BOOK REVIEW: Red Clay and Roses

rosies-book-review-team-1Summer is in full swing and what better way to relax after a sizzling day than with a book about the Deep South and family secrets and surprising discoveries. This is third in my series of book reviews; I hope that my recommendations inspire you to read these books. . . . .

“Red Clay and Roses” by S. K. Nicholls is an honest look into the joys and ruthless realities of life in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s. The novel predominantly delves straightforward into lust, rape, murder, criminal abortion, lies, adoption, denial, and love, and particularly how race and gender relations intermingled within those ruthless realities of life.

The author presents this story as roman à clef; that is, as a novel based on a real life overlapped with fiction. She skillfully wrote to give the reader an interesting, eyes-wide-open view into the foul side of human attitudes and behavior, mirrored with the sweeter side that life can bring. Not only does she present to the reader the ugliness of lust, rape, abortion, et al, she also lays out the misery of mental illness, financial chicanery, and the protracted goals for women’s rights and civil rights in general.

It is obvious that the author researched well, as not only were the historical events correct, but also were the everyday things of life: Hair styles, clothing, language, place names, popular singers, and product names, for example. She is meticulous in describing things, sometimes to the minute detail. The reader, if familiar with places in the South, will recognize such places as Rexall Drugs, Kay Bee Jewelers, the Chattahoochee River, and Merritt Pecan Company. Even the late Freddie Hubbard, an American jazz trumpeter, was spun into the story early on.

What also makes this novel real is the author’s expert use of medical terms and medicine in general. As she is in real life a registered nurse, her knowledge becomes an excellent asset to the descriptions of the characters’ experiences with hospitals and their nefarious involvements. She uses medical terms and medicine in such a way that the reader is at ease; the descriptions do not come across at all as dry nursing class lectures, but almost as a matter-of-fact professional descriptions that the reader accepts.

S. K. Nicholls writes with ease and clarity and gives the reader rich, full scenes to imagine with the simplest of words, such as in the telling of “ . . . my first kiss in the midst of the rain of swirling pink crabapple petals . . .” She proves that simplicity paints a masterpiece.

She also effortlessly shows the soul of a building where it “reeked of chemicals and pain.” With just those five words, the reader feels and smells the repulsion of what once existed in one room. Even the real, but imaginary, “fairy babies” with their stinging “insect-like tails” that Ms. Bea fears almost materialize within the novel’s pages.

The author is adept at using dialect to give her characters a real life to their voices. Though a different dialect than those utilized by Mark Twain and Charles W. Chestnut, S. K. Nicholls nonetheless hears dialect well. She also employs the use of early twentieth century and mid-century slang to a T. “Slap me some skin!” was my thought as her characters, particularly Moses, spoke easily with words and phrases common decades ago.

“The word from the bird” is this: S. K. Nicholls’ “Red Clay and Roses” is a well-written, factual fictional novel that will grasp the reader’s attention from start to finish. I would place it among other well-known historical fictional novels (such as, for example, those written in the vein of Anthony Trollope and Margaret Mitchell) to be used as, perhaps, required reading in both high school and college English and American history, and social studies courses.

I highly recommend this novel.

© Susan Marie Molloy and all works within. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and any works here on this site without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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BOOK REVIEW: All My Sins Remembered

BOOK REVIEW: “ALL MY SINS REMEMBERED”

Summer is here with its sweltering days and warm nights, so books are a fabulous way to relax, get away, and imagine. This is second in a series of my book reviews. I hope that my recommendations inspire you to read these books. ~Susan Marie Molloy
……….

“All My Sins Remembered,” a fictional novel written by Adam Stanley, is a quick-moving, “warts-and-all” work. Through the first-person narration of the central character, Andrew White, the reader experiences Andrew’s seemingly undying obsession with Leigh Mallory, a girl whom he loved and “turned . . .into something unreal” in his psyche.

The novel takes place in 2009. Andrew is sweating out a sweltering July evening in a cheesy motel, contemplating his life, searching how to ditch his two decade obsession with Leigh, and weighing his options to continue on his life’s path.

This is a love story, a narrative of deep guilt, a tale of maturing, a parable of life and death in all its manifestations.

One of the continuing underlying themes in “All My Sins Remembered” is baptism and rebirth. Adam Stanley puts forth myriad descriptions of water, oceans, floods, and fire that are interlaced within each narration wherein Andrew struggles. Indeed, the protagonist is facing his own baptism and rebirth into a life with or without Leigh, and around him are cleansing waters and fires – but does he notice?

Yet, this novel does not portray the pure Pollyanna view of life; it is life, warts and all. To be sure, there are the sweet moments of love where Andrew tells us Leigh “moves like sunlight on a swift, clear river.” He also tells us that “there were girls much better looking than Leigh . . . [though] her hair was never quite right, always tousled and out of place, giving her a rough, wild look like a feral child.”

Conversely, life itself for and around Andrew was also callously ugly: drunkenness, drug use and abuse, physical fights, murder, death, suicidal feelings, and abandonment in several forms. Andrew muses quite convincingly that “[d]eath is easy to ignore if you are caught up in living.” And Andrew tried to live – really live – his life, and most assuredly try to ignore death at all levels.

The novel flows well with splendid narrations and descriptions of life as it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Adam Stanley makes great use of what was extant in those years: Music bands, styles of clothing, and types of vehicles, for example. The reader feels and sees the scenes quite clearly. Parts of the book, in its narration, have a general feel of a hard-boiled novel à la Dashiell Hammet, with its blunt, quick, and frank “talk.” That is what makes this novel move quickly. As a caveat to the reader, there is harsh language that may be unpleasant to some readers. I will leave this to the author writing the novel with real life scenarios as much as possible through his characters.

I have the Kindle version of this book.  Unfortunately, I discovered errors in spelling, word usage, grammar, and format (format especially in the last couple of chapters). Since I don’t have the paperback version, I cannot compare if this is an oversight or not. It was a bit distracting to come across them.

Overall, I highly recommend “All My Sins Remembered” by Adam Stanley. The story is a very good one, and it’s one you might just relate to.

“If you live your life like you want to live it, people are going to think
you’re insane, call you crazy, and label you with lots of other labels.
But just think about this, the crazier you seem to the world, the more you
have really lived. Even if you end up with only a handful of lost dreams,
they can never take away all that living from you.”
— “All My Sins Remembered,” by Adam Stanley

You can find Kindle and paperback versions of “All My Sins Remembered” by Adam Stanley on Amazon by clicking HERE.

© Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and any works here on this site without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

BOOK REVIEW: Voices of Nature

With the arrival of summer and its sweltering days and warm nights, books are a fabulous way to relax, get away, and imagine. I seem to read more books during the summer than any other time of the year. Today, I’m kicking off a series of my book reviews. I hope that my recommendations inspire you to read these books. ~Susan Marie Molloy
……….

“Voices of Nature,” written by Pamela B. and Kirsten A., is a beautifully penned assemblage of poetry celebrating Nature’s varying seasonal beauty.

The book is cleverly categorized into logical chapters: Seasons (generically), Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, and ‘Nature’s Best.’

The first chapter, “The Seasons” is a delightful hors d’oeuvre that tempts the reader with the “lush meadow of green,” “golden red splashes,” “frosty grip of winter,” and “the prelude of sunny days” in Pamela’s “Four Seasons.” Kirsten places the pièce de résistance in “Seasons Pirouette” where she describes seasons “they courtesy, they bow . . . Nature’s annual ballet.”

Each season is felt and described differently by both poets, and rightly so. For example, whereas Kirsten welcomes “sweet fall” in “Dear Fall,” Pamela longs for “beaches and sunshine” during the fall months in “How Many Days?” This “bouncing off one another” helps the reader to feel their individuality and interesting views, while arriving at one’s own experiences with the seasons.

Kirsten wrote how Nature continually moves and changes in “Creation Grooves,” where the “trees snap their fingers” and “. . . nature plays her drum beats.” This is a grand symbi poem that perfectly showcases the music-like rhythm of each facet of our natural world. I could feel the beat as I read each line and conceptually created an orchestra of Nature in my mind. This poem has a definite musical beat.

Indeed, I could go on specifically about “Voices of Nature,” yet to do so would take away the joy for readers to make their discoveries here.

The sea and seasons, butterflies and birds, wind and sunsets, flowers and stars – Pamela and Kirsten give us their view of Nature in myriad forms, thus helping the reader to see our world in a focused, yet enriched, infinite manner through other eyes.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the final chapter is devoted to providing definitions of the types of poetry they wrote. I found this very helpful in better understanding some of the types of which I unfamiliar. As a poet myself, it gives me impetus to expand my writings.

I highly recommend “Voices of Nature” by Pamela B. and Kirsten A. With just under fifty poems and each succinctly written, one can read them in snippets or whole chapters in one long, luxurious sitting, or sittings.

I chose to read “Voices of Nature” through my Kindle. It’s also available in paperback through Amazon. No matter which form you decide to purchase, you will be pleased and delighted with every page.

© The Sugar Bee Chronicles, Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and any works here on this site without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Old Movies and Old Television: “Zorro”

Over the past couple of weeks, my beau and I have been watching Zorro. There are many different media versions of Don Diego de la Vega, a Spanish nobleman who takes who takes care of business in Old California during the Spanish Colonial Era as his alter ego, Zorro, most particularly in the pueblo of Reine de los Angeles (modern day Los Angeles).

Zorro began with the original, pulp fiction stories written by Johnston McCulley, a native of Ottawa, Illinois, and published as a serial in 1919.

He debuted Zorro in a five-part series, The Curse of Capistrano. It became a hit. So much so, that the hugely popular silent movie actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford decided during their honeymoon that this story would be the first movie for their new studio, United Artists. (Note: Charlie Chaplin was the other founding member of United Artists.) In 1920, The Mask of Zorro debuted as the first-ever cinematic version of the black-masked outlaw. Fairbanks gave us the visual style that which most of us identify: A masked man, dressed in black, wearing a flowing Spanish cape, carrying a rapier and bull whip, and riding Diablo, his black horse.

The movie was a hit, and this prompted McCulley to write more stories over approximately the next 30 years or so. His characterization of de la Vega/Zorro fluctuated wildly. For example, in one story, Zorro revealed his identity, yet in the following one, his identity remains secret.

After United Artists’ The Mask of Zorro came Don Q., Son of Zorro in 1925 with Fairbanks again as the star. Eleven years later, in 1936, the first talking Zorro movie, The Bold Caballero was released by Republic Pictures with Robert Livingston as de la Vega/Zorro. This movie was different again, since Alejandro de la Vega (ol’ Dad) and Bernardo (faithful sidekick) were not included. However, the actor Chief Thundercloud played the sidekick.

1939 brought the Zorro serials to theaters via Republic Pictures. Zorro’s Fighting Legions was a 12-part serial, with Reed Haley as the brave outlaw/milquetoast nobleman. There were other serials, but Hadley was the only one to consistently play Zorro.

The Curse of Capistrano returned as a talkie in 1940, but just like in 1920, the title was converted to The Mask of Zorro. Tyrone Power starred as de la Vega/Zorro, Basil Rathbone as the villain, and Linda Darnell as the love interest.

It wasn’t until October 10, 1957, that the Walt Disney Studios version with Guy Williams in the lead role debuted on television. In past versions, Bernardo was a deaf-mute, but in this version, he was only mute, pretending to be deaf in order to spy for de la Vega/Zorro. Additionally, the actor who portrayed Bernardo, Gene Sheldon, was a master pantomimist who studied the silent film era’s Harry Langdon, who himself was masterful at pantomiming in films and in vaudeville. Henry Calvin, who played Sergeant Garcia, was the lead vocal in the program’s opening theme song.

There were radio versions, made-for-television movies, a parody starring George Hamilton (Zorro, the Gay Blade), and other movies on the silver screen.

Zorro is international. There are films that were made in Mexico, Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, et cetera. Zorro even made it to the stage, with a stage production and musical. Zorro is collectable. Lunch boxes, trading cards, coloring books, toy hats, swords, computer games, and other paraphernalia were produced for popular consumption.
Creators of other popular crime-fighting characters admit to being inspired by McCulley’s Zorro. Bob Kane, Batman’s creator, even wrote that Bruce Wayne/Batman’s parents took him to see The Mask of Zorro after which they were murdered, which led to Wayne becoming Batman. The Lone Ranger, too, has obvious links to being inspired by Zorro. In the film, The Artist, the character George Valentin plays a version of Zorro.

Zorro, even in his many incarnations, has proved to be a great success. One could apply one’s life to the general approaches and principles of Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro:

Let no one stand in your way of positive success. Work hard and work smartly. Do good. Fight wrongs. One doesn’t have to brag about successes. Anonymity can be its own reward, because the results will show anyway.


©Susan Marie Molloy and all works within.

At the Movies: “The Great Gatsby”

Yesterday afternoon, my beau and I went to the show to see The Great Gatsby. I put aside all my preconceived thoughts on reviews I read, which mainly were negative – the music was “wrong,” the scenes were “over the top,” and the main character was a mere “child” in his first “After Six” tuxedo.

Surprisingly, I liked this version. My beau never read Gatsby, so he didn’t have an inkling what the story was about, and happily, he liked the film.

I enjoyed the costumes and hairstyles. They were authentic to the time (1922), for both men and women. I even caught the nail polish color on one flapper. It matched her green ensemble, and knowing that even back then, there were more colors of the rainbow in nail polish than just reds and oranges. Authentic, indeed.

The film’s music did have the modern rap style in it, although it was in short snippets and made sense to the scenes. Although I could hear it, it didn’t overtake the action, nor distract me. There were a few period works, namely “Rhapsody in Blue” during one of the ostentatious party scenes. Since this film took place in 1922, “Rhapsody in Blue” could not have been played at that party because it was published in 1924; but then, there wasn’t rap music back then, so there you have it – artistic license.

I liked the illusion of a Cab Calloway-styled music conductor in one of the party scenes. They were short, clipped scenes, so one would have to know who Calloway was to catch the few frames the illusion was in.

In the scene where Jay and Daisy are flying recklessly across the bridge in his yellow Duesenberg, the camera focused for a minute on an open vehicle with several well-dressed, laughing and drinking blacks, who obviously had money because of the expensive car and well-appointed wardrobes. They even had a white chauffeur. My thoughts to this scene made me believe they were the illusion of the Harlem Renaissance literati, or perhaps bootleggers. Yes, not all bootleggers were white Italians during Prohibition.

The film followed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece very well, and for that I give high praises. I will, however, take issue with the actor who portrayed Gatsby. It was a horrible choice to place Leonardo DiCaprio in that role. He seemed very uncomfortable playing Gatsby, and in many, many scenes he seemed to be struggling with coming up with appropriate facial expressions to suit the mood. Either that or the guy needs a good dish of stewed prunes. Moreover, he tried so obviously to mimic Jack Nicholson, and – horrors! – he was mirroring Robert Redford who masterfully played the same role in 1974. No, DiCaprio wasn’t masculine enough to play Gatsby, nor was he believable.

The other actors and actresses were set right for their roles, and every one of them came across convincingly. I could feel their thoughts and through them; I got lost in the scenes.

Therefore, I liked this adaptation. Now, I don’t like it as much as the 1974 version with Redford and Mia Farrow. The 1948 version with Alan Ladd is currently unavailable. There was a 1925 version, but as I understand it, it’s a lost film.

It wasn’t the horrific film the reviews lead me to believe.

©Susan Marie Molloy and all works within.

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