Reading Binge and Other Favourite Things…

Well, things are still shut down here in some ways. Mainly because my life has been in shutdown mode since circumstances dictated I had to move to the land of no internet and no cell phone service, otherwise known as the state of New Mexico. *laughs*

But I’m still keeping up with the (now exclusively out-of-state) job search and still writing and pitching as much as I can in the meantime.

And, of course, I’ve been participating in the reading binge a lot of us literary-loving souls have been indulging in since the shutdown started!

In addition to tackling my book to-read pile, I’ve jumped into my magazine/journal to-read stack: Witches & Pagans, Renaissance Magazine, Smithsonian, Preservation Magazine, Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, Stonecoast Review, Fireside Quarterly, Celtic Life International, Sirens Call, Apex Magazine, and even Reader’s Digest, as well as many more, both online and in print. (Gone are the days, it seems, when I read the magazine as fast as it arrived in my mailbox.)

Some of these I’ve had subscriptions for a while now, and just never had time with working the day job and trying to launch, and foster, a writing career to finish reading them. Some I got for sample copies to preview.

Some are both, which I carry on a subscription for because I not only want to support magazines and journals, but for which I’ve also become a dedicated fan of.

Among my new favourites are the Ellery Queen/Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines. The stories are so good! And perfect for pandemic reading!

On that note, then, I’m considering doing a “Favourite Things” feature on my blog here for a little while. I mean, there’s so many great bloggers out there doing interviews and feature pieces on authors already, and I wanted to do something a little different (which, yes, has probably been done before too LOL).

So, if you’re a writer/blogger, reach out to me and I’ll add you to one of the features that I plan to post on Fridays. With each feature I’ll have a new “Favourite Things” question, and I’ll post up answers, and links to your blog and such. It’ll go until I run out of questions to ask!

Polka-Dot Sized Reviews of Deadman Humour: 13 Fears of a Clown

Deadman Humour: Thirteen Fears of a Clown by [Mizia, R. M., Snider, Henry, Pirie, Steven, Munro, Donna J.W., Stanley, Christopher, Coley, N. D., Jackson, Roger, Degni, Christopher, Glenwright, Lee, Bryant, Samantha, Bernard, Charles R., Smith, Joshua R., Lomax, G.K.]

Deadman Humour: 13 Fears of a Clown is another clown anthology published by Dave Higgins that is bursting with, what else, clowns.

(Spoilers ahead—Willow Croft)

It’s easier for me to break down the review by focusing on each of the individual stories, rather than review the collection as a whole. (Which I loved just as much as the companion short story collection Dave Higgins has published—Bloody Red Nose: 15 Fears of a Clown.)

This collection was aimed at tickling the reader’s funny bone with more stories that made clowns not the objects of fear, but the victims of things more comically terrifying than they are.

R.M. Mizia’s “The Living Dark” sets the stage with a birthday party celebration that sounds like one I should like to attend, but which doesn’t bode well for the clowns hired to entertain at the event.

“The Clown” by Henry Snider captures the simultaneously alluring yet seedy feel of the fairway in his story, which serves up a haunting twist at the end that stays with the reader.

Like the companion anthology, Deadman Humour offers an immersive darkness that gives me a chance to escape the darkness in my own life. And it works because it’s darkness with heart and longing and emotion. Such is the case of Steven Pirie’s “To Pull a Child From a Woman” definitely has both darkness and heart, and has an ending for Hobo the clown that I almost envy. (Oh, the poor emus, though…).

The poignant telling of the funeral services of King Giggles the clown in Donna J.W. Munro’s “Funeral for King Giggles” is both touching and fitting reminder that when, despite the evolution one would expect from the 21st century society, it remains a world where many still have to wear masks. I loved the acceptance and the passage of self at the end of the story.

“Auguste in Spring” by Christopher Stanley for me, alludes to the clown version of the #MeToo movement, where a young clown starlet turns the tables on a sleazy director who is expecting sexual favours in return for his making her a star. On the night of her eighteenth birthday, she begins to transform into something much less alluring (by clown performer standards, apparently) yet invariably more powerful, and it’s then that the young starlet comes into her own.

“Giggles for Bimbo” by N.D. Coley is horror that uses a man who is impressed into clownship to create a story that examines the actual nature of children, raised by a society that emphasizes power, control, conformity, and intolerance. It’s a heartbreaking commentary of what we do to children who are sensitive in a world of cruel callousness and demanding expectations that are nearly impossible to live up to—a world that does not encourage gentleness of spirit and richness of soul and feeling in children of any age. This is a horror story that, again, stays with the reader after it’s over.

Having grown up in a theatrical environment, the next two tales sit very close to home with their depictions of horror on the page. Both Roger Jackson’s “Being Funny Is a Serious Business” and Christopher Degni’s “A Mime Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” are evocative in the reminders that there is no price too high, and no sacrifice too great, in the practice of one’s craft.

Lee Greenwright’s “You Don’t Choose the Circus Life, the Circus Life Chooses You” takes this dedication to craft to a whole other horrific level. The story lures you in with what many of us may want: finding the place where we belong, the chance to be part of a family, to find our “home” as the author puts it via his main character Varley. Greenwright, though, reminds us to be careful what we wish for. (I’m still going to wish for my own place that I belong; my home, despite the cautionary tale Greenwright has offered, here in this collection.)

Samantha Bryant’s delightfully crafted tale, “The Gleewoman of Preservation,” had a lot more to offer than a barrel of chuckles. I loved that she wrote the story around an older couple, I loved her inclusion of more real-life based bits of what life for a retired couple was life (the bit about her husband’s snoring was truly mirth-inducing), and I loved even more how she turned the male-dominated “Gentlemen’s Club” into the 21st century, with a truly speculative twist. I can’t wait to read more from Samantha Bryant. (My grandfather was a Shriner, incidentally.)

The dark giggles take on a whole other hue in Charles Bernard’s “auguste” tale. It’s a story that doesn’t paint over the secret life of clowns with any sort of romantic gloss. (I’ve learned, now, that “Auguste” clowns are “red clowns” in contrast to the clowns wearing white facepaint and white costumes.) And the final, violent end to one clown’s loneliness—well, that just makes the bitter, blood-drenched end of the story that much more powerful.

I also loved the dark humour in Joshua R. Smith’s “Bag of Tricks,” aka “The Inner Life of People Who Are Forced to Work With Kids.” Lots of giggles to be had at this author’s too-close-to-home depiction of kids—and their parents! It’s stories like this that I love, because I am granted permission to laugh at realistic depictions of children in ways that I don’t have the freedom to at the day job.

Then, the anthology fittingly wraps up with G.K. Lomax’s story titled “Alas, Poor Yorick.” Again, I practically grew up in a theatre, so I couldn’t avoid knowing the gist of Hamlet’s tale via osmosis even if I wanted to avoid it. This tale is a skilled expansion of the clown(s) behind the scenes of Shakespeare’s notable dramatic play. Even though I’m not a trained thespian or a Shakespeare scholar, I thought this tale was really well done, and provided a delightful finish to the anthology. Like the rest of the authors I’ve been introduced to by way of this anthology, I’m looking forward to reading more tales of his in the future.

Explore the inner trials and tribulations of clowns for yourself with your own copy:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Deadman-Humour-Thirteen-Fears-Clown-ebook/dp/B07XJ5H2GL/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=deadman+humour&qid=1582141043&sr=8-1

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48117863-deadman-humour?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=ZKbUZtQP5O&rank=1

Bookshop Link: https://bookshop.org/books/deadman-humour-thirteen-fears-of-a-clown/9781912674060

 

 

Are there ANY bad restaurants in France?

 

Why, yes! Well, according to Alexander McCall Smith in his latest Paul Stuart novel, The Second-Worst Restaurant in France. (I still find it hard to suspend disbelief that France could have a terrible restaurant. Hence the appeal of Smith’s great title!)

But this book was delicious enough to make up for the book’s restaurant that’s being run into the ground by a restauranter-hopeful named Claude.

It reminded me of how much I love to read. More than that, though, it also appealed to my former self that used to work in the restaurant biz, and loved shows like Restaurant Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares back when I had access to cable in a non-rural, non-frontier locale. This book is a great literary version of that.

But, more than that, I found that the side character of Chloe (Paul’s mysterious and unconventional cousin) upholds what Alexander McCall Smith does best–using the main character to develop secondary characters that are just as interesting, if not more so, than the main character. And, without giving away too much, I also related to the character of Hugo–a sensitive individual trying to create his own life based on his ideals and passions. During the course of his journey, he’s aided by Paul in fulfilling these dreams. And I can really relate to Hugo at his stage in life, even though he’s a lot younger.

(This review contains spoilers!)

This is where I struggled with the book. I love the works of Alexander McCall Smith that I’ve read but my own life development stage and mindset as I enter middle age sometimes made The Second-Worst Restaurant in France an emotionally fraught read. And, boy, did I have bias in spades that was hard to put aside while I read the book that I won via a Goodreads giveaway hosted by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

But that’s also the great thing about reading. It’s just you and the book and the characters that feel real enough to debate with in the privacy of your own mind and feelings.

As most writers will agree. Especially when you find out that Paul Stuart can’t work in his apartment where, for some reason, his girlfriend has decided to bring her noisy two cats for a staycation at his apartment, even though she has a flat of her own.

Anyone who’s ever had cats would be like “why on earth would she do that?” Naturally, the cats complain a lot to Paul about the situation, but he’s got a book to write, and eventually has to relocate his writing space into another apartment that Chloe offers him use of.

Poor Paul.

But the apartment doesn’t suit him either, as there are a bevy of young people upstairs doing what they do best–making sure everyone knows they are there with lots of loud music. 

And poor Paul ends up in a silly man-predicament with the younger woman, where he swears the interaction they have in the store is “innocent” to his girlfriend Gloria, who witnesses the weird olive-feeding interaction that somehow gets mistaken for a kiss. Let’s hear it, everyone: a big, resounding “Innocent, my a**!” *laugh*

So, poor, poor Paul has to pack up and relocate to the French countryside to finish his book that he doesn’t even want to write, but in between lecturing his experienced, worldly secret agent cousin about how to act and think, and nurturing poor, belittled, sensitive, chef-hopeful Hugo in fulfilling his cooking-promise, he realizes he doesn’t want to write the book he was working on, about the philosophy of food, and he also realizes that nobody will want to read it, either, despite the fact that his influential editor/girlfriend Gloria has pulled strings and gotten a publisher to back it.

So, wonderfully understanding and supportive Gloria arranges a whole other wonderful project for Paul to undertake, all the pieces fall into place, and everything is happily ever after–all thanks to Paul, presumably, not Gloria and Chloe (who comes to the aid of a local mother-to-be in an unconventional and fascinating way)–in the idyllic French countryside villa that I, and a million other hardworking writers who are also working day jobs (like me) and (unlike me) also trying to raise kids and maintain romantic relationships, are probably thinking that poor Paul is anything but poor.

But it’s proof positive that a main character doesn’t have to be likeable in order for you to fully engage with a book. And that’s why I like books so much. So much diversity there that gets left out of movies.

And, despite my mixed critique of Alexander McCall Smith’s book (which, again, I liked so much I read it twice!); yes, I’m a fan! I would definitely read more of the Paul Stuart series, including his first book in the series, and others. It comes down to the writing, which is, as always with Smith, so good!

And the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is fabulous, of course! Visit Alexander McCall Smith and discover his fantastic writing and compelling characters for yourself, here: https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/.

 

Dancing Through Time and Space with Michael S. Fedison’s The Eye Dancers

Review: The Eye Dancers by Micheal S. Fedison

(possible spoilers, though I tried not to reveal too much)

I won’t be presumptuous enough to claim that I understand what it’s like to be a kid today, but I can speculate that some things never change.

And I haven’t forgotten, even after all these years, what it was like for me to be a kid.

What it felt like being bullied. The fear. The dread of having to go to school every day. The loneliness. Being left out of things by the popular or cool kids. The alienation coming at me from all sides. Always the misfit, and the last to be picked for the team.

How the classrooms felt airless: like you were drowning or suffocating. A tomb. A punishment that matched the cruel one that waited for me in the halls.

How the tiniest sounds and faintest smells seemed magnified in the forced silence and seemed to claw into your brain until you wanted to scream. Or to run and run and not come back. Or at least run as far as the school bathroom where you could get a breather from the stress of being cooped up. How you never felt like yourself until the last bell rang.

For me, it felt like hell on earth.

And the worst part of it all? What it felt like when no-one listened to you, or took you seriously?

Matter of fact, as a grown woman, I still face that sort of patronizing attitude. And it makes me just as angry as it did when I was a kid.

But, as an adult, as a teacher, I get it. Well, sort of, since I’m not a parent. But I imagine that it’s so hard to walk the line between giving kids a chance to be kids, but wanting to keep them safe.

The world–my world–was a confusing, ugly, terrifying place back when I was a kid–one I wouldn’t want any kid to have to live in.

And in the middle-grade/young adult book The Eye-Dancers, things haven’t changed much, in that aspect, in either of the book’s two worlds.

But the kids in Michael S. Fedison’s book? They don’t wait for grown-ups to listen. They act when they are suddenly thrust in a scary situation. They not only cope, but they keep fighting, although the odds are against them. They do this by joining forces, by combining their strengths, and forging bonds with those they wouldn’t ordinarily be friends with, as a way to navigate the challenges they face. Challenges that could be very real for many children today, but one that Fedison handles with appropriate discretion for the kids he’s writing for.

Could it be a Goonies-like book for young people of this generation? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m reading into the book’s premise too much with my grown-up mind, but I would love to have kids reading something that shows young people they can have agency, that they can make things better, that they can change worlds with their actions. That they can still be heroes even if they’re scared and confused and unsure of themselves, and their place in the world. That within all of this coming-of-age madness, there can be moments of hope that will carry them through the darkness of life’s changes. And that, as I think Fedison’s character Mitchell Brant realizes, are the things that can make reality as wonderful and sustaining as our youthful dreams (referenced from pages 317-320).

My hope is that books like this are enough to carry them into finding their dreams as they move into adulthood. And I hope that adulthood doesn’t come too calling too soon for them–that they still have a chance to be kids no matter how the world changes around them.

(I’m considering donating this book to one of the local school libraries. After I read the follow-up Singularity Wheel, of course! Or I’ll just hoard it with all the rest of my books, most likely.)