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Needles + Bones – A Review

July 4, 2009


Needles & Bones is a collection of poems and short fiction by a double handful of brilliantly creative artists-with-words. It begins gently, with fairy tales, but its tendrils of surreality spread from the stories of our childhood, into our adult world, and on to places beyond our own. We visit heaven, and hell, and places we might never imagine, peopled by creatures who are only sometimes like us. The poetry is lyrical, often startling, and surreal. The contents are described in more detail on the book description page. Please note: Many of the pieces herein contain adult themes, violence, and sexual situations.

I don’t know about you, but the title and cover of this gave me the shivers and that odd sensation of pins and needles. In a good way. You may not be able to see it from the image at this size, but in the PDF, that Seahorse gets a hell of a lot more creepy looking when you notice he’s looking right at you. I wasn’t even sure he HAD eyes until I opened it up. “Ok, Soleil, enough with the cover art, get to the good stuff!” Fine, fine. Hold your horses. Hah! Get it? Horses, cause ya know it’s a Sea hor-ah nevermind. I amuse me and that’s what’s important. I tend to get a bit lengthy with the Anthology reviews so I’m going to put the rest under the cut.

Note: These were either written directly after I read the story of each title, or while I was reading it (because I had to either make note of something I fear I might have forgotten otherwise).  I enjoyed them all. Though I admit whole heartedly that I enjoyed them to varying degrees and some a lot more than others.

However, in the interest of other readers, I’ve done my best to portray an objective opinion regarding each title here. By giving each story its due without curry-favoring. I hope that I accomplished this, but know that I am human and prone to error-and damn it not all stories are created equal. I have a hard time curbing my enthusiasm for stories that really make my heart sing. So, it’s quite possible that said enthusiasm will shine out through the reviews of my very favorites.

Someone Has Broken the Looking-Glass Girl (poem) by Lea C. Deschenes

“The Invisible-except-as-commodity every girl fairy tale princess is broken.”

Can I just say I adore the title? Lots of brownie points for the Alice in Wonderland (for which my love is eternal and quite possibly unhealthy) reference. Lea’s poem is heartbreaking in its elegant simplicity. Each line sinking in like a knife, and yes indeed, you do “almost learn to love being cut”. As one of the lines read.

I can already see myself coming back to this one later. Poetry has been a secret love of mine for years and I am always hungry for more inspiration from those brave enough to share such personal pieces of their souls. I think I’ll have to look Ms. Deschenes up and see if she has any more gems lying around to sing to me.

Light as Mist, Heavy as Hope by A.G. Slatter

Loved the title of this one as well.

A decidedly dark re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin (and made all the better for it, in my humble opinion).  Even in Alice’s (The Miller’s daughter) new …predicament, she’s not altogether a victim and I liked that. Right away Slatter gives us motivations behind the plot, plausible reasoning for the King’s Interest, Alice’s Leaving of her drunken and dangerous parental figure, and Rumpelstiltskin’s interest in her baby. I liked Slatter’s voice and her short, to-the-point scenes. A great read!

Heart of the Desert by Nyla Nox

“Califer, a famous singer, seeks to be the prince who scales the glass mountain or climbs Repunzel’s hair. Here he must solve riddles and survive trials to find the Queen of the Desert and become King, but he cannot do it alone.”

Reading this story, I felt like I was sitting around a campfire and having it read to me, and as such, there was a bit of “telling” versus “showing”. And yet, I didn’t mind. Nox’s voice is as enchanting as any storyteller’s should be. It may be hard to follow if experimentation with format and style is not your thing. In essence, it is an intriguing blend of poetry, song and short story. A hybrid, if you will. And I loved and sympathized with Liane’s character.

The Train by Cyndy Lynn Speer

“The train is Hester’s escape, taking her and her unseen companion, Ian, away from the monster who made her. “

Ah, and of course Ms. Speer would be in this anthology. Her voice is so lyrical and poetic that it, too, could be classified as a hybrid. Although she sticks to the straightforward short story format, but her word choices? Her use of similes? metaphors? Exquisite. Delightful. It gives her story that extra kick. Its that little spark that gives her stories heart and makes you believe in the magic within them. A very satisfying read, and I love the details of the story behind it. Hester is certainly an interesting girl, and she gets an interesting ever-after. 😉

Sister Night, Sister Moon by Catherine Schaff-Stump

Ted Finch, leading man, is brought England’s Age of Reason to visit the City of Theopolis, scheduled to appear-for one night only-as Romeo in a place at the juncture of nowhere and every time. He is a hit…and that may be his downfall.”

It is difficult to say why I liked this one so much without giving away some of the very best twists about it… Ted plays for no mere Mortals in Theopolis. And finds himself amongst interesting company indeed, from muses, to gods, to politicians (because who doesn’t make them out to be gods?). From a conceptual level, it’s fascinating, especially to those of you who are in the arts. Acting, painting, writing, photography, drawing, anything. It can be easily be taken as Allegorical.

But the big draw of this story, for me, was the complexity of the relationships. And not just from the romantic standpoint. And within this is a tragedy to rival any classic play.

Really loved this story, if only because Im terribly cynical and, as a scorpio, highly satisfied with revenge.

Subterranean Song (poem) by David Sklar

“Ghosts and Music intertwined: to dance their way out of hell, or fall from the gates of heaven.”

A story set to poetry, literally, and utterly enthralling.  I loved the imagery Sklar speckles through his verses. I cackled delightfully over his version of -er-hell. Artists, Musicians and Writers, of course, should get a kick out of this.

To whet your appetite, I give you my favorite lines:

“‘Cause death’s not so bad; I know people who’ve done it/and hunger and cold you get used to in time/but wondering what has become of someone/fills the twilight with shadows and wind.'”

His bio mentions he’s written more poems, I do believe I will have to go find them.

And At That Time Shall Michael Stand by Berrien C. Henderson

“Michael meets Lucifer at The Platter. It isn’t time for the Apocalypse, but perhaps they can share a cup of coffee, chat about old times and consider times to come.”

I’m a sucker for caricatures of the heavenly-and fallen- hosts and this thoroughly satisfied that very odd fascination. There were moments when the dialogue ran round-a-bout but how could it not when one has all the time in the world and is merely sitting over a cup of coffee? The interaction more than makes up for it, also the curious little tidbits that fly out of Lew and Michael’s mouths in the heat of the moment. I found myself not wanting their conversation to end. Alas, all good things do. I find myself also hoping Mr. Henderson will do more with these characters….maybe in time.

Answer Me by Adrienne J. Odasso

“Carl has saved enough money, made contact with the right man, and if he can’t be the man he dreamed he would be, at least he can own a tiny part of Egypt. But Egypt isn’t the right place for average men with average dreams, and though he loves it, it may not love him.”

Ohoho, this description was deceptively simple. This story is so much more. Carl’s passion is Egyptiana, more specifically illegal artifacts. Just as he comes into possession of his own little slice of Eqypt, he meets a man who has no intention of letting Carl keep them. Seeing as Drollerie did not give the twist away in the description, I don’t think I should. I’ll just say: this isn’t for the narrow of mind. I think this one could be classified as Urban Fantasy…and as such, a very entertaining read. 😀

Metal Feathers by G. L. Simmons

“Rajia is not allowed on the sales floor. She is a barbarian, magical with a needle but untutored in proper behavior. And yet, she is drawn there, to the beautiful clothes displayed without heads or hands. One day a man comes and looks at her clothing. He is dismissive of its simplicity, and she tutors him in its value. She does not yet know that he is the most brilliant couturier in the city, and her future … if she’s good enough to sew his designs.”

Please excuse me, for I have the need to be girly for just a moment….

COUTURE~! *squee*

Ahem, forgive that ugliness. Now that I have stuffed my inner-girly-girl back into the cellar where she belongs, allow me to continue. There’s a very interesting bit of world building going on in the background of this story involving a plague or two. Rajia has lived at the House of Threads before the plagues started, and its all that she can rightly remember. Of course, not even a plague or two can stop people from purchasing designer clothing.  Rajia is crass, not schooled in what it means to be “proper” and thus is not permitted onto the sales floor where her other compatriots work. Life is what it is for Rajia, and though she loves her work, she knows nothing of the outside world. Until the fateful day when she meets Tarrin, and has her world turned upside down.

Sometimes, something must come to an end before you can start over anew. A very charming tale, and damnit, I want to see that dress in the final scene. I wonder if Mr. Simmons accepts fan art…

Swamp Angels by Andrew S. Taylor

“There are things in the swamp. They rarely roam, but when they do it’s in search of young men like Jake.”

Admittedly, not my cuppa tea.

There’s only one real way to describe why I kind of liked this one, and I’m chalking it up to morbid fascination in human sexuality. And how, sometimes, we are both drawn and repelled to the same things simultaneously. Taylor gives terrifying descriptions of his swamp angels…and yet I can still believe Jake’s very very horrific attraction to the one that-for lack of a more appropriate word-stalks him.

These chicks mean business. For serious. And it just gets weirder and weirder as it goes on.

Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. Ten points way up on the creepy factor!

The Strange Horses (poem) by Kristine Ong Muslim

“What happens when humanity is faced with the beauty of magic? Its never anything good.”

A sobering poem, and deceptively dark. Which, in my humble opinion, are some of the very best sort. A more accurate description than the one provided by Drollerie Press above, I could not think of. Its short, to the point and thus I can’t say much except that I loved it. I would share my favorite lines but then, that would give away the “twist” of the poem, so to speak. I have a NO SPOILER policy. Considering 600 of Ms. Muslim’s poems have been published? Yeah, I think its safe bet to say the lady knows her stuff. I’m definitely going to find her other works.

Mother by J. C. Miller

“Once upon a time is how these stories are supposed to begin.. Not in this one. This one begins with the birth of an unwanted child. It was smelly. It cried. By the time it was a year old, it was talking to animals and making songs of nothing. The parents sold the child to a
witch, and then they no longer mattered at all. The child called the witch Mother and Mother called the child Maya. They loved
one another very much, and Maya happily learned everything that Mother could teach her. The prince’s name is Doyle, and his arrival changes everything.”

Maya is a very gifted child, unbeknowest to her apathetic parents. Eager to be rid of her, they sell her to a witch, quite certain that she is a hell spawn and what more harm could a witch do to one? Except the witch is quite certian she loves Maya and Maya knows only the witch as her mother. Then a prince comes along. Unfortunately, princes do not good men make.

I liked the contrasts in the concepts. The relatively fast pace of the story. It’s written much like the fairytale of old. No excess detail where its unneeded. It also had a very fitting end.

Sleepwalker by Darin C. Bradley

“Kenneth Lobert is a gentleman far from his Boston home. He hates the West: the dirt, the bar he owns and reluctantly tends, and the petty, small-minded people. Then one day he’s made an offer he can’t refuse. Unfortunately, the party doesn’t want to buy the bar, they want him to succeed with it, and remake him and everyone else in this dirty small town in the process.  Kenneth’s life becomes a fever dream, burning out from the inside. Burning high enough to engulf the whole town.”

Throughout most of this story, the reader feels much like Kenneth. Fevered. Everything goes by in a haze and we only vaguely register it as he does. Until the grand finale, in which Mr. Bradley, like a magician, pulls one doozy of a rabbit out of his hat and all the pieces come into place. A curious story, but one I enjoyed very much.

Gravity, A Fable by Kris Vaagen

“Salut is the blood-letter of the Sixth Step. She and her kin are lighter, more righteous, than the creatures of the Seventh Step, but fall short of the glory that is the Fifth Step. They cannot imagine how beautiful the creatures of the First Ste must be until a stranger falls from the First. She and her kin are distraught for him. It would have been better for him, they think, if he had not survived, but he is bright, and light, and very beautiful, and she cannot help but sew him back together with the threads that bind her own heart. Though Salut cannot imagine the despair that must drive the stranger, Namaste who is stranger no more, when he chooses to fall from the Sixth Step she is horrified. Yet, though she hardly knows why, she must follow him, if necessary all the way to the Steps’ end and into the mouth of the Great Sea.”

I looked forward to reading this one from the very first time I read the description above and it did not disappoint. A beautiful tale that could also be taken from an Allegorical standpoint. That is, what a terrible and marvelous thing it is to fall. Lovely.

I adored Salut’s character. Her loyalty and devotion to Namaste was so heart-wrenchingly brilliant that I fought to not shed a tear or three.  And failed miserably. The concepts in this story are so intriguing that i find myself compelled to find more of Ms. Vaagen’s work in the future.

At Sea by Felicity Bloomfield

“Salty is a hard woman and she keeps her pirate crew in line with regular beatings and a smart mouth. She’s content, until the sea turns on her and the life she’s chosen for herself is taken from her and she’s turned into the princess from a fairy tale. Too bad for anyone standing in her way. She’s come a long way from her days as a victim. She’ll get her life back, and it doesn’t matter how much blood she has to shed to do it.”

Salty is indeed a hard woman and I loved her character for it. She is everything I loved learning about pirates since I was a little girl. Ambitious, Opportunistic and Cunning.  She’s a woman with a plan. Always a plan, even in her most casual inquiry. And there’s nothing at all impetuous, pretentious or whimpering about her which is a definite plus. I’m now really looking forward to reading Tar, a free read at Drollerie press featuring Salty which can be downloaded here. I do believe it is a prequel, so you may wish to read Tar first if you have any interest in reading Needles and Bones.

Being Dead by V Addeman

“Our hero is dead. He accepts that. It’s okay. Has to happen to everyone sometime, right? But he can’t remember what happened to the love of his life. Where did she go? Why can’t he remember?”

I can’t even begin to describe the power of the last few words in this story. And I can’t because it would be a huge spoiler. It’s truly amazing what an author can do with just a few words. Those last few sentences make the piece. Just wow. Powerful little story.

Terra Incognita or Drawn (poem) by David Harrity

“What is the body? Where does it lie? To what great force is it connected? Shall we go there or do we hide?”

I mentioned  before that I am an amateur poet. One of the things that first drew me (yay! pun!) to poetry was all the neat things you could do with the format, not just for pacing but to evoke thought and emotion. Mr. Harrity, as it turns, also plays with format. He has short punchy lines that strike out without warning, leaving you decidedly off guard just as he delivers another. A beautiful and thought provoking piece that left me in a  “feel-good” state. But then, I’m a bit weird, so your mileage may vary.

Benjira’s Bride by Lida Broadhurst

“Jalki, Order initiate, dreams of one thing, finding the perfect bride for his master, Benjira. His first attempt was disastrous. The lady’s porcelain skin turned gray in the process. Her eyes dulled. Benjira gives him one final chance to succeed. Jalki knows that when he does Vardis will no longer be the favored one. Jalki will become Benjira’s right hand, and life will be fair again.”

Except it won’t, cause life’s never that easy. This was a rather short read compared to the rest, which is not a complaint. It moves pretty quickly and does not waste time on extraneous detail.

Memorabilia by Rudy Ch. Garcia

“Tomás Chaneco Martinez, Maya sorcerer, fights alone. He hasn’t always been alone. There are things in his home, things that whisper to him of memory, of friendship, of warrior kin, and some that whisper to one another of other things. He’s lived too long to remember all his old companions, but not so long that he doesn’t remember when things don’t belong, when the whispers speak of dragon. When it’s time to fight again.”

Tomas also talks to himself an awful lot. Which, granted, says just how long he’s had to fight alone. Descriptive and yet still managing to be fast paced, I know many will find it entertainning. Plus, there be dragons. What’s not to love about that?

Widow’s Walk by Meredith Holmes

“Her love is dead and she is alone. Alone to walk the garden and hear the voices of the leaves. Alone to hear the sea calling, calling her to join him.”

Very short but beautiful description here. And depending on your point of view, this will either seem really sad or incredibly romantic. I liked Ms. Holme’s voice, and have been thinking about checking out her novel, Unseelie. This little story sealed the deal for me, I think I’ll enjoy her longer works just by tone and themes of this one. Definately one of the many gems in this Anthology.

Dancer, Daemon by Jason Rubis

“Kaso the Dancer has made a daemon, not by intent, but by inaction. When Rija, the servant maiden fell in love with Kaso, it was not by intent, but through foolishness. Yet Rija could not believe her feelings would not be returned. In the space where love turns to hatred, indifference to enmity, there comes a daemon, and it is Kaso’s duty to kill it. She goes on sazai, pilgrimage, to find the daemon and dispatch it, a journey fraught with strange indignities, it is a remaking of Kaso, an enlightenment of daemons.”

Kaso is a very interesting and complex character, as is Rija now that I think on it. The description above is somewhat deceptive. Another that I would say is not for the narrow of mind. For my part? I enjoyed it. I have a penchant for the unconventional, and this story is certianly unconventional, not to mention entertainning. I loved all the cool worldbuilding bits, the culture of the Dancers, the ranks of which, Kaso used to belong. Also the intruging concept of how Daemons are created. Fascinating. A very good read. 🙂

Rag Woman by Lea C. Deschenes

“Where are our Wise Women? What grace is lost with their passing?”

Well whaddya know? Another Deschenes poem. Lucky me! And another so beautifully delivered and rot with stunning imagery to leave one breathless. A fabulous exit to the anthology.

My favorite line:

“Late at night she walks to the river, invisible/as history or the ghosts of old lovers,”

If you’ve been intruiged by what I’ve had to say about Needle & Bones, I strongly recommend going to Drollerie Press and picking yourself up a copy. While you’re there, don’t forget to download Tar, a free read by Felicity Bloomfield and featuring Salty, the battle-harderned princess-pirate featured in this Anthology in the short story At Sea. You won’t be dissapointed! 😉

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2009 10:34 pm

    Hi 🙂
    What a terrific review! Wow. I am definitely going to get this book based on your review. I am also going to download Tar.
    You’re terrific.

  2. July 4, 2009 10:53 pm

    I swear, I’m putting you in my pocket and taking you home with me. We’ll share books. I’m thinking we share many of the same tastes in reading.

  3. July 5, 2009 6:08 pm

    Thanks for the kind words re: “And at That Time Shall Michael Stand.” It’s an older story of mine and underwent more revisions than any other story I’ve ever written due in large part to one aspect: the dialogue. So glad it all worked for you. I wish I had more stories to tell about those guys, but I have been thinking for a while about turning the story into a play. We’ll see.

  4. Soleil Noir permalink*
    July 5, 2009 7:32 pm

    Rob_ Why thank you. 🙂 And definitely do check out Needles and Bones! Its been my experience that Drollerie Press generally provides pretty great reads. 😉 So you might want to check out some of their other titles too!

  5. Soleil Noir permalink*
    July 5, 2009 7:33 pm

    Deena- *g* I don’t doubt that for a minute. Now what did I do with that shrinking ray…

  6. Soleil Noir permalink*
    July 5, 2009 7:35 pm

    Berry- Thank you so much for stopping by, and best of luck man! 😀 That’d make on hell of an entertainning play.

  7. July 6, 2009 12:24 pm

    Wicked review, Soleil, thanks for your support!

  8. July 7, 2009 10:10 am

    I’m reading this anthology, too. Whoa, I loved Cindy’s The Train. So creepy and wonderful, and what a twist at the end! Loved it. I’m reading it in stops and starts on my iPhone when I’m waiting in line, etc.

  9. July 7, 2009 10:23 am

    Thanks for the thorough and wonderful review. If you have trouble tracking down those other poems, let me know.


  10. July 7, 2009 10:53 pm

    This sounds really wonderful. Nice and moody and delicious.

  11. Soleil Noir permalink*
    July 9, 2009 9:56 am

    Michael- Thank you kindly. *g*

  12. Soleil Noir permalink*
    July 9, 2009 9:58 am

    Joely- Agreed, ‘The Train’ was one of my favorites.

  13. Soleil Noir permalink*
    July 9, 2009 10:00 am

    David- You’re most certainly welcome! Thank you for the offer, linking back, and stopping by in the first place. 🙂

  14. Soleil Noir permalink*
    July 9, 2009 10:01 am

    Caryn- Always nice to see you around these parts.

    And, it was indeed. 😉 Do check it out if you can!

  15. Sequin permalink
    July 20, 2009 12:12 pm

    Great to see others reviews. I loved it, would totally recommend investing – it will be great to re-read again on cold, rainy, fall nights!

    I especially loved the Nyla Nox (sp?) story, so beautiful and poetic. Wow, it took me to another world – I didnt want to come back!

    Looking forward to seeing which others liked best


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