Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Book Review: East Highland Gothic by David Tallach

East Highland Gothic by David Tallach is an example of the old adage, don’t judge a book by its cover. I very nearly passed this one by because the cover was so bad (plain green, with yellow text.) I’m glad I didn’t. East Highland Gothic is a work of melancholy brilliance that deserves a much better front door than it has. Let’s face it, if we didn’t judge books by their covers, we wouldn’t have to dish out the big bucks for the best ones.

The collected poems in East Highland Gothic are all about image. They’re so vividly written you can all but see them playing out before your eyes as you read. They’re stark, gloomy, and often haunting. East Highland Gothic is so evocative of darker, gloomier times that it would make a perfect read for those late autumn nights. 

This collection doesn’t just belong in a different season; it belongs in a different time altogether. The poems in East Highland Gothic could be straight out of Victorian England, being read by the haze of a gaslight. Tallach captures the essence of history so well, his poems feel as ancient as the things, places, and people they describe. The poet is truly an old soul. 

East Highland Gothic is the perfect length to lose yourself in and is organised into two logical sections: land and sea. It’s dreary and morose in the best possible way, written by someone who clearly feels the import of history. I can’t recommend it enough. 

Monday, 22 April 2019

Book Review: Live Love Life by Philip Lister

Live Love Life by Philip Lister is beautiful to look at. The cover is just great. It doesn’t really fit the collected poems inside, though. 

The book’s description had me expecting a little more whimsy and a little less angst. (And more rhyming than there actually was.) many of the poems just came across as kind of preachy.

I can see how Live Love Life would be empowering for the poet to write but it fails to connect with readers. One of the reasons for this is that it doesn’t seek to be universal but, rather, says “This is my experience, I don’t care if you like it.”

Another reason it just doesn’t work for me is a lack of flow. There’s no Rhythm to lose yourself in. There’s also little in the way of figurative language, which shows a lack of mastery on the poet’s part. It can also be mundane and cliched in places.

Live Love Life seems like an important personal journey for the poet but doesn’t speak to me on any meaningful level. I don’t recommend it.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Movie Review: The Wind (2018)

I’m not really into horror Westerns (Western horror?) or, well, any Westerns so The Wind (2018) was a big step out of my comfort zone. I could probably count the horror Westerns I've enjoyed on one hand. Guess you could say I didn’t have high expectations for this one. But, although the format was a little frustrating and there were the usual historical inaccuracies you’d expect from Hollywood, The Wind was surprisingly effective.

The Wind focuses on two couples (Julia Goldani Telles's Emma and Dylan McTee's Gideon Harper/Caitlin Gerard's Lizzy and Ashley Zukerman's Isaac Macklin) alone on the wide, untamed prairies. It’s a story told through a series of flashbacks following the tragic death of Emma. The flashbacks aren’t always clearly differentiated from the main storyline, so you do spend a chunk of the movie wondering when the hell it is. It’s frustrating for a while but eventually you start piecing everything together and can just kind of roll with it.

The Wind starts out like a traditional Western, minus the tumbleweeds. Jay and I were just asking each other if we were actually watching a horror movie when it kicked off. It builds a bit of plot and characterization before it gets freaky, which too many horror movies don’t. If you want action straight away, you’ll probably find The Wind a little on the slow side.

The horror elements were quite well done. (Yes,it did make me jump.) Part of what makes it work so well is that it lets you stew over whether there’s really a monster out there or whether Lizzy is just losing it. Even at the very end, The Wind gives you just enough to justify your belief either way but doesn’t specifically give an explanation. It’s the kind of movie that can spark debates between viewers.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I enjoyed The Wind. I mean... if you’re going to make a historical Western, get the details right. But, it did engage me and keep me interested to the end. Although I won’t be rushing to watch The Wind again anytime soon (that’s my Western quota for a few months), I recommend giving it a try at least once. If you’ve already seen it, I’d love to know your thoughts on the monster. Get in touch.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Book Review: A Pun in the Oven by Phil Maund

When I started reading A Pun in the Oven by Phil Maund, I was expecting a collection of poems about pregnancy and motherhood - something this book definitely is not. (Totally my fault, I didn’t bother checking the poet’s name first.) I was also expecting a great deal of silliness, which A Pun in the Oven delivers in abundance.

The short poems in this collection have no common factor except their nonsensical nature. They’re about everything from fairy tales to animals and other random things. There’s a Shel Silverstein feel to these works - and how great would some similar illustrations be with them?

I love that most of the poems have two titles that add to their humorous nature. And the puns are so terrible they’re brilliant. A Pun in the Oven is clearly for a British audience, which might make it a little less accessible to other audiences because of things like cultural norms and vernacular but, overall, it’s a quick, fun read.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Book Review: A Rip in This Universe by by Seth E. Kinstle

A Rip in This Universe by Seth E Kinstle isn’t light reading. The poems are deep and intense. They call upon universal human experience, shared struggle, to encourage introspection and reflection. I found it easiest to read them in chunks so as not to get bogged down by their heavy nature.

There’s no doubt A Rip in This Universe is well-written. The poet shows a strong command of vocabulary and figurative language. More than that, though, the poems  are beautifully lyrical. This is the kind of poetry you want to read aloud for full effect.

I enjoyed A Rip in This Universe. The poetry is good but the manuscript itself needs a bit of work. The poems bleed into one another, which is a little frustrating for readers. Also, there are a couple of distracting typos that take you out of the poem and interrupt the experience. Other than that, A Rip in This Universe is a very good read.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Book Review: The Death Sonnets by Justin Tate

There isn't much I can say about Justin Tate's The Death Sonnets except I doubt I've ever had as much fun reading a sonnet before. (Though my sonnet experience is limited to Shakespeare so, you know...) This book is just plain fun.

The Death Sonnets are whimsically twisted and creeptastically delightful. This book is a real treat for horror fans, Halloween lovers (or Halloween babies, like me,) and all your favorite weirdos.

Length is the only thing that lets The Death Sonnets down. It's just too short! I would happily devour four times as many of these strange little sonnets.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Book Review: Digging Up My Bones by Gwyndyn Alexander

Gwyndyn Alexander's Digging Up My Bones is less a collection of poetry than it is a battle cry. It challenges us to stand up, speak out, and change the world in a meaningful way. More than that, it encourages us to love ourselves and help raise our sisters up.

There's no attempt to hide the biting social commentary that drives many of these poems. I'd hate to be a Trumpite reading this, for danger of choking on some pretty harsh truths. (See "A Conservative Prayer" and its counterpart, "A Liberal Prayer".) It's not all about politics, though.

The female experience is at the heart of Digging Up My Bones. Alexander knows our pain, our fears, our struggles, and successes because she is us. She manages to give personal trauma universality that says, I know our experience isn't the same but our pain is.

Digging Up My Bones is written in plain and simple language, which makes it accessible to all levels. It doesn't use the grandiose, flowery vocabulary we sometimes expect when reading poetry but, in this case, it works. The personification used to invoke powerful women of myth and history is every bit as powerful in these poems as it is in the grand Romantics'.

Those are the poems that I loved most. I would love to see an entire tome dedicated to great (and not-so-great) women of lore. That being said, "Shaman" was probably my favorite poem of the lot.

I breezed through Digging Up My Bones, then had to go back and read it again. It made me smile and it made me want to smash things (starting with the Patriarchy.) This is a must-read for feminists, those in recovery, and members of the Resistance.

Oh, and can I get a tee-shirt that says "Gorgon and Proud"? Or, maybe one that says, "Not Your Ariel"...

Monday, 8 April 2019

Book Review: Lazy Prey: 120 funny, touching and vulgar poems by Jeroen Den Haan

I can see how this book of poetry might appeal to a certain group of men but it doesn't do anything for me. Nothing in Lazy Prey inspired or touched me. The only poem that even stood out was "A Grateful Goodbye", which was so shocking it earned a knee-jerk laugh.

There's no organization to the poems in this book. Nothing links one to another. It would have been a better experience for readers if they had been broken down into categories rather than have to bounce around from poems about the office, to broken hearts, to nature, to sex. As it is, Lazy Prey has no flow.

Speaking of the sex... Lazy Prey reads like it was written while the poet angrily beat off to punishment videos on Pornhub. There's only such much poetry about fingering people and ejaculation I can take and this went way over that line.

A lot could be forgiven if the poetry itself exhibited any attempt at being universal, at capturing the human experience. If the poet had a better grasp of figurative language. If there was substance. If it didn't seem as though each (often extremely short) poem was just a randomly scribbled angsty thought. I don't know what the title, Lazy Prey, is supposed to mean, but the poetry itself is lazy.

Movie Review: Mercy Black (2019) **POSSIBLE SPOILERS**

Mercy Black is a visual creepypasta that scared the crap outta me. Which horror author had to sleep with the lights on last night? Yup, this one.

Usually when we watch horror movies, either Jay or I have predicted the ending before we’ve made it halfway. Not this one. Mercy Black kept us guessing until the very last moment. Literally.

Finally, a shock ending in a horror movie that actually came as a surprise!

All we know about Mercy Black when it begins is that the main character, Marina Hess, is being released from a fifteen-year stay in a mental institution after stabbing her friend as a child. When she was first admitted to the hospital, the young girl blamed "guardian angel", Mercy Black, for her actions. Now an adult and ready to face the outside world, Marina understands the schizophrenia she was diagnosed with. It's time to go home and, well, you know that always goes well...

The thing I love most about Mercy Black isn't the number of times I jumped like the big, fat wimp I am (five), or even how many times the blanket got pulled up over my head (twice), but the fact that the surprise jumps and scary monsters weren’t what kept me up all night. Mercy Black is much more sinister than that.


Too often, horror movies are created under the assumption that landing the right sting in the right place is enough to terrify audiences. It really isn’t. (Don’t get me wrong, though. Mercy Black certainly does that.) To truly frighten a viewer, you have to get inside their head, stomp around a bit, tag the wall, and fuck off in a hurry. How does Mercy Black accomplish this?

Mercy Black forces you to question the concept of reality. It gives you two opposing truths and asks you to decide which one is fact. Just when you’re convinced you know which is which, it pulls the rug out from under your dumb ass, laughing as it tells you both are true.

That’s what I found terrifying about this movie, the uncertainty -- not a so-What-the-Hell-happened-then uncertainty but a do-I-even-know-what’s-real uncertainty. I love that Mercy Black doesn’t force a truth on the viewer. It doesn’t jump out and in its best Nelson voice shout, “Ha ha, you were wrong!” Instead, it looks deep into your eyes without blinking and says, “Dude. What if we’re all right?”

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Book Review: Love in the Time of Pokémon by Anurag Minus Verma

Love in the Time of Pokémon is clearly either a translation or was written by someone whose first language is not English. Some phrases are clumsy and interrupt the flow. Despite that, this is a thought-provoking collection of poems that shows real potential.

The imagery in these poems invokes the sweaty claustrophobia of far-off places. Although the tone is distinctly foreign, they capture a hopeful despair that is eminently universal.

The Anurag Minus Verma’s style is observational. You’re put in his shoes, see the world through his jaded eyes, and it’s very effective. He sees into the hearts of those around him but doesn’t cast judgement. It’s just the way life is, he seems to suggest. (And I’m inclined to agree.)

Love in the Time of Pokémon should be a hit with fed-up Millennial types.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Book Review: First Rhyme Mom: A poetic journey through pregnancy and early motherhood. by Leanne Stoneley

First Rhyme Mom is an emotional roller coaster ride through pregnancy, landing with a splash in the crazy pool of motherhood. I'm not a mom myself (I like to keep all my toys to myself, thanks! Lol.) so I won't pretend I can identify with all the sentiments but I certainly enjoyed the poems. (And, yes, they do rhyme, which makes me happy.)

Gotta say, though, some of them sure did put the fear of parenthood in me. *shudder* The word "goo" keeps haunting me...

Jokes aside, First Rhyme Mom has a whimsical tone reminiscent of Erma Bombeck, with an easy cadence that makes the poems fun to read out loud. (Go on, try it.) Some will make you laugh out loud, while others like "To My Mommy" will give your heart a good, hard squeeze.

The only problem I found with this collection of poems is that there aren't enough of them. I hope we can expect more in the future!

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Book Review: Vampire Addiction (The Vampires of Athens #1) by Eva Pohler **SPOILERS AND SNARK**

Gertrude (Gertie) Morgan is a stinking-rich kid being forced into a year of study abroad. Who should she meet on her very first day in Greece but a vampire and a demigod?

(Start where you mean to go on, they say. )

The vampires of Greece are called tramps (there is some relevant translation in there but I don't care to go into all that.) They're descended from Dionysus (who wants them to overthrow the humans and take over the city,) have x-rays vision, are only allowed to drink a pint per victim, and pass on their abilities through their bite for about 6 hours.

(Can you feel my eyes rolling?)

Vampire Addiction is straight-up ridiculousness. It's juvenile, predictable, and centers around a (groan) love triangle. BUT it isn't written in 1st person, which instantly wins any YA bonus points from me. The strange intermingling of vampires with Greek mythology is a clever, intriguing concept but comes across as silly because it's under-developed.

Gertie is a completely unlikable character for me. She's selfish, childish, and a total user. A good backstory would have gone a long way toward making her relatable but is frustratingly absent - until the information is needed to progress the storyline.

Every character in the book gets essentially the same treatment. Rather than well-rounded individuals, they come cross as dolls to be moved from Point A to Point B, without any motivation. Giving the characters a reason for existing requires a lot more introspection than is present in Vampire Addiction. (Basically, none.)

The author shows fair technical ability but repetitive sentence structure slows the narrative down and overuse of pronouns makes distinguishing from one "she" to another confusing. She (hah) also gets needlessly bogged down by mentioning social media, as if begging to search her out on it. But, I got sidetracked. I was talking about why I hate Gertie. Here are a few things I hadn't gotten around to...

1. What's with all the biting-her-lip-until it bleeds crap? I've done that, like, once in my life. Gertie does it at least once a day.
2. No boy in the entire world can keep his lips off her. Everyone is just crazy about her but I finished the book and I still don't know what she fricking looks like.
3. She can never seem to remember anything. Then, she does but she doesn't believe it - must have been drugged!
4. And, because it's YA, she cries nonstop, sometimes out of the blue.

Vampire Addiction is subtle as a train wreck. No effort whatsoever is made to develop the story before a vampire is thrown in your face. Next, Gertie goes on and on about how much she loves Greek mythology to, of course, a demigod. You can see exactly what's going to happen from the very beginning.

For the most part, Vampire Addiction is just plain cringe-worthy. The Greeks are total cliches, as if they're from some make-believe place, rather than a huge tourist destination. The vampires ("tramps") are even worse. Just imagine every horrible cliche you've ever heard about vampires and it's probably in there. (At least they don't sparkle, though, right?)

(Although... using "tramp stamp" to describe a vampire bite did make me laugh.)

Yes, Vampire Addiction is ridiculous. Even so, I found myself oddly entertained. (Not entertained enough to read the next book in the series.) It's one of those so-bad-it's-okay kind of things.

Book Review: Nocturnal by Wilder Poetry

Nocturnal (available on Kindle Unlimited) is visually stunning. The artwork is evocative of a kind of quiet torment warring with throat-clogging hope that the collected poems fall a mile short of embodying.

While the book is impressive to look at, the poetry itself is reminiscent of the kind of angsty ramblings a teenager might scribble furiously after being dumped (but then immediately hide under their bed.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a poet myself so it might be unfair of me to judge so harshly. I do, however, love the taste of poetry and have a firm grasp of figurative language - something the author, sadly, does not.

That being said, Nocturnal really is pretty to look at and would make a nice coffee table book.

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