Friday, August 15, 2014

New domain for M. Denise Costello

Hello. I now have my own domain and I just finished importing my blog from blogger to wordpress. I will be making some changes in the next week or so. I have much to learn.

New web address is:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Junkette by Sarah Shotland

Junkette by Sarah Shotland
June 28, 2014
White Gorilla Press, Belford, NJ
176 pages

From the Urban Dictionary online:


A female who swoons over the junkie-type rockstars. Known to find attraction in boys who smoke, do drugs, are overly skinny, have stoner eyes, messy hair, are in bands, etc.

Junkette: Check out that hot guy over there. 
Other Person: WHAT? He's hot?! He's a heroin addict that weights like 50 pounds. 
Junkette: Exactly. 

Person A: So how was concert last night? 
Person B: It was good, but Amanda kept swooning over the band members despite the fact that they looked like they were going to die of an overdose any second. 
Person A: Well, it's expected. Afterall, she's a total junkette.

After that definition and reading the book, I believe, however, this book's title could be defined as "female junkie."

Junkette is a very quick read that is filled with food for thought by playwright and writing professor at Chatham University, Sarah Shotland.

One of my friends lent me this book that was lent to her because the author's family and my friend's family know each other very well. Just to put it in perspective, I know who the author's family is, but do not "know" know them. However, there is a connection because both of our families are of Irish descent from a community of farmers outside of Dallas, Texas. Any time I can read a book with some sort of connection, I am interested and willing to promote. Also, I happen to have taken aerobics from the author's mother a few decades ago.

All of that aside, I was excited to know that this author is a successful young creative, writing and teaching at the small, private college, Chatham, in Pittsburg, PA. Her book is fiction, but as all authors do, she probably has weaved in some personal experience. 

The book focuses on Claire Cunningham and her life as a bartender in New Orleans set before Hurricane Katrina. Or rather, her life as a junkie trying to figure out how to get her shit together and get out of the vicious cycle of drug addiction. You know right away that Claire is too smart to waste her time in that vicious cycle, but you are powerless to help and can only read and see what happens. Shotland introduces readers to some sad characters, but characters who spout some wisdom and truths and show empathy and mercy more than not.

Also, Shotland has Claire flash back to short vignettes when she is growing up. Here is an excerpt where Claire flashes back to getting lice when she was young, as she has realized she is infested in the present:

There are living things breeding in my head, fucking and sucking and eating and laying eggs, they're being born and dying on my head.

     I read Anne Frank too young, 7 or 8, I must have been. I was convinced the Nazis were planning a surprise attack on America and since I was the only one aware of this, they would come for my family first. This led to elaborate precautionary measures. I needed to be with an adult, able-bodied woman at all times--one who would be sent to the work line and not the death line. I located spaces large enough for a family to hide, the first being the AV room at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Elementary School. Smaller places I could hide alone. The massive organ pipes at the Meyerson Symphony Center. The cabinet beneath the school stage where the folding chairs were stored. 

But the worst part was the nightmares:
  The Nazis find my family hiding in the AV room
  We are evacuated from Dallas on the train tracks that
  run through Casa Linda Park
  We arrive at a camp and I hide underneath my mother's
  peasant skirt
  We are in the showers, naked
  A woman stands over my head with an electric shaver

And then I woke up--always right before my hair was shaved.

Another short excerpt:

Most people make the mistake of believing the movies they see about junkies. Most people think junkies are skinny, emaciated even. I only wish. I can't blame people. I thought the same thing. Which is one reason I am so bitter about this whole affair. I thought I might lose a few pounds at least.

I look forward to more writing from Sarah Shotland.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review: Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes

Campanile Books: New York
January 13, 2014
Kindle edition
Print length: 362 pages

--Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes with a
wonderful cover by Nikki McClure

Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes was a much better book than I had expected. I remember choosing this book to review because the novel was a work of historical fiction set in the Middle Ages. Once I started to read the book, I was quickly enrapt by the story and finished the novel in a few days. The story begins in the small village of Duns somewhere in a remote northern section of England in the late 1300s. Readers quickly learn that the protagonist of the story has just suffered the loss of a child due to a fire deliberately set. This child, named Christian, and some other pre-teen boys were trapped in a locked room in one of the leaders of the village home, and all burned to their death. What was really intriguing was that the father of Christian was not really a man, as the villagers believed, but was really a woman and was Christian’s mother. Ol’ Mear, known by the others as a deaf mute, was really Miriam, an ex-novitiate of an abbey, who fled her previous life after bearing a child out of wedlock.

When the book begins, the villagers are riled up and blaming each other and the Jews for the boys’ deaths. Jews had not been present in England at this time for many years, yet were blamed along with unknown witches. No one knows who would want to kill their boys and there were many unanswered questions. All that these villagers could agree on was that they needed to go to the closest monastery where more learned men lived, taking with them their boys’ bodies and present their mystery to the monks and try to get some resolution there. The monks were not receptive to the villagers (mainly because they were carting around dead bodies), and the villagers decided that they must now appeal to the court and king in London. The majority of the book was composed of this arduous journey to London and to solving the mystery of the boys’ murders. A group of the boys’ fathers (including Mear) and a orphan child that was not killed with the others began the journey. 

Throughout the journey, the readers of Sinful Folk get the back story of Miriam and of many of the villagers, and the history of the village in general. The journey and stories evoked memories of reading The Canterbury Tales decades ago, although I remember very little of those tales. After finishing the book, I read in the credits that author Ned Hayes based some of the stories in his novel on The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. He also noted that he used quotes and citations from the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and some other texts from the Middle Ages. I thought all of these references and usages enhanced this novel to a great extent and was appreciative of Mr. Hayes extensive research.  Many Old and Middle English words were used and seeing this words and the author’s use of the language also enhanced the book.

Mear/Miriam was an excellent character to narrate the story and we are slowly revealed all of the mysteries as she/he is revealed them. Many twists and turns are present, as is the realistic violence of the times. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I recommend the tale, especially to readers of historical fiction.

--author Ned Hayes

My main criticism of the book regards the title. I dislike the title of the novel, Sinful Folk. No hint of a dual character or of a journey is in the title. This title just did not stand out to me in any way and as one of my friends noted when I told her the title: "Aren't we all?" Many books I have read based on the title, but  this would never have been one of those. But I did enjoy this book tremendously. I have no title to offer, but I think another might be more enticing if it related to the story more than this one. 

One of the real characters of the time that Mr. Hayes weaves into his story is Edward, the Black Prince. Near the end of the story, the setting is in the Tower of London. Once again, I love how my reading life and my real life seem to converge, as I am set to revisit the Tower in a few weeks.

Some of the words I had to look up:

ululations--howls, shrill lamentations, wails
mayhap--perhaps, possibly
gorse--yellow-flowered shrub
bracken--a large fern
calefactory--a monastery room warmed and used as a sitting room
vole--a small rodent
destrier--warhorse; a charger used especially in medieval tournaments
wergild--the value set in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic law upon human life in accordance with rank and paid as compensation to the kindred or lord of a slain person

A short passage from the novel:

I sit with the rest by the warmth of the fire, but my thoughts are drawn to Cole, who was our hero and is now our outcast. I turn to look at him skulking under the cart.

The wheel of the cart behind that forlorn lad reminds me of the great wheel that Fortune turns. One day, a king rides out to battle, his forces following in splendid array. The next, that king lies in a ditch, cheek by jowl with the peasant folk.

The wheel of Fortune turns one way and another, taking us to the heights or to the depths. That is the great wheel on which we all turn, tied to destinies that move up or down at the whim of God above.

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