Wednesday, September 26, 2012

At LAST!! Eden is revealed!

It's done! It's long, but it's done. Enjoy...

(A brief aside before I begin: Regardless of the author’s intent in writing this book, and her subsequent arguments defending it, there’s a whole lotta racism going on in here. Smarter people than me have already blogged that issue to death, so I’m not going to touch it. If you are dying to know about it, go here and read the first dozen reviews:

So, I finally figured out why my review of “Revealing Eden” was taking so long; I was approaching it in the wrong way. For some reason, I was treating it like an academic essay (thesis, arguments, conclusion, etc.).

I hate academic essays.

I’m just going to review it the way I would if I were talking to a friend (and since you’re reading my blog, I’m assuming we’re friends…=')    )

I’ll start with a very basic synopsis:

Revealing Eden, a future dystopia that’s meant to “turn racism on its head”, is the story of Eden Newman, a young white girl living in a post-cataclysm world where black people rule and white people are oppressed. In her quest to find a mate (and help her genius-scientist father save the human race), she falls in love with her black employer.

If that sounds dull, uninspired and uninteresting, that’s because it is. The problem with “Revealing Eden” is that the writing is so lazy – oftentimes sloppy – that the characters and settings are woefully underdeveloped and the book is rife with inconsistencies to its own internal logic.

To wit:

The world is ruled by black people, yet the one person smart enough to “save” everyone is a white guy (Eden’s father).

The names given to the different races are referred to as “slurs” yet only the one for black people is an actual insult (both in the book and in real life).

The surface of the planet is supposed to have been ravaged and rendered unlivable by the “Great Meltdown”, yet there’s a section of the Amazon Rainforest that not only survived intact, but is also peopled by the “mysterious” Huaorani tribe (who, by the way, do actually exist, in Ecuador, but who do not speak Spanish, contrary to what the book portrays).

The white people are supposed to wear a dark skin coating to protect them from the deadly rays of the sun, yet Eden traipses around the Amazon – free of her coating – and doesn’t get so much as a tan.

Speaking of Eden (the girl who’s going to help save humankind is named Eden…New…Man – not gonna touch that one), though she’s supposed to be smart and capable, her actions reveal her to be shallow, superficial and naïve.

She figures out her father’s secret world-saving plan – that’s supposed to be kept a secret – and uses it to impress a black guy she’s trying to bed. He, of course, betrays her and uses the information in a bid to seize power so he can kill off all the white people.

Also, she constantly spouts off the scientific names of plants and animals because…well, I’m not sure why she does this. She does it at the most random intervals but it’s never explained why. Maybe it’s meant to show her intelligence? If that’s the case, it doesn’t work. It becomes tedious and distracting and makes her seem less intelligent, rather than more.

Okay, I’m done with this; it’s time to shift gears here. While I was reading the book, I made copious notes to help with the review. I’m just going to include the relevant ones here, because they’re illustrative and will easily make my point for me…also, thinking about this book is starting to give me a headache and I have stuff of my own I need to be writing.

If you don’t feel like reading the notes, that’s fine. I’ll just say, as an ending note: This author took a potentially interesting idea and did a terrible job at executing it. Apparently, the idea was done right in Malorie Blackman’s “Noughts and Crosses” Check that out instead.

My notes:

“They must not see” (p. 10 – first page of story, 2nd sentence. I get the need to other the “bad guys”, but given the history of the US, and the nature of this story, referring to black people as “them” is probably not the wisest decision. she does this a lot)

(what’s w/ all the scientific names? – distracting)

(who names a character “Peach”, like actual name instead of nickname?)

“Experience something pleasant” (p. 11 – shouldn’t that be think of something pleasant?)
“Pearls, the racist term for whites” (p. 12)

“Images of Pearls in natural coloring were forbidden. If they caught Eden looking, she would be punished” (p. 13 – if the images are forbidden, why does she have such easy access to them?)

“…according to the antique Beauty Map…” (p. 13 – what the hell is a beauty map?)

“Me? Eden Newman?” (p. 13 – Eden Newman…Eden…New Man…subtlety this is not…)

“She was a lowly Pearl, worth nothing (emph mine) in a world ruled by dark skinned Coals” (p. 13 – because pearls are worthless…???)

“Because of his high intelligence scores, they had overlooked his race and given him the position of lead scientist” (p. 14 – on her scientist father getting a lead research position. no one else – no one else – in the entire society is smarter than this one “Pearl”…) 

“Since their numbers hadn’t been decimated in The Great Meltdown, as the other races’ had, they now ruled the planet” (p. 15 – because having greater numbers always determines who rules…)

“Only Cottons, the derogatory word for albinos, were lower, and they were extinct.” (p. 15 – because albinism denotes a separate “race” and not a genetic trait)

“If Eden wasn’t mated in six months when she turned eighteen – the deadline for girls – she’d be cut off from Basic Resources, and left outside to die.” (p. 15)

“Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.
‘Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!’ ” (p. 15)

“The girl lunged for her, but Eden jumped out of reach.
“She pushed me!” Ashina cried, falling to the floor.” (p. 15 – how can you “push” someone towards you?)

“Even those whom she thought tolerated her presence hurled racial epithets.
‘Earth-damned Pearl!’
‘White death!’ ”(p. 15)

“…skin the color of storm clouds…” (p. 17 – aren’t storm clouds usually various shades of gray – from light to dark? …mmmaybe, 50 shades of gray?)

“…a mixed Asian, or Amber, as the racist term went…” (p. 18)

“…why not pick a Tiger’s Eye, or Latino? They ranked higher in the race wars than Ambers, who stood above Pearls.” (p. 19)

(she refers – repeatedly in the story – to Jamal, the head of security, as her Dark Prince.) p. 19

“Only a cold bastard like Bramford could resist Jamal’s charm. His expression remained impassive, as closed off as his past.” (p. 20 – if this is meant to be foreshadowing, it is really clumsy. if not, what purpose does it serve? in the next pp she talks of “researching” him – why/how would a “lowly Pearl” get access to such information?)

“Eden found the custom gold ring, which held a large onyx stone, as pretentious as its owner.” (p. 20 – custom gold ring w/ a large onyx (obviously the author is aware of its worth) – yet the black people are referred to as Coals…???)

(random and recurring mentions of genetics/genomes. why? to add “feeling” of being scientific/intellectual?) p. 21

(the main character vacillates between haughtily condescending and ridiculously naïve – is that meant to represent a typical teenager? but she grew up in a “post-apoc wasteland” so she’s not a typical teenager) p.21

“Even here she couldn’t escape Bramford’s colossal ego. Like an animal, he had marked his territory by carving a ridiculously large initial “B” onto each unit door. His audacious company logo – a snow-capped black mountain against a red desert background that offered a false hope in a parched land – glowed at intervals along the walls. As if he owned everything, including her” (p.22 – uh…what CEO doesn’t tag everything with their brand?)

“…happiness had gone the way of the dolphins.” (p. 23 – what a strange thing to say)

“…she flashed on the date: the 29th of May, her half birthday. For Earth’s sake, how could she have forgotten?” (p. 24 – she didn’t forget. see note from page 15)

“…her lingering anger over Bramford’s lies…” (p. 25 – what lies has he told?)

“A Pink Pearl [Eden’s mother] was fairer than Eden, and therefore even more susceptible to the Heat. But she’d been lax about coating. Minor rebellions keep the heart alive, she would say.” (p. 27 – so, is this “coating”, this Midnight Luster, is it mandatory so the Coals don’t get offended by the sight of Pearls, or is it some kind of preventative/prophylactic/”sunblock” that the Pearls need for enviro protection?)

“Eden switched on Austin’s nutrient teat, and he began to suck hungrily on it.” (p. 27 – in a future of limited resources where Pearls are at the bottom of the ladder, why would a Pearl have not only the luxury of owning a dog, but also a dog-feeding system built in to her home?)

“…his powerful body dominating the small space like a mountain in a cave…” (p. 67 – who writes like this? what does it mean?)

“Nearly two decades of oxy drips had…”(p. 108 – she’s 17½ and started oxy when she was 5 – that’s NOT nearly two decades, that’s just over one decade)

Was it because Eden now lacked a shed of dark coating? (p. 111 – where is the editor???)

“The name had struck a nerve in him. If she said it again, he might make her pay. He might grab her with those big, rough hands and pin her down.” (p. 113 – ok, this reads like really bad porn-lite. and, of course, the black guy with “those big, rough hands”…)

“Luckily, she recalled a few Spanish words she had learned whenever her sensors had translated.” (p. 116 – what does this mean? when had her sensors translated Spanish?) 

“She slipped on a pile of Brazil nuts and fell onto a log.” (p. 125 – wha? huh? why?)

“It’s evident that you have a talent for aggravating him. A common female tactic to attract the male’s attention.” (p. 133 – this is her father talking to her. I suppose being a “brilliant scientist” does not preclude being a sexist d-bag)

“Eden knew the woman meant well. But then, the road to Earth’s destruction had also been paved with good intentions.” (p. 137 – on the “native woman” putting a poultice on her father’s wound…what the f**k!!!)

“Maria gave her a warning look. ‘Bejuco de oro muy fuerte.’ ”(p. 138 –  <== that is not a sentence!!!!!)

“In fact, the Huorani met the most trivial events with a happiness that puzzled Eden. Maybe they didn’t know how boring their lives were.” (p. 140 – what an awful person she is)

“If only Austin were there to protect her. If only she had paid attention to his warnings.” (p. 146 – …Austin was her dog…)

(The amount of “convenient” knowledge she possesses is simply ridiculous) p. 151

(This girl is giving a nature lecture as she’s about to be killed by a giant snake) p. 156

“…Eden peered inside at an unappetizing dark brown watery soup, surprisingly odorless.” (p. 173 – her sentence constructions are awful)

“…he seemed as far away from her as the world was from their lonely encampment.” (p. 174 – this turn of phrase does not work for a post-apoc planet where most live underground and these two are in the ‘last bit of green’ anywhere.)

“To her surprise, Bramford squeezed her hands, as if he were trying to communicate.” (p. 174 – they then go on to have a 2-3 page conversation…so he didn’t need to try…)

(having a “let’s-reveal-all-of-one-character’s-secrets-while-he’s-in-a-drug-induced-stupor” conversation is so lazy!!!) p. 179

“Love? If it did exist, it hurt like Bleeding Earth.” (p. 181 – what the heck does this mean?)

“It never occurred to Eden that various parts of a plant contained different remedies – it was just a plant.” (p. 201 – she was assistant to her father – the most brill scientist EVAR – and smart enough to piece together his “plan” and can’t go 5 sentences w/o dropping some scientific nomenclature, but this shit about plants never occurred to her?)

“…the tube-lipped nectar bat, Anoura fistulata, so necessary for pollination in the rain forest…”(p. 202 – yet the plant info never occurred to her)

“What deep dark secret could cause the girls’ irrepressible spirits to wilt? Even Maria’s shoulders sagged. It had to be some superstitious Huaorani belief, perhaps because of his mixed race.” (p. 202 – cos dem brown people’s got some krazeeee ideas about shit!!!)

(this girl is RIDICULOUS!!! she keeps jumping to crazy conclusions based on the skimpiest of “evidence” and then makes decisions based on them!!) p. 202

(This author doesn’t telegraph her punches, she takes out full-page newspaper ads!!!) p. 177/204

“ ‘Are you all right, Daught?’ her father said, his voice shaky. Even now, as his energy drained away, he only showed concern for her. For once the dreaded nickname comforted Eden.” (p. 205 – this makes no sense!!! he’s basically shut her out since her mother’s death and she’s been bitching for the entire book about how he never pays attention to her.)

“Using her finely developed researcher’s skills, she memorized the leaf Maria had given her…”(p. 211 – this book has got to be a joke…it simply has to be…)

(in – what? 3, 4 days TOPS – she’s all of a sudden Sheena, Queen of the Jungle?) p. 211

(she’s seriously – SERIOUSLY – riding him like he’s an actual beast. This book is f*cked up) p. 213

“A delicate rainbow arced high in the glistening air like a stairway to heaven.” (p. 214 – when has a rainbow ever approximated a stairway? maybe a pathway…and, seriously, stairway to heaven? as they head towards Heaven’s Gate?)

“Eden realized that her father probably would be the first non-native to take its medicine. “We could call it Newman’s Cure,” she said, hopefully” (p. 221 – my god!!! how arrogant and selfish is this girl???)

“What on Blessed Earth would it take for Bramford to trust her?” (p. 229 – she has done NOTHING in the entire novel to make anyone trust her.)

She lifted her head to find Austin sprawled on top of Jamal’s face. (p. 234 – what????)

An indirect approach was best, she decided. (p. 241 – that’s all she’s done for the whole book!!!!)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Another excerpt. Sorry it's so brief...

...reading that AWFUL book sort of fried my brain. And I'm STILL not done w/ the d*mn review...Grrrr!

Anyway, enjoy!!

The story I’m about to tell you is true. You’ll think it’s a fiction, or a myth, or a tale for children, but while it has become all those things, it always was – and still remains – true.

Far, far back – in the time before time was recorded – there lived a small man. He was the son of a god. Which god is not important: that god no longer is and the name of that god is best forgotten.

The small man was forlorn and often angry for, though he was the son of a god, he was not a god himself. He desperately yearned to be.

Time passed and the god created more men. These men, however, were not the sons of the god, they were simply the god’s creations. The god made its son to live among the men. The son was pleased at first, as he thought this meant he was to rule the men. The god, however, had given each of the men a strong will and a fine intelligence; they were meant to choose their own ruler and they did not choose the son.

This angered the son beyond reason and he conceived a wicked plan: he would kill the god and assume its place and power. The god knew of this plan as it knew all things. It knew, too, that the plan would fail.

The son crept into the god’s demesne, searching for the key to its power. He stumbled upon a hidden chamber and, sitting in a pool of light upon a pedestal, he found eight silver bracelets arranged in two rows. The first four were whole and unbroken, each set with a large onyx. The next were hinged and the onyx served as a clasp. He could feel them pulsating with the essence and power of the god. Greedily, he snatched at the first and put it on, sliding it up his arm until it fit snugly.

He felt nothing. He grabbed for the second and slid it into place on his other arm. Still, nothing. He fought his anger, knowing the power was there – he could feel it. He quickly placed the other two bracelets on his wrists. Finally! He felt a blush of warmth creeping up his arms towards his chest.

The remaining four, the hinged ones, he quickly clasped around his calves and ankles, the warmth growing as each was added. As he placed the final anklet on, the heat inside him began to burn. He felt the power of the god and he laughed.

The burn kept increasing, however, and his laugh became a scream. Wracked with pain, he clawed at the bracelets, desperate to get them off. They remained affixed tightly to his flesh. He fell to the ground, writhing and shrieking.

Abruptly, the burning stopped and he lay trembling in the aftermath. Before he could even think to rise, pain struck anew. It was a different pain this time; he felt a terrible squeezing, as if held in the powerful grip of the god. As he thrashed about, the pain rapidly became unbearable. Gasping in pain, he gazed upon his body and saw with horror that the bracelets had shrunk: they’d burned through his flesh as they constricted and had fused themselves to the bone beneath, cauterizing the wounds as they made them.

The pain stopped. The chamber went black.

Little man. The voice of the god rang in his ears. Little man, you have coveted that which is not yours. You have overreached yourself and you will suffer dearly for it. This is just the beginning of your punishment.

The voice faded and he was alone in the darkness. Shortly, he noticed a faint, pulsing glow. He looked around and saw that it was coming from the base of the pedestal. He rolled onto his stomach and inched his way towards it like a worm, unable to use his arms and legs, cursing the name of the god. The pulsing increased as he approached. When he reached it, he saw that it was a carved image – the outline of an image – of a creature he did not recognize. It looked somewhat like a man, yet it had too many limbs. As he gazed upon the image, he felt a tingling in his arms and legs.

The tingling soon became an itch, and the itch became a burning. But this time it was far worse. It felt like there were things crawling around underneath his skin! He flopped onto his back and opened his mouth to scream, but he was cut off by a horrific rending sound. He looked down upon his body again; he couldn’t even manage to scream. His skin was tearing.

He stared in horror as his left hand started to split between the second and third fingers. The fissure went up his hand to his wrist until it hit the bracelet. With a sickening crack, his wrist broke into two pieces, the bracelet – somehow unbroken and still fused to his bone – stayed on the left half of his wrist. The process accelerated as the fissure raced up his arm. When his elbow split, he found his voice again; he screamed at last. The second bracelet was loosened by the split, yet it stayed on the right half of his arm, sliding down towards the remains of his wrist where it fused itself again to the bone.

He screamed himself hoarse. His arm had split to the shoulder by this point – the two bloody, tattered stalks that had taken its place waving about feebly in the air. He turned his head, unable to bear the sight of them and regretted it instantly, as he saw the skin on his right hand begin to tear.

He wished for madness to take him, he wished to die; he began praying for release of any kind. His tears of pain turned to tears of gratitude as his mind started to slip away; the pain ebbed as he felt himself leaving the battered shell that had been his body. Just as he was about to topple over the edge and into the abyss, however, he was yanked cruelly back. Laughter rang in his ears – the god was reveling in his torture. He would not be allowed even a moments respite from his fate.

He endured the agony three more times as, one by one his remaining limbs fissured and split. He lay on his back, quivering, watching as his fingers and toes fused and elongated and sharpened to points. At last, his arms and legs fell to the ground motionless.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My first official review for this blog!

The Night of 1,000 Wolves
writer: Bobby Curnow
artist: Dave Wachter

My first review for this blog was going to be Victoria Foyt’s “Revealing Eden”, but that book is so awful that writing the review is actually somewhat painful, and it’s taking longer than I’d expected. So, I’ve decided to start with something I actually enjoyed, the graphic novel “The Night of 1,000 Wolves” by IDW Publishing.

A simple story – drawn and told without unnecessary embellishment – it grabbed me right at the first page and didn’t let me go until the end. This should not be surprising, however, as IDW routinely puts out excellent work.

To give a brief synopsis: a small farming homestead is set upon by an increasingly large number of wolves; the people flee to the safety of a neighboring keep where they make a stand and fight for their survival. And the ending of the story provides a nice spin on traditional wolf mythology.

Like the title says, all the events take place in the course of one day and night. It begins with one character recognizing an ominous sign in the afternoon sky and ends with another making an incredible sacrifice to save friends and family. Yes, I know I’m being vague, but the story is relatively short and I don’t want to give anything away.

This book is definitely worth reading. I say check it out!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Computer issues resolved!!!

So, I'm back up and running. The next excerpt is going to have to wait just a wee bit longer, however, as I've a little reviewing to do. I requested a galley copy of a new-ish YA dystopian novel called "Save the Pearls part one: Revealing Eden".

You may've heard of it.

At any rate, there's been a bit of controversy surrounding the book and I decided to read it for myself and see what I thought. I'll have the review up in a couple of days.

By the way, here's the cover:

And, yeah...that's kinda a white girl in blackface...kinda...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Urghk!!! Computer problems...='(

There's going to be a delay of a few days until my next post..I'm having some issues with my netbook.

Back as soon as I can...

Friday, September 7, 2012

Death of a Kindle

So, my kindle died. 

It happened some time ago actually, and it didn’t so much “die” as get inadvertently smooshed – it’s a long story. Of course, all of the books I’d downloaded are still available via my Amazon account and I can use the online cloud reader or “Kindle for PC” to read them. The problem, however, is with my collections.

The kindle allows you to categorize your books for easy reference and I accordingly had such collection titles as: vampires, zombies, werewolves, dragons, food, short stories, classics, etc. And, of course you could add the same books to multiple collections, so if I wasn’t quite sure where I’d put “Buster’s Bloody Brunch: An Anthology of Vampire Feasting Tales with Recipes Included”, I could look in ‘vampires’, ‘food’ or ‘short stories’. 

When I came to Kenya, I never got around to synchronizing my kindle w/ my Amazon account before the accident – the wi-fi at the local coffee shop was never up when I tried to go there. So, the majority of my awesome collections are locked inside my kindle. The only problem with that is I no longer have access to my favorite collection: "Shitty Writing/Stupid Stories" (it had at least thirty books).

This collection was going to be the pool from which I picked most of the books I’d intended to review. Now, all of those books themselves are still accessible, but since there are well over one thousand books on my kindle – and since my memory is…not the best – I’ve no reliable way to
ensure that any given book I choose is one of the awful ones worthy of my ridicule – uh, I mean review! Yes, worthy of my review.

All, however, is not lost. At some point in the near future, I should be able to grab the info off my dead kindle. In the meantime, I have joined a website that grants readers/reviewers access to unpublished galleys of upcoming works. So, until I find the means to temporarily resurrect the kindle, I will be posting reviews of (hopefully) good books and graphic novels.

So, please stay tuned. The first review should be up in a day or two, followed shortly by another excerpt.

(Just a quick note: I was never a “kindle person”. I rather hated the idea of them and KNEW I’d never have one. Then I received one as a gift from my beloved and some friends. At first, I used it only to play some rather addictive word games, but I quickly discovered several web sites that send out e-mails with lists of all of the various free kindle books that are available daily. As I stated earlier, I’m a bit of a hoarder; within a few months, I managed to accrue quite a collection. (The few books I actually purchased were from indie author Joey Comeau; – check him out!). It has now become my strange, obsessive vice/curse that I must check for free kindle books every single day and grab the ones that seem even remotely interesting. Hopefully, as I start writing more and more, I will obsess over my kindle less and less.

Until, of course, I publish and start selling books for the kindle…)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

An excerpt in which Rex and Leo are briefly introduced...

...remember them, because they're going to be important

“Mother.” Though it was pitched quietly, Lillian could hear the irritation in her daughter’s voice. “We need to talk. Now.”

Sighing lightly, she levered herself out of the old, creaky rocking chair. She smiled to herself. I wonder if that creaking is the chair or my bones? She tottered over to check on the boys. Rex was laying on his side, curled around his teddy bear, a serene look on his face. Leo, on the other hand, was sprawled out on his back, his face twitching, reflecting the chaos of his dreams.  Ah, little one. If only we could help

“Mother!” Louder and sharper this time.

Lillian turned to see her daughter Rosalie standing in the doorway. She was backlit by the glow coming from the hallway, but Lillian didn’t have to see her daughter’s face to know that she was scowling. She gave each boy a quick kiss on the forehead, said a small prayer for them to her ancestors and moved to join her daughter.

Rosalie stepped back to let her mother pass, and then quietly shut the door behind her. She opened her mouth to speak, but her mother kept on walking. Sighing, Rosalie followed her.

Lillian walked to the far end of the hall and down the back stairs, saying nothing. She paused at the landing to look at the photo of her father and his brothers. It was yellowed with age, but she could still see the pride gleaming from their dark faces as they stood before the large house they had bought for their parents. She touched the frame lightly and spoke, mostly to herself.

“How proud they were, Baba and his brothers. The first house in the whole county bought and owned by a black family. Those men worked their butts off and saved every last penny. But it was worth it just for them to see the look on their mother’s face…” She trailed off.

“I know, Mama,” Rosalie’s voice had softened, “Guka told me about it before he died. Those last weeks in the hospital, all we did was talk about ‘the good ol’ days’. How difficult things were for a group of young black men who’d started their own landscaping business. But then he met Sho-sho and things improved almost right away. They were able to save the money for a down-payment on this house. She was his “lucky lady” – bad things never happened when she was around; at least not to him and his family.” The softness in her voice was replaced by stone. “And that brings me back to what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Lillian dropped her hand from the picture and looked down at her feet. She turned and continued down the stairs and into the little kitchen.

“My mama – your shosho – was a good woman,” she began, before Rosalie could start in on her. “She loved her husband and her family more than anything. She did what she felt was necessary to ensure their survival and their prosperity!”

Rosalie crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “Mother, I obviously can’t know what life was like back then. I’m sure Shosho faced struggles that none of us today could handle. And, while I don’t condone all of the things she did – those that I know of, at any rate – I don’t condemn them either. This isn’t about her though. It’s about you. You and what you’re doing to the boys. It has to stop, mother. It’s going to stop!”

“Rosalie, darling, you don’t understand – ”

“You’re right, mother. I don’t understand. And, frankly, I don’t want to understand. It was bad enough that I had to grow up with all of that nonsense – ”

“Nonsense?” Lillian began to splutter. “Nonsense??”

“Yes, mother. Nonsense!” Rosalie snapped, slamming her palm down on the counter. “Do you have any idea what it’s like growing up in the “modern world”, yet having everyone in school calling you the witchy-woman’s daughter? Walking down the hall while everyone stares and snickers at you and finding “crazy voodoo bitch” scrawled all over your locker? Hearing, from your supposed friends, that all the ‘cool’ boys think you’re pretty, but none of them are brave enough to ask you out because they’re afraid your mother might put some bad juju on them?”

Lillian’s face crumpled. “Li-li, why did you never tell me these things?”

“Why? So you could put some bad juju on them?” She snorted. “It doesn’t matter, mother. Not anymore. And anyway, after I kicked a couple of the boys’ asses, they were more afraid of me than they were of you.”

Lillian smiled at that. She was about to praise her daughter’s childhood victories, but Rosalie kept on.

“I was strong mother; strong enough to handle the teasing and bullying. Ricky’s too young for – ”

“Rex may be small for his age but he can handle himself.”

Rosalie exhaled heavily; she was getting exasperated. They’d had this conversation too many times. “His name is Ricky, mother. He and Leo are – ”

That child is not your son!”

“Well, he is my responsibility. He has no one else. And he and Ricky are as close as – ”

“Brothers? Hah! You go ahead. Keep on seeing what you want to see.”

“What? What’s that supposed to mean?”

Lillian shook her head, changing the subject. “I do love that little boy, Li-li, I do. But – and I’ve told you this before – I ‘see’ nothing but trouble in that boy’s future.”

“Mother! That is enough! Leo is as much my son as Ricky is and I love him just the same. What happened to his poor mother – and that bastard boyfriend of hers – has no bearing on how I feel for him, and even less on how he he’ll turn out in ‘the future’ ”. She waved her hand dismissively. “Leo is a part of this family and he has received more than enough love, attention and affection to counteract any crazy ‘curse’ you think he may have inherited – ”

She was cut off by a scream that came echoing down into the kitchen. Lillian and Rosalie gaped at each other in shock. Together, they dashed up the stairs and down the hall to the boys’ room. Surprisingly, Lillian got there first. She burst into the room – Rosalie on her heels – a certain word on her lips, ready to defend her grandson...grandsons. Fortunately, there was no need for Lillian’s talents. Both boys were huddled in Leo’s bed, ostensibly okay, though Ricky lay in Leo’s arms, sobbing. Rosalie stopped in the doorway, giving the boys a thoughtful look, as though truly seeing them for the first time.

Lillian looked around the room, but could neither see nor sense any threat. “Dear Lord, child. What’s the matter?” The question was directed to Ricky. Though his tears had subsided, he was still shaking, his face hidden in Leo’s shoulder. It was Leo who answered.

“He had a nightmare, Shosh – uh, I mean Gran.” He caught himself at a sharp look from Lillian. “He’ll be fine, he just needs to shake it off and go back to sleep.”

Lillian ignored him and sat on the edge of Ricky’s bed. “Rex, honey, you come here. You come to Shosho and tell her what’s the matter.” He peeked out at her from the circle of Leo’s embrace. He shook his head and hid his face again; Leo squeezed him tighter.

Lillian stopped herself before saying something sharp. Ricky was upset enough without her adding to his distress by chastising Leo. That boy. He may be part of this family, but he wasn’t born into it. I’m going to have to remind him of that, remind him of his proper place. She decided that she and Leo would have a little chat in the morning. In the meantime, she graciously conceded defeat.

“Okay baby, you stay with Leo and try to get some sleep. Mama and I will be right downstairs in the little kitchen. If you need to, you just come on down and we’ll make you some hot chocolate, okay?” She gave her best smile and got up. She stood for a moment, looking at the boys. Then, with a sigh and a slight shake of her head, she walked out of the room. Once again Rosalie shut the door and followed after her, back to the kitchen. But this time she jumped right into it before her mother could speak.

“Why didn’t you tell me about Ricky and Leo?” Lillian heard and felt the anger in her daughter’s voice; she stood firm against it.

“What’s to tell? It’s plain as day, out there in the open for anyone to see. Provided you’re willing to see such things – willing to see the truth.”

“Mother, how long have you known?” Rosalie’s voice was chilly.

“Oh leave it be, child!” Lillian tossed her head in anger. “They’re still babies. They’re each others best friend and that’s enough for them for now. They’ll figure themselves out as they get older. They’ll understand their feelings when they are ready to. For now, just let them be.”

Rosalie sat down heavily on a stool, put her elbows on the marble-topped island and propped her head in her hands. “How could I not have seen this?” She was surprised by her own obtuseness.

Lillian grabbed two glasses from the cupboard and a bottle from the wine cellar built in to the wall next to the fridge. She sat opposite Rosalie and opened the wine. “Well,” she said, sliding in the aerator and filling both glasses, “if you spend your life determined not to be a “witchy-woman’s” daughter, there’s a whole world of things you’ll not be able to see.”

She took a large sip of her wine. “That’s not funny. Not at all. I’m a mother, I love my boys deeply and I would think I’d be able to pick up on such things.”

“I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was being honest. A lot of what we do, a lot of what we are, is taught and learned, certainly. But there’s a big part that we’re born with. And it’s like any other part of your body. If you don’t exercise it, it atrophies and withers. If you don’t regularly stop to smell the roses, pretty soon, you forget what roses smell like. And you, my dear, haven’t sniffed a rose since you were a very little girl. Much younger than the boys are now, as a matter of fact.”

Rosalie emptied her glass in two gulps and handed it to her mother for a refill. She looked down at her hands, twisting the heavy ring on her index finger. “All I want,” she paused and sighed. “All I want is for the boys to have a normal childhood.”

“Like you apparently never had”

“Yes, mother. Like I never had.”

“Then why did you keep that?” she pointed to Rosalie’s ring.

“What, this ring?” She looked down at it, then held it up to the light, a quizzical look on her face. “Mother, what are you talking about? Sho-sho left this to me in her will. You know that. You were the one who gave it to me. What does this have to do with anything?”

“That ring has everything to do with who and what we are: your Sho-sho, me, you – and especially Rex.”