Thursday, 31 July 2014

2014: A Short Story a Week

The Last Dancer

I waited, watching the flames and the dancers circling around them. The people crowding the dance and the fire were shadowed shapes, moving and humming under their breath, beating out a tune for the dancers on their thighs, stamping feet, clapping hands. The fire snapped and sparked, seeming to grow higher with every girl who joined the dance. The air smelt of spice and ash, of excitement and fear, or so it seemed to me. There were bells sewn into the hem of my skirt and every time I moved, I jingled. My mother squeezed my shoulder, but she did not speak. 

Another girl joined the dancers, the bells in her skirt adding to the cacophony. I took a breath. She moved so beautifully, they all did. Circling the fire perfectly in time, raising their arms up, twisting their hips and leaping and crossing and twining around each other in perfect symmetry. Another girl joined. There were only two places left.

I looked up at my mother's face, at her soft, wrinkled skin, at the grey in her hair and the worry that lined her. On her forehead, between her eyebrows, was a red thumbprint, a brand. She squeezed my shoulder again, just as another girl entered the dance. She too would soon wear a thumb print on her brow. I swallowed.

There was only one place left.

I gently removed my mother's hand and entered the dance. It had started slow, but with each girl who had entered, the tempo had increased. Now it was whirlwind fast. My feet kicked against the ground, my hands circled. I moved about the other dancers, my body remembering the movements even if I did not. The music made by the crowd grew louder and wilder. My body seemed taken over with the music, with the fire. I twirled past the other girls, matched their steps, kept in time. The dance I had spent so long learning was finally out in the open, for all to see.

The fire grew stronger, the smoke thicker. The whole world seemed blurred and insubstantial, and I a mere flash of colour moving about the bright flames and the other girls.

Finally, the music reached a crescendo and we, the dancers, stopped, perfectly poised and in position about the fire. My chest heaved and sweat beaded on my forehead. I felt dizzy, close to exhaustion. I could only imagine how the first dancers were feeling.

The crowd started to disperse. I looked for my mother, but the bright flames blinded me and I could not crane my neck to see her. I felt tears in my eyes, from the smoke perhaps. I wished she was with me, if only to brush away my fear.

Finally the crowd had all gone. I stood straighter, tenser. My knees trembled and I felt almost cold, despite the exercise and the heat from the fire.

The fire grew a little dimmer and then a flame separated itself from the rest. As I looked, I realised the flame was a woman, tall and bright with hair that sparked and burning embers for eyes.

I looked away from her face, her glory too brilliant, too bright. Her image seemed burnt to my vision and I blinked rapidly, my eyes watering.

The woman began walking about the circle. Stopping only to press her flaming thumb against each girl's forehead. When it was my turn, my mouth was dry, my body rigid, but her touch was pleasantly warm, nothing more. I let my breath out and all the fear and terror I'd been carrying with it. I was a dancer now, like my mother and my mother's mother. I was Blessed.

When the woman had finished, she returned to the fire and the magic of the night seemed to dissipate a little. I looked at the other girls.

Tomorrow we would go about our work again. We would tend the maize crops, herd the goats, care for the babies and children. But now we would do so with her mark and with her blessing, as Dancers. We would never Dance around her circle again, but always her touch would be with us, bright on our foreheads for the world to see.

Book Review: The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill, Published 1983

The Woman in Black is closer to a novella than a novel, but the ghost story it contains is dripping with suspense and terror from beginning to end. It tells the story of Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer, who is sent to attend the funeral of Mrs Drablow, an old client of his firm and go through her papers.
During his stay, he begins to see a woman in black. At first he thinks she is real, but soon he uncovers the mystery of her death and why she still haunts the house. He reveals the terrible truth of the woman in black years later, written down in a notebook.

This was a haunting story and was both gripping and terrifying. My face would have been a study in fear and horror, I am certain. The laws of ghosts change from author to author, so it was interesting to see how Susan Hill manipulated the rules of her world. Indeed, in her world ghosts seemed able to leave the confines of their haunting and haunt whomsoever they chose which made it that much more terrifying.

As a whole, this story worked well to create a compact and thrilling story. The ending was utterly horrible, but satisfying.

The trouble with short books is that you can only write short reviews or else you'll give the plot away entirely.

On another note, The Woman in Black has also been made as a stage play, a TV movie (1989) and a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe (2012) although apparently the Radcliffe version is quite different from the book. Still, the book freaked me out so I don't know if I'm up for seeing any of the movies...

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Book Review: Goblin Secrets

By William Alexander, National Book Award Winner, published in 2013

Rownie works for his grandmother Graba, who has many grandchildren and isn't related to any of them. They help her in her witchwork and do any odd job she sets them. Rownie searches the town of Zombay for his brother Rowan who disappeared several months ago, after being arrested for mask-wearing and play-acting, both illegal activities in Zombay. Plays and masks are only for Goblins, who belong nowhere and are Changed. One day Rownie comes across a travelling troupe of goblins and he joins them, learning the secrets of the masks. As he learns more about the masks and how to control them, Rownie is also set upon a path that will cross Graba and may lead him to his brother. But will his brother be Changed? And where has he been all these months?

This was a beautiful story. Zombay is a town like no other, from the twisting and winding streets of Southside, to the ordered ones of Northside and the Fiddleback bridge in between. The laws and rules of this society are evident throughout the text and the reader must learn for themselves the significance of coal, of the Heartless and the clockwork creatures who walk within the city.

The story is told through the eyes of Rownie, and his voice is distinct and clear, as are the voices of the Goblins. Each character appears fully formed and develops well over the course of the story. The Goblins themselves are wonderful characters, from bossy and gloomy Thomas to the wise and mysterious Semele.

The masks within this narrative are also characters, and the plays the Goblins and Rownie weave are just as entrancing as the story itself.

There are several incredible and haunting images constructed by the words of this book. The Southside train station, with its clocks hanging lit from the ceiling. The Fiddleback bridge with its ramshackle houses and disreputable characters. And the characters themselves too are beautifully illustrated with words. Graba, with her clockwork chicken legs used to terrify and submit her grandchildren, the Goblins, with their pointy ears and noses and the masks they wear, and even the masks took on personalities.

It is the characters – both of the city and the people – that make this book truly breathtaking.

I felt that the build up to the ending was a little underwhelming and more could have been made of the Heartless. On the whole, however, a wonderful book.

Favourite Quote: “Our selves are are rough and unrehearsed tales we tell the world.”

Friday, 25 July 2014

Book Review: The Ruby in the Smoke

By Phillip Pullman, Published 1985

Sally Lockheart’s father has just been drowned in suspicious circumstances aboard his ship. Now Sally must live with an Aunt who doesn’t want her and attempt to unravel the mystery of her father's death. She hasn’t much to go on, only the phrase The Seven Blessings and a name. Never one to crumble under pressure, Sally stops letting circumstances dictate her fate and instead sets herself in circumstances of her own choosing. With the gallant Mr Garland, his sister Rosa and young Jim Taylor Sally has no lack of allies. Which is fortunate, for those responsible for her father’s death are also after her. What is the ruby in the smoke? And why does everyone think Sally knows where it is?

This was an excellent introduction to the courageous Sally Lockheart. I had previously read another one of the books in this series, and so I was anxious to read the first, where it all began. Sally herself is a wonderful character. She has not the traditional learning of a young English lady. Rather than knowing anything about music, needlepoint or dancing, Sally instead is excellent at running a business, knows her way about a gun and has a thorough knowledge of military tactics.

It is Sally who makes this book an enjoyable and wonderful read. In most other books when girls suffer in silence, they do so beautifully and quietly. They see the inevitability of their circumstances and rather than entering the unknown - young girls in dire circumstances are always afraid - they instead hope and pray and continue to languish in a beautiful and quiet manner. But Sally is not like most girls – at least, not like most girls in that kind of book. Instead, Sally decides she’d much rather not suffer at all and gets herself out of her suffering circumstances as quickly as she can. I liked that about her, she did things.

I also liked her nemesis, Mrs Holland. Mrs Holland also goes out and does things. She kills, she schemes, she plots. She’s downright scary. As a villain, she hit all the right notes of terror as well as having motive. Its always irritating when villains are evil simply to be evil, but Mrs Holland actually has a little depth.

The plot itself is complex and interesting, although I wondered if it would have worked better if Sally had worked harder at deciphering the clues that would lead to the ruby. It was also a little coincidental in the quick, sudden way Sally is accepted by the Garlands. On the whole, however, these are minor quibbles.


A great read.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Book Review: Cover Her Face

By P. D. James, Published 1962


Sally Jupp is taken on as maid at Martingdale manor for the Maxie family. She brings with her a habit of making trouble, her illegitimate son and secrets. On the night of the church fete Sally announces her engagement to Stephan Maxie, heir to Martingdale. Later that night she is murdered in her bed. Detective Inspector Adam Dalgliesh suspects it of being an inside job. But who could have the motive to kill her? Mrs Maxie in a rage? Stephan’s sister Deborah who hated Sally Jupp? Or the cook Martha who hated her more? Was it cousin Catherine, who was in love with Stephan? Or even Stephan himself? Then there’s Felix Hearne, a dear friend of Deborah’s, and Mrs Liddall who took Sally into her home for fallen women and got her the job at Martingdale. 

Adam Dalgliesh will not rest until he discovers who did it.

Cover Her Face was James’ debut novel and consequently her first novel starring Adam Dalgliesh. As a character, he is fleshed out somewhat, although does develop further in later novels.

The journey towards the inevitable revelation of who the murderer was, was an exciting one. The revelation itself less so as I did not find the motive overly convincing. This was mostly because the murderer, whilst the least obvious person (of course) had very little time spent on them throughout the narrative.

The language in this story is beautiful, however, with several clever turns of phrase that P. D. James does so well. One example is an observation from the respectable Mrs Maxie, ‘If people died in your house, the least you could do was attend the funeral.’ Pp. 124

James' treatment of Sally Jupp, who is by all accounts an unwed mother, was also interesting to me. Quite apart from condemning her or presenting her in a wholly negative light, Sally is painted as a complex and complicated person. The stigma of being an unmarried mother does not appear to trouble Sally greatly, instead you could even say she enjoys it. A picture of Sally is created not just at the beginning of the story when she is alive, but also through the eyes of the suspects after her death. As such the picture we have of her is blurred, but still an interesting one. To paraphrase Agatha Christie's Poirot (I think...) its not necessarily the psychology of the murderer that is of interest, but the psychology of the victim. And in this novel that is very much true. Due to Sally's love of making trouble, working out her motives is key to solving the case.

P D James
As a whole, I enjoyed this book. Its an excellent introduction to P D James’ work as well as Adam Dalgliesh. I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to reading it!

Excerpt: A Native's Tongue by Michael D. Dennis

CHAPTER 1.
Jennifer Bannister’s footsteps echoed down the hall. The uniforms of the inmates dampened the sound. Her ears tried to follow the faint sound, if only to affirm that she was still moving forward. There wasn’t anyone to hold her hand. She just trusted that each sign would guide her in the right direction.
I’ll get there at some point, Jennifer thought, trying to convince herself that she was doing the right thing. You can’t get lost in here; they don’t let you go off course. Her words slipped away. She felt the cold air settle over her skin. She glanced at a placard marked Visitors Only.
In the cool air, her skin tightened. Jennifer shivered and wished she were somewhere warmer. Seeing Violet for the first time was going to be hard enough. She was going to look the woman she hated most in the world in the eye. She didn’t want to be shaking from the cold and covered in goose bumps.
Jennifer peered through the bulletproof glass at Violet. There were markings embedded in the glass, swirls that made it harder to look directly into Violet’s eyes. Jennifer picked up the phone and listened. Violet grabbed it and began to speak, “It was never you that he loved. You know that right?” Violet’s voice was raspy.
Her expressions and mannerisms changed from static to fully engaged. She stood up and waved her hands maniacally at Jennifer, and then she slammed her fist against the glass.
Jennifer hung up the phone. Her blonde hair got caught in between her hand and the receiver as she placed it back on the black hook. Turning, she slid out of the red plastic chair and down the corridor, guided by the exit sign’s green light. In the stale air of the prison, she searched for a pack of cigarettes, unsheathed a Parliament, lit it, and smoked nervously.
Two overweight guards carrying guns in nylon hip holsters directed her to the parking lot, where they offered her matching robotic waves good-bye. The midnight blue 2005 Jaguar xk8, which her parents loaned her for this visit, was the only vehicle in the parking lot row. Her parents thought she would feel safer in their car rather than her own bright red Honda.
In either case, she seemed to fit this car, or the car fit her a lot more. Her lean physique matched the lines on the Jag, and it made her feel more mature. She was constantly trying to act older than she was. Jennifer went around to the passenger side of the car and opened the rear door. She set her oversized black leather purse on the back seat and took out a translucent orange bottle filled with tiny white pills. She slung her head back, popped two, shut the door and walked around to the driver’s seat.
The heat had melted the surface of the Jaguar’s leather seats, reducing the fabric to a buttery texture. Jennifer’s blonde hair clung to the sides of her shoulders, heavy with sweat. She retrieved her car key from the passenger seat, pressed the key into the slot, and burst into tears, suddenly unable to move.
Jennifer hadn’t eaten all day. The heavy dose of Xanax caused her to feel excessively nauseous. She blacked out and fell forward, hitting her forehead on the steering wheel. The car increased in temperature with the late afternoon heat. Her powder-white skin grew red.
“Miss. Are you alright? Miss?” A young guard, Bill Marsh, had spotted the car, and decided to go in for a closer look.
When Jennifer didn’t move, he took out his club and smashed the window. She woke up from her temporary coma and lashed out.
"You Fuck!" Her voice was barely audible, even with the window smashed. Her energy was gone.
"Miss--I, I’m sorry you didn't look okay."
"I am! What business do you have involving yourself in my business? Do you know what you did? You just fucked up my car, you moron.”
“Look, I just saw you from my station.”
To Bill, her face looked familiar, though he couldn’t place where he had seen her before.
"You have no idea. Sitting in your stupid box, behind that intercom.
"I’m sorry, I know we’ll pay for the window. Hell, if the prison won't, I personally will." Bill said.

Synopsis:
A Native’s Tongue is about a young man trying to find his way in the world. He struggles to keep the woman he loves while entangled in the sex, drugs, and tragedy of Los Angeles. It was inspired by real events,” says Dennis.

Love and tragedy collide in Dennis’s poignant new novel, A Native’s Tongue.

Charlie Winters has never been an overachiever. He is used to just getting by while living with his single mother and working a dead-end job at a cheesesteak stand. Meanwhile, he’s constantly grappling with the voice of his sister, who died in a tragic car accident years earlier, echoing in his head.

So when Violet, an older woman, sets her sights on Charlie and refuses to let go, he follows along. He soon finds himself immersed in a destructive relationship that still fails to fill the void within him.

But then he meets Jennifer, a mystical young woman whose energy and life convinces Charlie to pursue her, even through the darkest corners of Los Angeles, and sets their lives upon a path that can’t be stopped.

Escaping to the California coast, Charlie and Jennifer finally find what they’ve always needed. But a sudden illness quickly pulls them both back to LA. It is there, amid the sex, drugs, and split-second decisions that pulse through the city, that tragedy strikes—threatening to tear Charlie and Jennifer apart forever.

A Native’s Tongue is available for sale on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

About the Author:
Michael D. Dennis is an author and playwright who earned a degree in English literature from Loyola Marymount University. Winner of a LMU Playwriting Award for his play Death of a Watchdog, Michael also had his play, Hen in the Field, produced at the Whitefire Theatre in 2012. His highly anticipated debut novel, A Native’s Tongue, will be released in June 2014. Michael currently lives in Santa Monica, California with his girlfriend and two dogs, Jack and Aurora. To learn more, go to http://www.michaelddennis.com/ or connect with Michael on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/michaeldaviddennis) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/MichaelDDennis).



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Book Review: The Troy Game Book One - Hades’ Daughter

By Sara Douglass, Published 2002


When Ariadne betrays her brother Asterion and allows her lover Thesus to kill him, her action causes a chain of events that will last over thousands of years. Decades after her betrayal, Ariadne’s descendant, the darkwitch Genvissa, sets about to draw Brutus, Kingman of Troy, to her side to restore the Labryinth and the Game of Troy. In order to bring him to her, she is willing to destroy her country and her Gods to realise her dreams.

The only one who can stop her is Cornelia, Brutus’s young wife, who he forced into marriage after his defeat of Mesopotamia. Cornelia is scared, weak and young, a nothing, not a threat. Will she be able to stop her husband and his lover Genvissa? Or will her fear hold her back? They call her Hades’ daughter, is there more to her than meets the eye?

This is the first Sara Douglass I have ever read and I enjoyed it immensely. The story begins with the introduction of several characters and concepts. From there, Douglass merges them all together seamlessly. Cornelia is an unlikely hero, but watching her transform from a spoilt, selfish princess into a wise young woman is a fascinating journey, particularly considering all the hardships that transpire throughout her young life.

Brutus is both hero and villain, blinded by Genvissa’s charms and disparaging of Cornelia’s strengths. He is forceful and blunt, his intentions self-motivated. His relationship with Cornelia begins when he defeats Mesopotamia and forces her into marriage. Their marriage begins as one of hate on Cornelia’s part – understandably. As the story goes on, whilst the two eventually achieve mutual feelings for each other, Genvissa interferes and Cornelia is in danger of losing him. In a less skilled hand, the fact that Cornelia now loves the man who raped her repeatedly during the early part of their marriage might not have worked, particularly considering how brutal Brutus can be, not only physically, but verbally too. And yet Cornelia’s love for him comes across as a very real thing, born out of fear and necessity perhaps, but real none the less.

Another interesting plot point is that at the beginning of each part, Douglass gives a glimpse 3000 years into the future when all the key players have been reborn into new bodies, but their goals remain the same. Asterion is there, Genvissa, Brutus and Cornelia too. This epic spanning not only Ancient Greece, but also the brink of world war two gives vital clues and tantalising hints as to how the rest of the series will play out.


I enjoyed this book tremendously. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Book Review: Power to Burn

By Anna Fienberg, Published 1995

A while ago on my birthday I went to several second-hand book shops and bought more books than I care to say. I bought Power to Burn by Anna Fienberg on a whim. The authors name sounded familiar (I later realised she wrote the Tashi books and Madeline the Mermaid which I loved when I was a kid) and the description on the back was appealing – there was magic, danger and plenty of female protagonists. Plus, it was in good condition and only three dollars. Bargain.

Roberto, a young boy living an ordinary life (too ordinary) discovers one day that he has magical powers that have been passed down from generation to generation, usually to women. These powers are not celebrated, rather they are feared and kept secret. His parents decide to send Roberto to his Grandparents in Italy so that he can learn to control his powers. Here he discovers he has a twin sister, Angelica, who also has the power. As she had shown the power from a young age, his grandfather decided that she would be kept away from him so as not to encourage his own magical abilities or infect him with hers.

Roberto’s narrative is interspersed with that of his aunt Lucrezia in the 1960’s. Lucrezia has always loved having magical powers, but her father forces her to hide them, just as he forced her mother to hide hers. When her boyfriend Fabio and his family has to leave town because his father has embezzled funds from his workplace, Lucrezia begs her father to let Fabio stay with them. They’re seventeen, they’re nearly finished school, she reasons, let him stay to finish his education. Her father refuses and the next day Fabio is burnt alive in a house fire. Lucrezia blames her father for not letting him stay with them. She runs away to Lemone where she grows in hatred and resentment for her father, intent on destroying him.

The story culminates with a final show-down between Lucrezia and Roberto and Angelica, as well as her father, their Grandfather.

A Power to Burn was a short read and easy one. On the surface. But as I was reading it, I kept noticing all these big, huge concepts about gender and sexuality that I hadn’t expected. I thought it would be a typical heroic quest story with magic and family secrets. And yes, it was that in a nutshell. But going deeper and looking at the characters motivations revealed a whole other set of interpretations.

At the beginning, Lucrezia is talented, passionate and full of love. She wants to enjoy life, she wants to savour every moment, and her magic helps her do that. But she is constantly being controlled by her mother and father each time she tries to express herself through magic. Whenever she tries to explain why she must use her magic, her parents give her a whole range of reasons why she should not. Her mother says, ‘[…] what would become of you? “the Weird Woman of Firenze” they’d call you. A witch. Who would want to be your friend? Or your husband? No man would marry a woman who could fly away from him. Put a spell on him. Be more powerful than him! Listen, I know. You’d be alone all your life.’
And her mother does know, because she has had to bury her own power so that her husband can be secure in his.

When Fabio is burnt alive Lucrezia falls into a rage and changes into a wolf, attacking her father. Her mother stops her by using her own magical ability. Immediately after, Lucrezia and her parents have a frank conversation. Lucrezia tries to explain how natural using magic is to her, how it belongs to her, not to her father. His response is, ‘[…] you are my daughter, and you’ll do as I say. Your mother tells me this isn’t the first time. Little magic tricks, little games, harmless things, she says. But look what happened tonight! Would you call that harmless? What would have happened if your mother hadn’t stopped you?’

Lucrezia keeps trying to explain. She says, ‘You’ve never trusted me. Never trusted me to do what I want with my life. You stamp on me and suffocate me before I even know what I think. But you won’t crush me like you did Mamma. Where is Mamma’s power? What has she done with her life? She’s just cooked your dinners and washed your clothes and run your errands. You think she’s ever done what she wanted?’

As tempers rise, her father delivers the final insult, ‘How could you ever expect to catch a husband?’ […] Do you think even Fabio, the son of a thief, would love you if he really knew you? Knew what an animal you could become?’

After this Lucrezia leaves and vows to never forgive him. Ever.

It is interesting to me that every time Lucrezia’s magical abilities are discussed, so is the possibility of her marriage and the unstated yet obvious sexual implications of this. Both these concepts - magic and sexuality - are hopelessly tangled together in her parents minds. For them, a woman isn’t supposed to be powerful, she isn’t supposed to be independent or in control of her own body. And for Lucrezia, both her magic and her sexuality are simply natural, wonderful parts of who she is. She experiments with both of them to different extents; she accepts both these aspects of herself and resents her parents from trying to force her into a mould she does not fit.

It is obvious from Lucrezia’s encounters with Fabio that she cares for him deeply and he her. It is also obvious that his death has struck her to the core and she has never felt this level of rage and grief. Whether he would have turned on her had he known about her powers is impossible to say, what is evident, however, is that Lucrezia’s father sees both his wife and daughter’s magical ability as a threat and he believes any future lover of Lucrezia’s will feel the same. The control her father exercises over her life is absolute. After Fabio’s death, Lucrezia accuses her father of being ashamed of her relationship with Fabio. It is interesting to note that both the magical powers Lucrezia possesses as well as her romantic relationship with Fabio cause her Father shame and are used as an excuse to control her further.

During the final showdown between Lucrezia, her father and the twins, Lucrezia says, ‘What could you know about my life? And don’t think I’m the only one. What about all those other women down through history, destroyed by men like Papa!’

Roberto, watching the exchange between father and daughter thinks, ‘I didn’t know who the enemy was anymore, or who was to blame, and I wasn’t sure that Lucrezia knew either. It was bigger than any of us, bigger than this room, or the mountain outside, and I saw us all as small beads in Nonno’s chain of history. An almighty shove from destiny, all those years ago, pushed us along, one by one, our shoulders relentlessly shoving the next over the abyss. But that is how my mother would see it. What about change, the future, the next minute? Couldn’t a lousy bead make some kind of decision on its own?’

This ultimate conclusion brings all these threads together and suggests the revolutionary idea that a woman’s suppression by the men in her life – both her father and husband – is damaging and wrong on so many levels. The story twists and instead of Lucrezia, the witch, being the villain of the story, the reader is forced to consider the fact that her Father has been playing this role all along.

This was an interesting book for so many reasons. It was short, it was easy to read, but underneath it all there was this strength, this burning reasoning carrying it along. I don’t know if it was my favourite book ever or even if I would read it again. But it was revolutionary in a way many books aren’t – it actually looked at big concepts about gender and equality without explicitly saying so.

Best Quote: Witches, warlocks, gremlins, ogres – they’re just words, labels. Haven’t you noticed that when people are labelled, their faces disappear?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Beetlejuice – the most uninteresting character in the movie

The other night my boyfriend and I watched Beetlejuice by Tim Burton. It was funny, grotesque and crazy, in a very Burton like manner. Much of this style can be seen in his later films, particularly Corpse Bride and Nightmare Before Christmas.

When Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin) die and become ghosts, the Deetz’s move into their former home - the father, Charles (Jeffery Jones), the step-mother, Delia (Catherine O'Hara), and their troubled and decidedly odd daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder). Lydia is the only one who can see the Maitlands and she tries to help them exorcise her family from the house. After all, the Maitlands just want to live out their afterlife in peace. Their efforts are in vain, however, so the Maitlands call on Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton)… only to rapidly change their minds. At which point his disappears from the narrative and then appears again at the end when he must be defeated.

I’d never seen Beetlejuice before, so understandably I assumed that the main character would be someone called Beetlejuice. And whilst Beetlejuice himself is certainly important and must be got rid of if everyone is to live happily ever after, he wasn’t the most important. His character was barely explored and, for such a big idea, he didn’t fit in the small space that was allotted to him. Indeed, it was odd that the film was named after him at all.

It would make more sense in many ways for Barbara and Adam Maitland to be the title characters, or better yet, Lydia Deetz, as Beetlejuice is incidental, whereas the above characters are pivotal.

Lydia Deetz
It’s was if this film was trying to fit two very big stories into a small frame – the Beetlejuice story and the Lydia Deetz story. As it was, there wasn’t enough space for either of them. Beetlejuice tries to take over the story and keeps pushing Lydia into the background, even though she is, arguably, the most important character of all. She can actually see ghosts and communicate with them, without her the Maitlands would be completely alone, she is their one connection to life. The Maitlands need her and she needs them. Exploring the growing relationship between Lydia and the Maitlands to a greater extent would have, for me anyway, made a more interesting story. I loved all the scenes with Lydia – when she found the Maitlands dressing up in sheets to look like real ghosts, her sulky, black attire as she slumps around in lacy veils, and her joy in the final scene because she finally has parents who care about her.

Beetlejuice wasn’t nearly so interesting, he was there to add excitement and danger, to be the bad guy. As a character, he was your typical loudmouth conman and so very obvious about it. There was no subtly, no thought and, surprisingly, little personality in him. He talked a lot, but didn’t actually say anything, only reiterated that he was, you know, evil.

The audience knows the Maitlands shouldn’t call Beetlejuice, heck, the Maitlands know they shouldn’t call Beetlejuice, but they play along with the formula and call him, instantly regretting it and sending what could have been an original film down an obvious path. For the sake of the film, not calling Beetlejuice might actually have been the best thing. All the parts without him glow with this beautiful, whimsical, spookiness that Burton does so well. Beetlejuice ruins what might have been an interesting and far more complex story. A story about a young girl and her peculiar affinity with ghosts.

Book Review: How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon - A Guide for Independent Authors & Sellers

By Theo Rogers

Available: Amazon
Published: 2014
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Rating: 5 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:

How To Get Good Reviews on Amazon is a simple, no-nonsense guide that teaches exactly what it says it does. Written by an experienced Amazon reviewer, this book is grounded in both psychological science and thousands of hours of conversation with some of Amazon's top reviewers. It takes you behind the scenes into the reviewing subculture that’s grown up on Amazon’s website, and gives you a deep, insider's knowledge of how the top reviewers think and operate. It not only walks you through exactly what to say and do: it takes you inside the reviewers’ heads so you can see for yourself why this is the approach that works. 
Lessons include: 

• A simple, four-part formula for writing emails that get your work reviewed. 
• Three things never to say to reviewers! 
• How to pick reviewers who are more likely to give you a good review. 
• How to reduce the chance that a reviewer you contact will give your work a bad review. 
• How people get caught out when receiving reviews from friends and family. 

This book is not just about how to get good reviews: it’s also about how to avoid the bad ones. It will teach you which parts of the “Amazon Jungle” are virtual minefields, and how to avoid some of the costly mistakes that have rendered many sellers “persona non grata” among the entire reviewing community. 

How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon teaches an honest, straightforward approach that works. It works because it’s not based on tricks or gimmicks but on a real understanding of how Amazon reviewers operate: most of all what they expect from authors and other sellers. 

If you want to know how to talk to Amazon reviewers in a way that will lead them to respect you as a professional and see you as the kind of seller they actually want to help, this is the book for you!


My Review:
I read this book from the perspective of both an author and a reviewer and I appreciated it more than I can say on both levels.

At only 72 pages long, this is a relatively short read. The style is also conversational and simple, although topics are gone into thoroughly and the book covers several important aspects of the review process from beginning to end.

Whilst I was reading it, the reviewer in me was constantly nodding my head and internally applauding several points made. As stated in the synopsis, this guide aims to convey five key lessons. 

The first lesson is a simple, four-part formula for writing emails requesting for your product to be reviewed. This might seem like basic stuff, but as a reviewer each of these four points I entirely agreed with! Reviewers receive A LOT of emails asking for reviews. And a lot of them are very much the same. By following Rogers steps, you'll be able to craft an original email that will appeal to any reviewer.

The second lesson Rogers imparts is three things never to say to reviewers - 1. ask for a positive review, 2. complain about a bad review and 3. offer money for a positive review. Each of these things is never wise to do, particularly if you don't know the reviewer. Each of these things will more likely receive a negative reaction from a reviewer rather than a positive one - particularly the second one. You're going to get a bad review eventually. Rather than flaring up and responding to it, perhaps take on board what the reviewer has said. Responding to bad reviews never ends well.


The third lesson is how to pick reviewers who are more likely to give you a good review. As Rogers points out, going for the top reviewers on Amazon isn't likely to work as they get so many review requests. Further, targeting a reviewer who only reads romance when your book is an action thriller isn't going to work. Reviewers aren't all the same. Its important to consider them as people (revolutionary concept) with different tastes.

The fourth lesson is how to reduce the chance that a reviewer you contact will give your work a bad review. Obviously asking someone who is interested in your product is key here. But further than avoiding bad reviews is also how you respond to them. Just to reiterate, bad reviews are inevitable, everybody will get one at some stage. But responding to them is almost never wise. 


And the fifth and final lesson is how people get caught out when receiving reviews from friends and family. I cannot stress how important this final lesson is! As a reviewer, whenever I see a book with all five star reviews along the lines of 'OMG I loved this book it was soooo good!' and little substance, I instantly go on red alert. These reviews, more often than not are 'one-hit-wonders' from friends and family or even from fake accounts set up by the author themselves. A string of five star reviews of this flavour is never a good sign. As such, reviews from friends and family are always a good idea to avoid - don't go asking for them, indeed, its best to ask your friends and family not to write reviews!


As a whole, this guide shows authors an accurate and clear way of requesting reviews and responding to reviews that will appeal to reviewers. He allows authors a look at reviews from the other side of the table and his advice is invaluable. This guide is a must-read. For authors and reviewers alike.

Excerpt from 'Noise' by Brett Garcia Rose

Twenty-Eight
The sounds I cannot hear: The whistle of the hammer as it arcs through the air. The wailing of pain and the begging of The Bear. The dripping of blood from thawing meat onto the wet concrete floor. The beautifully crude threats.
My own hideous voice.
I drag The Bear into a walk-in freezer by the hook sunk through his shoulder and toss him into a corner on the floor. When I reenter the freezer, dragging the oak table behind me, The Bear is hard at work on the hook, trying to muscle it out, but it’s sunk deep, through the tendons. Hope is adrenaline, fear masks pain, begging helps no one.
I yank him up by the hook and then hold his hands outstretched, one at a time, as I nail his wrists to the table with railroad spikes. I put all of my 240 pounds behind the hammer, but even so, it takes several swings. His body shakes, the nails sink further into the wood, his face is pain. He screams, but I cannot hear.
The building above burns a deep blue hue with my smuggled-in accelerants.
The sound of the hammer into The Bear. The pain in his eyes. I have never seen so much hatred. It is beautiful to me, to reach this center, this uncomplicated base, to disassemble the past and honor a new history. It is another film, also homemade and rough, an overlay, an epilogue. The Bear is broken but I have spared his face, and to see those eyes, that is what I needed; to see his hatred flow into me, my own eyes sucking down the scum like bathtub drains. His life whirls into me and I taste the fear, the hope, the sharp sting of adrenaline pumping and the reeking muck of despair. His pain soothes me, a slow, thick poison. We will all die.
I know it now; I am a broken man. I always was. I imagine Lily watching me, Lily keeping score, making lists, balancing all. As a child from far away, she was the queen, even more so than her mother. But she didn’t survive. The world was not as we had imagined, not even close. The world is a cruel, bastard place, Lily cold and lost somewhere, me hot and bleeding and swinging my hammer. Life as it is, not as we wish it to be.
The sounds I cannot hear: The laughter of the watchers. The groan of my sister as The Bear cums inside of her, pulling her hair until the roots bleed. The Bear screams and shits himself inside the dark freezer. Lily’s wailing and cursing and crying. I scream at The Bear with all my mighty, damaged voice, swinging the hammer at his ruined hands, hands that will never again touch anyone. Lily at the end, beaten and pissed on and begging to die.
Lily is dead. I am dead. It will never be enough.
I remove the stack of photos from my wallet that I’d printed at the Internet café a lifetime ago and place them face down on the table in front of The Bear. I draw an X on the back of the first photo and turn it over, laying it close to the pulp of his ruined hands.
The Bear offers me anything I want. An animal can feel pain but cannot describe or transmit it adequately. The Bear both is and is not an animal. I lack hearing, so the Bear cannot transmit his experience to me unless I choose to see it. His pain is not my pain, but mine is very much his. I swing the hammer into his unhooked shoulder, and then I draw another X and flip another photo.
His lips move, and I understand what he wants to know. Five photos.
In my notepad, I write: you are a rapist fucking pig. I put the paper into the gristle of his hands and swing the hammer against the metal hook again. It’s a sound I can feel.
Anything, The Bear mouths. He is sweating in the cold air of the freezer. Crying. Bleeding.
In my pad, I write: I want my sister back. I swing the hammer claw-side first into his mouth and leave it there. His body shakes and twitches.
I turn over his photo and write one last note, tearing it off slowly and holding it in front of his face, the handle of the hammer protruding from his jaw like a tusk. You are number four. There are a few seconds of space as the information stirs into him and I watch as he deflates, the skin on his face sagging like a used condom. He knows what I know.
I turn over the last photo for him. I turn it slowly and carefully, sliding it toward him. Victor, his one good son, his outside accomplishment, his college boy, the one who tried to fuck him and they fucked my sister instead.
I remove another mason jar from my bag, unscrewing the metal top and letting the thick fluid flow onto his lap. I wipe my hands carefully and light a kitchen match, holding it in front of his face for a few seconds as it catches fully. He doesn’t try to blow it out. He doesn’t beg me to stop. He just stares at the match as the flame catches, and I drop it onto his lap.
The Bear shakes so hard from the pain that one of his arms rips from the table, leaving a skewer of meat and tendon on the metal spike. I lean into his ear, taking in his sweet reek and the rot of his bowels and, in my own hideous voice, I say:
“Wait for me.”


Noise, by Brett Garcia Rose, was published in June 2014 and is available for sale on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Noise-Brett-Garcia-Rose-ebook/dp/B00KYY4MM4). Genres: Action, Adventure, Mystery

Synopsis:

The world is an ugly place, and I can tell you now, I fit in just fine.

Lily is the only person Leon ever loved. When she left a suicide note and disappeared into a murky lake ten years ago, she left him alone, drifting through a silent landscape.

Or did she?

A postcard in her handwriting pulls Leon to the winter-cold concrete heart of New York City. What he discovers unleashes a deadly rage that has no sound.

A grisly trail of clues leads to The Bear, the sadistic Russian crime lord who traffics in human flesh. The police—some corrupt, some merely compromised—are of little help. They don’t like Leon’s methods, or the mess he leaves in his wake.

Leon is deaf, but no sane person would ever call him disabled. He survived as a child on the merciless streets of Nigeria. He misses nothing. He feels no remorse. The only direction he’s ever known is forward.

He will not stop until he knows.

Where is Lily?

Praise for Noise:

“A staggering, compelling work of fiction…mind-blowingly perfect. It has everything. Exquisite details, world-weary voice, and people worth knowing. It is truly amazing!” – MaryAnne Kolton, Author and Editor of This Literary Magazine

“Strong, compelling, raw and human in the best sense. Beautifully written.” – Susan Tepper, Author of Deer and Other Stories

“Perfect, compact and explosive, closing with the gentlest word.” – James Lloyd Davis, Author of Knitting the Unraveled Sleeves

“Wow. Beautiful and wonderful and sad and real.” – Sally Houtman, Author of To Grandma’s House, We . . . Stay

“Frighteningly good.” – Meg Pokrass, Author of Bird Envy

“Superbly explosive. The rage escalates and careens out of control. Amazing.” – Ajay Nair, Author of Desi Rap


About the Author:

Brett Garcia Rose is a writer, software entrepreneur, and former animal rights soldier and stutterer. He is the author of two books, Noise and Losing Found Things, and his work has been published in Sunday Newsday MagazineThe Barcelona ReviewOpiumRose and ThornThe Battered SuitcaseFiction AtticParaphilia and other literary magazines and anthologies. His short stories have won the Fiction Attic’s Short Memoir Award (Second Place), Opium’s Bookmark Competition, The Lascaux Prize for Short Fiction, and have been nominated for the Million Writer’s AwardBest of the Net and The Pushcart Prize. Rose travels extensively, but calls New York City home. To learn more, go to BrettGarciaRose.com, or connect with Brett on TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.






How to Reach Readers with the Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion

From ALLi:

Who are Indie B.R.A.G.?
The initials stand for Book Readers Appreciation Group, a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located worldwide. In IndieBRAG’s own words:

‘Our mission is to discover new and talented self-published authors and help them give their work the attention and recognition it deserves. Our primary focus is fiction across a wide range of genres and we selectively consider non-fiction books as well.’

Since IndieBRAG was formed in 2012, they’ve received nearly 2,000 self-published books for consideration – a victim of their own success! Free for authors at first, they now charge a modest $20 fee to cover admin and website costs. And only the author or designated representative can submit a book.

What is Their Selection Process?
The final test of a book’s eligibility is whether or not readers would recommend it to their best friend. On average, 50% of the books submitted to IndieBRAG fail to pass the initial screen and another 40% are subsequently rejected by the readers. Thus, only 10% of the books they consider are awarded the coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion.The selection process is tough! After an initial screening to ensure that the author’s work meets certain minimum standards of quality and content, it’s then read by members drawn from their global reader group. They judge the merits of the book based on a comprehensive list of criteria, including plot, writing style, characters, copy editing, dialogue and cove, and interior layout.


(Read the full article here)

I was kind of excited to see this article because I actually won a B.R.A.G Medallion for the Bagman a little while ago (you can read the review here). I did it on a whim and I didn't realise that only 10% of books were accepted. If I had, I probably would have bragged about it a little more... better late than never, eh? You can see proof here.