Jennifer Brown’s Journey by Angie Langley

Chin up, Jennifer Brown, windows up, grab your sunnies and don’t let the seagulls steal ya chips!  Let the Journey begin! Twelve years into a stint as a secretary at Intex, outside London, she’s had enough.  Not only has her boyfriend, Pete with his Performing Pecker, cheated on her, but she’s the butt of jokes at work as well.  Her “dirty rota” and “tits policy” typos earn her dumb blonde status.  She wants to be taken more seriously.  So, she drives off in her beat up Peugeot on a whirlwind journey of life affirming self discovery.  There are jaunts to Australia and Spain and frequent calls to Will, her gay best friend.  A journey implies change; Jennifer gains respect for herself and for her various working mates, slogging together through life, but what remains constant is her youthful mirth and her pursuit of happiness.  Might it be found closer to home than she ever anticipated?

Angie Langley’s background in the entertainment business is apparent in the colorful characters she portrays.  There’s Will, of course, and Jonathan, his and Jennifer’s debonair boss, Jennifer’s forgetful and all-too-generous mother, Gerald, the crotchety old fisherman made to wear a toupee by his Russian fiance, George, her next boss, kind but not in love with his high-maintenance wife, Larry, Jennifer’s kind-of (?) married Australian friend, and the hippie cat woman whose barn she almost rents, to name a few.  If you wish for a little less color and a little more focus to the plot, be patient with Jennifer.  She’s worth the vibrant meandering: unflagging, even when she’s at her lowest point, whose empathy, humor and work ethic are a delight to accompany.  Thanks for the trip, Jennifer!    author site

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Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel by Mira Tudor

At monthly parties hosted by a violinist at his cottage in Bucharest, new and long-time friends bond over whiskey, cherry dishes, sixties music, and maybe even a strip tease. Through a series of such colorful gatherings, and more intimate ones in between, we get to know Henriette, a sculptress, her sister Alice, a writer, Haralambie, Henriette’s lover and writer, Pamfil, the violinist and Don Juan to many of these women friends, Ela, a depressed piano teacher turned book reviewer, George, her stalwart boyfriend and mathematician, Anca, a poet and translator, Marcel her French teaching boyfriend, Vlad a trainer, Daria, a graphic designer and recipient of Vlad’s health wisdom, and Maria, an old friend of Anca’s, now a market researcher and newcomer to Pamfil’s parties. Mira Tudor fills in their back stories with memories from the past: trips to the beach and other cities. Together, past and present reveal character traits and bring alive the ideas with which the characters wrestle over time. For us readers, the result is an infusion of art and life, truth and beauty necessarily inhabited by everyone who seek it. We are invited into the conversation as fellow listeners and respondents, bringing to the table our own concerns, likely very much like the ones these young adults discuss. I felt I’d had a virtual trip to Romania and am now ready to take one live! An inquisitive and personal literary bouquet. The floral picture on the cover captures well the tone of this piece.
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Surfing with Snakes and Dragons and Other Tales of Suburbia by Roger J Couture

Sometimes, to get out from under it, you have to relax and go with the wave instead of fighting it.  In this novel, comprised of eight short stories, by Roger J Couture, he takes on many personae, from someone much like himself – a man who works hard to play hard in the ocean – to party-loving young women to street hustlers to tattoo artists, all who “go with” the wild, salty energy within them.  Couture’s years of labor on this book bear fruit in the myriad details about places, personality and inner-lives with which he crafts his tales.  The stories are like waves that wash over us, and at the end, we come out a little water-logged but alive and refreshed.

The first, and title, story presents the two main characters both bound to each other as to their own demons.  And in their common struggle, they find a sort of release.  The tales that follow expand their back stories.  Part of the fun of the book is picking them out in these subsequent narratives, when their names and settings might change.  In “Dawn Patrol,” two brothers share a harrowing morning adventure on the waves.  “Prancing Red Stallion” tells of two favorite young women among the tattoo parlor crowd.  In “Spin, Cock, Pull,” we get the tattoo artist’s perspective, his agonizing release of that which could have released him from life.  Two new acquaintances stroll through the ‘hood in “Incidental Encounter.”  From the ‘hood we travel to the upper echelons of society in “Two Feet In,” as a daughter navigates her mother’s Ivy League aspirations for her, her dad’s racing car driving influence and her own wishes.  “Baja Flowers” celebrates a surfer’s return from an emergency surgery required after a bike accident.  Lastly, we’re left with a cliff-hanger when an almost-grad ends a night of drunken adventure to start her post-collegiate life in “Loves, Lovers and Mistresses.”  

Each story begins with a poem, a synopsis, that also serves to tie the stories together.  The poems give us a taste of the elegant prose with which Couture dignifies even the ugliest threats, deadliest thoughts, or most down-home speech, in short, the varied hues of the stories.  In this way, he reminds of David Foster Wallace.  The tattoo artist says, “an artist’s life is a traipse across a tightrope of the rational – observing below an unbalancing dimension of illusions seeking for that inspirational spark with which to alight a blank canvas with a fire of life – while the thin rope of sanity, and the artist, remains uncharred, connected, and whole” (172).  The artist-author might come away “uncharred,” but we readers come away wholly affected and ready to meet the next wave that comes at us with as much fortitude, ferocity and impulse as Couture and his characters.  book site

Spectra Unearthed by Christie Valentine Powell

“You don’t need to change the world; you change yourself and the rest works out,” (272) Keita’s betrothed, Brian, tells her in a letter.  She’s not sure what he means, but the phrase keeps coming back to her.  Captured during the clan Summit during which she and Brian are promised to each other, Jasper, a friend of Brian’s, “rescues” her underground in Nomeland, far from home and the Summit.  She doesn’t trust him.  His adopted clan, the Stygians are taking over Spectra and capturing royals like Keita and friends, also promised to male counterparts at the Summit.  In exchange for getting them out of this prison, Keita promises Sienna, another prisoner, to help her find her brother. And their girl adventure begins, as Keita’s friends Carli and Zuri join them not only fleeing the Stygians but disproving the rumors that they have something to do with the Stygian’s coup by enacting good wherever they go.  Namely, they help take care of cross-overs, kids abandoned for not belonging to their native clan, housed at the Colony.  What’s Unearthed in the kingdom of Spectra is four girls’ power to change themselves for the greater good.  

Change is the constant in this book.  Every time they get a breather, or start to debrief, the girls are interrupted by attackers or another reason to keep moving.  This keeps the story going at full speed.  There’s a lot to keep track of in the meantime, between clan locations, family lines and clan abilities; maps and summaries in the front of the book are helpful references.  It’s non-stop action escaping, rescuing, healing, sending and receiving messages, sleuthing, reaching the next destination, and using skills they’ve only begun to master as young women.  The more they practice their unique skills, the more they discover they can share these powers across clans.  As siblings can communicate in “siblink,” these tight-knit friends overcome clan rivalries and separations utilizing each other’s strengths.  

Women readers will be emboldened by this read.  The heroines, while bickering as friends do, also model relational intelligence at the heart of their success as a band of freedom fighters.  Their ability to relate to one another and put themselves in each other’s shoes helps them tackle problems together.  My favorite part is also the scariest: facing Rama, where undesirables are “gotten rid of.”  It’s there that the girls learn their true mission to welcome and liberate those singled out for their “otherness,” like themselves.  Two other Spectra books round out this series.         book site

Please Don’t Be Waiting For Me by Todd Stadtman

Over the PA system, Johnny Rotten, of the Sex Pistols, sings “please don’t be waiting for me” as the Weirdos get ready for the night’s performance.  For the four main characters at the show, it’s a climactic moment.  Months before, one of their own died during a similar concert and now, at this one, they think they’ve found her killer.  Between then and now, Scott, Bridge, Benny and Micah uncover the mystery surrounding Nadya’s death catastrophe by catastrophe.  First, they think the bigoted WPODS – who beat them up and vandalize their homes on a regular basis – are the culprits, but it turns out our teenage punk heroes are hated for more than their freakish clothes, dyed hair and makeup; Nadya’s murder is revenge for stolen drugs the dealers want back.  

This second novel by Todd Stadtman is an insider’s take into the San Francisco/Berkeley punk scene in the early 1980s.  With humor, wit and thriller action, he paints a sympathetic picture of a band of friends who back each other up and are supported by some of their parents, as well as very few police and other representatives of public institutions.  Those who don’t support them can’t seem to ignore them either; they’re blamed and targeted, giving our protagonists reason to dole out heavy doses of “punk love.”  With chapters that begin with great one-liners such as: “If you want to have fun, you have to make the run,” or “In the last two weeks, Scott had spent the night in a roadside ditch and a filthy Chinatown doorway,” we’re sure to want to read on, no matter how messy it might get.  

In the end, the friends reach a tepid but workable bargain with the world, “accepting the world’s embrace [while]… forever mindful for its betrayals” (271).  A coming-of-age story, it is “an artwork in process,” (271), an unforgettable experience that will continue to reverberate throughout their lives – and ours.  Ironically, it reads not only as history, but as relevant to our current cultural landscape.  The punks were scapegoats then; who are they now?         book site

The Flawed Ones by Jay Chirino

Jay has landed in a psychiatric ward.  Years of drinking and drug use bring him to this breaking point, but luckily not the end.  In fact, more than one voice on the ward reminds him that this is an opportunity.  He has potential.  He has love inside him, love that isn’t destroyed, that can enlist to rebuild what he broke down in other relationships.  He sees himself in others around him, in Devon’s smile he sees hope, in Callie’s cynicism he sees what he needs to overcome, in Bob, a faith that remains despite doubt, in Jerry, friendliness, and in Tara, innocence.  These characters are reflections of himself as well as whole in themselves.  In their company he’s able, finally, to tell his story, to share what it is he wants to accomplish, that for so long seemed impossible.  With their accompaniment, he beats the broken clock staring at him throughout the book – he gets to go home.  And now, we get to listen, too.  Whether or not we have gone through similar struggles, this read will give insight into the human condition, that which is common to us all.  With Jay’s empathy and candor, not to mention his poetic turns of phrase, I am inspired to mold beauty out of tragedy (180), watch sunsets, and never give up.  Thank you, Jay, for sharing.   author site

Swimmer Among the Stars by Kanishk Tharoor

A good author knows his place in a story, such as crouched and curious in an old lady’s apartment as she’s interviewed by linguists.  In the title story in this collection, the old lady is the last speaker of her language.  Never named, academics preserve it by recording her stories and songs, and becoming endeared to her along the way.  Some songs require multiple takes, as she changes the words to suit what she wants to say.  Unnamed, the language is not the point of the story; the point is our interest, along with the ethnographers’ and the ease-dropping little boy’s.  The point is the impact of this story, and others, on our lives, the way they make us want to find out not only how they turn out, but how we turn out because of them, how we can turn out our own stories.  Tharoor creates settings with his words.  The sea is evoked in “Astrolade” in the languid, rolling pace of the sentences.  “Icebreakers” is as crisp, spare and truncated as the frozen landscape in which the sailors can’t sail.  Tharoor captures the mood in New York surrounding 9-11 through the eyes of an escaped chef.  Who better to tell the tale than one who the one missed for his excellent cooking, for making sustenance not a necessity but a pleasure?  Let Tharoor serve you up a delicious tale or 13.  You won’t be sorry you spent time with tea drinkers and Alexander the the Great instead of actually doing something.