Tag Archives: paranormal

Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher #20BooksofSummer #LGBT @KensingtonBooks #ReadWomen

Standard
Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher #20BooksofSummer #LGBT @KensingtonBooks #ReadWomen

Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher (Lesbian Career Girl Series #2) by Monica Nolan

published by Kensington Books, 2010

I eagerly jumped into my second Monica Nolan book! Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary was a delight to read, though sometimes it felt just a tad silly. Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher felt more grown up, in a way, because she knows she’s a lesbian. Lois Lenz took 80% of the novel to figure it out (despite making out with women through the whole thing). Thus, I enjoyed Bobby Blanchard’s story a great deal more. Mind you, you don’t have to read Lois Lenz first. However, I would recommend that you read the books in order (there are 4 lesbian career girl novels) for maximum enjoyment.

best lois lenz

It’s 1964 and we learn that Bobby Blanchard is a field hockey player. She played in high school and college, but then a stupid accident causes her to break a bone, leaving her unable to go pro. Now what does she do? Going pro was her whole plan, despite majoring in teaching in college. Miss Watkins, a guidance counselor (who was the guidance counselor in Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary) visits Bobby in the hospital and reminds the sad athlete of her teaching credentials — and says there is an opening for a gym teacher at Metamora Academy for girls! (By the way: Bobby and Lois did not go to the same high school, so Miss Watkins is a bit like a guardian angel guidance counselor for lesbians, which I find funny).

Bobby has concerns about being a teacher, though:

“But my grades — my brains –” Bobby struggled to express herself. “A teacher has to be smart.” How she’d sweated over those lesson plan assignments in Pedagogy II, how lost she’d felt when the class discussed the pros and cons of module-based teaching!

But off to Metamora she goes. I’m not sure if all academies have the same labels, but instead of “gym teacher,” Bobby is the “Games Mistress.” Instead of grade levels, like 9th or freshman, the girls are “formers,” as in “4th formers.” I could never keep track of what each form meant, which made it hard to image the students’ ages. The alternative titles were something I did not enjoy.

Miss Watkins, the guidance counselor, almost never gets it wrong when she advises young lesbians! But not all the Metamora faculty are that excited by newbie Bobby, especially the new Math Mistress, Enid:

“And when you teach something as basic as gym, you can always tell them to do laps when you run out of material. . . .That’s what my high school gym teacher used to do.”

How insulting to Bobby! Author Monica Nolan seems to enjoy writing the prim, snippy, librarian-type. In Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary it was Netta Bean. In Bobby’s world, it’s Enid. When there is always a know-it-all with a secret and a grudge in Nolan’s novels, readers can predict that the librarian may let her hair down and whip off her glasses for some between-the-sheets fun. Sometimes, the stereotype helps with expectations, and Nolan uses the sexy librarian stereotype beautifully.

bobby blanchard

Another distinct aspect of the world Nolan created is that everyone is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. You can guarantee that married or not, man or woman, teenager or adult, everyone is (note that very few men appear in Nolan’s novels). Nolan doesn’t make her character’s sexuality much of a secret, either, which is interesting. You just keep reading and become part of a world in which no one is straight, and it all is perfectly normal. You don’t have to wonder who’s point of view is the focus; it’s the titular character, and she’s a lesbian who doesn’t feel shame. I still remember Lois Lenz declaring, “I’m a lesbian career girl, too!” and feeling very excited about such a world.

Nolan does add a lot of subplots and points of contention to keep the story going like a mystery novel. When the mystery was solved at the end of Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary, I thought it was a bit silly. Some subplots circling Bobby’s life are:

  • How to integrate “Angle,” a frustrated teen with divorced parents who are of different faiths, with the other girls.
  • The Headmistress whose lover fell (or jumped!) from the tower last term and was killed.
  • The new field hockey team with most inexperienced players that Bobby put together at Metamora that keeps winning — because terrible “accidents” happen to the other teams’ players.
  • The ghost on the glowing bicycle.
  • Who stole one of the girl’s beloved locket.
  • A student who keeps buying Ouiji boards to summon the dead.

There’s a lot to take in! I’m not sure why Nolan heaps it on, but she did in both Lois Lenz and Bobby Blanchard. Piling on subplots was something I noticed in the mystery novel Terror in Taffeta. I want to call the Lesbian Career Girls series “cozy mysteries.” There is sex, but it’s mostly off page. There is almost zero violence. Things are wrapped up happily in the end. Perhaps plenty of subplots to misdirect readers is a key ingredient of a cozy mystery, one that other readers will appreciate more than I did. On a positive note, the books aren’t about the mystery, though; it’s about watching the main character develop into a stronger woman (YES!).

Most notably, Bobby Blanchard is just plain fun and funny. She’s always using sports metaphors to explain her feelings about other women. Early in the book Bobby meets up with her girlfriend, Elaine, a young woman who refuses to be seen in public with Bobby. Elaine wants to marry a boy so her father, who has lots of money, will stop threatening to send Elaine to college if she won’t get hitched (Elaine loves being lazy and having money). In reality, Elaine says, she will keep sneaking off to have sex with Bobby and marry some guy with even more money! The gym teacher let’s her have it:

“You may not be off the team, but your team loyalty is certainly in question!” Bobby responded hotly.

Elaine’s temper, never placid, began to fray. “Maybe I need a more competent coach,” she shot back. “One who understands the point of the game!”

“What are you saying?” demanded Bobby indignantly. “Are you implying my ball-handing skills are slipping? Why, I taught you everything you know! Your technique, your wide knowledge of plays…”

Keep in mind, they’re talking about whether or not Elaine is a traitor to lesbians, and if Bobby is sexually experienced enough. The metaphor goes on for just long enough to have any reader in stitches!

Furthermore, Nolan includes other bi-sexual women in the book who want Bobby in bed but not public, giving the reader serious food for thought. There is no shame in the characters regarding their sexuality, but the 1964 setting means society may have something to say about two women (and at one point there is a raid on a lesbian bar). Society is never one character; it’s a presence, though, allowing Nolan to overlap her imagined world and reality. In a way, Nolan asks the reader to consider her attitude toward LGBT couples — and not just feeling liberal, but actually seeing LGBT couples in public and not making untoward comments.

Monica Nolan does some fun world building when Miss Watkins, the guidance counselor from the beginning of the book, runs into Bobby while she is with Netta Bean, one of the main characters of Lois Lenz! Netta is a teacher, too, so she tries to help Bobby feel better about yelling unreasonably at her students by sharing some mistakes she’s made, including when she “failed to take a student’s threat to the assassinate the principal seriously.” The author keeps the characters just over-the-top to move you to gently snort with laughter. And the cross-over of the author’s novels is such a delight to read! I feel like I’ve run into an old friend, since I learned so much about Netta before.

Bobby Blanchard is an enjoyable read, one that I was happier to pick up and read to my husband each night than Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary. Beware: Bobby’s story is definitely more risque: she knows she’s a lesbian, she is promiscuous, and at one point has a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old student (legal, but questionable ethically). Overall, though, a great, fun book!

20booksfinal

#20BooksofSummer

This book was read as part of Cathy 746‘s challenge to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th.

Here’s the roster:

  1. Harley and Me by Bernadette Murphy
  2. On Air by Robin Stratton
  3. Single Stroke Seven by Lavinia Ludlow
  4. Girls of Usually by Lori Horvitz
  5. Retelling by Tsipi Keller
  6. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  8. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol
  10. Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper
  11. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  12. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  13. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  14. Anne of Windy Poplars by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  15. Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  16. Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  17. Rainbow Valley by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  18. Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  19. Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher by Monica Nolan
  20. Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore Review on Goodreads, as Grab the Lapels is a ladies only site! 🙂 I had to read Fluke earlier than I originally planned because book club was 8/28. *Rilla of Ingleside is still coming!*

Favorite Novels of 2015

Standard

Novels: that fantastic art form that builds a world, sucks you in, and keeps you there for hundreds of pages as you get to know characters, settings, and live a huge narrative arc with many mini stories going on around it. Unlike short stories, you don’t have to use multiple re-entry points because you become part of the story (if it’s told well enough). In 2015 I read fewer novels that what is typical for me, but there were five that really stood out!


How to Knock a Bravebird from Her Perchd bryant simmons

by D. Bryant Simmons (read our interview here)

How to Knock a Bravebird from Her Perch is set mostly in the 1970s and is about Belinda (“Pecan”), a girl with a daddy who raised her right and loved her so, but when a Ricky comes into her town, things get messy. Pecan’s daddy doesn’t really seem to like Ricky, but he can’t say too much about it, as he has a heart attack and dies within the first few pages. Ricky and Pecan get married and move to Chicago where Ricky trains as a boxer and Pecan starts having babies. Girl after girl is born, and Ricky really wants a boy. He appears to hold this against Pecan, but that’s not surprising; Ricky has a temper on him and fists trained to hit. For several years, Ricky’s Aunt Clara lives with the family, and she is often able to keep Ricky from knocking the crap out of Pecan by threatening him with a cast iron skillet. But one night, when Pecan goes dancing with her girlfriends after Aunt Clara tells her she has to, Pecan meets an honorable man.

Overall, How to Knock a Bravebird from Her Perch is novel that is able to capture many characters and render them in a realistic tone that makes it pleasurable to read in addition to the challenging topics readers will face.

Read the full review here!


Our OrbitOur Orbit

by Anesa Miller

Our Orbit, self-published in 2014 by Anesa Miller, is a novel about a family of fundamentalist Christians that gets broken up when the mother dies in a car accident and the father is taken to prison. The novel is set shortly after the Oklahoma City Bombing (circa 1994 or 1995). Although one son is already married at 20, the three younger children–Josh at 18, Rachelle at 13, and Miriam at 8–must discover new lives in the aftermath.

Our Orbit is a compelling story altogether. Without telling any spoilers, I will say that many characters have events in their pasts that could cripple them in the present, so I was constantly looking for the second shoe to drop on all these unsuspecting people. Looking for the moments when information bombs could drop was a lot of fun, though Miller doesn’t let the plot become contrived; some bombs are more like small splats, and others aren’t bombs at all. Definitely a recommended read.

Read the full review here!


GagGag

by Melissa Unger

Gag starts out with a simple idea: Peter, a native of Brooklyn, stopped eating 15 years ago. How does he fit into a society that often schedules its activities around eating? His solution is to head to Paris, the food capitol of the world. On the plane ride over, he meets Dallas, a large red-headed Texan man who will challenge Peter’s very notions of what is truth, what is reality—even when Peter doesn’t, or even can’t, believe what he’s hearing.

Gag is a story about trust and secrets, but it’s delivered in a way that seems more about the absurd and metaphor. There are a number of comma splices throughout the book, but if you overlook those, you will enjoy this curious story. So much of what’s great about this book would spoil the story if I discussed it further, so check it for yourself.

Read the full review here!


saintsSaints in the Shadows

by Alana Cash (read our interview here)

Alana Cash’s self-published novel Saints in the Shadows (2014) follows Maud, a 24-year-old woman living in New York City. Maud is from New Orleans, but left when life didn’t make sense after the death of her father. Once Maud feels confident in her job as a waitress at a ludicrously expensive restaurant, she gets her own apartment, which is where she meets her eccentric neighbor from Hungary, Lina,  who works as a psychic using the pseudonym Madam Budska. Lina decides that Maud shows talent for reading people, and that’s all being a psychic is: just listening and looking. When Lina goes away for a week for “the big reveal,” she convinces Maud to meet with her clients in her absence.

I highly recommend Saints in the Shadows for it’s smooth organization, memorable characters, and its ability to make me a believer/non-believer. I really enjoyed this read!

Read the full review here!


santas little helperSanta’s Little Helper

by H.D. Gordon (read our interview here)

Santa’s Little Helper, a Christmas-themed horror novel by H.D. Gordon, is about the size of most Stephen King tales. At close to 400 pages, Gordon writes the stories of four children, all age five: Manny, Mikey, Emily, and Benny. Benny’s story is shared with his four-year-old brother, Tuck, so, really, there are five children total. Each child’s home receives a mysterious white box with no return address. Inside is an elf—quite possibly an Elf on the Shelf doll, though Gordon doesn’t outright say this—and a book describing how the elf is “Santa’s Little Helper,” a companion to watch children for Santa come Christmastime. But Satan’s—sorry, Santa’s—Little Helper isn’t what he seems. This elf is out to murder, and readers learn that this elf is an evil demon that sometimes appears in different forms, and has in the past…

Santa’s Little Help is a fun, scary book that I would recommend to fans of horror by authors like Stephen King because the pacing is a bit slower than modern consumers want (think about how most American horror movies don’t even reach 90 minutes), but it’s a scary-good time!

Read the full review here!


In 2016, the first novel I’ll be reviewing, and one I’m very excited for, is Lindsay Starck‘s debut, Noah’s Wife (Penguin, Jan. 2016). Here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

When young minister Noah and his dutiful wife arrive at their new post in the hills, they find a gray and wet little town where it’s been raining for as long as anyone can remember. Noah’s wife is determined to help her husband revive this soggy congregation, but soon finds her efforts thwarted by her eccentric new neighbors, among them an idiom-wielding Italian hardware store owner, a towering town matriarch, and a lovelorn zookeeper determined to stand by his charges. Overwhelmed, Noah’s wife fails to realize that Noah, too, is battling his own internal crisis.
 
Soon, the river waters rise, flooding the streets of the town and driving scores of wild animals out of the once-renowned zoo. As the water swallows up the houses, the telephone poles, and the single highway out of town, Noah, his wife, and the townspeople must confront not only the savage forces of nature but also the fragile ties that bind them to one another.

noahswife

 

Anya’s Ghost

Standard
Anya’s Ghost

Anyas Ghost cover

Anya’s Ghost (First Second, 2011) is the celebrated graphic novel by Russian-American Vera Brosgol. The book is the story of a teenage girl named Anya, who believes she has trouble fitting in at school. Her mother brought Anya and her little brother from Russia when Anya was five, just before Anya entered public school. Her best friend is Siobhan, an Irish-American girl whom I mistook for a boy for most of the graphic novel. Siobhan has short hair and wears a button up shirt and tie. The images aren’t detailed enough for me to tell just by looking at the girl. The story also focuses on Russian-American student Dima, a highly intelligent runty boy in Anya’s grade. The story is set in the U.S., and so the other students are all represented as American teenagers (i.e. blond, popular, don’t appear to struggle with popularity).

On her walk home from school one day, Anya falls into a well and discovers a skeleton is her only company. The skeleton belongs to Emily, a ghost who can only travel a short distance from her remains. After Anya is rescued, she discovers one of Emily’s finger bones got into her backpack, and now Emily is with Anya to stay.

It’s not so bad, though. Emily helps Anya do better in school by cheating on tests and feeding Anya lines to say to a boy after reading his schedule so Anya can “bump into” him. Emily is the best friend Anya’s had in a long time (Siobhan is a testy person who is mad at Anya just as often as she is friendly). But Emily is not exactly what she seems, and Anya may regret her new life with the help of her ghost.

Vera Brosgol inserts reminders that Anya struggles with her differences. When teachers try to call on Anya, they can’t pronounce her name: “Is there a problem, Miss… Br… Bor…” and Anya answers, “Borzakovskaya. No, ma’am.” The image suggests that the teacher isn’t working to learn her students’ names. Again, Anya has been in the U.S. since she was five years old and is now in high school. It’s not as if she entered the school year midway.

Emily points out that the Russian American students should stick together. When Dima is being bullied in the school lunchroom, Anya isn’t surprised; she predicted it when Dima kept answering all the questions earlier in class, which is a total “fobby” move–“fresh off the boat.” Emily asks, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you both Russian?…Well, back when I was alive, your people were your family. You defended each other no matter what.” In this instance, Brosgol reminds readers that even individuals with something important in common can turn on each other in the name of seeming like a normal teenager.

But Anya can’t escape her mother. Whether it’s the greasy food she makes, which Anya hates because she’s worried she’ll get fat, or her mother’s misunderstanding of basic knowledge on the citizenship test, Anya is impatient with her round, bespectacled, independent mother and shows her about as much compassion as she shows Dima.

Russian Food.jpg

Anya wants “normal” food for American teens.

Though the story suggests the point is to get rid of Anya’s ghost, the real challenge is to get rid of all of her that is Russian. Anya tells Emily that she goes to a private school because Dima went there, and his parents wanted Anya to be there to befriend him. She laments, “It’s not fair! I got bullied for years for talking funny, I did my time in ESL, I don’t have an accent!”

Emily is mostly a vehicle to get Anya to experience American kids and see that they don’t have perfect lives, and that she actually fits in rather easily. Anya never realizes that her low self-esteem and anger is what keeps her from befriending the other kids, but the reader can see it happening. I enjoyed following Anya and watching her do regular teenager activities, especially since I’m reading from an adult perspective, one with my teenage years far enough behind me to be wiser, but not so far as to forget what high school was like.

However, Emily seemed pretty useless (other than being that vehicle). Her statements seemed simple and too easy: “Was it something I could have helped with?” Or, “And I think that Sean boy could really like you! You’re much more interesting than that Elizabeth girl.” I never felt like Emily challenged the reader–or Anya–except the part when she noted that Anya wasn’t helping Dima.

It’s possible that Emily is the sweet to Anya’s sour. Anya is upset about her weight, her nationality, her family, and her level of popularity. Really, she seems like a regular grumpy teen who is blaming all her problems on her Russian roots.

Anya Gets Fat.jpg

Anya worries that she will turn into her mother.

Emily is sweet, polite–a good little ghost girl, in contrast. In fact, I kept thinking of the little ghost girls in the animated movie Coraline. The longer Emily stays, though, the more the roles change. Anya is forced to become kinder and more compassionate as Emily demands more of her time on Earth.

The ending of Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost seemed too easy. Anya’s changes were quick, and I felt for sure that if there were a second book that the depressed teen might go back to her sulking ways. The only growth I saw from Anya was when she tells Siobhan that she doesn’t want to share a cigarette because “[she] doesn’t think [she] ever liked it. And it doesn’t look as cool as [she] thought it did.” Perhaps Anya will change her sad attitude with some careful reflection.

In the end, Anya’s Ghost is a speedy read. There are more images than words, so I was able to get through all 221 pages in about an hour. So, even if you feel hesitant about reading this book, you can enjoy it without a huge time commitment.

Saints in the Shadows

Standard
saints

A puzzling cover.

Alana Cash’s self-published novel Saints in the Shadows (2014) follows Maud, a 24-year-old woman living in New York City. Maud is from New Orleans, but left when life didn’t make sense after the death of her father. Once Maud feels confident in her job as a waitress at a ludicrously expensive restaurant, she gets her own apartment, which is where she meets her eccentric neighbor from Hungary, Lina,  who works as a psychic using the pseudonym Madam Budska. Lina decides that Maud shows talent for reading people, and that’s all being a psychic is: just listening and looking. When Lina goes away for a week for “the big reveal,” she convinces Maud to meet with her clients in her absence.

There is not a single boring character in Saints in the Shadows, even the minor ones. Dilly Bones, the first person to whom Maud makes love, may only exist in one chapter, but I could hear him and understand his actions. Maud’s mother lives in Montana, but even on the phone her character comes to life on the page. She can tell which boyfriend is bad for Maud, and she knows that when a date winks at Maud, he’s the keeper.

Lina and Maud, the main characters, are people you’d want to know. Alana Cash describes them just often enough so that my mind doesn’t let an image of me take over (if I don’t know what a character looks like, I assume she looks like me). But it’s mostly Lina’s and Maud’s conversations that are unforgettable. What Maud finds ethically objectionable, Lina sees as normal:

“How much is too much money, Maud?”

“Enough to buy people or manipulate them,” Maud said.

Lina smiled and said, “What do you think? Someone hates their job, but goes to work every day because they get paycheck, are they bought? Sure, they are bought, and they are first ones to point finger at Persephone [a woman who regularly visits Madam Budska and mistress to a wealthy man] and call her whore. Saying someone has too much money is just envy. Too much money is just more than you have. You think people making one hundred thousand by year doesn’t think about having more money? Or someone makes forty thousand by year isn’t concerned with money? And what for? They have roof over the head. They have enough to eat. They have work. Then what they need?”

Lina’s argument continues, explaining to Maud that greed is all about perception, and that those who call others greedy would probably trade places with the “greedy” person in a heartbeat to have a better life. Throughout the novel, Lina acts as a sort of guide who doesn’t give anyone–including her clients when she’s Madam Budska–answers.

Some of the characters appear and disappear, like magic moments inserted into the narrative. Take this moment when Maud sits to think to a public square:

One Sunday night in late January, Maud was alone in the Square. It was 22 degrees and beginning to snow. A black man hustled past her carrying a pair of drum sticks.

He called out, “Hey, baby, whatcha doin’ out here? It’s cold!”

She smiled. He reminded her of Dilly Bones.

“It’s not so bad,” she replied.

“Then you must be from Alaska,” he called from the corner and rushed on.

Alana Cash captures these small moments with ease, and uses them to her advantage. This brief scene is what leads Maud to the chapter in which her relationship with Dilly Bones–and his connection to her deceased father–is described. It all ties together, but begins with a moment.

The plot is one that kept me guessing and then assuming I shouldn’t guess, a tangible tug-of-war during which the author wants me to believe and then not. Lina claims that when she is Madam Budska, it’s all about reading body language and listening–that’s it. Also, she doesn’t charge people for her sessions. They give her what they think she is worth: thousands of dollars, gifts to high-end stores, expensive dishes or furniture, etc. In fact, Lina is a trained physicist, not a crystal ball kind of psychic. She uses dominoes as a prop because it’s what clients expect, but the dominoes don’t mean anything to her. Maud protests that Lina is tricking people as Madam Budska, but then something happens in the story to make me think the characters really are psychic. After Maud meets with “Client Waldorf” while Lina is away for “the big reveal,” she has a dream about him. Upon waking up, she calls Lina and tells her about the dream. Lina says, “It’s nothing. You pay attention to him. So, then your subconscious mind learns things that come out in a dream.” Okay, so here I am thinking Lina’s taking about dreams being our brain’s way of sorting through things we’re thinking about.

But then she says, “You feel something in the dream? Something pulling, like rope or string?” Maud had seen a ribbon in the dream, but doesn’t admit to it. Lina says, “If you see a string or ribbon, something like that, do not touch it. Otherwise, it can pull you along.” So, now I’m thinking Lina is a real psychic! The tension in the book goes back and forth like this: chilling moments that can’t be natural and then moments explained away by careful observation. As Maud meets more clients during the week, more dreams come, but Lina is always on the phone to discuss what they mean and question Maud, who is quick to judge people, if she feels differently when she knows more about the lives of these strangers.

One last thing I enjoyed about Saints in the Shadows was the dry humor Alana Cash adds. Lina’s “big reveal” trip takes her to Los Angeles, California. The wealth there is totally different from in NYC, which she explains it to Maud:

“I take a walk in the neighborhood yesterday. Some neighbor lose a little dog and posts flyer on telephone pole offering reward of ten thousand dollars for anyone finding this dog.”

“Really? Or is that a joke.”

“Is true. Someone loves the dog,” Lina said.

A few days later, Maud calls Lina and discovers that Lina is getting paid more to do psychic readings in Los Angeles than she was in NYC. Lina explains, “In California, I am worth the same as lost dog.” Here, the humor stems from Lina not saying the dollar amount she is paid, and from the fact that clients choose Lina’s price, which is the same as a dog.

The only puzzling bits were the title and cover. Saints are mentioned at one point, but they don’t seem to play a role in the rest of the story, and the cover makes the novel appear religious in nature, which it is not. Overall, I highly recommend Saints in the Shadows for it’s smooth organization, memorable characters, and its ability to make me a believer/non-believer. I really enjoyed this read!

I want to thank Alana Cash for sending me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review. I do not know the author personally nor professionally. Be sure to check out Alana’s Meet the Writer feature to learn more about her writing process and thoughts on Madam Budska!

Meet the Writer: H.D. Gordon

Standard
Meet the Writer: H.D. Gordon

9b50ed_9e034f90870045dd9f1495fbac0b1af4I want to give a big welcome to author H.D. Gordon! You can learn more about today’s guest at her website. She has free books you can download on Kindle, and events coming up for her new book, The Company Store! Look for my forthcoming review of H.D.’s horror novel, Santa’s Little Helper, here at Grab the Lapels!

What kind of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?

I’ve just completed my tenth novel, and in truth I am a serious genre-jumper. I’ve written a series of NA [New Adult] paranormal, a fantasy romance series, a horror novel, a couple supernatural thrillers, and just recently, a YA dystopian.

My first love was poetry, however, so I consider myself both a poet and a novelist. In short, I do EVERY kind of writing. My interests vary widely, and I love to feel challenged.

What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?

I began writing before I really began retaining long-term memories. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but just a bit. One of my very first influences was Poe. I could not have been more than eight years old or so when my mother handed me a book that was a collection of his short stories and poems, and I remember thinking about the words, “I’ve got to try this.” I began writing poetry and never stopped. I can’t really ever remember being unhappy with a piece. Until I began writing professionally about three years ago, it had always just been for me, and it was more about the feeling it gave me than the amount of stars I’d give it.

How do your friends and family respond to your writing?

They are extremely supportive, but save for my mother and father, it was not always that way. When I began this journey, I was 22 years old (I’m 26 now), and had made some pretty terrible life-changing decisions. I was the epitome of a “lost youth,” and at that point I’d done nothing in my life to prove that I’d be anything but a screw-up. It took a serious near-death event to open my eyes, and I fell back into words as a way to preserve my mind.

I’ll skip ahead and just say that now, nearly 50,000 copies sold and ten books later, they are all on team “H. D. Gordon,” and I’m thankful everyday for that.

What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

I never had a clue, honestly. I wanted to be everything, and I wanted to be nothing. I’ve struggled my entire life with bipolar depression, and only recently had this diagnosed, so I spent a great portion of my life just trying to survive the torment in my head. I’m sure this has had a huge impact on my writing, and to me, the right words have always been worth a little suffering.

What inspired you to write your first book?

That near-death event that I mentioned earlier? That was it. I wrote the first book in The Alexa Montgomery Saga immediately after. I wanted to live in a story where the heroine was never a victim, where the MC [main character] would be tough and brave and flawed but ultimately good.

Poetry had always been my “low points” fallback, but I needed a lot more words to heal this time, and it turned out to be an entire novel. The readers were incredibly supportive, and that’s another thing I’m eternally grateful for.

TCScover9What are your current writing projects?

My most recent work is a YA dystopian…Can I just hit you with a synopsis real quick? *plug plug*

Thanks to the greed of man, Earth is dying. Climate change and human greed has wrought mass destruction over the planet, and a fraction of the population remains.

The Company Store controls the last civilization, known as the Single Nation Circle.  Those outside the Circle are Outliers, outcasts and gangsters who do whatever it takes to survive.

Samuel Poe is the 18-year-old leader of the Poe Boys, the Northern Outlier gang. With resources ever dwindling, Sam knows he must be the toughest of the dogs fighting over the scraps if he hopes to keep himself and his people alive.

When Sam meets Anna Rose, daughter of Mr. Company, the most powerful man in the dying world, he finds himself in a deadly race toward resources and a new life.

Much like those of their ancestors, the choices of the two star-crossed teenagers will echo through the ages, the fate of the human race resting on their shoulders.

Lol!! That pretty much sums it up! I’m hoping to inspire the youth to make a change with this one, and I could not be more excited!

The Company Store comes out August 3rd and will be on sale for $0.99 that day only!

Thank you so much!!

Shut Up/Look Pretty

Standard

Shut Up/Look Pretty
by Lauren Becker, Erin Fitzgerald, Kristy Logan, Michelle Reale, & Amber Sparks
Tiny Hardcore Press, 2012

Birthed from the loins of Tiny Hardcore Press comes Shut Up/Look Pretty. The text gives spaces to five chapbooks in one, all by women. Each author gets her own section and table of contents. This design is one I haven’t seen before, but the switch between authors makes a big difference. Unlike an anthology, there are enough stories per writer to get a strong sense of her style, but unlike a single-author collection, there is no room for fluff pieces that clearly aren’t the author’s best work. I loved the concept and sisterly vibe created in this shared space.

Not all stories are solely focused on women despite the authors’ (and Tiny Hardcore’s editors’) gender. “Local God,” a fifty-six page story/novella by Kristy Logan centers on a male narrator and his rock band. There’s alcohol & women & bars, but all of the characters surprise, even the minors. Men and women shift gender roles, hiding behind the expectations of titles: lead singer, lesbian, nerd, friend. And the story is funny: “All his songs are about politics and fucking, sometimes both. I could do that. Hell, I bet the girls who lost the pole-dancing competition could do that.” Even when the band members discuss women, their antics are amusing. From lead singer Francis: “‘Be honest now.’ He bends over and fumbles in his bag, then fixes something to his face. ‘Do you think she’ll fuck me if she sees me in these glasses?'”

In contrast to Logan’s long piece, Lauren Becker delivers twenty shorts with brevity in sentence structure. In “I am Very Lucky,” the narrator attends her brother’s wedding. She recalls, “My brother’s bride started toward me with a bride’s smile. She looked at my dress. She would tell me I looked beautiful. She went to my brother and said that I had to leave.” The bride’s warmth contrasts the short, terse sentences, and there is some characteristic of the narrator the reader is not aware of. This first-person narrator returns in other stories, evoking sadness with her simple-mindedness and innocent nature when she is used by others: “Before I could pull the door closed and tell the driver my address, the man from the wedding settled me into the backseat and climbed in beside me. ‘Give him your address, sweetheart.’ And I did.” She has no intentions in her obedience.

Erin Fitzgerald’s sixteen stories vary quite a bit. “Where Did It All Go Wrong?” convinces that there are unknown evils among us when we find out that a mother stories a child she found in her car’s trunk. The mother discloses, “I opened my pursed and pulled out a little bag of Goldfish. They were on sale at Safeway. I’d had a coupon. The Goldfish were bright rainbow colors….I threw them into the trunk as hard as I could.” Fitzgerald’s style changes in “Booking Number 2409756,” a series of letters to Lindsay Lohan from someone named Erin. Erin’s humorous theories: “I saw this on a coffee mug: ‘Friendship multiplies happiness and divides grief.’ The best way to deal with grief is to divvy it up fair and square. This is my piece. It’s a corner piece, which is why it’s extra chewy. Get your own.”

Michelle Reale’s twenty-two shorts read more like poetry in some cases, varying the tone of the collection yet again. One motif appears to be American women with foreign boyfriends: “He would stand for nothing less than agreement. Food separated and congealed on plates like small colonies, only to my eyes, they took over the world.” Sometimes the images are less clear at first and must be put together: “They sky is gathered wool laying too close to their faces, their breath burning the small spaces between their lips and their disgraceful mouths.”

Sparks’s stories comprise the last section of the book where she explores death through ghosts, decay, vampires, angels, suicide, and burial. “For These Humans Who Cannot Fly,” by far the most intriguing story in Sparks’s section, describes a man who builds temporary resting places designed to house the recently deceased and a twenty-four hour watchman who makes sure the dead has actually expired and will not regain consciousness and need assistance. The narrator’s occupation twines with the story of his wife’s suicide—she thought she was a bird a leaped out a window in her mental hospital. The narrator only visits her in the hospital once: “My wife spent the visit tilting her head and chirruping at me in frustration. She finally ran at the only small window in the room, so many times that her head was bloodied and her hands and arms bruised all over.” it’s difficult to cover all of the strengths of Shut Up/Look Pretty and do justice to each author. If you’re curious about this book, and you should be, the shorts (some only one page) are perfect for reading in small time frames, or you can enjoy a whole collection in one sitting. Either way is an intimate reading experience, one that shifts gears and entertains.

*Review Originally Published in JMWW

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Standard

Title: Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Author: Karen Russell
Published: February 2013
Publisher: Random House Audio
Length: 8 CDs
Procurement: public library
Relationship to author: none

This was yet another audio book I wanted to listen to while driving to Virginia. There are a few problems with how I started Russell’s collection: first, driving and reading directions and listening can be challenging, especially when the writer creates unpredictable story lines. Secondly, I didn’t know this was a story collection. Call me an idiot if you will, but I didn’t I assumed that because Russell’s previous book, Swamplandia! was a novel, I thought this would be too. That was stupid of me and caused some difficulty.

The first story, “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” is narrated by Arthur Morey. He uses a Transylvanian sort of accent to give it the vampire vibe, but this can also make the story difficult to understand. There were parts near the end of when I absolutely lost track of the setting. I think he was in a cave? The story was interesting–two vampires, the only one the other has ever encountered, who aren’t really affected by or need what you would expect, like sun, garlic, stakes, coffins, and even blood. When I think about it, why are they vampires? Why aren’t these simply immortals? Is this story an examination of marriage, how husbands and wives can grow tired of one another if they are together for so long?

The second story started immediately after the first. This was definitely confusing; no music, no sound, no nothing to indicate that one story stopped and another started. I thought I was listening to a second section told from a different character’s point of view. Again, my fault, but I loathe audio books that don’t signal the end of a story. Readers need to mentally prepare to take in the next tale. Give us a breather. Sheesh.

Story number 2 is “Reeling for the Empire,” read by Joy Osmanski. Her narration was easy to understand, and the story was definitely creepy. Women who are given a special drink begin to produce silk–after their fathers or husbands or brothers have sold them (basically into silk slavery) to a strange man. This story had an effective arc and made sense while still being highly unusual.

“The Seagull Arm Descends on Strong Beach, 1979” is the 3rd story, narrated by Kaleo Griffith. For some reason, the narration was in American English while the voices of the characters were in Australian accents. I don’t know what this means, unless Strong Beach is famous and I am totally clueless (some of my history proves that I am). I really am not sure what was going on in this story. I was confused by the things the boy found and wasn’t sure what it meant. When the story ended, I was surprised. There seemed to be no arc to follow. I felt like someone tripped me, watching me tumble in the dirt, and then moved on.

“Proving Up,” read by Jesse Bernstein, was the last story I listened to. It was so confusing with no real need to be. There is repeated mention of a window that needs to be taken to a distant neighbor. The story is set on a new frontier where residents must prove they can survive and have a family in exchange for owning the land on which they settled free and clear from the government.What is it with the window? I kept asking. The narrator mentions sisters who have died and a mother who is so terribly skinny. Some people have died out there in the middle of no where. The window. The window. Don’t break it. Bring it back as soon as possible. Stall the inspector. There are ghosts everywhere in this story, from the narrator’s dead sisters to a strange man who challenges the narrator. You can read this collection yourself to find out what the window is about, but I’ll warn you that it’s not a big deal and that there was no need for Russell to keep it secret. All she did was make it difficult to care about what was going on.

After “Proving Up,” I abandoned Vampires in the Lemon Grove. I grew tired of incomplete stories and abstract ideas with no real rhyme or reason to their existence. There were times when I did enjoy a story, but because the ideas are unusual, I would want to hear a sentence again, no easy task with a CD player in your car. If you are going to check out Vampires in the Lemon Grove, I suggest you do it on paper, though that won’t change the unfinished nature of Russell’s tales.