Romance and War

I recently started thinking about the books my parents gravitate towards and found it interesting how such opposite concepts can manage to come together. My mom is an avid romance reader, which means she looks for that HEA (Happily Ever After). My dad is fascinated by stories of war, the tragedy that comes with a life of strife. Romance and war don’t belong together. And yet…

Don’t all the best war stories include tales of love? A soldier leaving behind the girl he loves, promising to come back, even though he knows that’s not a promise he should make. Two best friends on the front lines together, for better or for worse, taking on the fire for one another. A father leaving his children in the care of the mother or trusted relative, never knowing if he’ll see them again, but assuring them it will all be alright in the end. How can such a seemingly hateful event be filled with stories of love and romance?

What is it that makes that HEA worthwhile in a romance novel? Is it the rosy good times of significant others spending hours walking hand in hand and making lovely, laughing memories together? No, it’s the strife. It’s the fight. It’s the war that comes with battling to hold onto something that makes the darkness tolerable. Sometimes love and romance can be hell. I’m not talking about toxic, unhealthy relationships where all the two people ever do is hurt each other and call it love. I’m talking about the genuine mistakes made in the process of learning to share yourself with another person, and that can hurt and feel like a fight, but it’s not futile.

So, romance and war. My mom and dad. Two types that are so different and yet somehow work together to create a story that’s full of multiple HEA’s after multiple battles to learn how to get to the end of the book together.

Meagan Reads YA Horror: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

As part of my ongoing (and almost done!) reading challenge, I chose this young adult horror novel about a protagonist named Theseus Cassio (who prefers to go by Cas) for the category “a book you heard about because of this challenge.” Following in his father’s footsteps, Cas has become a ghost hunter himself with a plan for revenge to kill the thing that killed his father. Upon arriving in Thunder Bay, Ontario, everything about this hunt is different from the ghosts he’s hunted in the past. Unexpectedly gaining a circle of friends, and a guilty conscience for classmates lost during his hunt, Cas takes on the most powerful specter he’s ever encountered.

The story was reminiscent of early Supernatural seasons, so of course it held my attention. The plot moved at a fast pace that never left me bored and had the right amount of rise and fall. What I appreciated most was that the story didn’t go longer than it had to and finished in a good place. The twists were surprising and left me wanting to continue each time a new one came into play.

Now, while the story was entertaining enough, the characters for the most part were annoying. Their personalities and descriptions relied heavily on stereotypes that sounded like an adult who has no idea what teenagers are actually like. Blake tried to give a couple of characters layers beyond their surface personalities, but the writing didn’t go deep enough to make them stand out as realistic people.

The best parts of this book were the supernatural elements and horror story, which made the audio book worth listening to. However, the narrator really seemed to have a hard time grasping what a teenage girl sounds like, and only seemed to have one mode for the boys: smarmy asshole. Perhaps the narration is part of the problem I had with characterization in this book, but I think that had more to do with Blake’s writing and the narrator didn’t help. Overall, not a terrible book, but not one I feel the need to continue the series.

Meagan Reads Classic Mystery: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

It’s been a while since I gave my insights to a book I’ve read. I’d like to get back into the habit with this classic mystery I just finished reading called The Lodger by Mari Belloc Lowndes, originally published in 1913. The story takes place in London, where a series of Jack the Ripper style murders are occurring, and simultaneously, the Buntings, down on their luck, get an eccentric gentleman looking for lodgings to rent their space. Their new lodger, Mr. Sleuth, rents out both rooms they have available for twice as much as they’re worth to ensure he has the lodgings all to himself and doesn’t have to share the house with anyone but the proprietors. He also carries a strange leather case and only ever leaves the house past midnight, which are two characteristics of The Avenger, the serial killer murdering women in London. What a crazy random happenstance.

It’s clear from the get-go that the Buntings’ new lodger Mr. Sleuth is in fact The Avenger. So what exactly is the mystery in this mystery novel? I suppose you could say it’s the inner workings of the human brain and what people who have been going hungry for a long time will do to keep their only source of income from fleeing or getting arrested. Mrs. Bunting figures out pretty early on that Mr. Sleuth is in fact The Avenger. Now, she never gets solid proof, never catches him in the act, never sees blood on his hands, but like the audience reading the story, she’s not blind and understands what all signs point to. She then spends the entirety of the book giving into fits of hysteria, holding onto her secret, even keeping it from her husband (who’s as thick as they come, because he doesn’t notice Mr. Sleuth is the murderer until literally the last 10 percent of the book).

The book really is mostly about Mrs. Bunting’s guilty conscience as she suspects Mr. Sleuth’s crimes, goes about trying to learn the truth without revealing how much she suspects, and torn between the money he brings to her household and what’s right, all the while keeping up a friendship with a police officer who’s working the case of The Avenger.

Overall, I enjoyed the story up until the end, because although the reader knows the whole time Mr. Sleuth is the murderer, the suspense builds and builds and builds, waiting for the snap at the end. Will the Buntings finally turn him in? Will he kill them? No, neither of these things happen. In fact — spoilers ahead! — at the point in the book where he realizes he’s been found out, he assumes Mrs. Bunting has betrayed him and he runs away from Madame Tussaud’s, where they are spending the day with Mr. Bunting’s daughter Daisy for her birthday, but not before threatening her with a most terrifying and gruesome death. Days pass and they never hear from him again and The Avenger is never caught. That’s it. That’s the ending. It was like an orchestra building up to an absolute cacophony of crescendo and then the sound gets sucked out of the room and the musicians walk off stage.

Truth be told, I didn’t even really feel an affinity for Mrs. Bunting. I never felt sorry for her or related. There wasn’t actually anything there to root for. She was always cross with her husband, portrayed as the nagging wife trope, and she was such a bitch to Daisy. It always felt like she resented Daisy, like somehow it was the girl’s fault that her husband had had a previous marriage and a child from that marriage. I just never felt for her as the protagonist, and Mr. Bunting was just short of being a downright idiot. The characters were rather flat, so I certainly didn’t stay for them.

If you’re looking for an easy read to take on the train or to the beach, I’d say this is a solid choice. It doesn’t require much thought and it’s entertaining enough to keep your attention for long periods of time. Just don’t expect to feel satisfied by the ending.

Weft & Weave

The following is a poem I wrote for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge back in February. Here’s a link to the original page and image that inspired this work:

This is just a single piece. A fragment of imagination as a childish
version remembers it. Patchwork puzzle piece across America where all
highways and blue skies with clouds look suspiciously the same.

Put it together with its brothers and sisters in a grid system of soft
cotton squares, up and down, side to side, neverending lines flowing
into each other can’t tell where one piece starts and the other part ends.

Brown and tan strips of land that is your land. Black asphalt roads from
tattered flaps of fabric mimicking broken infrastructure whose rough edges
can be seen as far as the eye can see but whose dangerous potholes hide in its
inky nature.Yellow threads pushed to the side just barely register as vague
fields of corn and wheat we hardly notice under our feet.

America the beautiful, so wide and spanning the color spectrum
but we only see a piece.

Self-Defense —

Re-posted from The Drabble. It’s short but packs a punch.

By Bevan Michael Haynes I was just sitting on the bench. I was minding my own business. It’s not my fault that … look, when other people make decisions, are you responsible for what they’ve decided to do? No. You’re only responsible for yourself. For your own reaction. That’s what my therapist keeps reminding me. […]

via Self-Defense —

Wanderlust: Georgia

I went to Georgia during my birthday weekend back in college, junior year if I remember correctly. I was attending an open-call audition and Caitlin, Char’Lee, Lida and I packed into the Volkswagen for a chilly adventure. (Side note: traveling during my birthday always brings a weather surprise for me, as January in Florida is still hot as hell).

As with all proper road trips, we stocked up on snacks and tunes, ready to roll down the highway with classic rock and Pringles. Of course, keeping up the hype for over four hours is difficult, so after a while it became a napping party with Char’Lee behind the wheel, a true team player staying awake.

As we cruised the interstate though, nearing Atlanta but still on the outskirts, Columbus (the Volkswagen) started running low on gas, and every exit we took led to ghost towns with tumbleweeds rolling in the wind. No seriously, the first exit we took, the gas station looked like it’d been abandoned for years and there was brush and dirt just blowing in the breeze. The next stop was the same thing. It wasn’t until exit number three that we made human contact at a mom-and-pop garage.

Thankfully, they did not kill us as we suspected they might, and instead laughed and said, “Yeah, you’re not gonna find a working gas station for a while. Keep driving.” How was that possible near a mechanic’s garage? Columbus would just have to keep livin’ on a prayer until we reached the city.

We made it. Just barely, but we made it. Filled up and headed to the hotel where surprise, there’s a parking fee for the garage they hadn’t told us about when I’d first booked the hotel. Shout out to my mom for taking the extra charge. Other than that, I gotta admit, I don’t really remember the hotel. I just remember walking around Atlanta.

I don’t remember when we arrived, but while the city itself felt alive, there were hardly any passersby on the streets. It was like my friends and I were the only living souls left amid the breathing concrete and edifices. I’d never pictured Atlanta, GA being so devoid of people at any given time. It was a major city, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t it have been like NYC or Miami, with citizens bustling around at every goddamn hour of the day?

Eventually, my friends and I parted ways, leaving me behind to wait with the cattle call for auditions while they ventured into the city to explore. I got a text message saying, “We found Atlanta. Everyone’s at the aquarium lol.” Who knew the Atlanta Aquarium required reservations beforehand?

Fast forward through the auditions, because I spent the whole day there, mostly sitting and practicing and panicking, until it was all over and I was free to join my friends again. I believe the name of the restaurant we went to was called Pitty Pat’s Porch. The pecan pie is highly recommended. That damn dessert still haunts my dreams. Also, I had collared greens for the first time that night, and they were delicious.

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More food adventures were had the next day as we lunched at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, and oh, damn, were those ribs social media worthy. Atlanta was good for food. And for laughs, as we arrived in the Five Points neighborhood and Char’Lee had to get out of the driver’s seat to let me parallel park. Apparently I was the only one there who had some experience with that maneuver (Hialeah training, thank you!).

For the hipster and bohemian at heart, I say visiting Five Points is the way to go. Not so much my cup of tea, but the others enjoyed it a lot. Crazy jewelry purchases were made. Thrift shops were perused (because who goes to a place like Five Points and doesn’t go thrift shopping?). Record stores ogled. Yep, the perfect place for a writer to set up shop and start working on her observation skills.

Our final day in Georgia saw us through a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr. community. It’s still surreal to me to walk down paths as an every day citizen in neighborhoods where such historical figures once walked themselves, and I wonder if they thought they were ordinary as well.