say those themes dominate my work.

I do use the literary fiction category along with women’s fiction, romance, and family. Finding a way to categorize one’s own work is difficult. There are times when I drop the literary category because it turns a certain audience off. The same goes for romance or women’s fiction. The reality is that whenever we categorize we are inviting some readers and turning away others. There is simply no way around that dilemma.

Marti:   Are you able to write two different books at the same time? No, I don’t mean with a pen in each hand, but can you pop back and forth between two different works?

Francis Guenette:  n the conceptual stages – yes – but when it comes to the actual hard-core, first-draft writing, there is room for only one book at a time. The same goes for rewrites and the intensive stage of editing. Once I get onto fine tuning and formatting for publishing, I can consider other stories again.

Marti:   I guess what I am asking is do you ever get bored with one book, and go to work on something else in order to refresh or get a different perspective on Book A? I tend to read at least three books at one time, jumping from one to another if one is getting too intense, or too silly, or too complicated and I need a break from that storyline. So I was just wondering if it is the same when writing.

Francis Guenette:  I don’t get bored when the writing is intense and moving forward. Boredom does creep in after publishing. I still have to maintain a high level of commitment to the book so I can do promotion and marketing when all I want to do is get back to the storyboard on a new writing project.
Marti:   I read you live off grid! Damn, girl. Is it complicated? Do you have enough electricity? How about the internet connection? I experience panic attacks if we lose our electric here, because I’ll lose my internet connection and ‘here’ being Mexico you can just guess how often that is. OK, I exaggerate, but how do you handle it up there in the wilds of Canada?

Francis Guenette:  On the issue of it being complicated – not especially. The sun shines, the stream flows and the electricity comes in the cabin through the outlets just the way it does for most everyone else. I confess to not giving it much thought these days. That certainly wasn’t always the case but after thirty plus years and numerous upgrades, most of the kinks have been worked out. Internet is a relatively new phenomenon out here in the wilds of our lives – a satellite connection that has its occasional ups and downs but no more so than any connection I’ve used in the city.
Marti:   I promised I wouldn’t ask this, but I have to, now that I know you live where it is very very dark. Have you ever seen any UFO’s?

Francis Guenette:  Can’t say that I have though the way the stars are visible here is something to behold. A canopy of sparkling, dazzling pinpricks of light that often beckon me outside to the deck and invite me to crane my neck this way and that – far more than is usually wise. As a matter of fact, tonight we will be out on our cliff deck with the a fire in the little chimney stove, drinking wine and star gazing. Does that remind anyone of anything? Talk about writing what you know.

Marti:   What is your latest release? And can you tell us what you are currently working on?

Francis Guenette:  The Light Never Lies, the second of my Crater Lake series came out in February of this year. As soon as I can clear the decks of promotion activities, I will start the third book in the series, Chasing Down the Night. This book picks up with the Crater Lake characters another year along the road of their lives. Of course there will be new characters thrown in the mix as well as new twists and turns. Readers can expect more Justin and Lisa-Marie, more complex family dynamics and drama, an expanded role for Robbie and his unique way of seeing the world, as well as more ups and downs for the kids over at Micah Camp. Looking at a late spring 2015 release date for this book, so stay tuned.

Isn’t she just the nicest person!  When I die, I want to come back as her.   And if you want to know more about her and her books, you can find her at her blog, Disappearing In Plain Sight – Writing About Writing.  And of course, you can find her books at Amazon.com.

 

 

THE STRANGE YEAR OF VANESSA M. by Flipa Fonseca Silva

Vanessa M.Vanessa is a disgruntled housewife.  The predicament she is in all stems from trying to please her mother.  She married a really nice guy who really loves her, even though she didn’t want to get married.   She then gets pregnant  even though she doesn’t want or even like kids.   She has worked at a job for ten years which  she dislikes immensely.

Sounds like Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman, doesn’t it.  Well, it is, except our Vanessa is  not quite as upscale as Kaufman’s protagonist.

You want to know how old I am?  I am old enough to not have any tolerance for all this middle class white woman whining about how sucky their lives are.   It makes my teeth itch.  I just want to grab them by the shoulders and yell, “SUCK IT UP, YOU SPOILED B*TCH!”   If you don’t like your life, then DO something about it.  Don’t just sit there whinging about how your nice husband gets on your nerves and you don’t like your 8-year -old kid, and the only reason you tolerate that job you hate is because it means you don’t have to be around your kid very much.

She has to take her daughter to the doctor for shots, and usually the child gets a present after shots if she is good and doesn’t have a tantrum, so after the shots, she starts her demanding of a present.  Vanessa is tired and wired, and it is late and she doesn’t want to go to the store this evening, so tells the girl they will go tomorrow.  The kid has a screaming fit in the car, screaming that she wants her daddy, whereupon  Vanessa has a meltdown.  She pulls over to the side of the road, drags the now astonished and silent kid out of the car and screams at her that since she wants her daddy so badly, go find him.  She shuts the passenger door, gets back in the car and drives off.

Well!  Cut my legs and call me shorty!

Haven’t I wanted to do that a time or two myself.

Vanessa just goes around the block intending to stop back and pick up her daughter, and when she arrives, the police are there, there’s a crowd gathered, and she is written up for abandoning a child.  The judge sentences her to jail time or forty sessions with a psychologist.  She chooses the shrink route.

After a couple of months with the shrink, she decides she needs to radically change her life to climb out of the depression in which she is mired.   She starts with the marriage, and announces she is leaving ….. for a while.  The husband is gobsmacked, and starts divorce proceedings right away.  She moves in with her aunt, leaving her child in the custody of her husband.

And on and on and on.    She quits her job, starts a cake baking business, and finally is feeling good about herself and her child and after being away for almost a year, realizes she still loves her husband, and now has a brand new perspective on life.

Yeah.  The old you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone thing.

A lot of people loved this book.  I didn’t think much of Diary of a Mad Housewife when I read it in the 60s, and I don’t think much of this book here in the second decade of the new millenium.  Don’t get me wrong:   it was an excellent book.  Nicely plotted and paced, with very good writing.   I just couldn’t find any shreds of sympathy for Vanessa.  And I was devastated to find, once again, that another woman author feels the answer to our problems is a M.A.N.     She [spoiler alert] goes back with her husband, who of course has found he really wants her back.  So in the end, NOTHING has changed except now she has a cake baking business instead of a job working for the Man.

Boredom.  Tedium.   Ho hum.  A dangerous condition, wouldn’t you say?

 

MOONLIGHT DANCER by Deb Atwood

DancerWhat a good read!   You know why?  One word:   Ghosts!   I love stories with ghosts in them, that is if the ghosts aren’t bloody, murdering creatures out for mayhem and destruction.   I like an intelligent ghost story.  And this was truly an intelligent ghost story.

Our main character, Kendra, has a Korean father and a white American mother.  She goes into a kind of  Asian warehouse store, and a beautiful Korean doll in traditional costume catches her attention.  But she is a student, and the price is ackkkk   an astronomical  $2,500.

She’s unique, once owned by the only Korean first lady to be assassinated.  Her husband’s assassination followed.

Ooookaaaay.   Some history, right?  And some price tag.  But Kendra has to have it, so spends her upcoming college tuition money on it.  She figures she can get a job and reaccumulate the money in time to make the tuition payment.

OK, here comes the spooky part.   After being  in her home for a day or so, she realizes the hair pick is missing.  A few days later, a shoe from the doll is missing, and the doll seems to have moved to another location.

She begins to have hallucinations(?) visions(?) dreams (?) where she seems to be a Korean woman from 16th century Korean named NanJu.  Nanju  looks like that doll!

Meanwhile, the nice young man from the Art warehouse is completely enamored of her.  His father is American, and his mother is Japanese.

We have this lovely love story interwoven throughout the story of the ghost trying to tell her story through Kendra, so it’s a story within a story.   Boy, did I make that seem complicated.  And it isn’t, it is merely complex what with Hanbok_(female_and_male)the intertwining threads.  The story(ies) is (are) simple to follow, and you get so caught up in what’s going on and what’s going to happen next that you keep turning pages even when you have to go make dinner or clean the house or walk the dog!

I love a book where you can’t wait to find out what happens next.

 

 

758px-Hyewon,_Weolha-jeongin

Male(right) and Women(left)’s clothes(Hanbok) of Joseon Dynasty. A portrait painted by Shin Yun-bok , c 1758