Categories
HM On Writing Stray Toughts

About Men-watching Women and Women-Watching Men and Everything In Between

People watch people. There’s nothing new in this, but the trend may have intensified over the last few decades. May I add that I’ve chosen the terms ‘woman’ and ‘man’, ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ for clarity? With the gender diversification that is an important part of our world, it would be difficult to give everybody his or her due.

Every second cover of a romance novel presents broad chests and a six-pack, preferably naked. Throw in a few tattoos and the heartthrob of the twenty-first century appears. Opening such books, it is no surprise that the content matches the cover. The heroine is obsessed with the hero’s physique and sometimes it seems that his appearance is her only criterium for falling in love. The reader wades through broad chests, strong arms, and hefty built creatures, who often haven’t got much to say for themselves. If the heroine is only interested in a man’s appearance, no wonder that she gets into trouble.

Broad chests and rippling muscles are all very well, but other aspects may help to enlighten the reader to a character’s personality.

No doubt, this mirrors the situation in the world at present. At least, in the corporate world. Nobody who isn’t groomed to within an inch of his or her life should bother to seek an interview. It is good for the beauty industry of course. It is good for the nail salons and the beauticians, and all the other well-educated people who work in clothing design or peddle the newest diet. It is good for all the gyms that sprout all over the place. People get healthier through exercising and eating healthy food.

That is all good. All the same, many people can’t afford to follow the trendy diets or get the perfect haircuts. Some of these, especially the most vulnerable, get depressed and fat through being confronted with endless youth and beauty. They may be as worthy and as intelligent as those high-flying lookers. Don’t forget, some people just can’t or may not want to follow the trends. On that note, how can we forgo mentioning the surgeons that enhance or diminish body parts according to their clients’ wishes? Botched operations can ruin lives too. Is it worth it?

To return to the romance novels and their part in this. One could add Hollywood and – Bollywood films to the offenders. Don’t get me started on the advertising world. I digress. Is there anything as endearing as the floppy male with wit? What about people with eyes to die for? What happened to intimate talks and banter? A protagonist with pumped-up biceps can never cut it compared to a man or woman capable of a well-turned sentence. Am I wide off the mark here?

I agree that there is something restful in watching a beautiful person, regardless of sex. For me, that is something different from the current trend. Long and lean muscles seem more attractive to me, compared with the gym fabrications. Tell me what is wrong with a small pot-belly – if it’s combined with a soul? At the end of the day, how many men – or women – have ‘perfect’ bodies joined with an enjoyable mind? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with natural beauty, but it isn’t the beginning or end of the world.

Free us from heroines that can’t see a soul for a display of muscles. Free us from the hero who is attached to a mirror. Free us from heroines who spend their time shopping and believe that looks alone will engender happiness.

© HMH, 2020

Categories
HM Poetry

Waterford Crystal

Prism of molten crystal

Red-hot miracle of light, heat, and skill

Fiery inferno throwing sparks and glittering shards

As the cutters scream through to the core or graze the surface

Crafting fabulous shapes and abysmal compositions.

Shapes of distinction meet frozen eagles

Or strange blossoms budding among stars and spangles

Secret visions create chandeliers that sing and glitter,

Wondrous phenomenon of this world or another.

Chalices of light shed colours of every rainbow

Dreams of waterfalls and bright green woods

Saturated with soft luminosity

Steeped in wonder

But hard as steel

Until it shatters

Turning back

To the core

To resurge

Set for renaissance

In ever changing spectres

***

***

© HMH, 2013

Categories
HM Paintings

Mask, ‘Sun and Moon’

It took a long time and one fiasco to finish this mask project.

My first attempt at the sun didn’t work at all. I hated it but put it in my bookcase facing my desk so that it would confront me every time I sat down to work. For a long time, it just sat there staring at me. One day, its glowering made me so miserable that I painted the miserable attempt over and primed it again.

Sun, papier-mâché acrylic paint

A few weeks ago, I suddenly knew what to do. Here are the results. The stick and heavy base went out of the window when I found the Chinese plate holder, which seems to be in harmony with my object.

Moon, papier-mâché acrylic paint

© HMH, 2020

Categories
HM On Writing

Reading at speed — New Reviews

JT Atkinson, Beneath an Indigo Moon

Thought Provoking and Bold

It is difficult to write about this book, but it must be done. Honestly, it wasn’t an easy read, because of the challenging subject. Still, it is an important book if one wants to understand the hardship, people of another sexual observation suffered and still suffer. In my experience, gay people are just that – people – and it would be wrong to ignore a book that was written to open our eyes to bigotry and intolerance. We can’t close our eyes to the witch hunts that took place in various forms throughout our collective history.

One might discuss if there’s too strong a focus on sex and blatant violence, but there’s no doubt that the time leading up to Stonewall was this violent. My only complaint in this connection is that both the sex and the violence became somewhat repetitive in Atkinson’s writing. His characters are believable, all the same.

It seems only right to quote JTAT’s afterword here, as it puts the theme into perspective: “BAIM is a work of fiction. It is, however, inspired by real-life events. In the early days of queer politics, the pervasive mood was one of fear, anger, and desperation. Twenty-five years after Stonewall, things had changed. The law had changed. People’s rights had changed. But attitudes hadn’t changed. There was a general feeling that twenty-five years of advancement had amounted to very little and a more active approach was required. It was during these times that the most extreme forms of queer politics came into being. Small groups, frustrated by the lack of direct action from the authorities, took it upon themselves to redress what they saw as an imbalance in society. Their thinking was simple. They would do to others what others had done to them. The events in BAIM are inspired by the activities of just such a group. The story may be fiction. The thinking behind it, however, was very real.”

I recommend anybody who wants to understand a group of people who have been persecuted too often for their situation to read this book.

***

Val Penny, Hunter’s Chase

Murder Most Foul, and Cocaine

Hunter Wilson is up against it. His former boss gets robbed, and there’s a large supply of cocaine knocking about. Things get complicated when the murderer doesn’t stop at one victim, Hunter is witness to the second – but only partly catches the runaway car’s registration plate number. It doesn’t stop there, but underneath is a tangled family affair that must be unravelled to close the case.

Val Penny presents her characters in depth, often with the use of multiple points of view. Penny has done her research, which can be seen in a realistic post-mortem scene. Her writing is complex and the story compelling.

***

Mari Collier, Twisted Tales from the Desert

Paranormal Stories from the American Mainland

In Twisted Tales from the Desert, Mari Collier lets her fantasy out to play. There are all manners of ghosts, active Stone Lizards, murderers, infantile and grown-up, just to mention a few. Certainly, there are twists and turns and surprises at every corner. The reader feels comfortable in her deft hands – except when the stories go to the bare bones of humanity. That’s when cold shivers run down your back. There is mythology and subconscious horrors to enjoy in this collection of short stories that I can recommend to those readers who dare.

***

Malcolm, Hollindrake, Threadbare

An Extraordinary Detective Story

Starting with DCI Bennet Book 9 throws you right into the water at the deep end. For me, the beginning was confusing, a marriage between Cyril and his beloved didn’t make much sense. No matter, as the story unfolded, it was easy to get to know the characters.

Snake bites, a shooting, a man with the brain of a seven-year-old child, a wish for revenge, a retired gentleman with a penchant for spiders, also, dead sheep, a biblical snake, and old photos form a puzzle that puts the young officer (Owen), who takes over from Cyril while he is on honeymoon, through the hoops. On his return, Cyril must help to disentangle the threads. The search for the murderer becomes increasingly urgent, and one of the clues to solving the crime lies buried in the Book of Genesis.

This is an unusual detective story, especially because of the many references to art and music.

***

LM Lacee, Dragon’s Gap

A Parallel Modern-Day World

They use cars outside Dragon’s gap. Inside Dragon’s gap, there are swords and magic. LM Lacee is a storyteller but struggles with writing. No doubt, thorough editing of her work would help the author to reach a potential that momentarily is hidden under uncertain writing and grammar.

Shapeshifters (half- and full-bloods), dragons, a goddess, elementals, witches, as well as magic, treason, love, and hate abound in Dragon’s Gap.

Once I got used to the strange use of the full stop, and the run-on sentences, it became easier to get a grip on the storyline. LM Lacee has good ideas and builds a believable world – it would be wonderful indeed if her potential could be unlocked through some editorial emergency treatment.

***

Lynne Fischer, After Black

Does Life Begin After Widowhood?

In some cases, this is true. Janet blossoms after a cowed existence, but all isn’t well. Her memories of Frank, her husband, dying can be pushed aside, but there is an upstart in her workplace. Marian is driven and wants the same promotion that would make Janet’s life at Masons Retail Store complete. Hence, Janet pulls all stops and wins. Does this change her life for the better? Not for a while. Janet must confront her demons and face her past.

In After Black, Lynne Fisher challenges the reader with a protagonist it is difficult to like. That it doesn’t stay that way is down to a masterly plot. Not only that, but all the characters must also learn and grow through unwanted and – for the reader as for the dramatis personae – unexpected developments. Ms Fisher kept me at the edge of my chair throughout this brilliantly written novel that explores love and loss, abusive and painful relationships, as well as the possibility of redemption. Anybody reading this will gain insight into the machinations that can mar or make humanity.

***

Nina Romano, The Secret Language of Women

Historical Fiction of Beauty and Refinement.

Lian meets Giacomo and sweet music emerges. The young Italian man and the part Chinese girl, who assists her physician-father can’t resist a love that binds them together until death. The secret language of women holds a large part of the story together. It’s an old language, written and spoken, that Chinese women have nurtured throughout the imperial period. We are at the end of this period and the Boxer insurgency accompanies the love story, separating Lian and Giacomo almost as soon as they meet. Their longing and love help them find one another, but not before Lian has been married to a peasant and born her daughter sired by Giacomo.

Nina Romano writes this story with confidence and knowledge. Still, to me, it seemed that she had a better grasp of Lian’s character, maybe through the first-person point of view. Giacomo comes across as slightly remote, and his part of the story is heavy with historical detail. This shows Ms Romano’s immaculate research and does her honour. All in all, I enjoyed reading The Secret Language of Women and can recommend it to everyone with an interest in the beauty and intrigue of imperial China in troubled times.

Sayara St Clair, Kiss Me, Bite Me

Amusing and endearing Love Story with Bite

Kayana Castello Branco literally bumps into Greg Morgan but must forget him as he’s already affianced to an ‘ice princess’. Later she meets him again and they hit it off, but there is trouble on the horizon.
This vampire tale is a boy-meets-girl story with a difference. When Kayana and Greg meet again, he is free but has a condition that makes their love-life daunting in some respects. They strive to ignore it, but Greg must eventually tell his Kayana about his craving. Not that it stops their love-affair. In some ways, it deepens their bond.

There isn’t much left of the brooding and angst that haunts you in Interview with a Vampire, there isn’t as much bloodshed, but there are unforgettable characters, humour, intrigue, and not forgetting sensuality.

In Sayara St Clair’s competent hands the reader goes from belly laugh to horror, and back. More than that, Ms Clair knows how to write erotic scenes that are steamy and convincing. Don’t wonder if your heart rate goes up at certain points in this fable. Highly recommended

***

© HMH, 2020

Categories
HM Poetry

Autumn Symphony

Branchy silhouettes

Hide lost secrets in misty veils

Golden leaves drop on wet greensward

In the twilight.

Is the grass greener in this

Murky light?

***

Lit windows cast warm beams into the evening

But geese depart and call hoarsely

In the skies

***

Chestnut vendors peel away the shells

Of seared nuts to clear their sweet cores.

They smile as tired children

Come to warm their hands.

The coals glow in the barrels and

Smoke curls around the tree trunks’ rough bark

Such visions belong to Autumn

Season of decay and

Bittersweet longing

***

© HMH, 2020

Categories
HM Paintings

Moon and Tree Icon

Acrylic on hardboard and frame

© HMH, 2020

Categories
HM On Writing

Reviews

Kathryn Gauci, The Embroiderer

Unfolding an Enigmatic World

A prophecy haunts Greek-born and Turkish raised Dimitra Lamartine to such a degree that she can’t love her grandchild, Maria. Her red hair and unruly character become the Ariadne thread that leads through the maze of this tapestry of paintings, couturiers, embroideries, and priceless jewels. In the darker parts, war and violence takes over, as well as fire, murder, and secrets. On her deathbed, Maria reveals her past to Eleni, her half-sister.

The luxury and dizzying elegance that encompasses the first chapters is set off with the brutality of the war.

Gauci’s debut is historical fiction, where history vies to take over. At the same time, it is a family saga with four generations of women – living, longing, and hating. The historical backdrop is necessary but threatens to become a mere history lesson. In my opinion, this is a problem with the debut novel that reveals a female world during the end of the Ottoman empire and beyond. Without a doubt, Gauci has learned to balance history and fiction in her later books. Recommended.

***

Paul Cude, A Right Royal RumpAss

Loveable and Impish Dragons

Prehistoric creatures, aka dragons, live and learn just like everyday children.

Paul Cude weaves a tale around two friends, a newcomer to the ‘nursery ring’ – and the school bully. Among dragons, an education encompasses several more years than is usual among humans. Other than that, the parallels between their world and ours are recognisable. This is a hilarious and witty take on schools, children in the guise of dragons, and the problems their teachers face when dragons (or children) get up to mischief.

***

Paul Cude, Frozen to the Core

Evil versus good

Can Man save his innocence? Can the naga survive? Will Man’s father take over the world? Will Man’s brother survive, and will Man’s mother?

Frozen to the Core is advertised as a book where evil wins. What occurred to me is that it’s all a question of viewpoint. Dragon/men or men/dragons are oppressed and kept on an icy world. There is one prisoner, who is the scapegoat for the race. The leader oppresses his people and tortures the scapegoat. His sons suffer under his maliciousness too and at this hangs a tale. Man (the eloquent name of the older son) is a thoughtful creature, but not only that, he discovers that he has a spark of the magic that is denied the captives on this icy world. Enter another magical creature, a naga, who recognizes Man’s potential. Evil and good are poised for another fight, but it is unclear who is evil and who is good in this match. Are the oppressors outside this world – or is the leader and father figure the incarnation of evil? Who will win, who is the oppressor oppressed? Is the captive dragon the culprit and is that the reason for the torture he suffers under the leader’s reign? Is the naga the real persecutor or are the outside forces evil incarnated? These are pertinent questions. Who can judge? What strikes me is that the father/leader is proud of his eldest son. There is hate between the two, but there is also – surprisingly – love. That discrepancy is what makes this such a compelling read. Cude manages to pose existential questions in this prequel to his White Dragon Saga. As one reads on the enigma grows. Who is malevolent and what is evil? This way any reader will be kept at the edge of his or her chair, trying to judge between good and evil.

***

Cindy J Smith, Voices In My Hea

Thoughts from A Gentle Nature

In this poetry collection, Cindy J Smith reveals her sensitivity, her religion, and her longings.

It’s heartfelt and honest but, in my opinion, the rhyming schemes and metres could be improved. Poetry is a demanding taskmaster and more variations, as well as bolder word choices, might enhance her output. Her poem ‘Opinion’ makes me hope that she won’t take my suggestions amiss.

It is admirable that Ms Smith lays her soul bare and isn’t afraid of sharing hurtful parts of her life. In that, she shows her poetic and gentle soul.

***

Rosalind Minett, Uncommon Relations

A Psychologic Rollercoaster

In the prelude, Minett leaves a clue to the conflict in the core part of the book. Her psychological analysis centres on the possible trouble infertility and adoption can pose.

Terry lives a humdrum life with his wife Gudrun. His career at a pharmaceutical firm isn’t inspiring, and his mate, Leon sees him as a ‘yesterday’s man’. He, like so many, nurses unattainable dreams of excitement and wealth.

The accidental meeting with his physical double pivots Terry into a whirlpool of expectations, dreams, and jealousy. He pursuits the unknown man, who turns out to be his twin, Gerry. Gerry, who has everything that Terry dreams of, doesn’t want to investigate their background. Terry goes ahead and stumbles on a hornet’s nest.

Minett unfolds the story with remarkable insight into the depths of human nature. Her prose is satirical and – sometimes – disquieting. Highly recommended.

***

Joel Schueler, Jim and Martha

Jim and Martha leave their normal and unexciting life to take up residence in an eco-village. In reality, this village was a squatters’ paradise with little pretension at farming etc. The characters on display are typified exponents of people you’d expect to find in a commune. Jim is a bit of a cad and Martha struggles with a mind that won’t shut down. Both are tragicomic, but it’s unclear what brought them together in the first place.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy this book. The prose was ornate and gave me the impression that Mr Schueler concentrated on displaying uncommon words. Some might call it stream of consciousness, but the stream often leapt from one character to another, without rhyme or reason. Could it be that this author is influenced by authors such as Italo Calvino and Salman Rushdie?

***

Marcee Corn, Always Thaddeus

A Beautiful and Profound Thriller

Beth mourns the death of her son to a degree where she denies it.
Sandy mourns the loss of a beloved husband – and blames her younger self for her sister’s death.
Andrew can’t forget his dead son and has withdrawn to a small island near the Maine coast.

The three main characters’ fates intertwine, and all converge in the Owl’s Nest, where Andrew has set up his abode.

The coastal landscape and weather play a large part in the ensuing tragedy.

There are deep insights into the ravaging influence of childhood abuse in the unfolding of the drama that centres around Beth. At the same time, Marcee Corn portrays the romance that blossoms between Sandy and Andrew, college friends that lose contact and meet again as mature adults.

This book unfolds in waves of troubled beauty.

***

Scott Finlay, Epoch

Postapocalyptic Thriller

How do people cope when they all suffer from amnesia? How can a society function without the simplest footing?

The epoch begins after an apocalyptic event that wipes out memories as well as rendering all electronics useless. The one saving grace is that people have or develop a physical remembrance of their former skills. Not that it makes life simpler. The struggle for survival brings out the best in some characters but the worst in others.

The main protagonist whose skill turns out to be writing and drawing (was he a reporter or an author?), a doctor, a ruthless businessman, a policeman, a murderer (a serial killer on the loose), power-drunk individuals, gangs, and an endearing nitwit, all come together in a small town and work – or fight against one another – to build a new civilization.

Finlay poses valid questions about our humanity, but he never preaches.

***

© HMH, 2020

Categories
HM Poetry

Villanelle

Give me a clue or a reason, my dove

A reason to think and to dream, though in anguish, and find my belief

In the nature of love

A nature, I trust, that will judge me with favour

And not let me sink to the base, though in trouble, the base of a reef

That will serve me as altar

And alter my crime to in a way to behove

The grace that you give, though the hassle must worry your spite, in a thief

Who will trust all above

Above all that a verdict must cause you to falter

And think of the charm of an erring offender, though in pain, will be brief

And submit to the halter

The strap that will torment and plague me and shove

But grant me the right to confirm, though in sorrow, the sense that my grief

Came from nature in love

Nay, there is much to confess to and break, of

A nature in love and my longing to risk: the truth that will shake me, a shivering leaf

In the book that will leave this audacious actor

To be shriven, through your grace, and saved from my error

In the nature of love

This will serve me as altar

I will trust all above,

And submit to the halter,

Touched from nature in love

In the book that will leave this audacious actor

To be shriven, through your grace, and saved from my error

***

This is my first attempt at a difficult verse form. Is it perfect? No, far from it – it’s faulty and stumbling – but the best I can do for now.

© HMH, 2020

Categories
HM Paintings

New Painting, Yet Untitled

Acrylic on hard board

It’s been a while since I last could find time for painting. That made it all the more enjoyable to muck about with colours and brushes. This painting is so new that I haven’t thought of a title — but it’ll come to me.

***

© HMH, 2020

Categories
HM Stray Toughts

A Question of Femininity

Not so long ago, I watched Lover Come Back with Rock Hudson and Doris Day. No need to mention that it’s a pre-feminist movie, notwithstanding that the female lead is an advertising executive. The portrayal of her can be explained in two words: dumb blonde. She accepts everything her antagonist says, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to us today. Obviously, they end up married – and there you have it.

The film was funny in some ways, but it was embarrassing. In the end, it didn’t make me laugh. Doubtless, it is an accurate presentation of the fifties and early sixties. The question is, have we come that far since then? In certain ways perhaps, but there’s still huge gaps between what men and women earn for equal work.

There are less female than male representatives in any government or high finance. There are less female than male leaders in any business, as far as I know. The number of male chauvinists hasn’t changed — much. What can be done? Women may carry part of the responsibility. It’s difficult to change the way people think. Regardless of all the brave women who fought for equality, most people haven’t changed their ideas about women’s place – or men’s – in the hierarchy.

Take a simple issue as height. Women prefer dating men who are taller than they. It’s something they say openly. Any woman likes to be swept off her feet by a strong alpha male. Many women look for a partner who earns more than they. Women who become mothers to sons often don’t teach them to sew buttons or do the washing up. Girls learn those ‘female’ skills without a question – and yet some of the most famous clothing designers are men. Go figure.

It’s a marvel that we can’t seem to accept that the sexes aren’t that easy to separate or determine. This reminds me of a book I just read, Beneath an Indigo Moon by JT Atkinson. He makes some pertinent points about gender. It is a thought-provoking book and hard to deal with in some places. Nevertheless, it is well worth tackling. Anyway, these days, it becomes increasingly obvious that there is an entire spectrum of sexes, spanning from alpha male to alpha female. Some are easily recognizable, but the difference becomes difficult to see when boys grow up in female bodies and vice versa. Yes, that can be remedied nowadays. All the same, the confusion reigns and will continue to do so, until we accept that we’re all human beings, regardless of sex, sexual preferences, and colour. There are still many people who resent anybody who doesn’t fit the norm, which is their norm.

For some reason, this reminds me of a sign outside a barbershop. I saw it not three weeks ago on a sidewalk in Bremerhaven. It said Racists Aren’t Welcome. Next to this was another sign saying that the salon isn’t open for ladies. Food for thought. That’s how far we’ve advanced since women should only concern their little heads with their children, the kitchen, and the church. Of course, they had to maintain cleanliness in household matters too. In many heterosexual households, these issues still fall to the woman. A patriarchal society that has worked for around two-thousand years doesn’t change fast.

Maybe there’s reason for rejoicing that husbands can’t commit their ‘unruly’ wives to asylums any longer. There’s also ground for rejoicing that women are allowed to have possessions and earn money after marriage. In most countries, females even have the right to vote. Forget that the most progressive countries granted that right to women about a hundred years ago. All the same, there are many countries where girl children are mutilated at a young age, to keep them innocent until they marry. To return to past politics, there were times when only the ruling or moneyed classes, obviously only the men, had the right to vote.

Males and females indeed have different bodies. Men are endowed with stronger muscles, but only females can procreate and carry a child to full term. That doesn’t mean that men have intelligence and females – souls. That idea is too simplistic. Will it ever change? It is delightful to be a female as it is probably great to be a male. It is alluring to be complimented, wined and dined. All sexes enjoy that game. Isn’t it time to accept that it’s a game and has no real substance? Let us be as feminine and as masculine as we can and as we like, without pulling rules around our necks that limit our humanity. Is that too much to ask for? Just wondering.

La Dance by Marc Chagall

© HMH, 2020