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Review: Thaw (poems) ~ by Chelsea Dingman

96 pages, paperback £15.30 / $19.95
University of Georgia Press (30 Sept. 2017)

Blurb:

Thaw delves into the issues at the core of a resilient family: kinship, poverty, violence, death, abuse, and grief. The poems follow the speaker, as both mother and daughter, as she travels through harsh and beautiful landscapes in Canada, Sweden, and the United States. Moving through these places, she examines how her surroundings affect her inner landscape; the natural world becomes both a place of refuge and a threat. As these themes unfold, the histories and cold truths of her family and country intertwine and impinge on her, even as she tries to outrun them.

Unflinching and raw, Chelsea Dingman’s poems meander between childhood and adulthood, the experiences of being a mother and a child paralleling one another. Her investigation becomes one of body, self, woman, mother, daughter, sister, and citizen, and of what those roles mean in the contexts of family and country.

 

Review:

Thaw is Chelsea Dingman’s inaugural poetry collection. In these, the author talks about violence, abuse, death, loss and grief; about family and childhood, being a daughter and about growing up and becoming an adult and a mother; about the hauntingly beautiful landscapes she travels through and lives in (against…?), across Canada and Scandinavia; and about country, citizenship and kinship. Her language is raw but streamlined, highly descriptive and evocative, drawing us into the poem and placing us exactly at its centre.

Not knowing what we are going to find inside, the first poem in the book immediately takes our breath away, beginning with the first sentence and carrying it on to the very last. And, I dare say, it sets the tone for the collection, while illustrating the strength of Dingman’s voice, and its absolutely clarity.

What we grieve is
not how death can be
dispelled in a photo, or a dream
on our hip we carry
like a child. But a man’s eyes,
blackened by the butt of a rifle.
Stars fading in the crosshairs
of the sun. A phantom
trigger, his finger
hooked through its heart.

At a glance, the blood
could belong to a deer, breath
escaping in the chill fall
air, just smoke.

Like the camera, our eyes fail
to see what falls outside
the frame—twisted limbs
like a bird’s wings
broken on the ground. How a bullet
can enter so quietly as to leave
a skull almost intact. How,
afterwards,
a body glitters
like the cherry
still burning
in someone else’s fingers.

I particularly like the way Dingman approaches her themes. Her voice may appear at first soft, and at times seemingly infused with an inner anger and deep sorrow, permeated as these poems are with the author’s own brand of imagery, until you linger a bit more over the lines themselves, or the very meanings hiding in them. It is then you realise the strength in these poems’ voice, and its amazing clarity.

This book is a journey through a life, and it shows: a life that has been lived the best it could, a life that has seemingly been a quest for meaning and closure, and which has had its ups and downs, its tragedies and its joys, its sorrows and its own measure of happiness.

Semantically, these poems are exquisite. I’ve read a few poetry books this year, but none like Chelsea Dingman’s. Her poetry is extremely accomplished and evocative, and the metaphors will reverberate inside you for a long time after you read it. I was so haunted (in a good way, it’s good – no, it’s excellent when poetry ‘haunts’ you!) by its language that I decided to sit the review out and reread the book at a later date. Which I now have. And I feel exactly the same way about it. It’s the highest praise I can possibly give: if you read one poetry book this year, please please make it Dingman’s Thaw. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

Verdict: Recommended
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves: Poetry, Favourite Books

 

such small mercies

 

It’s five a.m., and the skies have opened up. Once again. The rain pounds and thunders on the rooftops, on the cars parked outside, on the road and pavements. If I didn’t know better, I’d say St. Peter had sent us a deluge of, well, pebbles and gravel. That’s how it sounds. But no. I stare out of the window, looking for the day that somehow isn’t yet breaking, though only last week it could already be seen blushing above the eastern horizon — and all I see is water. Water. Liquid, determined, insistent, persistent, coming out in sheets after sheets, solid-looking curtains of silvery metal rods that somehow disintegrate on first contact. Pooling a bit everywhere. Hurrying down the street. Over the pavements. And if it goes on like this, everything will be waterlogged. Everything. Including my life. Which, right now, seems to be just about nose-above-surface. And it’s only just August. Still only August.

Silently, I drag a chair over, the best I can, nearer to the window. Still gazing out of it, I pull the lace curtain aside and catch it up on the wall tieback. I want to have an unimpeded view from where I am sitting. I shiver. Suddenly. For no reason. It’s nice and dry and warm inside the house. But I am wondering how cold that rain is. Shouldn’t it be warm, seeing that it’s supposedly still summer? But do I really want to venture outside? Just to find out…? Haven’t I before? And on a morning like this? 

True that I’m only up this early because I wanted to go for a little walk. Just the 50 yards down the road, to the children’s park. See what the trees and what’s left of the hedgerows have been up to, or whether they’ve further succumbed to the intractable and inexplicable stupidity of our ruling councils. Just like I wanted last evening, when He-herder came home. But not with the rain, now. Just like not with the rain yesterday. It seems to be some sort of fate or ill-luck. And right on schedule, every time. Every single blessed time I make plans to go out with DigiGirl. Who is not fond of rain at all, understandably: it does not agree with her electronic bones. And then, the fact is that cold and damp does not agree with my bones either, and I fear that going out in this will make the aches and pains and the stiffness worse than it already is. And I don’t need that. After all, it’s only just August.

I like this sound though. Almost chaotic, when considered in it wholeness. There isn’t one rhythm only, but several, simultaneous, and sometimes it is only one that seems to come to the foreground and allow you to follow it; and then sometimes it is another. With time, you learn to identify the different sounds and rhythms of the rain falling on the roof, the porch, the patio, all of them. How it falls. Where it falls. Its strength, its volume. Which way the wind is blowing. And it is thus that the rain brings back the comfort of the known, of the recognised, of some measure — even if only slightly — of familiarity to you.

 

I always stayed out playing far longer than I should. Always. Child that I was, and a lively, curious and mischievous one at that, the outdoors seemed to offer a myriad things I had never seen, never had before. And so it had fast become a privileged learning ground, as well as a fascinating, adventurous setting for all my flights of imagination. Except when it were spiders we were talking about, but by that age I had already learned how to avoid them quite successfully. And in the last resort, there was always the good old climb onto something and scream your lungs out. Everything else was fine with me, even those critters that other girls were apparently quite squeamish about: mice, rats, moles, snakes, frogs, toads, lizards, geckos, salamanders — you name it, everything fascinated me.

But the one most valuable thing my new village life was affording me were companions to play with, even though they were only the street urchins who so infuriated Nan every time they came about, hanging outside the door, calling me to go play with them. And even if it was only playing marbles or racing bottle caps or spinning tops along the pavement down the front of our house, or, the best one of all, rolling bike rims down our sloping street, the seemingly disappearing metal ring connecting to little flesh arms, thin and tanned by the outdoors life, by the almost invisible tether of a rickety wire. How we run. Furiously. Such great fun. Our thin, bony legs trying to catch the rings’ speed. If the wire were to hold it back, the ring would twirl and turn and collapse, and we’d lose the race.

And always the It’s not proper for a young lady to play with street kids. And those are boy’s games. And it’s not proper for a young lady to be seen playing boy’s games either. Who could this young lady be? I hadn’t seen any other girl playing with the boys. But I answered Yes, Nan in any case, and then returned to the play. It was… exhilarating. Irresistible. I still have with me the sensation of the wind in my face as I ran with all my might down the street, its freshness contrasting with the fire increasingly burning inside my lungs as I ran and ran, and tried to match the boys speed.

Soon I learned to control my breathing so that my chest hurt less, and my legs ran faster. But I never got my own so-dreamed-of bicycle rim and wire, never mind how many times I asked, so that I could race my own instead of having to borrow all the time. Those were prized possessions, and the boys always wanted something in return for the “borrowing”: marbles, bottle caps, coloured pencils, a peak under my skirts, kisses; and each go on somebody else’s rim was getting dearer and dearer every time. The skirts thing was easily sorted with a pair of shorts, but I was at a loss as to what to do about the kisses thing. It became a real, serious, huge problem: my tab was becoming a tad too high, and the boys were beginning to demand payment in kind.

Then one day the boys disappeared. They didn’t come that day, or next, or the next, or yet the next. Or the whole week. Or the week after. It wasn’t until months later, when we got to talk over the school wall, that I found out Auntie had been to talk to their parents, who then made them go hang around and race their rims somewhere else.

Soon too summer was coming to an end, and I, now returned to my mostly solitary explorations, still stayed out far longer than what I knew I was allowed. True that I had strict instructions, had had them all summer too: if those horrible boys come around, come back inside immediately, do you hear me?

Or if the sun becomes too hot, you’re not to stay out in it, do you hear?, just look for the shade of a tree, under the pergola, or come back inside the house… and never take your hat off, do you hear?

Or yet if it starts drizzling, you come back in immediately, you hear?, all that damp isn’t good for the bones

But my skin loved the sun, its hot caress, and drank it in amazing quantities. I could stay out in the sun with any of the half naked village urchins without ever getting sunburn. Soon my rosy pink had turned to a lovely golden brown, the length of my sleeves and the legs of my shorts clearly marked against my forearms and thighs.

The same with the rain, which I loved when it started falling on my bare shoulders and arms, while I ran and twirled and danced as if I had lost my little confused mind. As for the village urchins? They could now stay as long as they wanted, and as long as nobody realised they were there: we had found a secluded enough place at the bottom of the valley, and we’d retire to hidden corners and talk in nearly inaudible whispers. We couldn’t race rims, but there was an infinity of games we could — and did! — play. For the first time I had not been completely alone, playing games with only my imagination for company, under the scrutiny of some well-intended but unimaginative and prejudice-ridden adult. I was only five or six, can’t have been older than that. It was the summer I was dumped on at the village, to live with my Gran and Great Aunt and Uncle.

And then autumn had finally come, and with it a different, more constant rain. It did not drop on your skin with pregnant, rhythmic drops, but in a constant, uninterrupted pattern. The time it took to run to the back door was enough for your braid and your blouse to get soaked to the core, and dipping all around the floors. The village kids had disappeared with the first autumnal shower, and I had had no choice but to resume solitary play within walls, a space that I considered absolutely sterile and uninteresting, by comparison with the outdoors and all the marvels nature — and the unexpected company — had to offer me. I had resumed my reading lessons, and had eventually been allowed on my own on the upstairs living rooms, among the china, the linens and the books. And uncle’s things, which I was not supposed to touch.

Encased within three feet deep adobe and pebble walls, I had finally found other things to marvel at. Rain and its sound had been one of them. The silence in those rooms was amazing. And so were the acoustics. The ceiling lining was very thin, and that little space was where the singing of the clay tiles under the rain began to echo and gain body — and it then erupted into the living room, bouncing from wall to wall. Sitting on the slate window seats, my bum skillfully perched on a pile of old pillows, wrapped around head to toes in some woollen blanket stolen from the bed and unthinkingly, automatically reciting the alphabet and the times tables, became one of my favourite things. I could stop my recitation any time and listen to some dissonant, discording rain drop hitting this specific tile at a different angle and making this extraordinary sound… All together, it was like a song. A symphony. And I was safe. Safe and warm and comfortable and cocooned… and doing my own thing… and the rain, the rain, the sounds of the rain drops falling on things, everywhere, were the soundtrack to all that. It was almost as if they were dropping on my bare skin: at times, I could almost swear one had done just that; I’d pass my hand over my shoulder expecting to find it splashed, and I’d find nothing there. To this day, the sound of rain brings me comfort and relaxation. It somehow takes me back to those days, no matter that the the walls are thin, the slate seat is now an armchair, and the song is now so different. Amazingly too, it can still lull me to sleep like nothing else will. We are definitely made by all our experiences as children.

 

This raindrop symphony has got nothing to do with those of my childhood, those that still live in my memories. Yet another thing mass production has cheated us of. The terracotta tiles on the old farmhouse roof were just that, clay worked by hand into slabs and then laid over cylindrical moulds in order to dry out in the sun, before being fired. They were of a varying thickness and length, even if just by millimetres, and they had a host of imperfections. Apart from that, they were made from clay from different quarries, with slightly varying geological makeups. I can’t be far from the truth when saying that there really weren’t any two alike. Especially in a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old-roof, which must have seen so many repairs as for Nan and Auntie to lose count.

That is why they sang so differently, so individually, as if they were human voices: because there weren’t any two alike. And moreover, because the rain didn’t hit them always at the same angle. Except when there were stormy showers: then, the tile song was constant, unchanged, no hidden patterns, no disparate notes or assonances or dissonances or cacophonies, a melody finally patterned, each tile singing its same, constant note, the sudden deluge suddenly whooshing from the gutters and down the pipes at rhythmic intervals. It’s a symphony with much less interest though. But had I been able to write music back then, and surely I would have written their symphony too. And yes, I was that weird and geeky a child: but isn’t it good to now have such a good place of refuge?

There’s no individuality in these modern roof tiles, and that is why the song is so constant and monotonous. Listening to it, I can no longer feel the raindrops landing on my bare shoulders. And I no longer have that overwhelming wish I used to have grabbing and pulling me from the inside, whispering to me to go out in it and dance, dance my hours away. All I feel now is an unpleasant sensation of getting soggy and cold, and this deep wish that I could have all that summer rain back, and my village cobbled roads — and maybe be five-years-old again — to go out in it unthinkingly, and dance. It still lulls me to sleep though, even if only out of boredom now, and not from being slowly rocked into the land of nod by their melodically unpatterned song. At least that. So let us be grateful for such small mercies.

 

Still wondering how cold the rain might be, like this, of an early morning in a truly English, August summer day, I let the curtains back down and drag the chair slowly to its original place. Man and the cat persons are still fast asleep: far too early for them, though Marmie woke up and sniffed the air inquisitively, as if it could tell him what I was up to. Satisfied that there was no place on my lap to accommodate his humongous size, he had turned around and curled up to sleep on top of the duvet again.

As I turn around to go fetch myself the first cup of coffee of my morning, I reflect saddened that my misbehaving biology has deprived me of even that simple a thing as walking — and dancing and madly singing — under the summer rain, even if by some miracle I were to have it all back again: those summers, those showers, that hillside to run madly up and down, as if things would always stay the same. And my old people. My old people and those walls, most of all.

The rain song still lulls me to sleep though, even in all its modernity of adulterated, deeply unsatisfying but domesticated, tamed and compliant form. Even if only out of boredom now, and not from being slowly rocked into the land of nod by the tiles’ unpatterned, melodic singing. But at least that. A small thing, and not the same as before, but still precious. Almost as precious as the memories it now invariably triggers. So let us be truly grateful for such small but Oh! so glowing mercies.

And so it is…


 

And so it is that I’m going live again. My writer has just ticked the little circle thing on the reading settings, and hey, presto! here I am for all to see.

In the time that I was away — well, not away away, really, I’ve been here all the time it’s just that I was under wraps — my writer eventually gave me a most comprehensive makeover: I’ve got a new theme, new menus, new widgets (a-hem, there’s one widget malfunctioning and still a few that are missing, but the cats say the writer is only human and time is definitely money), a new a review policy, a Rules of Hauissh (whatever one of those is), a new bio page… and a tagline! I’ve got a new tagline!!! Yiiipee! Without one, I must confess that I felt like I was going to the races without a hat! Or to a ball without crystal slippers! Or… well, let’s not get too carried away, you surely get my drift.

The writer says that it’s a pity that I have to go live without most of my previous content, but all I can say is… who cares? The cats of course stick out for their human, and call me a selfish so-and-so. But what can I do? If it can’t be helped then there’s nothing that can be done. It’s like my writer always mumbles when things aren’t going too well with me and she can’t figure it out: o que não tem remédio remediado está. Apparently it was her Great Aunt that used to say that: if it has no remedy then it’s remedied. Damned if I know what that means. Does that even make any sense…?

Oh, here come the cats again. I better shut up or else. ‘Cause you should see the size and sharpness of their claws… So. Where was I? Ah! I’ve had to go live without most of my precious previous content: something about redundant html code that needs weeding out and inadequate number of pixels. Or something. Apparently, it was all alright with some of her own writing because it had been published in her old blog and she had unedited copies, but all the most recent stuff now needs editing. All her book reviews included. And she’s not a very happy writer at the mo, you mark my words, so I better just get out of her way. So yeah. Anyway. You kittehs figure that all out: I’m off to flaunt my new visual online. There’s this delicious he-blog I met only the other day, and if you ask me we make the most handsome couple ever… Oh, there you are… Selfies anyone?

Ta-rah! Toodle-oo! See y’all later!

 


image credit: one of the many amazing cat drawings by Higuchi Yuko. I’m a great fan, as are the writer and the kittehs, one of the very few things we are all in agreement…

Review: Acid Trip: Travels in the World of Vinegar ~ by Michael Harlan Turkell

320 pages, paperback £21.99 / $19.89 
320 pages, Kindle £11.86 / $15.46
Abrams (1 Aug. 2017)

Blurb:

In Acid Trip, Michael Harlan Turkell takes readers on a fascinating journey through the world of vinegar. An avid maker of vinegars at home, Turkell traveled throughout North America, France, Italy, Austria, and Japan to learn about vinegar-making practices in places where the art has evolved over centuries. This richly narrated cookbook includes recipes from leading chefs including Daniel Boulud, Barbara Lynch, Michael Anthony, April Bloomfield, Massimo Bottura, Sean Brock, and many others. Dishes range from simple to sophisticated and include Fried Eggs with a Spoonful of Vinegar, Sweet & Sour Peppers, Balsamic Barbecued Ribs, Poulet au Vinaigre, Tomato Tarragon Shrub, and even Vinegar Pie. Turkell also details methods for making your own vinegars with bases as varied as wine, rice, apple cider, and honey. Featuring lush color photographs by the author, Acid Trip is a captivating story of an obsession and an indispensable reference for any food lover who aspires to make and cook with the best ingredients.

The review:

Those who know me in real life know that my kitchen is one of my favourite places in the house. And they also know that in my kitchen there is a shelf dedicated exclusively to… vinegar. Balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, perry vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, malt vinegar, berry vinegars, fruit vinegars — you name it, it’s probably there. One of the things I did not have until now is a book about vinegar, and where all the recipes have vinegar as an ingredient. Until now.

Cooking with vinegar is nothing new to me. From childhood, I got used to seeing vinegar used in food not just as condiment (my mother’s potato salad would be nothing without a good couple of spoonfuls of my father’s red wine vinegar), but also as an ingredient in the most varied recipes, from meat to fish to veg, and of course in food preserving.

To someone as partial to vinegar as I am, this book was an absolute find. It taught me, for instance, things I never knew about its many types, the differences between them, and how the way each is made impacts its flavour and scent notes as well as its acidity (which I thought was a function exclusively of the sugar/alcohol content in the wine or other substrate). And I dare say that it’s increased my cooking repertoire by quite a few recipes that I can see quickly becoming staples in the Light household. All in all, a fab and valuable addition to my cookery book collection.

My copy of this book was kindly sent to me by the publishers, Abrams, in return for a honest review.

Verdict: full of many an interesting fact and very, very delicious recipes
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelf: Cookery Books, Food & Wine

 

Review: Bathing Strictly Prohibited: Poems 2011-2016 ~ Matthew Rhodes

bathing strictly prohibited poems 2011-2016

88 pages, paperback £8.99
96 pages, Kindle £0.99
Matador (Troubador Publishing Ltd) 22 May 2017

My copy of this book was kindly sent to me by the publishers, Matador, in return for an honest review.

I do not know Matthew Rhodes. At least, I think I don’t, that we’ve never met in real life. Yet, in most of his poems he wanders through grounds that are familiar to me, both geographically (for instance, the Midlands), emotionally (his love of Nature and the feeling of peace and belonging he derives from it), and linguistically and semantically. These are poems about life as it is, recounting episodes of the quotidian which, however, like all poetry, lend themselves to extraneous interpretations.

The poet talks about his observations as much as about things and moments he knows well and holds dear, for instance the scenery sliding past as the train he’s travelling in departs from Stafford station, or the views of mountains from a house patio, of the feeling of rootedness Nature affords him — so much so that many of his metaphors (and metonyms) are mostly taken from Nature. But he also talks about his feelings and impulses, and about the moments and events he lives through and observes. As he tells us in his book’s preface, some people take photographs, some do sketches and paintings: he writes. Poetry.

Take for instance the poem that lends its title to the book, Bathing Strictly Prohibited, where the poet tells us of coming face to face with a sign prohibiting bathing in a lake — and then proceeding to strip down and dive, much to the bemusement of others, who just idle slowly past. It is a story of transgression, of venturing where one is not supposed to go, do things that are not conventional or allowed. Is Matthew Rhodes simply recounting that moment in his day? Did he really dive into the forbidden lake, or is he talking about something else, much broader? A philosophy of life, maybe, in this case? Elsewhere in the book, the same type of questions will apply, as for instance to his lemon tree on the patio metaphor.

There are many moments of sheer beauty, passages where the imagery is dreamy, almost idyllic; others where it goes so deep into the roots of being that we feel as if those moments were ours. And it’s exactly on those moments that we are most thankful Rhodes sees the world through the eyes of a poet, rather than, for instance, the lens of a camera. His book leaves two fantastic metaphors with me, I suspect for a very long time. Thank you, Matthew Rhodes, for your lake, and for your lemon tree.

Verdict: a good read
Rating: ♥♥♥♥
Shelf: poetry

best intentions, and things gang aft agley

A week ago I decided to set myself the task of redesigning this blog. It was something that had been in the cards anyway, as I was never completely happy with how the slider was working with the featured posts in the current theme. It simply did not seem to come out right, no matter how much I loved it — and no matter how much I tried. Which I did. I tried all the tricks I know (they aren’t all that many, needless to say, but still), and it always came down to the same two answers: I could, of course, choose different photos for the slider; but I thought it important, for instance, for the reviews to be accompanied by the book cover photos as featured pics…

Thus things had slowly come to a bit of a standstill. If using a different featured picture was out of the question, then the only other answer was, of course, to adopt a different theme. But after all the work I had to sort this one out…?

Well…

No way! — As soon as I’d start considering the other option, reluctant me would come up fighting. Until one afternoon, in the middle of going over the same stuff for the 11-hundredth-umpteenth time, something rebelled inside me.

Well… Well, way!

And there it was. Unavoidable. Inescapable. Ineluctable. If there was nothing else that could be done about it, and if my dissatisfaction with the current design was to be addressed at all, then a new theme was obviously what was required. And all the work would have to be done, all over again. As simple as that.

I proceeded to set the week aside for just such task; there was just too much work needed if the blog was to display just as I’ve envisaged it. Apart from the fact that there was a brand new theme to learn from scratch. Even if everything else (e.g. categories, tags, formatting) would work well with the new theme as it was — which I know they don’t — setting up the theme would still take some time; and I know for a fact that all my old posts do need reformatting, because in a previous theme I had to insert some code to adjust the font sizes: all that code now needs to be deleted, in one of the most mind-numbing tasks ever known to bloggers anywhere.

After a thorough search, a new theme that fitted the bill was found. It seemed to tick all but one of my requirements. It does not have an automatic moving slider, though it does have a slider (but you have to swipe left or press the right arrow to browse through the featured posts). And the different sections are just as well demarcated as I would want them to be, and in the required number to showcase the blog’s diverse content while making it instantly accessible: one section for books and reviews, one section for author features and interviews, another for the blog posts… and so on.The blog would have a new tagline, too, something catchy and cool and brilliant and… In my head, my blog was already looking like the proverbial million dollars. Except.

Yes. Except. Except that, in the words of the poet, “the best laid schemes o’ mice and men Gang aft agley”. And he was obviously a man who knew well what he was talking about (and little did he know of the 21st Century!). So: here’s me, looking at things on paper and wanting to get some answers before I make one huge, momentous decision… except that answers aren’t as forthcoming as one would expect. Especially because one is offering to buy a service that, come to think of it, is in fact quite expensive… Oh, nevermind.

And then, then there was the Kindle problem, of course. Which is still ongoing. Still, still, still ongoing. Today I downloaded the same book several times — and I still can’t find it. And that was today alone. Publishing date is tomorrow. Review date is tomorrow. And I still haven’t read it. Because, in order to read it, I need to find it first. And I can’t find it. I download it, download is successful, and then it isn’t there. Anywhere. Nowhere. Once, twice, three times, Umpteen times. Not in the books menu, not in the docs folder, nowhere. All other books on earth, seemingly, except this particular one. And there seems to be nothing I can do. But… nevermind.

§

In the end, this week it all came down to this: Hail the new guardians of our lives! The emails from the customer service assistants were dutifully filtered to the spam folder, which of course might have something to do with the fact that both emails came from the private boxes of the assistants, instead of WP itself. And if there is one thing my email spam filter seems to know by heart is that I pretty much do not have any Georginas or Veldas in my address book. Therefore, spam them, vile dangerous cheeky persons trying to make contact! And thus it is that after a week, and despite living in this modern age of ethereal, internet-enabled super-speedy comms, I’m still without customer service and none the wiser about any of my doubts and questions.

So, yes. Nevermind, nevermind, never mind. What else can I tell myself, after a whole wasted week? 

Never mind. And never stop. Above all, never stop. There are plenty of books to read. And reviews to write. Other things to organise, such as last weekend’s photographs. Especially the ones with my delicious grandchildren: Mom has been anxiously waiting on me to process them. I also need to do some calendar updating, logging in all the new reads by release date. Maybe some sort of loose reading/reviewing plan could be possible after all… thus simplifying my life quite considerably. Yes. I really do need to get some sort of [better] organisation going.

§

Oh, the Kindle…? You may well ask. But I have absolutely no explanation for that. Or solution. It seems, however, that no sort of reading/reviewing plan is going to be possible any time soon, after all. Even if it was, it’d quite probably go awry too — if for no other reason, because now we do have all this indispensable tech of ours, to “leave us naught but grief and pain For promised joy.”

And amen to that, Mr. Burns.

Oh, the frogs we have to kiss… or do we?

Mr Light came home the other evening to the sight and sound of his wife triumphantly punching the air above her shoulders, while repeatedly muttering a very unladylike crescendo of yes… yes… yes… Pretty much taken aback by such an uncharacteristic display, he couldn’t help reflecting that it was nonetheless a performance after the fashion of a certain mutt of Dick Dastardly fame, and almost indistinguishable from that famous canine’s Wicked Laughter N° 3. So, what could she possibly be celebrating in such a fashion?

§

Or maybe the question should be, rather, what there is not to celebrate. After all, it is never one’s wish to appear ungracious, and a modicum of humility can always be said as de bon ton.

As things are, Mr Light supposes his wife can indeed count herself lucky. While definitely a newbie to this book reviewing lark, she arguably already has a lot to be thankful for. Books have sustained her through a very difficult period of her life, one whose end does not seem in sight. And they both are well aware that there is no way either of them could afford her almost insatiable lust for new reading materials if she were to buy all the titles she reads. Finding somewhere where she can get titles to read for free — or just for the relatively small investment of writing a review — was an unexpected boon, and one for which she has to thank her fist ever ‘indie’ author,  New Zealander Katherine Hayton.

Not being published writers themselves (other than the bits and pieces that have appeared in a succession of blogs she authored or contributed to throughout the years), neither Mr Light nor his wife can attest to the deservedness of a certain reputation for, let’s call it ‘being difficult’, the traditional publishing industry seems to have managed to garner for itself. The fact is, anecdotal evidence seems to abound in literary circles. But what do the two of them know?

What Mr Light’s wife appears to be finding out is that there seem to be an awful lot of hoops one needs to jump through at any point in time. And frogs to kiss. And she can only attest to what she has been privy to: no more, and no less. But it is exactly in such moments when one either exerts one’s sweet little triumphs, or one’s insignificant little vengeance or, for lack of anything else within one’s power and reach, one’s full and exacting derision, that Mr Light’s wife can be found punching the air and at the very bestest of her Muttley impersonations. All the other times, she has to kiss frogs if she wants to find her fix of words.

§

Take, for instance, that time when she received an email from a well known publisher, declining her request to review such and such a book, and suggesting that in order to increase her chances of future approvals she might want to edit her bio and profile, in order to best reflect that publishing house’s values. Thinking back to that evening, Mr Light seems to remember his wife had been a rather unbecoming shade of purple; and that it had been his impression that, for all her placidity, and had she indeed been Muttley, she would have been frothing at the jaws.

— “You do of course realise that that suggestion there is tantamount to saying not so much that their reviewers need to fit a certain profile, but that, well, looky here missus, we don’t really care who reads and reviews our titles, just as long as they are seen to conform to our accepted stereotype…” — And yes, conforming to a stereotype, however much in demand that stereotype might be, has never been Mr Light’s wife’s thing, and he loved her very dearly for that. Rubbing salt on an already grievous wound, the publishers had included a link to what it had termed ‘its requirements’ for an approved reviewer’s profile.

And then there had been that other time when another publisher had sent her a rather snotty patronising email, declining of course her request to read and review a certain of their titles. Mr Light’s wife did not mind that at all; she understood the number’s game very well. What she could not understand was why a galley, publicly offered as available for request on a reviewer’s platform, could simultaneously be deemed as ‘not available for wide distribution’ (ah, this dastardly elitism thing! And how irritating, her semantics preciousness!).

But, worst of all, sin of sins, what she could never ever be able to accept were such wording as, sic, “If you have serious review plans for this book (…)” (italics included). And since it is salt they seemed to be talking about, here’s another pinch of it: “(…) [W]e hope that you pick up a copy at your local bookstore in September”.

Nope. Nope, nope, and nope. Not in a month of Sundays. She was sure it’d come to some library near her soon enough, come September or no September of whatever year, if she was ever that desperate for a book, any book to offer her two-cents worth on.

It’s just that there’s give and take, and then there’s take and take. And of so much bending backwards, she knew only too well that the ant had not just broken her back, but had finally lost all her dignity. Let somebody else kiss those there frogs, she had told herself, and she had moved on.

 

 

 

A Short Intermission

With emphasis on the short. I promise. But, you see, needs must. My writer assures me that is so.

The fact is, I’ve been for an M.O.T., and it seems I’ve been found severely lacking — mostly, in the looks department, though the word ‘functionality’ has been mentioned at some point about something or the other. Surely it can’t have been about me…?

Nevertheless. All things considered, it appears I’m now due for one fantastic makeover (or so my writer has promised me).g

I’m told it’ll begin with a brand new magazine-style — yippee! new glad rags! — with a bold top menu and a slider for a number of highlighted posts, as well as well-defined display areas with side menus. But that may not be all. My writer has confided in me that a brand new, Miss-Clever-Clogs tagline, something this theme has sadly been lacking in, may also be in the works. It might depend on a thing or two, but it’s not out of the question — and, to tell you honestly, I have missed having a tagline of my own.

As things are, and much to my despair, my writer has already begun disabling menus, categories and tags, as they’ll need a little reworking to better suit my new outfit. But even so, and so that all these wondrous changes in my new attire and makeup — and oh, all right! I concede, in my functionality — may take their time to fully develop and settle in and, erm… and since my writer seems to be woefully short on wonder powders for all of this magic season…

Well, as I was saying, even so, I’m afraid that I shall have to close my drawing-room doors for a few days — maybe as little as three, or as long as a week if things don’t exactly go according to my writer’s plan.

So — see you all again, all going well, some time next week.

Darknet ~ a Sci-fi thriller by Matthew Mather

Blurb:

One minute Jake O’Connell is on top of the world with a beautiful family and bright future as a stock broker in New York. The next minute it’s all ripped away when he’s embroiled in a fraud investigation, his childhood friend is murdered and he finds himself on the run. Dodging the FBI and targeted by the mob, Jake is thrown into a Wall Street underworld of cryptocurrencies and autonomous corporations where he discovers a dark secret setting the world on a path to destruction. He must evade the shadowy forces hunting him and find a way to redemption–but the faster he runs, the deeper he becomes entangled in the web that surrounds him. In the end, his only path forward is to return to the ghosts of his past.

Review:

 

This book was… quite something else! It kept me fascinated and on the metaphorical edge of my seat from start to end, and I loved every single bit of it. When it ended, I wanted more, more, more. That much of it was just not enough. It was that kind of book. But how can I recommend it to you?

Let’s see. Are you looking for something that will keep you glued on to the pages until you’ve read the very last word? You’ve got it here. The characters have depth and definition, and the action is jam-packed full of twists and turns, which are the main ingredients for a fascinating and immersive read.

Once you turn the last page, though, this book will leave you thinking well into the night about how tenuous indeed the difference between fact and fiction can be. Mostly, though, you will be thinking about what a twisted and shadowy world we might be building (or allow to be built in our name) just as we speak.

So, what else can recommend this book to you? Easy. Do you like well researched, solidly grounded Sci-fi? You’ve got it here. Sadly and scarily, Darknet presents us with a world that, as Mather explains (providing the links to corroborating evidence), is not so much or any longer fictional, but an everyday and expanding reality.

I think it is a testimony to Mather’s thorough research, as well as evidence of his scientific training, that a reality he begins speculating about as a potential real-life outcome in his study and work subject area turns out, in the relatively short term, to be the very reality we’re living in.

It is this accuracy, and his ability to seamlessly weave bits of our present day into his story, that adds authenticity and such a dimension of plausibility to this book’s narrative. It is so much so that at times we, as readers, as immersed as we are in it, may find ourselves feeling a bit muddled as to where reality ends and fiction begins.

As I read on, I could not help myself but think about the financial crash of 2007-2008, its protagonists and the main events leading to it, something I’m sure was pretty much in Mather’s line of thought as he was writing this book — and that makes this read, with its fidelity to recent world events and scientific and technological developments, let me tell you, quite a chilling one.

As I read through this book, I also kept asking myself how I’d peg it genre-wise: Sci-fi? Yes, definitely. It is a characteristic of Sci-fi that it should make well-informed speculation on how the future will turn out to be in the more or less long-term, and this book does exactly that. It’s just that its speculative time-frame turns out so narrow that its action feels pretty much in the here-and-now.

But there’s more to it than a simple peg into one narrow, pure genre shelf. So, what else is this book? In the end, I settled for classing it also as a thriller, given its “edge-of-he-seat” quality and characteristic fast-paced action — and here I borrow from Wikipedia, whose page on this subject is quite well built, to illustrate and justify my choice: “[t]hrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety“. Matthew Mather does all that in his Darknet: afast-paced and immersive Sci-fi thriller that broaches on a number of disparate but interlinked subject areas, of which AI and social engineering, and the uses we are giving to the technology we invent and develop and to the most cutting edge scientific discoveries, are but three.

Mather’s fiction is not just an entertaining read, though. It is authoritative and quite believable, and has that rare quality of making you think about it and the issues it raises long after you finished reading it; and it is this soundness and factualness that make it a thoroughly immersive and fascinating, if rather scary and puzzling read. At the end of Darknet, Mather advertises his other novel, CyberStorm, which promises more of the same but only better — and I for one cannot wait to read it.

Summing up: if this kind of reading is your cup of tea, then the only thing I can tell you is… go for it: give Darknet a read. I’m quite sure that you won’t regret it and, like me, you will be absolutely riveted by Darknet and Matthew Mather’s creativity.

Genre pegging: Sci-fi triller
Verdict: recommended
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves:
my favourite books; “Indies”;