Short Stories

Book Review: Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie

Book Review: Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie

Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie is a novel about a young upwardly mobile couple transferred to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Plot

He is an investment banker and she is trapped in a foreign country without much marketable skills or a visa that would allow her to work. The descriptions of Brazil are accurate. The division between the rich in their walled complexes and the poor in their shantytowns is very clear. Among the rich Brazilians, there is also a status competition. Emma, the American woman, works for friends teaching English. Having a tutor is a status symbol, even if one doesn’t really need one.

There is crime on the streets. There is corruption in business and government. There are protests and protests that turn into riots. Children of the rich are joining in the fight if not for the movement for the thrill. Haitian immigrants legal and illegal are protected by the parish priests and become the new outcasts giving the poor someone to target. A great deal is given to the division of the people and to the chaos of society outside walled complexes.

Writing Quirks

The most interesting thing I found and what kept me digging into the story is the narrator. The cover flap will tell the reader her name is Emma. You will only find her name once in the text. Her husband does not refer to her by name nor do her Brazilain friends. Perhaps she is just another American woman with no value except as a status symbol tutor or wife.

Equally interesting is her husband. He is never referred to by name. When they were dating Emma refers to him as “the man who would become my husband.” She addresses and refers to him as “my husband” throughout the rest of the book. No one addresses him by name.

Perhaps he too is just another Yankee in a foreign country. There for a while then replaced with another equally forgettable person. This makes the book far more interesting to me than I originally expected. It added depth to the story that made it much more than just a story.

About the Author

MacKenzie’s first novel was City of Strangers, and his fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. He was born and raised in Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard College, and has lived in New York City, Ethiopia, and Brazil.

I do not review much contemporary fiction because it seems to be written for instant entertainment without much depth or lasting memory. Feast Days is something different.

This review of Feast Days was originally published on the Evil Cyclist.

About the Reviewer

Evil Cyclist is a vegetarian with an M.A. in International Relations, a and former Marine. Since then, he has left the corporate world to become a bicycle mechanic and wheel builder. He lives a car-free life in the suburbs of Dallas, TX and spends his spare time buried in books. Find him on Goodreads and Twitter.

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Book Review: The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace

Book Review: The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace

9781449489427_frontcover

Title: The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One
Author:
 Amanda Lovelace
Genre: Poetry
Version: ARC – eBook
Page Count: 208
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: Free verse poetry, Feminism
Recommended Readers: Women especially, but men should read this, too, honestly
Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you, NetGalley, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My second foray into contemporary free verse poetry went much better than my last, if my high rating is any indication. The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One is my first read from Amanda Lovelace, covering topics ranging from historic female oppression to the 2017 Women’s March.

And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

At first I didn’t know what to expect and my hopes weren’t super high, but both Lovelace’s dedication and trigger warning at the very beginning made me sit up straighter. This is a woman who both knows and respects her audience, and the more I read, the more I realized that, yeah, I am getting feminist poetry from a female perspective. How novel! (You may think I’m being facetious, but I’ve had a lot of Male Feminism™ thrown in my face lately that has not been great, so this was a breath of fresh air in a room full of Axe body spray.)

Unlike my last poetry book, this one had structure. Glorious, beautiful structure. Not just with the poems themselves (and many of them were structured in interesting and unique ways) but the book as a whole. Lovelace splits her poetry into four parts: the trial, the burning, the firestorm, and the ashes, and within each of these parts, her poems build in ferocity, passion, and content. You really feel like each part is taking you somewhere, building you towards something.

With symbolism largely revolving around witch burnings, imagery of fire and ashes and the rage they come from abound, but I never got bored with it. It never devolves into the raging feminist stereotype for me. So much of it is about women taking back our power, expressing our anger, getting back at our oppressors, but the endgame is one of action, dedicated to leaving the world better than when we found it. There’s a lot of healing taking place here:

here’s
the tricky thing
about fire:

it stays soft
even while it
destroys

everything
in its
path,

but
it’s up
to you

to
make sure
that

it doesn’t
burn the
good

with
the rot.

– we can’t lose our empathy.

That isn’t to say the poems pull their punches. Many deal with topics such as sexual assault, insecurity, eating disorders, fear, powerlessness, violence, and the venom that comes with them. They call out the patriarchy, the laughable “Not All Men” saying, and the 2016 election. All the while, Lovelace pays tribute to women, both fictional and real, by name and by identity, regardless of race, religion, or gender. There are poems dedicated to Eliza Hamilton, Hillary Clinton, Diana Prince, Emma Sulkowicz, and many more that had me sitting there, stunned, when I realized who and what they were about.

So would I call this form of free verse real poetry? Well, poetry is about making you feel something. It’s about making you think and keeping you company. There were so many times I was nodding along, going, “Yeah. Yeah! YEAH!” in my head because the words and lessons in Lovelace’s work were so relevant to me. I have lived so much of this female experience, and I have seen other women go through the more terrible consequences that come with the crime of being born women.

I felt angry and heartbroken at times, but also hopeful and empowered AF. I felt called to action, both for societal change and for personal change, namely to always treat other women like family because they are. We’re all going through a lot of the same stuff and our differences can only enrich and teach us, not divide us. We are united in more ways than those who seek to oppress us want us to know.

they don’t want us
to be

mary sue’s,
but

they don’t want us
to be

unlikable,
either.

that begs
the question:

do they even want us
to exist

outside of their
late-night fantasies?

– i am neither your paper doll, nor your blow-up doll.

Is this real poetry? Damn right, it is.

This review was originally published here, on Where the Words Take Me.

About the Reviewer

Melody, is a 26-year-old, who lives in Georgia, USA. She reviews books she reads; some good, some bad, all appreciated. You can find her on Twitter @melodyrenah.

The Master and Margarita review

The Master and Margarita review

Books, with occasional music

Bulgakovs-Moscow-The-Master-and-Margarita-e1350319498182-300x241.jpg

I was told that all good stories start off with a glass (or a bottle) of alcohol. Surprise, surprise, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read and it starts with apricot juice!

To start off, this is not my first Bulgakov book. When I first started college and joined the local library, I picked up Heart of a Dog and it terrified me to the core. Yes, it was brilliant story, but it was so unsettling that, I don’t know, it kind of scared me off of the other Bulgakov books? And I had Master and Margarita ever since I was 17. I originally picked it up because there was a cafe in my hometown that was called Master and Margarita, so it kind of, I guess inspired me, irrelevant, onto the review.

9780099593935-us.jpg  <– My copy

Okay, so I LOVED Bezdomny. He just entered my inner…

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Reading is a Simple Heresy

Reading is a Simple Heresy

Just this week I read a new article about the collective loss of an important skill. We have, as a society, lost the ability to read.

This is not new news. Neil Gaiman spoke about the importance of reading and libraries in 2013. In 2010 Karen Hovde spoke of the importance of reading, of libraries, and the folly of relying on digital editions of everything. During the same year, Nicholas Carr wrote The Shallows, later nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Each of these writers has raised an alarm that no one can hear. Our inability to read well, and read deeply, does not mean we have lost the ability to make sense of the words in this blog post, or in numerous articles like the ones linked above, but instead, that we have collectively rewired out neuropathways. We are hooked on fast and easy information. Reading has become a simple heresy. It is not just the children teething on tablets and smartphones, nor is it only the young adults who brokered teenage relationships in AOL chatrooms, but the neurological changes are evident in the cynical GenXers and  BabyBoomers who are reprogramming the worlds most adaptable processing hardware – the human brain. What has changed in the discussions surrounding the ability to read like we did a century ago, is how we talk about it.

The articles and books from 2010 to 2013 speak of the travesty of intellectual loss. The 2018 article, by Canadian writer and journalist Michael Harris, discusses how we are reverting to a more natural state of distraction and that change is inevitable. It is comforting to read that the dumbing down of society is inevitable because our brains are easily distracted, however, we have managed to overcome our wiring and find a deeper ability to imagine, to understand, and to empathize through reading. Should we let that ability diminish in favor of fast and easy entertainment?

Paired with the loss of cursive as a school subject in all but a handful of United States schools, numerous historical documents are no longer accessible to graduating classes of high school seniors. Firstly, they were written in the long-thought format of pre-digital minds, and secondly, they were written in the long-hand of a pre-print society.  If our children’s children continue on the path of fast and easy information, then the less than 8,000 words of the Constitution and Amendments will be as incomprehensible as the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs were before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.

The plasticity of our personal supercomputers allows us to rebuild, or in some cases start building the pathways required for deep, independent, imaginative thought. We just have to exercise our minds and we can do that by reading books. Pick up, and work through every page of an actual factual, ink on paper, book. It may be slow, it may be difficult, but the future is worth it.

Originally published on Simple Heresy. You may find the original article, here.

About the Author[s]

Simple Heresy is a blog focused on a simple living – outside the mainstream.

“Layers Part 8” by Kaine Andrews

“Layers Part 8” by Kaine Andrews

Part VIII

That should have ended it. I’d never found her in the dreams, after all. This was the resolution that I’d been pushed to since I was about the age she was. Or had been. Who knows what tense to use when you’re dealing with ghosts?

If she was a ghost. She was solid, having weight as I cradled her in one arm while running the steering wheel with the other. But it was just meat I was holding. Something she’d vacated long ago. A symbol and little else. But symbols had power, and by taking her battered body from the family and the burned, disfigured thing that had held her hostage for who knows how many decades, I’d given her the power to be free.

She wasn’t crying, anymore. I could hear her breathing, though. Ragged and labored at first, then smoothing out to the sound of a sleeping child being broadcast through a baby monitor. In that breathing she whispered to me; I heard her thanking me, and she told me her name.

“Deborah,” the corpse in my arms whispered. “Deborah Daphne King.”

The name gave me a terrible chill. I’d had a sister… or was supposed to have one, at least. But she hadn’t made it out of the hospital. Only lasted three days. Birth defects, something to do with the lungs; I don’t know if I just didn’t remember, or had never been fully told. But she’d been a Deborah, too.

That chill led to a shudder, and that led to the car drifting out of the thin lane. At the same time, a steep curve came into view. A terrible calm fell over me, a sense of resignation and deja vu that told me all I needed to know.

It didn’t matter how things had changed. One thing was going to stay the same. I tried to pull the car straight again, to force it into the turn. I pumped the brake. Neither had any effect, as the car continued to drift, the guardrail growing larger.

I looked down at her, the mangled thing that I’d been looking for my whole life, the thing that had driven me past the point of logic, of sanity. The thing that was going to kill me.

There was no body. No Deborah. Just a filthy, matted rag that might have been a towel at some point. Tears began running down my cheeks, and a strangled sob escaped my lips.

“You always knew,” a familiar voice said from the passenger seat. I drew my eyes up.

The thing from the house was sitting there, trying to smile at me. One arm was dangling between its upraised knees, the other stretched towards me, clenching the steering wheel and urging the car to the left, towards the rail.

I could hear it clearly now. I should have noticed it when it stated I’d finally come. But have you ever noticed that your voice sounds different, somehow alien when you hear it on a recording or an echo?

The thing spoke in my voice. It had always been me. Some lost fragment of myself, calling out somehow through the years, begging me to claim the treasure that it had given its life for, somehow blind to the fact it was no treasure but a wad of broken repressed memories and carefully fabricated lies.

“We’ll be together, now.”

The car hit the rail. I let go of the wheel as the vehicle plowed through with the shriek of steel and the roar of the engine as it surged, no longer powering wheels on asphalt but spinning in thin air.

“Forever,” I whispered to myself, hearing it both in my head as my voice always sounded, and in my ears as the thing had always spoken. Whether I meant myself and I, myself and Deborah, or all three of us together, I don’t know.

The car flipped once, cracking my skull against the roof and sending a freshet of blood into my eyes. I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt. There was no pain. The thing in the passenger seat reached out one claw, stroking the wound.

Another flip jarred me back into the seat and drove me forward. I felt my rib cage give way, my lungs collapse, as the wheel plunged into my chest. The thing put its finger to its mouth.

“Shhhh,” it said. “It’ll all be over soon.”

The car hit the bottom of the ravine below, doing another backflip and landing on the roof. The windshield, designed before safety glass had become the standard, shattered. Thick shards embedded themselves in my face, my chest, my arms. Everything went dark as my eyes were popped like ripe grapes. I felt fluids from the emptied sockets leaking down my face, mingling with the tears and blood.

The roof of the car had been punctured by a rock formation, dragging across it as the car burned the last of its momentum. It dug into my back as well, leaving a ragged gash that left the flesh hanging to either side like broken wings.

There was a perfect stillness to the world, then. A moment of absolute silence and clarity. No birds sang, no bugs hummed. My breathing had stopped, and the thing in the passenger seat had apparently lost its taste for chatter.

That silence was broken by a soft, unimportant sound. “Foomp,” it sounded like to me. But I knew what came next, knew it wasn’t unimportant.

Something had cracked the gas tank. The metal body of the car dragging across the gravel and rocks had provided the spark. Smoke and the smell of scorched earth came first, then pain sank in as the smell of a roasted pig added to it.

I couldn’t vomit, no matter how much I wanted to. Couldn’t hold my breath, even though it was coming only in shallow rasps. I just had to wait, to endure, as I burned alive.

But again, one fresh change. I was spared having to endure it all the way through, didn’t have to wait as I crisped, blackened, and finally died trying to scream. The thing laid hold of me, was dragging me out. Through the undercarriage, back up the hill, passing through the guardrail, which seemed to stitch itself back together as we passed, my eyesight somehow returned.

Back up the hill, a movie running backward. I passed the car going the other direction, then my other self pursuing it. Back to the house, where we were pulled through the hole in the front that it/me had created giving chase.

Like the guardrail, it pulled itself back together like a flower closing its petals against the night. I saw the television I’d knocked over right itself, saw the doors I’d opened on the way in slam shut, the blanket replace itself on the bed and straighten out perfectly. I heard a thud and knew the dryer had slammed shut again, and a moment later the rhythmic thumping of the thing in the dryer started again. Back into the shower stall, where I stood still and watched as the curtain pulled shut in front of me.

The house was as it had been, as it was supposed to be. It looked like a quaint little cabin, but underneath it was just a trap, a honeypot laid out just for me. Just like underneath the scars and claws and demon-like appearance, my tormentor had always been myself.

I was alone. I had become him, and he was me again. Now we would wait.

Perhaps not completely alone, though. Somewhere in the house, I heard the crying start again. Deborah was with me like she always had been.

I waited. I had time. All the time in the world.

I knew I’d come along. Eventually.

THE END

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Find out how it ends, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

 

5 Biggest Cliches in YA Romance

5 Biggest Cliches in YA Romance

Recently, I’ve spent some time working my way through the bestseller list of YA romance fiction – everything from John Green to hit debuts such as Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, which was recently made into a movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. But for now I’m done with YA fiction and going back to my usual genre of world lit, classics and general gritty depressing stories that leave me in existential doubt for days afterwards.

As charming as it sometimes is to indulge in the idealistic world of manic pixie dream girls (MPDGs); deep conversations under the stars; and passionate, obsessive love affairs; it’s all starting to feel a bit fake. Here are the 5 biggest cliches that I think have been way overdone in YA these days.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

She’s beautiful. She’s deep. She’s probably a metaphor. She’s ‘broken’ but ‘strong’ and wants to make cryptic remarks about the meaning of life on a rooftop at 3am. She’s ‘not like the other girls’ because she’s a special snowflake and apparently has the ability to understand life better than everyone else, despite being a teenager with no actual life experience.

Most likely she has a mental illness that’s probably being romanticised by the male love interest. Examples: basically anything written by John Green, pretty much ever.

Astronomy.

The MPDGs favourite activity? Astronomy of course. Because relating everything in your life to the workings of the universe automatically makes you deep, apparently. Sorry, no. It doesn’t make you deep. It makes you sound kind of egotistical and occasionally like a bad science textbook. Example: Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon.

The dead parent/sibling/relative trope.

Quite often it just seems like a lazy attempt to remove the adults from the story so the author doesn’t have to write them. In reality, family relationships are a pretty damn huge part of teenager’s lives. It’d be nice to see some more YA novels accurately reflect that.

Romanticising mental illness.

This one worries me. While I have read some books which have given the topic the gravity it deserves (Laurie Halse Anderson does this excellently) I’ve also read many more that treat it as ‘teenage angst’ or an interesting quirk to make the character seem broody, mysterious and ultimately more attractive.

Yeah, no. Just don’t. Being depressed isn’t sexy, it’s just extremely unpleasant and soul-destroying really.

Instalove!

Because why spend valuable pages on having the characters actually get to know each other when they could be discussing the stars and their undying love instead.

What tropes and cliches do you hate in YA fiction? 

This article was originally published here, and was edited and reformatted for publishing at black CATastrophy.

About the Author

Annmarie McQueen is a London-based writer, blogger, and idealistic millennial. She enjoys instagramming food, taking selfies with dogs, and spoken word. If you want to make her super happy, please check out her my new novel ‘This Really Happened’ here.

Black Catastrophy

The Moreau Witches Mini-Contest: 3 Months of YouTube Red

The Moreau Witches Mini-Contest: 3 Months of YouTube Red

Alexis Chateau

For Halloween in 2016, I spent the month sharing a paranormal murder mystery set in the Victorian era. At the time, I had just wanted to share a fun story, but it grew to be so much more than that. Many of you fell in love with the characters, admiring their strengths as much as their weaknesses, and their fight for freedom.

But how well do you know or remember The Moreau Witches? While I continue to work on the book, I thought I’d put a quick contest to test that memory. The prize will be a coupon from Skullcandy, offering *3 Months of YouTube Red.

The winner will have until April 1 at midnight to redeem the offer, so this contest will end on March 29th. To win, all you need to do is answer the questions below:

  1. What was the name of Madeleine Moreau’s tutor in Barfleur?
  2. What relation…

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