Monday, December 29, 2014

KSHM Project links

The KSHM Project free stories are now on iTunes, Nook, Kindle, Smashwords, and elsewhere.

Here are some links:

Phone Booth - iTunes

Waiting - iTunes

Waiting - Nook

Phone Booth - Nook

Waiting, The Phone Booth, Four Vignettes - Amazon

Waiting, The Phone Booth, Four Vignettes - Scribd


Arabian Nights - a review

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img alt="Tales from the Arabian Nights" border="0" src="" /></a><a href="">Tales from the Arabian Nights</a> by <a href="">Anonymous</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
The Tales from the Arabian Nights is probably the finest example of what a magical narrative should be. If I had to categorize this collection of tales, I would not call them fairy tales, but rather magical tales. <br><br>Since almost everyone is familiar with the premise behind these stories, I shall not go into detail concerning the backdrop for this fine collection. Rather, I shall express my opinion about them. <br><br>Aside from the impact these tales (once introduced in Europe) had on the western literary tradition, they continue to entertain generation after generation of readers the world over. Unlike many passing narratives, The Tales from the Arabian Nights remain timeless, for in their core they portray human nature perhaps better than any other similar collection. They can be enjoyed by readers both young and old, new and experienced, and even the returning reader is sure to find some new experience, some overlooked detail, or a new lesson. <br><br>For, in reality, these tales are lessons about humanity. Within Scheherazade's narrative are woven magical lands, mysterious creatures, powerful rulers, and humble commoners. Above all, there are lessons. Lessons about us, lessons about the human nature with all its imperfections. <br><br>Yes, as it is with most tales, there is justice, but the justice in this book is not always just, the rulers are often wrong, and the wrongdoers sometimes escape their punishment. And such is, and has been, our world. But there is an inherent hope that all will turn out well, that the evil will receive, in due time, its punishment, and that the victims will be recognized and treated as such. <br><br>And that is the same hope we have to hold onto even in our times, because our world is not that different from the world of Scheherazade. We may have replaced sultans with presidents, dervishes with priests, and camels with wheeled vehicles. Nevertheless, we remain flawed. <br>
<a href="">View all my reviews</a>

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

KSHM Project Presents . . .

Karl and I have decided that it was time to take the KSHM Project to a whole new level, and kick the bar up a notch.

As of a few days ago, all of our publicly hosted stories to date were consolidated and published on Smashwords, Kindle, and Nook. We are still waiting for Kobo and iTunes.

In the mean time, you can download it for FREE on Smashwords in the format of your choice:

We would like to thank all of our readers for their support.

We would also like to thank all the bloggers and websites where our work was featured. Your support is very much appreciated.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Guest blog post by Amber Foxx

Amber Foxx, recently posted an interesting article on her blog, which coincidentally mentions one of my novels, Escaping Barcelona. Since the article deals with a different take on my favorite narrative form - present tense - I asked Amber whether she would consider posting the article on my blog. She graciously agreed.

First, however, let me introduce you:

Amber Foxx writes the genre-crossing mystery series featuring healer and psychic Mae Martin. The mystery element in the genre blend gets stronger as the series progresses. The Outlaw Women is about one of life’s mysteries, but not solving a mystery. The Calling is part mystery, part realistic general fiction, part paranormal. Shaman’s Blues is a blend of mystery, paranormal, a twist on romance turned upside-down, and satire on the “woo-woo” world in New Mexico. Snake Face brings suspense into the mix.

Amber’s professional training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, as well as her personal experience and travels, bring authenticity to her work. She has worked professionally in theater and dance, fitness and academia, and currently teaches yoga. She divides her time between the southeast and the southwest, but Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is HOME.

Amber's Goodreads page 
Amazon profile 

Amber's post:

The past, the present and the future walk into a bar …

… and the bartender says, “this could get tense.”

The only stories we normally tell in present tense are jokes. It’s hard to stay in the present, either in telling a story or in daily life. I’ve been thinking about this because of two books I just read. One is Jack Kornfield’s The Wise Heart, a Buddhist approach to psychology. The other is a short literary novel, Escaping Barcelona, which is written in the present tense. The pairing got me thinking about awareness of the present moment, narrative in the present tense, the nature of what’s in our minds, and whether or not the stuff which fills our heads makes for good fiction.

My freshman seminar students read The Wise Heart with me. One said the most valuable section of the book for him was the one on Delusion, especially the topic of inattention. In his words, “I know there are plenty of moments where I walk around lost in thought, not focusing on my surroundings, to the point that I’m basically sleepwalking.” Mind full, but not mindful.

In class, we did a thought-counting exercise from The Wise Heart. As we noticed our thoughts and began to find space between them, the messy and nonlinear nature of thinking showed up. Thought is seldom focused in the ongoing flow of experience. If consciousness is a stream, the water is full of floating debris: the repetitive cycle of “top ten thoughts” and stuck songs, digressions into past and future, sudden awareness of bodily processes, or commenting and judging and craving, interspersed with moments of clarity and attention.
In a May 2013 article in the New Yorker, Giles Harvey examined stream of conscious in literature from its early roots to the present. (I encourage anyone interested in the topic to read the whole article at Here are few of his observations I found relevant to my recent readings.

How much thought can a novel contain before bloating, or bursting, occurs?
Does the pleasure we get from seeing the mind at work, or the illusion of seeing the mind at work, cover the cost of the tedium involved in reading this? Art is meaningful because it is life-like without incurring the disadvantages of actually being life—that is to say, without being boring and formless. …
 Minds are weird, without a doubt. But not everything that goes on in them is worth our attention.

Author Henry Martin has described Escaping Barcelona as being written in first person, present tense, stream of consciousness. It is intimate and internal, but no more so than any literary novel written in the past tense. Most of the book doesn’t resemble the actual stream of consciousness. Martin usually shows inner processes fluidly embedded in a compelling story. Once in a while he stalls for a long rant or ramble from the nineteen-year-old narrator, Rudy—and like most mental chatter, Rudy’s inner material, while authentic, isn’t profound. Overall, however, Martin avoids tedium, and his book is neither boring nor formless.

To achieve this, he has to compromise the flow of the present tense, which at times compromises the flow of the story. For around two thirds of the book—not a continuous two thirds—the present tense is inconspicuous as events take place in dramatic sequences with the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings smoothly integrated into them and the clutter filtered out. Rudy encounters situations that provoke intense awareness—new places and people, relief after deprivation, and danger. Such moments could be told effectively in the present tense in poetry or a short story. In a novel, though, the story takes place over time, and the author has to skip over the dull parts and cover the gaps with summaries as he would in the past tense. Because of the present tense wording, I found myself jerked out of the plot by the awkwardness these transitions and summaries. Some of these shifts implied the perspective that what was being narrated in the present tense took place in the past. I want to be fully absorbed when I read, and this distanced me from the story.

In one of the last chapters of The Wise Heart Kornfield gives detailed descriptions of the inner experience of deep concentrated attention, a state of consciousness few of us will ever reach. “With concentration, no matter where we place our attention, it will stay focused.” He explores how this translates into concentration on bodily sensation, on a wide-angle perspective on our whole experience, or on a feeling like loving-kindness. After years of study, a practiced meditator might be able to stay in a state like this for an hour or two. Such a person’s stream of consciousness could stay in the present moment, and with that expanded wide-angle attention, could make a readable, continuous story. Except, a person with that level of wisdom wouldn’t make a good fictional protagonist. He or she wouldn’t make impulsive decisions such as Rudy makes that get the events in Escaping Barcelona started.

On p. 247 in The Wise Heart. Kornfield quotes a Jungian teacher and analyst. “There is in life a vulnerability so extreme, a suffering so unspeakable, that it goes beyond words. In the face of such suffering all we can do is stand in witness, so no one needs to bear it alone.” Escaping Barcelona portrays one young man’s suffering and vulnerability, and asks the reader to stand witness.

I cared about Rudy. He goes through hell without losing his humanity, struggling to maintain what he can of his integrity in a situation that challenges him just to survive. When he gets his big “aha” about himself, it’s a lesson worth learning, though it’s one the reader can see coming long before it hits him. I suspect most of our life lessons are like this. Other people can perceive that we need them, but we can’t until we suffer. The value of a story like this is the engagement of compassion. Escaping Barcelona has many strengths, but sometimes I found myself watching the author write instead of living the protagonist’s struggles. I reached the end impressed by Rudy’s resilience and wishing him well in the next stage of his journey, but I won’t be reading the sequels unless there should be special past tense editions.

I’ll read The Wise Heart again. It has made me stop more often to examine my inner noise and find the stillness beneath it, conscious in the present moment.

This post originally appeared on Amber's blog here:

I would like to encourage you to engage in a debate about the points raised in this post. Please comment on the original post on Amber's blog to keep the discussion in one place. I'll be dropping by to do the same.

A special thanks to Amber for allowing me to cross-post this.

For the record: A few months ago, I read, enjoyed, and reviewed one of Amber's books, The Calling, as part of the now-defunct The Source - a group on GR whose aim was to screen independent novels for quality. I have not engaged in a review exchange with Amber or anyone else. But as with any small community of like-minded authors and readers (looking to separate the wheat from the chaff), we are bound to stumble upon each other's works. There is no conflict of interest or ethical issue here.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Waiting - KSHM Project debut

The latest installment in the KSHM project was graciously published on a Canadian blog, Adventure Worlds. Since this is a debut piece not featured elsewhere, I'd like to send the traffic there, so you can see for yourselves what other stories are being featured on this growing blog.

Karl Strand and Henry Martin express their gratitude to Christian and Ben for letting us use their platform to release this photo story.

Please read and share the story, Waiting:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Long Valley by John Steinbeck - a review

The Long ValleyThe Long Valley by John Steinbeck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came to John Steinbeck's The Long Valley in the heels of his excellent novella, The Moon is Down. Not having read any of Steinbeck's writing for years, there was just something soothing about his prose that made me reach for another work of his. I must say that I was not disappointed.

The Long Valley is a collection of ten short stories, published in 1938. The stories are:

The Chrysanthemums
The White Quail
The Snake
The Raid
The Harness
The Vigilante
Johnny Bear
The Murder

At 186 pages, it provides a healthy dose of variety, and a nice sampler of what Steinbeck, as a writer, was capable of.

Those familiar with Steinbeck's writing will discover some familiar subjects and locations, especially the rolling California countryside where a lot of his work is set. Yet, while Steinbeck is undoubtedly famous for his work featuring the underdogs, and the out of luck characters he has become well know for, this collection of short stories explores a slightly darker side of his writing, one I was unaware of until now. The stories here are often dark in nature (not that Of Mice and Men was a cheerful tale by any means), and explore some darker thoughts inside the seemingly simple characters. There are stories of abuse, of murder, of revenge . . .

Steinbeck is a master of fluid prose. His narratives effortlessly flow from one character to the next, from a city setting to the farming communities settled among the hills and valleys. He visits hard-working farmers, devoted wives, immigrants, traveling hobos, and passionate gardeners. A cast of characters one would encounter without giving them much thought.

Yet, each one of them has an inner turmoil—at times subtle, and at time prominent—that adds a different dimension to each and every one of them. This dimension weaves in and out of the narrative, and can be overlooked unless the reader pays attention. Steinbeck's prose flows and flows, like a smooth stream where the rocks beneath the surface are hardly perceptible yet you are fully aware of their existence if you keep your eyes open.

And these rocks, the dirty secrets and dark thoughts of the characters are what makes this collection worth reading. Unlike in our contemporary works where violence, instability, and inner turmoil are 'in your face' to the point of dominating the story, Steinbeck's portrayal is subtle and almost nonchalant. It requires an active participation of the reader, as do most intelligent works.

Recommended for fans of Steinbeck, and for those who appreciate fine, timeless writing.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck - a review

The Moon Is DownThe Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must admit that my reading this year has been all over the place - some philosophical works, some Balzac, some classics, some indie titles, some surrealism - so when I reached for this unknown-to-me Steinbeck, I had no idea whether I was going to like it or not.

But alas, it is Steinbeck.

Despite being rather short, this book delivers much food for thought. Looking at the GR database, many readers have labeled this book as propaganda (apparently, it was written as such). Yet, I cannot label it the same way and maintain clean conscience. This little book is so much more than propaganda. In fact, it reminds me a little of my all-time favorite war story - Pins and Needles by Boris Vian.

Why? Well, for starters, neither one is about a war. They both use war as a backdrop to a larger drama - the drama of human beings and their inability to coexist together in peace. They both center on the uselessness of war, on the idiocy of following out-of-touch leaders, of the blindness of following orders, and of the struggle to reconcile with the inutility of it all.

Where Vian centered on a single soldier as a part of the machine, Steinbeck centers not on the machine itself, but rather on the players (the wheels) that make the machine turn. He focuses equally on the conquerors and the conquered, and their interactions. The details about the location are so minimal that the location itself becomes almost impertinent. And isn't that true in a real war, after all? Wars are not about places; they are about victories and losses. And as Steinbeck points out, the conquerors often win battles, but the conquered win wars, because they are not following a leader or an agenda. They are in it for themselves.

Unlike the more contemporary books I read recently, The Moon is Down is written almost entirely as a dialogue between the various parties to the story. And here is where Steinbeck shines - in the dialogue, which advances the story without being boring, overdone, or cliched. We have friends talking, enemies talking, and through their exchanges we not only see the progress of the war itself, but also the progress of the change which is taking place inside the oppressed.

This is a wonderful story about two men - one conquered and one conqueror. One elected and one appointed. They both know the nonsense of it all, and they both agree on it, yet both have to follow their duty as required by their office.

An excellent read.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Threasured Writings of Khalil Gibran - a review

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img alt="The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran" border="0" src="" /></a><a href="">The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran</a> by <a href="">Khalil Gibran</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
The Treasured Writings of Khalil Gibran is a comprehensive collection of pretty much everything Gibran wrote during his lifetime. As such, it is a very large book—containing 902 pages. <br><br>I've been reading this 'on the side', while reading other, lighter books. While the size of the book may be intimidating to some readers, I have found that it is best read one or two short pieces at a time. This is partly because taking it slowly will allow the reader to reflect upon the text, and partly because Gibran's writing is so amazingly approachable that it can be picked up any time without worrying about missing anything. <br><br>The book is comprised of several separate sections: Tears and laughter, Between night and morn, Secrets of the heart, Spirits rebellious, The broken wings, The voice of the master, Thoughts and meditations, A self-portrait, Mirrors of the soul, and The wisdom of Khalil Gibran. Among the texts are interspersed Gibran's poems, which I was not familiar with. <br><br>How does one define Gibran's writing? Or. rather, the question should be whether Gibran's writing allows definition at all. At times, one feels that he is reading a philosophical thesis on humanity. Other times, it reads like a religious text dictated by a prophet to his followers. And still, the poetry speaks of the soul of a poet in the traditional sense inasmuch as one perceives a deeply understanding soul must have written the lines on the pages. <br><br>Gibran's work may sound intimidating, but it is far from it. It is easily the most approachable philosophical text—one written in an eloquent and intelligible way that allows the reader to grasp the master's message and pondering. <br><br>Gibran is often labeled a prophet (not only due to his work The Prophet), and the label is strangely befitting. He is not, however, a prophet of doom. Rather, Gibran embraces nature and humanity, and he sees hope in places where I would personally never bothered looking. He is contagiously optimistic, and even when he chastises, it comes across as an encouragement. For he truly encourages people to look not only around them, but also deep inside themselves and seek peace. <br><br>Whether one follows him on his musings through the Lebanese cedars, or atop a mountain while hiding from a tempest, Gibran is the light in the end of a tunnel, a guiding hand, and a father who comforts. <br><br>"Yesterday we were, and today we are!" Gibran says in one of the many masterpieces. A simple, yet powerful message. We are, we exists, we are aware. "Yesterday we were a toy in the hands of Destiny. But today Destiny has awakened from her intoxication to play and laugh and walk with us. We do not follow her but she follows us." <br><br>"Wisdom is not in words; Wisdom is meaning within words." <br><br>Gibran's words do not hide wisdom—they spread it right before your very eyes, from the first page to the last.  <br><br>My words, however, struggle to portray what this book is and what it means. Gibran's writing is universal and dated in a beautiful way that makes it timeless. His words are a blessing, a comforting voice in the darkness of humanity. <br><br>Highly recommended.  <br>
<a href="">View all my reviews</a>

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Karl Strand - Henry Martin Project update

Following the Phonebooth story, Karl and I have been talking about a shift in direction. While we both still want to continue creating short captions combined with stunning visuals of street life, we would like to explore additional possibilities presented by composite images and longer short stories, such as The Phonebooth.

I'm currently editing a short story which may appear on a Canadian blog, Adventureworlds in December. This story will feature one of Karl's composite images.

In the mean time, Karl created some logos for our project:

 Let us know what you think.

Maldoror - a review

Maldoror and the Complete WorksMaldoror and the Complete Works by Comte de Lautréamont

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What to say about Maldoror that hasn't been said yet? What to say about the mysterious son of a diplomat who appeared in France, wrote this book and died, vanishing from the world, yet leaving his mark for decades and centuries yet to come?

The first time I had the pleasure of reading this exceptional work, I was taken aback. Barely seventeen, I hungrily swallowed the disturbing images leaping at me from the pages, not to fully comprehend them until years later. This work, over a century old, is believed to be the first work, the foundation stone of the surrealist movement, a movement that penetrated into every aspect of art, life, being; whether we are willing to admit it or not, this work is as important today as it was when originally published in 1868 (well, at least a part of it was). The world was not ready to receive the complete self-awareness of evil Maldoror so fully comprehends, and the world is still not ready. This work is certainly not to be read by a "closed" mind. It is said that to be creative, one must borderline insanity, yet, Lautreamont was playing with genius; a genius of a caliber capable of scaring away even the most immodest of us. But get deeper into his work, walk past the disturbed images, surpass your fears and you shall see the light. This work cannot be ignored, cannot be left to collect dust. I have owned several copies over the past twenty years, and I am still finding new meanings, new passages, and new understanding in this wonderful work. This truly is the one book that will never get old, that will always keep on giving, as long as one is ready to listen.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Calling by Amber Foxx - a review

The CallingThe Calling by Amber Foxx

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Calling by Amber Foxx is not my usual reading material, however, my mind was long overdue for a 'lighter' read. The last time I read something in the paranormal genre was . . . hmm . . . ages ago. Nonetheless, intrigued by the positive reviews, I gave it a try. And I'm glad I did.

Right off the start, we are introduced to Mae. The neat little backstory is well developed later on, and any questions left unanswered in the beginning are answered. Mae has a gift she inherited from her grandmother, an Appalachian healer - she is a seer. And kudos to the author for making the distinction between a seer and a psychic (which is also explored and correctly evaluated later in the novel), a mistake too often made by others. Yet, Mae is stifled by her religious mother and promises not to use her gift.

Fast forward to present day, and Mae is all grown up, has some emotional baggage, and uses the gift again. But it is no longer the same Mae. This Mae has some real-world problems and some real-world dilemmas. Living where she lives, being surrounded by the people she is surrounded by, Mae is rightfully apprehensive to use her gift. Nonetheless, Mae cannot escape her calling, and her world slowly begins to spiral out of control.

I shall pause here to address something written by an another reviewer who mentions that The Calling is a "paranormal literary novel."

I disagree. While this is not your typical paranormal tale full of utter nonsense, it is still a work of genre. Unlike literary fiction, The Calling is very much a plot-driven work, and while the author did a great job with character development, it falls short of what I would consider literary narrative. I would say, however, that the narrative in this book is better than most genre works. And that's why it appealed to me.

So, without giving any of the plot away, I will dive into the negatives/positives.

Positives first:

The character development is rather good, both for our primary protagonist - Mae, and for all antagonists and side players.
The setting and scenery is well described, with neither too much details nor any perceived gaps. Having visited that part of the country, I found it believable.
The paranormal aspect of the story - Mae's gift and her family history is also believable and not far-fetched. The author must have done a good amount of research into the paranormal aspects featured in this book, and portrayed them accurately. Whether it was the gift itself, or the Native American healers and their traditions, or the Eastern approaches described later on, none of it came across as unbelievable. Again, kudos for that.
The introduction of real-world problems into the paranormal story was a refreshing and welcomed addition. Mae comes across as a real person, and not as a bimbo who one day wakes up to save the world from an impending doom. Good job.


Mystery - where is the mystery? If it was supposed to be her father, than it should have been more explored. If it was meant to be professor Tann, then I would need some closure.
Closure - I needed more of a closure, but that's a matter of opinion. I wished there was a closure with Bernadette, especially. And Charlie's involvement had a great potential for a buildup, but it never came. Instead. it ended with the promise of a better future. Being the first book in a series, I can only assume that some of this will come back later.
I would have liked to see more internal struggle in Mae. I mean, after what happened and the big shift in her personal life, I would have liked to see her vulnerability explored, her inner turmoil, et cetera. But, that would have made it a literary novel, and would have rendered the plot irrelevant.

Overall, The Calling was an enjoyable read, and definitely a well-written one. While not my usual genre to read, I embraced the characters and even cared for them. The story itself is quite plausible, and the writing held my attention.

I have received The Calling by Amber Foxx directly from the author, as part of the screening process for the now defunct The Source. The author did not request this review, did not offer me any compensation, and had no influence on my writing this review.


View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

28 Far Cries by Marc Nash - a review

28 Far Cries28 Far Cries by Marc Nash

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marc Nash's 28 Far Cries is, as the title suggests, a collection of twenty-eight short stories. Lately, I've been really enjoying the flash fiction format, so when I saw that the stories contained within this volume were all flash fiction, I welcomed the challenge.

I'm not entirely unfamiliar with Mr. Nash's work, as I have been involved in countless discussion threads with him over the past year; however, this was my first real reading of his work.

The stories in 28 Far Cries are unrelated in theme and characters, and this makes the collection a good sample of Mr. Nash's work. There are some collections where the diversity of themes and subjects make the collection feel disjointed, nevertheless, this was not the case here.

That being said, I spent the past three days contemplating how to review 28 Far Cries. I must admit that, as a reader, I was a little torn as to how I should rate it. The stories are easy to read, and the text is well edited, so there was no problem there. Yet, I found myself contemplating the literary worth of the stories, and their value as stories.

Mr. Nash created tales without a beginning or an end. Tales that come out of nowhere, allow the reader a glimpse of space and time, and depart. This, for me, was a new reading experience. I can only consider that, unlike most authors who want the reader to consider a situation, a character, or a setting, Mr. Nash explores a thought and the language appropriate for that thought.

It is the language itself, which makes these stories worth reading, as Mr. Nash creates feelings through words. At first, from the traditional storytelling perspective, I was leaning towards a three-star rating. But the longer I thought about it, the more I recognized that these stories are worth more, for the author severed traditions and embarked on his own, uncompromising quest. And while some of the stories in this collection did not speak to me personally, I must admire the artist's effort and attitude.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Kindle Countdown - Poetry

My poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn remains in the Kindle Select program, so I decided to do the Kindle Countdown deal they offer. Starting on August 31, the books will be on sale for $0.99 and the price will increase in equal increments over the following seven days.

 Of course, it is free any time on the Kindle Unlimited program.

The Balzac Project - Harlot High and Low

Note: My edition from 1899 has this book titled Harlot's Progress. Later, the title was changed to Harlot High and Low.

A Harlot High and LowA Harlot High and Low by Honoré de Balzac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why should anyone care about Esther, a prostitute from a young age, a harlot with powers over men? Why should anyone care about a spoiled feeble individual such as Lucien, the poet whose ambitions are to secure a noble title and live in luxury for the rest of his life? The same Lucien who, by the way, in Lost Illusions ruined his sister and her husband, the only man that cared for him. Why?

Because of Balzac.

Yes, it is all Balzac's fault.

This unbelievable author has taken over most of my reading time for the past several months, and I do not see the end of this 'binge' arriving anytime soon.

Balzac wrote in a style like no other. His descriptions are vivid, his metaphors exquisite, and his understanding of humanity alarming. And this is precisely why I enjoy his writing.

It is as if one was reading two works at once: One, a social commentary on the high society of Paris. The other, a psychological study of the characters. And what characters those are. It's been said that throughout his work, about three thousand characters circulate within his novels. Some appear more frequently than others do; yet they are never the same. Depending on the narrator, they are all depicted as the narrator sees them, which, is a unique approach. But I had already made this observation in my previous reviews of his other works, so I shall not bore you with the details.

Balzac created faulty characters that often cross social boundaries and norms, while, on the surface, they hold on to strict moral codes of the time. His men are often cold and removed, his women often passionate beyond reason. Yet, they all wear the masks society expects of them, and appear untouched by the events around them. Deep inside, however, they love and hate, cherish and condemn, and often sell their souls to maintain the facade of perception.

One cannot help but sympathize with them, whether they are likeable or not, because Balzac masterfully shows both sides of their personalities. Even in the case of the original villain, Jacques Collin, Balzac creates a softer side to the man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal.

After reading this book, I am still amazed at how well it ties together with the books I read earlier, and how everything becomes full circle. Of course, a new circle begins, spun off the threads of the original circle, but Balzac does not leave the reader hanging with a cheap plot line to spur the reader's curiosity. Each novel has its own end, its own closure. Yet, a few books later, a character reappears, enters the scene, and proves the reader wrong all along. And for this, I adore his writing.

So what is this book about? Well, it is about Lucien, the poet; Esther the prostitute; and a villain who has a soft spot for the former whom he wants to see rise in society while using the latter to secure it. Throw in a few counts and countesses, a greedy banker, politicians who care more about their future than justice, spies, the secret police, some forged bills, drugs, poison, murder, kidnapping, mistresses and lovers, gambling, and a love one would die for, and you have it. Oh yes, don't forget the powerful social commentary that Balzac did so well.

It's a complicated yet rewarding read. Technically, Harlot High and Low finishes the tale started in Lost Illusions, as well as the tale in Distinguished Provincial in Paris, the tale in Father Goriot, and the tale in M. Gobsec. It also brings in characters from other novels that are not directly tied to any of the above mentioned. Nevertheless, if my previous reads have taught me anything, it is to expect the unexpected, so I'm fairly certain that the tale spun here will continue elsewhere.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Flight into Egypt - a review

Flight Into EgyptFlight Into Egypt by Timothy C. Ely

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Flight into Egypt is the first artist's book I've seen. The concept of a book without words, where the images themselves are the storyline, the plot, the drama, the protagonists . . . is completely new to me.

I must admit that, until recently, I had no idea books like this existed.

I 'read' or rather viewed this book about ten times today. The first viewing was a mere cursory glance, whereas the subsequent viewing were concentrated efforts to absorb images, symbols, and, in a sense, discover their meanings. The last viewing was a casual leafing through the pages with an unfocused eye, seeing where the mind will focus.

Each viewing evoke different emotions, but the casual, unfocused one was, by far, the most rewarding.

I mean, the focused reader will surely appreciate the quality of the images, the complexity of the symbols, and the variety of directions taken by the artist. The unfocused reader, however, will perceive a journey - a story told by the images where the mind writes the words the eye cannot see.

It is a book I will revisit often.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Balzac Project - Lost Illusions

Lost Illusions (La Comédie Humaine)Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Balzac's Lost Illusions is a massive literary undertaking, and an attempt to delve deep into the world of humanity with all its great deeds and basest desires. Yet, taking the entire volume of Balzac's Human Comedy into perspective, Lost Illusions is nothing but a small piece of the enormous mosaic this author created in the short span of a decade.

Like with all his works I read to date, Lost Illusions offers its readers spectacular writing, well developed characters, just enough but not too much backstory, and a purely human conflict with multitude of players affecting the final outcome.

While most of the works in the Human Comedy take place in Paris, Lost illusions offers a glimpse of the life in the countryside; nevertheless, the ambitions there are not much different, the nobles are just as bad (if not worse) than their Parisian counterparts, and the long-reaching allure of the Parisian society finds a fertile ground amidst the country nobles.

The story opens quite simply with an old man, a printing press, and a child in the beautiful French countryside. The child goes to study the art of printing in Paris, the father sees him as his successor, and there is the making of a bright future, of growing business, of independence, and a happy life.

Readers familiar only with contemporary genre works will likely expect a happy-ever-after, and probably wonder why there are five hundred pages yet to be read in the book. Ha, they do not know Balzac.

In a few pages, the printing press turns out to be an aging building with antiquated technology, the father shows his darker side and his avarice, and the son, while educated and humble, lacks any balls whatsoever.

As the pages turn, more and more characters make their appearance, some nice, some mean, and some downright ugly. The list of main players quickly grows to more than a few, and the plot thickens.

Without disclosing any of the plot (and there are several plots running at once), I must bow and show my respect to M. Balzac. Lost Illusions is one heck of a novel, and one heck of a study of humanity, at its best and at its worst. Balzac, as expected, throws some unexpected punches, stirs some unforeseen troubles, and lets you get down to the muck and get dirty while you are at it. He knows humanity, he knows what makes us tick, and he knows how to shine the light from just the right angle.

Bravo, sir!

That being said . . . there are those who connect with Lucien and disregard David. I could not. Lucien is his own character, and yes, he plays a large part in this story. David, however, David is the story. I can relate to David better than I can relate to any character in this work.

I'm still a bot torn between Pere Goriot and Lost Illusions. If I had to make a choice, I would not know which one I liked better. The two works are very different, and yet very similar at the same time. Both books are on my 'favorites' list.

One final note - some reviews mentioned how different Rastignac was in this novel from how he was portrayed in Pere Goriot. Balzac has some two thousand characters circulating throughout his work, and making appearances here and there, sometimes playing a major, yet other time a very minor, part. Balzac's narrators are describing the characters, and each narrator sees a person differently. Also, we must keep in mind the transformation Rastignac underwent following Goriot's funeral, and the last lines of the novel.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Balzac Project - M. Gobseck

GobseckGobseck by Honoré de Balzac

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting little story, which indirectly continues the tale started in Father Goriot. While the main theme in the story is avarice, there is a thin thread of continuity that touches upon the fate of Mme. de Restaud and her children, shedding new light on what happened after her father's, M. Goriot's death.

As in in his other works, Balzac superbly depicts the passing nature of fame and popularity, of the perceived power within the noble circles, and of the harsh reality that is paid for the privileges. In reality, it is man like Gobseck that hold the real power over the elite and poor alike, a man whose supreme intelligence and life experiences enable him to penetrate the thoughts and desires of his clientele before the thoughts and desires even become reality.

Unfortunately, even someone as calculated as Gobseck has his faults, and succumbs to his own greed.

A fine portrayal of the mind of an usurer.

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The Balzac Project - Father Goriot

Père GoriotPère Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pere Goriot or Father Goriot is but a one novel in Balzac's massive work, The Human Comedy. Like his other novels from the same collection, Father Goriot is set against the backdrop of excessive wealth (at any cost), striking poverty, and nothing in between.

Some familiar characters go in and out of this novel, only to reappear in later works, but for the sake of simplicity, I must concentrate on the two men who carry this work forward - Goriot and Rastignac.

Only Balzac could have created these two characters. Goriot - a simple poor man who came to riches; Rastignac - a poor nobleman. What ties these two men together is, at first their lodging situation and later their love for a woman. In Goriot's case, it is his daughter Delphine. In Rastignac's case, it is the same Delphine, but he sees her as his ticket to the riches he promised himself to obtain.

In an era where the Parisian women ruled the social scene, a young man is nothing unless a woman takes him under her wing. When both husbands and wives maintain lovers on the side, and your social status is judged by how much money you have and whose ball you are invited to, nothing is sacred and the end always justifies the means.

Goriot renounces everything to make his daughters happy, and Rastignac renounces his pure and noble ideals to get ahead. Along the way, they meet in the middle, in the place where poverty dug its claws into every fiber of their surroundings, emotions are questioned, ideals abandoned, and decency is as scarce as water in the desert.

Balzac has a way of portraying the disparity between the two social contrast that is both admirable and revolting. His characters are complicated human beings, and while we are afforded only a momentary glimpse at their lives, we cannot but love or hate them.

His ability to find the best and worst in people is second to none, and while his works are often full of slow-moving passages, the language alone is beautiful enough to carry the prose forward.

It is difficult to talk about this work in depth without disclosing spoilers, so it must suffice to state that Father Goriot is a spectacular study of the human condition and society. The characters in this book undergo multiple internal changes, and the ones that come across as unscrupulous turn out to have more decency in them than the noble ones. But such is our society, and such is the [rightfully called] human comedy.

I am now tempted to read the all novels that form La Comédie humaine.

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The Balzac Project - The Girl with the Golden Eyes

I decided to read more Balzac - actually, I'd like to complete the entire Human Comedy, which, by itself, is no easy task. I'll be re-posting my older reviews here now, and filing everything under "Balzac Project" tag.

The Girl with the Golden EyesThe Girl with the Golden Eyes by Honoré de Balzac

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Girl with the Golden Eyes...such an unassuming title. If one considers Balzac to be one of the classical writers, than one would reach for this book thinking it would go along the lines of other classic novellas. Hmmm...the title sounds almost romantic.

The Girl with the Golden Eyes is an interesting piece of literature. Despite its short length, it could be divided into three separate books: First, the reader is introduced to the scene - Parisian life - in no flattering terms.
"In Paris, there are only two ages, youth and decay: a bloodless, pallid youth and a decay painted to seem youthful." or "Everything is tolerated: the government and the guillotine, religion and cholera. You are always welcome in this world, and you are never missed." Here Balzac splits the Parisians into three main classes. "The class that has nothing: The worker, the proletarian, the man who lives by his feet, his hands, his tongue, his back, his good arm, his five fingers."
Balzac blatantly exposes this class with severe judgement, observing the never-ending labor whose fruits are blown away at the end of the week: "Then they take their pleasure and relaxation in an exhausting debauch, which leaves their skin brown with filth, black and blue with violence, blotched with drunkenness, or yellow with indigestion. This lasts only two days but steals tomorrow's bread, the weekly soup, the wife's new dress, and swaddling for the ragged child."
Then there are the workers who see future, save money, and start a small shop - the "...king of Parisian scene who has submitted to time and space. Yes, hats off to this creature made of saltpeter and gas, who gives children to France during his industrious nights and during the day runs here and there in the service, glory, and pleasure of his fellow citizens. This man resolves the problem of satisfying simultaneously an agreeable wife, his household, the Constitutionel, his office, the National Guard, the Opera, and God, all for the purpose of transforming the Constitutionel, the office, the Opera, the National Guard, the wife, and God into gold."

The second Parisian scene, "...the world of those who possess something." ... "Wholesalers and their boys, civil servants, small bankers of great honesty, rogues and rascals, head clerks and errand boys, the bailiff's bookkeeper, the lawyer, the notary, indeed the seething, scheming, speculating members of that lower middle class that caters to the demands of Paris and stays on alert, hoarding provisions, handling products manufactured by the proletariat, dealing in fruit from the Midi, fish from the sea, wines from every sun-kissed slope. This class reaches out its hands to the Orient, takes shawls the Turks and Russians discard, casts its net as far as the Indies, waits for sales and looks for bargains, discounts bills of exchange and rolls along, gathering everything of value. It wraps up Paris bit by bit and carts it off, on the alert for the fantasies of childhood, spying out the whims and vices of maturity, and extorting advantage from its disease."

The third class, "...a kind of Parisian belly in which the interests of the city are digested and condensed into forms known as affairs, the crowd of layers, doctors, notaries, barristers, business men, and magistrates are stirred and shaken by and acidic and bitter intestinal movement." ... "In the end, of necessity they become cynical about all feeling, forced as they are by laws, men, and institutions to hover like vultures over still-warm corpses."

Above this third class lies the realm of the artist. "An artist's face is always extraordinary; it is always above or below the conventional lines of what fools call ideal beauty. What force destroys them? Passion. In Paris every passion is resolved into two terms: gold or pleasure."

And lastly, above the artist is the realm of the aristocrat, where this story takes place. "Don't look for affections here, any more than for ideas. Embraces conceal a profound indifference, and politeness an unrelieved contempt. No one here is capable of loving his fellow man." ... "This empty life, this constant anticipation of unfulfilled pleasure, this permanent boredom, this frivolity of mind, heart, and brain, this weariness with the great Parisian reception is mirrored in their features and produces those cardboard faces, those premature wrinkles, that physiognomy of the rich in which impotence grins, gold is reflected, and intelligence has fled."

Thus, after reading twenty-six pages of politically charged social commentary on Balzac's day Paris, the story finally begins. It begins here, switching gears and style from the preceding pages into the realm of romance (and satire). The prose shifts towards poetic (and over the top), and we are introduced to Henri de Marsay, "...the handsomest young man in Paris. From his father, Lord Dudley, he had inherited the most amorously enchanting blue eyes; from his mother, thick curly black hair; from both parents pure blood, a girlish complexion, a gentle and modest manner, a slim and aristocratic figure, and beautiful hands." However, his "... fine qualities and charming defects were tarnished by one dreadful vice: He believed in neither mean nor women, God nor the Devil. Capricious nature had given him gifts; a priest had finished the task." There is also a seemingly out-of place mention that Lord Dudley had several children, one of who is Euphemie, the daughter to a Spanish lady. She was raised in Havana, then taken to Madrid with a Creole man. She was married to an old and immensely rich Spanish Lord, Don Hijos, Marguis de San-Real who has come to live in Paris.

Henri de Marsay is a playboy who likes to play. He has the looks and the means to enjoy life to its fullest. But, strolling on a promenade one fine afternoon, Henri meets the "girl with the golden eyes", a mysterious, protected creature who is the talk of all the young Parisian men. This girl turns out to be Paquita Valdez.

De Marsay uses his advantages and influence to find out where Paquita lives, bribes a postman, and has a letter delivered to her. Once Paquita accepts his advances, she drugs her female guardian, and de Marsay sneaks into the house. Eventually they end up in a love nest built specifically for pleasure. The decor is rich and lavish, the walls are soundproof. Here, in a moment of passion, we learn that Paquita is a virgin yet very well versed in the ways of love. Henri begins to suspect something. Unfortunately, throughout this part of the novel, the language turns more towards the romantic, even cheesy at times with overly flowery descriptions and unrealistic comparisons. Still, I kept reading on.

Once Henri 'conquers' Paquita, he is torn between the pleasures she offers, and a new potential 'target' a woman hundred times more beautiful that all the young men talk about. This woman turns out to be the Marquise, the wife of Don Hijos. One night, when Henri fornicates with Paquita in the love nest, Paquita keeps begging him to kill her because she could never escape her prison. It turns out Paquita is the daughter of a Georgian slave to Don Hijos, and that her mother also sold her. Paquita, while making love to Henri (whom she made dress up in woman's clothing), cries out a woman's name. Henri gets upset and ready to strangle her, but a huge Creole man, Christemio who guards Paquita stops him. De Marsay shoots Paquita a look that says, "You will die" before departing from the house.

And here the novel yet again changes style and language, shifting towards the unexpected.

(view spoiler)

I generally don't disclose endings, but this novella was rather unexpected, so I make an exception. If I were to pick up this book in the middle and start reading, I would have stopped assuming it is all but romantic mumbo-jumbo. However, this could not be farther from the truth. It's a very short read that is worth the time, especially if you enjoy the unforeseen. Balzac is great at crimes of passion, at forbidden fruit and consequences, and this one is no exception.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Karl Strand - Henry Martin Project: Part 3

It is my pleasure to share with you the third image from the joint project between Karl Strand, the Australian photographer crazy enough to try to work with me, and yours truly.

"I'm too young to have sinned, yet too old to be viewed as innocent. I know you don't see me . . .  no one does. It would hurt you too much to acknowledge my existence.

But I'm here, real . . . flesh and bones hidden amidst the pretend grass. And even the fake fox stares in amazement at your indifference while, ashamed of what I have become to you and myself alike, I'd rather obscure my face than face your oblivion."

If you like what we are doing, please let either one of us know by either commenting on the posts, or contacting us directly.

Karl can be found on his Facebook page:

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Karl Strand - Henry Martin Project, part 2

Here is a second photo Karl and I worked on together. This time, I'll skip the introduction, and let the image and the words speak for themselves.

The chaotic steps of your progress resonate throughout the river of concrete, where I, like a human boulder, stand the test of time while you struggle towards the light instead of embracing the eternal flame of humanity that's been burning inside you since the day you crawled out of the womb.

Mock me, if you'd like, for my flame burns safely in my heart, and the harmonious tones pouring forth from my erhu are powerful enough to drown your insults; or join me for a while and let yourself be cloaked in serenity amidst the madness. I might appear worn-out, but like a boulder in a river I stand strong. 

Image copyright Karl Strand. Text copyright Henry Martin.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Magic Trends Review: Blog Hop: Pass the Stick

Magic Trends Review: Blog Hop: Pass the Stick: Blog hop introduces writers and gives a glimpse of their work and style. I was tagged for this Blog Hop by writer Henry Martin - here&...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Karl Strand - Henry Martin project

I know that there are a few of you who wanted to see what is this project I've been talking about. Well, Karl is being absent, but I've decided to share one of his images and the words I wrote for it. For better or worse, we could call this the "real world test" and see what happens.

A little background. Karl is a photographer based in Sydney, Australia. I don;t know much about him, so that part will come later on, as the project develops. I am in NH, USA and I like to play with words.

So, after our chance meeting online, both Karl and I have felt that we could do something together, something meaningful to both of us. Those of you familiar with my work know that I tend to concentrate on the grittier side of life, and while I do not necessarily aim to give a voice to the underdogs, I play with the idea of collective unconscious and the human nature to overlook uncomfortable sights. I also believe that there is a story behind every character, and the ones most often shunned by the masses have the most interesting stories to tell.

Unlike storytelling where I have time to develop characters, settings, and background stories to make the fictional world believable, in this project I have one image and a limited space to come up with some words. I try to concentrate on the subject in the image, to feel their emotions. This, of course, is very subjective, and my 'understanding' is only one of many possible scenarios. I do not have the luxury to talk with the subject, to observe them in real life. All I have is one image and my imagination.

So, without further ado, this is the first image Karl sent me. Since it is the first one, I wrote sort of an introduction based on the first, cursory glance at the image. The more in-depth look resulted in the words below the image.

 Two generations passing by on the dividing line which plagues our world. The man—set in his ways, unconcerned with either side of the division. The girl—too young to care either way. Yet, the keen observer cannot help but make a parallel between the unintended scene in the image and the reality art faces today. Competing for the public's attention, art and commercial fad coexist side by side. On one hand, a street artist gazes in concentration as he draws the images only his mind could see until now. On the other hand, an upscale boutique screams loudly with its "SALE" sign, ready to discard the old and bring in the new. Which way would you look? Such is the dilemma the artist faces today—staying true to his art has never been harder unless one is willing to sacrifice everything.

I admire the clean sheet of paper in front of me. A pen in my hand, I make the first black stroke, and the images played in my mind's eye assume a concrete shape. Once upon a time, I, too, was a clean sheet, but those who were supposed to care left their marks on me—deep cuts that run through my consciousness yet never bleed.

As I work, people rush past me in a perplexing hurry, their eyes skipping from one ad to the next—flashing screens and shop windows demand their attention—not caring what it is that is offered, as long as their gaze never meets mine.

I am the stain on their subconscious.

I reach for a new pen, and give birth to a fresh line. With each stroke, a bit of my burden leaves me, and a cut closes over, leaving scars that no one can see. My art is my rebirthing, a way to simplicity I can only achieve if I shed most of what civilization has to offer. And while you keep chasing colors in the shop windows, in my new life there is only room for black and white.

Yes, the necessary Copyright info: Images are the property of Karl Strand Photography.

I would love to read your thoughts on this project. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Karl Strand Photography project

Some of you may remember a recent post where I sent a shout-out to Karl Strand, an Australian photographer who used one of my quotes to accompany an image he took. At that time, I asked Karl to get hold of me if he is interested in doing a joint project together.

Well, thanks to one of my fans who went out of her way to contact him on Facebook, Karl and I exchanged a few emails, played around with some ideas, and decided that we would like to work together on a future project.

The project is at its very infancy, so I won't disclose much, but I can tell you that we are toying with the idea of combining my words with his images to create a photo journal of sorts.

Those familiar with my writing know that I tend to bring attention to the darker side of humanity, especially the less fortunate amongst us, and this project will likely continue the theme of social awareness. Throughout my writing career (if it can be called that), I've been addressing the collective unconscious and, sort of, holding a mirror up to the world at large.

Karl shared some powerful images of Sydney's homeless with me, and I've been trying to come up with words to accompany the photographs. I say trying, because I want my words to express the emotions in the subjects' faces, body language, posture, . . .

Needless to say, this is a challenging project, and one I never attempted before. Unlike story telling,where there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I have time to play around with character development, in this project I'm limited to a paragraph or two, for the words and the image itself are no more than a snapshot in the life of an unknown person.

I hope to be able to share with you a sample of what we are working on soon. 

Being separated by fourteen time zones doesn't exactly lend itself to a streamlined exchange of ideas.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Underground Book Reviews Summer reading list - poll

Well, according to the email I got this morning from UBR, my novel, Escaping Barcelona, is listed on their 2014 Summer Reading Poll.

Since I don't have a Facebook account, I can't see the entire poll or the votes, but I am assured it is there.

The official Underground Book Reviews review of Escaping Barcelona can be found here:

If you have enjoyed my writing, please take a minute to click the poll and cast your vote. I really appreciate it.

Thank you.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A shout out to Karl Strand Photography

Karl Strand - I do not know you. Nevertheless, I just became aware of the fact that you have used one of my quotes to accompany one of your photographs in a Facebook post. I don't do Facebook, so I cannot reply there . . .

I just wanted to say, "Thank You!" and to congratulate you on the beautiful image. I must admit that the quote works rather well with that image. I also wanted to thank you for doing the right thing and crediting me for the quote. It's much appreciated.

If you, somehow, happen to read this post, drop me a line. I took a look at some of your images and they are wonderful. You are very talented!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Free poetry on Kindle

Following the better-than-expected interest in my poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn, during a recent Goodreads giveaway, I have decided to run a FREE Kindle promo from Friday, May 23 through Monday, May 26, 2014.

This is just my way of saying, "Thank You," to all the readers who added my book to their to-read list. I hope you will enjoy this opportunity to read my poetry for free.

The Silence Before Dawn will be free on all Amazon sites worldwide. The US link is here:

Feel free to share this promo with your friends or your favorite sites.

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dreams in the Womb - a review

Dreams in the WombDreams in the Womb by Brandon Gene Petit

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I started reading Dreams in the Womb, I had no idea what to expect. Unlike other poetry collections I read previously, this one is an interesting mix of prose and verse, alternating every few pages between the two.

"My nubile heart resounds into nurturing fluids and my form grows heavy in the dreaming void of the womb . . . my eyes are sealed shut but my fetal head now busies with thoughts as it curls into my chest. Behold the first inklings of consciousness in their amoebic state, probing the darkness pursuant of a sentient spark; an infant's first grasping handfuls of love, fear, and jealousy . . . or at least the primitive roots of such."

The opening prose Prior Knowledge grabbed me with its esoteric quality, evoking powerful images in my mind - images of pure beauty and nostalgia. The first well-known work that came to mind, if I had to compare, was Calvino's Cosmicomics. But unlike Calvino who delved into consciousness and persisted in a theme, Petit seems to tickle the subconscious and moves on, shifting the focus and style as the book unfolds, no longer esoteric but very human, vulnerable, and romantic like Lawrence, then shifting again.

"The thorn in my fingertip serves as punishment for taking her for granted, and the bead of blood that follows is surely the opposite of her tears. Her afterglow smells like memories, and candlelight, and lazy days in bed . . . but to my dismay it does not smell like forgiveness."

Before I continue, however, I must admit that I am torn by this book. To me, there are two books - one of prose [which Petit categorizes as writings] and one of verse [formal poetry]. As a reviewer, nonetheless, I must rate the book as a whole.

The verse, or poems in this collection are beautiful, yet failed to engage me in a way I would have liked. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the poems; it is just that I, personally, struggle with rhyming poetry. And despite the fact that Petit did a wonderful job in getting all the mechanics right and selected some great words to match the rhyme and rhythm without sacrificing meaning, I would have preferred free verse. That being said, I'm not sufficiently familiar with formal-style poetry to pass a judgement, but had I the opportunity to rate the two styles separately, I would have rated the verse at three stars.

The prose pieces were my favorite pieces in the book. Each time I found one, I was overjoyed, and I looked forward towards the next one. This is where Petit turned me upside down, shook me, and set me back again. Yes, it is that good.

"I have misguided my talent to distinguish the varieties of Heavens from the instabilities of Hell, and in fool-fashion I show little concern that I may never break away from the dance. I revel in cycles too intellectual to be hedonistic, but too asinine to be fruitful to the psyche."

It is in prose that Petit shines as a true poet. You may think that this is an oxymoron, but no, I must assure you that the soul of a true poet shines forth from the "writings", as Petit refers to his short pieces.

"I am numbed . . . numbed not beyond the threshold of emotion, but beyond any earthly connection to the world and its trite voice of reason . . . and therefor any reasoning emotions akin. Yes, an afebrile sickness of ecstasy and austerity intertwined becomes my illusory cradle-prison of a realm, somewhere in the dismal spaces between the rotating gears of consciousness."

His imagery-rich language is a spectacular example of what it means to be a poet, what it means to see the beauty in everything around you, even the worst day of your life. Reading the prose, I felt touched. If I could, the prose would receive a five star rating without having to think about it twice.

"Love is painful when it travels only in one direction, and words are deadly when they speak of triangles and broken circles."

Petit's collection as a whole is greatly varied, touching upon themes of love, relationships, heaven, hell,

"It seems like the Devil always has one last form . . . one last mask, then still another . . . one more arrow flailing over the edge from the darkness to whence you have sent him. To your dismay, evil has bartered for a permanent place in nature, and when the Devil is not blatant on the stilts of man he crouches in the legs and drooping chins of beasts, prowling ever closer to the fire until a sleeper's neglect fails the flame and darkness exposes a path."

past lives, gods, and anything in between. Yet, throughout the collection runs the theme of beauty, be it a woman he admires or the light of a star in the evening sky.

Rain . . . the unsalted tears of God . . . and thunder, the massive heartbeat which squirms in ire for the angel that did not love Him. They both work together to make mad, tempestuous love in skies tinged as yellowed paper . . . restless anger growling in chains while a peaceful, Zen kind of sorrow vents the poison angst, keeping it all in balance for an alchemic display. For me it is an evening of half-dreaming and dignified god-questioning . . . answered only by the clarity of sublime breaths and the silence that overtakes from where conversations with divinity slide off into sleep, unresolved."

He sees beauty everywhere, and he has the ability to tame this beauty and bring it to his readers. And for this, I'm grateful.

Overall rating, strong 4 stars.

Mr. Petit, you are one talented poet, and I thank you for letting me glimpse the world through your eyes.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Blog Hop: Pass the stick

I was tagged for this Blog Hop by two authors, Martyn Halm and Roberta Pearce, so here are my introductions:

Roberta Pearce’s relationship with romance novels began when she fell into a box of her aunt’s dog-eared treasures that miraculously opened at the most interesting bits. All through post-secondary adventures – Russian Lit: good; torrid love scenes: better – this amour de HEA took her, though it goes without saying that she failed French. One day, she decided to make a useful contribution to society and write HEAs rather than just reading them, and still seeks one for herself in real life.

First-time participant and winner of 2013 NaNoWriMo, Pearce is still waiting for her cheque. Her influences include Fyodor Dostoyevsky [his dreamy side], Douglas Adams, Rupert Brooke, Mary Burchell, and Omar Khayyam. While she currently has no pets, she once had a pair of Siamese fighting fish named Pat and Mike, whose ghosts appear occasionally in her novels. Her imaginary hobbies include climbing Kilimanjaro and enjoying lofty literature. Her real hobbies include drinking copious bottles of wine with good friends while discussing anything that pops to mind.

Other than her above bio, Roberta Pearce drives men crazy with her mysterious red heels, and her shadowy figures sneak into men's dreams to haunt them at night. She is a frequent contributor to several discussions on Goodreads with her not always agreeable, yet always intelligent and well-written posts.

Visit her Goodreads Page or her Amazon Author Page or her Blog here.

Martyn V. Halm lives in Amsterdam, with his wife Maaike, two children, two cats, and countless imaginary characters vying for attention.

Writing realistic crime fiction is hard work. Martyn is a stickler for verisimilitude in fiction, even if that requires learning new skills. When your protagonist is a seasoned killer, research can take you right up to Nietzsche’s abyss. Luckily, things get easier after the first kill...

Martyn always enjoyed stories about assassins, but his opinion on assassins differed from the books he read. Since most fictional assassins are antagonists, they are often warped individuals, with freaky childhoods. However, Martyn has come across mercenaries (basically the same field), who are pretty regular people. Sure, their view of the world differs from ordinary citizens, but they’re not ‘warped’. This made him want to write about an assassin who has no deep-seated frustration or abused childhood, but who just realised that killing was what she was good at and who had the appropriate world view and lack of conscience to pull it off.

Other than his above bio, Martyn is a fellow ADVRider member. His European manners and insights are a breath of fresh air on Goodreads where he contributes whenever he does not write, folds people for a living, or contemplates how to establish real-life Loki Enterprises and get away with it. I suspect that he is the shadowy mastermind behind Loki, masking his chosen profession as a writer of suspense fiction in order to fool international law enforcement agencies.

Visit his Amazon Profile  where you can check out his books and sample two stories for free, or his Goodreads Profile, or his Interesting Blog here.

Time to answer my questions:

What I'm working on?

To be perfectly honest, I'm not really working on anything at this point. This past year and a half was a very busy time for me. I left the publishing world in 2007 [a mistake], and wrote for the next several years. Towards the end of 2012, when I was ready for a comeback, it took a lot of hard work to get everything ready.

Thus, since November 2012, I've been buried in Word files, Kindle files, epub files, and all sorts of files and programs, releasing the complete Mad Days of Me, trilogy, a collection of experimental short stories -Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts, and a new edition of my poetry—The Silence Before Dawn.

Nevertheless, an author seldom sleeps, so I'm technically working on a new book, titled 36 Days. Yes, I've been saying this for a while now, but I won't write unless it feels right. Writing cannot be forced.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I write Literary Fiction, so there is not exactly a genre. Literary Fiction differs from genre works on a pretty significant level, in that the character himself is the story. I'll present my own interpretation: Literary fiction or a literary novel is a written work where the protagonist's state of mind and resulting actions take precedence over the plot itself. I realize that this definition may not suit everyone, so I'm open to a discussion on this.

For me, literary novels are packed with emotions and real human experiences. The protagonists are not always likeable, the villains are not always bad, but we experience the world through their eyes and thoughts, which, in turn, teaches us something about our world. Such is life.

That being said, I have yet to read two lit fic novels that follow the same arc. With the ability to disregard established genre rules, the author has a lot more leeway where he/she takes his/her story, and thus all works within the "genre" are somewhat unique.

Why do I write what I write?

Because if I didn't, who else would?

The more serious answer is that I enjoy delving deep into the human psyche, discovering bits about humanity along the way. The way our society works, human interactions, alienation . . . and, of course, the beauty in those random moments we often overlook.

I write what I write because I cannot carry around a mirror large enough for the world to see itself in.

How does my writing process work?

It starts with one of those annoying ideas that just keep demanding my attention without ceasing. I start listening. Then I think about it. If it's anything I find interesting enough to work on, I contemplate it for a few days (or years—depending on the idea) and then I set to explore it.

First comes the location—all stories need to take place somewhere. Once I have a location, I do some research to either refresh my memory of a place, or to learn about a new place. I'm a visual person, so I look at photos, maps, transportation, historical sights, et cetera. I need to be able to see myself there, to walk the streets with my characters.

I do not outline. Rather, I let the story evolve as it unfolds.

Once I start, the process turns masochistic. As long as I'm writing, I live the story in my head. All day long, running scenarios, imagining events, interactions . . . At night, when the house is quiet and I'm the only one awake, I write it down. And the next day it's the same all over again.

This is fine with short stories. But having a character in your head for six years really blurs the line between reality and fiction. Take my word for it.


Edward M. Wolfe:

Edward M Wolfe is an author and musician living in Tulsa for some strange reason. He is an author of post-apocalypse, science-fiction, paranormal and non-fiction stories and novels.

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Andrea Barbosa:

Andrea Barbosa holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism and loves to travel and write. She maintains an indie review blog and is a contributor on Yahoo Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices websites. “Massive Black Hole” is her debut novel. Her work has been influenced by contemporary authors Paulo Coelho, Fernando Sabino and Joyce Carol Oates, among others. Her second book is a poetry collection featuring beautiful photography.


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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Massive Black Hole - a review

Massive Black HoleMassive Black Hole by Andrea Barbosa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This year, to expand my literary horizons, I wanted to try and read more books by self published authors. The Massive Black Hole by Andrea Barbosa is one of them.

I originally came across Andrea on Goodreads, and decided to read the book based on a few solid reviews and an interesting blurb.

I must begin by saying that this was not my 'typical' read, as Massive Black Hole not only features an entirely female cast, but is also written in a third-person narrative, whereas I tend to favor first-person narrative.

Perhaps, because of the latter, I did not find the story as engaging as I wanted it to be. First-person narrative offers a high degree of intimacy between the reader and the narrator, which is sometimes lost with a third-person narrative. Nevertheless, I believe that readers more accustomed to this narrative style will have no issue getting lost in the book.

When I mention the female cast, I must add that Barbosa's female protagonists are unlike any females I know personally. Massive Black Hole features three protagonists: Cibele, Agatha, and Amy. Cibele is from Rio de Janeiro, Agatha is from Texas, and Amy is from NYC, where most of the story takes place.

The first two protagonists are clearly introduced in their native environment, through present-day interactions with their surroundings, with just enough hint of their shared past. Later, through a flashback, the reader is introduced to Amy, NYC, and the reasons why both Cibele and Agatha ended up in the city. This is where the crux of the story unfolds.

Once the storyline shifts entirely to NYC, a meeting of chance begins an unlikely friendship that will alter the course of their lives forever. The various time shifts in the story are well defined, and the characters fully developed.

What I found interesting is that, as the story unfolds, all three protagonists undergo a major development. In Massive Black Hole nothing is as it seems at first, and friendship is a word taken too lightly. Both Cibele and Agatha, while initially very different, become cutthroat 'bitches' stopping at nothing to achieve their objectives, even if the assumptions their fears are based upon are far from reality. Barbosa shows a twisted side of femininity, where looks are everything and sex is a means that justifies the end.

But the book is about more than women taking advantage of each other and their surroundings. It is also a story of redemption and forgiveness. Throughout the book, Barbosa explores certain religious themes (religion shaped one character's past and another's future) that serve as a statement on humanity in general. Not only that, she also explores the controversial notion of hell being here and now (for some) which, while not widely accepted by Christians, is in line with Eastern religions and the concept of karma.

Overall, this was an interesting and enjoyable read. While I would personally opt for a more intimate narrative, the story flowed fine in third-person narrative. There were no awkward time shifts and all flashbacks served their purpose. Agatha's life turned out as one would have expected, however, both Amy and Cibele's development came as a surprise. There were some minor repetition and edit issues, however, none distracting enough to take away from the reading experience. I'm glad this book found its way to my desk.

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